God I thank you for the gifts of today.*
When I first heard that I was going to be able to attend General Convention I immediately started to make a list of the things that I would need to do before I arrived. Many of these were things that anyone going to convention might be thinking about but there was one thing on my list that lingered. It read: “decide how to respond to gender oppression and microaggressions”.
This was a new item, something that wasn’t even on my radar in 2012. For when I arrived in Indianapolis, a newly confirmed Episcopalian, I thought the world of this church. My admiration for my newfound home soared to new heights as I watched as 2012-D019 and 2012-D002 passed and gender identity and expression were added as protected traits within our body. That week I felt relief as the weight from the discrimination I had been fighting against melt away in the hope-filled promise that at least within the church I would no longer experience barriers for living as the person God was calling me to be.
Unfortunately the past three years have shown me that while our intentions are good, there is a huge gap between what we’ve promised and where we are. As I came to realize that God made me fully both a woman and a man, I found fewer and fewer spaces where I was able to bring the totality of who God made me to be. Binary language, language that supports a male/female gender construction, is everywhere. From coffee hour conversations, to dress codes to prayer I’m constantly being confronted with little things that tell me that who I am isn’t real, is weird and is an inconvenience to “normal” people.
Through prayer, and the loving support of people who care about me I’ve learned how to peacefully respond to these unintentionally violent acts. I’ve gained confidence in asserting my right to be known by my name and pronouns (them/them/theirs), learned how to stay present in difficult conversations and found room for love even within tense relationships. Yet as I prepared for General Convention, the age-old enemy, fear, crept back in. I began to wonder what I would do if and when I was overwhelmed by the distance between the promise that I will be met as beloved child of God and the reality that most people aren’t even aware people like me exist.
By God’s grace, I realized that in those fears I was shouldering a burden that is not my own. I cannot control how people respond to the gifts I bring, nor should I feel obligated to single-handedly raise awareness of those whom God makes in different genders. As I accepted that this weight was not mine to carry I began to wonder how I might shift it back to those on whom it rightfully belongs. For the responsibility of challenging oppression lies not with the oppressed, but the oppressors. The obligation to ensure Christ is honored in all people begins with those who have denied him in their siblings, not with those who have been cast out.
Since I know that it is likely that I will encounter binary-gender assumptions during my travels to General Convention, I have decided that must act responsibly to channel my hurt into my hope for change. To raise awareness of the work we have to do as a church, I use a tally counter to track each time I encounter a gender-based microaggression. At the end of each day I will post the number of times I encountered a barrier to participating in this convention on twitter (@onservantswings), and in my daily blog posts. I pray that by bringing my experiences to light that we will see how important it is that we, that is the body of Christ that forms the church, not only speak out as a corporate agency on the big things, but also look inward to address the violence that is running rampant in our assumptions.
For those of you who would like to be proactive, I have compiled a list of common microaggressions I encounter along with simple solutions to avoid causing harm at http://onservantswings.blogspot.com/2015/03/killing-with-kindness-meaning-behind.html.
DAILY MICROAGGRESSION REPORT
Tuesday June 23 Travel day to GC in non-church spaces, 7 noticeable** places I was told I don’t exist or didn’t belong.
Wednesday June 24 First day stepping into the legislative process, exploring the exhibit hall and socializing at the Episcopal Peace Fellowship dinner, 15 noticeable** places I was told I don’t exist or didn’t belong.
* With the bustle of convention I’ve realized that I won’t have time to keep up with both my personal journal and these blog posts. In an effort to honor my need to sleep and my desire to maintain some consistence in my devotions I’ve decided to merge the efforts and post them publicly. Since Lent 2014 I begin every journal entry with this phrase. It was initially assigned as a seasonal penance but was quickly adopted into my year-round practices. I love it because it reminds me to pay attention to God’s gifts even when things aren’t going well.
**The clarifier “noticeable” is included because I often have a tendency to not consciously hear microaggressions unless they are fairly obvious. The numbers I reporting are based on my own experience and are not linked to any formal research procedure.