Culture

January 14 2013
39

'Black high heels on travel' photo (c) 2007, Markusram - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Tara is perched half-stool, one black high heel to the floor, ready to get up and go as far as her small stage allows when the Stonewall spirit moves. She’s on about history like I’ve never seen even the most enthused civics professor get, and we can feel the vibration in our hearts if not in our media center chairs, because this story of drag queens and broken bottles and fuck the police is personal for Tara. They were her friends, and this is the story of her people; and she means it.

She has a thick, 63-year-old face, delicately made up, reading glasses tipped down at the end of her broad nose; she’s got ample breasts, but not much in the way of hips, but then, hell, neither do I, and ain’t I a woman. Her voice is Jersey baritone and it is all passion, words cut off only when age forces her to go retrieve them, and then it’s back to the story, to the dozen tangents she seems to need to follow out loud because we are listening. And if you don’t tell your stories, they die with you, gone. And Tara needs telling.

She was a little boy who loved dolls, and a boxer who preferred panties, and a married man who craved the closeness of men. And when she realized how she looked wasn’t who she felt, she knew she needed change; she needed to be Tara. But people, we look from the outside, and the world didn’t see a woman trying to be herself; they saw a man trying to be a woman. So Tara lost her friends, her family, her spouse. She got herself– but she still pays dearly for the trade.

Tara is off her stool now, beginning her Pride march across the wood floor, bringing it right to us. Her eyes light, triumphant and wistful, as she tells us how trans* people were honored in ancient faith traditions, “before the Judeo-Christian religions,” and this phrase comes with deep tremor of anger, and beneath that, deeper hurt.

She tells us of the Native American man who recognized her as a Two-Spirit person, who engaged her with warm acceptance, who held her hand as he spoke. She is all about the conference the tribes hold every year and how much she’d love to go, but it’s too expensive to get out west, and she’s already spent so much just to get her body right; her two spirits will have to wait.

Tara has a lifetime of hard, aching story to tell, and the tangents get out of control. I can see her mind is whirring, trying to keep up the pace of her heart, but it’s beating so hard to be known, she just can’t catch it.

She’s back on about the Abrahamic religions’ oppression of her people, and I consider, then reconsider, gently touching the black cross at my neck. I am not ashamed of my cross, of my Jesus; I am a little ashamed of my people. But mostly I am sad, sad that my cross does not speak to her of my Jesus, sad that she does not know His story. Because I know what happens to stories that don’t get told. And Tara needs telling.

So it’s time for Q&A and my organ-heart is so loud I’m afraid I won’t be able to get words out above it, but my soul-heart is louder, and I guess Tara has two spirits and I have two hearts, and I open my soft lips and speak in a soprano. I know only a small-tiny-something of the marginalization she has lived, but it’s enough that I can speak her language, connect, and I ask what can be done.

The intensity she’s worn on her face this last hour flashes in surprise; then it goes soft.

The whole room turns to look at me but I am fixed on Tara. I have jumped both feet alongside her on a hard and aching path, and I am asking for real answers, for Tara and her people; this is Jesus’ story. And I mean it.

39 comments

  1. When are you writing a book? This is so beautiful. The way it’s written has been dug like trenches – secure, serving purpose.

    I’m challenged by the way it has asked us to think… from the outside. And whether we’re willing to step inside, even for a moment. Was chatting to my boyfriend yesterday about something similar: gay marriage. We often get stuck at the “gay” part, but what about the “marriage” part? God created marriage; His delight is in love. So how do we view the situation then?

    This part broke me:

    “I am not ashamed of my cross, of my Jesus; I am a little ashamed of my people. But mostly I am sad, sad that my cross does not speak to her of my Jesus, sad that she does not know His story. Because I know what happens to stories that don’t get told. And Tara needs telling.”

    Too often this is true. And I can only hope that one by one we’d be less ashamed of the people as one by one the people encounter the real Jesus.

    Reply
    • Mmm thanks so much, Shae. I hope to be writing a book soon. So glad you’re thinking of ways to step in– isn’t that what Jesus always did? Always does?

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  2. I have jumped both feet alongside her on a hard and aching path, and I am asking for real answers, for Tara and her people; this is Jesus’ story. And I mean it.

    yes…. let us jump both feet alongside of many!
    thank you tara.

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    • Both feet in is important, don’t you think? I love your enthusiasm, Melissa. :)

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  3. Tamara, you are the realest deal I know. #fistbump

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    • You know I feel the same about you. #kisses

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  4. Love this, T. Love the writing. Love the story. Love the sentiment.

    I lived in Thailand for five years. There, kathoeys (lady-men) are recognized and accepted as a third generation. I once chased down several kathoeys to ask them where they bought their shoes (I have size 10s…).

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    • You crack me up, lady. Can’t wait to man-size hug you again some day!

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  5. Love this, T. Love the writing. Love the story. Love the sentiment.

    I lived in Thailand for five years. There, kathoeys (lady-men) are recognized and accepted as a third generation. I once chased down several kathoeys to ask them where they bought their shoes (I have size 10s…).

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  6. I love your beautiful heart, Tamara. Thank you for honoring Tara’s story and sharing it with us.

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  7. I echo Leigh’s comment here, Tamara. Thank you for telling this hard story, a story that needs telling and hearing, even when most of us would probably choose to run from it. Thank you for not running.

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  8. You saw the *person* – not just the body. That’s what I love the most about this, I think.

    My husband’s got a “Tara” on his side of the family. Nobody knows what to do, what pronoun to use — it’s just real awkward.

    And I ache because of the awkward. Because there’s a soul in there.

    Thank you for seeing deeper, friend. For loving what is deepest.

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    • I have friends who are trans and many trans-allies. They all say the same – ask what pronoun they want to go by. Trans folks understand that it might be confusing, and they want to be called by the right pronoun, too. :)

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    • Thank you, Kelli.

      We’re all souls. I think when we start seeing people from that point of view, we see them a little more clearly.

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  9. This.
    These words.
    You jumped right in and you told it so well.
    A story that needed words, and needed to be shared.

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  10. Wow. Thanks for sharing.

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    • It’s my pleasure. Thanks for being here, Jamie.

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  11. Tamara, this is so beautifully written and I’m so glad you wrote it. “Tara has a lifetime of hard, aching story to tell, and the tangents get out of control. I can see her mind is whirring, trying to keep up the pace of her heart, but it’s beating so hard to be known, she just can’t catch it.”

    It will be a while before I forget Tara, and I’m grateful to you and her for that.

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    • Thank you for allowing her in. Thank you for taking her story with you. Grateful for you, Amanda.

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  12. The Berdache of the Iroquois are recognized as a third gender. And the Igbo also recognize that Two-Spirit idea as something to be celebrated rather than stigmatized.

    What’s wrong with us?

    And people wonder where the bullying starts.

    People post, T.

    Yes!

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    • My friend. Thank you for how you hear my heart beat. Love you.

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  13. Shane Dodson

    The answer for “Tara?”

    The same answer for the rest of us sinners…

    Repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Do you love “Tara” enough to warn her of the wrath to come?

    “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
    – Luke 24:46-47

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    • Hi, Shane. You don’t have to use quotations marks– Tara is her real name. Her name is also Beloved, and Accepted, and Forgiven. Same as you, same as me. Our Father has named us in love, and that’s the story I sought to tell Tara that day. She doesn’t know me from anyone else in her audience, and I would never presume to speak wrath to a stranger; but love, love I will always risk presuming.

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      • Shane Dodson

        So you are saying that people can continue to live in a manner contrary to the purpose for which God made them and STILL be accepted by Him?

        On what basis does God accept the unrepentant? I only see repentance and forgiveness of sins available and accessible through Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

        1 Corinthians 6:9-10 tells us that a myraid of people will not inherit the kingom of God. Thieves. The greedy. Adulterers. Revilers. Homosexuals. The sexually immoral. Paul begins that passage with an interesting warning: “Do not be deceived.” Apparently, Paul is concerned that there are those who are practicing greed, adultery, reviling, homosexuality, and sexual immorality who STILL think they’re accepted by God. But it is clear that such thinking is deception.

        The GOOD news is that verse 11 tells us that God can save individuals OUT of such sins. Read verse 11.

        “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

        Did you catch that? “And such WERE some of you…” Not “as such you continue to be…” That distinction is–quite literally–the difference between life and death.

        And so Love warns. As surely as I would warn a stranger if I see him/her wandering into a busy city street…and I would pull him/her back physically if I was close enough…I would warn a sinner who is headed into disaster.

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        • I have never known a soul truly won over by anything other than love. Fear can coerce, but only love can secure. I know, because I used to approach God out of fear until He won me over with love.

          I still sin, still “live in a manner contrary to the purpose for which God made” me, because I am still on this side of heaven. But, yes, God assures me I am accepted because He doesn’t see my sin; He sees Jesus. And this, only because I was convinced of His love.

          I’m grateful you have a heart that desires to see souls reunited with God. Mine desires the same. May our Father use us both. Peace and grace to you, Shane.

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        • Sarah

          You’re absolute correct in that God does not accept an unrepentant heart. But you have to remember that it’s his kindness that brings us to repentance (Rom 2:4) Not his holiness, not his perfection.

          God’s awesome holiness drives us away in fear. It caused Isaiah to cry out: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5)

          For most of us, repentance isn’t simply a decision, it’s a journey, a process. And that begins with the kind of love that makes you want to start walking, not the kind of love that paralyzes with fear or scars your heart. Love casts out fear! Love (without asterisks) and acceptance do not equate to allowing someone to walk away from Christ.

          Rather, as Tamara said, you begin walking with them. Christ’s love isn’t afraid to walk with sinners and outcasts.

          People like Tara are not ignorant of sin or judgement. One of my friends has said that people are never blank slates. You have to understand where they are coming from. Who do they understand Jesus to be? What has their experience been with the cross? Once you know their story, once you begin to walk with them, you can break down the lies they’ve been told about God. You can tell them the truth about grace and abundant life that you’ve experienced.

          But it has to begin with kindness and respect.

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  14. Kelli

    This is beautiful.
    Thank you.

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  15. Bold, beautiful, heart-wrenching words. Thank you.

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  16. Morgan

    I think it’s really brave to write about Jesus and sexuality at the same time…and really necessary. Folks will grapple how they will, but someone’s gotta be brave enough to start the conversation. Thank you for being brave.

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  17. Strong words, Tamara :)

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  18. Ben

    Tamara, I’m curious what Tara said when you asked what could be done.

    I’m a Christian who transitioned from female to male at a relatively young age, with the guidance and support of my family and (moderately conservative mainline Protestant) church. Here are my suggestions:

    1) Do not approach a transgendered person as someone who is necessarily an unrepentant sinner living in sexual immorality. For several of us, we can only conceptualise our situation as an extremely rare and difficult medical condition, and there are some preliminary studies that support that conceptualisation. (Nothing definite yet, however.) One leading theory is that a child’s brain develops according to a male or female pattern while in utero, while the body develops differently, due to an inappropriate amount of specific hormones at a certain time. The science is still very inconclusive and exploratory, but Christians do need to be aware that some transpeople are just trying to fix what, to their best understanding, is a debilitating medical condition, which has only been shown to be treatable through medical as opposed to psychological intervention. Some transpeople see gender dysphoria as most akin to an intersex condition, though that comparison is hotly debated within both the trans and intersex communities.

    The Church allows for proper treatment of debilitating medical conditions. Even the late Pope John Paul II, in a document released in 2001, said that medical transition could be morally licit in extreme cases (which, if you know anything about the late pope’s theology, is a *major* statement).

    In addition, many trans Christians are chaste. If their church does not allow them to get married – which is the case with mine – they are celibate for life. If someone is trans it does not mean that they are having sex, seeking to have sex, or (contrary to stereotype) doing sex work. Therefore, they should not be criticised as automatically being “actively homosexual”.

    2) Transsexuality and homosexuality are not the same. If someone is transgender, it means that their sense of themselves as a man or a woman (or something other than one of these, or a combination) is different from the gender which they were identified as at birth. It says nothing about who they are sexually attracted to, much less how they have responded to those attractions. There are male-to-female transsexuals who are attracted to men, to women, to both, or to neither, and same for female-to-males. Sometimes a person’s attraction switches during the course of transition. Transpeople ought to be held accountable for their sexual actions, of course, same as anybody else, but they are not necessarily gay or sexually active.

    3) Know that the causes and meaning of transgenderism are hotly debated within the trans community. Some, as stated above, see it as a medical condition. Others – including, I suspect, Tara – see it as a spiritually-meaningful state, specially blessed and privileged. Others see it as a means of performing their political identity – a way of bringing down the patriarchy by gender-bending. And others do see it as a psychological condition they wish they could treat purely through counselling (and may be able to, in their case) – or, indeed, as a temptation which they must resist. Several of these may overlap. If you’ve heard one transperson’s story, you’ve heard one transperson’s story – there are so many differences in experience.

    So, my suggestion is to listen. Ask the person how they have experienced Christ and His Church. Ask what pronouns to use (if it’s not clear). And treat them as any other seeker OR fellow follower of Christ. Because there are more of us than you expect, worshipping and working alongside you to build the Kingdom of God.

    Ben

    P.S. – I am not going to get into a discussion of whether or not my own transition was a sin. It was a process of a lot of prayer and guidance by wise men and women in Christ whom I trust (as well as medical and psychological staff), and they agreed that, in my case at least, it appeared to have a medical etiology, and was not merely a symptom of a deeper psychological disturbance, or a political statement, or a rejection of God and His creation. I don’t believe God makes mistakes; that doesn’t mean that birth defects don’t happen. I believe that God allows medical treatment when they do. My conscience is clear, and I’m not going to go 12 rounds about it on an Internet forum. Prayers, of course, are always offered and appreciated.

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