Thursday, 20 November 2014

Letting Go

I've recently realised that there have been similar dynamics in two lots of interactions in my life, and that I've got past one but not the other, and it seems that other people have done it the other way round.  What interests me here is the similarity between not getting past something rather than the differences.
I'm going to talk about my conversion experience now.  I'm entirely comfortable with you seeing it from a mental health perspective.  Clearly I would differ in that opinion to some degree, but not entirely.  There are lots of possible narratives here and I can be an amateur psychiatrist if I want, even with my own stuff.

What happened was this.  I left home and went to University and almost immediately missed a woman I was very attached to, someone who is my oldest friend.  The way it worked was odd, because I wasn't in fact missing home and family at all but I really was missing my friend quite severely, and that was enough to make me lonely, depressed, stop washing, stop eating properly and all the usual stuff.  I happened to be in a Hall of Residence where Christian students had a policy of staying in past their first year in order to be a strong Christian influence.  That in itself could be seen as sinister, or it could be seen as an attempt to demonstrate love to people who really needed it, depending on what you think about Christianity, or possibly that kind of Christianity if it can be said to be a "kind".

I was eventually approached by a Christian student and persuaded to commit myself to Christ, as I might put it, and at the time, my subjective experience and thought processes were, I'm sure, entirely standard for someone in that position.  I was convinced I was sinful, I repented, placed my faith in Jesus Christ as the uniquely fully divine and fully human son of God who died on the cross for my sins, and committed my life to him.  Please don't let that description put you off.

It's very common for Christians to look at people who have lost their faith and say "well, you can't really have had a genuine commitment in the first place or you wouldn't have fallen away".  Now I am of course now Christian, but for a long time I definitely had no faith in the ethical sense, that is, I believed in a supernatural being independent of the physical world but not that that being was in any way good.  God didn't seem relevant to my life for a long, long time.  I'm getting ahead of myself though.

Immediately after my conversion experience, I had what I can only describe as an "oh shit" moment.  In fact, as soon as I closed the bedroom door behind the people who had prayed with me, I uttered exactly those words, which is probably somewhat remarkable for a newly converted Christian (or is it?  Please share, I'd love to know).  I could reel off a long list of altruistic-sounding reasons for it, and they were there in my mind, but one thing in particular was near the top:  I saw the Christian faith as irredeemably homophobic, and if it was so firmly, ineradicably so, meaning to my mind that God actually rejected the sexual expression of love between two people because of their genders alone, how the hell was God ever going to accept the thunderstruck nature of my own sexual identity?  In my case, it wasn't that I was gay.  It was so far from that that the actual issue of homosexual versus heterosexual orientation was a tiny detail.  Not wishing to disclose too much, but the nub of the issue is twofold:

  • How could a group of people who are so dyed-in-the-wool homophobic ever accept this thing that I am, which is way down the line from homosexual that it won't even occur to them?  And I wouldn't be mentioning it, no way.  It was many years before I mentioned it directly to anyone, although the occasional hint did surface, before and after that moment.  And:
  • If an accident of brain or social development was to strike an individual, who happened to be myself, to make my life this absurd, and to make it so unlikely that I would ever have a happy sexual relationship or reproduce, how could there even be a God who operates according to a plan of any kind?
There's a missing piece of information here and I'm not about to say what it is, but taking the gender dysphoria and the asexuality alone, that's enough.  The point is that every moment of my life I was confronted with an apparently arbitrary absurdity which seemed to make nonsense of the concept of a loving God, and I didn't feel able to talk about this absurdity because they even rejected something as mild and obviously OK as homosexuality, so there was just no way they would ever come to discuss this.  They were at best going to see it as a medical problem which needed to be eliminated with some radical kind of brain surgery or something, and in fact some other people with this problem who made the mistake of telling their nearest and dearest have in fact been incarcerated in mental institutions, poisoned with drugs, electrocuted and subjected to psychosurgery.  At the time, I didn't even realise there were other people in this category, and at the time probably a lot of them were going through all that, so it didn't actually suck to be me in relative terms.  However, it was because I was very cautious that I escaped that.

Very soon after that conversion experience, I decided that basically Christianity, and more specifically Paul, was the worst thing that had happened to the planet since the extinction of the dinosaurs and decided it needed to be eliminated before it destroyed all life on Earth.  Later on, I realised that this wasn't a terribly nuanced position, and that the reason I'd come to that conclusion was that I'd been very carefully sold a particular version of what the Christian faith was which was not necessarily the whole story.  I got past that, I let go of it, call it what you will, and I'm now happy with no sense of cognitive dissonance being a trans person who is also Christian and am aware that there is no contradiction there.

Nonetheless, I can understand from the inside that when a Christian place of worship holds a vigil for the Transgender Day Of Remembrance, other trans people will take considerable umbrage.  It seems like too little, too late, and a token gesture by an institution which has been instrumental in the violent deaths of innumerable LGBT people for millenia, and just doing that is never going to be enough to salvage them.  Of course I understand that, and to be honest I surprise myself that I am not myself in that camp right now.  But I'm not.  Nor do I look down on people who feel that way and consider myself to have "got past" it when they haven't.  Nonetheless, it isn't an issue which exercises me as much as it did because I now understand my spirituality in a different way than I did back then.

However, there is another area where this is by no means the case, and which I have definitely have not got past.  This is, unfortunately, what is now referred to as the LGBT community itself.

Nowadays, it appears that those four letters belong together for most of the people represented by each of them.  This was not always so.  Back in the mid-'eighties, at the same time as I was going through all that up there I've just mentioned, I was also peripherally involved in lesbian and gay stuff.  At the time, I was aware that my sexual orientation and identity was definitely of a minority status, but I never made the connection between that and being more than an ally of lesbians and gay men.  In fact, it was very apparent to me that far from being an ally, being openly trans would make me an utter pariah and an enemy of lesbians and gays, because this was the received opinion at the time.  I felt ashamed and unworthy even to be an ally because of my trans status, and this shame and guilt were in fact reinforced and emphasised most vociferously by lesbians and gay men at the time.  It wasn't just a sense of unease and tolerance.  It was outright vocal hatred and extreme hostility, and at the time to me this seemed entirely sensible and drove my transness even deeper inside and led to me internalising transphobia.  I hated myself for my gender dysphoria and I felt I was a traitor to all women and lesbians in particular for being this way.

So, to return to the present day, here are two situations.  One is the Transgender Day Of Remembrance at the Cathedral, to which of course I won't be going, but on the other hand I may well go to the AIDS thing at the weekend.  However, not going to that is not that big an issue to me.  I expect my status to be ridiculed at best but more likely to be ignored, and for the cathedral doors to be closed to me because in fact the event seems to have been cancelled.  It's no big deal though, not to me, but it certainly is to other people and rightly so, because they can't just be expected to forget two millenia of mass murder because of who they were by the very institution which is now trying to make amends.  Oddly though, I am at peace with that.

The other is, though, events like Pride.  I am expected to march with people who, twenty years ago, would have spat at me and hated me for who I am, and all of a sudden I'm expected to be OK with that.  It needs to be forgotten and forgiven, and I do recognise that they're not all like that and that many of them never were - it's my own issue too.  However, I do also recognise a parallel here.  For some people, my past self included, the baggage of religious transphobia is too much to get past, and that makes complete sense to me.  For me, almost identical baggage is present in lesbians and gay men, and although my rational mind is able to recognise that forgiving and forgetting is the way to go here, maybe I'm a bitter, damaged individual, but I can't forget what happened right now, and I don't feel accepted, and when I am accepted I wonder why I'm accepted.  Is it just grudgingly, because people recognise it's the current trend to do so?  And so on.

Naturally I believe we are allies in fact, and that we need to stand together and that an attack on one group is an attack on all, but that's the thing.  I believe that - I find it harder to feel it.

So I should get past that, because it's not you, it's me, but it's the same issue.