A Place at the Table: Reflections of a Queer Methodist

I knew God’s love first. There, in rural Illinois, among the high branches of trees, the breeze whispering through the last of the fall leaves, I would lie on the floor of the woods by our house, the cool ground shaded and blanketed with leaves, and look up.

The ground held me and supported me. The sun winked through the branches. The world was a mosaic of light. I breathed.

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Before we moved away from Illinois, I took pictures of all my favorite trees. Here’s one.

And in the trees, too. The maple out front and the few stocky trees that lined our long gravel driveway. I’d clamber to their pinnacles and just sit, staring out over the corn and soybean fields, over the ribbons of road that meandered through the farmland, down to what I was told was an abandoned railway station.

I was surrounded by abandoned things—discards that became my imagination’s treasures. The abandoned railroad tracks by our house that gave us a straight shot into an even deeper wood and rusted railroad nails that I hefted in my small hand. A hunting stand high in a tree, most of the wooden steps of its ladder either rotted or missing. Sheets of corrugated metal at the entrance to our woods—parts of a small structure that, in my siblings’ and my minds, could’ve once been so many things—an old shed, a playhouse, someone’s home.

But we were not abandoned out in those quiet woods. We built forts and played in the big, muddy ditch that scratched down its center. I watched, and I listened. And when I was saddest, I always ran to the woods, tears streaming down my face, until the pain subsided, until my crying stopped.

In those moments, in that quiet, I heard something. I felt something.

I knew the world was made of more than what my eyes saw. And I knew, at the heart of whatever that was, was love. Continue reading “A Place at the Table: Reflections of a Queer Methodist”

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Abba, Amma, Adonai: An Australian Journey in Gender

“Abba, Amma, Adonai,” Peter and I recited, the Lord’s Prayer flowing from our lips as we read from the Koora Retreat Centre prayer books.

We were sitting in Peter’s home, a train car remodeled into a one-bedroom house with large, beautiful windows that looked out into the Western Australian bush. Outside was sheer wilderness—shimmering golden-brown dirt, scrappy bushes with thick leaves, a few thin trees twisting toward the sky. Birds soared in swirls of heat above.

Peter, a retired Anglican priest with a white, bushy beard, and his wife Anna (also an Anglican priest) run the desert retreat center, which I stumbled across last February. I returned in October to spend a month with them.

I joined them in their railway carriage for morning prayer at 7:30 a.m. each day, and though Anna was out of town this particular morning, Peter and I decided to meet anyway. Somehow, our conversation had turned to gender.

“So Anna tells me you use the pronoun ‘they,'” he’d said after we’d finished our Bible readings and before we’d launched into prayers of the community. Soon we’d run the gamut from the spectrum of gender to the limits of English pronouns.

Peter admitted he struggled with “they” as a pronoun but said, “To me, you’re just Alexis.”

We closed our prayer books after finishing the Lord’s Prayer and offering blessings to one another.

“That’s you,” Peter said a few moments after we finished.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“Adonai.” He paused. “Well, it’s like ‘beloved.’ But it’s not male or female like the others.”

Abba, father. Amma, mother. Adonai.

He told me about the words for God–how the names the Hebrews had for God reflected God’s characteristics. El Shaddai–God’s nurturing and sustaining nature. Yahweh–God’s unchangeable, everlasting nature. Adonai–a loving bond.

“Yes,” Peter said, as I collected his prayer book from him and stacked on the bookshelf beside my chair. “Maybe the Hebrews had it right.”

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Continue reading “Abba, Amma, Adonai: An Australian Journey in Gender”

Queer Hair, Don’t Care: On the Liberatory Practice of Cutting My Own (and Others’) Hair

The hair clippers felt heavy in my hand as a humid December breeze blew in from the newly harvested rice paddies of Ninh Binh province. Palm branches danced over my head, throwing shadows on the 30-something Swiss woman who sat in front of me. I looked down at the back of her head, then at the clippers in my hand. Sweat gathered at my temples and in my palms.

In the seven months I’d traveled through Asia, I hadn’t found many short-haired women—and none like Caroline, who buzzed her hair as short as her partner Mario’s. And a small homestay in Ninh Giang, a sleepy Vietnamese town about two hours south of Hanoi, was the last place I expected to find three women with short hair like me—Caroline and the two owners.

Mario, Caroline’s partner, had already taken the first round of cutting Caroline’s hair with my clippers, and he asked me to help with some of the details. I took off the blue plastic guard, the metal teeth glinting in the sun. I switched the clippers on, and they buzzed in my hand as I brought the metal edge close to Caroline’s scalp, tracing a clear line along the curve of her ear. Continue reading “Queer Hair, Don’t Care: On the Liberatory Practice of Cutting My Own (and Others’) Hair”

The Traveling Bookshelf: Five Books to Make You Feel

It’s been a hard month-plus for a lot of us since Trump was inaugurated, and as my friend Joanna jokes, whenever I run into trouble, I turn to books. In my last reading list, which I posted shortly after the U.S. election, I suggested five books to read on race. This time, I’m focusing on feelings.

One of the best things stories offer us is a chance to walk around in someone else’s skin. As President Obama so rightly noted when describing the importance of reading in his life and presidency, books allow us “the ability to slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in someone else’s shoes”—and if we need nothing else at this time, it’s certainly more empathy. (The full transcript of Obama’s interview with the New York Times about books and reading is beautiful and available here.)

So here are some of the things I’ve read recently that have given me feels and made me feel more human. I hope you might be moved by them, too.

Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann

5941033I’m gonna be honest—this is my second time reading this book, and I read it before the election results were announced. I’d filled out my absentee ballot. I’d scanned and sent it from the lovely Airbnb home I was staying at in Pokhara, Nepal. Trump wasn’t even on my radar.

But Nepal was a weird time for me. I was overwhelmed by Kathmandu, unsure about how to face the legacy of colonialism in the Indian subcontinent that I’d just traveled through, confused about how to deal with my economic privilege in the midst of a lot of poverty, and had been on the road for almost six months.

I’d retreated to Pokhara for a couple weeks, to a lovely rustic property up the hill from Phewa Lake, to write and regroup. As much as I needed the quiet time, I was simultaneously struck by a feeling of aloneness (with the good and bad that goes with it) and self-defeating doubt.

I hadn’t felt invested in my fiction writing in a long time. I doubted the usefulness of stories. I didn’t know where my voice had gone, or why.

So, I turned to Let the Great World Spin, a book that I’ve counted as one of my favorites since I first read it a few years ago. So often, I’ve viewed literary fiction as a place of sadness; so infrequently have I found literary fiction that puts some hope in the bottom of the box.

Let the Great World Spin is an aching, dizzying, resonating piece that does just that—while sorting through realms of grief, longing, loneliness, and connection. Told through multiple viewpoints, McCann takes the reader deep into the lives a series of narrators who are connected by a thin thread (thicker for some than others) via the moment in 1974 when a man strung a tightrope across the World Trade Center towers in New York and walked across it. Each voice layers on top of the other, giving each greater meaning, and pulling the reader across space and time, into living rooms and antique cars and subway tunnels and the tops of towers, inviting us in for coffee, inviting us to share in one another’s grief and, in the end, to land on love.

Let the Great World Spin reminds me of how intimately we are connected, how deeply grief and loss can affect us, and how love and empathy can draw us through the even darkest of times. Continue reading “The Traveling Bookshelf: Five Books to Make You Feel”

You Are (Queer) Here is Growing!

You Are (Queer) Here is growing, and we need your help!

This project began last summer as a documentary film following two queer, gender non-conforming/non-binary South Carolinians on a journey across the globe (currently in post-production–see teaser below). Since then, it’s grown into an active travel blog and social media presence with thousands of readers/followers.

Now, with your help, I’d like to expand You Are (Queer) Here to reach a wider audience, providing more content on LGBTQ travel and diverse cultures worldwide. Find out more about what’s in store for You Are (Queer) Here’s future below, and if you like what you’ve seen so far, donate today at www.gofundme.com/you-are-queer-here-winter-campaign. Continue reading “You Are (Queer) Here is Growing!”

Why, Hello, Sir-Madam-Sir

“I’m sorry I have to ask you this, but are you a ‘sir’ or a ‘madam’?”

The security guard at the Taj Mahal looked at me earnestly. He was helping me figure out where to store my daypack. The lockers were at another entrance, I’d found out. I couldn’t bring in my computer that was tucked in the depths of my bag.

But first, he had to know this one thing.

*

When I left for India, I had all the intentions of passing as a man. I was worried about safety. Boyeon and I bought matching rings so we could pretend to be a married (heterosexual) couple, if necessary. I was totally prepared.

Except that I was also totally silly. Continue reading “Why, Hello, Sir-Madam-Sir”

Bowties, Binders, and Binaries

Keyes and I were sitting on the top ledge on the South side of the State House, looking toward Main Street and USC’s campus and Immaculate Consumption, one of the my favorite coffeeshops. It was dark, but the lights from downtown shone all around us.

“But what about—” I stopped myself. I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say. “What about countries with strict gender binaries—you know, for dress and where you can go and stuff. I want to be culturally sensitive, but I’m not growing my hair out.”

Keyes paused and looked at me as if that were the most absurd concern ever. “Of course not,” they said. “You’ll pass as a man.” Continue reading “Bowties, Binders, and Binaries”