The following is my coming out letter to my extended family and the remaining people in my life to whom I was not out. I am now out in all facets of my life, a place I never thought I would reach, even two months ago.
In my letter, I wanted to get across my humanity and really have people understand the impact that their words have on me and on other trans and LGBQ+ folks. I wanted to encourage them to be more kind. Judging from the responses I’ve received, I managed to do that.
Deepening new and old friendships with LGBTQ+ folks and allies brought me to a place where I knew I had enough support to do this. And thus far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. So it may be cliche, but it does get better!
Dear friends and family,
Writing this letter is difficult. It’s hard to know what to say; it’s intimidating to be vulnerable. But I think it will be better for all of us having written this letter.
I just wanted to let you all know that I’m nonbinary transgender, explain a little bit what that means to me, and make a request.
So, step one—coming out as nonbinary—accomplished, we move on to step two—what that means to me.
It’s hard to articulate what nonbinary means. Officially, it’s about being a gender that isn’t a woman or a man. But it doesn’t really have a concrete definition or experience, just like being a woman or a man isn’t a concrete experience. I’m still the same person in many respects, just happier and freer.
Some notes and definitions:
- Sex is based on biology, including internal and external sex characteristics, chromosomes, and hormones. People are generally divided into two groups (male and female), but some people are intersex, meaning that their sex characteristics don’t fit into one of those two groups.
- Gender is how a person identifies/feels inside. It is socially created and can have expectations and roles put onto it, usually based on a person’s sex characteristics. Thus, people often incorrectly assume that a person’s sex will determine their gender. Some genders include female, male, and nonbinary.
- Gender expression refers to people’s external articulations of gender, like clothing, haircuts, names, pronouns, and mannerisms. Society reads different things as “masculine” or “feminine,” but people’s gender expression doesn’t always match the stereotypes of their gender identity. Different societies code different things as “masculine” or “feminine,” so gender expression can vary with time and place.
- Transgender refers to people who do not identify with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth.
- Cisgender refers to people who do identify with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth. (You may recognize the cis- and trans- prefixes from chemistry, as referring to “the same side” and “another side” respectively.)
What nonbinary means to me:
It’s easier to explain what nonbinary is not. Being nonbinary for me isn’t about my interests. I still enjoy music, art, sewing, hiking, books, writing, and laughter… It’s not really about the clothes I wear or how I cut my hair. Coming out to myself freed me to do and wear some things I was scared to before, but people of all genders wear different clothes and hairstyles. It’s not like I think there is something wrong with being a woman or that women can’t be uncomfortable with gendered expectations. It’s not about stereotypical gender roles.
It’s more that when I tried to be a girl, and then a woman, I was uncomfortable. It felt inaccurate. Not because of my interests or clothing—girls and women have a multitude of interests and wear lots of different things—but just because. I knew for a long time I was uncomfortable when it came to gender, but I never articulated or even acknowledged that in my head, because it was too scary, and there were no other options as far as I knew. This created a lot of shame.
I know “because” is not a concrete answer, but once I finally read that it was possible to be something other than a woman, or a man, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I tried. I looked at my friends who were comfortable in womanhood and tried to be, but couldn’t. When I made nonbinary friends, I finally found people who articulated the same inexplicable discomfort, and the same freedom in being nonbinary.
Dealing with shame:
Being nonbinary feels accurate and takes away the gross feelings of shame. The only negative feelings left relate to society’s response. Many people don’t understand, because—like me when I was growing up—the only thing society knows is male and female. When I’m with people who get it, I feel so much more comfortable than before. Because ultimately, it’s not really a big deal. Identity is only a big deal when it’s repressed.
Most people don’t think constantly about their gender. Most people don’t feel particularly confined or defined by their gender, and neither do I, until I’m in a situation where it is a big deal, like when people call me a woman. Then it feels icky, like how you might feel if you were constantly called something you weren’t.
What you can do:
Which brings us to part three, my request. It would really help me feel more comfortable if people used the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “their(s)” to refer to me, rather than “she,” “her,” and “hers.” You might already do this for people whose pronouns you don’t know.
Some examples of they/them pronouns in everyday life:
- You move to a new city and need a new doctor. Your friend says, “I love my doctor!” You might say, “What’s their name?”
- Someone leaves a textbook behind in class and you don’t know whose it is. You might say, “Someone forgot their textbook. I hope they don’t need it tonight!”
- Your friend says, “We got a new supervisor at work.” You might ask, “Are they a good supervisor?”
- Your friend gives you cookies. You say, “Yum! These are really good!” Your friend says, “I can’t take credit. My friend gave them to me.” You ask, “Could you ask them for the recipe?”
I know the grammar can feel awkward—I also had to adjust. You may find it interesting to know that singular “they” has been used for centuries and that both the AP and Chicago style guides support its usage. If you want to read more about singular “they,” this blog post is rather fascinating.
My pronouns and language:
You can similarly use “they,” “them,” and “theirs” pronouns for me. I’m also using the name Beck, which feels more comfortable, and would appreciate it if you could use it when referring to me, not as a nickname, but as my name. So you could say:
- “I talked to Beck the other day. They told me they’re nonbinary!”
- Someone asks, “Do you know where Beck is? I can’t find them.” You say, “They’re in the living room.”
- Someone asks, “Do you know whose sweater this is?” You say, “Talk to Beck, I think it might be theirs.”
I’d also appreciate if you could avoid using gender-specific language for me, or lumping me into groups based on gender. Some examples:
- Instead of saying, “She’s my granddaughter,” you can say, “They’re my grandchild.”
- Instead of saying, “She’s my niece,” you can say, “I’m their aunt/uncle.” (Still working on what to say if both parties are nonbinary. Then you basically get to make new words up, which seems fun!)
- Instead of saying, “She’s my cousin,” you can say “They’re my cousin.” (Cousins get off easy!)
- This also applies to words like “girl,” “woman,” and “ladies.” Replacements include “friend(s),” “folks,” “person,” and “human(s).”
Practice makes perfect:
I know my mental health improves when people use these words to refer to me, so I’d really appreciate if you could all do so. It takes some getting used to. You might have to practice using unfamiliar pronouns and names in sentences—I know I did. Practicing aloud even when I’m not around can help with muscle memory, too. You might have to correct yourself or each other. It’s a learning curve. But who knows? You might someday meet a new friend or coworker who uses different pronouns than you expect, and I’ll have given you a head start on acing their pronouns!
Being misgendered (when people don’t use my name, pronouns, and other language) is emotionally exhausting and painful. It is much easier to spend time around people who make an effort to use the correct language when referring to me. I want to maintain and improve my relationships, and my feeling safe and comfortable around you will really help with that.
If you have questions, I’m including a link to a PDF document that’s been helpful for my parents. It’s rather long, but if you’d like to read it, feel free. You could also google questions, ask my family, or ask me. I ask that you be considerate about which questions you ask me.
I know for some of you, this concept could be difficult to reconcile with your religious beliefs. If you would like some resources on the intersection of Christianity and LGBTQ+ people, I’d recommend the following sources:
- Generous Spacehas a lot of excellent resources, including the book Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter and the documentary Belonging in the Body, about trans Christians. I’ll be featured in the upcoming documentary Belonging in the Body 2, about nonbinary people. Part of the documentary filming involved an interview panel I was on, which should be available for viewing shortly if you are interested.
- Austen Hartke’s blogdeals with theology and trans identity.
- Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests
- The book Torn, by Justin Lee really helped my parents when I first came out.
A note on sexual orientation:
I’m attracted to people of various genders, so just so it doesn’t come as a surprise if I ever date someone, my partner could be of any gender.
Love you all lots!
The Village is about a trans person facing unaccepting family, and emphasizes that the problem isn’t with the trans person, it is with society’s attitude. This song gave me confidence and reminded me of the power that I have. It also reminded me of the need for supportive community, and that I have that in many areas of my life.
There’s something wrong in the village
In the village, oh
They stare in the village
In the village, oh
There’s nothing wrong with you
It’s true, it’s true
There’s something wrong with the village
With the village
There’s something wrong with the village
Be More Kind gave me hope—a hope that has not been disappointed by the response I’ve gotten—that in hard times we need to be more kind to each other.
Like a lighthouse I will shine
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind
To you and yours from me and mine
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind
That it’s going to lose its mind
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind
It seems like all my life I’ve been constructing characters for myself. This came to mind last week when we improvised short scenes in my applied theatre class. Though they were short, I saw my life reflected back at me, or not, depending on the scene. I realized more personally how applied theatre allows people to run through relationships as practice for life.
Some of the characters I’ve made for myself help me to accomplish things. I’ve been working on these characters more in recent years, trying to practice until they become less like characters and more like me. These characters are more assertive; they allow me to stand up for myself and others instead of cowering or acquiescing to manipulative or otherwise unhealthy relationships.
These characterizations of myself are so important because for too much of my life I played characters that allowed me to be hurt. Their vulnerabilities weren’t usually my fault, but I crafted them in response to things people in power told me.
I’m six years old. My sisters and I have gone to bed. The babysitter comes into our room and says he has to talk to me. I follow him to the couch, and he tells me about sex, shows me with his hands. It’s way too late. I’m scared and uncomfortable. But he just keeps talking. I can’t leave. Suddenly, headlights flash in the window. I shouldn’t be up. I’m gonna be in so much trouble. But he has a solution: “Lie down on the couch and pretend to be asleep. I’ll tell them you were upset and couldn’t fall asleep. That way you won’t get in trouble.” I play my part well. My dad carries me to bed while I “sleep,” saving both of our asses, I think. But really, I just saved his ass.
Now I’m eleven. I’ve been playing the functional child—homeschooling is great, my sisters and I are well-educated, our household is fully functional. I listen greedily when my friends talk about school, try to absorb their knowledge when they talk about long division. Shit. I never learned that. I push down all my fears that CPS will realize that our education, if you can call it that, is a mess, and that my sisters and I will get in trouble. As if it’s our fault. The mask slips precisely once. I’m talking to a girl I meet at camp and never see again. We are both homeschooled. We both should have finished grade six. We are both at the level of third-grade math. We are both terrified. High school is in two years. I shove the mask back on, read through every math textbook I can find, and when grade nine comes, no one is any the wiser. I try to help my sisters, but it’s too much. I’ve saved myself for now, but I can’t save them.
Sweet sixteen: the pinnacle of teenage hood. While some of my peers do normal teenage things, I devote myself to learning how to be the perfect wife. Not that I don’t also have fun. This character is a bizarre cacophony—a puritan who quietly judges those who partake of the sins of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, while still enjoying elements of pop culture. I work towards the ideals of “Biblical womanhood,” striving for purity of body and mind, always trying to hide the fact that I’m not quite making it, a point I try to hide not least from myself. I follow the guidelines laid out by Dr. Dobson and his hordes of Christian cronies. I eschew sin and punish myself when I fail. My friend questions my charade of purported innocence. I mutter in protest and swear in my head I’ll do better. I ignore and repress all signs that it isn’t working, so that even though I’m vaguely aware that I’m going to crash and burn, I never acknowledge the fact until one day it hits me in a sudden explosion of realization that I am queer as the hell to which I am inevitably doomed. But that won’t happen for another four years.
When it does, I embrace this realization as relief. The mask crumbles. Then terror strikes. I awkwardly try to reassemble this façade while I process and change internally. Sometimes I venture out, take off the mask for a brief moment, and am honest with other queer people. But as soon as I’m around people I knew before, the haphazard masquerade returns. Having a disguise that doesn’t match my identity works for a while, but there is a lifetime of friction and turmoil beneath, and pressure from outside. The vessel is weak and the fault lines grow until I fracture apart.
I’m still trying to pick up the pieces worth keeping.
I’ve started being more honest about my experiences. I’ve told some of my best friends why they could never come over when we were growing up; I’m processing the emotional violence of my parents towards each other and their children; I’m working to navigate my relationship with a family that drowns me and saves me all at once.
My characters are becoming more assertive. I stand up to my parents’ mutual derision because I am not their marriage counselor. I call out transphobia directed towards my friends. I advocate for myself when doctors dismiss my health problems before they’ve even made an examination.
These actions still feel like characters. I still make new masks that shield my parents from the full extent of the pain they’ve caused, that present me as an ally rather than trans myself, that hide or diminish my experiences so others don’t worry about me. I still tell myself I should be able to handle the masquerade.
The other week, I was telling my friend a story about an evening with my family. It was all happy and mundane and innocuous. After I was done, she said, “Now I know what you did, but how did it feel?” So I told her a second story. After I was done, we agreed it was more depressing, but also more honest. Our stories have many layers. We make characters all the time. I’m trying to make mine more true-to-life.
Masquerade! Paper faces on parade . . .
Masquerade! Hide your face, so the world will never find you!
Masquerade! Every face a different shade . . .
Masquerade! Look around – there’s another mask behind you!
I wrote this litany in the aftermath of Charlottesville, reflecting on how we can respond, instead of freeze, in a political and social climate which is so continually violent to people on the margins. It is meant to be read collectively, acknowledging that people in diverse groups hold various privileges and marginalized identities. I hope that the church will join in with the many people already calling for justice and living in ways that bring about a more just world.
It is easy to turn away,
To place responsibility elsewhere,
To believe that we are the “good ones.”
We acknowledge our own prejudices:
We confess our racism, which we can hide from ourselves and others with political correctness.
We confess our homophobia, our discomfort with different manifestations of love.
We confess our ableism, our assumptions of how bodies and minds “should be.”
We confess our transphobia, the things we assume about gender which cause pain and threaten lives.
We confess that we make judgements based on gender and femininity, on financial assets, on appearances, on languages.
We confess the times we’ve felt superior because our lives were going a certain way.
We acknowledge the ache of when we’ve felt inferior.
Our thoughts and actions do not exist in a bubble—
They have been shaped by the systems in which we’ve grown up.
We do not need to hide in shame from ourselves.
Instead, we commit to unlearning harmful things we have learned, to challenging evil which wounds, to teaching new ways of being which can heal our world, and to acknowledging the beauty and life-affirming things around us.
Jesus modeled for us a way of radical justice and taught us to see the humanity of others and ourselves. Know that your life has value and that you are loved.
If Jesus is come, let warfare be ended.
If Jesus is come, let violence cease.
If Jesus is come, let earth begin healing,
for he is Messiah, the Prince of Peace.
I had this poem cross-posted on mennoQmunity for maximum reach. Check out their blog—they have a lot of neat stuff happening at the intersection of queerness and faith.
I also can’t format my poetry properly on WordPress, so if you’d like the original format or would like to print it off, here it is in PDF: Bill C-16: A Lament and a Call to Action
Do you know what it feels like to have your very existence constantly up for public debate?
If you don’t, please, listen closely.
If you do, I am so sorry—
Feel free to come and find commiseration.
Feel free to leave if reliving this pain is too much right now.
But if you don’t know what it feels like to be trans, I implore you to listen!
Bill C-16 is currently in its second sitting in the senate.
It would add gender identity and gender expression to the protected classes in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the Criminal Code.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Apparently protecting a vulnerable group of people is too much to ask if our existence makes you uncomfortable.
How is this even up for debate?
In 2015, after three years of being eviscerated until the remnants were meaningless, a similar bill died in the senate,
Victim to the lie that trans peoples’ safety is less important than cis peoples’
That trans people having the same rights as cis people will endanger society.
Two years later, another bill offers protection,
Offers to help heal this wound.
Yet the accusations and fear-mongering have come back once more:
Your pronouns are plural; they’re not even real!
Men will sneak into women’s bathrooms!
You are betraying the feminist cause!
These sentiments never disappeared;
They just lingered under the surface for a while—
Lies that are easy to ignore if they aren’t about you
Lies trans people can’t escape from hearing.
This conversation keeps on coming back in different iterations,
Like Mozart’s Variations on a Common Theme,
Like Pachelbel’s Canon coming back to haunt our music decade after decade.
But it seems cruel to music that I would even use such an unflattering metaphor to describe how
The demonization of trans people
Of trans bodies
Keeps cropping up like a sludge you can never clear away,
Burrowing into our psyches like mould
Innocuous in appearance until you realize that
The tendrils have dug in deep under the surface,
Spoiling something that once was pure,
Villainizing the innocent.
Even fellow members of the trans community criticise each other, and I learn that
I am indecisive.
I should choose a side.
Non-binary identities are invalid.
This has been brought up in the Senate:
“The transgender community… believes there are only two genders… yet, seventy-plus genders will be included in this bill.”
The problem is,
They only talked to a small group within the trans population,
Science corroborates that gender and sex are not binaries,
And gender identity and expression also impact people who don’t identify as trans.
Does my having rights,
in addition to your having rights,
somehow diminish your rights?
Jordan Peterson has stirred up fear that this bill heralds the end of free speech,
That he could be jailed for not using my pronouns,
That his rights are on trial here.
This lie, too, has entered the Senate debate:
“This bill compels speech. It doesn’t just work against freedom of speech. It actually compels certain speech.”
This bill protects people from genocide and
From having hatred incited against them
It extends the same protections for people on the basis of gender identity and expression
As are extended on the basis of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”
These are not “special protections.”
These are basic human rights.
Every human deserves to live free from fear for their safety
Free from having their humanity diminished
Free from being a constant representative of an entire group of people,
From constant analysis and scrutiny and judgement.
But this bill does not guarantee these rights for trans people.
It just guarantees that it will be a specific crime to encourage genocide or incite hatred against us.
There are even protections in place for you:
If your hate speech is
Stating a truth,
Part of public debate, or
Part of your religious doctrine
You are protected from prosecution.
Intentionally misgendering someone
Intentionally using the wrong pronouns
These are acts of violence.
But you are within your rights to attack our dignity.
In the last year,
More than a third of trans youth have attempted suicide,
Almost two-thirds of us have self-harmed,
Over two-thirds of trans people are homeless, unemployed, or underemployed,
And you’re worried about losing your right to disparage us?
This bill is just trying to ensure that
All people really are equal before the law.
There is still a long way to go before this will ring true
Before all trans Canadians actually have access to basic human rights.
Basically, this bill enables the government to collect stats on hate crimes towards trans folks.
Is that too much to ask?
Your right to continue speculating about my gender,
To continue ignoring my pronouns,
To continue being unaffected by my pain,
Will still far outweigh my right to feel safe in society,
To feel respected and dignified,
To not worry about my existence.
Tell me, whose rights are in jeopardy?
In all the talk around Bill C-16,
In which Jordan Peterson’s voice has been elevated louder than all others,
Drowning out the cries of trans people for justice,
I have yet to hear a Mennonite individual or organization speak up.
Maybe I missed it;
I’m not the only trans Mennonite.
But I lament that in all the conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ inclusion,
You only really talk about the L and the G.
Your concern that two people who love each other,
but don’t fit your vision of Family—
that they could create something beautiful
This concern dominates the conversation,
Burying the identities and concerns of
Yes, we do exist
And we need you to hear us.
Jesus said to love your neighbour.
I guess I missed the part where he qualified that statement.
Love your neighbour—so long as they agree with you.
Love your neighbour—provided their existence doesn’t make you uncomfortable.
Even if you disagree with us,
Even if you think that we are somehow misguided,
When we are telling you over and over again that we don’t feel loved
That your words and actions are making us afraid
That your rhetoric is painful
That your decisions are literally killing some of us, especially trans women of colour
Isn’t it time to reconsider?
Jesus also said that if someone asks for bread you shouldn’t give them a stone
Yet you are trading fish for snakes and eggs for scorpions.
You are hurting me.
I am frustrated and hurt that you don’t know I exist
Frustrated and hurt that even in my affirming congregation,
I don’t feel safe enough to be out.
I’m tired of people using the wrong pronouns
Tired of limiting my out-ness and gender expression
Tired of being afraid.
I’m mostly feeling frustrated, hurt, and exhausted when it comes to the church.
It is exhausting to be trans, and to be trans within the church.
I’m tired of constantly thinking about my identity
Tired of trying to figure it out for myself
of worrying about coming out or being outed
of wondering what people think of me
Frustrated that this “issue” is the main thing I think about
That my existence can be reduced to an “issue.”
I have other interests; I have school!
If the church really wants to exhibit the love and justice of Jesus,
You’ll make the church a safe place for humanity to authentically be
So that trans people have energy to live life, form relationships,
and contribute to the church.
Stop hurting us.
If you hurt a member of the church, you hurt the body,
And trans people are the church.
Please help improve the lives of trans people in Canada by writing to or telephoning your senator and asking them to vote for Bill C-16. You can read this article to learn more.
The song for today is a song of lament by fellow Mennonite, Phil Campbell Enns. It’s called How Long. You can listen to it here and find lyrics, chords, and music here (in a long list of his songs, which are pretty great).
As promised, here is Emily Rachelle’s guest post about the music she listened to while writing World of Shadows. I encourage you to read my review from last week, visit Emily Rachelle Writes, and purchase the book on Amazon.
When I write a book, I always have a playlist to go with it. Here are some of the tracks on my playlist for World of Shadows:
Like any faithful Disney fan, I love the soundtrack from their Beauty and the Beast. But not many of those songs really fit with my own story. I did listen to the classic “Beauty and the Beast” as well as “Something There.”
One of my absolute favorite songs while working on this novel was actually an obscure instrumental piece I found while doing historical research. It’s called “French Renaissance Lute Branle.” I’ve listened to this one on repeat for hours while working on scenes in the tunnels. It’s very relaxing.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge one of the biggest influences on my work. I know there are quite a few similarities between the fantastic show Beauty and the Beast from the 80s and my own Beauty and the Beast story. I’m pretty sure I saw this show after writing most of my first draft, although it’s been so long I don’t remember completely. There’s been a reboot of the show running for a few years now with an Asian heroine and a modern genetic-experiment twist. I watched the first two seasons; it’s romantic and full of action, but it lacks the magic of the original.
Anyway, the songs from this show that most spoke to my work included the suite from the episode “To Reign in Hell,” the score “Labyrinth,” and “Though Lovers Be Lost” from one of the most controversial episodes on the show.
There were also several modern tracks that connected with me while working on World of Shadows. I love “Demons” and “Monster” by Imagine Dragons. The mysterious aura of the characters and world in my story also fit well with “Riddle” by Mindy Gledhill.
Beila’s place in the tunnel world seemed best connected with “Mercy” and “Come Home” by One Republic.
The emotional setting and tempo of the book were perfectly embodied in Jennifer Thomas’ instrumental work “Illumination” and William Joseph’s “Stella’s Theme.”
The perseverance required of Beila as the book progresses, especially emotionally, was expressed well in Jayesslee’s cover of “I Won’t Give Up.”
On a romantic note, I frequently listened to “I Will Always Return” by Bryan Adams. I adored his work on Spirit as a kid. As cliched as it is, I enjoyed “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri. A lesser-known favorite of mine is “Sunshine” by Lucas Grabeel, an actor from Switched at Birth. Finally, “All About Your Heart” by Mindy Gledhill is just beautiful.
Fairy tales are stories of wonder and magic, but they are also stories of life. Emerging author Emily Rachelle pulls these elements together beautifully in her first novel, World of Shadows. World of Shadows chronicles the adventures of Beila, a teenage girl whose nightmares begin to intersect with reality until she is pulled into the land of her dreams. The lines between dream and reality blur as she navigates her interconnected, yet multifarious lives.
This novel is a stunningly expanded adaptation of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast. While in some renditions of the story, readers are left questioning the validity of the message that a pure woman’s love can change an abusive man, the complexity of Rachelle’s characters and their motivations provide an effective exploration of good and evil beyond a simple, dichotomized paradigm. She also incorporates many depictions of love within families, friendships, and broader communities, so that romantic love is not the primary motivator or manifestation of love within the story.
While certain plot points felt predictable, Rachelle’s descriptive writing style and use of detail maintained suspense throughout the book. The story is beautifully told, with writing full of imagery to describe scene and emotion, and Rachelle’s gift for fantasy storytelling was evident as I was pulled into this story. Besides a couple of times where I was unsure of the significance of a particular detail, Rachelle’s storytelling method is very interconnected, employing foreshadowing, satisfying character development, and imaginative world-building.
Like all good fairy tales, World of Shadows explores various important themes, including love, truth, and memory. When Beila recalls her childhood, she says that “[t]he memories come up in [her] mind like driftwood bobbing up on the ocean’s surface” (18). This idea of submerged memories recurs throughout the book as Beila works to uncover her truth and how it intersects with the truths around her.
These truths, while sometimes containing joyous elements, are often painful to uncover. When Beila is afraid to acknowledge a particularly gruesome truth, she is told, “Sweetheart, sometimes the truth isn’t pretty. It’s not clean or friendly. But it is truth nonetheless, and it must be faced and grasped” (232). Beila’s responses to the many distressing narratives throughout the book remind the reader that confronting pain is often the first step to healing.
A good fairy tale is at once familiar and eye-opening, and Emily Rachelle’s World of Shadows definitely satisfies on both accounts. With a cast of empathetic characters, a full set of emotions and virtues, and a believable world with a generous sprinkling of magical imagination and wonder, this book will enthrall you fellow lovers of fairy tales, and could even convert a few critics.
Launched on December 11th, 2016, Emily Rachelle’s World of Shadows is available for purchase on Amazon as a Kindle or paperback! Check out her blog, Emily Rachelle Writes for more amazing writing. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to review her book and look forward to hosting a guest post on December 20th, where she’ll talk about some songs from her book-writing playlist!
“Therefore, you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” ~Matthew 24:44 (NRSV)
I have always struggled with the apocalyptic and Revelation texts within the Bible. They are too violent, too full of fear, and too often used to terrify people into seeking salvation. I often ignore these texts because I don’t know what to do with them. They bring up painful memories of damaging ideologies involving guilt and hell which I was exposed to in my childhood and adolescence, and this guilt digs its claws into my mind, waiting to interfere when I work to reimagine my faith.
This first reflection was one of the few times I have seen one of these texts in a new light. Throughout Matthew 24, Jesus instructs his listeners to keep watch, to prepare for the unknown coming of the Lord at “the end of the age.” Though I tend to imagine Revelation images of beasts and horror, when I reflected on this passage with today’s reflection words (fuck/rend), I saw a different idea of what it means to keep watch.
My reaction to an imminent second coming is two-fold. On one hand, I am terrified and selfish, thinking of all the things I want to do—learn more, travel, write, fall in love… Yet at the same time, I recognize that my future won’t be the fulfillment of “the American Dream.” We are hurting the world and our lives will change, with or without our consent. In my lament, words often feel inadequate to express my frustration. A grieving mantra of “fuck” can release some pent-up pain. In these times, I want to cry out, “God! Just come now!”
There is so much pain and hatred in the world, and we have seen innumerable, horrible manifestations of this throughout this past year: the vitriolic US election and its aftermath, war in Syria leading to unimaginable violence and ghetto conditions, police aggression and illegal torture of the Indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock…
The world is a mess; it’s all fucked up. Just come and rend the pain, the horror, the hatred. Strip it clean. Make us new.
In all of this, it is easy to grow despondent, to want to say “fuck this” and not care anymore. But I cannot stop caring for my fellow humans and for the earth. My faith calls me to work for justice for all creation.
My dad has an interesting theory about the “second coming” that really resonates with me. He says that it has already occurred, at least in part. At Pentecost, shortly after Jesus left the earth, God came again in the Holy Spirit to dwell on earth—God in us, and us in God. In this vision of building the kingdom of God on earth, part of keeping watch is living in this tension of fear and expectation. Instead of waiting for some future time, watching the sky for signs of a descending Deity, we keep watch on the world.
Jesus calls his followers “the salt of the earth” and “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14). As followers of Jesus, we must live into the call to be prophetic voices for justice in an aching world. To tangibly demonstrate our words with our actions. To live in right relationship with each other and with the earth, knowing that, whether God has already “come again” or whether that is still to come, the God who is Love is here with us and in us, and we are with God and live in God.
So let us keep watch as prophetic people living in the “now” of God’s presence here on earth. This vision of keeping watch isn’t the guilt-driven “oh, fuck,” but the active “fuck this!” Fuck the pain and sin and hatred. Fuck the guilt and fear-mongering. Fuck injustice.
We will keep watch.
We will speak out when our watch sees injustice.
We will work to rend the injustice and work for a new kingdom on earth.
How can we be silent is a beautiful, prophetic hymn by Michael Mahler. You can find all the words here, and can listen to the song here. This recording demonstrates the Mennonite tendency to slow the tempo; I’d recommend taking it a titch faster.
How can we be silent when we know our God is near,
Bringing light to those in darkness, to the worthless, endless worth?
How can we be silent when we are the voice of Christ,
Speaking justice to the nations, breathing love to all the earth?
None can stop the Spirit
Burning now inside us.
We will shape the future.
We will not be silent!
“Too queer for your binary.” This is a common phrase used by the non-binary and gender non-conforming community to protest against the enforcement of the binary gender system and to celebrate our queerness. I love the sassiness of this sentiment that says, “We are here and we’ll make our own lack of rules, thanks!”
However, in spite of my identifying as queer and non-binary, I often find that I feel awkward vocalizing this to people, even to those who are affirming or queer themselves. A great deal of this certainly has to do with all the internalized homo-and-trans-phobia that I am still working through, but another component I’ve been noticing is that I’m just not queer enough for many peoples’ idea of what it means to be non-binary.
I’ve often been told—both by people to whom I’m out, and otherwise—that I “wouldn’t understand what it means to be a gentleman, because I’m such a lady,” or that I “look quite feminine, so it’s to be expected” that people wouldn’t be able to remember my pronouns. Friends to whom I’ve come out still regularly ask, “What’s up lady?” or “How’s it going girl?!” I appreciate the sentiment of affection they are trying to convey, and how I deal with these uncomfortable situations is a topic for another post, but I use these examples to highlight how common it is for me to be misgendered. (Never mind all of the iterations of “Have a great day miss!” or “Thank you young lady!” doled out by strangers).
Non-binary gender is slowly coming more into the mainstream in the last few years, but there are still many assumptions made about what it looks like to be queer. I do not have short enough or bright enough hair, wear expressive enough makeup, or have the right blend of sass, piercings, and stylish “gender-neutral” clothing to fit in with a certain image of queerness.
My hair is too feminine. My voice is too feminine. My clothing, body, and sensitive spirit are all too feminine.
This is in part because I’m not yet fully out, don’t have money to spend on my physical appearance, or feel too timid to try to pull off some of the looks I enjoy on others. Yet it is also partly because I enjoy some elements of the ways in which I present myself.
Regardless of why I look or behave the way I do, my physical appearance does not dictate my identity or my pronouns. This is true for me, and it is true for all people.
One day my appearance may be more in line with what I envision. One day I may actually figure out what this vision is. For now, regardless of what others might imagine, I am too queer for your binary.
In the spirit of not defining people by our expectations, but instead welcoming all to come and be loved fully as they are, I offer this song:
Draw the circle wide.
Draw it wider still.
Let this be our song,
No one stands alone,
Standing side by side,
Draw the circle wide.
“Welcome! Let’s go around the circle and introduce ourselves by saying our name, our preferred pronouns, and the oddest thing you’ve ever eaten.”
For anyone who has introduced themselves within a queer-friendly environment, this is a pretty common experience. Which is great! Pronouns can be an important part of our identities, especially as trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC)* folks.
I was recently at a retreat where we went around introducing ourselves in this way. Though I was really glad for the multiple opportunities to share my pronouns, this experience got me thinking again about my continuing journey with pronouns, and some critiques I have of the process.
1. “Preferred pronouns”
My pronouns are my pronouns. They are not an optional thing for people who know which pronouns I use. Since I’m early in transitioning to they/them pronouns, I’ve sometimes said things like, “Oh, I don’t really mind if people use she/her pronouns so long as they also use my preferred pronouns.” I’m not great at correcting people and still sometimes accidentally refer to myself using the language I was assigned at birth.
But in reality, I do mind, and when people catch themselves and use the correct language, I feel wonderful. My pronouns aren’t a preference like my love of cookie-dough ice cream or reddish hues. They are my pronouns, and the use of she/her pronouns and traditionally “female” language is incorrect and makes me squirm. When asking people to share their pronouns, do just that. Don’t use language which implies that respecting peoples’ pronouns is optional.
2. “Male” and “female” pronouns
At this retreat, people often introduced themselves saying “I use male pronouns,” or “I use female pronouns.” This language implies that gender identity and pronouns are equivalent. They are related, but not everyone who identifies as a certain gender uses the same pronouns.
There are enbies who use she/her or he/him pronouns. Some people identify within the binary, but use some form of gender-neutral pronouns, either alone or in conjunction with she/her or he/him pronouns. People of any gender identity may use one or multiple sets of pronouns. Sure, it takes a bit longer to say, but detaching pronouns from being masculine or feminine helps those of us for whom our gender identity does not “match” our pronouns.
3. Pronouns aren’t comfortable for everyone
Mandatory declaration of pronouns assumes that I am cis and should therefore state my pronouns as an ally, or that I am comfortably TGNC. However, this excludes a lot of people and makes things really uncomfortable when you’re first coming out. Not saying your pronouns can make you look like a bigot; saying your pronouns can mean you intentionally misgender yourself or out yourself prematurely.
I hated the pronoun question a few months ago, and had many an uncomfortable moment. I didn’t even know what my pronouns were! How was I supposed to say them? Sometimes I launched into a stumbling explanation of my confusion. Other times, I just said “she/her” and squirmed inside. Even now, there are many spaces where being asked to share my pronouns would make me supremely uncomfortable. I am not ready to come out to everyone at church, yet would hate to be forced to misgender myself out loud. Even in “safe spaces,” we can’t assume that people feel certain about their pronouns or safe enough to share.
This said, pronouns are supremely important for many people, and acknowledging them is a must. This article isn’t perfect (let’s get away from saying that someone’s appearance can match their pronouns), but I really appreciate the suggestion to acknowledge and invite people to share as they prefer. This will, I’m sure, still result in awkward feelings for new and questioning TGNC folk, but hopefully not feeling an obligation to share can help.
Acknowledging pronouns can be a super important means of affirming our identities and creating safe space, but it can also be the opposite experience for many people. Being aware of our language and assumptions when discussing pronouns is crucial to helping to create safer spaces for all.
*TGNC includes MTF and FTM, as well as genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, gender-f*ck, gender-bender, two-spirit, intersex, and anyone else who does not identify as strictly cis-gender or the gender they were assigned at birth. People under the TGNC umbrella may not identify with this language (for example, two-spirit Indigenous people who may or may not identify with settler language). Erasure of identities within the non-cis umbrella is a good topic for another post, but I’ve selected this as a more inclusive term. As always, I’m open to feedback from other TGNC folk!
The song Will you come and follow me, by John L. Bell, has a verse that really resonates with me in my coming out journey. Our discomfort with pronouns often has to do with uncertainty and hidden selves. You can see the whole song here and listen to it here.
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
At sunset, when the light fades red
And crimson blushes ‘cross the sky
I linger ‘tween the mossy trees
As loons call out their lullabies
Echoes haunting through the fog
O’er gleaming, golden, silent glass
Crackling leaves and snapping twig
As mother deer and fawn creep past
Tangerine and turquoise fade
To gath’ring mist and glitt’ring coal
Diamond prisms scattered lending
Wonder to my pensive soul
Twinkling laughter breaks the night
As paddle stroke arcs silver spray
Silent ripples warp the glass
Wood–hewn canoe glides o’er the bay
Roughened rock my makeshift bed
I gaze up to that endless sea
Where moonlight guides the ships of dreams
The universe sings back to me
Croaking frogs and cricket’s trill
Join whippoorwill and flautist thrush
In nature’s reverent vesper hymns
Hooting, rustling, sighing, hush
Snapping spark of piney fire
Orange stars rising in the night
Dancing flame and glowing heat
Embers dying, fading light
The silence of this peaceful hour
Pierced only by hushed evening sounds
Breathes forth a prayer of love content
This eventide where joy abounds.