Bill C-16: A Lament and a Call to Action

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?

It doesn’t?
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.”

Some facts:
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.”

Exhale.

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
trans Mennonites
bi Mennonites
queer Mennonites
intersex Mennonites
ace Mennonites.

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).

This Eventide

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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.

Pools of Light

In the deep blue hush of a crystal pool
I see your soul, in all its mysterious beauty.
Gleaming stars—those pinpricks of light—
Reflect on your faintly rippling waters
And sparkle, winking back at me.
Each individual facet of the sky above
Reflecting
Refracting
Dancing
Bits of the world passing through you,
Then shining back for me to see.
And aren’t we all like pools and stars—
Sharing our light with the pools around us
And reflecting the light of the stars above?

A Prayer for Community

God, we pray for a hurting world; a hurting people.

We are so diverse
With many different identities and attractions
All created and loved by You.

We pray first for ourselves:
When misinformed prejudice
Threatens to destroy our love for ourselves
And blinds us to Your love,
When our shame and doubt overpower us,
When we are injured by the judgement of others
Or of ourselves,
Help us feel Your comfort, peace, and joy.
Help us love ourselves as You do, without judgement.
Help us find community
Where we can be supported and offer support to others.

(Silence)

We pray for the LGBTQ+ community:
When we experience condemnation
Or feel like our identities and gifts are not valued,
Strengthen us to stand secure in who we are.
Give us opportunities to serve and lead.
Guide us as we support each other.
Let our voices be heard,
So that one day there will be no need
For separate communities
Because all are welcome in the body of Christ.

(Silence)

We pray for the church:
We confess we have used Your name in the name of hatred.
We have not always shown love,
Or have failed to reach the needs of a hurting people.
Work in and through Your church to bring us to a place
Of love and understanding with our friends in Christ,
Remembering that we may not all agree,
But that we can all reflect your uninhibited love.

(Silence)

As we learn and grow in community
And as individuals,
Fill us with Your Spirit,
Leave us open to Your guidance,
And embrace us with Your grace
As we live love to those in pain
So that all may be renewed and find healing in Your Love.

I am a queer Christian who is still struggling with internalized shame to come to a point where I can love myself. My prayer focuses on love, and the importance of community to support LGBTQ+ persons in their journeys. I wanted to have space to pray for ourselves as individuals, because the journey of self-acceptance is often difficult for LGBTQ+ folks, and people who are not LGBTQ+ usually have their own things they struggle to accept about themselves. A supportive community is so important in this process, and while it is fantastic to have groups where we can be surrounded by others who understand, I long for a day when society reaches a point where all types of relationships (and singleness!) are celebrated, so that no one feels “abnormal” or is ostracised. This prayer could be used in a group where LGBTQ+ and allies are present, perhaps in a service of healing and reconciliation. It expresses longing, confession, and hope for a present and future with more love.

The Writer

Ink-stained fingersThe Writer
Smudge cream-coloured pages
As a flurry of words pour from her pen.

A pen filled not with mere ink
But with the ocean of her imagination.

Her thoughts fly ahead of her pen
In leaps and bounds
Too vast to contain
Swirling with imagery
And all the thoughts and sounds of the universe.

Then, they stop.

Twirling
Teasing

Dancing just out of reach
Refusing to be coaxed from their hiding places
In the burrows of her subconscious.

Timid, they come once again
An ebb and flow of creativity
Limited only by her mind and hand.

She creates a world
Birthing it up from the rubble of shattered dreams
Inspired by misty mornings
Crackling fires
And the laughter of children.

Writing of the longings, loves,
Fantasies, and fears of her heart.

Her soul bleeding into the page
Midnight ink on soft ivory.

Pen thrumming with the rhythm of life.

 

The Reader

She sits, legs curledThe Reader
In a blanket cocoon
While golden hair gleams silver
In the light of the moon.

Falling as a curtain
Past eyes which gleam and glow
As she reads of life, and love, and dreams
And evening walks through falling snow.

Her mind is not in this world
For enchantment from the start
Has trapped her ‘tween the pages
Of the books which hold her heart.

 

The Dragon

The Dragon

It crushes down
A dark, deep, menacing force.
Screaming silence.

My tears stream silent
With silent gasps of breath the only breeze
Trying to hold in the hurt
The sorrow
The shame.

Sound is a betrayal of emotion I cannot bear
This pain is secret
Silent
Held in the pit of my stomach
Twisting knots
Tearing through my vision
Blinding
Screaming through my mind in unspoken anguish.

No words can contain this sorrow.

I lie there as pools bubble up, stinging my eyes.
But they sting less than my heart.

Rivers run
Salt tinged lips
I bear the pain in silence.

I cannot share this pain
The shame is too much to bear
My self-judgement rains down
And projects itself as the judgement of others.

Besides, that would be admitting weakness
Or so I tell myself.
I want to be strong.
I will be strong.
I don’t want my burden to be a burden to others.

So I hold it in.

Silent.

Yet the beast claws and tears at my heart
Reminding me that it is ever-present
Though sometimes dormant.

Waiting.
Plotting.

Waiting for the right opportunity to claw its way to the surface
And leave me breathless and broken.
Plotting ways to turn my own conscious in on itself
So it doesn’t have to do the dirty work.

Sometimes after it slinks away
I think that it has gone forever.
I tell myself,

“How silly you were to think that it controlled you.
How could you let it do that?
See, life’s not so bad!
You’re happy now.
You were just tricking yourself before.
The pain was all in your head.”

But it turns out those words are just it speaking
Using my voice in its mockery.
A double-edged sword.
A hidden blow.

It was lying.

Lying by the deepest, darkest pools of my subconscious
The places I don’t like to go because it’s cold and eerie.
Lurking in the shadows of my darkest nights.

Lying about the fact that it was gone
That sunnier days had sent it scurrying
Off to some crack in the earth.

It never left.

It tricked me.

Because it comes back later.

Long after I think it has vanished
After I begin to imagine that maybe it was never there at all.
After my fear has turned to relief
And I think, “Now I’ll live life again!”

It comes back.

So I must battle this creature
This unseen monster which haunts the hallows of my heart.
Because this battle for my heart
Is not between the dragon and a prince—
Like a fairy tale told to children—
But the dragon and myself.

I will fight for my own heart.

The Secret Garden

Secret Garden

Come into my secret garden
Where the door is often barred.
Hidden under lock and key
Unless the gate is left ajar.

Tangled vines and mossy curtains
One must brave to see inside.
But once within, all is revealed
To those whose hearts are open wide.

Hidden beauty, regal splendour
Offered up to those who dare
To come into my secret garden
and find all that it has to share.

Weary traveller come and rest
And sit beneath welcoming shade
Whilst I tell you of memories
That do so often seem to fade.

Enter as a dear old friend
Hopes and dreams shared from the start
And come into my secret garden—
The hidden garden of my heart.

The Masquerade

The Masquerade

Shifting colours on display. All the grey hidden away. Masquerade—playing a part. Don’t be afraid to bare your heart. ~My younger self

Will people love me less if they know who I really am?

I hide behind so many facades
This is the masquerade
Do I even know what is truly me
Or is it hidden beneath layers of deception
And created personalities?

The mask falls off.

I try to contain myself but I burst out awkward
Laughter too loud, stories too long.
I feel obnoxious and want to stop—
But I can’t.
My tongue carried away by a train of sound
Brakes failing until the train grinds to a halt
Or crashes in an awkward disarray.

I feel your judgement.

When you whisper, do you whisper about me?
Probably not.
You talk about your weekend, the cute guy you met
But I can’t hear your words
So I project my self-judgement into your whispers
And with every glance and giggle I feel the scorn I cast upon myself.

The mask goes on.

I’m surrounded by a thousand Aphrodites
A thousand Adonises
Turned in my mind’s eye into a pack of wolves
Hungry for my confidence and dignity.

Every glance, word, and gesture analyzed—
Yours and mine
To build up my defenses
Hone my image and

Keep myself behind the mask.

I feel so awkward as I struggle to present myself as perfect.
I feel like an elephant
Like I’ve expanded to fill the entire room.
Every eye must be on me
I feel the stares prickle across my cheeks
A thousand flaming arrows.

Nothing is out of the ordinary to you
But I create a world where I am singled out for inspection.
Every misstep
Every imperfection
Every difference
Paraded by the unseeing eyes that I feel as lasers
Inspecting all my layers
Dissecting every fault.
My heart closes, a hidden vault.

This is not who I really am, but it is who I see.
I imagine myself a monster
Until I believe the lie.

If people saw me as I see myself, would they love me any less?

I do.