Masquerade: Some Scenes of a Life

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.


Today’s song is Masquerade, from Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Here are the lyrics and a recording.

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!

Read more: Andrew Lloyd Webber – Masquerade Lyrics | MetroLyrics

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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).

Guest Post: The Music of “World of Shadows”

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.

 

World of Shadows: Book Review

world-of-shadows-coverFairy 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!

Day 1: Keeping watch, speaking out (fuck/rend)

“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!