CH CH CHANGE …
November 8, 2015 by?Quinn E. Gormley
November 8, 2015 is “Stewardship Sunday” at Second Congregational Church. Our guest preacher is Quinn E. Gormley. ?Quinn preached from some notes (see below) and also spoke extemporaneously. You are invited to?listen as you read. ?The audio recording of Quinn’s sermon will?stream from?our Tindeck.com account on the internet when you click on the link below. ?The audio will open in a new browser window … depending on your web browser settings, you may need to return to this window by clicking on the appropriate tab.
Turn up your speaker volume and enjoy.
‘Yeah.” I mumbled.
“So, you’re a woman?”
“Ah, well, OK. So what’s your name?”
Aha. It was my favorite question.
“Quinn. Quinn Eileen Gormley.” I smiled, as if there were nothing to it.
My success coming out to Kim emboldened me. A week later I played a service at my favorite little church in Waldoboro. After the service I decided to try my luck again. I pulled the pastor aside and told her my story. She accepted me with a hug and gave me knitted prayer shawl some members of the church had made. It was so very affirming. The next couple of months were filled with stories like this as I came out to my wider community, to my church. In each place I greeted with love and support beyond my wildest imagination.
After a few months of this, I felt ready to make the next big step- to begin living my life full time as me. I went off to my first week as a counselor at Pilgrim Lodge with a cabin full of middle school girls and a suitcase full of women’s clothing. What I found at Pilgrim Lodge was a community of faith that saw me as a complete human being, an extraordinary creation, but most importantly- completely normal and deserving of love.
I found the same thing a month later when I began my apprenticeship at the Carpenter’s Boat Shop. I had a community of friends who saw me as my authentic self and encouraged me on my journey. I was allowed to live into myself, to be me. I learned how to walk, talk, sit, gesticulate. I practiced my new voice day and night. I grew my hair out, learned how to dress myself. New hormones flooded my body. My skin softened, my face changed shape, I grew curves, I was bloated and moody ALL the time. It was awesome. At least that is what I would tell myself.
Our scripture reading this morning brings us to one of those bible stories we often only hear about in Sunday School. Joseph, the dreamer, the beloved son of Israel, who was scorned by his brothers for aspiring to higher destiny. In this passage, we meet him early in his life. He’s 17, the pride of his father’s love. He’s just been given his legendary coat. Nothing bad has yet befallen him.
Thud! The rusty door of Kim’s old subaru slammed shut as I settled back into my seat for the bumpy ride ahead.
“Sorry I’m late, I got held up with Saddie” she mumbled as we started down the dirt road towards church. The sun was just falling behind the hills and rain was drizzling down from a mostly cloudy sky. The whole landscape had adopted the dreary and stark attitude so common to rural Maine in March, it was the perfect evening for a Maundy Thursday Service. Another thud followed by the sound of vibrating metal, we’d driven through a pothole.
“So, how do you like it?” Kim asked. She meant my visitation. I was applying to apprentice at The Carpenter’s Boat Shop, an intentional community that provides safe harbor to people between points in life while teaching them the skills of traditional wooden boatbuilding. In order to apply, I had to first spend a few days visiting and working to see if I really fit in.
“I really like it here.”
One final jolt as the dirt turned into pavement.
“I’m glad. Anyways, part of the point of this trip is so I can get to know you better and maybe talk about anything you think I ought to know. So, yeah, tell me about yourself Timm.”
At last, here I was, the moment of truth. Years of planning, fear, and denial had to come to an end. You see, in the lives of transgender people such as myself – people for whom the gender we are assigned at birth is untrue to the nature of our spirits – we reach a moment in which we must choose to be ourselves and reveal to the world who we are. I had begun to do this. I spoke to therapists, and doctors. I started taking hormones and remaking my wardrobe. Yet most of this was done privately. I came out, as we call it, to my family and loved ones. Kim would be the first person beyond this circle, the first person with any risk,
‘Timm? Still with us?” Kim asked. We had just crossed over the Pemaquid river and were now heading up route 130. I had apparently spaced out. “Timm?” She asked again.
“Yeah, sorry. You know, that might be a good place to start. That name.” “What about it?”
“It’s not my name.”
“It’s not? What do you mean?”
I grabbed nervously at my pant legs. We were passing the transfer station. Am I really about to do this I wondered. “Well, its kinda a long story, but basically, when I came out as gay a few years ago I wasn?t exactly telling the truth. You see, I’m not really the “G” in LGBT, I’m really closer to the ?T.?” There was a pause.
I think Joseph is one of those remarkably underused characters of the Hebrew Bible. Since we often relegate that story only to Sunday School, we miss out on a chance to view him critically, to develop a theological interpretation of his life. One of the rare places his story gets this time is actually within the field of queer theology- which looks at the bible acknowledging that queer people existed during biblical times, and looks for characters that may have been queer, and looks at queer believers and searches for stories that might serve as lessons or metaphors, out of historical context, for the issues that queer people uniquely face in this age.
So Joseph is one of those characters that there is some historical basis for reading him as queer, but mostly he’s one of those characters who queer people can look at from that metaphorical stance for guidance in our lives. Specifically, Joseph isn’t just read as a queer character, but actually as a transgender person. The basis for this, is that the Hebrew word used to describe his technicolor coat is only used to describe the ornate gowns worn by female royalty. And though his dreaming angered his brothers, it was the gift of this coat that sparked their violent assault on Joseph. And that, his physical description becomes increasingly more feminine over the course of his life, to the point that when he is reunited with those very same brothers decades later when he is a minister in Pharaoh’s court, they don’t recognize him.
So, Joseph’s life story is read then, as a metaphor for gender transition, for the realities of being trans person. And, I’ll grant, when I first heard this interpretation, I was suspect to say the least. So naturally, I decided to watch the rock musical version of the story, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Which is possibly one of the weirdest musicals ever written. But as soon as the music started, I was transported back fourteen years to Summer 2001 at the Lincoln Theatre, where my father, sister and I were part of the community theatre production of the show. I was seven at the time, my sister was 11, and we were in the chorus. My dad played the role of Jacob, and spent his time on stage surrounded by a scandalously clad harem of innuendo prone wives who I now realize were my friends mothers.
But thinking back, that was a formative summer for me as a trans person. That summer I learned two things. First, I learned the word transgender. I learned it from a documentary on the discovery channel that followed three trans women through their transitions. This gave me hope. I had learned a few years before that I was different. That though I knew myself to be a girl, that I wasn’t currently thought of as one. So it gave me a goal to work towards, or a way of getting there. The second thing I learned though was that being trans was wrong. It was something to be kept secret, to be ashamed of. That was the summer I stopped wearing skirts around the house. The summer I stopped drawing pictures of myself. The summer I started feeling sad.
When we talk about trans people’s narratives in popular culture, one of the tropes we are often boxed into is this idea that we struggle with, that we’re traumatized by our trans-ness, for years. There’s an expectation that we had to at least try to live in the gender that we assigned at birth, and that it must be too difficult, too hard, too terrible a thing to live with. But when trans people’s
stories are told, no one goes into depth about what those years might be like, and how true that trope might actually be.
Personally, I’ve never felt traumatized by my gender. The decade or so between when I first realized I was trans, to when I started my transition, in my memory, we just sad years. But they weren’t sad because my gender was wrong, they were sad because from the moment I realized I was trans, I lived in a world that told me I shouldn’t exist. That I was disgusting, and shameful, and in many cases, not worthy of living.
And as we are starting, at least, to talk about the role of bullying trans kids, something I think we miss in the discussion is just how slow an experience it is. A decade of being sad, of feeling different. Of being told you don’t matter, takes a toll not because of the big, terrible events, but because of the constant, daily battle to keep going despite knowing that nothing will get better for quite some time.
Transition. In the eyes of an ever evolving popular culture, is where transgender people’s lives begin. In the growing onslaught of TV series, movies, and reality television, filled with names like Larvern Cox, Janet Mock, Caitlyn Jenner – transition is depicted as the summation of trans life. Before we begin it, our lives are horror shows, filled with trauma and hatred of our bodies, otherness. The times after transition are rarely discussed or are depicted as caricatures of gender, usually trying to deceive someone into thinking we are “real.”