Gender

  • Gender,  LGBT,  Progressive Christianity,  Trauma Healing

    Taking Pride in Me

    I’m proud of me. It took a long time to be able to say that but I take pride in who I am. I take pride in being different. I am proud of my ability to love people regardless of their gender or their body parts. I’m proud of the journey I took to self-acceptance.

    Growing up evangelical it took a long time to make sense of my gender and sexuality. It’s easy to underestimate how integral those aspects of our identity are to the core of our being, how we see ourselves and how we experience the world.

    It wasn’t just the outright anti-gay messages that made this process so difficult, it was also the lack of any variety, diversity or individuality whatsoever. It wasn’t just the strict “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood” indoctrination, it was also the stolen opportunities to know or love anyone living outside those limiting roles.

    Everything was so binary, so black and white. You were either this or that. If you were this, you needed to like that and if you were that you needed to like this.

    If you were seen as a girl, you needed to like dolls, and tea parties and pink dresses. And you had to like boys – only boys. You would be quiet and polite, of course. You would be scared of spiders and snakes and heights and going out after dark and you would need boys and men to help you and comfort you and protect you.

    If you were seen as a boy, you needed to like trucks and army men, camo and baseball caps. And you had to like girls – only girls. You would be loud and rambunctious and no one would teach you manners because boys will be boys. You would like showing off and having big muscles and getting dirty and you would help all the little girls who weren’t as strong or brave as you.

    As a little girl, it was absolutely predestined that I would marry a man someday. There wasn’t any question about it. Remaining single wasn’t an option ever discussed. Becoming a wife and mother someday was a give-in. When I was really young it didn’t bother me too much, my fate was matter-of-fact – that’s just how it was.

    It didn’t take long though, for little Sarah to toddle around the yard helping her dad with stacking firewood and wonder my mommy was always inside cooking and cleaning. It didn’t take long for her to notice that her body looked more like her mother’s, even at 5 years of age and to notice a creeping fear of growing up and turning into someone she didn’t feel like she really was. My heart breaks now realizing how early the feeling of being trapped set in for me.

    This was all still fairly sub-conscious though, until maybe 5th or 6th grade when I first reckoned with my sneaking suspicion that I didn’t totally fit in. It entered my awareness watching princess movies – realizing I resonated more with the prince doing the rescuing than the princess waiting around for it. I felt angry that the princess usually seemed helpless and weak. I was old enough to realize on some level that the generation I was born into was under no control of mine, and if I had been born earlier in history I would be forced to dress and behave as the princess I was watching. But I wanted to be strong, have a grand adventure, and save the day. I wanted to run mightily through the woods, feel my muscles ripple as they carried my frame, and let my hair stream out freely behind me. I didn’t want to sit around in a castle all day with no part to play in the story other than being a pretty thing to be admired. I couldn’t understand why some girls were okay with that.

    It wouldn’t be until sometime in my twenties when I was able to hold the complexity of gender and face my trauma enough to know it didn’t have to be either-or. But for years I struggled with anger around being born female because I wasn’t allowed to see any other way of being a woman. I was kept from knowing anyone else like me existed.

    Following those princess-movie-epiphanies, I wondered if perhaps I wasn’t supposed to be a woman. But that didn’t make sense either. I didn’t want to BE the man. I didn’t want to LOOK like the man. I just wanted to be FREE like the man. I liked being a pretty girl, but I wanted to be pretty AND strong. I wanted to play an important role in the story and be a fearless leader and I wanted a man to fall in love with me someday. But I wanted to rescue a princess too. I wanted the admiration of women and to feel their touch. I wanted to be able to take care of another girl and guide her and love her. I admired the softness and elegance of highly feminine women and I was drawn to the strength, bravery and outspokenness of fierce women.

    Most of these feelings were hiding in the shadows of my mind where they were rarely seen clearly.

    My church didn’t have as many anti-gay sermons as some, but that’s partly because 20 years ago no one was talking as much about either gay rights or depriving them.

    I do vividly remember our pastor saying once “studies have shown that gay people don’t live as long, so we are actually helping them even though they don’t like it! We want them to live longer!” He didn’t bother telling us where these “studies” came from or what the evidence was.

    My middle school youth group leader ignited rumors when she cut her hair short. My friends started whispering “is she, you know…?” All because of a haircut! Later however, she did actually end up coming out as lesbian. She was immediately forced to quit her job and leave the community. The scandal permeated the entire church for a bit. My sister freaked out because they had shared a hotel room when going on a mission trip. I remember being upset my youth leader was gone becuase she was the only one I felt totally safe with and I had really looked up to her and her faith perspectives. I remember thinking it didn’t make sense that one of the best people I knew was somehow bad enough she couldn’t be around.

    I was in high school when it clicked that my uncle and his long-term roommate were a gay couple. I was very close to my uncle. He was such a delightful person who brought joy to my life, so it confused and distressed me that my family made him hide who he was around me. It never stopped bothering me that they acted like he was something to be ashamed of.

    Once my teenage best friend randomly told me she wasn’t allowed to be friends with “gay people” in case it made her gay too. Around the same time, I noticed when leaning in to hug a close female friend how natural it would have felt to kiss her and I wondered why that would be seen as weird, if we both wanted it. To me it seemed a natural way to show affection to a person I loved closely.

    When someone in my young adult years suggested I might be bisexual I wasn’t convinced. It seemed to far “out there” to be the true me, I thought. I didn’t feel that edgy.

    In college I noticed feeling butterflies around some of my best friends and as I got older and enjoyed longer-term intimate friendships with women that nurtured my soul, I experienced feelings and attachment I could only really describe as being in love.

    In my mid twenties I moved to a progressive city where I joined an inclusive and affirming church. For the first time I was part of a faith community where diversity was celebrated. I LOVED it! I got to do life with so many interesting people and I was accepted just as I was. I didn’t have to fit a label. No one asked or blinked an eye if I held hands with a woman or said “she” when talking about my date. I started noticing I didn’t only have crushes on cis-gendered people and the term pansexual floated through my mind. I learned about gender identity through casual conversation. Other people’s stories taught me I don’t have to identify as trans to feel out of place regarding society’s expectations of my gender. The term genderqueer was helpful. Lots of my friends identified as queer and there wasn’t even a need to “come out”, because no assumptions were made.

    It wasn’t weird to anyone that I presented as feminine and “straight-passing” but often felt more masculine. No one was fazed by my attraction to men and women and people of all genders. It was just another way of being in this multifaceted and magical world. Around town I saw and interacted with so many people just like me and so many who were not at all like me and it was absolutely beautiful. It’s amazing how much healing inclusive community brings.

    Nowadays I don’t really worry anymore about what labels or categories I fit into or what hobbies I “should” be interested in, or clothing style I’m going for or if I’m “queer enough”. I just do what I like and wear what I like and love who I like and I think that’s the best way to be.

    I see now all I ever had to do was be myself and embody love.

    It took over two decades to find this peace. I finally learned I don’t have to be someone I’m not in order to be me. It’s been a long journey and I’m proud of me.

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Gender,  Gender Trauma

    Breaking the Ice Ceiling

    As we exit Women’s History Month, I wanted to first share an article (linked below) that impacted me greatly when I found it in 2018. At that time I was very hard on myself, pushing myself to be “as good as the guys”, always trying to prove I belonged in male-dominated spaces.

    While I’ve never done anything quite as intense as these ladies’ Antarctic expedition, I resonate with every word from their story. Being a woman in the outdoors is truly a different experience. There is greater weight to your limitations culturally and socially: they can get attributed to your entire gender, reinforcing ideas of being “weaker”. Things are changing now, but as an adolescent climbing the bigger mountains I would count the women we passed, because there were so few of them. I could often count them on just one hand.

    Even still today, when seeing other women on the trail is common, on long-distance backpack trips I usually only see other women for the first four, maybe five days. Anything beyond that and it’s stepping into a man’s world. Male backpackers sometimes comment on how it’s surprising to see me so far from a trailhead. Even today when I backpack solo, people sometimes stop me in disbelief, asking how I’m so brave.

    On one such solo trip, an older man took it upon himself to interrogate me in the parking lot about how much water I was bringing (plenty) and then warned me that I would probably have a difficult time further up the trail in the snow. However, when I got there it was only a small flat patch about 50 feet long, and easy walking. I had been singled out and my competencies grossly underestimated, because of assumptions that were made just by looking at me.

    A stranger hit on me during a life-or-death situation ice climbing a treacherously steep glacier at 10,000 feet altitude. I’ve been taught I should feel flattered by this – because apparently the male gaze determines my worth.

    Sledding down a steep snowy slope with my male best friend, I was having the time of my life – at first. We were chatting and hooting and hollering from a distance with a couple of men who were there adventuring as well. When we walked up closer however, one of the men’s demeanor suddenly changed. After exclaiming “Oh! You’re a girl!” his tone changed to mimic how you might talk to a child and he called me “sweetheart”. Apparently my bulky snow gear and hat had hidden my womanly figure and long hair, allowing normal human interaction between us until my gender was discovered. When my best friend spoke up saying “She’s not your sweetheart”, the man became irate, cursed at us, and marched away over the crest of the hill, friend in tow. The wilderness should be a place where all is natural and in balance as it was intended to be. But for women this is often not the case.

    I’ve heard men I’m close with make hurtful jabs at other women on the trail: “She sure is gutsy to do this alone!” “She’s probably meeting her husband”. “Maybe someday you’ll take up needlepoint instead.” These are actual comments I’ve heard over the years from men who know me well. At a young age it became clear to me the summit could only be reached by breaking through an ice ceiling.

    The way I was received as a woman climber and backpacker taught me to view myself as an anomaly. Women were generally weak and helpless but I was somehow an exception. I was still, of course, a class below the men but allowed to be there nonetheless. It became increasingly difficult to love my womanhood while believing the traits I loved most about myself were manly, and rare happenstance for a woman.

    There is more equal representation in the backcountry now than ever before, thanks to ground-breaking women who have mountaineered before us. But the fact that I’ve witnessed the shift even just in my own lifetime speaks to how a woman’s experience in the outdoors community is unique from that of a man’s. Eliminating the discrimination we face still has a long ways to go. I’m thrilled by the history-making women in this article and by all women everywhere who are unapologetically blazing trails in whatever form that takes for them. Every day we ascend new heights!

    https://www.theatlantic.com/sponsored/north-face-2018/in-her-element/1999/

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Gender,  Gender Trauma,  Religious Trauma

    Healing My Ancestors

    I can’t count the times I was told as a child I had an amazing mother. The comments always bothered me, but it wasn’t because I had a terrible mother. My mom really loves her children and gives herself to us. It wouldn’t be until I was in therapy at 30 years old that I would realize it was because these comments always pointed to her being a good mom because of what she did and never who she was.

    People would praise her for making us meals and washing our clothes and setting herself aside. No one said anything about her being passionate or talented, or powerful, brave, wise or confident in herself. It wasn’t that she didn’t have good qualities, its just that as a woman in the evangelical church – no one sees them.

    Growing up, I received a loud message that whether or not a woman is “good” – especially if she has children – is based entirely on what she does and not who she is. No one seems to care about the latter: who a woman sees herself to be doesn’t matter because the most important and all-consuming part of her is being a wife and mother. Rarely did anyone see or know who was beneath the label. I think often the mother herself wasn’t sure, after years of this erasure.

    I grew up watching my mother live in a box and it made me afraid to grow up. My mom was always contained in a box metaphorically and physically, because while the world was my dad’s oyster, the house was her domain.

    I was free to tag along with my dad as long as I was a child, but my freedom came with a ticking time bomb that little boys didn’t have.

    My mom’s life consisted almost entirely of household work – she didn’t have much time to do anything fun. Granted, I’m not sure how much of it was necessary and how much was her refusing help or creating work to do to feel useful – because that is where her identity lies. As an evangelical mom, that’s the only place your identity lies. It wasn’t my dad’s fault, he tried to help and encouraged her to get out and do what she loved, but I don’t think she knew what that was. How could she? Her entire life had been filled with caring for others.

    I never saw my mom have a hobby or passion. She didn’t really have any friends or any aspirations that she talked about openly or pursued. She isn’t a bad person, but the church made sure she was hardly a person at all – beneath the role she played there’s no substance. I don’t know who she is. She’s just a wife and mother. I can’t find anyone underneath the title or the duties.

    I was afraid to get to close to my mother because the limits she lived under felt contagious. She made comments occasionally about me needing to learn to be a good wife and mother someday, and I was scared about which parts of me I would have to give up to do that.

    When I participated in less traditionally feminine activities like adventuring outdoors, she was a worry wart, putting limitations on my freedom, wanting me to hold myself back to be supposedly safer. Even when there was no real risk. I wondered if safety was a facade. No one seemed to worry about the boys being able to handle themselves.

    If I ever voiced frustration, I was always told me that’s just how moms are, they worry, they take care of their kids, they are selfless (void of self) – and that’s it. They can’t help it.

    I didn’t want to become a mom. Why would I? What was presented to me was the antithesis of everything that makes me, me. I don’t blame this all on my own mother. She is the victim of overbearing sexism – being raised in a large Catholic family to be a second mother to her seven brothers. She was never given the same freedoms they were, and often blamed for their misbehavior. She was raised by a woman who experienced an even higher level of abuse and restriction; a woman who didn’t know how else to exist in the world, raised a woman who wouldn’t either. Somehow the cycle broke with me – leaving me feeling lonely, confused, and like an anomaly.

    Most of my life I have felt very uncomfortable with my heritage. I have no role model of a powerful healthy woman. I can’t proudly say “I am my mother’s daughter”. I can’t look back at a lineage of women who created me and want to be anything like them. Admittedly, I am ashamed of my ancestry. Sometimes even my very DNA feels contaminated. I’m blazing a new trail completely on my own. I don’t know how to do this, and I cannot be proud of where I came from.

    I feel like an orphan.

    But… maybe that’s not the full story. I come from a long line of injured women who submitted to survive. I wonder who they could have been if dealt a different hand.

    Maybe I can heal my ancestors. Maybe they would be so happy and hopeful to know that generations down the line their own flesh and blood would be independent and powerful like me. Maybe it’s redemptive.

    It’s a common story arc for the hero to rise up from an unlikely place or family or bloodline. That’s partly what makes them special. Maybe I’m the hero of my mother’s story and our motherly line. I’m still writing chapters, and my daughters will write chapters, and their daughters’ daughters. We will be the authors of our own stories – starting with me.

    I know I’m lucky to be born into a time where there are more opportunities for women. I know I’m better equipped with resources available to me – ones my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother never had. I carry the weight of generations of oppression and abuse, but I have education at my fingertips and communities to turn to, to learn what to do with it and how to heal it.

    Maybe when I save myself, I save those who came before me and whose trauma is wired into my DNA. Maybe as I heal my body, that trauma loses its grip on our family line.

    I am healing my ancestors – starting with me.

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Gender,  LGBT,  Poetry,  Progressive Christianity,  Spirituality

    Sunrise and Sunset

    God may have made day and night,
    but God also made sunrise and sunset
    color splashed in amber light
    painted skies so we won’t forget


    There are more than two ways of being

    God may have made day and night,
    but God also made sunset and sunrise
    bluebird skies, dawn growing bright
    pastel rainbows dazzling before with our eyes

    There are more than two ways of being

    God may have made night and day
    but some nights are starry, crystal clear
    and some nights are moonless, foggy gray
    dewy or frosty, changing with the year

    There are more than two ways of being

    God may have made night and day
    but some days simmer, air thick and still
    others frigid, lung-biting, a frozen display
    some days are blustery, others tranquil

    There are more than two ways of being

    God may have made woman and man
    but why can’t people be more unique
    than we experience night and day can
    what we like, who we love, how we think

    There are more than two ways of being