In Our Own Voices

In Our Own Voices: An LGBTQ Service
March 14, 2010 

Personal stories about LGBTQ identities and experiences by members of the Big Ol' Gay Committee.
Music by Arjuna Greist, Jesse Molina, Evelyn Harris and the Pioneer Valley Gay Men's Chorus.

Sermon segments by: 

Barbara

In this lifetime, I have identified as heterosexual, lesbian, radical feminist, dyke, butch, fem and queer.  I was raised in a very Catholic family in a small town in Arizona. My childhood was full of fun: outdoor activities like riding my bike through the desert,  playing sports with the neighborhood boys and indoors playing dolls with my sister. In high school I was once busted by the police while out parking with my boyfriend, a story to which my daughter replied laughing, “And look where that got you!”

I went to Loyola Marymount, a Catholic College in Los Angeles, because according to my very Catholic parents, I was supposed to find a good Catholic husband and raise good Catholic children. Clearly I didn’t meet their expectations on either accounts and as far as I can tell, that would not be a venial sin, but a mortal sin.

After college, in the height of the Second Wave of Feminism of the early seventies, I came out.

It was the seventies, we called ourselves, women identified women ….women …sometimes spelled w- o-m-e-n, or wom-y-n, or  w-i-mm-i-n…some  lesbians felt it important to take the m e n out of the word women.

In my early twenties I came out, it felt a very natural and very much… me. I was surrounded by a personal/political community that was totally supportive. My family of origin was mostly supportive too. As I was living in California, I wrote a letter to my parents saying that I wanted to acknowledge what everybody knew, that   I was a lesbian. I immediately got a call back from my father saying, it didn’t matter if I was a convicted murderer in prison, I was their daughter and they loved me.  I didn’t quite appreciate the comparison, but I understood the heart of his message.

During that time, I lived in a politically correct house of lesbians. We had weekly house meetings in which we carefully used only “I messages”.  We talked long into the night about, as far as I can remember, a wide range of topics:  women’s oppression by corporations like Revlon, lesbian identity, the power of the patriarchy, racism, classism, and sexism.  And keeping the kitchen clean.

Living in LA, I was a political activist during this exciting time in the women’s movement. I was part of a collective that for years produced all the lesbian concerts. I also worked at Sisterhood Bookstore, where I planned author readings and community events. In 1978, I was one of the organizers for The Committee against the Briggs Initiative, in which the religious right tried to outlaw gays and anyone who supported gay rights from being school teachers. (We won.)

When I finished Chiropractic School in LA, I moved to Berkeley and continued to produce many political events. I began a long term lesbian relationship in which we planned our family together and we each gave birth. In 1990 we were the second couple in California to cross adopt our non-biological child. We did this as a political stand, because if anything ever happened to one of us, our families of origin would have more legal rights to our respective biological child then either of us did. This was not a worry of ours, but we did this as a political act to make the judicial system deal with our family.

Over the years I have been to many demonstrations and marches. During the height of the AIDS epidemic, in protest of the lack of government funding, I marched and helped tie a huge red ribbon around the fence of the White House while chanting, “We’re here, we’re queer, get over it.” When my daughter Hannah was two, we again marched in Washington DC.  I carried her in a backpack, with a sign that read: “Lesbian and Gay Rights must go full throttle, so I march with my moms, my friends and my bottle.”  Five years later, with her younger brother Cody, age 2, we again marched in Washington, D.C.  I remember his tee shirt read: “I was hatched by a couple of chicks”.

I’ve often been asked what it’s like to be a lesbian mom. Although I always welcome questions because I believe that’s one way we learn, I have wonder if heterosexuals are asked if they think their kids are going to be straight when they grow up.

I remember, when my kids were infants, I vowed to myself I would never out my children, it would always be their choice to reveal their family to their friends. Well, Hannah, my daughter, who was always a bubbly out going kid, seemed to spend much of her childhood happily telling strangers that she had two moms. She loved announcing she had two moms!  To the grocery store clerk, to people on a Bart train in San Francisco, whenever it seemed to occur to her. I felt she was busy changing the world when she was 6 years old. Actually, I think she was. 

I also I had to deal with her coming home from second grade, telling us that a kid in her class told her she didn’t have a real family because she didn’t have a dad. One summer day when Hannah was in third grade she came home from Arcadia summer camp and told me that some boy standing behind her kept saying bad things about gays.  She told me she got so mad she finally turned and pushed the kid and he accidently went flying on his butt. I asked, “You decked him?” She said, “Well, yes, but I didn’t mean to and I just couldn’t stand what he was saying”. It was probably not one of my best parenting moments…I said “remember to use your words”, but added, “Uh, great job for decking the kid!”

Recently Hannah, now 23, and I discovered her 5th grade poem, published in the book LOVE MAKES A FAMILY, on the front page of the Huffington Post. 


I want you to know

That my family is great.

So why don’t you people

Just stop all this hate.

I know that love

Comes right from the heart,

My moms taught me that,

Right from the start. 

When Cody, my son, was in fourth grade, we were driving along and I reminded him that the following day in school they were going to start teaching the sex ed curriculum.

“Oh mom”, he said with full authority, “that’s no big deal, I know all that already. That’s when a man puts his sperm in a jar and gives it to a woman.”  I somehow managed to keep my laughter inside myself and not steer the car off the road. “Well, that’s how we did it,” I explained, “ but if it’s a man and woman…remember ?” I proceeded to remind of how we had drawn pictures and explained how heterosexuals make babies.

There was a long pause…and he then said “I think I’ll adopt”.

When Cody, now 20, was in high school, he was wrote a stand up comedy routine. I loved this line:   “Because I was raised in Northampton, it wasn’t until I was 12 years old that I discovered that the American Flag wasn’t a rainbow!”

As an involved parent, I found an outlet for my political activism in trying to make my childrens’ school system a better more accepting place. 

In the late 90’s, I led the Safe School Task Force for Hampshire Regional School District.  The RR really attacked us. One School Committee meeting had to be moved from the library to the cafeteria when an unexpected couple of hundred parents showed up. A hot-headed RR speaker was standing at the mic ranting and yelled, “I defy any Gay or Lesbian in this room to stand up!” Instantly the entire audience jumped to it’s feet! I was so shocked I was probably one of the last ones to stand up! It was an amazing moment of community for me.

I co ran the Northampton Pride March for 5 years with Melinda Shaw and helped it grow into a large political event full of big tents and thousands of marchers. After that I ran the PTO at Northampton High School.  I remember thinking at those meetings, that in some towns in our country, a lesbian would not even be welcome in these meetings. I’m grateful I live in Northampton.

I believe in being out, in being active, in giving back, in showing up, in educating. For me, this opens hearts and minds. For a long time in my twenties, as an avid backpacker, I thought spirituality came only from the 10,000 foot peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Now, I find my spirituality here, I find it in political action, I find it in the telling of stories, the singing of music, the sharing of lives.

Blessed be.


David

It has been over 30 years now since I first “came out”. My first Gay Pride was in NYC in 1979 which was a pretty somber march.  It was the tenth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots which many feel was the start of the Gay Liberation movement. The next year I was in San Francisco where Gay Pride was more of a Carnival with Flat Bed trucks and loud disco music. Then the following years there was talk of the “Gay Cancer” that quickly became the AIDS epidemic. So many gay men in San Francisco got sick during those years. I remember being terrified the first time I was tested in 1985 almost sure of the results. There was talk that two out of three men were HIV positive in SF at that time. Luckily I was negative.

In 1997 Michael and I decided to adopt. I do have this tendency of obsessing and studying an issue from all sides before making a big decision. I suppose the only exception to this in my life was in 1990 when Michael and I met and fell in love and fairly quickly decided to make a commitment and live together and never looked back.

Once we made the big decision to adopt we chose a social worker to start the home study that is required for an adoption. Of course if we had been a heterosexual couple it would have been simpler. Most married couples that would like to start a family wouldn’t have a social worker who asks if they have support from their extended family like our social worker did. She did specify at our first meeting that we should set up a meeting with a lawyer and have wills drawn up. She also suggested that we get life insurance policies. Then she suggested we speak to our parents to be sure they were supportive. Mind you I was 39 years old at the time.

Like the good student/ prospective parents we felt we were we did go out to complete all the assigned tasks. Wills and life insurance were relatively easy though not cheap. Then came the conversations with my Irish Catholic parents.

My mother has been this strict catholic who had cancelled her marriage to my father when he went golfing one Sunday instead of going to church with her. She had already bought a wedding dress. She returned it and moved from Connecticut to Baltimore. She still speaks about working at Johns Hopkins as a nurse in 1950 and how much better it was than St Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury.

My parents did reconcile and marry after a year. I never remember my father missing mass on Sunday.

A lot of my parent’s reaction to our adopting is a big blur. I remember my mother just saying she “didn’t think it was a good idea” similarly to when I told her I was gay. My father thought I was nuts and said so in no uncertain terms. I tried to give him the benefit of his background and where he was coming from. In his day gays had been accepted in pre WW2 Germany and then exterminated in concentration camps. I suspect he had seen a lot of gay bashing through the years and I would like to think that he just didn’t want to see me or my children discriminated against because of this.

All these thoughts were going through my mind when my social worker asked at the end of our second visit, almost as an afterthought as we were walking down the stairs, if I spoke with my parents about the adoption.  All I could muster for a response was “Yes, they are very excited about it” not wanting to cross the line and explain the whole complicated truth.

The process moved forward and we are very fortunate to have two beautiful, smart and I think well adjusted children. You’ll have to ask the teachers in RE to confirm.  My parents did rise to the occasion and have warmly welcomed Jason and Marguerite into the fold as they had their 11 other grandchildren. They attended the Child Dedication Ceremonies we held at the Arlington Unitarian Society. They both noticed and commented about no mention of God but overall these events were well received.

Many of you may remember the exciting day May 17, 2004 when gay marriage became legal in Massachusetts.  Michael, the kids and I were there in the lines to get our license that first day. In the weeks leading up to that day most of our friends were very excited and asked us weather we would be getting married and our plans. Interestingly my parents never inquired about this. Now I knew they watched the news and at least my father spoke about it with my siblings, though not specifically pertaining to me. He was quoted remarking he hopes he didn’t live to see the day when he saw one of his sons marrying another man. Of course I was angry at him for saying this and angry at my sibling for relaying the story.

In the end at least partly because of this we decided on a simple wedding. We had it right here with Jay Deacon who performed the ceremony, the children and a photographer. It was really a perfect day and we had a small dinner with close friends that night.

In trying to think about how homophobia has affected our lives I do feel very fortunate.  Of course part of the reason we have been so lucky is because of the conscious decision to move only to liberal welcoming communities. If I had been living anywhere but a major city or Northampton we might not have considered adoption for fear of discrimination the kids might experience.

Northampton has really been a terrific place for the kids. I love telling the story how when Marguerite was in preschool her teacher relates how she overheard another 4 year old girl talking to Marguerite. She had two moms who had separated and then each had found new partners.  She told Marguerite how she wished she was like everyone else and only had two moms!

Today I work for the federal government and my husband cannot get his health insurance through me. There is hope on the horizon and I am optimistic that this will change in the next couple of years.

Again, I feel very fortunate about many things including my family, our community and our health.

I sometimes wonder how things might have been different if I had been straight. I hope I would still be as empathic as I feel I am to other minorities or groups of people that suffer from discrimination.


Karen

When I moved here, fifteen years ago, there was a group in the Valley, founded by one of our congregation’s members.  It was called Valuable Families.  It was refuge for “gay and lesbian-headed” families.  It was visionary and provided an important way to build community among people who were the objects of overt discrimination and attempts to make them invisible.  These were pioneers, people who helped to build enough critical mass so that nowadays – at least here in Northampton and in the wider Happy Valley– there are drastically fewer heterosexual assumptions.

For a year or so, I was president of this organization whose mission statement said it was for “gay- and lesbian-headed” families.    This was, on two counts, ironic.  The first was because I was not yet a parent – trying, but not yet.

The other irony was that I wasn’t gay or lesbian.  I was then, as I am now, thoroughly and explicitly bisexual.  I was in a committed lesbian relationship, one that I intended to last (which it did, but only ten years…) so I usually called myself a “lesbian-identified bisexual woman.”   Those were the years when Identity Politics were much more in the foreground than they seem to be today.  But bi is bi and it’s what I was, through and through.

So why was it important that I proclaim this aspect of myself, one that I expected to be primarily an internal experience, for the rest of my life?  My explicit presence and advocacy there was pivotal to making an inclusive language change in the mission statement of the group.  No more was it just L & G, but a B was brought into the alphabet soup.

I  also wanted to make clear where my allegiance was – that I was allied with the queer community.  Yet I didn’t want to take the chance that somehow I could in any way add to the fire of people thinking that queer identity was a “phase” – so I wanted to be clear what was potential in me.  Naming myself honestly and out loud was one way to do that.  Yet my worst fears whispered that my motivation could be something less noble – egotistical attention-seeking?  Perhaps even worse: grasping in some twisted way at heterosexual privilege?

That was fifteen or so years ago and I now find myself at the other end of the bisexuality continuum: in another monogamous relationship, this time with a man I hope will last the rest of our lives, still wanting to be clear to everyone around me that this – or any relationship – does not define my sexuality or my sexual orientation.  I stand before you now with a similar fear – am I here to wrongly draw attention to myself? Now that I am in a hetero relationship, do I really deserve to stand up here in such fine company, to call myself queer in public?

As many of you who’ve heard me preach know, I don’t usually have a problem with finding the words to say as I stand in this pulpit, but this topic has been much more of a challenge for me.  A question has been echoing.  What is the spiritual connection between sexuality and sexual orientation – these two separate but intertwined concepts – and spirituality and being a part of this vibrant, welcoming congregation?

In the end, I came up with the concept of being known.

I have two primary spiritual practices: Buddhist meditation and being a part of Unitarian Universalism.  Though I am a part of a meditation center and practice with others, the former practice is, at its heart, a solitary practice.  The latter – my connection to this place, my connection to Star Island, my connection to and with all of you – is primarily a communal practice.  I can only do what I do here in connection, in relationship, with the plural you.

That communal aspect of this spiritual experience I am having with you, that I hope you are having with me, that we are having together, requires that I know you and that I allow myself to be known.   This knowing is what allows each of us to go deeper than the Sunday morning handshake.  Don’t get me wrong: that’s something I look forward to each service, mostly because that Sunday handshake is just the beginning of something much deeper, a wider way of knowing and being known.

Not at last UU auction, but the one before that, I won a service from one of our fellow members, someone I did not know well, but had greeted regularly and admired from afar.  He came to my home, spent several hours there, and over the course of that time, I learned more about his life, including the fact that he and his girlfriend of one month had gone to Canada to evade the Viet Nam war draft.  They stayed until pardoned by President Carter – not a short amount of time.  To this day, they remain married.  I find this story amazing – my admiration points quadrupled upon hearing it – but it’s not something I knew from our passing each other in the pews.  In listening to this story of his past, I didn’t know him fully, but I came to know him more and to see facets and dimensions of his life I could not have guessed.  I am a better person because he allowed me to know him more fully.  I am thankful for that.

So many of the stories from our past don’t get told.  Not so much because we aren’t paying attention, but because somehow we start from now (which is generally a good place to start) and keep going. It’s so human.  Yet I think you’ll agree that it’s a rare treat to be able to hear the back-story of a middle-aged or elder friend when time allows the luxury of not rushing.  Indeed, it is a deeply satisfying treat.

So when I tell you, or remind you if you knew me back in the day it was more obvious, that I am bisexual, that I still consider myself queer, it’s my way of offering myself to be known by you, to be known fully.  I think that’s what today’s worship is about too.  In my role as the chair of the Worship Committee, I have envisioned that this service is a way for our whole congregation to renew our vows to each other – not just GLBTIQ people to straight people, or straight people to queer people, but all of us to each other: we will know you, all of you, as you are – gender, transgender, sexual orientation, all of it.  We will allow you to know us, all of us, as we are.  I think that’s what people do when they renew their vows after ten years or twenty years of loving together – it is saying: we have spent this time together, we have grown together, we have matured together, we know each other and what we know is good.  All of it – all of you – all of us -- is good.

I’d like to end with some lyrics from a song called Girls Like Me, written and sung by a friend of mine, Carrie Ferguson. I think it’s clever and simple, a great combination.  In the end, the biggest reason I like it is because it acknowledges me in the world, it allows me to be known.  For that reason alone, it’s worth a good listen:

Some girls like girls, some boys like boys,

some like both, it’s just a joyful noise.

But besides all that it’s just a borin’ debate.

Some people love to love, some people love to hate….

Girls like me like girls --  it’s just a beautiful thing in the world.

And you can call it a phase but you’ll have a long wait.

And it might be time to set yourself [straight]…


Ty

 I was born to two people who both wanted to be Catholic priests. Since my mother couldn’t be a priest, she did the next best thing—she married one. My father left the priesthood—but not the church—shortly before they married. My parents’ brief, turbulent marriage ended while I was still an infant and I was raised by my mother—a fiery feminist who identified as Irish Catholic, but rarely went to Catholic church. She couldn’t stomach church policies about contraception and the prohibition against women serving as priests.

This is the setting into which I was born and in which I was brought up as a female child —it was a setting in which religion and gender were already loaded topics before I ever started wrestling with them.

I was a good kid, bookish and quiet. I didn’t get into much trouble, especially when I played alone. But there were two games I played a few times with other kids that would incense my mother. One was playing doctor. The other was playing church.

To play church, I’d get out a tiny goblet my mother kept in the liquor cabinet, fill it with juice, soda—whatever was handy. I’d smoosh Wonder bread between my fingers until it vaguely resembled a communion wafer. I read random Bible verses over it in the most ominous monotone I could produce. Then I’d feed the make-shift body of Christ to my friends. 

I don’t know whether my mother’s extreme discomfort with this game stemmed from the fact that I was tapping a raw nerve by imitating my father in his role as priest—a role I’d never seen him play, or whether it came from a genuine sense that, despite my sincere intentions, it was sacrilegious—both because, at age 8, I was not an ordained priest and because, as a girl, I couldn’t even aspire to become one.

Despite my mother’s own misgivings about church doctrine, when I converted out of Catholicism, my mother didn’t get it. She felt being Catholic was an ethnic, cultural part of our family identity. And she definitely didn’t understand why I would convert to Islam, which she viewed as even more oppressive to women.

Initially, I have to admit, I didn’t dwell on gender as a part of my conversion. In fact, I didn’t dwell on any of the practical applications of the Muslim faith. I was drawn to the theology of Islam—the belief in one uncomplicated diety. I was captivated by the sheer poetry of the Muslim holy book, the Qur’an.

And I loved that the Muslim insistence on using the Arabic word for God—“Allah”—is due to the fact that the word in Arabic can not be made female or plural, rendering it by default male, but in reality genderless. This idea of a genderless or all-gendered Creator felt empowering to me. As someone born female, I could see myself as no more and no less “created in God’s image” than someone born male.

The conflict with my mother over religion was so heated, I left home the day I turned 18—escaping, really. Many queer youth face terrible conflict at home when they come out as queer, but for me there was no other coming-out process that was anywhere near as hard as coming out as Muslim.

I married shortly after leaving my mother’s house, and the man I married introduced me to his conservative brand of Islam. In the social circles we moved in, the stark line between men and women, between men’s dress and women’s dress, men’s roles and women’s roles, put me clearly on one side of the line. This was, strangely, a relief. I’d struggled with gender privately, constantly feeling like I was getting the “girl” thing wrong. I felt inexplicably like an imposter and had a bizarre fear of being “discovered”---as what, I wasn’t exactly sure. I had no language for my gender dysphoria, my sense that my actual gender was not the one I’d been assigned at birth. Dressed in feminine clothes and makeup, I felt like a clown, but without them I faced scrutiny and criticism.

Among conservative Muslims, there wasn’t really any accidental way to screw gender up. Entering the mosque, there was a door for men and a door for women, and if you forgot which one to use—someone would remind you. Any flaws in my feminine presentation were pretty well-hidden by a long dress and a head scarf. (Headscarves conceal a lot. In fact, for a while when I was 19, mine concealed that I had shaved part of my head and had patriotic red white and blue stripes painted on. Living in Morocco at the time, I was more than a little homesick.)

When my marriage ended, I came back to the U.S. and soon found myself in a full-blown struggle to come to terms with my sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet I still felt these issues were personal and internal. I went back to dressing and acting as feminine as I possibly could, I married again and had another child. I shied away from the local, conservative Muslim community I’d been part of before I moved to Morocco, but I still considered myself Muslim. I started making connections in the LGBTQ community.

At one point a lesbian friend who was studying psychology told me she hoped to work with trans people. I thought she meant drag queens. She corrected me, saying she hoped to work with people who were born female but felt they were male. I had never heard of a female-to-male trans person. I’d certainly never seen one, not even on TV. Yet before I even had a chance to consider what I was saying, the words were out of my mouth. “That’s what I am.”

She was pretty stunned.

My husband was listening to the conversation, too, and I think it’s safe to see he was pretty stunned too. 

Finding a word to express my gender identity didn’t make things instantly clear, though. One of the ironies of being transgender is that because I was born female, and felt male, I actually had to identify as a third thing—transgender—in order to describe what I was. I certainly didn’t wake up one day and say “Wouldn’t it be cool to be trans?”  I didn’t feel compelled to live a more authentic trans life. I identified as male in the same way my uncle did, the way the two men I’d married did. They weren’t transgender, so how could I be? I can’t even say that I wanted to be a man, exactly—I just wanted to be myself, and I knew myself to be a man.

It took some time for me to make peace with the word “transgender” and it took even longer for me to realize that my private internal struggle over my identity was only going to be resolved by a very public external change.

By 1998, this newfangled thing called the Internet had dramatically reduced my isolation—my feeling that since I was the only FTM trans person I knew of in Tampa, Florida, I must be the only one on the face of the Earth. I had found a huge community online, making friends all over the country without leaving my living room. When my marriage ended in 1998, I moved to Massachusetts 1999, to Northampton in 2000, and I started physically transitioning in 2001.

I delayed that long because I wanted to be sure my kids were going to be OK with my transition.

As my friend Pastor Louis Mitchell, said recently “We transition—and we transition a lot of people with us.”  As a parent, it was and remains important to me to keep that in mind. My kids didn’t ask for the journey I took them on, but communication and honesty has made it a safe, healthy and mind-broadening journey for all of us.

Throughout my transition, religion remained important to me. The same Internet revolution that put me in contact with other trans and queer people gave me a way to connect with like-minded Muslims. I was one of the founding members of Al-Fatiha, an LGBTIQ Muslim organization founded in the late ‘90’s and served on it’s first “shura” or advisory council. Over the years, I’ve spoken at numerous conferences about LGBTIQ Muslim issues, and particularly the issues of transgender Muslims. Today, I know many queer Muslims around the world and I have wonderful progressive Muslim friends. 

Being connected with a wider Muslim community online and occasionally at retreats and conferences is a gift, but it’s not enough. Islam is a very community-oriented religion, and my personal values echo that. Spiritual moments, like prayer, meditation, pondering life’s mysteries, can be solitary—they need not be shared. But life—or at least my life—requires more.

In this month’s UU World, UUA President Peter Morales tells us the word “religion” comes from a Latin root meaning to tie or to bind. He says “Ultimately what ties us together, what makes us a religion, a united people, is what we love.”

Some of what I love ties me to other Muslims. Some of what I love ties me to the queer community. But much of what I love defies being limited to one particular set of religious practices, or a shared experience of being trans or being queer. And that’s what brings me here, to the UU.

When I first learned about Unitarian Universalism, with its premise that we don’t all have to believe the same things about god or the universe in order to worship together and work together to make positive change in the world….well, I thought that sounded wonderful on paper and I didn’t believe it actually played out that way. And sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we fall short of being our best selves—all of us do—but most of the time, to my great joy, it does actually play out the way it’s supposed to.

Towards the end of my first year here, the Director of Religious Education reminded me that all parents with kids in the RE program are supposed to sign up to teach in the RE coop. I had seen the notice. I knew I was supposed to sign up. But I wasn’t sure if I should.

“Listen,” I said. “I want to sign up, but… I’m transgender. I don’t know if that’s a problem.”

She had an unequivocal and immediate response.

“It’s not a problem."

That experience drove home the point that respecting the worth and dignity of every person is more than a maxim that hangs outside our door. It’s a guiding principle that UUs try to live by—and it’s one I embrace whole-heartedly.

The Director of RE was right. The fact that I’m transgender has never been an issue, at least that I’m aware of. Perhaps more importantly, neither my transgender experience nor my religious practice of Islam are things I’m asked to check at the door when I come here.

I’ve taught in the RE program many times, usually teaching the 7th grade Neighboring Faiths curriculum that introduces 7th graders to other religious traditions—including Islam. Last year, I was deeply moved when a member of my very first 7th grade RE class, who is now a senior in high school, contacted me because she was writing a paper about transgender experiences around the world. The fact that she contacted me meant more than many invitations I’ve received to speak at conferences. To me, it was a concrete reminder that here at the Unitarian Society, I’ve always felt welcome to bring my whole self—my spiritual connection to Islam, my transgender experience, my complicated family complete with two creative, outspoken kids who have matured into wonderful young men nurtured by this congregation, my Jewish partner, an ex-husband who is now a member here and his partner. And I don’t just feel welcome—I feel valued, for everything that I bring to the table, not despite it.

When I sit in the pews, I can guarantee there is some significant way that I differ in belief or life history or queerness or family structure from the person sitting next to me—and yet, really? When we gather here, to put our hands to work or engage our hearts in worship, those differences don’t feel significant at all.