Earlier this year, I was able to attend the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. For those of you who may not know, this is a gathering of trans, genderqueer, gender bending, gender transcending and otherwise gender non-conforming (GNC) people of all ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations and income levels, as well as our families and friends, for opportunities to connect, learn and grow together. We spend these precious 3-5 days talking about issues that matter to us most, including health care, emotional and spiritual well-being, creative expression and staying connected to loved ones.
The Philadelphia Trans Health Conference is, hands down, one of the most empowering gatherings I’ve ever experienced.
I do not just appreciate the space as a Trans-identified person who constantly longs for deep connection with people of similar experience, but also as a human being who cares deeply about the ways in which these kinds of gatherings can pave the way for healing. And let’s be honest. There aren’t many opportunities where I and others get to be surrounded by literally thousands of trans/GNC folks and the people who love us most.
So there I was, over the course of four days, with a fair amount of work to do (I was sitting on two panels and leading worship), surrounded by both new friends and people I care for deeply—and I was TERRIFIED!! Now, for those of you who may not know me as well, it wasn’t the sheer size of the conference space or the subject matter or even the number of people that frightened me.
The thing that unnerved me was that, as a person of faith who tends to believe that how we connect and heal is bound up in how we understand our faith, I was likely to hear other people’s stories of faith and spirituality, deep connection and loss of spirit, painful separation from community and longing for healing in community, misunderstanding and mistreatment, and fear of what’s to come. I was afraid of what I might be invited to carry.
I was afraid I would not know how to hold that space of honesty and trust in the “right” way.
As we approach the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I imagine many churches might also experience this anxiety about deep connection. Holding space for the deepest truths of people’s lives isn’t easy—especially when those people have experienced rejection from our faith communities.
It can be difficult and scary for communities of faith to approach events like TDOR. The questions are many—how can we create deep connections across lines of difference? Is there enough room in the human heart, mind, and spirit to create these spaces for deep connection? Are we prepared for what we are called to do, who we are called to be, and what we are moving toward? How can we be respectful while we remember?
At the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, I was grateful to have someone very dear to me telling me that my only charge in these incredibly powerful and impacting moments is to hold the space open enough so that any person who is on the verge of showing up believes enough in their own safety to show up fully.
My friend Teo reminded me that we will never understand that which we have not been intentional about making room for.
In order to fully experience deep connection at the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference, I had to be prepared to stop, be present and listen. If deep connection is what we seek as we endeavor to bring all of who we each are to worship, then we must be prepared to stop, be present and listen. If deep connection is what we seek as we work to unlearn what we think we know about gender and sexuality, then we must be prepared to stop, be present and listen.
I’ve listened to plenty of people try to explain what the Holy Spirit is. But this is precisely what it is for me. That THING that happens when the air we breathe, when the space between us carries within it a deep desire for all of us to be fully welcomed, fully embraced for who we are, fully celebrated.
It’s up to each of us, with a little help sometimes from our friends, not to get caught up in how to capture what that journey looks like, but instead, to keep our hearts, minds and spirits attuned to the deep brilliance that the journey offers on its own terms—in the here and now—with all the limitless options, inspired creativity and boundless vision our faith can enliven within us.
It’s remarkable and inspiring the ways that we can bear witness to both deep sadness and unrelenting hopefulness.
These are what we simultaneously carry during observances like the Transgender Day of Remembrance. These are moments in which we don’t have to have the answers or know the way. These might be moments when we’re most frightened or uncertain. But these are also the spaces where I believe our greatest potential is as yet unrealized.
It’s where we live into deep connection—where the forces of love and logic that exist in the world are not shaped by us humans, but rather, we allow ourselves to be shaped by them.
Photo via flickr user Elvert Barnes