An Appeal to Christians

It is the season of Advent, the great build-up to Christmas. For Christians the world over, this is intended to be a time of reflection, mounting joy, and gratitude. A time of celebration, as we eagerly await the day of Christ’s coming.

Syrian Refugee Woman and Child

But how many of us who claim to be Christian remember the days after that first Christmas? How Joseph and Mary fled Israel to avoid the wrath of Herod, to save their baby from certain death? How they were left without options, and had to seek shelter in another land?

Maybe most do. But how many of us American Christians would be willing to aid them now? If a dark-skinned woman from the Middle East begged asylum, how many American Christians would turn her and her baby away? “No room at the inn,” so to speak?

The “refugee crisis” of the 2010s is unfortunately not going away. Nor is it likely to get better. In fact, it will almost certainly get worse. With a climate going haywire and a globe that is not so much warming as it is cooking, millions of people who currently live in the tropics and on the fringes of deserts will be driven from their homes by the forces of nature. War and famine will compel many millions more to leave their native lands.

They will come North and South. To more temperate places, places that have a better shot of remaining habitable in the world to come. Places with more stable governments. The so-called “West” fits this bill.

They will come. Desperate, fearful. Many will look like the woman pictured here. Brown and black, Muslims, Christians, Pagans, Hindus. The race-baiters of Europe and North America will decry the “alien invasion” and they will chant “build the wall!” They will use dogwhistles and misinformation to incite the people of “the West” against these foreigners. We’ve seen it before. We see it now. And we will see it in the years to come.

So many of these race-baiters also dare to call themselves Christians. They have the gall to claim they believe in Jesus Christ and His message to the world. They hear the gospels read aloud, books that exhort us to love one another, to abandon our wealth for the good of others, and they go to their nice suburban homes and post on Facebook about how Trump is triggering the libs and how immigration will destroy the US. They post words of unbelievable hatred, celebrating the drowning of migrants in the Mediterranean and the mass detention of Central Americans seeking asylum in the US.

How dare they. How dare they call themselves Christians. Because they would not just turn Mary away, they would laugh and celebrate if she died in the Sonoran Desert. They would not spare a second thought for a little brown baby called “Yeshua bin Yusuf.” “Shouldn’t have come,” they’d say. “Mary was a bad mother for risking her kid that way.”

You cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not see our Heavenly Queen’s visage in every woman fleeing persecution. If you cannot see the Holy Child’s face in every little kid from Syria and Yemen, who have risked their lives to try and find some peace, you are not a Christian. You may go to a building every Sunday, you may say some prayers and sing some hymns, but if you do not live out Christ’s commandments in your life, you are no Christian, but a self-righteous hypocrite. A Pharisee.

To Christians the world over, no image is holier than the Child in the manger. Mary, Theotokos, “God-Bringer,” kneeling beside Her Son; the ultimate expression of a mother’s love, and the love of God for humanity that He sent himself to be born, to die, and to be restored to life. The very essence of the universe manifesting itself as frail human flesh, to teach to us a message of love and salvation. Yet millions of Americans who hold Mary and Her Child dear to their hearts would let them perish because of the colour of their skin and the language they spoke.

So I appeal to you, fellow Christians. Set aside your false idols of race, nation, and language. Remember that Our Saviour was a poor child of brown skin, who came into this world in a stable. Remember that His selfless act on Golgotha, when He gave himself as a willing offering for the salvation of all of humanity, could never have happened if the people of Egypt had turned back Joseph and Mary. Our Saviour was a refugee. When you turn the Syrian family away, when you send a Guatemalan transwoman back to near-certain death, you have turned away Christ, and sent Mary to die. “And the King will say to them; ‘Truly I tell you; Whatsoever you have done to the least of these, My siblings, you did also to Me.'”

Open your arms, Christians of America. And open your hearts. Christ didn’t give us another choice. There is no asterisk on “love thy neighbour.” Either live as Christians, or stop calling yourselves Christians.

A Prayer for Imperfection

16A82988-B371-439D-A719-DBE65878AD6D.jpegI have had ADHD my whole life. It affects many aspects of my mental process, but perhaps its most insidious incarnation is paralytic perfectionism. It is a heavy burden to bear, when every success seems to set me back and into depression, because every success makes me think that this is it. This is the best I’ll ever do, it’s all downhill from here.

So to combat this, I wrote a prayer that I intend to say every day:

 

Our Mother in Heaven,

I beseech thee;

Send me a spirit of sacred imperfection.

A seither of messy work and “good enough.”

Let praise elate rather than bind me,

Mistakes teach rather than deter me.

May the words flow in a raging torrent,

May I be free to do what I am called to do.

Let a bad day be no obstacle to creativity.

Let my words flow like a river.

In the Name of God, Creator, Liberator, and Sustainer,

Amen.

The Stygian Nightmare of Lacking ID

Every Friday morning, from nine to noon, I work in the Social Services Ministry at Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, here in my adopted home of Tucson, Arizona. The people we serve are mostly people experiencing temporary or chronic homelessness, who need help with transportation, information, and perhaps most critically with identification.

Theft among those without stable housing is depressingly common. So often my clients come in, frequently at the point of tears, to tell me that they had been robbed of their meagre possessions while they slept in a wash or in an alleyway. The perpetrators take everything, including the victim’s photo ID.

Those of us who enjoy some degree of economic security may not realise how critical having identifying documents really is. We need them to drive, buy age-regulated substances, and to prove we are who we say we are when dealing with the government. For those without housing, however, having a valid photo ID can mean the difference between sleeping in a shelter or out on the street. Being able to access the behavioural health and substance abuse treatment services so many of them need. To use the clothing vouchers we give out at GSP, you need a valid photo ID. To get on waiting lists for permanent housing, you need a valid ID.

So if your entire life is in a backpack, and that backpack gets stolen, what are you to do? Well, hopefully you remember your social security number, your ID number, and your mother’s maiden name. Because in that case I can give you a voucher, you can go to the DMV, and be issued an Arizona driver’s license or state ID. But if you don’t? Well, the nightmare begins.

Hopefully, you were born in Pima County. Because then I can help you get a birth certificate, fill out the form and send in the check by mail. Once you’ve got the birth certificate, you can go get a social security card. Once you have that, then you can go get a picture ID.

If you weren’t born in Pima County, then I can’t do a damned thing except give you a list of places that might help you. Maybe. If they have the funding. If they’re open when you can get there. If their caseload isn’t full.

Already stigmatised and vilified by the rest of society, people who are experiencing homelessness who lack identification become unpersons. Living, breathing, thinking, and feeling ghosts. The damage this does to the psyche is incalculable. How many times have I seen a client break down in tears, saying “I don’t know what to do,” over and over again, as I try in vain to console them? I don’t know. All I know is that it breaks my heart again and again.

What consolation can I give a person who has become an non-entity in the eyes of society? You  need ID to get other forms of ID. Maybe, just maybe, you get your foot in the door if you remember all those strings of numbers, dates, and names that establish that you are who you say you are; but keep in mind, many of the people we serve at Grace St. Paul’s have untreated mental health issues and substance abuse disorders. The pain inflicted on them every day is too much to bear, so quite understandably many of them turn to drugs and drink. Quite a few who might be able to function quite well with the right medications cannot afford them, and the conditions they live in drive them into psychosis.

Under these conditions, being able to retain the necessary information to reestablish one’s personhood is a herculean task. I do not judge any one of them for being unable to meet it. These are people like you and me. A gentleman (who I’ll call Paul) that I aided last week was an accountant less than three years ago. His wife (who I’ll call Susie) contracted lymphoma, and the insurance he had through his work didn’t cover the full costs of the treatments. 

Paying to try and save Susie’s life drove them into debt, and they sold their home of twenty years to try and cover the astronomic costs. The hospital billed them into financial oblivion. Susie died all the same, leaving Paul with a mountain of debt. He was evicted from his apartment when he fell behind on rent, then terminated from his job because of his “unprofessional appearance,” the result of sleeping in his car and being unable to access a shower.

Two days before he saw me, all that Paul had left in the world was stolen, including the only pictures he had of his wife, as well as his birth certificate, social security card, and state ID. When he spoke to me he sobbed, and sobbed, and sobbed. I tried to maintain my composure, but I broke down crying too. The worst thing was, I could do nothing to help him. He was born in Michigan, and I can’t help with out-of-state birth certificates.

“I should have made more friends,” he kept saying. “Then we might have had some help… But Susie and I… we were happiest just sticking by each other. I never thought… I never thought I’d lose her.”

This shy, sweet man got chewed up and spit out by the cruellest vicissitudes of fate. Paul became an unperson, left to fend for himself on the street. He doesn’t have any family left, no one to turn to. Now, without ID, he can’t even utilise the meagre services available to the dispossessed of Tucson.

Paul and those like him are why I so despise capitalism, especially in its American incarnation. Why I so despise every politician who wants to put more hoops to jump through to access any public assistance. Why I believe that healthcare and housing are human rights, not luxuries. Why I do not give a single fucking shit about a millionaire’s so-called “property rights,” knowing that the ten thousand dollars they might spend on a party could be the difference between stability and ruin for so many people of lesser means.

At the end of our time together, Paul thanked me for listening to him.

“I’m sure you hear stories like this all the time… I know you’re doing your best, and I’m sorry…”

“Please, please don’t be sorry,” I begged him. “I only wish I could do more to help.”

“I’m not sure I can keep going, Beatrice,” he said as he stood to go. “I’m so fucking tired.”

The look in his eyes burned with rage and despair. I didn’t know what to say on Friday. I don’t really know what to say now.

I’ll fight for you Paul. You and everyone else who has been chewed up and spit out by the Moloch of Capital. Everyone who has ended up losing their lives to the greed and callousness of the monsters who eat off golden plates. I’ll say it now and with my dying breath, and every day inbetween; it doesn’t have to be like this. We can change this world, and we can only do it by destroying the parasitical, wicked, and lecherous class that holds power. We can slay the dragons of capital and take their hoards to feed, clothe, house, and teach the whole world.

Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the Earth! For justice thunders condemnation, a better world is in its birth!

Daughter of Colonisers

On this particular day I find myself reflecting on what it means to be the descendant of colonisers.

My ancestors came from England, Norway, Denmark, and Wales. The first American to bear my name, my great (times nine) grandfather William Washbourne, fled the English Civil War and settled in Connecticut in 1639. I don’t know if he himself took the land (two sizeable farms) from the natives or if he purchased land already conquered, but the fact remains my family found their first toehold on this continent on stolen native land.

Fast forward two hundred years and Daniel Abraham Washburn is travelling with the Mormon pioneers to Utah. Salt Lake City was founded on land that was only seasonally inhabited, but land that the Utes and Shoshones both ranged on. Land that became unavailable for them to use because the Mormons built a city on it, and excluded natives from that city.

Brigham Young despatched Daniel Abraham among others to settle Southern Utah, on land belonging to the Paiutes. His son, Abraham Daniel, went to modern day San Juan County and plopped a farm down on land historically grazed by Navajo flocks. Again, I do not know if my ancestors used guns to take it, but the fact is they settled on land that did not belong to them, and gave no recompense to the people who inhabited that land before.

My great-grandfather, Alvin Lavell, was living in Blanding when the Posey War (also called the Bluff War) broke out in 1915. It was one of the last armed conflicts between Native Americans and the Federal Government. He didn’t have any part in that, so far as I know, but he was a white man on native land, that only 104 years ago was still being taken at gunpoint. Some 150 native bands living in San Juan County, Paiutes, Goshutes, and Navajos were rounded up and deported to the Ute Mountain Reservation during the war. 4,000 people, taken away from their homes and sent to a glorified concentration camp, their land divvied out to white ranchers and miners.

I was born in Salt Lake City in 1994. I spent a lot of my childhood in San Juan county, wondering why the Navajos in Blanding seemed so much worse off than the whites, ignorant of the historical forces that caused them to live in squalor amidst better-off settlers. 

Utah is my home, and I love the mountains, red rock canyons, and arches as only a woman born there can. It’s my native soil. I love England and imagine I’d love Norway and Denmark, but the fact remains that I am not English or Norwegian or Danish- I’m an American. I was born here, my family has lived here for nearly 400 years. But we are still settlers, and for three hundred years we were the direct beneficiaries of land seized from native peoples by force. 

How can I come to terms with the fact that my birth in Utah, my home, was the byproduct of imperialism and genocide? I didn’t chose it. The forces of history that had my European ass being born on stolen land were obviously not within my power. How to make restitution to the people who’ve lived on the land that I love as my own for so much longer than my people have? How can I make amends while still being happy to have been born amidst the grandeur of the Wasatch Mountains? 

All of us white folk can’t go back to Europe. I’m fairly sure the E.U. doesn’t want some 180 million fractious gun-owners trying to resettle in the lands to which we are indigenous. But what is the solution? How can we heal the wound that our ancestors inflicted on theirs? I’m not asking to be trite or glib, I ask because I see how grievous the injustice that my ancestors inflicted on the indigenous people of the Americas was. I ask because I see how people with my skin colour still oppress, mistreat, and misunderstand the indigenous people who’ve survived our genocide. I ask because as a Christian woman I believe that we must confess and atone for our sins, and seek reconciliation and justice. How can we have that justice, knowing that it is impractical and impossible to turn back the clock, for all of us with Caucasian blood to just up and leave? How can we move forward, and try to mitigate the damage done, to make restitution without restoring a past that is forever lost? 

 

I don’t know. But I’ll keep asking the question. Keep seeking out ways to be an ally and advocate for the indigenous peoples of the Americas. I understand that I will never fully understand the immensity of their grief, I understand that my white skin and European culture advantages me in this country and likely will continue to do so for years and years to come, and I understand that I am the unwitting beneficiary of one of the greatest crimes in history. With that understanding, I hope I can do my part to redeem my family name, to set myself right with the God of Compassion, and to set myself right with the infinite capacity of humanity to seek justice.

Why I Write

I write because I love it. I really do. I love to put proverbial pen to paper (or fingers to my keyboard) and forge a story or an essay from a jumble of thoughts. I love to have the organisation and permanence of the page to contain the messy fireworks show that is my brain. 

I write because I think I have some good ideas, ideas that tend to improve once put to paper. On paper I can give my own thoughts an honest assessment, whereas in my own mind they are assailed by a deep-set self-loathing implanted in me by years of gender dysphoria and the cruelty of others. Writing liberates my thoughts from the prison of my mind, and with editing and rearrangement and revisions I can make those thoughts better, clearer, and stronger. That’s why I write for myself.

My goal in writing for an audience is to educate, to entertain, and to provide a new perspective. I’ve always loved sharing information, ever since I was a little child and wanted to tell everyone about Scottish castles and the fantasies that I’d derive in my head. I like to tell stories, and in writing I can craft those stories to be better than anything I could tell off the cuff. Stories matter, and the way they’re told, who they’re told to, can change the world.

I want to be a writer because to be a writer is to sow the seeds of thought, of future culture. The words we read and hear shape the words we say in the future. My words are shaped by my predecessors, and I have the audacity to say that my words might help shape future culture to be a little more compassionate and thoughtful. I have no illusions about being the godmother of some great revolutionary movement, but if I write a story or an essay that sparks the mind of someone down the line, I’ve done my bit, and left the world a little better than I found it. That’s what we’re all really here for, right? To live our own lives well, and to improve the lives of others, both living and still yet to come. The way I can do that best is with my words, and my words are best when I write them down.

 


Exciting things are happening with An Unremarkable Girl! The memoir, co-authored with my amazing and supportive Mum Nan Seymour, is about my young life as a transgirl growing up in Utah and my struggle to inhabit my identity in the face of a conservative society and my own struggles with mental illness. We’ve recently signed with an agent and are beginning to explore our options for publishing- expect this blog to be a lot more active in the days to come! If you enjoyed this piece (or any of my writing) please feel free to share on Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media you prefer. Thanks as always for reading!

Dropping Out and the Media

As I leave school behind for good, in March of 2011, I experience a profound increase in my depression. Depression has daunted me since puberty began, situational and chemical, but it swelled up as I cut myself off from the world, from my few friends, and from life itself.

Days and weeks pass by, blending into one another. I stay in bed or I pace around my house. Very occasionally I try to write a short story or work on a novel, but I have no motivation and no drive. Life is grey. 

I lie in bed in the mid-afternoon. This could be any day of any month. I watch videos on Youtube or do laps on the same shows on Netflix. I play computer games, almost always cheating at them because I can’t muster up enough energy to face even the small and meaningless challenges they present. Sometimes I read something from my growing library, but more often than not even books, which I adore, fail to engage me.
I feel wrong. Wrong about everything. My body disgusts me, my habits disappoint me. In every aspect of my shambling half-life I feel a failure. “Home school”, which is what I claim to be doing, engages me even less than regular school, and knowing that my mother is exhausted and distracted by her own schoolwork I evade most of the assignments.

On occasion I dare to do more research about being transgender, with the same paranoia and care that I take when I occasionally read erotica or watch pornography and masturbate. I feel more ashamed about researching transgender issues than about masturbation, and given that I’m fairly certain I’m violating my own decency by masturbation the amount of guilt and fear I have about the research is almost incommunicable.
I look at transition timelines, I even go through a photo series of a vagioplasty, the surgery by which a penis can be reconstructed into a vagina. I try to imagine myself as a girl. I have long hair already, but I dress solely in turtlenecks and jeans, not particularly feminine attire.
However, when I consider transition, it is coloured by the depictions of transgender women in the media that I consume, especially since I spend so much of my days doing little else beside watching shows on Netflix.

In Futurama, one of my favourite shows at the time, there is a particular episode which focuses on a gender transition. In “Bend Her” (Season 5 Episode 13), the foul-mouthed alcoholic robot Bender undergoes a sex change in order to pass a gender check after he competes as a “fembot” in the Robot Olympics. After this operation (which involves the severing of his antenna, a clear analogue for robots to human penises), he proceeds to be an exaggerated stereotype of femininity and female behaviour, to the chagrin and disgust of the show’s other female characters. The episode resolves when he is “fixed”, ie returned to masculine forms and behaviours.
I describe this in depth because it is representative of media focusing on transgender women in the 2000s, media which deeply impacted me as an adolescent coming to terms with my gender identity. Bender is not a transwoman in any meaningful sense of the word, he suffers from no confusion about his gender identity. He undergoes transition as part of a con. The changes that occur (including increased emotionality and sensitivity) are played for laughs, and at one point Leela (the most prominent female character) says “Please get out of my gender”. It’s comedy, one might say, but the joke is that it is ridiculous that anyone perceived as male would become female. That’s the punchline. The message I get is transwomen are laughable.

I’m afraid of being a joke. I’m already a pitiable individual, a depressed 16 year-old reclusive high-school dropout. Pity is bad enough, I tell myself, I don’t need to be laughed at too. I’m afraid. Afraid. Afraid. Under the relatively placid pond scum of lethargy, apathy, and sadness that an outside observer sees I’m a roiling cauldron of fear and panic. I know I’m transgender and it terrifies and disgusts me. I’ll be a joke. I’ll lose my extended family. I’ll be hated. I’ll be ugly. These refrains ring in my ears, a thousand shrieking harpies that only I can hear, the cacophony of loathing, doubt, and terror echoing through the relative silence of my dark, book-lined bedroom.

Jesus is a Dirty Commie

I am a communist transgirl. So far I’ve said nothing remarkable; anecdotally speaking I can say that the majority of young transwomen are either communists or anarchists. What makes me unusual is that I am also a Christian.

I’m embarrassed to say the word. “Christian” has been tarred by the child abuse scandals of the Catholic church, the flatulent bleating of mega-church mega-pastors with their mega-mansions, and the legions of bible-thumpers threatening hell to all those who do not ascribe to their narrow interpretation of God’s purpose on Earth. In most of my social circles online and in person, Christianity is almost universally considered to be a force of repression and reaction.

I find these interpretations of Christianity as abhorrent as my militantly godless friends do. Perhaps more so, because they are sacrilegious perversions of something that I love; the Apostolic Church. The Christian Church before Emperors, quacks, and prudes (Looking at you, Constantine, Augustine, and Paul) shaped it into an arm of a repressive state. The Apostolic Church of the first and second centuries was defined by a communalist worldview; Acts 4:32 proclaims “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” (New International Version)

This was the early church; a radical group of communitarians who rejected both the authoritarian nature of the Roman Empire and the society of slaves and masters which defined it. Inspired by the example of Jesus, early Christians went forth across the Mediterranean and formed communities that lived according to his counsel in Matthew 25:40 “”And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!‘” (New International Version)

At the beginning of this year I was an atheist. I became convinced that religion’s sole purpose was to be a tool of the ruling class, a justification for subjugation of women to men, slave to master, one race to another. If it wasn’t Karl Marx’s “opiate of the masses” it was the call to slaughter the unbeliever or heretic. No good could come of it, I robustly proclaimed, and the evidence for God’s existence was trivial. Reading Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion lent a smug logic to it all; religious and spiritual people were simply deluded or hypocritical.

On November 11th, not quite two months after I moved to Tucson, I went to Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It was recommended to me by a dear friend (and former Episcopal priest), and though I remained hostile to the idea of faith I had been longing for community, so I decided to give it a shot.

November 11th of 2018. One hundred years to the day since the last shot rang out over the Western Front. I enter the sanctuary, and I take a place in the pews, listening to the choir rehearse. A feeling steals over me, a sensation I haven’t felt since I was young; peace. True peace. I kneel, and for the first time in years I pray with some genuine intent. And as I gaze upon the stained glass window above the altar, a depiction of Christ, tears start to run down my face.

I’ve made many mistakes in my life. I have been a toxic person, I have been a problem drinker, I’ve stolen, I’ve lied, I’ve deceived. Where possible I have offered my sincere apologies, knowing that I owe them to those I’ve hurt, but I am not owed forgiveness for my trespasses. When I gaze upon the figure of Christ, I feel called to step forward into the future. I feel renewed. My mistakes remain in my past, and doubtless I have yet to atone for many of them. But I cannot go back into the past and undo what I have done wrong; I can only strive to go forward in the spirit of Christ.

I want to reclaim Christ from the theocrats and prosperity theologians. I want to reclaim Him from Jeff Sessions and Mike Pence. I want to discard the Old Testament, the idea of God as a jealous and wrathful man in the sky. I don’t know that I believe in God, but I believe in Christ the Man, who preached revolution and resistance, who broke bread and drank wine with his friends the night before he died. Christ who suffered a brutal and painful death as an act of love for all of humanity.

The Internationale, the anthem of Communism, begins with the call “Arise ye prisoners of starvation, arise ye wretched of the Earth!” I believe fervently that we must do away with billionaires and millionaires, we must smash the hierarchies of class, race, and gender. We must do this for the sake of all humanity, and for the Earth upon which we live. I feel called to this task by virtue of Marxism, yes, but also by the spirit of Christ. Christ who overturned the tables of the moneylenders, Christ who broke bread with sex workers and tax collectors, Christ who said “love thy neighbour as thyself.” Christ who taught me as a child to be compassionate, and Christ who now, at the age of twenty-four, calls me to love and serve humanity and the world in the broadest and most compassionate way.

So I go forward, a living contradiction.