Wednesday, July 6, 2016

An Extraordinary Friendship

Selfie taken by Erin Swenson with me when we took 
a walk along the Atlanta Beltline a few weeks ago.

I conclude a series of personal reflections on the LGBT Christian movement that posted each Wednesday of June, Pride Month, and now extended to this first week of July, given the “interruption” of my post on Orlando. For those unfamiliar with this blog, be assured that I will return to other topics next week! And for the dozens of activists I’ve encountered and have yet to write about, maybe I’ll tell more stories next June.

There are momentous occasions in our lives that cause us to remember details surrounding them vividly. It was inside the El Capitan Theater in downtown North Hollywood when I was 19 years old that I saw The Christine Jorgensen Story, a 1970 film about a transgender person, long before that term was familiar.

As a young gay man, I identified with her, though I did not think of myself as other than what we now call cisgendered. But that she crossed gender expectations was one more encouragement for me as a same-gender loving young man, and one more reason why I never resisted including “T” in “LGBT.” For me, it’s always been a “no-brainer” to do so, and I speculate my attitude originated from seeing that film.

It seemed fitting, then, when I learned that New York City’s Stonewall Rebellion that is heralded as the beginning of the U.S. queer rights movement was largely initiated by drag queens and transgender folk discontent with the abusive enforcement of gender expectations of our American society.

My first Presbytery of Greater Atlanta meeting after moving to this city was one that considered the continued ministry of the Rev. Dr. Erin Swenson after transitioning from Eric to Erin. Having been ensconced as a volunteer in presbytery and synod ecclesiastical committees and conclaves in Southern California—to my dismay having little effect on changing Presbyterian views on lesbian and gay Christians—I had delayed involvement in similar commitments in my new home of Georgia.

But I wanted to be supportive of Erin, whom I had never met, and see how this presbytery behaved in considering her ongoing calling. I was impressed with her pastoral approach, showing great patience in answering even the most insulting of questions. I was also impressed that, as a therapist who had “been there” for many of the presbyters as Eric, many of them were more receptive and respectful of her own choices.

When her calling was affirmed by a healthy majority, the heavens opened up for me, and the Spirit descended in a rare appearance at a presbytery meeting.

That began what I consider a beautiful friendship. I’ve spent time with her former and loving wife and her faithful daughters, with her father and her sister and brother-in-law, and a friend—whose Pakistani birth certificate read “female” when he knew he was male—and his wife, both faithful Muslims, whose wedding, celebrated by Erin, I attended in their Sufi circle. I also was invited to attend their festivities on Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.

I think the most memorable holiday dinner I’ve hosted included LGBT Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and atheist/pagan guests and there were only seven people around my dining room table!

Erin was there for me the night when my mom died, the first to come to my house with Sharon Taylor, my pastor whom Erin had notified. Erin was there for me when Mark and I separated, helping me with my double grief, recommending a couples’ counselor and serving as our divorce negotiator as well. She retained me as her writing coach when she was writing her as yet unpublished but powerful memoir.

She gave the charge at my MCC ordination in 2005, and she served as celebrant of Wade’s and my wedding in 2015. And she was beloved by my dogs, Calvin and Hobbes, with whom she would stay when I was out of town, and last July, joined me and Wade and a few friends celebrating Hobbes’ life at a recently opened Mexican restaurant.

And she was among the “trinity” to whom I dedicated my book, Henri’s Mantle, for getting me through “the recent unpleasantness.”

I entitled this “an extraordinary friendship” not only because of Erin’s great friendship, but because I believe transgender folk have been great friends to lesbians, gay men, bisexual and straight people, enlarging our view of gender and gender possibilities.  To me, that is a spiritual value, and applies to our understanding of God as well.

The Religion and Faith Program of HRC, the Human Rights Campaign, contracted me to pull together their curriculum, Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities: A Congregational Guide for Transgender Advocacy.

Earlier posts in this series:

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Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author, photographer, and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful article, Chris. We are both very lucky to have Erin as a friend.