I had another post halfway prepared for today, but an image came to mind I could not dismiss in the face of President Trump’s tweet on banning transgender people in the United States military, a means of communication that seemed to trivialize both the armed services as well as transgender people.
Many years ago I was attending a men’s retreat led by Franciscan author Richard Rohr on the campgrounds of Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. Rohr’s theme was the need for men to be initiated into manhood to avoid our sometimes loutish and confused and even violent behavior as adults.
If, as in some other cultures, men were taught how to be men through ritual and education from their elders, guidance about what it means to be a man could diminish the bluster, bullying, and aggressive ways that men today use to claim our manhood. For Rohr and the hundreds of men gathered from all parts of the world, it’s never too late for such initiation.
Richard attracts men who are justice-oriented and seeking to deepen their Christian spirituality. As a gay man, I found them either non-homophobic or self-consciously working on their homophobia and heterosexism, as well as their sexism. A few were gay themselves.
So when one young man followed me out of the initial gathering at the retreat, wanting to talk, I assumed I was going to hear yet another story of a gay Christian trying to live his faith and his identity. We had gone around in that first meeting introducing ourselves, and I had mentioned my ministry as a gay Christian.
Instead, here in the midst of a gathering of men learning to be men, and Christian men, he explained that he believed he was transgender and hoped to talk with me about it. I can still picture his face, modest and almost apologetic in asking my time and counsel. I was moved by his situation, training for Catholic priesthood, and hope that he had, as I like to pray, “the best possible outcome.”
The truth is, in my wide travels as a gay Christian activist, I have met many more self-identified transgender people than bisexual people—a surprise to me, because I have always assumed there are many more bisexual people along the sexuality continuum than there are gays and lesbians. Beyond just listening to their stories and showing my support, I have been able to suggest transgender resources and mentors.
I once wrote a kind of initiation rite for LGBT Christians entitled “Coming Out: A Witness to the Resurrection.” Males are not alone in needing a ritual to affirm their identities.
Some years earlier, at an LGBT retreat, also at Ghost Ranch, one retreatant told me the story of coming upon a garbage can on the grounds emitting wild sounds. He almost did nothing, so afraid of what might jump out if he were to look inside. As it turned out, he was able to free a frenzied squirrel that had fallen into the can and could not escape without help.
What a metaphor for coming out! Someone inside us may feel trapped by the confines of our bodies or our cultures or our faith communities. We may emit wild noises in our panic to be who we are; others may be afraid to come near to help.
Tweets coming from the White House are scary and mean, demeaning and hateful. The person inside might have benefited from an initiation rite that taught him that being a man does not need to entail aggression, brutality, greed, lust, winning at any cost—or even winning.
Right now, though, he sounds like a squirrel raging in his own garbage.
Related post: An Extraordinary Friendship
Helpful curriculum for congregations: Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities
The Coming Out ritual is in chapter seven of Coming Out as Sacrament.
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