Monday, April 7, 2014

Loving Those We Don't Understand

Many years ago, I was active on an email mailing list for Whosoever Magazine. During its heyday, it was a very active list of LGBT Christians and their supporters. I made friends there that have carried over to Facebook.

One Whosoeveran I've lost track of is a woman named Angela. She was active for a while and I enjoyed her posts immensely. She had a wit I appreciated, but she also had a depth that came through in her posts.

She was a trans woman, probably my first real interaction with a trans person. One day, in my typically clumsy manner, said something like, "Ang, I'm so glad to know you. I don't pretend to understand transgender issues, but I'm glad to get to know you. You're helping me understand some."

I suppose because we had fun together on the list, she took what may have felt like a risk to contact me off-list. She told me to ask her anything and she'd try to answer. I guess we both felt safe with each other, at least over the internet.

So we had a fruitful exchange off the main Whosoever list. I like to think our mutual respect grew in that exchange. Maybe it was just my respect for her. I certainly grew to love her more. I even got to meet her in person once.

I don't remember what we talked about, exactly, and I don't know that she answered all my questions.

I'm probably still clumsy in my interactions with trans people. I hope I'm less so. To the extent that I do understand trans issues, a great deal of credit goes to Angela. It was not her responsibility to educate me, but she took it on and I'm very grateful.

We lost contact over the years. I checked with some of the other Whosoeverans and it seems we've all lost contact. I hope she's well, happy, and living a life without the burden of educating people like me. I hope I take on some of her burden to educate, however clumsily I do so.

I reflect on my relationship with Ang from time to time, particularly when I read stories of violence against trans folk (or anyone, really, but trans people are statistically at higher risk for violent attack). How do parents turn out children? How do people make off-handed cruel remarks? How does whatever unease one feels when encountering what one doesn't understand escalate so quickly to harm?

I think we've made a mistake, in the last decades, emphasizing how alike we all are. We've used that argument to talk about why racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia . . . all our prejudices have been attacked with the plea, "we're really all alike underneath."

I don't think that's true. I'm pretty sure it's not true.

If we are made in the Image of God, as I hold foundational of my understanding of all of us, then there is something that will always be something a little mysterious, unsettling, even frightening about one another. There are reasons why people, when they encounter the Holy, they fall to the ground and hide their face. God isn't like us, we just bear God's Image.

It may be that what the thing we don't understand about another person is a part of the Imago Dei we need to meet. I grow more sure this is true. I don't say that like it's easy. I say that because I think it's true. It challenges me daily.

As always, it takes humility, risk, patience, love. Wherever Angela is tonight, I hope she knows somehow just how much she taught me, and maybe others, some small measure of all these things.

May these small measures increase within me. May you join me in the learning. 

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