Silly Geese and Momma Bears:
A Playful Look at So-Called Gender Differences
Jennifer Angelina Petro
The following is a light-hearted (yet with deadly serious ramifications—especially in today’s world) look at the fallacy of so-called gender identifiers and the even more illusionary “characteristics” of gender as perceived by people (henceforth referred to as Silly Goose, or SGM for “males;” SGF’s for Silly Goose “females,” (sorry to use the tired binary system—it’s just for the sake of this post); and I will refer to them collectively, as Silly Geese, or SG, for short) who
1). Believe there are only two genders— “male” and “female,”
2). Believe that the only two genders are “opposite,”
3). Believe the two genders can ultimately be defined by genitals and personality traits.
It should be pointed out at the onset that I too am a Silly Goose Female, but of a much more pleasant, fabulous, and glittery variety.
Some of what is said in this little romp are actual statements people have made to me (henceforth referred to as Fabulous Unicorn Glitter Rainbow Queen, or FUGRQ for short) while trying to disprove my existence a transwoman.
Please note: any information herein is meant to be humorously educational and if it offends may you be nibbled to death by gazelles. And now back to the exchange.
SGF: How do you know you’re female?
FUGRQ: How so you know you’re female?
SGF: I asked you first.
FURGQ: And the first shall be last. We’ll get to my answer later.
SGF: There are clear-God-ordained differences between males and females.
FUGRQ: That’s an opinion, but back to my question.
[Please note I am not going to use quotation marks around words like, “male,” “female,”” tough,” or “womanly,” for the remainder of this post. I realize I just did, but that was purely for example’s sake. The overuse of quotation marks dampens their otherwise enormous powers of making sure you understand what I “actually” mean. I have the fullest confidence that your brain will automatically insert quotation marks around the words that need them, thus saving me from having to hit “shift,” before hitting the quotation mark key. Damn.]
SGF: Well, I just feel…womanly.
FUGRQ: OK. What does feeling womanly feel like?
SGF: It feels…feminine.
FUGRQ: What does feeling feminine feel like?
SGF: Well, I feel nurturing as a female.
FUGRQ: Have you ever met, seen, or interacted with a nurturing male?
SGF: Um…. yes, I suppose.
FUGRQ: Then the quality of being nurturing is a genderless quality?
SGF: Well, female nurturing is softer and gentler.
FUGRQ: Ever heard of Mr. Rogers? Or, Bob Ross, or, say: Jimmy Stewart?
SGF: There are exceptions, yes.
FUGRQ: Those exceptions are actually proof that being nurturing is a genderless quality, and thus cannot define gender. Give me another example.
SGF: Females are more emotional than males, they cry more easily.
FURGQ: Ever heard of Cal Ripken, Lou Gehrig, Jon Stewart, Abraham Lincoln? They all cried, as did many a Philadelphia male when the Eagles won the Superbowl.
SGF: As I said, there are exceptions—some males are more sensitive than others.
FURGQ: Those exceptions are actually proof that being emotional, or crying easily, is a genderless quality and thus cannot define gender.
Here is a conversation between an SGM and myself:
SGM: How do you know you’re female?
FUGRQ: How do you know you’re male? What is your inner experience of that like?
SGM: Well, I feel…masculine.
FUGRQ: What does that feel like?
SGM [puffing out chest]: Well, I feel manly.
FUGRQ: OK, what does that feel like?
SGM: [unable to keep chest puffed out more than a few seconds, it sinks back to regular chest settings]: Well, I’m a protector of children.
FUGRQ: Ever heard how mother bears protect her cubs, or how Sojourner Truth or Mother Theresa protected children, or how Pink protects her children?
SGM: Well, there are exceptions to the rule.
FUGRQ: Rule? You’ve just seen that being protective is a genderless quality.
SGM: Well, I know I’m male because I’m tough. [SG puffs out chest again.]
FURGQ: Well, what about the aforementioned mother bear, or the likes of Kathrine Switzer, Venus and Serena Williams, Rosa Parks?
SGM: As I said, there are exceptions to the rule [chest sinks back in].
FURGQ: It boils down to toughness—physically and mentally—is a genderless quality, and therefore cannot define gender.
FURGQ: So then, what is the actual difference between males and females?
SG: Here’s proof of the difference between males and females you can’t dispute—males have a penis and release sperm and woman have a vagina and release eggs.
FURGQ: So, it comes down to body parts?
SG: Yes. You can’t deny that one.
FURGQ: What about sterile males and infertile females are they still males and females?
SG: Those are disorders.
FURGQ: But you still consider them as defining characteristics of male and female?
SG: Yes, of course.
FURGQ: So, then, ultimately bodily functions can’t define gender. What about intersex people or the so-called-not-really-used-anymore-word: hermaphrodites?
SG: Again, there are exceptions that are considered disorders.
FURGQ: Hmm. What if a male loses his penis in a horrible accident or a woman has her vulva damaged in some way? Is the male still male or the female still female?
SG: Yes, because accidents happen.
FURGQ: I’ll give you that both sperm and egg are required to make little humans, but those ingredients can produce both little male and females, isn’t that interesting? And just because sperm come from one type of body and eggs from another doesn’t actually make two genders—it makes differently made bodies. Both have arms, legs, eyeballs, ears, toes, and so on. You’re saying the ONLY body parts that define males and females are genitals and their bodily functions?
SG [smugly]: Yes, that’s the truth.
FURGQ: OK, well, we’ve seen that either body can have different genitals, so, when it comes down to it, bodies don’t explain the inner experience or the feeling of being male or female. Despite bodily varieties there is no actual way to define what it feels like to be male or female.
SG: Yes, that’s what we’re saying. We just KNOW.
FURGQ: And so, you go around KNOWING you’re males and females because you’re constantly—so-to-speak—feeling your genitals?
SG [looking at one another then turning back to me]: No, not necessarily.
FURGQ: So, genitals do not make you experience on a soul-level-a consciousness level, that you’re male or female?
SG: We suppose not, but still…
FURGQ: Still what?
SG: Feelings and inner experiences are subjective and not necessarily true.
FURGQ: Really, so your inner experiences don’t count either?
SG: Well, it’s in the Bible.
FURGQ: Ah, I wondered when that book would eek into the conversation. There’s no way for me to really argue with people who believe that one book—out of the gazillion books ever written—is the whole truth and nothing but the truth despite science, and verses like Isiah 53: 3-5 where God says eunuchs shall be given names greater than men or woman? Or how Jesus treated everyone as if their gender didn’t matter in the least?
SG: Never heard of the Isiah passage.
FURGQ: Ah. What about Jeremiah 1:5? If you deny an infinite variety of bodies exist, then God must make mistakes. You must believe people born blind or short or tall or deaf are mistakes.
SG: God doesn’t make mistakes. People born handicapped are due to human genetic abnormalities.
FURGQ: I prefer the term, “differently born,” because that includes everyone—since we’re all born with different bodies. But aren’t those genetic issues ordained by Divine Providence?
SG: Now we’re getting into theological debate, and there’s no sense in that.
FURGQ: Agreed. Disputing the Bible’s so-called infallibility is futile, not because it’s right, but because your minds are indoctrinated with what you believe to be true, and everyone knows that beliefs aren’t facts.
SG: The Bible is God’s actual word.
FURGQ: As I said, there’s no way I can argue with your ingrained beliefs, I shouldn’t have tried, so let’s return to the human body, which you so ardently believe defines a particular gender.
SG: OK. Let’s. Everyone knows females don’t have facial hair or deep voices or adam’s apples.
FURGQ: On the contrary , there are females with beards and facial hair of varying amounts, plus most other mammals, like the afore-aforementioned bear–no-matter what genitals it is born with–have hair (well, fur). So then, body hair is a genderless quality and can’t define gender. And by the way, I wouldn’t go around asking bears to spread their legs so you can think you’ve decided what gender they are based on what you find.
SG: OK, fine, but what about the male’s deep voices or adam’s apples?
FURGQ: What about Mae West, Kathleen Turner, Angelina Jolie? They have deep voices.
SG: There are exceptions too.
FURGQ: At the end of the day, the sound and timber of someone’s voice does not define male and female. And as far as the adam’s apple, anyone can have one. Just because some bodies have bigger ones than others doesn’t make theirs’ male and the other female. Sandra Bullock, Meg Ryan, and Halle Berry can all be said to have large adam’s apples.
SG: Well, females can nurse babies and men can’t.
FURGQ: We’ve already seen that body parts do not define gender itself—they may be associated with bodily functions and made-made words—but those words and functions referring to various body parts don’t define gender. It’s what’s inside that counts—the inner experience or feeling of being the gender you know yourself to be. So, I will ask my original question: What is your inner experience of being a particular gender—not reliant on the outer forms of the body? What does it feel like to be who you are?
SG: We just know, that’s all. We just know.
FURGQ: And that’s my answer to your original question. I told you we’d get to it eventually.
SG: Whatever. We won this little debate [the SG’s walk away with their chests puffed out and their chins pointed high].
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” I call out as they strut away, but they are too far out of range to hear, which would be the case no matter the distance from where we stood.
Musings on Prayers and Kisses
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Trying to pray with your eyes open is like trying to walk with your eyes closed. One distracts you, the other confuses you, but the end result is the same—clumsiness. Trying to kiss with your eyes open is more an act of will and wide-eyed-giggling than it is: “I must see where my face is going.” Lips know. The soul knows. The feet do not without aid of the eyes. Then again, it must be considered not all prayers are the same, just as not all kisses are the same. And I must say at the beginning, I am musing along with you as I write these words. The ideas herein are like the aforementioned legs without eyes to guide them. I do have certain experience, albeit limited, with both kissing and praying, but I am roaming these topics of heaven-given moments with as much anticipation as you to see where they lead.
One can kiss a lover, friend, or a child “Good morning—have a good day”—with eyes open (perhaps, however, while staring at the coffee maker or the clock). One can kiss a lover with eyes open—wild, seeing everything—following the other’s eyes like search lights, but that’s usually at first contact—when clothes are dropping off ready bodies, like swollen seed-husks falling from blossoming flowers. Eventually the eyes close and you both connect, like living magnets, and both exhale–surrendering into that intimate vulnerability of having someone ornament your body with decorating kisses. We have an interesting distinction here: eyes open during the initial flurry of passion, then eyes close when things settle in a pulsing rhythm of bodies, and the feast of lips tasting lips. Then, one begins exploring the other’s body with kisses as the other’s eyes close in deep, rising and sinking sighs. And when the lips find the places where rapture happens both lovers’ eyes close. That being said, it’s not uncommon for the one receiving to have their eyes fly open with: “Oh God! Oh God!” When the sweet release comes, and the waves shimmer through the body, the eyes most often close like the deepest, most calming, evening. And when the lovers switch places, the process unfolds, with any luck, the same way.
Prayer is very much the same, only different. So is singing, but that’s another essay. In praying, as in nighttime prayers (that often slip so easily into sleep), the eyes close to shroud the whispers that kiss the dark. Morning prayers too are most often said with eyes closed, head bowed before the body of the day. Of course, there are those prayers where the whole body participates, as when the sea rolls through your body during love making. Dancing prayers, yogic prayers, walking prayers, making coffee for your partner prayers—these are all eyes-open prayers—even if your eyes are drooping with not enough sleep. There are vigil prayers when candles are meditated upon, and lives gone are reflected upon, and hopes for peace rise to the sky. During vespers, the eyes can be open or closed, as the prayers wish for safe sleep and warmth. Then, there are prayers we pray for someone else—someone sick or struggling through a rough patch—these prayers are almost always asked with eyes closed in supplication and intensity, as when we humbly, or boldly ask a lover to kiss us in the places we want kissed. There are prayers of wonder, as when we see stars and newborn babies and sunsets and moon rises. These are prayed with gasps and awes, as when your lover’s lips find the tingling places on your body—eyes suddenly open with surprise and reverence. There are rote prayers where the eyes automatically close because everyone else’s automatically close and if you sneak your eyes open and scan the room full of closed-eyed people you feel a sprinkle mischievous and a dash voyeuristic, and perhaps a pinch of outright rebel. These are moments akin to opening one eye during a kiss to catch the reaction of your lover. Both are perfectly acceptable, of course, for they inspire the fun of witnessing community and union, provided the eyes aren’t opening in either case with insecurity to check whether or not you’re kissing well or praying with the proper piety. Hopefully, however, there are very few rote kisses in your lives. There are prayers of prophecy—spontaneous and unplanned like wild, ravishing kisses predicting soon to come release. Your eyes are always open during these prayers while your lover’s are usually closed with faith and the sweet, blessed, little fear that sometimes accompanies letting go to the control of another. There are also the prayers of grace and blessings before a meal, which can easily be translated into prayers of gratitude before feasting at the table of your lover’s body. Lastly, there are prayers of ecstasy, when your eyes close seeing lights and visions, and the soul stirs awake and bliss shimmers through your entire body, and exclamations of: “Oh God, Oh God!” soar around the room. We don’t have to imagine too hard to know which kisses these are like and where they settle and deepen and what the eyes do when such rapture happens.
Well, there we have it. I truly had no idea where this was going. Now that we’re drawing to a close (or a curious, intriguing opening) it is my hope this meandering piece inspires you to kiss more reverently and to pray with more wildness; to kiss with more attention and devotion, and to pray with more openness to revelation; to kiss more adventurously and to pray more like the trees must pray, like the sea must pray, like the shore must pray, like a hawk gliding on spiraling currents must pray, like the mother bear awakening with cubs must pray, like the owl must pray keeping watch over fields and marshes. In other words, may our prayers and kisses become one and the same, where Lover and Beloved become one and the same–one breath, one sparkling river, one song of praise.
Jennifer Angelina Petro
It’s there, outside my window. I’m standing still looking out into the dark yard. It’s there, by the early-frost-eaten-fallow garden. It moves, like a loosened piece of the night. It might be human. It might be a walking tree. It is most likely another monster. It leans towards the shed, lurching forward, it’s face sideways watching me as it goes. It’s also inside the house—coming down the hall to my bedroom door. I could crawl under the bed. I could hide behind the clothes in my closet. Outside, it turns fully towards my house and is at my bedroom window in one great, terrible stride. It crosses the threshold into my bedroom. My heart strains to not burst into pieces. I can’t breathe. There is nowhere to hide. They’ve found me again. They always were going to find me again—from within and without. I shut my eyes, clamp my mouth closed as tightly as I can. And then it happens. My body is no longer my own, and years of my life disappear into the ceiling and up, out into the late summer night never to be seen again.
I Think Too Much About Everything…Even Facebook Posting
Jennifer Angelina Petro
When is it OK to start posting silly puns and memes after events like the massacre at Tree of Life? Is it even appropriate to post anything silly at all in today’s frightening times? Am I exhausting my FB friends when I post all this serious-as-shit-trans-stuff? Do I offend them when I ask them to change their profile frames? Do I risk getting into arguments over politics? How do I handle feeling disappointed when more people don’t (won’t?) read my activist FB notes and blog-posts, and even my poems? Why am I even asking and sharing questions like these?
I am bipolar. My PTSD can exhibit similar symptoms to borderline personality disorder. I am aware my abuse history and addictions sometimes stir up codependency. I say these things to shed some light as to why I care so much about something as inane as posting on FB.
I have taken it upon my FB timeline to be an oasis of positivity and humor in the desert of horror going on in our country and around the world. I consciously chose to stick with funny posts because I know how important it is to laugh. And then, I couldn’t do it anymore. Not just because my life is more threatened now than it was even two weeks ago, but also because it just seems wrong to post silliness while such tragedies occur.
Of course, I am not responsible for how you feel, what you think, or what you do or do not do. Of course, you probably don’t have time to care about what I post or don’t post. Of course, I need to get my mind away from caring about any of this. Trouble with me is that I am thoughtful, highly empathic, and, am old-fashioned in the sense of treating the words, “FB Friends,” as friends in general—in “real” life. In other words—I think too much and I care too much.
As a bipolar person it’s very challenging to find “balance,” in anything in life, let alone something as inconsequential as FB posting. I need to be aware of-and-steer clear of all-or-nothing, black/white thinking, and so it’s absurdly hard for my brain to decide do I post something funny or serious, or do I try to balance them out, or must I post only one or the other, or do I leave FB altogether?
Not everyone is on FB as much as I am, and of course, it can be argued I’m on it too much. I am also unemployed and prone to hazardous isolation, so, for me, FB can be an important means for staying even virtually connected to the world while most people I know are off being gainfully employed. So, as goofy as it seems, the question of what to post is important to my broken brain.
I also understand FB has implemented annoying algorithms that prevent us from seeing things on one another’s profiles. I know we can also choose to “follow,” each other’s pages thus seeing more posts of those we follow than those we don’t. And of course, anyone is free to unfriend anyone or choose to stop following someone and still remain friends. You can even choose to stop seeing someone’s post completely and still remain FB friends, which, incidentally, I have done with some FB friends.
As so often happens, I am thinking out loud. I am telling all. No secrets with Jenn. Why do I do this? Because more than anything it’s important to share my vulnerable, messy, and stumbling humanity, and if that includes overthinking what I do or do not do FB post, so be it. Why do I think it’s so important? Am I being narcissistic? I hope not. I feel it’s important for the reasons I have stated many times—to humanize being trans, to help end the stigma of mental illness, and just to demonstrate that living in a radically open way is possible.
What am I going to do about the FB posting dilemma? Post what I post and let go of whatever happens. If my serious posts tire you out as just another preach-to-the-choir-political-poster, then so be it. If my silly posts cheer you up and lighten your day, so be it. It is my hope the serious posts will inspire you to action—clear and open action. It is my hope you will share those activist posts with your friends and family. It is my hope the memes and puns will be shared too and inspire you to remember it’s OK to laugh even when there is so much horror in the world.
Mainly, however, it is my hope that my brain becomes healthy enough someday to not spend this much thought power on FB.
A Call to White Men With Healthy Masculinity Everywhere
to Help Save Our Nation from White-toxic Masculinity,
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Who commits acts of heinous domestic terrorism in the United States? White men steeped in toxic masculinity. It’s not people of color, it’s not immigrants, it’s not Muslims, it’s not transgender people. It’s white men steeped in toxic masculinity. It’s just a fact.
This is not a post about hatred of men. The vast majority, I believe, of men, do not believe or act in these evil ways. That’s why I distinguish between healthy masculinity and the toxic, cowardly, and yes–evil masculinity.
It’s the task, the charge, of all men with a healthy masculinity, a feminism of heart and mind, to actively, and openly work against the toxic masculinity that commits acts of terrible, and horrifying terrorism. In your everyday lives call out sexual harassment, misogyny, call out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, the encouragement to build walls and cage immigrants, homophobia, transphobia. In a very real sense, you have tremendous white male privilege. It is largely in your hands to help effect brave and meaningful changes.
So, in any gathering of men that you’re involved in–any gathering of men–refuse to accept toxic masculinity. Encourage and educate other men in what it means to be a feminist in the truest sense of the word.
It is a traditional stereotype of men being protectors and defenders. I ask you to embrace those roles and help protect your non-white-marginalized brothers, sisters, and siblings. Speak out. Write to your newspapers promoting healthy masculinity, speak up in your groups, families–teach your sons to be defenders of the oppressed. Teach healthy masculinity. Teach your children how to use their white privilege to help the marginalized and those targeted with hate and violence; educate yourselves in ways you can be effective, brave, and powerful agents of positive changes, and then pass that learning on to other men. Speak up in your places of worship, jobs, schools, and family gatherings about healthy masculinity. And finally, it’s crucial to speak out for gun control. Another fact that cannot be denied is that the weapon used in the majority of gun-massacres is the A-15 assault rifles. These military weapons need to be removed from American society. So, yes, in addition to teaching about healthy masculinity, speak up for the banning of assault weapons.
And perhaps most of all—keep working on your own internalized homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, transphobia, Islamophobia, and misogyny. This is work for all of us to continue doing. However, the more men work on their shadows, their own inner insecurities, fears, ignorance, and self-hatred, the more the horrific projections toxic males throw onto people they hate. Support one another in these ongoing efforts. Listen to the marginalized and oppressed. Understand their basic humanity and the struggles they are experiencing. Be examples of powerful, meaningful, and enlightened change in your communities.
With all my heart–so much depends on you. It’s just the truth. The facts cannot be denied. The people who commit acts of evil violence are white, men steeped in toxic masculinity. Help change and help save our nation.
A Faraway Place
Jennifer Angelina Petro
She nods politely, smiling dutiful smiles at the nurses
As she walks outside into the yard where patients are permitted
To take in some silent sun;
She finds the bench she thinks is her favorite—
The one nearest the gate post; she sits, closes her eyes,
Inhales deeply until she grows still as a summer afternoon;
Inside she moves from garden to infinite garden, like
A hummingbird—her wings invisible in the honeysuckle atmosphere,
Her memories lifting, one by one, like so many pink petals
From the weeping cherry.
Where does the hummingbird go after it startles from the trumpet flower,
And vanishes, like retreating emerald lightning,
Back into the sky?
There are difficult questions and difficult answers, except here—
For when she lifts from her body, she will rise, dancing
In the weeping cherry petals letting go into the sun,
And one by one, her memories will return, like so many lost children,
And she will stand among them, arms open, welcoming them home.
Planting Seeds for the LGBTQIA Community and its Allies
Jennifer Angelina Petro
“What does it feel like to be transgender?” the eight-year-old asked wearing a t-shirt that read: “One of a kind.”
“THAT is a great question,” I said, “thank you for asking it. For me, being transgender feels just normal. It’s me. It’s who I am. It’s awesome. When I realized who I really am it was the happiest moment of my life. It feels wonderful, and sometimes scary, and sometimes I struggle with learning more and more about what makes me feel more comfortable being myself.”
She listened with wide-eyes…wide with wonder.
“What does it feel like to be you?” I asked, “Wonderful-one-of-a-kind-you.”
“It feels good,” she said, “People laugh at my jokes, my friends like me. Do you want to hear a joke?”
“Lay it on me,” I said.
“What is the best time of the day for a clock?”
I was stumped. “Tell me,” I said, “I’m stumped.”
“Six-thirty,” she laughed, “It’s hands down the best time of the day.” And then she laughed again at her own joke.
“Grrroooooan,” I said, “I love it!” And then, of course, I told her one of my corny jokes.
Another child, probably around the same age as our budding comedienne, asked: “Are you a boy or a girl?”
“GREAT question,” I said, “Thank you for asking it. I am a girl. I am a woman. When I was born the doctors and my parents all thought I was a boy. I looked like what they thought a boy should look like. But then, as I got older, it just didn’t feel like I was a boy, and then, little by little, I realized I’m actually a woman.”
“But you have a deep voice,” he said.
“Yes, I do. I also shave. There are millions of ways to be a woman—and all of them perfectly wonderful. Some women, like me, could easily grow a beard. Some women HAVE a beard. Some women, like me, have deep voices. And I’m still a woman.”
“Cool,” he said, and I gave him a rainbow flag that said: “Love is Love,” on it.
A few minutes later, I asked an adult, “Hi, are you familiar with LGBTQ things?”
They looked embarrassed and then confessed, “I don’t even know what those letters stand for.”
“Want to learn? I asked.
And so, I explained what they mean, and then curtsied and said, “And I am a transgender woman.”
“Ooooooh,” she said, her voice modulating up and down as she prolonged her, “Oh.”
Throughout the evening I asked the same question to kids and adults and got a variety of answers. Several kids knew what the letters mean, while others didn’t. Some kids and parents said they knew lesbian people, gay people, trans people, and all of those kids and parents said it with complete every-day-ness, which, of course, it is.
One ten-year-old asked: “Is it normal to be transgender?”
After thanking him for the question I said: “Yes, it is. It’s normal to be gay, bi, lesbian, it’s normal to question—so, yes, it’s normal. Is it not as common to be transgender? Yes. But it’s normal,” and I handed him a flag.
One little boy entered the fair, holding his mother’s hand, and pulling her eagerly over to our table. He was probably seven. His mom told us, “He saw your table and was so happy. He says of himself, I’m not a boy, I’m not a girl—I’m me—Benjamin.” He proudly took a rainbow flag and explored our displays with eager eyes and a happy, validated heart.
I could go on and on with wonderful moments like these. Being at a diversity fair at a local public school–Glenside Elementary School, in Glenside, PA., was a complete joy. It was an honor to be asked. Glenside is a fairly conservative town, and the diversity fair has always featured tables with different countries, religions, foods, and so on. Never in their history have they had an LGBTQ+ table. We were a first. And yes, it was a nervous first. The organizers weren’t sure how we would be received. They figured none of the parents would be mean, but they thought it was possible some families wouldn’t take kindly that we were there. We worried parents would shepherd their children away from our table, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. Parents and children flocked to our table. It didn’t hurt that we were giving away cupcakes, Skittles, stickers, rainbow flags, parent and child resources, and so on. And they came—dozens and dozens—probably well over a hundred people—maybe closer to two hundred. And every family that came was happy we were there. They asked respectful questions, had supportive things to say, and took advantage of our free resources. It couldn’t have been a bigger success. We planted many, many seeds that night—for both allies and queer kids, who may or may not know they’re queer yet, or do know they are, but keep it a secret, to other kids who proudly know they are. We demonstrated that queer people are people—fun, smart, generous, kind people. We celebrated the LGBTQ+ community, and its allies.
We made many wonderful connections. We met someone who helps get homeless LGBTQ+ kids of the streets. We met another who helps place LGBTQ+ kids in foster care and get adopted. We met teachers and educators needing ideas and support for queer children in their classes. Networking is so key in helping the world work together to help queer kids.
We were invited by my friend Kate, who was organizing the event. She was inspired after she saw an episode of Liz Plank’s, Divided States of Women, which featured my church (Love in Action UCC) and myself.
Our table was stellar. We draped it with a large rainbow flag and a large trans flag. We had several poster-board-sized displays. One of them had queer people throughout history—past and present. We had a display for queer sports figures. We had a display for queer entertainers. We had one with queer comic book heroes (that board brought a lot of kids over to our table). We had another devoted to transgender people. Another devoted to simply loving yourself as you are—your bodies, your talents, your genders—a total celebration of loving ourselves. We also had a board for general Pride—with pictures of queer people of all kinds. As mentioned, we had a bunch of picture books about LGBTQ+ people and issues. We had a lot of parent resources for loving and accepting and parenting LGBTQ+ children.
I even brought my guitar and sang a few songs on the stage. I introduced myself as a transgender woman and watched proudly as the children sat on the steps of the stage and watched and listened and smiled. One little girl sat listening, smiling, and waving her “Love is Love,” rainbow flag as I sang. Parents formed a semi-circle behind them and also happily watched and listened.
And we planted many seeds.
Dear Readers, despite the current regime, the future is bright and in good hands. Changes are happening—positive changes. Our presence at this diversity fair even prompted the principal of the school, after informing the faculty we would be there, to introduce a new, school-wide policy: No more addressing the student body during assemblies, as “boys and girls,” no more greeting your classes with, “Good morning, boys and girls,” no more dividing groups by boy-girl. This type of change is huge for queer kids—those in and out or questioning. It shows one positive act for the LGBTQ+ community has far-reaching effects.
Join us. Encourage your schools to invite the queer community to attend your diversity festivals. Advocate for non-gendered bathrooms and non-gendered language in your schools. Encourage teachers to learn about queer issues, talk with your children and neighbors and friends. And if your child has a question for one of us, say, if we meet in the check-out line—let them ask. Don’t censor them because you worry we’ll be offended. Let them ask. Their questions are important, our answers are important, that you support your children asking questions is important. Plant seeds with us and watch as a garden of rainbows sprouts in the hearts and minds of people everywhere, watch as the culture continues to grow in simply seeing us as people who deserve equal rights like anyone else. Watch as your children continue to blossom as lights in the world.
Playing in the River of the Reality of Binary-Relativism
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Try and take hold of the night. What ends up filling your hands is darkness tinged with light, whether that be moonlight or starlight, there will be traces of the coming morning or the retreating sunset.
Likewise, try and take hold of the day. What ends up filling your hands is light tinged with darkness, whether it be the shimmering shadows of the willow, or your own shadow, or that small, rushing anxiousness that evening is approaching much faster than your plans would like.
Night and day are ideas—in the truest sense they do not exist as opposites—they are ever and always touching, held together by a river that flows both ways. I know, the “held together,” and “flowing both ways,” seem to contradict the idea that night and day are one. Words are limited in scope and range. And it is easier (safer) to write in ideas like black and white and the binaries of male and female. You can try and wrap words (ideas) around other ideas and, at best, you come up with a poem, and, at worst, fear-based violence.
Why is it safer (easier) to write in terms of binary ideas? Describing day and night as light and dark is strangely comforting to those people who fear stepping into the river. Describing greys, tones, gradations, the multitude of colors that inform sunsets and sunrises–this type of thinking requires more effort, more consciousness, and an openness to the idea of the infinite creativity of the God they believe in. It is easier (and safer) to let one’s thinking be governed by ideas that appear to fit their notions of “the opposites.”
It’s the same with thinking of the idea of the so-called gender-binary. Defining gender by body parts, chromosomes, and reproductive functions is the same basal reasoning as saying day and night can be defined by clocks and the amount of light we see or don’t see. Reducing genders to body parts invalidates the manifestations of the inner and outer gender identities that so many experience in the reality of their lives.
Life flows in a circular current between the ideas of binaries. The reality is spectrum, shadows, fading in and out colors, touches, whispers, hints, nuances—nothing exclusive unto themselves—travel West far enough and you slip into the East. Rise North as far as you can go. You will only descend into the South, like a waterfall.
This blending and interwoveness isn’t to be feared—not within the notions of day or night, male and female, mania and depression, faith and disbelief. Everything touches. Everything mixes. What is created along that circular movement is peace, life, the aforementioned wonder, and yes, the infinite ways these ideas manifest in the river of the world.
But what of science? Doesn’t it prove the idea of opposites? Some people use science in the same way they use bibles—selectively. While deriding the idea of the gender spectrum they propagate the ideas that climate change doesn’t exist, that the earth was created in six days, that all the animals of the world fit into an ark, and for some, that the earth is flat.
Science is crucial to the future of humanity. So is letting go of fear of change and the perceived threats to the family. Erasing the idea of gender binaries doesn’t unleash havoc on the family. Instead it opens up the definitions and manifestations of family. It doesn’t mean the end of procreation. It doesn’t mean the end of heterosexual, cisgender marriages. All it does is threaten the shadow-desires some people feel but are trained to be experienced as deviance and to be felt as shame and fear.
The idea that binaries are ideas sometimes threatens people in other ways—particularly that the world will dissolve into relativism. What is so threatening about that–whether that relativism be cultural or societal? If the idea that there are no absolute truths threatens one’s spiritual security then where is their faith? In reality, one cannot escape cultural relativism. It’s the same with the ideas of black and white and the gender binaries. For example, take a look at the word, “relativism.” It’s clearly “related” to “relating,” ‘relations,” and “relationship.” And these, in turn, can be traced back to the word, “refer,” which, means, in Latin, “to relate, and to carry back.” Let’s carry the idea that gender is based on body parts back to the reality that some “men,” are born with vulvas, and some “women,” are born with penises or combinations of both. Those aren’t ideas—those are realities. They are not mutations or abnormalities—they are as natural as being born with a certain hair color. What is the threat if someone knows they are a gender that may not correspond to the body parts that some people associate with a particular gender? In reality, there is no threat. The threat is fake news.
In the same way, relativism does not erase decades of fighting for women’s rights and feminism. However, if modern feminism and the fight for respect, dignity, safety, jobs, pay rates, does not include transwomen and other people on the spectrum that identify as female, then it isn’t truly feminism. It is as guilty as the extremist Christians that hold the old idea that in order to be female you need a vulva as defined by the confines of reproductive function.
All things are related, in relationship, and we can even have “relations.” These are realities. The idea of night being related to the idea of day and the reality of these relationships can be experienced in our everyday lives, and no one is threatened.
Knowing binaries are ideas does not blur or muddy the waters of reality’s river. They liberate us into realizing the infinite facets of the divine radiating prisms of color that touch the world with joy and wonder—in other words—variety—infinite variety.
Heaven hell, good and evil. These are ideas inherently couched in relativism—cultural and spiritual. Killing is wrong unless you’re defending your flag or religion, or the world from abortion; stealing is wrong unless you are trying to save your children; war is wrong unless it is for oil or to get rid of “evil doers,” who believe something different than you. My religion is right because yours is wrong, my book says so, your book is wrong. It’s silliness—dangerous, childish, fear-based silliness—and most of it propagated by men insecure of their own sexual/gender identities and possibilities. Everyone knows how dangerous, cunning, manipulative, and cruel a man can be when scared. History is full of men scared of losing something or scared of something being revealed and to prevent this they resort to violence. And it is undeniable that many men who rail against homosexuality are found to possess porn, and or engage in sex with other men. Why is that? Because gender is a spectrum and something to be ashamed of.
Ask yourself reading this right now if it inspires you with vehement hatred, anger, and, if you’re extreme—violence? If it does, I suggest you have little-to-no faith in your god—your beliefs, which are nothing more than ideas woven with communal feelings—are weak. Indeed, they are relative. You’re proving it by being upset. If you’re living in the prison of the idea of binaries and you’re reading this, and you have some twinge somewhere within you—whether that be between your legs, in your heart, or in your mind—that moves you to the suppressed knowledge that you are actually happily gender-non-conforming—that you are perhaps a gender other than what your genitals say. Most certainly it points to your shadow hiding conscious or unconscious secrets. What if you’re feeling a secret, joyous sense of freedom as you read this? I suggest that indicates you are a true believer—in the sense that you believe in a god of infinite possibilities and varieties that in no way threatens anyone or anything—only your limited ideas.
Go play in the river. You can’t drown in a river made of joy—unless you become afraid and slip back into the suffocating ideas that kept you from going near the river in the first place. Look, there are others already there—splashing, swimming, and forming bridges called Fun and Freedom and Faith. There is room for all. Go be baptized in the infinite variety of your god.
Suicide and the Illusion of Choice
Jennifer Angelina Petro
A year ago yesterday (January 17, 2017), I got released from the psyche ward for the second time in two months for suicidality, a bipolar crash, and clinical depression, among other things. That same day, a year later, a dear friend’s brother was claimed by suicide. What is the difference between us? Did I make a choice to live? Did he make a choice to die? Does someone who takes their own life have freedom of choice? I argue no. They don’t.
Freedom of choice involves the ability to make conscious, awake choices. It involves clarity of mind and heart. It involves a healthy mental, emotional, spiritual state. People who are claimed by suicide do not have these things. No one, in their right (meaning healthy) mind does such a tragic act willingly. It may look like they made a choice. They may even believe they are making a choice. But they didn’t.
Someone high, someone drunk, someone under siege, someone under attack, someone in extreme pain of any kind cannot make conscious, clear choices. And for some people, the depression, inner pain, outer pain, PTSD, bipolarity, and other mental illnesses are simply too strong to leave someone clear of mind and awake enough to make such a choice. Depression is a monster that speaks lies in your head. Well, sometimes it speaks, sometimes it whispers insidiously, sometimes it screams and drowns out all rationality. And sometimes all it screams over and over is: “I can’t take this anymore. I need to die. This needs to end.” And the disease of depression convinces that person that they are making a free choice—THAT’S part of the symptomology of depression and mental illness—it makes you think you are well. It makes you think everyone else just doesn’t understand. It makes you think you are in your rightful power as an individual to control your actions. And these are all lies, these are symptoms of a disease.
I knew someone once who, when a friend was claimed by suicide, said: “That selfish sonofabitch.” The victim had left two children. To the outsider, this person committed a selfish act. He was essentially an asshole.
Part of the problem with believing suicide is a choice is the definition of the word and the language surrounding it.
Suicide, as defined in most dictionaries goes something like this: the intentional and voluntarily choice to take one’s own life.
The words surrounding this definition are ones like: committed, took their own life, chose to end it all.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say, “suicide claims the life of a suffering person.” Perhaps words like the following might be more appropriate:
Tyrannicide—which may sound insulting, but a person who becomes ill enough to kill themselves is not killing THEMSELVES, they are attempting to kill the pain, the monster, the tyrant inside. The person claimed by suicide is a victim, and in no way a willing victim. It is analogous to being possessed by a monster. It’s the monster that pulls the trigger, it’s the monster that takes the fatal leap. The person unwillingly and unwittingly hosting such a creature essentially—if untreated (and sometimes even if they are treated)—becomes powerless over the depression.
Some would say this analogy doesn’t work because possession implies a spiritual, demonic force. I am not suggesting that—although, I believe that is possible (there are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual diseases), I am more using the image to help people see that the person claimed by suicide did not make the conscious choice to end their own lives. If the possession analogy doesn’t work for you—try thinking of the person with fatal cancer as being possessed by a monster that eats its host from the inside out.
Fideicide—the killing of faith. Someone overwhelmed by a disease can easily lose faith. Someone claimed by suicide is trying to end their hopelessness, not themselves. The disease has swallowed their faith.
Facticide—the killing of facts. The monster of depression distorts the fact the ill person is worthy of living, is worthy of help, has the ability to choose otherwise.
Claim—the word “claim,” comes from the roots of words meaning, the act of shouting out, to demand, and to take sometimes by force. This seems far more accurate than the deliberate and voluntary choice to take one’s own life.
Cancer claims lives, heart attacks claim lives, strokes claim lives, diabetes claims lives, Alzheimer’s claims lives. Depression is every bit as much an illness as any of these. Bipolarity is, PTSD is, and so on. So is addiction.
Addiction and depression tell lies—it’s part of their symptomology. So does bipolarity. As someone who suffers from several mental illnesses, I know as soon as my head says, “You’re doing better, stop taking your meds,” that that is the disease talking.
Depression (and to be clear, I do not mean sadness, or the blues—I mean clinical depression) and addiction have the ability to smother rationality and the ability to ask for realistic help. Just as Alzheimer’s takes away the memory piece by piece, depression takes away freedom, hope, the ability to seek help piece by piece. Just as cancer little by little eats the body away, so does depression and other mental illnesses eat away at the ability to think clearly and rationally.
Saying someone chose to take their own lives—in addition to being inaccurate, is harmful to everyone involved. It puts us in the power of blame, of judgment, and of the ability to slide into the need to protect ourselves from pain and the reality that depression is real, that depression stalks people, that depression is fatal. Some people would much rather believe suicide is a choice because it separates themselves from the possibility to being devoured by a monster. Lastly, it is crushing to the family of the victim to say they choose such a thing. It implies deep self-centeredness, it implies they loved themselves more than their families and friends. It implies they didn’t care about others. People who die from cancer are not abandoning their loved ones or choosing their own lives over theirs. They are not being selfish by dying.
When someone we love is claimed by suicide, the world collapses for the survivors. It is devastating. And people close to them often say things like: “Well, at least they are not suffering anymore,” which is exactly what one says when a loved one dies of cancer. Inside we know suicide is a disease. And combined with depression can be fatal.
People whose disease compels them to attempt suicide are not crying for help. Attempting suicide is an expression of mental illness—a bursting of a cyst, the manifestation of a sickness. And, also tragic, is the fact that many people cannot afford mental healthcare before its too late.
Suicide is also not a sin just as dying of cancer is not a sin.
Compassion, understanding, and an ability to listen openly and face reality is what we must offer when someone we love dies of suicide. No blame, no judgment.
And what of someone like me who suffers from depression and suicidality and is still alive? Before my symptoms became overwhelming, I was able to seek and accept help. My mental cancer was advancing in strength and severity, but it hadn’t gotten to the point of no return. I was still able to have just enough measure of mental clarity and freedom of choice, to get help.
And that is the only difference between my friend’s brother and myself. I am not better than him, stronger, I am not less selfish, or anything of the sort.
I am lucky. I simply don’t have as severe an illness as him. And that is of no credit to me. Some people survive cancer. Many don’t. I survived depression and suicidality. He was taken—claimed—cut short. He was murdered by a cruel disease.
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