My amazing friends Gay Gibson Cima and Kristin Keller led worship with me this morning at UUCA. We talked about the blessings of discomfort. This was my reflection:

On the wall behind the cash register at One More Page, my favorite local bookstore, is a sign. The sign says, “WRAPPING PAPER HAS NO GENDER.”

Below the sign are three lovely rolls of wrapping paper, featuring dinosaurs, polka dots, and a shiny solid green.

I immediately understood that the bookstore had posted that sign because of customers who asked for “girl wrapping paper,” thinking that any female to whom they were giving a book as a present would rather receive it wrapped in pink or flowered paper than dinosaurs or polka dots or green. Everyone knows girls don’t like green, right?

Next, I thought about twin boys who attended my son’s preschool. One of them often wore pink, or patterned leggings I knew were from the “girls” department. Every time I saw him I thought, why is he wearing girls’ leggings? And every time this question crossed my mind, I thought, why not? He is three. He is probably wearing those because he picked them out and he likes how they look and how they feel. Why are leggings supposed to be for girls? Why is there even a girls department? Why aren’t there just clothes for kids?

This internal conversation quickly got old, yet I had it again and again. Why? Because that’s how we are socialized in this country. Certain styles and colors are arbitrarily feminine, and others are deemed masculine. There is absolutely no good reason for this distinction. And yet, even though we understand this intellectually, often our reflexive reaction to something we perceive as incongruous, is that it’s wrong. It’s inappropriate. It’s confusing. It’s uncomfortable.

I recently read an excellent young adult book called Lily and Dunkin, about two kids who are beginning eighth grade. Lily was born Timothy, but she knows she is Lily. She has come out to her family, but her dad will not accept her as a girl and insists that she not wear dresses outside the house. Her dad still calls her Tim. A group of boys at school, who Lily refers to as the Neanderthals, bully her. Lily is still known as Tim at school and dresses “like a boy,” but the Neanderthals hurl anti-gay epithets at her. At one point the main bully accuses Tim of being a girl, intending it as a cruel insult. But Lily thinks, yes, yes, I am a girl! Ardently wishing she could reveal her true self.

Dunkin has just moved to their South Florida town, and he is on his way to buy a Boston crème donut and an iced coffee when he walks by Lily’s house. She happens to be in the yard, wearing one of her mom’s dresses. Dunkin thinks she is beautiful. Dunkin sees a girl. Later, when Dunkin encounters Lily again, she is dressed as Tim. Lily tells Dunkin that she was dressed as a girl because her sister had dared her to do so. Dunkin eventually finds out the truth, but only after saying and doing some pretty mean things to Lily.

Unfortunately, I can identify too easily with Dunkin’s bewilderment. It’s so easy to see someone whose appearance doesn’t quite fit with what we’re expecting, and wonder, “Who are you? What are you? Why are you dressed like that? What does it mean? How should I react to you? How should I treat you?” Our brains automatically seek categorization. We think if we can classify someone, we will know all about them, and we can instantly decide how we feel about them, what they might mean to us, and whether to say hello or keep on walking.

When we allow someone’s appearance to shape this snap judgment, however, we do ourselves and others a real disservice. Instead of creating opportunities for connection or building relationships with potentially amazing human beings, we build walls and collapse bridges if we don’t understand why someone looks the way they look. What if it’s too hard to relate to this person? What if we say the wrong thing? What if this person judges us? It’s uncomfortable.

So what if we don’t know if someone is a boy or a girl or non-binary or gay or straight or bi or pan or queer? We can safely bet that they’re human. The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is that we value the inherent worth and dignity of every person. As Kristin mentioned earlier, we have to embody our principles—or walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

One of my daughter’s best friends recently came out to her as pansexual. It’s ok if you have never heard this word. I hadn’t either. I had to look it up. I learned that actress and singer Janelle Monae and actress and singer Miley Cyrus both identify as pansexual. Pansexual means that who you are attracted to is not limited by gender. My daughter’s friend said she doesn’t see gender, but she is attracted to someone’s heart and mind and soul. My first thought when I heard that was, “shouldn’t all of us feel that way?” It sounds like a beautiful way to live your life—looking at someone’s heart and mind and soul instead of their gender attributes.

This brave 11-year-old made a YouTube video about discovering her sexual identity, in which she describes the process of coming out to her mom and a few of her friends and offers tips to viewers about how they can come out if they’re struggling to do so. I was so impressed by the courage and confidence of her revelation.

I was equally impressed by my daughter’s reaction to her friend’s news. Zoe congratulated her friend on coming out and said that she understood. Her friend’s pansexuality didn’t faze her at all. She told me that, if anything, the news had a positive impact on their relationship because Zoe understood her friend better now, and they could become closer friends. The next thing I knew, we were in the dollar aisle at Target and Zoe was shopping for LGBTQ+ pride accessories for her friend.

A common reaction I’ve heard, even from very supportive adults, to young people coming out is, “isn’t that a little young to be coming out? How do they know already?” To which I respond, “they know.” I definitely knew I was straight when I was eight years old and first watched Pierce Brosnan as Remington Steele. I had crushes on boys in my class starting early in elementary school. I think if someone knows how they feel when they’re 11 and they’re prepared to tell the world, more power to them.

In the allyship training I’ve participated in at UUCA, I’ve been reminded that I will never truly understand what it’s like to be LGBTQ+, because I am cisgender and straight. I will never know what it’s like to be a person of color, because I’m white. But I know what it’s like to be human. And I know what it’s like to make a connection with another human, and to have someone deny a connection. I know what it’s like to be uncomfortable, and that discomfort can be a blessing.

May we be blessed with a restless discomfort
about easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
so that we may seek truth boldly and love deep within our hearts.

I invite you to watch the whole service here:

or visit http://www.uucava.org/livestream/ Click on archives and click on June 24.

alexroth.jpgIn which Alex talks about her affection for books, her adventure working for a year and a half on Nantucket when she’d never even heard of the place, her fantasy careers of being a psychotherapist hairdresser or running an artisanal snowcone food truck, being a birthday gift for a friend in Australia (and her private time with a koala), and much more.

https://betsyrosso.podbean.com/e/five-questions-with-alex-roth-season-2-episode-18/

donnieIn which Donnie talks about deliberately simplifying his life, the surprising similarities between being an actor and working as a nurse specializing in end-of-life care, the effects on Donnie when he was a teenager of his cousin’s death, the importance of local flavor when he’s traveling, what it means to make people laugh, and more.

https://betsyrosso.podbean.com/e/five-questions-with-donnie-bledsoe-season-2-episode-19/

MaryJaneIn which Mary Jane talks about the unexpected influence on her life of our high school French teacher Madame Alnwick; her time in Europe, Africa, and Hawaii; her sculpting work in plaster, ceramic, and bronze; meeting her Tongan husband on a flight from Salt Lake City; the unique traits she inherited from her Chinese father (who had to flee China as a child) and Mormon hippie mother; and much more.

https://betsyrosso.podbean.com/e/five-questions-with-mary-jane-maumau-season-2-episode-17/

Anderson-Tiffany-HannaMF01.jpgIn which Tiffany talks about being a trailblazing African-American woman judge, her Monopoly acumen, what she learned from being offered an afterschool job at Pizza Hut, the surprises of parenthood, Dave Chappelle, and more.

https://betsyrosso.podbean.com/e/season-2-episode-15-five-questions-with-tiffany-anderson/

Screen Shot 2017-07-08 at 12.27.25 AM.pngYay chickens! Sustainable farmer and best-selling author Forrest Pritchard talks about cat-shaped vending machines that dispense cars, his insatiable need for sunshine and a good soundtrack, patronizing advice that turned out to be true, the joy of stonemasonry, and so much more.

Listen here: https://betsyrosso.podbean.com/e/season-2-episode-14-five-questions-with-forrest-pritchard/

Screen Shot 2018-05-21 at 12.55.17 AM.png

photo from instagram by @phillyjim

Twentysome years ago, attending
the symphony for the first time,
my friend who brought me advised,
“If you get bored,
just think about sex.”
In the cool plush of the opera house,
Both the symphony and sex seemed
remote and abstract

Tonight, it’s steamy on the wharf
Inside, ascending to
the top tier in the dim,
Lit by chandeliers,
the silhouettes of six thousand souls
Amplified intimacy
Our thighs touching those of strangers
Sweat sticking shirts to skin
Colored lights shining on bare legs

Tonight, there are two cellos and a violin,
a piano and a French horn,
a bearded sleeveless drummer behind his drum set
a host of adamant, emphatic guitars
Voices raised in the brutal pursuit of truth
I’ve never heard her preach before
But she has won a convert

From where we sit I can stare
at the catwalk
feeling the cool metal slats
across my back
where I would lie suspended above everyone
with my eyes squeezed tight
submerging my body in the waves
of music crashing over me
mixing with my salty tears

Loose coils of ropes hang
From the ceiling and I picture
a wooden trapeze swinging across
the theater in a bubble of silence
on it I sit, sheathed in a shimmering blue
costume so sheer it might be painted on
maybe it is painted on
to mirror the broken open revelations
of the singers
by laying myself bare

inspired by Brandi Carlile at The Anthem, May 20, 2018

While you were busy living your life, these important podcasts were posted. In case you missed them, now’s the perfect opportunity to get to know these fabulous people!

nancypoloFive Questions with Nancy Polo In which Nancy discusses the isolation of making art; the diverse occupations of pastamaking, art and graphic design, and running a business; her newfound political activism; and the influence of her Italian heritage on her daily life.

Five Questions with Niraj Ray In which Niraj discusses his journey from growing up in New York to becoming an urban farmer in Washington, DC, the connectionniraj between his new farming techniques and his family’s farming history in India, why strawberries grown in a greenhouse have more flavor, how working on the roof of the Environmental Protection Agency changed his life, and more. Learn more about Niraj’s work at http://www.cultivatethecity.com.

Five Questions with Genevieve Hoffman In which Genevieve discusses the beautiful cold genevieveand quiet of snowshoeing, having an adundance of what she needs, raising chickens with her children, her unlikely decision to move cross country with someone she didn’t actually know very well, and working as a women’s health nurse or, in another universe, a historical landscaper.

Listen now to these exciting episodes of Five Questions that you might have missed!

Five Questions with Whitney Parnell In which Whitney talks about growing up on the whitneyEquator and smelling the outdoors, running half-marathons against her better judgment, what inspires her from civil rights movements then and now, feeling at home and spiritually connected in Ghana, her admiration for her parents and the faith they instilled in her, and the dinner party she’d like to have with Jesus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Barack and Michelle Obama.

 

 

Five Questions with Paul Douglas Michnewicz In which Paul Douglas discusses the PDdrama of breeding Siamese fighting fish as a teenager, being schooled in Scrabble by his sisters, unexpectedly visiting a Venitian church with a storied musical history, why people need to listen more and talk less, the importance of his Southern roots, how he would like to direct Candide, stage managing A Streetcar Named Desire, how the experience of dual consciousness of seeing A Long Day’s Journey Into Night on stage inspired him to do theatre, and more.

 

Five Questions with Trinishia Samuels In which Trinishia discusses experiencing life as a Trinishianative Washingtonian, learning Spanish in Mexico, scuba diving, her aspirations to live and work in Francophone Africa, reading her husband’s mind, gentrification, her kids’ fluency in Mandarin, and more.

When you’re a writer and a blogger and a podcaster and a mom and a bunch of other stuff, you have a lot to keep up with. In case you missed them, you will definitely want to download and listen to these episodes of Five Questions.

Five Questions with Trina Ramsey In which Trina discusses the beautiful and goat-filled trinaisland of Anguila, her strong faith, her network of friends who are more like family, the surreality of election night 2016 and how it motivated her and her friends to launch Revolutionary Sisters of the Diaspora to create space for women of color, and more.

 

Five Questions with Betsy Thomassen In which Betsy talks about dancing with Fred Astaire; finding the silver lining; the legacy of craftiness, creativity, and courage from herBetsyT grandmother; replacing guns with musical instruments, and more. What do chocolate chip cookies, magic wands, paperback books, and flowers have in common? Find out from Betsy!

 

 

Five Questions with Wade Minter In which Wade talks about scoring a goal for the wadeCarolina Hurricanes, being listened to by thousands of people, answering an email that changed his life, the importance of encouraging your kids, trying something you’re not good at and doing it anyway, and discovering he wouldn’t always be a misfit.

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