Body and Soul: Gender Issues


gender dysphoria

 

I remember “Paul” (that’s what I shall call him), he was a classmate of mine. Paul was a very quiet boy. He was ostracized by the other boys and ignored by the girls. He was bullied on a daily basis. All these years later I still think of him from time to time and hope he found peace and happiness in this world.

I remember the cruelty of my classmates toward Paul whose x and y chromosomes had somehow tangled in ways I do not understand. I certainly did not understand at the time, but I was disturbed at how he was tormented by my classmates. I think I may have been 12 or 13 years old at the time. At any rate, he had begun to develop breasts. That was confusing to me, but imagine how confusing, difficult, and challenging that was for him.

I remember the class trip we were on and how the boys got together to convince the most popular and pretty girl in our class to go ask him if he would go out with her. There was a meanness in their curiosity about him. They wanted to “out” him because they thought he was gay. They couldn’t understand him and they hated him because their ignorance made them intolerant of difference.

That “group think” took over the class and they put their plan into action. I remember one child who was brave enough to question the cruel mentality and the plan to embarrass and/or center him “out” fizzled  mid-action. Thank God for that brave soul.

Paul makes me think of the “other”. Of how we treat those who are different from us. Of how we judge those people as somehow inferior or less than us. How arrogant we can be.

In today’s world we have learned more about gender and about how some people are born into the “wrong” body. It is a mysterious thing and I don’t pretend to know the answers. But, do we have to know the whys and hows to treat others with the same respect we demand and want for ourselves?

I remember when I went home after that class trip and asked my mother about Paul. She couldn’t answer my questions concerning the biological and physiological intricacies of the human body. But I do remember her admonishment to be kind and compassionate.

Today, I know of two young people who are struggling with gender issues. One I know fairly well. I see the pain she is going through and the horrible ways she’s been treated by others. I still don’t understand why this is happening to her. It is heart breaking.

Does the fact that one is born female or male really matter? Shouldn’t what is underneath the skin: the heart, soul, and be-ing matter more? Does the container, the body, really matter in the end? Shouldn’t how we treat ourselves and others be more important? I think it is. I know it is all far from simple, but I hope we will soon see a day when the body is recognized for what it is:  a vessel for the soul – and may we develop better understanding and appreciation for this precious commodity, which is the essence of life; the holder of love and all things good.

Image credit: Pixabay

I want to join the caravan


Pixabay image

Photo Credit: Pixabay

I want to join the caravan

To hug each weary soul

To give to all

food, clothes, and more

A safe place to rest from trials

I want to join the caravan,

Extend a welcome hand

I want to know them each my name

And not as illegal, fugitive, nor migrant

I want to join the caravan

And share what God has given

For I have been so richly blessed

Every moment I’ve been living

I want to join the caravan

For they know truth, not lies

They know the value of a life

They hear the people’s cries

I want to know the ones who walk

Trudging mile after mile

Though humble, weak, and destitute

They’re richer than they seem

For though they hold not earthly gold

They’re filled with hopes and dreams

And not with greed’s own poison

I want to join the caravan

And walk the weary miles

Each one offers a chance, you see

to walk the talk

And be not afraid

They may steal my job

Or pilfer my way of living

For the Divine has set us here

To be good to one another

I want to join the caravan

To know blessings once again

For as we sit in judgment here

And sneer upon the ‘other’

We dishonor the God we preach

And deserve not the name

Of sister nor of brother

I want to join the caravan

And find my soul again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cold, cold November – remembering those no longer with us


winter

 

It actually is quite cold here this morning, and it’s been snowing on and off for a couple of days now. Snow – frozen rain falling from the skies.  The song by Guns ‘n Roses,  November Rain, plays in my head. “And it’s hard to hold a candle in the cold November rain”. It’s a song about relationship; about love and loss. Even though it’s a love song and the story about the struggles of two people in a romantic relationship, the ballad is so sad, so haunting – it brings back painful memories for me – not about a romance gone bad – but about loss, irretrievable loss.

November – Remembrance Day and recalling the sacrifices made in two horrific world wars. All those who died. All those who were irreparably wounded in body and soul…

November – the month my father died…

November – and remembering the day two years ago when I got that awful call – my brother was killed by a drunk driver.

November, a month I dread with its admonishments that life is fragile.

And realizing, yet again, that it is this very fragility that reminds us life is precious – so very, very precious! A reminder to live life with a grateful heart and to appreciate all the blessings that are given; that even though the earth may freeze, underneath the killing frost new life waits to bloom again….

 

Outgrowing fears


spider

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”
— Bertrand Russell

When I was a child I was terrified of spiders – any spider – not just the huge and hairy variety – like tarantulas, but even little bitty baby spiders. It took a long time to outgrow it.

On the eve of Halloween, I can’t help but think of scary stuff and things that goes bump in the night. We all know that fear cannot be reasoned away. Fear is irrational. I hate when people try to deal with anxiety by saying “there’s nothing to be afraid of”. Really? Do you have the power to get inside an individual’s head to see what they see, feel what they feel? No? Then stop trying to convince them their fear is silly or trying to rationalize it away. Fear cannot be banished so easily.

I know many people who really enjoy the whole horror genre. They like experiencing the chills that a good spooky tale invokes. I do not. I dislike being frightened because it taps into my anxiety and causes a stress reaction – it’s very uncomfortable. I have learned that stress is a toxin that can lead to health issues, physical, emotional, and mental. So, no thanks!

But I digress, back to spiders now. It took many years and an education on the benefits of arachnids and their place in ecosystems that brought me to a place where I could tolerate them. I especially liked the fact that they eat mosquitoes and other annoying insects.  My increasing comfort level with spiders was a very slow process, and while I have developed a healthy respect for these eight-legged insects, I am still not overly fond of them. Still, I will not kill them. I will go to extremes to capture them in a container and then release them out into the wilds. I think I have outgrown this particular fear! After all, spiders do serve a purpose, even when we fail to appreciate it.

“Feed your faith and your fears will starve to death.”
— Unknown

 

 

 

The Tyranny of Positivity


Negative Nellies – that’s the term people use to describe those embroiled in negative emotion. But is that fair? Are we judging people before we know what life is like for them? For example, my husband is very sick. Lately he has been battling a cough that makes it next to impossible for him to sleep at night, and consequently, me as well. He has a slew of health issues and is on several medications, which makes taking something for the cough problematic. Medications can interact with one another to make a bad situation even worse. It’s hard not to be negative when you’re sick and not getting the rest you need to recuperate.

And for me, lack of sleep combined with worry has made battling my negative demons even more of a challenge. Sometimes the societal demands to be positive when just putting one foot in front of another seems like a herculean task. Speaking for myself, it feels cruel. I am tired! So, can we cut one another a break? We don’t know what is going on in the lives of others. Can we set aside the judge’s robes and the demand for positivity?

Yes, positive emotions are easier to live with and a positive attitude is preferable to a negative one. Yet, we are all only human. Sometimes life is hard. Placing demands on people to be positive when we don’t know their situation or what issues they may be struggling with, is, frankly, inhumane in my view. Kindness and compassion will go a lot further to help people become more positive than the judgment and labeling of them as ‘negative nellies’.

Let’s be a little more gentle with ourselves, and with one another.

Quality of Life


Angel holding bunny

I write this to honour a young man I once had the privilege of working with. He was confined to a wheelchair and spent his days alternately in his chair or laying in bed. He could not see well as he was partially blind. He also could not speak much and only uttered two words that made sense: “mama” and “No”. Mostly he uttered guttural sounds, but oh my, he could laugh. I remember describing him to friends of ours and the first thing they asked was, “what kind of quality of life is that?” And they felt sorry for him. Yet it was this young man who taught me much about what ‘quality of life’ really means.

No, he couldn’t walk and his limitations were severe and many. He could move his legs and one arm, and he could turn his head to a limited degree. He also had a feeding tube in his stomach through which he was given nourishment – liquid ‘meals’. I had been asked if I would come work with him as his usual care giver was going off on leave. I was scared. I didn’t think I could do it. I had never done this sort of work before and didn’t think it was a good fit, but his mother encouraged me and, in the end, I agreed to try. It has been a blessing that has had reverberations in my life.

Here is what J. taught me: He taught me there are many ways to communicate without ever speaking a word. He taught me patience. He taught me grace, endurance, forgiveness, and so much more. He taught me what real love looks like.

I would arrive in the early morning and he would be laying awake waiting for me. I would bend over and whisper good morning in his ear. He’d smile. He always smiled.

After the morning routine of bathing, dressing, and breakfast was done I would sit beside his bed and read stories to him. Sometimes I sang songs, he seemed to enjoy that. He also enjoyed games I made up as we exercised his limbs so the muscles would not atrophy. He laughed a lot. It was gratifying to hear him laugh, and when he would turn his head at the sound of my voice and smile his beautiful smile.

He loved it when his little brother, a toddler at the time, was placed on his lap. The little guy was very curious about this big brother and would often hug him and caress his face. J loved that. At other times though, he would slap J or inadvertently hurt him in some way. J would cry, deeply hurt by his little brother’s actions. But he never had the smallest inclination to strike back – he had no desire for revenge. He simply expressed his hurt and pain through tears. J never seemed to get angry – it was just not part of his makeup or personality. Thankfully these occasions were few and far between.

I worked with J for a little over a month, but the time spent with him was overall a joyous experience. He was endlessly patient with my fumbling in the early days and I came to look forward to my time with him. It was a time of great learning, on my part. And it was a time filled with grace, peace, and goodwill. J has many blessings to share with the world, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the benedictions he imparted.

 

 

On Privilege


Privilege: according to the Oxford dictionary is “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”.

There has been a lot written about privilege, especially recently. Last evening, I was listening to a speaker at the library, an accomplished business woman and active volunteer in our community. She also happens to be Cree. Her name is Cheryl Alexander and her talk was about the indigenous people’s experiences in Canada, a country she nevertheless agreed is “wonderful”.

She was describing her mother’s experience in residential school, one of which left her unable to speak her native language. As a child she had been forced to eat a bar of soap for daring to speak Cree at school. Her experiences left her traumatized in many ways, and left her unable to give her children the legacy of her language because every time she would try to speak Cree she would experience anew the taste of soap in her mouth and the feelings of shame that accompanied it.

So, this morning I am thinking about everything this wise woman shared with the group. Unfortunately, I was unable to take in the whole of her talk and sat in for only a part of it during a lull in the library where I work. At any rate, I heard enough to compare the experiences of the downtrodden with the life of privilege many have known and still know today.

There are people who say, “why don’t they get over it? After all it happened so long ago.” Of course, the people I hear say these things are white, and perhaps do not understand the long-reaching consequences that continue to reverberate as a result of childhood abuse. The pain many people have suffered led many to self-medicate using alcohol or other substances to numb the pain. It left them unable to parent their children in many ways. And the cycle of neglect and/or abuse of children continued, and in many cases still does.

The purpose of the talk was to bring awareness around the experiences lived by most, if not all, indigenous people in Canada.

Comparing the story of First Nations Peoples to the Kavanaughs of this world is mind blowing. When a group of people are privileged they seem to be woefully ignorant of the experiences of those who are not so fortunate. It seems to me that privilege has a price too often paid by those who can ill afford to pay it. My mother used to say two things, “there, but for the grace of God go I”. And, “walk a mile in their shoes”. I have to say it is incredibly difficult to imagine the pain and the suffering experienced by indigenous people. It is almost too painful to even try to walk a mile in their shoes. It is equally as difficult to imagine why the privileged of this world seem to think it’s okay to live in gated communities and to continue to amass wealth on the backs of the poor.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to hear Cheryl’s talk. And I am grateful for the discussion that is continuing in the wake of the Ford/Kavanaugh story, and others like them. We have an opportunity to learn; to grow; to make a better world. I hope we do.

The Kavanaugh Triggers


Warning: discussion may be triggering for victims of sexual violence

It is late at night. I cannot sleep. I did not watch the circus surrounding the Ford/ Kavanaugh “main event”. I did not want to, I knew it would be a trigger for me. But try as I might to avoid it, it was everywhere. It was an “in your face” story that was talked about everywhere. I am sure I am far from the only female awake tonight and struggling with the fallout caused by a seemingly endless parade of memories of past abuses and transgressions. Memories triggered by the Ford/Kavanaugh story. I feel compelled to add my voice to the millions out there who are saying: No more! I have not wanted to write about it – I still don’t, but feel moved to do so

See, that’s the rub. When you have been assaulted in any way you take the blame for it on yourself. You think …  “there must be something wrong with me”. You think you somehow brought it all on yourself. Shame, guilt, pain all become a toxic soup that poisons the mind and the soul. Shame keeps us silent. Guilt, though undeserved, keeps us chained to a past event that we have (and had) no control over. I am grateful to Christine Blasey Ford for her bravery in speaking out – it gives other women the courage to do the same.

So, this is my story – or at least the parts I am willing to share here.

I remember that awful icky, sinking feeling when a man put his arm around my shoulder when I was a small girl. I remember the nausea as his palm pressed upon my flat chest. Somehow, I knew he was not expressing any kind of innocent affection. And I remember the vast relief I felt when my mother, sensing my distress, made an excuse to extricate me from his “loving” embrace.

I remember the boy I dated who told all his buddies that I was “easy” and that he’d slept with me. By doing so he put a target on my back. I would spend the next several weeks or more answering phone calls from strange boys who wanted to take me out. It was disconcerting. It was scary. And when I found out about the lies it was both embarrassing and enraged me at the same time.

I remember a man  propositioning me with offers of money if I would go into a bedroom with him when I was barely twelve.

I remember the date who slammed me against the wall because I dared to say no. On a different occasion another had me pinned to the floor, while I fought and screamed until I was rescued by another boy. I shudder to think what could have happened.

All of these instances and more made me feel like an ‘it’. IT and I don’t mean intelligent technology or inter-terrestrial. IT or thing. My feelings never mattered to these men. To them I was no more than an ends to a means – a way to satisfy their lust. ‘Things’ don’t experience terror, pain, or shame. ‘Things’ do not experience heartache, for things do not possess hearts, or brains, or anything worth considering in the eyes of the predator. You really are ‘just a piece of meat’ to them.

It took years for me to release the chains of shame, guilt, fear, and all the rest of the ingredients of the toxic soup society had helped prepare for me and for all girls and women.

I know that not all men are like this, but I am one single individual who has had way too many encounters from an early age with such egotistical, selfish bullies. And there are millions more.  It saddens me to think of all the billions of girls and women the world over who continue to fight off unwanted advances, unwanted attention, unwanted assaults. (Who would want to be assaulted or raped?)

I know there are good people in this world – both men and women. And I know it is past time to say ‘no more’! Let us teach our children respect. Respect for themselves and for one another. Nobody should ever feel like they are not a person – like a thing!

Feel the fear and do it anyway – zip lining at Marble Mountain, NL


 

Photo credit: Jess Molnar

Several years ago, I was studying journalism at the local college. In the second year of the program we were sent to cover the Canadian Student Leadership Conference. It was an interesting experience, not least because during the conference we were treated to a free pass on the zipline at Marble Mountain. We had been split into several teams to cover various aspects of the gathering and it was my team that was chosen for this dubious assignment.

There were four of us on my team. I had planned to interview and photograph students from across Canada who were taking part during my trek up the mountain. One of my teammates was supposed to participate in zip lining while trying to capture photographs of the experience – she chickened out. That left us with a decision to make: who was going to bite the bullet and take the plunge?

Now, I had always had a huge fear of heights and initially I was adamant it would NOT be me.  However, one of the team was already fitted with a Go-pro camera that was attached to a helmet and she was geared up to go. Another member was struggling with the flu, which knocked him out of the running, so that left me!

I finally consented, for the good of the team. After all, I am nothing if not a team player. I remember praying earnestly that I would live to see another day and asking the Creator to take care of my husband and children. I would not look down. I concentrated on the harness that would fly me through the air and gauging the strength of the cables above that I would be sliding on. They seemed secure. I remember trembling as I stepped off the platform. I had never been so nervous or anxious in my entire life! However, by the time I stepped off the second platform (the zip line zigzags across a deep fjord) I was really enjoying myself and was yelling at the top of my lungs: Whoot! Whoot!

Coming in for a landing Whoot Whoot

Thanks to happenstance I overcame the fear and enjoyed the experience immensely. Part of the assignment was to write a story about the experience, which I did. I was pleased to hear my instructor chuckling as he read it. I learned a lot that day, not least of all was to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Weary and worn


Seeking, searching

Looking for a way to release the burden

Wrestling with unfairness

And wounds inflicted without cause

It would be so easy to lash out

To exact punishment and revenge

A path encumbered by rage

Rage, that stumbling block to peace

Oh, God, how I want peace

Do I stand and fight?

Do I forgive the wrongs?

How to let go

I go back and forth in my mind

Trying to decide what to do

What course to follow

To make it all right

Shall I hold them accountable

Or turn the other cheek?

Please, wisdom, come sit with me

I am wearied by the struggle

Serenity, where are you now?

Flown like the snowbirds

To find warmer climes

My heart, like ice within me, frozen

Warmth is needed and welcome now

I summon you

O spirit of truth

Help me see the way