samhain

C75F5EBE-AF75-491D-8835-22C2FA7585C5

This year I observed Samhain, the pagan holiday between autumnal and winter equinox that is meant to focus on death, remembering lost loved ones, and letting go of old things.

Prayers on Samhain

I am here to honor the memory of my wife’s parents.

Mary Jane Brown, who I only knew at the end of her life when she was not present in her body. 

Kenny Brown, who I never met in this life but I feel as if I met him through knowing my wife.

I remember my first childhood dogs, Precious and Freckles who got me through a lot of emotional times and lived long lives. 

We remember the 49 who were killed at the Pulse Nightclub. I remember Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Matt Shepard and Leila Alcorn and so many other queer saints who were taken from us too soon.

Lastly, I am here to remember my old life and mourn the childhood I never had as a queer person. It’s not something I can get back but it is something I want to honor. My childhood was one of religious trauma, abuse, and suppression of who I really was. So, I am going to try to recreate what I always wanted in the present. That creative, quirky free spirit deserves to live free.

Holly Louise Holder, I release who you were. You never go tot be who you wanted to be. But now I want to let go and breathe new life. And take on a new name in this new year of harvest and rebirth from the dead things all around me. Let us lean into that new life as H.L. Holder-Brown.

I’m letting go of the past that was Holly and becoming HL Holder-Brown. My new life is just beginning and I am grateful to live it in community with others and with my wife. 

raising hell

“If you couldn’t tell, we can always find the trouble. We don’t need no help. Mama raised me well. But I don’t want to go to heaven without raising hell. 

Can I get an amen? This is for the misfits of creation. Take this as your holy validation. You don’t need to hide your celebrating. This is our salvation.” ~ Raising Hell, Kesha

John 2:1-12 (NRSV) 

“On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘fill the jars with water.’ And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, ‘Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.’ So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, ‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee, and revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother, his brothers, and his disciples; and they remained there a few days.”

I often think of Halloween as a sort of coming out experience for myself. I recently got to preach at Life’s Journey UCC on Queer Joy as Resistance for their Pride celebration, so I thought I’d share that here. And also my halloween costume this year seems fitting, too.

18C735C9-FF37-4DD2-BD59-9F703974FBCA

Sermon “Queer Joy As Resistance” 

What I love about this story in the gospel of John is that it is Jesus’ first miracle. And it’s a bit of an odd story if you think about it. Jesus and his disciples are invited to a wedding, but as more of an afterthought. The text tells us: “Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding, but the first person mentioned at this wedding is Mary, who is simply identified by her association with her son as “the mother of Jesus.” Mary may not be mentioned by name here, but clearly, she’s calling the shots in this particular story. 

So, when the wine “gave out,” and she tells Jesus “they have no more wine,” he responds in what often rubs folks the wrong way: “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come…” I don’t think Jesus means any disrespect here. Actually, this is a very human response. As in, this isn’t my problem yet, Mom. But also, I’m sure you are all familiar with the phrase: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy”?

And of course, Mary who knows her son so well says: “Do whatever he tells you…”

When Jesus queers the water and turns it into wine, this first recorded miracle in the Gospel of John is one of celebration. Not only does Jesus turn the water into wine, the chief steward at the wedding says “You have kept the good wine until now.” This isn’t just water turned to wine; this is the good stuff. Many queer interpretations of this text view this as Jesus’ way of coming out by performing his first public miracle. 

Queer celebration is often one of both joy and resistance. Resistance against oppression that has often told us that we do not belong in certain spaces–especially churches because our love is seen as a curse instead of a gift that we can bring to the church. 

On the morning of my wedding, I got up early to tell my now-wife, Amy goodbye as she went to run the Tarheel 10 Miler. While she was running, I went back to sleep for another hour and then got up because I needed to finish writing my vows for the ceremony that would occur later that afternoon in our own backyard. We had rented chairs, purchased flowers, and even put together our own arbor from Lowe’s as a sort of DIY wedding because we value simple, beautiful things. And because, while we met at the church we were attending at the time, we were not permitted to get married in the church sanctuary. 

When I look back on that day almost two years later, I think, it couldn’t have gone any more perfectly. We had many of our chosen family there, a dear friend officiated the ceremony, and we got to celebrate later with many friends at our reception where there was a potluck meal, various types of alcohol, and dancing. You see, my wife and I know what it is to celebrate and be joyful but most often, this is because as queer people of faith, we have known pain and rejection instead of celebration. 

When we celebrate Pride, we are not saying that we are celebrating arrogance. But we are celebrating and resisting the things that have caused us death and harm. The first Pride was a protest first and foremost. Before we could celebrate, we had to survive. We are often still just trying to survive.

I think of Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who was one of the first to throw a brick in protest at Stonewall. Marsha was not afraid to celebrate who she was and fight back when she was not accepted. But later, she was murdered and her body dumped in a river because the world was not yet ready to celebrate her in her fullness and beauty. Marsha’s life and influence live on still today as we celebrate Pride each year because of what she and many others fought for.

The words of Lucille Clifton’s poem “Won’t You Celebrate with Me” are very fitting of Marsha’s life:

“won’t you celebrate with me 

what i have shaped into

a kind of life? i had no model.

born in babylon

both nonwhite and woman

what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.”

When I think of the couple in the first text we read in Song of Solomon, I think of a forbidden love that they are willing to celebrate in spite of being told it’s not allowed. Queer love and sexuality often aren’t recognized. We are often denied celebration of our love. 

There are certain places my wife and I know not to hold hands in public. Or, depending on where we are, if someone asks if we are family, we often answer, ‘Oh we’re just friends’ because any other answer may lead to judgment or violence. This is something most straight couples don’t have to worry about.

Our love frequently will not be recognized in the media or in TV shows whereas heterosexual love is portrayed everywhere. In jewelry commercials, “Every kiss begins with K,” Hallmark movies, you name it, it’s everywhere.

So, when someone says, it’s ok to be gay but do you have to talk about it all the time? I respond: “Forgive me if I don’t shut up about my love for my wife. Because that has often been denied me.”

Our joy and resistance is so profound because of what we’ve had to fight for just to exist. Because, you cannot appreciate queer joy until you can appreciate queer grief. 

  • Not being able to celebrate or grieve publicly for example
  • Being invisible…
  • Having to keep a relationship, your sexuality, or your gender identity a secret for fear of being put in danger. Or because there is so much internalized shame. 
  • Losing so many in our community to suicide, or murder…
  • Or a mass shooting like at the Pulse Nightclub in 2016.
  • This is still a daily struggle for most queer people in public spaces. 
  • We can still be fired in the state of North Carolina for even the suspicion of being queer. 

We are often told in our process of coming out, “It gets better.” But often, it either gets worse before it gets better or for some, it never gets better because of rejection and violence. 

Today, I am so thankful that as a country, we can marry whomever we choose regardless of gender thanks to the marriage equality achieved in 2015. 

But also, I am saddened because some people fought so hard for that, and then stopped fighting. To this I say, we cannot stop fighting. Because trans women of color are still being murdered in the streets. Because I can be happily married to my wife, and don’t know whether it’s safe to talk about that happiness publicly. Because I have to use pronouns and a name that do not fit my gender identity for my own safety when I’m at my day job. 

Queer love is an act of resistance against the powers of this world that say we should not exist and that we should not celebrate who we are. This is a love to be celebrated, to be cherished, to be shouted from the rooftops because we haven’t always had the luxury of loving out loud. Of drinking wine in celebration at a wedding that used to be forbidden.

Pride means so much more to me than it did a few years ago. Some days it feels like we will never overcome all the oppression especially under this current political administration. But, when I see that glimmer of hope within the LGBTQ community, I know we will one day live in a world where we can be fully ourselves. Amen and amen.

my body is an island of love

7ufTk4heTpmjz9mXuPmY1A

It’s been eight years.

Eight years since I saw you.

Eight years since you touched me in ways I didn’t want you to.

Eight years is a long time. And no time at all.

For you, I’m sure I was a blip in your radar, but for me, it has taken me this long to finally feel safe. And that’s on a good day.

I was a blip in your radar, but you were a wound that is becoming a scar that will never go away.

It will take me a lifetime to forget you because my body remembers you every day.

When we met, I already had a lifetime of trauma yet to be remembered. Yours was the trauma inflicted on my body that awoke something in me–a reminder that my body had never been my own.

For the first few years after I encountered you, I wished I didn’t even have a body.

If my body didn’t exist, maybe it wouldn’t remember the pain that it is to be invaded like a country with borders that have been colonized by yet another white man with an agenda.

You viewed me as something to be conquered.

And it was a lie.

I am not something to be conquered. I am Someone. Someone who deserves to be loved. Someone with a body that is now my own.

So, every year when the trauma washes on the shore of my body, I remind myself now–this land that is my body is mine to maintain and mine to love.

I am someone deserving of love.

You were a hurricane that left me shipwrecked at sea.

Today. Today I am an island surrounded by an ocean of love.

There are no more storms that can wash that away.

My body is an island of love.

you’ve got (ordinary) time

“The animals, the animals trap, trap, trapped ’til the cage is full. The cage is full, the day is new. And everyone is waiting, waiting on you. And you’ve got time. And you’ve got time. Think of all the roads, think of all their crossings. Taking steps is easy, standing still is hard. Remember all their faces, remember all their voices. Everything is different the second time around.” ~ You’ve Got Time, Regina Spektor 

“Seasons pass us by
And we think that we’ve got time
But here we are
At the end
It’s hard to let you go
I’ll miss you more than you know
And I won’t forget
How you made me feel” ~ Danielle Brooks (aka Taystee from OITNB), Seasons

There’s a period of the church calendar known as “ordinary time” and I suck at ordinary time. I’ve never been good at waiting for things to happen and remaining in the present when something else lies ahead of me that I’d rather be doing.

While I’m expecting inspiration to hit me upside the head I could be doing something with the time I’m currently in. But I’ve never known what to do with ordinary time. It feels like being stuck in the in between so what do I do with this “ordinary” time.

Rest often becomes reactive instead of proactive. Sometimes you’re just supposed to breathe and be as you take steps towards the future. Ordinary time is a time of rest, recovery, preparations. If you’re not staying in the present moment, you’ll miss it. Ordinary time is still time for bread and wine, nourishment and growth. It is meant to be savored and not rushed through. Not every day can be Pentecost, Easter, Advent, Christmas.

So, please. For the love of all the good and holy periods of ordinary time in this world, take time to be. Remember to breathe. Be your whole self. Remember that you are good and breathe in the possibility of new beginnings.

Sit with your friends drinking ciders as you wait for things to begin. As you work towards making things happen while also being present in what is happening now.

But of course, y’all know I didn’t just come here to offer cute anecdotes and go on my merry way. I’m so tired of needing solutions to the things stressing me out and yet being too overwhelmed to find those solutions. Is it normal to want good things for myself and yet be afraid of how much I want them? Sometimes you have to fight for the world you believe is possible. And sometimes you have do all that while being fucking terrified.

Yes, even if my anxiety has anxiety.

Hoping will not destroy you. Why are you afraid to hope for a better world? For yourself. For others. Hope will not destroy you.

That is what I keep telling myself. And while I’m out here hoping against all hope, I started a gofundme campaign finally for top surgery. Yeah, I buried the lede a little bit but again, my anxiety has anxiety.

My wife Amy says “God never performed a miracle that someone didn’t ask for.” I don’t know what I believe about miracles right now but I do know asking for help when you need it is a good thing. Because I’m not functioning at full capacity right now as a person. And I want to be whole. I am asking for help. And hoping feels impossible. Asking a community to come alongside me feels like it’s too much to ask. But here we are.

So, here’s what I’m doing with my ordinary time of waiting, resting, preparing. If you can help in any way, here are several ways how:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/hl039s-top-surgery&rcid=r01-156596916843-4dd49f2c5e1d406c&pc=ot_co_campmgmt_w

And if you’re like, hey I can’t help in quite this big of a way, I also have venmo where ya know, you can help with coffee or therapy: @Holly-Holder-3

Lastly, if you’re a fan of this blog and have been following for a while, I finally have a patreon! https://www.patreon.com/wallflowerinfj

 

 

jubilee

IMG_0259
“In the Bible, the year of Jubilee is a time when God commands freedom for captives, citizenship for immigrants, the return of stolen land, and the cancellation of all debt. In the Jubilee, God’s grace meant a radical restructuring of society, a community organized around love as justice and justice as love, a different kind of world.” ~ Jubilee Baptist Church ( https://www.jubileebaptist.church/ )
Today was a special day in the life of a church just begun. Today Jubilee Baptist Church held a preview worship service, a practice service if you will. The church officially launches the first Sunday of September.
 
Today my wife, Amy read Scripture before a congregation for the first time right before our dear friend, Heather preached a pretty kickass sermon from Luke on the Lord’s Prayer and how it’s more tangible than spiritual. How we should be truly forgiving people’s debts and feeding those who are hungry and taking care of those in our community. All of this preceded my serving communion for the second time of my life alongside Kevin and being afraid I was going to flub the words and accidentally say, “The body of Christ shed for you” instead of “The blood of Christ shed for you.” And then, in the midst of that worry, Heather stood in line in front of me to receive communion.
 
There’s something so sacred and human about serving communion to someone who is usually the one serving you communion. And then bursting into tears when your eyes meet and you utter the words, “The blood of Christ shed for you…” A phrase you’ve had repeated to you hundreds of times, while going through all manner of difficult situations and celebrations of life.
 
Some days hearing “this is Christ’s body broken for you” and “this is Christ’s blood shed for you” means something. And if you’re like me, sometimes it’s just going through the motions.
 
But sometimes–that moment means more than any worship song, sermon, or prayer because it’s so tangible. So human and yet so holy as you connect with other human beings.
 
All of it matters. Every song sung in unison about justice and love matters. Every sermon challenging us to action in our community matters. Every prayer spoken over people in need of comfort or joy matters.
 
And every loaf of bread broken in small pieces and handed out, dipped in wine (or in our case, grape juice) that drips on the floor occasionally…all of that matters.
 
So maybe we’re crazy for starting this journey. Maybe it’s all too good to be true. Or maybe, this can truly be a time of jubilee where we can “love as if a different world is possible.” https://www.jubileebaptist.church/

 

various storms and saints

SjnAncywSrG89kc6vO6VuQ
“You’ll find a rooftop to sing from
Or find a hallway to dance
You don’t need no edge to cling from
Your heart is there, it’s in your hands
I know it seems like forever
I know it seems like an age
But one day this will be over
I swear it’s not so far away
And people just untie themselves
Uncurling lifelines
If you could just forgive yourself” ~ Various Storms and Saints, Florence and the Machine
“I feel nervous in a way that can’t be named
I dreamt last night of a sign that read, ‘the end of love’
And I remember thinking
Even in my dreaming it was a good line for a song
We’re a family pulled from the flood
You tore the floorboards up
And let the river rush in
Not wash away, wash away
We were reaching in the dark
That summer in New York
And it was so far to fall?
But it didn’t hurt at all
And let it wash away, wash away.” ~ The End of Love, Florence and the Machine
Uncertainty and self-doubt are vices that I’ve never dealt well with. I’m not sure anyone does. When you’ve grown up in a religious culture that considers doubt to be a bad thing, it tends to be particularly unsettling. Unsettled is how I feel. I feel this sense of unsettled urgency about my body right now. I don’t have any answers right now for the how and when of top surgery. I just know my body feels this urgency so strongly sometimes I can’t see straight.
During a rough day battling with dysphoria on Monday I wrote in my journal:
Today was one of those days where I wanted to wrap myself in the trans flag and cry because my dysphoria tells me I am not enough. Of course, this is a lie but today my body believes it.
Do people think I’m important enough to warrant a fundraiser for top surgery? 
My body and my mind are taking turns telling me lies…
I feel like I need some action steps to move past this but I’m not sure where to begin.
Dysphoria feels vague and deceptive. It both affirms my transness/non binary ness and reaffirms that my body still doesn’t feel like me. And that’s on a good day.
It’s more cunning on the worst days. This week there have been a lot of worse days where my dysphoria makes me cry and feels like the elephant in the room is both shouting at me and lying on my chest reminding me that it’s still there.
It’s an ever present ghost wandering the halls of my mind, waiting to take me out. Sometimes I’m not real sure writing actually helps me but here we are hoping that something does.
Buying new clothes always helps–clothes that feel more me.
95J45XjuSyKH1pvrLE+WFw
I have been treating my breasts like an inconvenience that I can pretend doesn’t exist just to cope and I don’t want to hate it. It just needs a different home other than as a part of my body that feels alien. If only I could look on the outside like I feel on the inside? If I could snap my fingers and make these foreign objects disappear. I can pretend I don’t have a chest but to what end. Binding only helps so much and that can’t last forever.
It feels like an impossible dream. It feels like a fairytale Disney makes a princess movie about. Like I’m not supposed to want to be myself. How dare I be so bold as to want to be free? And yet, I have support from my wife, my therapist, my pastors, my community. So maybe the impossible dream isn’t so impossible after all?
The wisdom of Disney movie grandmothers has been something present on my mind. Moana’s grandmother sending her off on a journey across the sea when everyone tells her not to go. Like if someone could please tell me what to do or at least give me some direction like a queer ancestor I can pray to or something. I could use that.
Maybe if the stars could align just right so this would all make sense. But nothing is ever that easy or that clear. So for now, I live with that uncertainty and look for ways to make those seemingly impossible dreams become reality.
“Why is my reflection someone I don’t know
Somehow I cannot hide who I am though I’ve tried
When will my reflection show who I am inside
When will my reflection show who I am inside.” ~ Reflection, from Mulan

see me

bliwwr0nt0s7l5x50f8buq.jpg
“There are things still left to say
I’ve got phrases, I’ve got phrases
There are things still left to say
I’ve got phrases, I’ve got phrases
You’re afraid
What are you afraid of?
Anyway
Should I explain myself?
I’d rather read the dictionary
Why does everybody else
Feel closer to me than
I can feel to them
Though my reticence was necessary
Do you really know me well
Do you think that we are friends?
Are we friends?” ~ Mal Blum, Things Still Left to Say
“I fall down but I get up. I’ve been here so long, feels like nothing anymore. I’ll think of you. Don’t brush me off. Both got bruises on our knees. Don’t waste your worries–not on me. I don’t belong, though it helps to play along…Why can’t they see me when I’m right here.” ~ Mal Blum, See Me
(This post heavily influenced by Mal Blum’s Pity Boy EP that you should definitely go listen to. Right now.)
My birthday was last Friday and it felt rather anti-climatic. My wife had knee surgery and I worked all day. I am 28 and I feel…unbothered by others’ opinions of me. And believe me, my biological family always has A LOT of opinions of me on my birthday. So, I’m thinking about codependency quite a bit, toxic familial behaviors, and what it means to be seen.
Codependency is one hell of a drug and it’s a drug fundamentalists hand out like candy. By the time we grow into adults, we don’t know how to detox. One thing I’ve learned through lots of therapy and lived experience is “If it feels like a trap, it most definitely is.” My parents expected me to “need” them and rely on them forever and now that I became my own person and created my own family, they don’t know what to do with their manipulation and control.
Learning how to take care of myself has been one of the hardest things. Mostly because it was never something I was supposed to do outside of someone else’s control. I used to think it would destroy me not to have my parents in my life. And yet, they always made me feel their needs were more important than mine.
My wife tells me frequently: “In this family, you always have a voice. This isn’t a dictatorship.” I hope one day I will fully believe her.
It is telling that I used to have nightmares where I would be speaking but no one in my family could hear or see me. By the end of the dream, I would wake myself up screaming. Then I realized the most terrifying thing about that was that it was true. My voice was never heard and I wasn’t truly seen.
Codependency rooted in trauma is also exhausting–both in processing and recovering from. Its effects seem lifelong, and for so long it was a matter of survival. My brain and body are still in survival mode. And god, I am so tired of just surviving. Of simply existing. Existing at some point felt like a burden because I was constantly being reminded of my place in the world and it didn’t involve being myself.
So, in this, my twenty-eighth year of life, we’re kicking codependency’s ass and saying what we want and need. Easier said than done. But I am ready to be seen. And heard.
Part of writing is the being heard part. I keep writing myself into existence and figuring out who I am. The weight of existing shifts a little. I have to wonder if my story matters. If anyone is even listening. If the story of my wife and I will be told to others or does it die with us? Does this family story get to be told? Do queer folx get to do more than survive? The emotional labor we have to keep putting out is exhausting.
So here’s to not seeking approval from anyone. Here’s to being seen and heard. Here’s to living (and not simply surviving). Here’s to us. Because our stories matter and we have the right to tell them.