my body is an island of love

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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

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“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

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“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.
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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

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“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.

forbidden fruit

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{Content note for discussion of suicide, and dysphoria}

“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice–though the whole house began to tremble and you felt the old tug at your ankles. ‘Mend my life!’ each voice cried. But you didn’t stop. You knew what you had to do, though the wind pried with its stiff fingers at the very foundations, though their melancholy was terrible. It was already late enough, and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own, that kept you company as you strode deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do–determined to save the only life you could save.” ~ The Journey, Mary Oliver

“Say remember when we were driving, driving in your car
Speed so fast it felt like I was drunk
City lights lay out before us
And your arm felt nice wrapped ’round my shoulder
And I had a feeling that I belonged
I had a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.” ~ Fast Car, Tracy Chapman

As a child, do you remember the first time you realized adults are not invincible? Do you remember the moment you discovered your parents could experience fear? And did you ever have a moment when you realized you might be one of the things they’re afraid of?

For most queer folks who grew up in conservative families, that’s not too uncommon. I never knew if my parents policed my behavior, clothing, and hair because they were afraid for me or afraid of me. Growing up queer in a small Southern town meant being denied access to so many things–the least of all being clothing that felt like me. It’s interesting how clothing and hair are policed within these types of communities. By interesting I mean fucked up.

When I was ten years old, I fantasized about getting my hair cut short “like a boy.” And it wasn’t that I wanted to “be a boy.” I just wanted to look like one. My sister and I went to get our hair cut and came home. Our father flipped out and said we looked “butch.”

I remember the first time my mom told me I needed to dress more feminine and when I was told I couldn’t get away with not wearing a bra anymore. Playing with the boys suddenly wasn’t as cool but I could get away with playing with action figures with my male cousin Sam for a few years longer.

It was a miracle to get out of that town alive. Honestly, some days I’m not sure I would have survived much longer if I stayed. The word that keeps coming back is access. Especially access to education, clothing, a way out.

Today we celebrate the Obergefell v. Hodges victory for marriage equality and all I can think about is how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. Black trans women are still being murdered in the streets 50 years after the Stonewall uprising. And queer folx are still denied access to a way out of rural communities that seek to hold them hostage there.

They still want us to be in “drag.” They still want us to pretend to be like them. The “they” of course are the white cisgender, heterosexual people who rule the world we live in. Sometimes drag isn’t just drag–it’s real for us. Some of us aren’t just wanting to play dress up for your entertainment. When we “dress up,” we feel like ourselves.

In my closet, most of the clothes I own these days are anything but feminine. Also, in my closet, I have three dresses.

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Even though I’ve not worn a dress in about three or four years, I’ve held on to these dresses in particular because I picked them out for myself. They’re comfy and I liked how I felt when I wore them. The one on the far left I chose for myself to wear for my college graduation. There was a “dress code,” so I went with my friends and it’s honestly one of my favorite dresses.

Shopping with friends was so unusual for me. My mom, sisters, and I would go shopping together and get our hair cut together. It was communal and I hated it. We always were in the women’s section and it was hard for me to like most of the clothes there. The floral prints, the skirts, the lace–none of it appealed to me.

I would look longingly at the men’s section with the suits and button down shirts, bowties and neckties.

Flashback again to three years ago…when I wore a men’s dress shirt and bowtie for the first time. It was for Halloween for my Doctor Who costume. Except for me, it wasn’t a costume and I felt free. For perhaps the first time ever, I felt free in the clothes I was wearing instead of trapped in someone else’s outfit and body.

Lately, my gender dysphoria has been heightened. I long to find peace in my body and am waiting to figure out insurance and money for top surgery. Mostly it’s so tiring being misgendered at work all day long as I get called “miss” or “ma’am.” I get a little excited if someone accidentally calls me “sir” even though I don’t identify as male.

Yesterday, it came to light that JK Rowling is anti-trans and has suggested that perhaps trans women/trans people aren’t real. Which sounds like a bunch of bullshit for someone who created a magical world where queer folk could actually escape reality for a bit. She gave me a gift–someone who struggled to read found her books and I found myself in her stories. Of Luna Lovegood who didn’t fit in and was teased. Of Neville Longbottom, who also didn’t fit in, was sensitive, and ended up saving so many in the battle of Hogwarts. My church said I couldn’t read her books as a kid and I did anyway. She can’t take that from me.

My mother sent me an email today asking what I wanted for my birthday next weekend. Her favorite thing to do for my birthday is take me shopping. HER favorite thing. Is to take me shopping for clothes. Every year for my birthday for as long as I remember–at least starting in middle school, she has asked me “What can I do for your birthday?” And every year for as long as I can remember, my answer was never respected.

All I ever wanted was love and acceptance for who I was. But you can’t wrap that up in a present. Maybe what I want is 25 years of my life back where I wasn’t allowed to be myself. I long for a day where I can have a relationship with my mother that is more than clothes and hair. She always manages to make my life about herself.

What do I want for my birthday? Just time spent with my wife–who I know accepts me fully as I am. And to spend time with folx who love and care about each other.

What I want was always denied. Education and a degree I was never supposed to have. Clothing, haircuts, a life that was my own. That was the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden and you’re damned if you take it and damned if you don’t. For now, I choose the forbidden if that means life.

For my mother: There isn’t a tangible gift you can give me that covers over suicide attempts. There isn’t a gift you can bring me other than to set me free. Because access has long been denied us queer people and if we want it, we have to take it by force.  Sometimes the world you want is the world you have to create for yourself. I won’t dress in drag for you any longer. We’re bringing our full selves, with our clothes, our hair, and refusing to “fit in.”

Blessed are the powerless for they shall have power to change the structures that deny them justice.

Blessed are the trans for they shall be called by their names and pronouns.

Blessed are the queer for they shall be accepted and loved as they are

Blessed are the children in cages, for they shall be set free.

Blessed are the refugees at our borders and immigrants within our borders for they shall find a home where they belong.

Blessed are the unarmed black boys, for they shall be protected from harm.

Blessed are the suicidal for they shall be brought back to life

Blessed are the protesters with their fits high in the air, and the rioters who throw bricks at inns for they shall see justice flowing like a river.

hunger

 

“At seventeen, I started to starve myself. I thought that love was a kind of emptiness. And at least I understood then the hunger I felt and I didn’t have to call it loneliness…” ~ Hunger, Florence + the Machine

“In those heavy days in June when love became an act of defiance. Hold onto each other, hold onto each other…” ~ June, Florence + the Machine

Sometimes, it takes someone giving us permission before we feel we can be who we are. So, for my first post for Pride Month (which I swear, I’ll try to keep consistent this time), I want to talk about living your life in a way that gives others permission to be who they are. Mostly, I want to share an experience I had going to a Florence + the Machine concert this week that may have been life changing.

I’ve been a fan of Florence since undergrad but I feel I’ve grown with Florence Welch just as she said she has “grown up with” her fans.

They opened with the songs June and Hunger from the newest album High as Hope and I didn’t expect to be wiping tears from my eyes or to be as enraptured as I was.

As I watched the band play and listened to Florence sing and twirl across the stage, I wondered what this world would be like if we didn’t have to be afraid to be ourselves. What if I felt free enough to twirl and dance. My wife was watching me as I watched Florence and I think the expression on my face communicates more than words. What you don’t see is how much I cried during this concert because I was stunned by how beautiful the music was.

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Listening to Florence sing is like the feeling you get when you close your eyes and smile when the sun gently touches your cheek. She is Anne of Green Gables incarnate…a fairy in human form. An angel without wings–well, I’m not convinced she doesn’t have wings actually. There’s something about listening to someone sing whilst being fully who they are and sharing that with others that can’t quite be put into words. I’ve been trying to do so all week.

There’s something about a crowd of people all singing along with music that’s changed your life that can’t be put into words.

And then there’s this line.

“It’s Friday night and it’s kicking in. I can’t dress; they’re gonna crucify me…” 

For someone who dresses in flowing dresses and pantsuits with capes, Florence seems to be a free spirit–her soul is free in her body the way I long to be free in mine. Longing to be free in one’s own body, free to express gender that’s outside of cultural norms…afraid that “they’re gonna crucify me…” if I seek to change my body in ways that make me feel more me.

And yet she told the audience, “I’m shy…I am shy and extra. It is ok to be both.”

Maybe she’s an apparition with a secret to tell, or as the song Only for a Night from Ceremonials goes, “And I heard your voice as clear as day. And you told me I should concentrate. It was all so strange and so surreal that a ghost should be so practical. Only if for a night.”

I’ve been trying to finish this almost a week now. And it’s still not quite what I want it to be. But maybe that’s because there truly are not words to describe an indescribable experience. So, I’m just going to end it with linking perhaps my favorite song from this experience: