A Leap into My Community!
During the conference call I asked Jensine's advice on moving forward with a million visions at the forefront of my mind. One of the things she said was to continue to bring the vision to the community and let them reflect back to me what the greatest need was...to follow that and the strongest wavelength of the heart to direct the next few steps. Thank you for that answer!
My first foot forward tonight brought me to a LGBT drop-in center in Phoenix. The age group ranges from 14-24 and on any given night there are 25-35 youths present. The activities offered range from GED studying, drag shows, dance, sports, and community activism. So tonight, I was their guest speaker.
Someone told me earlier this week that if I felt restless about doing something, responding to someone, taking action - I should meditate on it. I have taken meditation workshops and taught them, so I know all about the power of sitting quietly and letting the mind weed itself out. I've been doing this a lot lately. With the workshop, I felt somewhat nervous at first about speaking to them. Then, I started to read Writing to Change the World the other day and began to re-affirm to myself the importance of individual voice and storytelling.
This morning I woke and within two hours I had climbed back into bed. My throat was aching and my muscles felt drained. My body needed a nap, I thought. What I really needed was to simply lay down and think slowly about the workshop. I ended up falling asleep and dreaming about embracing them, sharing my story with them, and teaching them about compassionate activism. When I woke up, I was smiley, bright, and felt so relaxed about going to the center.
When I walked in, I was immediately embraced. One young man asked me what my background was. He was checking my credentials. He wanted to know what I knew about gender. Another young man sat on the other side of me and told me about the infedility he experienced with his partner, how he had experienced women as well, but he didn't feel it was a choice to be gay and many people told him it was. Deep, brown eyes peered into me as though I had the answer and he did ask me, point blank, "Is it a choice for us to be gay?"
So I said, "You know...I think sexuality can be very fluid...and some of us know our whole lives who we may be inclined to fall in love with. I've known since I was six-years-old that I would be with women. It has never felt like a choice to me, it is something that was simply born inside of me. What we're really talking about is the conflict we face in society and from families - those who oppose us want to claim religion, those who support us may claim science, unconditional love, or understanding of sexuality." But I felt like he was asking permission to be confused...instead of judgment.
I opened by telling them about the losses I have experienced, the deaths of those who I have known after they came out within religious families, discrimination from religious communities. I told them that an active part of healing our community would come from understanding the roots of this discrimination. We have to understand what they are saying. When we do, the angry slurs and degrading comments have little weight, although they still hurt.
One girl said that last week she was followed down the street. She was wearing a gay camp shirt and a group of religious people followed her to remind her she was going to go to hell, she was sinful, she was against nature. She asked, "How do we stay silent when people are doing things like that to us? Even if we know they don't understand what they're saying, how do we not get angry?"
Many others shared their very recent experiences walking through Phoenix, walking through Tempe down Mill Avenue - which is the heart of Tempe and right by Arizona State University, and experiencing similar things. At least five shared their experiences being exiled from their churchs or schools after coming out, and some relayed positive experiences in churches after coming out.
We watched the film as it went through the seven scriptures used to condemn homosexuality. Their eyes widened at the statistics of rape and incest that followed the story of Sodom and Gomorra. Even wider their eyes became once we got to Paul and the New Testament - the claims of deviation when 90% of US pedofiles are men, and 98% are heterosexual men.
And I saw some wiping tears from their eyes when listenings of LGBT youth who have been killed within the past few years flooded the screen, or when they heard the harshness of some parents reacting to their children coming out. One girl in the film said that her mother told her she wished she had a shotgun to kill herself after her daughter said she was a lesbian. A lot of head shaking and looks that expressed, "I just don't understand why it is like this."
So...I think Jensine is accurate about letting them reflect back to me what is needed. I can tell just by watching their mannerisms, hearing their stories, seeing them turn away or cry at certain points.
On Monday I will go back to be a part of their community activism group which is just getting started. And I will spend the evening with them discussing the issue of homelessness within the LGBT youth community.
One thing is certain from this - I need to reach out to them because they are approaching a loudness that can quake the city. They don't want to be followed or exiled. They don't want to retaliate out of anger. They don't want to talk about nature and nurture over and over and over. Neither do I. I am who I am and I'm not changing because someone believes I'm a crime against nature, and they should not have to feel like they need to either.
I left them with a writing exercise about bearing witness to their communities - what community do they identify with, write a poem from the collective 'we' voice of that community expressing fears, strengths, celebrations. I am excited to read the responses and to commit to being involved in their activism group.
That is all for now! One workshop down for the week, two more to go. I will wake up in 7 hours and teach women yoga at the social worker's summit followed by workshops on poverty and creative expression. Saturday will offer a 6 hour workshop on Transgender Inclusion and I am excited for every breath.
Oh! Advice for VOF correspondents and the interviews we have to do - submerse, submerse, submerse in community! I have found three women so far by volunteering tonight and tomorrow I will get to meet state representatives at the summit and I am sure countless strong women leading my community.