Hello beautiful cosmic creatures!
I have been SUPER busy with school and work lately and for that I apologize, because this blog is important to me, and I’m disappointed that my updates have been slowing down. For those of you closely following my Beyond the Binary series, I apologize, because this post is not part of that. But it is about a very cool thing! And it took me a little while to process that thing and so now, a week later, I am writing about it and sharing it with you all.
Many of you who know me personally or follow me on Facebook will already know this story–in fact, many of you will have been there, for which I am very grateful! But because this is sorta gaining a little internet traction I want to have my reading of it out there in the world, for me to remember later and to share with others on their own journeys, too.
TwoÂ weeks was one of the coolest weeks I have ever had in my life. I am sure I will remember it for a very long time. Through a conflux of planning and a little bit of the universe winking at me, I had a collection of really cool events happening in the same week that I am now going to blather on at some length about here.
On Tuesday (September 22nd), I had the incredible opportunity to make one of my dreams come true. Something I’ve talked about a bit on this blog, and likely will address again, is the idea of gender being socially constructed–and how some of these constructions are a little weird and sometimes humourous. Behind that, a creative part of me has been looking for an opportunity to push at those boundaries and ask questions about why gender is what we make it and how artificial some of it really is. I had this idea in my head of doing a photoshoot in really masculine and really feminine clothes in a bunch of stereotypically masculine and feminine poses, juxtaposing these images and just sort of being like “What’s the deal with all this?”
I have some experience with photography, but very little with costuming/makeup, and so eventually I decided to contact a more professional photographer about making this vision a reality. Somehow, Google led me to Dream Love Grow,Â an Ottawa-based social enterprise that basically helps people do cool art things through photography, event planning, videography, etc. I met with their hip head honcho, Mailyne, a few months ago–we sat on a park bench and talked about my story and gender and what I was thinking about. I had some reservations about working with someone who wasn’t LGBTQ+ on this, but Mai was very open, very interested, and even wanted to expand my project with an interview and video that would increase awareness for non-binary folks while we made cool art together.
We had to reschedule a few times–I think both of us were a little frustrated, because we both really genuinely wanted to work on this, but then both of us got sick, my grandmother passed away and I had to travel for the funeral, etc. But I felt the universe smiling at me as I packed my bag the day of the photoshoot–I went and met Mai just four days before I would be celebrating my “un-official” name change with my family, both biological and chosen.Â I won’t share too much more about that right now, because I want to wait for Mai to finish putting it all together and just share the whole thing with you beautiful people–but that this happened the same week as everything that followed was significant, so I wanted to mention it.
So the week continued. I had class, I did my normal Eliot things.
Then the weekend. My goodness, the weekend.
I had been thinking about changing my name for a while. I had made a tearful promise to my mother in the Fall of last year that I would try Eliot for at least a year before I did anything “permanent”–but about eight months in I knew, knew somewhere deep and intangible inside myself, that Eliot was my name. Three months ago, I talked to friends of mine who had been through the process and quietly filled out a name change application. I didn’t tell too many people at the time–I had been warned that name change applications were often denied on the first run through and I was nervous,Â so nervous, about what people in my life might say or do in response.
Turns out I was right to be discrete, because the name changeÂ wasÂ rejected the first time–for tedious bureaucratic reasons that I’ll discuss in another post (hopefully after I get the paperwork back the second time!) But the process of applying for government recognition of the person I now knew that was brought to mind that there were other ways of commemorating this defining moment in my life.
It will come as a surprise to absolutely no one who reads this blog that I am a spiritual person. I hesitate to use the word “religious”–but I’m involved in an active church community and have been for most of my life, so I suppose it’s as apt a word as any. Anyway, the idea of spiritually marking this transition was very meaningful to me.
I’ve been studying queer theology for a little while now–a few months, slowly crawling through books here and there. I was reading a fairly popular one calledÂ Transgendering FaithÂ and at the end of the book found something that immediately brought me to tears: a liturgy for renaming for transgender Christians.
So I approached my priest, Mark Whittall, about the possibility of doing a renaming service, and he took it forward to our Bishop, and eventually it came back that yes, our diocese would support this–it had never been done before, but we would do it–and Eliot, when would you like this ceremony to be?
Now, one of my sets of grandparents is from the Maritimes. They haven’t been to Ontario in almost twenty years. We used to go and visit them fairly regularly when I was younger, and I’ve also flown out to visit them on my own before. But there had been talk this summer about my grandparents potentially coming to Ontario this Fall.
This talk was suspended when my grandfather injured his eye pretty severely and required surgery. It was up in the air if they would come or not. (He’s since recovered well).
But I felt those little vibrations in the universe, the breath of God, if you will, and something in me knew they would come. So I emailed my grandmother and asked her for dates, and then coordinated that date with my priest.
Knowing that day would be busy with my family visiting, I wanted to organize another celebration with my chosen family. We set sights on Saturday morning, the day before the service, four days after my incredibleÂ adventureÂ with DreamLoveGrow.
Dear friends of mine, Iain and Gillian, offered to host me and a dozen of my friends in their home. We had brunch, potluck-style. Social groups collided as friends from church, from queer circles, from school, from the internet, all met and mingled in the same place. There was so much energy at that brunch, beautiful people! I was all smiles.
I don’t recall too much specifically about the brunch, but there is a warmth in that recollection. A lot of people gave me some really beautiful cards, and even a few gifts! I also had my first mimosa. I felt deeply loved by the people in my life. I was ecstatic–especially because there were a few friends at the brunch who I hadn’t seen in person in months (for various reasons)–but it meant the world to me that they had shown up that day.
(Another friend of mine who wanted to come to brunch was quite unfortunately involved a car accident earlier that week, and then actually sent me multiple videosÂ telling me how sorry he was that he couldn’t be there and sending me all the love he could from his immobile position in a recliner that he quite literally couldn’t leave because of a broken collarbone. Said friend is recovering well and is a trooper, but I couldn’t believe that he took the time to send me videos of himself wishing me well. I was moved to tears.)
Then Sunday.Â Sunday.Â
It’s been two weeks and I still choke up a little to talk about it.
I was on the music team that week. In yet another instance of the universe winking at me, September 27th was, in addition to my renaming day, the day of the baptism of one of my dearest friends, Davis. I was a little anxious that I might steal the thunder of his special day but was so pleased to be sharing such a special week with him. We were both on music team and we hugged and held hands and pushed each other around on stage with nervous excitement. Before practice started Davis pulled me close and told me how happy he was to share that day with me, and I could hardly even reply because I was so moved, and so happy that he felt as I did.
Music practice was interrupted by the arrival of my parents and grandparents, so I of course leapt off the stage squealing and ran to hug everyone. My grandparents hadn’t ever really heard me sing, so it was wonderful to be able to lead in front of them that week. As we finished practice and there was a little lull before the church service officially started, I looked out and saw a totally full house. St. Alban’s is usually fairly busy, but we were at capacity that week, between the usual crowd, people visiting for Davis, and people visiting for me. It was terrifying and exciting.
A moment to say–it was incredible to me how many people came on my behalf that day. I had so many church family members there to support me–more cards, more gifts, but most importantly, them and their smiles! But I also had people from diverse backgrounds just there to show their love, including a Jewish friend and an atheist friend just to show their support for me. Later that day I would see that throughout the service my facebook was lighting up with more posts, more messages of support, including messages from my best friend in high school, who was currently living in Nunavut, and one of my best friends from St. Alban’s who had recently moved to Vancouver to pursue his career. With my grandparents from New Brunswick,Â I had support from coast to coast to coast that day.
The service was wonderful. Our music was bang on, everyone there was lovely, it was a beautiful day. But I was nervous. Vibrating, even. As we finished the children’s talk and moved into the homily, I sat in the pew behind my family next to a non-binary friend, Charlie. I had actually asked Mark if I could preach that week, if I could talk about the importance of names in the Bible. He told me that another week would be better–we had literally three guest preachers that month, and Mark figured he should really speak at least once. And that morning, I was so glad I wasn’t preaching, because even just being in the pews had my knees bouncing uncontrollably and me wringing my hands.
Mark’s homily was breath-taking. If you haven’t read it, you should go do that now (click here). I’ll wait.
I’d had no idea, from the readings alone, what Mark could possibly do with the readings for that Sunday.Â It was a bit of a weird week in the calendar–some pretty aggressive readings. Hanging Hamish. PuttingÂ millstones around people’s necks and throwing them into the sea. Not the sort of thing you normally tie into a baptism, much less a re-naming ceremony. How would he even connectÂ the baptism to the renaming? It must have been a challenge.
But Mark blew me, and everyone else, out of the water. At some point during the sermon I reached over and took Charlie’s hand and we both sat there, alternately squeezing each others fingers as Mark took a stand–and not a casual, fence-sitter’s lean, but an almost aggressive announcement, an unapologetic line that could not be misread. “We find again and again that the moments when Godâ€™s grace surprises and confounds humanity are the very moments when that grace is more generous than we could have imagined and crosses boundaries that we thought could not be crossed.”
“And so to those who would ask why we are celebrating a Liturgy of Re-Naming for Transgendered Persons today, I would humbly dare to answer that it is because Jesus wants us to show a generosity to all Godâ€™s children which transcends and breaks down the â€˜us vs. themâ€™ boundaries and barriers which exist in our church and in our society.
Also, itâ€™s because we love you Eliot.”
At some point during the homily, I actually stopped breathing. At the end of his sermon my chest and eyes were burning–eyes burning with tears and chest burning because I had been unconsciously holding my breath. I couldn’t believe the things Mark has said.
It shouldn’t have been revolutionary. I believe very strongly that Christians are called to the exact love that Mark described i his sermon–a love that transcends barriers. (ThatÂ transcends barriers. Eh. Ehhhh? Yeeeah) But it was still scary. I felt like we were in a movie, we were at a wedding and the priest was asking if anyone knew of any reason why these two should not be married and someone was going to burst through the doors and tell everyone that there had been some mistake, that Jesus wasn’t actually like this, that everyone should just go home because there wasÂ no wayÂ that God was going to let thisÂ happen.
(That, or maybe I had some secret mad wife locked up in my attic named Bertha.
…Â what, am I the only one who had to readÂ Jane EyreÂ in high school?)
Â But there was nothing of the sort. The moment was everything it should have been, and though it should not have been world-changing, I am grateful that it was.
There was a bit of heaviness in the air. I’m know I wasn’t the only one wiping back tears. I felt like I was in shock. It took me a few moments to gather myself and then I was stumbling over Charlie and my parents were staring at me in confusion as I made my way to the front for the next song. Davis and I were hugging and then suddenly it was time for his baptism and I was punching his shoulder playfully as he hurried down the steps and I made sure our mics were safe on the music stand.
Davis’ baptism was beautiful. We did most of the ceremony at the church, and a small convoy of folks went to the Ottawa River later for a full-immersion baptism, which I regretfully missed. But Davis was sponsored by his wonderful partner for baptism, who is also a good friend of mine, and they said a few words about Davis that were tear-worthy all over again.
For a few moments, my anxiety abated. It was all about Davis, and I was super, super happy for him.
When Mark called me up my anxiety suddenly spiked again. I hugged Davis for the umpteenth time on my way by, whispering, “I am so proud of you,”Â but then I was in front of the church–in front of my family, in more ways than one–and suddenly it was happening and I had to keep reminding myself to inhale, exhale, inhale,Â these people love you, it is okay.
It wasn’t a long service. Actually, to even call it a “service” is misleading. The whole thing was one page in our booklet, and it couldn’t have taken more than a few minutes. But those moments, for me, were infinite. Wildly, I found myself thinking of WATCHMEN, my favourite comic, of the fourth chapter where Jonathan Osterman deconstructs time as a linear concept. This was one of those cyclical moments that stretched far beyond its “real-time” duration–I found myself thinking of it as I shook hands with people later, as I went to lunch with my family, as we spent the afternoon in a museum.Â In the days that followed, when my mind was quiet I remembered the call and answer of the service. Abram was renamed Abraham. Sarai was renamed Sarah. Simon was renamed Peter.
I looked out at those people, past the lights that shone across the front of our church, and I was so deeply humbled to share this moment with so many people who cared for me.
The air was electric in that room. When Mark finished the last lines of the service the room erupted into applause and I crumpled slightly. Mark put his arm around my shoulders and made sure his mic was off before asking, “Are you okay?”
“Y-yes,” I managed, needing to remind myself again toÂ breathe, dammnit,Â as applause and cheers washed over me from my friends, my family, and from people who didn’t know me at all.
The service didn’t end there–it went immediately into the Peace and the offering, then communion and announcements and another song before coffee hour. But in my brain, the service dims after those words. I passed out of myself and became this creature of humble joy and light. So many people came and shook my hands, patted my shoulder, hugged me close with tears in their eyes. It was an incredibly personal thing for me, but it was also a moment for my community, for my diocese. I think it was a deeply personal moment for a number of people there as well–those who knew me well, and even those who didn’t. That we as a community came together and did this truly felt like a manifestation that God Is Love.
For a few days after the service, I floated. For a few days after the floating, I felt strange. There was a brief period, while my Facebook notifications were still out of controls, days after, that I felt almost resentful. So many people drew so much from that service–and I was, I confess, a little bitter. It wasÂ myÂ service. What were all these people doing?
But with the passage of a few weeks I have returned to that state I felt just after the service ended–a humble but steady light. It means the world to me that something so personal to me could be so meaningful to other people. I am deeply moved, deeply honoured, deeply touched to have affected so many people with something that had so little to do with them. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been here in these moments–the “in-between” the heavier oppression of years ago and the hoped-for future where a blessing of a name change isn’t a big deal.
In the weeks since my name change service, a couple of things have caught media attention locally. Venus Envy, Ottawa’s local sex shop and purveyor trans-affirming products, received a $260 fine for selling a binder to an underaged teen. (The fine has since been waived, and Venus Envy is taking steps to change their licensing from “adult” to “family friendly” to avoid future incidents like this). Skylar Marcus Lee, a transmaculine teenager and activist in Madison, Wisconsin, took his life. Even as we celebrate, as we look forward, there are so many stumbling blocks to our future as a more open and affirming society. But we remain hopeful. Sometimes, that is all any of us can do.
I remain humbled and honoured to share my journey with you all. Thank you for, as my minister put to so beautifully a few Sundays ago, walking with me.
Much love, beautiful people. <3