The last few weeks since the athlete formerly known as Bruce made public the decision to change genders, I’ve seen a lot of Facebook chatter and memes about bravery and courage. The oneupsmanship regarding who is more courageous – an athlete missing limbs due to military service, or a retired olympic athlete who decides to go public about changing genders – was, to me, an irritating distraction from more important news.
I didn’t have any strong opinions one way or the other because, as Kermit the Frog would say while sipping tea, it’s not any of my business. I tended to fall in the “Kardashian celebrity stunt” camp more than the “she’s so courageous” camp. Maybe we throw around that word “courageous” a little too lightly these days, I thought. I did almost lose it when a media personality said how much courage it takes to refrain from killing oneself living in today’s world; since when has simply waking up in the morning become an act of bravery? Have we really lowered the bar that much? Today’s world, especially in North America, is pretty darn good compared with much of the rest of the world. Waking up in Somalia takes courage. Here?
Last weekend’s epistle from Paul to the Corinthians has me taking another look though, not at celebrities or transgender folks, but at myself. The passage starts off with a very bold statement: “We are always courageous.” Paul goes on to explain that while we are living on earth “at home in the body,” we are separated from God, and as people who walk by faith, not by sight, we long to be fully united with the God of the eternal. Living away from God is not our soul’s natural state. Yes, says Paul – simply waking up in the morning is indeed an act of bravery.
My former pastor Fr. John used to preach about what he called “the God-shaped hole in the soul” that only a higher power could fill. He often quoted the psalms to describe it: “As the deer thirsts for running water, so my soul longs for you oh God.” Or, the words of Saint Augustine, “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”
It takes courage to live with Restless Heart Syndrome, and many of us do lack the courage. We try to fill the God-shaped hole with substances, stuff, sex, and self-justifying spirituality, and we scratch our heads when these things stop working or fall short of bringing us relief.
Most everyone is familiar with the serenity prayer – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. When I first read that prayer, I focused on what I thought my actions should be – accepting, changing, and knowing. But I can’t accept, change or know anything without first asking God for serenity, courage, and wisdom. My actions won’t earn me those qualities; they are gifts for which I must ask.
So I have a courageous announcement, and I hope you won’t judge me for it. I’m transhuman. I know on the surface, it looks like I’m a human being with skin and bones and organs. But deep down, I never really “identified” as human. I had trouble fitting in as a kid, because I felt somehow different than all the other humans around me, like I wasn’t human “enough.” I’ve spent the better part of my life learning to fake it so I can meet society’s expectations of me, but I’ve been dying on the inside. And yes, there were times when I wanted to die on the outside, too. I never wanted to kill myself per se, but waking up in the morning was not a cause for joy. How sad.
Being transhuman means that I struggle with being comfortable in my own skin. You see, I’ve known I’m a child of God almost as long as I’ve been self-aware. You can imagine the confusion this must have caused when the people I lived with called themselves Mom and Dad and exerted their authority and demonstrated love. My very survival depended on my accepting this social construct. Fortunately, my biological progenitors were also good parents, and they recognized and accepted me as transhuman and loved me even though it meant they had to admit they couldn’t control what was not truly theirs. Not all transhumans are so lucky.
Living as a transhuman means I’ve made plenty of errors and mistakes. Well meaning people will often say to me: “Don’t be so hard on yourself; you’re only human.” They don’t realize how insensitive that is! I’m NOT “only” human! There is so much more to me than who people see and experience on the outside.
I’ve been fortunate to meet other transhumans like me. They have helped me to embrace and live my spiritual life without denying the part of me that, whether I like it or not, IS human. The skin, bones, and organs are not just a husk, they are a home that was especially designed for the soul that dwells within. I don’t always like my body. Sometimes I punish my body. Most of the time, though, I just accept that it is what it is and I do my best to take care of it, because waking up isn’t so bad, really. In fact, I look forward to it, and it sure beats the alternative.
I also have some very “human-like” traits that aren’t so pleasant. Selfishness and fear are two big ones. I guess that’s part of being human too, because my “trans” identity is selfless and full of faith. Denying these parts of myself really only give them greater power, so I’ve found its better to face them, even at the risk of being a little hard on myself from time to time. I just remember that, in the words of Lady Gaga, I was born this way, and God makes no mistakes.
Living as a transhuman takes courage. Humans who don’t identify as “trans” often persecute us and belittle and intimidate us. Some of us fight back all the harder because of those human traits like fear and selfishness. The rest of us cower silently but hurt on the inside. Living courageously means standing up for myself without standing against others. It helps to remember all my trans brothers and sisters who could literally lose their lives in some countries and cultures, simply for acknowledging who they are. No matter who makes fun of me in my life, at least I don’t have to fear losing my life.
So yes, we always have courage. Even if it’s just to wake up in the morning and be who we really are. How much courage is really not relevant.