Keshet is a national organization that works for LGBTQ equality in Jewish life. The organization equips Jewish leaders with tools to build LGBTQ-affirming communities, creates spaces for queer Jewish teens to feel valued and develop their own leadership skills, and mobilizes the Jewish community to fight for LGBTQ justice. Keshet’s blog spotlights this work, as well as the voices of LGBTQ Jews, our families, and allies.
Laura Thor spoke these words at Transgender Day of Remembrance last year, at a service held at Jefferson Unitarian Church, Golden, Colorado. Laura will be speaking again this year at this event-we invite you to join us.
How many of you have seen the YouTube video of Lana Wachowski’s acceptance speech fat the 2012 Human Rights Campaign gala ?
Lana has grabbed the brass ring, found the Holy Grail, or, as she says, won the Lotto. In her speech to the HRC she speaks of being loved in her entirety, of finally being known for who she is… for being seen.
Four times she returns to the power of being seen or failing to be seen and recognized for who she is.
She speaks of the universal, essential need for each person to be seen, not only in order to be known and loved, but in order to exist at all.
To find our place and to fit in, we have to be recognized as belonging. We will never trust we are lovable unless we feel known in our entirety, and that can’t happen unless we show ourselves, make ourselves visible.
But the conundrum of course, is that for the Transgender person, showing oneself can get oneself killed.
We are social beings who don’t do well if we go unnoticed, unattended to. From infancy our lives depend on being seen and understood. If our caregivers don’t recognize our cry for food or holding, we go hungry and neglected.
In school, if no mentor ever sees our innate gifts, we don’t tend to recognize them in ourselves, and without someone speaking truth to us about who we are and who we might become, we might not believe it ourselves.
We can’t know much about ourselves outside a community of others who also want to risk vulnerability for the sake of being known, of being real, together.
Isolation is safe, but it leads to stillbirth, not life.
We can try to stay safe by hiding out on a private island inhabited by no one but ourselves, but we can’t live there for long. Remember what happens to Tom Hanks’ character in the movie
After the first year of living alone on the island, he almost throws himself off a cliff, but something stops him: perhaps his fear of bungling it, we’re led to guess. But by four years of living alone, he starts talking to his volleyball. It seems to talk back, for he has conversations with it, he keeps himself sane arguing with Wilson the volleyball: ‘Whatever works.’ Wilson is of course a metaphor, a stand-in for God, for that Love, that Presence that keeps him alive because of a relationship that sustains him in his otherwise empty place.
Same thing happens for Lana. When she’s about to throw herself in front of a subway train late at night when the platform is empty, something happens,
or rather Someone happens. It’s not fear that stops her.
It’s the shortest relationship ever. It’s being seen by an old man who joins her on the platform, whose eyes don’t let go of her, they don’t look away; familiar eyes behind wire-rimmed glasses just like her deceased beloved Grandma’s. Lana and the Old Man stare at each other the way animals do, eyes locked, and she doesn’t know why he wouldn’t look away. She says “All I know is that because he didn’t, I am still here.”
We need people to keep us accountable to the possibility of meaning and purpose.
Because I am a sentimental, hopelessly religious person, who, like many folks here tonight, I’m betting, has had a few wild ‘God experiences’ myself, I sense that her Grandma was there for her; God was there in a way Lana could recognize, in Grandma form.
Much later she meets “the first person that has made me understand that they love me not in spite of my difference but because of it. She is the first person to see me as a whole being.”
And later still when Lana meets her mom as herself, her mom says that instead of the fear she expected to have, of grief and loss of her son, she discovers someone she has never known, an unseen part of her grown child that now she could get to know. She felt it was a gift.
But did our dead receive any gifts along their journeys? Did they die before ever being seen and known and loved? I think, I hope they were fulfilled in this way, for they had mourners, loved ones. So I believe that means their murders could not revoke all that. The meaning of their lives remains with us who bear witness to their hope and courage to live out loud, instead of in hiding and silence.
Still, I have this problem. As a religious and spiritual person who tries to be honest with God about my frail trust, I have to admit I am upset. I tell God I am upset when God doesn’t seem to be around for the Gwens and the Brandons and the Angies among us. What was God doing when they were not seen for who they are but were outed, uncovered against their will, violated, and destroyed?
This question touches into my anger and I argue with God about it all the time. I want to know where were those red-beret’d men and women, the ‘Guardian Angles’, (interestingly named), who prowl the nights of our cities looking for evil, looking to see it eye to eye? Aren’t they supposed to show up and use their unarmed witness to disarm and disperse the hate that boils up when people are faced with what they don’t understand?
I want to know…God doesn’t say. Not yet anyway, not on this plane of existence. I am annoyed. But I stay connected anyway, because whatever that Energy is, I have nothing else to turn to. And I need to believe that death and evil are not the finality of us. …there’s that Biblical truth, “the evil are dead while they are alive, but the righteous are alive even after death.”….I’m not sure that’s enough.
But there is a teaching that sustains my hope in mercy and justice, compassion and healing. It is said that at the beginning of our lives, God breathes our souls into us, She exhales her divine Life into us, and at the end, God inhales us, our souls, our essence, back into Godself. We are not lost, not our essence anyway.
I trust that in the very end of each life, when consciousness gives way to essence and our spirit is being taken up, we die accompanied by Love. We return to the Source.
Because I try to have trust, to continue to hang in there with God, I have to wait to see if this is true. I have to wait and be comforted by the Psalm that claims that God made each of us in secret, our true selves hidden until we can see ourselves without fear, until we affirm each other as Divinely made. Psalm 139 says
It was You Who created my inmost self, and put me together in my mother’s womb…I am in awe, I thank You for the wonder of myself, for the wonder of Your works. You know me thru and thru, from having seen my bones take shape when I was being formed in secret, knitted together in my mother’s womb.
I choose to live trusting that God delights in seeing us become who we are.
On Friday nights at our interfaith, inter-political home, we pronounce the Sabbath Blessing over our teenager [when she’s home anymore] and each other. This blessing doesn’t promise protection from harm at the physical level, but promises, and encourages us to believe that we will be fulfilled in our yearning to be seen, known and loved. If I may share a part of this blessing with you all tonight:
May you be blessed in who you are, and in all that you are, and in all you are coming to be;
May God shine Her face upon you, love you into your life,
and grant you peace.
If this prayer feels desirable to you, will you join me in saying ‘Amen.’