Preached at Douglas Congregational United Church of Christ by Rev. Andy DeBraber on Nov. 20, 2011:
11On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”
In the end, this is a story about the “region between,” even though there is technically no region between Samaria and Galilee. There is only a border. And it is geographically a strange way to get to Jerusalem. But this “region between” is where we find ethnic tensions and outcasts from both sides. This “region between” is where Jesus tends to hang out. This “region between” points us to what the reign of God, reign of Christ, kingdom of God, queendom of God, kin-dom of God looks like: healing, gratitude, wholeness, and a whole new life.
This “region between” is well known to Tracy. She has been working for the past 17 months as a legal assistant in a large firm. She is liked by her co-workers and appreciated by her employers. Having worked in the Peace Corps in Korea, her resume shows fluent Korean language skills. So when one of the company’s clients opened a business in Seoul, S. Korea, Tracy was asked to serve on special assignment for two to three months as translator and legal advisor while the business was being set up.
She gladly agreed, until she remembered her passport, which shows her and identifies her as a man. How would she get into the country as a man and still be a woman with her coworkers and client? Hear her words:
“Here I am with a South Korean visa in one hand and a plane ticket in the other. I'm really puzzled as to how I'm going to get through customs/immigration, but I have a plan. I had to submit a photograph of me along with my visa application, and did myself up as a man quite well. The photos matched close enough, and I only had to practice my male signature a few times to get it right.
However, a photograph passing, and a living breathing (and potentially nervous) person passing are two TOTALLY different things. I've been practicing in preparation for the big day, and have a few tips on "reverse passing" as I'll call it.
First, anatomically there is the problem of the "units" attached to my chest (she had breast augmentation surgery and wears a 34C). That shouldn't be too much of a problem. I’ll just buy a very tight joggin bra and wear a really loose sweatshirt on the plane (corporate types don't care what you wear on a 14 hour flight).
Second, hair can be pulled into a tail and worn in a hat. Shouldn't be too much of a problem, besides, many men have ponytails these days. The biggest problem there would be the cut and style difference from the passport to the "actual head". Again, easily explained.
Third is the removal of all makeup and traces of ANYTHING. One thing I have been doing is wearing only one earring when "reverse passing", and then it is a simple gold hoop. If I let my whiskers grow for about 3 days, I look like an adolescent teenager with a light beard. With the singular earring the effect is pretty good.
In order to be ready for this experiment, Tracy decided to practice by purchasing wine and beer in the local supermarket as a man so that she would get carded and have to show her driver’s license, which pictures her as a man:
The first time I went to buy coolers as a man since living as a woman, I accidentally took my purse in. WHOOPS!!!! I didn't realize what I had done until I had gotten to the checkstand and had to actually take out my license. I had it in a Dooney-Burke billfold (very feminine looking) in my matching purse. I was so nervous I'd be "read backwards" (this does get a bit confusing) that I dropped my license on the floor. As I bent down to pick it up, I thought I saw the check-out boy look down my shirt and see my breasts. I could have died! I tried to regroup and just handed it to him with a $20. That's when I looked down and saw my well manicured nails. Luckily I only wear clear enamel, but no man I know of has nails this pretty! The checker gave me a quizzical look, but I rationalized that off as being an old ID. He didn't say anything, but I was so paranoid I was sure that he knew.
I hurriedly took my change and ID and stuffed them in my purse. I took the coolers, and BRISKLY walked out to my car. All the way out the door and to my car, I imagined a hand grabbing me on my shoulder and asking me to come back into the store for a "little chat." I got to my car and threw myself inside. My head was spinning, my heart was pounding, and I was nearly out of breath! I just sat in my car laughing/crying at myself for being so stupid! I am usually so methodical and plan things out, but I just got lazy and didn't think before actually going to the store.
The hand grabbing me on the shoulder, the “little chat”: these are constant concerns to those of us who are transgender, for whom there is no correct restroom to us and no way to simple check the boxes that ask “female or male.”
That’s not the end of Tracy’s story. She plans to have transitional surgery when she’s saved up the money. Being transgendered in any way, shape, or form - and there are many - means living in the “region between.”
Technically, the definition of transgender includes:
- people whose identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender roles, but combines or moves between these.
- People who were assigned a sex, usually at birth and based on their genitals, but who feel that this is a false or incomplete description of themselves.
- Non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the sex (and assumed gender) one was assigned at birth.
The other nine lepers, presuming they were Jewish, could upon being inspected and washed by the priest go back to some former life, family, and community they knew. The Samaritan leper who was healed and returned with gratitude to Jesus and praise for God could not return to this same community. A Samaritan in Israel was a foreigner and an outcast, even without the leprosy. It is this one who found in Jesus not a way back to an old life, but a whole new life of welcoming the stranger and the outcast. This one was made well, made whole.
So, too, Tracy cannot go back to her old life. She is overjoyed - even with its many complications - to be finally living the life her heart and soul have known she was meant to live all along. She gives thanks daily in English and Korean. She is one of the strong and courageous ones to fight against a world whose circumstances are set up against her. Even as we remember and learn from her story, we remember on this Transgender Day of Remembrance the stories of so many transgender sisters and brothers who have been killed because they dared to live in the “region between” by people who did not perceive the incredible gift they are to humanity, by people who choice violence as a response to fear and difference rather than compassion, curiosity, and understanding.
Tracy makes it through each day by practicing a gratitude born out of trial. She could so easily choose to see the world through eyes of hostility. Yet she chooses instead to go to bed each night and wake up each morning by listing three things for which she’s grateful. A 2003 study by Robert Emmons & Michael McCullough shows the immense benefits of keeping a gratitude log and seeing the world with thanksgiving. Those who listed five things a day they were grateful for were compared to those who wrote down five complaints or hassles and those who wrote down five events that happened during the day. The gratitude listers exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole, and were more optimistic about the upcoming week; they were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) and had higher levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, attentiveness and energy, and slept better. In fact, MJ Ryan, author of Attitudes of Gratitude, estimates that the effects of practicing gratitude add 6.9 years to life, greater than the effects of stopping smoking or exercising.
Neurobiologically, gratitude is felt in the same frontal regions of the brain that are activated by awe, wonder and transcendence. From these cortical and limbic structures come dopamine and serotonin, the chemicals for feeling good inside. Specifically, when we think positive thoughts such as gratitude, kindness, and optimism, we activate our left pre-frontal cortex and flood our bodies with the feel-good hormones, which give us an upswing in mood in the short term and strengthen our immune system in the long run.
So let’s give ourselves and others the gifts of gratitude. Let’s extend Thanksgiving for at least a month. Let’s be not only healed, but made well, made whole. Make a game of it if you need to: what can I find to be thankful about even in this most trying of situations? what can I find to be thankful about in this difficult relative of mine? How can I dwell in the “region between,” full of new life and positive transformation? May this practice bring us more in tune with the Divine and the reign of the Spirit in the world.