This week I sat in Bauman Auditorium at George Fox University for the first time in a long time. I’m not sure how to write this without being political. Without being dramatic. Without being poetic and sentimental. Without having feelings come up all over and around me. Without being me. So this is going to be all of those things.
I sat alone in the back of the hundreds of almost-movie-theater-like chairs, feeling out of place, strangely confident in the me-ness that I’m becoming, and also awkward in a place so far from where I am. And I remembered.
I remembered the (what feels like) hundreds of times I’ve been in that room. Chapel and chapel and chapel and more chapel for 4 years. Singing, praying, listening, falling asleep, doing homework, making very slightly snarky comments (my snark back then was very light) to pals beside me. I remember singing with my parents on the first day they dropped me off at school, and sitting next to my grandma during a candlelit Christmas choir performance.
Looking up, above the stage, I smile. I got to be one of the lucky few to work in the costume shop, and walk on the balcony by the giant pipe organs to climb into the wings of the building where treasures of costumes make their home.
I’ve been in this room for recitals, concerts, silly fun nights, film festivals, memorial services. I’ve listened and sang, performed and cried, and sat by so many other people journeying in swarms, collecting during this time at college.
I’ve sat here for North West Yearly Meeting sessions: happy to be around friends and family; working and paying attention; and deeply hurting from poisonous and hateful words. I still feel it in the way my body tenses, and urges me to be alert and vigilant.
George Fox was the place I became a feminist. The place where I took my learned and indoctrinated, cherished and brainwashed faith and let it doubt, question, and wander. This is a place where I changed my mind (many times). Where a group of professors and friends saw me as myself, and called forward parts of me that I didn’t yet know how to embrace.
Fox is a place where I wrote, acted, directed, made movies, laughed, stayed up way too late, compared the parts of a cell to a rock band, went on late night walks with friends and crushes. It’s where I found Quakerism, where I recovered from a ruptured appendix, where I found people who encouraged, pushed, and nurtured me. Where I learned about the beauty of story and found refuge in the theatre.
This week, as I sat in one of those slightly uncomfortable, slightly comfortable chairs, I felt lightheaded, short of breath, and a creeping headache nagging at the back of my head. I’ve been doing this grounding practice of visualizing my roots going deep down into the earth, wherever I am. Recently, my spiritual director suggested that I could notice the folks around me who have a grounded feel to them, and put down my roots near theirs. Not to take from their grounding or get tangled up in their energy, but to simply be alongside them, sharing the space.
I’ve been practicing this and it’s especially helpful when I feel alone and overwhelmed. So as I sat there in Bauman, I looked around the room for who is grounded here. I felt various levels and waves of emotions and connection around me, and as I put my roots down, it felt chaotic and crowded.
I shook my head to clear all that away, and then thought about all the queer and trans people I know and don’t know who’ve sat in this room. The ones I’ve sat next to during harsh words being spoken, my friends, people before me and after me that I’ve never had the pleasure of knowing. I thought about myself, and how 10-years-ago-just-finishing-freshman-year me would never have dared to even suggest, let alone embrace the truth about my own queerness.
Holding these beautiful humans in my heart and remembering their presence in this place, I put my roots down again. I felt a gasp of surprise, and I smiled as tears begged at the corners of my eyes. I could feel the presence of my queer and trans family stretching beneath me with roots and branches and rainbows, with sorrow and resilience and cries for justice yet to be brought to light. I felt a welcoming and a knowing far greater and more open than I could dare hope for. There was grief and pain woven with small glimpses of freedom and love unfettered. Here, underground, under years of silence and hiding and caring and loving, is a web of life and pain so beautiful it hurts to feel.
That such light and life should be buried and ignored, shunned and excused, is a travesty and a tragedy my heart does not know how to bear.
To my queer and trans friends who I know and do not know who have shared and fought (and will share and fight) for space on that ground – you are not alone.