January 14 – May 31, 2019
Similar to our Vocation of Peacemaking series, The Borders I Cross is a series of reflections from BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz members and friends about their peacemaking journeys. This particular series focuses on the many borders crossed for peacemaking, which include physical borders as well as those such as language, culture, race, religion, nationality, generation, class, and sexual orientation. These essays come from people from all walks of life; those who cross borders as students, in their paid professions, in their volunteer time, in their family lives and/or in retirement. We hope you enjoy this new series from the BPFNA!
I am subbing in an English class at one of the local high schools. A tenth grade boy on the front row is eyeing me suspiciously. Getting eyed suspiciously is nothing new for me, but this guy’s not letting up. His glare is unremitting, almost unblinking. He slouches in his chair as if to get a better view of all 6’2” of me, chews pensively on the eraser of his pencil and stares up as I pace and talk and gesticulate about the importance of verbs. He is definitely skeptical, though I doubt he has heard a word I’ve said about verbs.
At lunch I walk across the crowded campus to the teacher’s lounge to use the bathroom and refill my water bottle. As I approach a table of some ten kids eating outside, I see their heads turn in unison to look at me, then quickly turn away, laughing, smirking, sharing OMG looks with one another.
Lord knows how many Facebook posts I have been the subject of, how many times my photo has been taken surreptitiously, on how many occasions I have been the topic of conversations. Some I know of.
Even if there is some part of me that craves attention, none of this is pleasant. I did not choose this. I did not choose to be born with the body of a boy and the brain of a girl, and if I had, I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to look like…well, me.
And yet, every day since coming out as transgender I get to cross borders. And every day I say yes to a school’s offer to sub, I choose to cross borders.
Showing up is always the first step; it’s a crucial step; sometimes it’s the hardest step. But to cross a border additional steps must be taken.
Take the skeptic in the first row. I make it a point to engage with him; I make eye contact; I move close to him; if possible, I find some way to speak to him, ask him a question that requires a reply. He might not let me cross his border, but I mess with it.
With the group at the table, I intentionally walk close to them. I catch an eye and smile pleasantly, yet, also knowingly. “I’m here,” I say wordlessly, “and I know you see me, and that’s okay.”
I make it a point to cross these borders when I can – gently, respectfully, good naturedly – and sometimes, though not always, the borders disappear and we connect, person to person, human to human.
It has taken me a long time to learn how to do this. It has taken me the better part of my lifetime to be able to do it. And always it costs me something. At the end of the day I am spent; I eat compulsively; I sit on the couch, my beloved little cat in my lap, motionless, shell-shocked and teary, yet also triumphant, even happy. Given the opportunity, I would do it again tomorrow.
Sometimes it works the other way round.
I have just passed the table of gawkers and am fumbling for the key to the classroom when I see a girl approaching. She is lovely, and I wonder again as I have wondered countless times before, What must it be like to walk through the world in a body that is yours, that fits, that you recognize in a mirror, that you want? When our eyes meet, I see the moment of recognition, but this time a huge smile lights her face and falls on me with beatific grace. Everything in her bearing says, “Hey, you’re transgender. Awesome! I’m glad you’re here. Welcome.” And I am suddenly aware that the borders are not all theirs, not all out there, but in here, too, in me. I know because she has crossed them. In a moment of sheer, unmerited grace, she has crossed the borders I have made, the borders that isolate me in a world of shame and longing and fear, and though I will not shed them until later, I am moved to grateful tears.
Meredith Guest is a graduate of Southern Seminary, a former Southern Baptist minister, and an out and visible male-to-female transsexual, proving that God does have a sense of humor – and a wicked one at that. She lives on an acre and a quarter in Northern California, which, with the help of her partner, has become a mini-wildlife sanctuary. When not trying to rescue butterflies or substitute teaching, she writes – lies when she can and the truth when she must. You can find more about Meredith and read her blog at: www.meredithguest.net.