Leading and Choosing

People often ask me,

“How did you come up with the idea to write a play about transgender Bible characters?” “Why do you do it?”

Reflecting on my own journey around transgender issues and in getting to know people with transgender histories, I recall that the first time I remember hearing about transgender people was back in 1977. I was in 7th grade watching one of my favorite TV programs at the time, The Jeffersons. Network TV in the 70’s seems so much more progressive and willing to take on controversial issues than we have seen in recent years.

In this particular episode George Jefferson gets a message to meet up with an old Navy buddy only to discover that Eddie, that wakcy guy always full of pranks is now Edie, a beautiful, well-dressed woman (who still likes to prank her buddy George). Hilarity and public education ensue. (See clips here.) The episode has some unnecessary silliness, but over all I walked away with a positive portrayal of a transgender woman who also happened to be Black.

Today in the Radical Quakerism for Rising Generations workshop I co-lead with Kody Hersh, we considered Prophetic Witness and Social Justice among Friends (a fancy way of saying allowing Spirit to get us off our asses in hopes of making the world a better place.) In addition to compiling a list of the many social justice issues for which Quakers are known and even lauded (abolition, anti-war, carbon footpring) we also looked at some Quaker failures (including the introduction of solitary confinement into the prison system, something which the American Friends Service Committee seeks to remedy today.)

In our discussion we considered how bringing about positive change takes time and often proves a messy process. We need to listen, reflect, consider, listen some more, make adjustments and be willing to admit our theories or practices need adjustments or even need to be chucked out altogether.

So much of social justice work and prophetic witness among Friends (and others) arises from having a  leading and a calling, which brings me back to the question above,

“How did you come up with the idea to write a play about transgender Bible characters?” “Why do you do it?”

I am not transgender myself, but I have felt drawn to trans people and deeply moved by their stories as I have gotten to know them first among Friends and then in the broader queer community at conferences and through the Internet.

Among The Religious Society of Friends we oftentalk about having a “leading” to do something. You might be  minding your own business, living life while styaing open, when suddenly you feel a tug, an interest, a growing concern that becomes a passion, a calling and before you know it, you act.  You beome engaged and stay engaged in a work to bring about social justice and change. This work may shape your life and the lives of others for years to come.

Recently I struggled to explain to  young trangender guy and National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce organizer , Trystan Angel Reesse, why I do the play I do. Trystan, who also has experience in the theater listened to me as I attempted define what eluded me. Finally he suggested,

Maybe you didn’t choose to write and perform this play. Maybe the play chose you.

For artists this often happens.  Some idea,  concept, image, character or theme calls to us–chooses us. Perhaps prophetic witness and social justice work happens this way too. The message, the cause, the need calls to us, captures our attention, fills our minds, our hearts, our time until it becomes a part of us and to NOT act seems unatural.

Even so, we can and do get it wrong. I routinely approach transgender people I know and trust to find out from them where they think I get it wrong.

  • Do I misrepresent the issues with my words?
  • Do I overly simplify the transgender experience?
  • Do I leave unsaid something that you feel needs to be stressed?

As I have written before, part of being an ally requires listening twined with a stubborn resiliancy for when we get it wrong. One recent example of this came after I attended two different workshops on Intersex issues. Listening to the experiences of intersex individuals and the complexity of the over 40 intersex conditions,  I have decided to rewrite a line about intersexuality in my play Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,Cs.

In the lunch line the other day, an older Quaker woman asked about the workshop Kody and I are  co-leading. I explained that one of our goals is to help these young Friend in the process of integrating Quakerism into their adult lives. She replied,

Oh, that’s easy, just live a life led by the Spirit.

Hmm, easy, just like that! One can live an adventure of trust and growth and service and love as we listen and learn and allow ourselves to be led to some very unexpected and often rewarding places. (Oh, and sometime we will get it wrong).

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This post has 8 Comments

  1. Sadelle on July 2, 2009 at 11:59 pm Reply

    Peterson, thanks for the good thoughts as always. I’m curious if you would share what line/s you changed from your Queer 101 presentation after learning more about intersex issues.

  2. GreenEyedLilo on July 3, 2009 at 2:55 am Reply

    I too am interested in what changed due to your education about intersex issues. I learned a bit when I was dating Ex-Boy. He wasn’t intersexed himself, but some of his relatives were, and it was very important to him that I learn about it and that I knew why it would be a bad idea to impose surgery on an intersexed baby. We still pretty much hate each other now, but I did learn a lot from our time together, and that was one thing.

    I love reading about your creative process. I know you talk about a leading, but you didn’t have to follow the leading. You could have stuffed it down, or not honored it as you should have. You did answer the question I had really eloquently.

    I love that you honor the people you’re writing and performing about enough to listen to them and to revise when necessary. This is something that I wish could become more common, just the simple ability to admit when one is wrong and try to be right. Maybe part of your leading is to model that.

  3. Sheria in SA on July 3, 2009 at 11:47 am Reply

    “The message, the cause, the need calls to us, captures our attention, fills our minds, our hearts, our time until it becomes a part of us and to NOT act seems unatural”-I love this and it is very true. Reminds me of what Dr Myles Munroe said. He says, “that which upsets us and compels to do something about it is our calling.” I have always been disturbed in a compassionate way about the sight of poor and homeless people; people that live in abject poverty etc and have always felt the need to do something about it, in a BIG way. Yes, I have given them hand outs even when I knew it won’t sustain them for a looong time. I just wanted them to know that someone out there cares. When you are upset, bothered about something and naturally feel the need to do something about it and reach out, it may well be our calling.
    For me, reaching out to the poor is part of my calling; to give them a hand and make a positive change in their lives is part of an even bigger picture…
    Talking about intersex, I can’t wait for Abraham to be a grown up man and hopefully share his story. It must be emotionally and physically challenging to be born intersex…Am looking foward to reading in detail about the “intersex changes” you hope to add to your play.

  4. lower case paul on July 4, 2009 at 11:46 am Reply

    “Just live a life led by the S[s]pirit.”

    The challenge, of course, is that cannot be quantified… enter faith.

    To quote Peterson’s oft used explanation, I seem to be “wired for God.” I cannot figure out why, but I am. As a deconverted fundamentalist Christian, I find myself in no mans land when it comes to identifying just who “God” is. As it turns out, not giving a living God a static identity seems the better way to go.

    But it is this whole process of leading and choosing that persuades me there is something/someone other out there. Things happen, all the time, when I “pray.” I have come to a place of rest as regards being led by God. I figure the most important role I play in the interaction is wanting to be led. When is comes to leading, the onus is on God. The silence, the “listening” the “waiting on God,” are all expressions of wanting to be led… but really, I think it goes more to the heart than any activity or going through ritual motions.

    When I was a fundamentalist, looking to be led by God seemed like a constant game of hide and seek. Now, well honestly I don’t look so much to be led by God as I seem to acknowledge God. That’s when I always seem to find those God moments of connection, where God is actually doing something I can perceive in response to me. I often feel grateful, and find myself saying “thank you” to God knows who.

    • p2son on July 6, 2009 at 2:13 pm Reply

      lower case paul, you so beautifully capture my own experience. I once had all the answers and knew exactly what to say about God and what happened (and often did not happen) in worship services and why. (Many times there was “sin in the camp” driving away God’s Spirit. Remember that?)

      What leads us? Surely something does. I think this is one of the special features of Quakers (among others) is that we believe we can be led, yet we don’t need to have all the answers. Is it the Spirit? Christ within us? A future self communicating back to us things we need to know? Our own intellect and wisdom? I really don’t know. For me I say it is God, and what gives me comfort and helps keep me going to far afield is that I allow myself to be led in community.

      I think about those heady days in Pentecostal Holiness churches where we so prized those moments when a guest preacher, usually a stranger among us, “had a Word of the Lord” for someone–a prophetic utterance. We valued that this person knew NOTHING about the sister or brother the preacher pronounced the Word. Often people clung to these messages as God’s truth for them and in some cases change careers, relationships, the very course of their lives to follow these.

      I prefer the clearness process in Quaker meetings. Yes, it is MUCH slower, but then patience is required for understanding a leading, and it is done in community by people who know you. Sure it is not as SEXY as getting a dramatic word from the Lord, but I believe in most cases, the slower, quieter way among Friends results in sound and seasoned leading.

  5. Stasa Morgan-Appel on July 6, 2009 at 4:02 pm Reply

    “Oh, that’s easy, just lead a life led by the Spirit…”

    I am trying not to laugh my ass off. If only it were that easy!! Thank you. 🙂

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