Where are the Queer Quakers: NEYM Day Four

This afternoon I attended the Worship Sharing* group for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) Friends, one of many worship sharing groups held each day of the New England Yearly Meeting of Quakers (NEYM) during our week-long gathering. Unlike the much larger North American gathering call Friends General Conference, which has a full program of LGBTQ activities organized by the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC or as I like to call them the Flibity-Gibitz) this worship sharing is the only LGBTQ-specific programming during the New England gathering.

Among New England Quakers we have LOADS of LGBTQ folks. One of the lead couples in the landmark Marriage Equality lawsuit resulting in marriage for same-gender folks are Quakers from Northampton Meeting and will soon celebrate 20 years living as couple. Pretty much everywhere I turn in every group, commitee, meeting for worship, and dinning room table I see LGBTQ Quakers at this gathering.

I do find it odd at NEYM to enter an LGBTQ-designated space when so much of the gathering is queer. Even the straight Quakers here are queer–so many non-gender normative and exceptionally open people! Wse have little need for our own space because we are fully integrated into the community. Even among the high school Quakers (Young Friends) I find a safe healthy space for people to be honest about their gender identity/expression and their orientation. Straight athletic teen boys have no problems suggesting that for an upcoming Rest & Relaxation high school retreat the program might consider offering spa treatments including facials with cucumber eye masks. No one snickered when it was suggested. The other boys agreed it would be a super idea.  Another asked if they could do bread making again. In their discussions about sexuality, they are frank about their orientation, experimentation and questioning.

At NEYM I find that the LGBTQ people gather together because of our affinity with each other not because of the affliction of oppression leveled against us by the majority population making it necessary to seek refuge. We don’t have to meet in order to survive or to assert a part of ourselves that we must hide in all other spaces. And as a result, we grow, we thrive, we serve and strengthen the community. You will find one or more of us on nearly every committee and working in the youth programs with infants to high schoolers. Some of us have our own children in these programs. We’re part of the furniture and the fabric of this gathered community.

We are becoming old news which is good news–post-LGBTQ–with the queer part of us being just that, a part of us, an important part with a rich and sometimes challenging history, but still only a part of the whole integrated person. You will not find most of us even taking on LGBTQ issues. We are freed up to actively contribute to disccusion and action on issues of torture,  earth care, myriad peace and social justice concerns, Quaker outreach and so much more. Since we don’t have to expend all of our energy living in closeted stealth mode or fighting for our right to belong, we instead use that energy to contribute to the community.

This week at sessions most LGBTQ folks will not atteend the LGBTQ worship sharing. Those who do, like I did today, will most likely experience blessing and fellowship and friendship. And those who don’t enter this designated LGBTQ space will also find the same in multiple places without having to compromise who they are in order to be full members of the community.

*from the LGBTQ Worship Sharing handout.

About Worship Sharing. This is a process to enable deep meaningful sharing to take place in a non-judgmental atmosphere. One person shares, distilling the promptions of the Spirit on a subject (perhaps but not necessarily, related to the themeof Yearly Meeting or an experience at Sessions) into a single statement, speaking from their won experience. Others actively listen. The contribution is received and reflected on in the silence. Everyone gets a turn to speak. There is no immediate response, no debate or discussion but a period ofsilence between contributions.

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This post has 9 Comments

  1. Joann Neuroth on August 4, 2009 at 8:53 am Reply

    Peterson — as for Quakers themselves tending toward queer, I’m wearing a favorite T-shirt that says “Quakers — considered quite queer for 350 years”
    Love you!
    J

    • p2son on August 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm Reply

      Joann, I LOVE it! And I love he one about simplicity and pearls too.

  2. Johanna on August 4, 2009 at 1:24 pm Reply

    This is such good news to hear, Peterson. I don’t think there’s any GLBTQ programming at all at PhlYM, but I think a lot of that has to do with how little of our time together is devoted to anything other than business sessions. We so need to work on that!

    One note though: no state I know of in this Union prohibits same-gender marriage. They prohibit same-sex marriage. Sex and gender are not the same thing, as you know, but in the rush to emphasize the difference between the two, we often over-compensate and use gender when we really mean sex. PA wouldn’t stop at trans-woman and a cis-woman from getting married, since most likely the state still sees the trans-woman’s sex as male, and ignores her female/woman identity. However, they would stop a trans-woman and a cis-man from getting married on the same grounds of basing marriage licenses solely on one’s physical sex as assigned at birth.

    Sorry, I didn’t mean to spend so much of my comment eldering you. This is a great post, and you are a great trans ally (as far as this cis-woman can tell). You also continually remind us that being an ally is a constant learning curve. My learning curve is still pretty steep!

    Hope the rest of Sessions goes well! I’m sending prayers towards Smithfield.

    • p2son on August 4, 2009 at 2:29 pm Reply

      Hey, Johanna, yeah you totally need to get your yearly meeting to do more than business. Surely you all play Wink 😉

      Thanks for your correction on the same-gender marriage and the law comment. Even as I wrote it I felt confused as to how to frame it. A trans male friend of mind has mentioned more than once that he prefers the term “same-gender” as opposed to “same-sex” when referring to male or female partnered couples. But yes, I see what you are saying that technically according to the law, same-sex marriage is prohibited or not provided for.

      Do you know what happens legally when someone transitions male to female or female to male and legally changes their name and gender?

      Oh and what about the gender-queer folks who identify as male AND female or neither? I love how complex the world is and that more and more people are getting to tell their stories.

      I appreciate the correction, and I imagine we will still be working out this language around marriage for some time. Some LGBTQ rights organization don’t like to use the term same-sex marriage or gay marriage at all and prefer to talk about marriage equality, but then not everyone knows what you are talking about unless it gets spelled out.

      • Johanna on August 4, 2009 at 3:09 pm Reply

        Yeah, there’s wink and contra dancing, but I was too tired to contra the last night and it seems only the YFs play wink anymore. What’s worse, we also have business-only sessions at Arch Street in for a weekend in March. So much business! So little fun!

        I know it’s a sticky situation, and there are lots of reasons to use each term, but legally it’s a question of sex, not gender. I think the more we use the term Marriage Equality the more we include everyone, (including two-spirit folks and folks who reject both male and female labels) and point out that queer folks aren’t asking for “special privileges.”

        A friend of mine who transitioned FtM in Indiana is now legally married to his cis-woman wife. I have no idea what the rules are in PA. However, I know some states will not ever, under any circumstances, change the legal sex on one’s birth certificate. God help you if you’re born there and aren’t gender normative!

  3. Robin Mohr on August 4, 2009 at 3:52 pm Reply

    Sorry to ask such a basic question, but I’m not familiar with the term cis-woman. What does cis- stand for? I am clear on what a trans-woman means.

  4. Alice Y on August 5, 2009 at 10:37 am Reply

    Robin – as I understand it cisgender means that the gender you were assigned at birth is a reasonable fit, good enough that you don’t feel you have to transition to the other gender. The opposite of transgender.

    • p2son on August 5, 2009 at 11:50 pm Reply

      Also, the terms operate in much the way that do with cis-trans isomerism.

      In chemistry, cis and trans isomers occur both in organic molecules and in inorganic coordination complexes. These two words are from Latin, in which cis means “on the same side” and trans means “on the other side” or “across”.

  5. Robin Mohr on August 13, 2009 at 2:22 pm Reply

    Ah, chemistry was never my best subject.

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