Sunday, July 26, 2015

Cute Clothes, Comfort Zones and Jesus

               I’ve been asked to serve as a fashion consultant this week and I am excited.  I was approached by someone at my church to assist in something called a ‘Glam Closet’ and you know I was intrigued.  It is for the Trans Pride celebration in Orange County.  I’m as surprised as you are as this is something far, far outside my comfort zone.  But I am reminded those who don’t leave their comfort zones, never grow and I am all about growth, y’all.

                I never knew a transgendered person before I moved to Long Beach back in February.  I have long held a particular grudge against this part of the LGBT continuum as I blamed them for making society think all gays are weird.  Drag Queens and those people who dress in leather were bad enough but those were costumes, not day-to-day reality.  I’m just trying to be honest.

I have never been outwardly rude to anyone and I have mentioned this opinion to very few, but deep in my heart of hearts I was not supportive and didn’t want to talk about it.  Transgendered people, I simply did not get as I have never had any issues with my gender identity. But it isn’t my job to get it.

I wanted society to let me be me even if they didn’t understand it but hypocritically I never offered this same understanding to the transgendered community.  Prior to meeting the young man at church, my only information about this population was via Chaz Bono and I pitied him as I assumed the root of his identity crisis was mainly Cher was his mother.  I adore her as an entertainer; I don’t know if I would want her as a parent. 

I never gave my prejudices much thought, mostly because it wasn’t required.  My line of thinking was I don’t know any trans people, so who cares what I think about them.

My church family is studying a book series called “The Good and Beautiful God”.  The subtitle of the series is “Putting on the Character of Christ”.  I have been doing a lot of soul-searching and praying and trying to get myself more in line with the way God really is, not necessarily the way I was taught when I was growing up in the church.  And I’m not picking on Southern Baptists; many denominations give us false narratives about who God is and what He cares about and how He feels about certain populations in our society.  Baptists are just my frame of reference as I attended Southern Baptist churches from birth until 2009, including while I lived in Alaska, Ohio and Massachusetts.  There’s Southern Baptists all up and through this nation, people.

The transgendered man at my church is a happy person, smiling, laughing and just a joy to be around.  Full disclosure, I wasn’t truly aware he hadn’t always been a man when I first met him.  I never really engaged with him and his wife but I also didn’t avoid them either.  We’ve chatted outside church but never really had an actual in-depth conversation.  Several weeks ago he asked me if I could help a friend of his who had just come out of the closet and was in need of a makeover.  Makeover?!   Yes, please!  I am all about helping someone look their best.

One of my spiritual gifts is encouragement.  I love to build someone up to ensure they feel a part of a group of which I am a member.  Knowing what it’s like to always be the new person and what it’s like to feel ostracized, I always make sure I speak to those to whom no one else speaks.  And while I have very specific, vocalized opinions about fashion, I would never tell someone their outfit was unacceptable.  If I am asked for my input I am honest but I try to temper it with kindness.  I’m not a mean person.  But if someone is soliciting my opinion, well you know how much I love to share, right?

I have been paring down my wardrobe of late, shedding items I don’t wear and was looking for some place to donate them as I want to spread the wealth and Goodwill and Salvation Army have already benefitted from my significant downsizing. 

Just last week, I was trying to figure out a way to put a face to a population as this is how I have learned to let go of my prejudices.  I'm glad he approached me because when he told me the activities were part of the Trans Pride Event on July 30 in Orange County, I had to smile.  What a happy coincidence, you might say.  Coincidence is when God doesn't take credit for maneuvering us to right where we need to be.  I told him I would be honored to help men and women learn how to develop their style and properly dress for their chosen gender and body shape and also learn their colors.  My church is also sponsoring an outreach booth at the event.  I am proud of the way we are showing God’s love in Southern California.

One thing I have learned through my spiritual journey is my opinion about a topic should have no effect on my goal of being kind to one of God’s children.  I don’t have to understand the transgendered community to show them God's love.   I don’t have the right to tell them what to feel or whom to love.  Those things are between them and God; they’re not my business.

What is my business, you ask?  To quote Jesus, the first and greatest commandments are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself.  Period.  There aren’t addendums, codicils, postscripts or caveats, y’all.  It is an imperative sentence.  It is a command.

Everybody needs to know God loves them and everybody needs a cute outfit. 

And that’s all I’m saying for now.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Persnickety State of Jones

                In response to what they considered inept and indifferent leadership among the Confederate officers at the Battle of Vicksburg and afterwards, a group of men from Jones County led by Newton Knight left the Confederate Army and subsequently seceded from the Confederacy.  They renamed their county the State of Jones and refused to further participate in a war they did not support and into which they had been involuntarily drafted.

                When I came across this bit of information, I was intrigued.  There are those who feel the Civil War was an act of treason by the South.  There are those in the South who believe the war was about States’ Rights, not slavery.  I will not bore you with my opinion; however, I wonder what I would’ve done had I been alive then.

                My maternal grandfather’s family was from Mississippi, moving to Louisiana only after losing most of their fortune during the Depression as they had prosperous cotton farmers.  According to family lore theirs had been among the wealthiest families in the state.  If true, this would have had a major impact on my opinions and stances about the war.

                As in many wars before, wealthier men could pay someone to serve for them, unless they were trying to establish credentials for political reasons.  Those who agreed to serve were automatically given officer rank and were therefore not in the most immediate danger as they were not necessarily among those on the front line.  There were officers who fought bravely beside their men, but it wasn’t necessarily a requirement.

                I have never been a coward, but I do find it difficult to feign energetic support for a fight I didn’t start or truly believe in.   I don’t know what my feelings about the war would have been if I were living in Mississippi in 1864; however, knowing me, I imagine they would have been very different from those of my family and neighbors.  “Just your average Joe” has never been a descriptor for your humble narrator.  However, if family money were involved, I may have kept my opinions to myself.  One of the few advantages of a lack of any facsimile of an inheritance is the absence of anxiety attached to being disinherited due to disagreements over matters political, spiritual, food/animal-related or otherwise.

                I have made my life’s stance to only fight when I feel passionately about something and/or I feel I have a chance of winning.  This has caused me to engage in fisticuffs only on three occasions in my 44 years on Earth; once in junior high, once in high school and once in 1996, the year of my delayed rebellion.  Well fisticuffs aren’t the best descriptor.  What do you call pushing and/or throwing someone really, really hard?  Throwing something out a window is called defenestration, but there were no windows so I am unsure of the proper verbiage. 
               I assure you I did not pick these fights.  I don't want to fight...I want to sing!  Not really, but my bark is much worse than my bite.  Like most people I see at The Wal-Mart, my bite has few, if any, teeth.  And to be honest, I don’t have much of a bark these days, unless you drive too slow or treat service people poorly in my presence.

I have learned how to feign enthusiasm for something about which I am not jazzed, but it is difficult.  And for this reason alone, I feel as if I might have joined those frisky Jones Countians in their stance.  This attitude of independence still lingers amongst the denizens of the geographic area just north of Hattiesburg. 

Case in point, when the junior colleges in Mississippi decided to change their names to community colleges in 1988, Jones County refused.  They were known as JCJC (Jones County Junior College) and did not want to alter the flow of their acronym.  And to this day they remain JCJC.  I guess the spirit of old Newt still lingers in the Piney Woods. 

And that’s all I’m saying for now.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Repercussions of Vocabulary

                The first time I remember purposefully making a statement solely to gauge the reaction was in 1979 or so.  My family and I were traversing the Louisiana highways somewhere in the vicinity of Ferriday, home of those musical cousins Mickey Gilley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart.  We may or may not have been lost.  As my mother’s brain was the precursor to Siri, I feel fairly certain she knew exactly where we were.  I however, did not and felt the timing was right to use a new phrase I had recently learned.  “God’s Green Earth”.  I don’t remember from whom I heard it or the context of why it was uttered, but I had a need to use it, y’all. 

                Testing the waters, I cried out in a plaintive voice, “Where on God’s Green Earth are we?”  Rest assured my mother was less than impressed with my question.  My sister looked at me with a mixture of condescension and pity.  Truthfully, she looked at most everyone in this manner, so her reaction was not a part of the equation.  My mother’s reaction was one with which I was familiar.  And it wasn’t good.  I swear I thought ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’ was something altogether different.

                The look she gave triggered a memory which caused me to involuntarily shudder.  As a child I wasn’t particularly ill-behaved.  I do, however, remember making several serious errors in judgment.  The one that always pops to mind was when I was a lad in 1977 and was enjoying the summer twixt first and second grade.  My sister and I have shared a reliable relationship since childhood.  I loved her always; she did not particularly care for me until she became a mother. 

                We were living in the last of our three houses (Front Street) our gypsy family rented in Winnfield, Louisiana.  I remember being psychologically injured in a grievous way; she may have insulted my Lego house or merely told me I was stupid.  My typical response was to tell my Mother.  For some unknown reason I took leave of my senses and decided to handle this situation myself.  Having no physical advantage, I used the only tool in my arsenal, my vocabulary.  I felt I was superior to her in this respect, as I was a member of the Gifted and Talented class, people.  It’s true.

                Her reaction to my response immediately offered proof I had chosen poorly.  I won’t repeat what I said but it stopped my sister dead in her tracks.  She immediately recovered, smiled maliciously and said, “oooh, you’re gonna get it!”  Unfortunately the voice that allowed me to lead cheers in college without a megaphone caused the words to reverberate down the hall to the kitchen where my mother was cooking and singing.  She stopped suddenly and asked in a tone signifying doom, “Dustin Terryll Thompson, what did you just say?”  My first response was “My name is Dustin?” 

                You see I had never seen my name written down and had been called Dusty for all seven of my years on the planet.  I never knew my actual name was Dustin.  I relished the new-found knowledge.  Additional knowledge gained that day was what Lava Soap (with pumice) tastes like as Mother decided on a creative punishment for a creative turn of phrase.

                Lava Soap was what my father used to get the hard to remove grease and dirt off his hands after work.  Never have my teeth felt so shiny and gritty and free from all verbiage which is considered vulgar and unacceptable by one Catherine Waynette Thornton Thompson.  I guess it made sense.  The colorful phrase was one The Dad had used on a number of occasions.  Needless to say the words I uttered never crossed my lips again, even when stuck in traffic in DC or Los Angeles.  Synonyms for some of those words, maybe, but definitely not those particular words.

                And that’s all I’m saying for now.