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Dancing with words

When I was born, the doctors bound me to a word: “girl.”

Perhaps because this word never fit, I became obsessed with words: how to bend words, distort words, create paradoxes that erupted from the space between words — because the space between “boy” and “girl” was where I felt most at home.

As I claimed my own words – words like “nonbinary,” “transgender” and “genderqueer,” which indicate how my gender identity is neither male nor female – I watched others struggle with these often-unfamiliar words. I saw them trip over my pronouns, shielding themselves with grammar to avoid calling me “they.” I sat in churches where the liturgical words were “sisters and brothers.” I would imagine myself in the word “and” while fortifying myself to face the fact that many there had no idea an “and” existed. I had no words to say when yelled at for entering the “women’s restroom” in church — how could I quickly explain that I didn’t belong here but there was no good option for me?

It came out as words, flung into poetry. The frustration, the hurt, the anger — but also the joy, the mystery, the vastness of creation, the magnificence of being made in the image of an infinite God, the shard of ineffability lodged within me. I didn’t think much of it when I began to post poems on Facebook. I posted a poem every day during Lent one year — primarily to keep myself on track with my Lenten discipline. To my surprise, those poems became a turning point. The freedom of word and image gave people permission and space to imagine in ways that workshops did not. People who were not able to grasp what I meant when I tried to explain my experience of gender began to understand. It is no coincidence that Scripture uses poetry liberally. How else can you begin to grasp the queer cores of our faith: a Christ who is both fully human and fully divine, a Trinity who is three-in-one, a God who refuses to be bound by any of our words?

I know very few trans Christians who don’t write poetry. I wish I could list all of the names, but for many the reality of being fully “out” is too dangerous. The liturgy pouring out of enfleshed, the gems scattered around Tumblr and the pieces we share amongst each other on Facebook are the work of those of us who have struggled with words. We have struggled with words given to us by doctors, names given to us by parents, liturgy that has (intentionally or not) left us out. But as we make words dance, we begin to find a place. A place in Scripture in the unnatural vision of the lion and the lamb. A place in worship as siblings in God’s family. A place in creation as those made in the image of an infinite God.

Slats Toole (they/them/theirs), author of “Queering Lent,” is a writer, musician, preacher and activist whose poetry has been published in Call to Worship and Sacramental Life. They are a Deborah Carlton Loftis Ambassador for the Center for Congregational Song, and a coordinator of Presbyterian Association of Musician’s Worship and Music conference at Montreat.

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