Making Space

Post Author: Name Withheld

I'm holding your heart right here

I’m holding your heart right here

I recently had a powerful experience of privilege and lack of privilege. I ended up in a situation where I had full space to be who I was about 4 days out of the week.  And then there were the other three where I constantly had to wonder how safe I would be and how much space I was allowed to take up.

First, let me name my privilege. I am white. I have a graduate degree, a full time job with a flexible schedule and health insurance, a spouse with a great job, and access to therapy. And I am sometimes heterosexual.

I say “sometimes” because my spouse is bi-gender. This means that sometimes my spouse lives life as a man, and sometimes as a woman, but not ever really in between. We are partially out of the closet. There is a group of friends and family who spend time with my spouse and even have their children spend time with my spouse in either presentation[1]. There is a much larger group of people who are not able to make space in their brains for a person who doesn’t fit neatly into a box.

Recently, my spouse and I went on a vacation without our child. Some days on this vacation, we looked like a normal heterosexual couple. Other days, we looked like a lesbian couple. And still other days, when we didn’t feel as safe, we looked like good friends or sisters travelling together.

Living the majority of our lives in the closet is exhausting. The constant evaluation of whether it is a good time to go out with my spouse as a female gets overwhelming. Will we be somewhere where the culture is likely to be mostly accepting, or where people will at least know enough not to say anything? Can we get in and out of our house and our town without any parishioners seeing us? Is it dark enough that if someone comments or sees anything, we can say my spouse’s sister is over?

One of the worst parts for me is keeping our curtains closed most of time. Our lives are constricted. We are not free to be the family God made us to be. There are people in our lives who love our family for who we are.  People who invite us over for playdates where my spouse can come as zer[2] male or female form.  But even with those families, we sometimes struggle with how to talk about things. The reality is that I struggle with it, too. Do I talk about my spouse in the way ze is currently presenting, or how ze was when the story happened? And that’s with the people who do allow space for us. Then there is the constant internal dialogue about who knows what and how much is OK to share with each person.

Living with this constriction hurts us. It causes tension and conflict. The bi-gender-ness is not the issue for us; we respect that as part of the wonderful diversity of God’s creation. But the constriction of the closet, even the partial closet, is suffocating.

That’s why being on our recent trip mattered so much.  The evaluation was completely different. Who cared if a hotel person sometimes saw me going out with a man and sometimes with a woman? We were so far away from home, there was little risk. We had space to breathe.

We also got to do something we had never done before. We went out together to a very trendy restaurant in the city’s Pink District. This is the area of the city where GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, questioning/queer) people are welcome and where bars/clubs/restaurants/entertainment cater to this population.

In this area, we got to hang out (outside our house!) as the married couple we are—and as two females. We could hold hands and kiss and were treated just as well as when we are out as a heterosexual couple.

The next day again, we were on an open-top bus ride as a female couple. There was a heterosexual couple in the seats in front of us who were clearly in love and were very affectionate with one another. They didn’t have to think about how safe it was for them to kiss or hold hands. They didn’t have to worry about what someone might say or do to them. They just had space to be in the world without all the extra stuff that is part of our daily lives. This isn’t a problem with us, but with the world. We kind of held hands on that bus ride, but a little lower, and a little more discreetly. We kissed a little, but not the making-out kind of kisses the laughing couple in front of us could enjoy.

I also noticed on our trip that I was the most nervous whenever I was around people wearing crosses. As a young clergywoman, I think it is pretty awful that the cross could create that much fear in me, that the symbol of the cross—which should stand for freedom and new life and the breadth of creation—stood instead for fear and judgment. That it ended up standing for constriction and lack of space.

Coming home from this trip, I am convinced of a few things. First, that a large part of privilege is having space in the world and not living with the internal dialogue of “is it safe?” all the time. Second, being privileged in some areas and times and not being privileged in other areas and times opens up space for reflection on these differences. Third, the church has a lot of work to do if we are going to make space for Jesus to be the life-giving and space-making figure he is in the Bible. Jesus was an expert at making space for anyone and everyone who wanted it, and I dream that the church can be that one day for all those who live with constricted lives of any kind. I came home from this trip having tasted freedom, hungry for it, and searching for the ways Jesus empowers me to make more space for my family and for all other families who desperately need to know the inclusion of Jesus.

[1] Presentation is the best word to use when describing how someone wants to be received in the world — so we say either male presentation or female presentation.  Since my spouse is both genders all of the time, this makes the most sense to us.

[2] English does not have gender neutral pronouns, but several systems have been invented for this use with the hope that one day English will fully adopt one of the systems.  I prefer ze and zir.  Please see the ”Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog or The Search for a Polite Specific Gender-Neutral Third-Person Singular Pronoun” for a full discussion of this topic. Even our language does not really make space for us.

Image by: Colin Campbell
Used with permission
1 reply
  1. Helen Svoboda-Barber
    Helen Svoboda-Barber says:

    Thank you for this well-written powerful story about your real life. Thank you for helping me to understand something new to me.


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