Call Me Caitlyn and Why We All Need to Transition

You may have noticed that I rarely write a post about a news topic while it’s still in the news cycle. The truth is, my laziest self is pretty talented at reflecting back, in more eloquent ways, the thoughts and feelings of those that I see and hear around me. But it’s the deeper, slower work of listening to myself that doesn’t come quite as easily.

Aside: I think that part of the slowness of this kind of work is my personality. By Meyers-Briggs typology, I’m a great big NF smack between an I and a J–for those who don’t know what the letters INFJ mean, just know that it means I am great at feeling all the feels, that I know with my gut way before my head, that I have strong opinions about what I feel and know, and that all this input from other people wears me out. On my best day, I’ll throw myself into oncoming traffic to save a stranger that I love on principle. On my worst day, the world makes me depressed and I want to play all the minor chords at the same time–but I still want my 3-5 besties to be with me and look into my eyes and see my soul while I wallow in being morose.

I find that, while my heart breaks over what I intuitively know to be a deep, complex topic, it takes me a while to feel how and why my heart is breaking, in order to speak into the conversation.

So, I hope you’ll forgive me for dragging up last week’s news, but I have some words to say about our conversation around Caitlyn Jenner.


I have the awkward privilege of the embodied reality of having lived some stretch of my life with the following identities: a white, home-schooled, conservative, Libertarian/Republican, Pentecostal Christian, with Feminist leanings, from the Deep South; a closeted, Emergent Christian, environmentalist, married to a woman, attending Seminary; a divorced, gay/queer, Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian, instructor of theology, student of post-colonial theory, community garden-instigator, visual artist.

And these are just a few of the ways that I could describe some aspects of who I am and have been.

Basically, people are complex. Thank God that we change and grow–becoming dynamically different day by day, and becoming more ourselves in every way.

Our deepest creation myths tell us we are dust–of the earth and of stars–clay into which the breath of God in-spires, giving us life. We are malleable.


Contrary to the notion of human progress, every generation does not stand on the shoulders of the one before it. We inherit advantages and disadvantages, but each human, and each generation has to do its own work to learn to hold in our own bodies the wisdom passed down to us by others. While our genes might turn off and on various markers in our bodies that track the trauma, attachment, health, and heartache of our ancestors, it is up to each of us to, across the span of our own particular lives, learn how to love and be loved.

This is a huge reason why I participate in an organized religion, because it helps me catch the rhythms that teach my body how to trust goodness, to grow in compassion, and to love with wisdom rather than harsh judgement for myself or others.

We are beings who are good and beloved and are also in the process of growing, unfolding, and becoming ever more of who we are. It’s difficult to talk about this without falling into the patterns of classic liberal progressivism–the notion of “getting better.” And yet it’s important to wrestle with.

I know that there are some (most often on the liberal branches of the USAmerican tree) who hold (or are characaturized as holding) a pop-psychology of radical self-acceptance that goes like this: as long as you aren’t harming anyone else, whatever you do is okay. And it’s this over-generalization that terrifies the shit out of others (mostly on the conservative branches of the USAmerican tree) who say, “hold the phone! At what point does autonomous choice trump morality and justice?”

Some examples of this paradigm might be in the areas of self-harm and death with dignity. Should those who self-mutilate be blindly applauded for making their own choices about their bodies, or should those around them seek to reach out and be present with these people who appear to be in some type of pain? Should people with terminal illnesses be prevented from choosing a peaceful death or put through months of prolonged pain in order to preserve the sensibilities of those who are unable to stomach a valuation of life in terms of quality over longevity?

Other areas that are less stark, and perhaps more complex–recreational drug use, working in the manufacture of assault weapons, investing in stock market funds run by exploitative banks, engaging in BDSM sexual activities with consenting partners, driving cars fueled by petroleum, eating fish from depleted oceans, praying for people without their consent, playing three hours of Call of Duty or Candy Crush Saga.

You get the point. We live our lives, for the most part, without ever considering or evaluating our own actions by this metric. Yet, when pressed, all of us have some deep-set personal instinct about what is okay or not, healthy or not, “normal” or not, leading to a better way of life or not. It’s just that we rarely scrutinize our own choices, presuming our choices to be, by default, in keeping with the trajectory of our bias about what is a good way to go about humaning on this planet.


Where am I going with all this? What does this have to do with a celebrity’s transition from a public identity as Bruce to Caitlyn?

Well, the reality is, a personal experience of gender transitioning is far outside most our human experience. So it’s a lot easier to scrutinize than open ourselves to personal growth spawned from empathy.

What’s a lot closer to all of our human experience is the awkward feelings that arise in our own bodies when we feel like we don’t quite fit into a present cultural narrative about how people with our genitals are “supposed” to feel, act, talk, move, love, or be in a given moment. From the kid with a penis who cries after falling down, to the adolescent with a vagina who wants to slam a fist in anger at being dismissed as less-than, we’ve all had some experience where our outsides weren’t allowed to match our insides; where we had to stuff something down in order to be allowed to stay in the room, at the cool table, or on the team.

And while it’s often appropriate to learn to not harm ourselves or others as we feel and express our powerful emotions over this game of fitting-in, the models of what’s culturally considered “healthy” can be deadly when people who experience discrimination, rejection, and mistreatment are taught to bottle up these feelings because it’s either not alright to express their outrage, or worse, there’s a silent pact that society’s made to pretend there is nothing about which to be outraged.


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So, there are some (radical feminists and conservative Christians among them), who would suggest, patronizingly, that “the work” for transgender people is not to change their bodies, but to come to accept and love their gender identity even if it is different from what their bodies say about their gender. This tends to spring, on the feminist side, from radical acceptance of bodies, shunning fat-shaming and social requirements for women to be objects of desire. And on the conservative Christian side, it tends to spring from a certain gender essentialism, which insists upon a direct connection between genitalia and cultural norms associated with gender categories.

I find both of these positions problematic. For instance, It’s rare to see even my anarcho-feminist friends promote the radical acceptance of non-normative eyesight (other than, perhaps, certain discourse circles around disability and blindness). We have a sense of what a functioning eye is typically capable of, and we don’t hesitate to use technologies of lenses and lasers to modify the state of our bodies in order to have what we consider a better way of life.

And it’s just as rare to see conservative Christians take a vocal stance against non-necessary male circumcision of newborns. To believe so much in the essentialist nature of genitals, it’s really difficult to understand how painfully disfiguring the genitals of helpless newborns is not seen as a crime against humanity and God (again, there are some religious folks, like members of Christian Science and the Sikh faith, who would take exceptions to this issue. And of course there are arguments to be made about religions and cultures that practice genital mutilation–among these arguments, I’d chime in that if you want to cut your own junk, go for it, but let the kids decide for themselves.).

It’s rather arrogant to insist that we know what someone else’s personal emotional work is in relationship to their experience of their own life in their own body. It’s also foolhardy to assume that all transgender people 1) can afford, and 2) choose to undergo the difficult process of physically transitioning their bodies to any extent. There are as many experiences of gender identity as there are people (I apologize to those of you who have been looking for some kind of shorthand for this conversation).

Moreover, we live in a society where transgender folks who don’t have the privilege of “passing” as cis-gender regularly get assaulted for trying to use the bathroom appropriate to their gender identity. In this context, it is our society that demands bodily transitioning in order to “pass,” because we are too uncomfortable with the implications of a female with a penis or a male with a vagina–never mind the existence of people with both and neither express types of genitals, and the presence of varying percentages of XX and XY chromosomes in most of our bodies.

If we would like to hold a public conversation about gender identity and body autonomy vs. conformity, may we do so with compassion, curiosity, playfulness, and sorrow. May we listen to others’ stories with an ear for how they invite us to re-examine our own stories. May we turn hearts toward our own bodies and question our own ways of navigating the ways society invites us to shut down our own experiences of dissonance between what we feel and what is expected of us in regards to cultural definitions of gender.


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Yes, there are particular mental health concerns specific to folks who are transgender. However, it’s too easy to think higher rates of suicide and depression have to do with a problem inside these people that needs to be fixed or a problem with their bodies that can be surgeried away.

There is a problem with our society.

There is a problem with parents who reject their children; with churches and communities that turn people away; with medical schools and mental health programs and seminaries that never breathe a word in their curriculum about LGBTIQ realities; with bros so insecure with their own place in the masculine pecking order that they measure their own penises by beating or raping men and women who use restrooms with the wrong stick-figure on the door.

There is a problem. Our experiences in our bodies do not match the idea that we have of ourselves as a society.

We need to be transfigured by a radical honesty that allows for us to feel and grieve and enter the space of growth that is opened up when we bring into the public light of relationships, the ways that we harm one another with labels.

We are, and are becoming, able to love more openly and completely. We do not let go of the notion that there is a better way to be human–it’s just that we’re saying it’s the way of vulnerability, of being awake and alive to our own experiences, and of being humble and curious about our own role in the suffering of others.

We can learn to love. It is an internal identity and it is lived out in our bodies. May we have the courage to lead one another by example into the manifold communion of this great pathway of love.

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Why I Won’t Turn My Profile Red (It’s not why you think)

As the Supreme Court is set to hear another marriage equality case that could change things for the millions of LGBT Americans living in states without same-gender legal marriage, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is summoning supporters to flood social media with profile pictures filtered with a red equal sign. This gesture is meant to show solidarity and support for the moving tide towards equal access and protection under the law–in popular parlance, it’s a way of showing you’re standing “on the right side of history.”

But our-stories are deeply complex. Truth, justice, and equality aren’t realities that get told objectively in the fiction genre we call history. I, along with many others, am deeply indebted to HRC for many of the LGBTIQ legal victories of the last few years. And, HRC doesn’t have the best reputation with all LGBTIQ people. Like many organizations and movements, there’s a tendency to domesticate and whitewash LGBTIQ lives in order to make them palatable enough to the USAmericans with political privilege and control, so that some victories can be won.

The problem with this strategy is that it inevitably ends up saying that LGBTIQ lives and marriages are good, okay, and acceptable, because they are just like “your” heteronormative lives and marriages (this of course turns the conversation into an appeal to the power of straight people, because it is now framed as being addressed to a “you” that is other and in power). But the reality is that all heterosexual marriages are different. And so are marriages between people of the same gender. All our lives are different, and that’s a good thing. “We” don’t deserve the same legal protections under the law because we are just like “you.” If “we” were just like “you,” we would already have the same legal protections under the law.

We (all persons) deserve the same rights and protections under the law, because we are all persons. Amazingly, this is the very argument many political conservatives want to make about the unborn, but not about the incarcerated or immigrants.

So, since we are all persons, I’m simply making my profile picture one of me and my boyfriend, enjoying our lives as people. Because I think that’s the real message that “we” hope “you” will all get.

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I realize, that living in a state that was one of the first (to ban and then later) to legalize same gender marriage, I have a whole lot of privilege that my dear friends and loved ones in other states do not have. I stand is solidarity with them as many of them turn their profiles red, in hopes that their lives will be shown the dignity, respect, and legal rights and privileges they deserve in a nation that is purported to treat persons equally under the law.

And, I stand in solidarity with all persons as a human being–with people who’s bodies and lives have been called illegal under the law, with people who’s skin color, or language, or economic status, or way of being queer doesn’t seem palatable enough to be made the poster children for equality. Homogenization of people to all be like those who hold power is never equality. Equality is when we are all queerly beautiful and can be treated with equity, dignity, and respect by those who are just as queerly beautiful in other ways.

I want equality under the law in USAmerica for all persons, and I want common human protections for all persons regardless of the lines of nation-states. Just as I want economic stability and provision–not just for me and mine, but for all persons–the human ones, not the global corporations built to provide for a few stock holders, while exploiting all the workers in their supply chains.

I’m not turning my profile red, because I believe that every human deserves to be seen and loved for who they are–no filters, no vying for places of power in order to write ourselves onto the “right side of history.” We don’t get there by declaring it so. We get there by living faithfully as persons who respect and love all persons.

Lent Weeks 5 & 6: Kneading and Proofing

So this post is a little late. Last week, back before the parade of palm branches and shouts of “Hosanna!” we marked the 5th Sunday in the season of Lent by exploring the theme of kneading.

The ingredients were gathered: water, wheat, yeast, and time. Brought together by this week’s action-based installment, the congregational participation was to watch and listen.

As it came time for the third reading, we raised partition dividing the parish hall from the kitchen. And there, behind the counter, I leaned into the dough, pressing down through shoulders to palms, developing the gluten and calling the body of the bread to stretch and shape into something different, something new; something not quite yet what it is becoming.

And while I leaned my weight into the bread, calling it into being, I sang over it a song born out of a season of my own waiting, repenting, and being kneaded into something authentically true and yet, more whole.


There was a lot of vulnerability in this installation. Like the movement of the grain, I kept wondering if what I was doing with my body in the space would be enough.

While I grew up singing in churches, I’m aware that the songs I write aren’t exactly the kinds of songs that people listen to or sing. It’s more like musical poetry–I utilize words that a lot of people don’t say very often.

And yet, it felt so important to sing. Our participation in Lent is often really just the process of being kneaded by God–leaned on by a holy weight; stretched; called into being something authentic to our constitutive ingredients, yet substantially new. And I can only imagine that God-in-the-kitchen, kneading us, has to be singing over us as well.

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And now, this sixth week, a week where we bless the palms, enact the passion story, and prepare to move into the narratives of passover, betrayal, death, abandonment, and then finally, the scandal of resurrection.

Here we wait for the flavor to develop and the shaped loaf to slowly fill out into the final incarnation. It is the process of proofing, of responding to the conditions of the world and becoming ready for the process of transformation.


Here is a link to a recording of the song that I sang in week 5. Blessed holy week, friends.

8-Week Class: Understanding Your Creative Process

Daniel-Tidwell-300x200Drawing from a background studying literature, anthropology, art, psychology, and spirituality, my work is to journey with you in order to help you listen to your own creative process, your relational style, and your body; in order to better understand what helps you thrive as an artist.


“Tell me about the shape of your creative practice, and I will tell about the shape of your art.”

This is a bold, audacious claim. It is born out of my own experience as an artist and writer. It’s a belief that has been slowly formed through my work with students as a tutor, a teacher, and a fellow practitioner of writing arts.

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I am thoroughly convinced that the world is in need of storytellers and artists; poets and prophets, who give birth to beauty and art that unsettles, disrupts, and helps us see anew. And I am just as committed to the belief that our capacity to create compelling art is intimately connected to our ability to stay engaged in our own personal process.

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In this class, you will partner with other writers and artists, in a challenging and safe environment, to reflect on, assess, and strengthen your own creative process. You will identify your own strengths and blockages, and will be led through practices to keep you growing as an artist, and to get you un-stuck by working with resistance when it shows up in your work.

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Through nonjudgmental attention to what your practice looks like now, we can work together to build on your strengths and to support your cultivation of a thriving artistic process. By attending to who you are becoming through your practice as an artist, you’ll witness your work itself unfold and flourish from a place of courage and authenticity.

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This is an invitation to risk–risk to see how a process more aligned to nourishing the shape of your authentic self will change the shape of your work.


Daniel Tidwell is a writer, visual artist, teacher, and theologian, living in Seattle, WA. For the past decade he has worked as a writing tutor, peer instructor, and teacher (among other things). Daniel holds a B.A. in English and Theology, a Master of Divinity, and is currently a student in the Doctor of Ministry program at Seattle University where he is concentrating in spiritual direction. His research focuses on practices of self-care and resilience for artists and writers seeking to create social change. 


Registration Information:

  • 8-week, 2-hour “Understanding Your Creative Process” class meets weekly. Next session will meet Sept and OctClass is located in Seattle, WA.
  • This class is recommended for beginners and practicing artists of all levels. Classes will involve writing exercises, body awareness/movement exercises, and written reflections, but is appropriate for writers and artists of any creative discipline.
  • Cost $30/weekly or $220/course. Up to 3 need-based scholarship seats are available each session.
  • Seats are limited to the first 15 students registered.
  • For any questions and to register, email danielctidwell@gmail.com.
  • This course is taught in English. courses are open to persons age 16 and older of any faith, gender, ability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or citizenship status. All learners and instructors are expected to engage with respect for all persons. Written and physical activities will be adapted for the skill level and abilities of those in the class. I am not currently able to offer translation services or guarantee a scent-free environment for those who require those accommodations.

Lent 2015 Week 4: Time

Waiting. Texture. Desert. Time.

IMG_1783How far will we wander in order to go around that part of the story we want to avoid?

What does it take before we follow the contour of turning, to trust our riverbed longing, to receive provision from a source we don’t expect?

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The concepts and techniques for this piece have been growing in me for some time. But my capacity to create it had to be born.
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There’s a learning curve to trust–to reaching out and looking up; raking fingers across the grit of our deep need for provision.

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And I wonder where your own lenten journey has been taking you.

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What are you avoiding so, that it drives you into the desert?

What path is being carved out in you by wind and water and time?

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And what do we make of our journeys together?–journeys cultural and agricultural; journeys of avoiding neighbors, making them enemies; journeys of faithfulness and breaking faith as we seek to find some way to come through alive, shaded by incarnate spectre of rising sea, eroding soils, and toxic concentrations of the byproducts of our own misguided wanderings through the world.

Where will you look, when you go looking for provision?

Who’s body is beside you keeping time, as you trace out the texture of this journey?

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Lent 2015 Week 3: Yeast

During Lent, I am working as the Artist in Residence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle. Each week, I install a participative, kinetic piece of artwork connected to the week’s lectionary texts and the theme “Becoming Whole.”


Each week of this residency has posed its own challenges and joys. This week’s element has proven to be the most challenging one, conceptually, to link to the themes of “becoming whole,” the lectionary readings, and the children’s Godly Play story.

Combining the previous elements of water and wheat, this week we set out a bowl of dough beside an open widow between our worship space and the memorial garden where the ashes of many beloved community members are interred. Our action completed, there is nothing left for us but Sabbath–the fullness and wholeness-making of waiting, breathing, and watching the action of the world unfold.

And quietly–in plain sight for those who know how to slow down and look for it–the hidden mysteries of bodies in motion, transform substances and labor into another kind of wholeness altogether. The reality is that the yeast is present, active, working when we can neither see it, or force it to do its hidden work.

For today’s installation there were three movements or actions of prayer:

First, there were the hidden actions–performed by Rosie and me. While the congregation gathered and began the liturgy in the adjoining worship space. The two of us moved our bodies throughout a curtained-off storage area, hanging textiles and creating a sculpture out of water and paper bulletins from the previous weeks of Lent. Our movements were governed by intentionality–driven by the understanding that the piece of art was not the end result of our manipulation of matter in the space. Instead, the art was that we were moving at all–using our bodies to shape something in the hiddenness of a forgotten non-space.

Below is a time lapsed video of this week’s piece.

Second, the congregation was invited, at the time of the third reading, to enter the storage space. The moving partition (a green accordion curtain) was retracted to reveal the evidence of our bodies’ action in the space. In this movement, the congregation was invited to participate through bearing witness to the presence of our bodies and our work. Once the last person exited the space, the partition was closed and we continued with the service.

Finally, the third movement occurred when I joined the children in the Godly Play room. There, we began with a prayer of three breaths, the youngest child leading us in breathing deeply together, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Next, we quietly (and not so quietly) and slowly (and not so slowly) explored the room. We paid attention to what we saw, heard, smelled, and felt. We walked around on tiptoes and on our knees. We shared what we noticed differently as we slowed down and moved through the space in different ways. Some noticed air moving; others commented on the Christ candle’s flame; we were all aware of each others’ bodies moving in the space. Finally, we ended by again praying the prayer of three breaths.

The purpose of each of these actions is, of course, to experientially reorient us to the liturgy, and to call us to turn, to stop, to wonder, and to look deeper into the mystery of how this Lenten journey orients us toward living in our bodies with God and the world as we become more whole.


The actual sculpture part of this week’s work was a playful engagement with the Old Testament concerns with Sabbath, the Psalm’s imagery of a bridegroom’s pavilion and the hidden work of bees, and the gospel’s question about the permanence and impermanence of the temple structure and the mystery of Jesus’ own body as sacred location transformed by death and resurrection.

To get at these things, I wanted to invoke something of a tabernacle, a sacred place of impermanence. I also wanted the hanging fabric to call back memories of crawling into the temporary spaces created by children–living room tents made of couch cushions and tablecloths; or to recast as sacred, the simple rhythms of daily work, like drying laundry.

In the middle of this, the focal point is a hollow tear drop shape, hung in the open doorway of a closet. The shape is formed out of paper bulletins intercepted from the recycling bin, and soaked in water. These sheets of paper, made both pliable and fragile, are then wrapped around a spiral of wire suspended in the air. Inside this semi-transparent structure, hangs a glass bowl, foaming with active yeast and kept warm by the glow of candle, hung below it, an icon of Mary, orans, bears wit(h)ness to the silent actions of papery shelter, water, yeast, and flame.

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I wanted to glimpse something of the whimsy, fragility, and sensual holiness of the hidden movements–the secret life of the world–working while we Sabbath, to birth a new wholeness, expanding in precious breath and bodies. Creating this piece, I kept finding myself caught by the presence of moisture, heat, fibers, gasses, light & dark, and time. I am called back to my own body–to remember, that the piece of art is not a static end result, it is the prayer of movements and presence, of bodies and witnesses, of breathing together and slowing down to notice what it is hidden in plain sight.

I am devastated, undone, enchanted, and in awe at the fragility of our bodied life in the world–the tender strength of tissues stretched, of love and ligament, of water and breath that holds us together in sacred communion with one another and the earth. These are holy gifts for holy people.

Lent 2015 Week 2: Wheat

This series of posts represent my weekly reflections and creative process as Artist in Residence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle. The liturgical theme for the season is “Becoming Whole.” This week’s installment focused on working with wheat.


Choices. Grind the grain or plant the seed?

Choices. Breed the wheat for better bread or for easier production.

Yield–to the demand for more or wait, for the divergent genius of genetics to produce another measure by which to judge what is most productive. Today’s bread. Tomorrow’s bread. Both necessary for survival. And spectres of scarcity stalk our pauce imagination.


This week, we are tossed into questions of dependency and promise. Do we trust to faithfulness or take matters into our own hands, forcing our way into what we see as best? It is necessary to eat today, and it is necessary to save seed, plant, and harvest for each day’s tomorrow. And in this dance, how should we understand God’s faithful action in covenant relationship with the world? And how do we understand our own faithful action in response to deep complexity of the needs of our communities?


This week’s installation is another interactive piece called “Ground of Being.” It is a piece experienced in two parts. Congregants are invited to make a choice, to respond from their own locatedness and make the choice: grind grain for bread, or plant seeds for wheat. The wheat berries for both, drawn from the same central bowl. All the while, I kneel on the floor and keep the time, moving my hands in and out, through and with the grain. For this week’s e-installment, I recorded a video of myself, doing the same sort of action.


Frankly, the work with the grain is oddly sensuous–inviting a different experience of the passage of time being marked with my body as I interact with the grain in the middle of a group of people moving around me, taking the same seeds and burying it in soil or grinding it into flour. There’s an intimacy to the action, touching these grains longer than I ever would to simply plant, harvest, grind, knead, or chew.

The video is uncomfortably long. The rhythms, changing speeds, emotions, and movements call out for us to linger. What timetable does the body want on this journey of becoming whole?

Typically, I only experience such prolonged connection with these seeds once they are inside of my body. To externalize this intimacy and dependence and bring it into the public worship space was profound for me as the artist. My desire with this work is to press us into the bind and promise of our interactions on both sides of bodily provision. How are we faithful? How is faithfulness extended to us? What is the relationship between our own reception of sustenance and wholeness and the ability to participate in the wholeness-making of future generations?

What surprised me was the vulnerability of slowing down and drawing so much attention to my body’s relationship with food in the middle of community. I wondered if my body’s work in the space would be enough–if it would fill up what was being asked of me as an artist in relationship with this community. Do these sacramental movements provide the kind of sustenance our bodies need–the real presence of Christ–in the shadows of scarcity that we all face in particular ways?


I welcome the responses and engagements of those who engaged the piece in person or via the video.