Sunday, July 26, 2020

Finding the Joy We Can, Opening to New Sources of Joy


Welcome!  I am Michelle Paquette, and my pronouns are She/Her/Hers.


The whole world seems to be afire with tensions and strife.  TV, the Web, and my E-mail box are full of conflicting things demanding my urgent attention.  How can I juggle so many different things and find my own path? How can I find joy in the middle of all this?


Joy.  It’s something I would like to find.  Now, happiness is an emotion that brings bursts of intense pleasure, excitement, and satisfaction, but joyfulness…. Ah!  That’s a stronger, longer-term state that results in feelings of inner peace and contentment.


I’ve experienced many moments of happiness in my life, but relatively few moments of joy.  I spent too much time distracted, the “squirrels” in my mind restless, driving me to constantly worry about what might be, what might have been, all that two-in-the-morning sleepless night stuff.


I really did think that joy was something talked about, but not experienced.  Then I learned better.  I was so busy fretting over things that I missed the moments of joy in life, skipped right over them while I kept asking myself “What next?” as my mind spun in little circles.


Well, I discovered that asking “What next?” over and over quickly reaches the point where the answer is “I just don’t know.” Circling back and repeating this over and over really doesn’t accomplish anything useful! Silly squirrels!


“Whereas happiness can be easily manufactured, joy comes through setting up the right conditions for it to suddenly appear," says Forrest Talley, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in California. "Happiness can be brought about by a good cup of coffee in the morning or a funny movie. Joy, on the other hand, is more difficult to cultivate." 


The cultivation of joy is an ongoing process that takes time.  I had to develop some new habits, new practices, so I wouldn’t miss the joy I encounter on my journey through life.


Joy really isn’t in achieving some distant goal.  Oh, that may bring well-earned happiness, but we soon adjust, make this goal our new normal, and will find ourselves creating some new distant goal to be unhappy over not attaining at once.  This behavior of reaching, adjusting to, and seeking a new goal even has a name, the “hedonic treadmill.”  That doesn’t sound very joyous, does it?


Those goals provide us with a sense of achievement, a feeling of certainty when we can reach them.  But between these goals, we spend far more time on the journey.  


“I got so focused on the difficulty of the climb that I lost sight of being grateful for simply having a mountain to climb.”

 — Oprah Winfrey


I’ve learned some things in my search for joy that I’d like to share.


We can find joy every day, as part of our journey, if we only take a little time to notice it.  When we set up the right conditions, we can notice joy, and we can embrace and extend these bits of inner peace and contentment as they arise.


Mindfulness practice, a way to settle the mind, calm ourselves, and focus on the present, where we are.  The “squirrels” running around in our minds often distract us from the present, overwhelm us, and lead us to miss moments of joy.  Taking a few minutes to calm ourselves, just breathe, and focus on the act of breathing, letting go of the “squirrels” and simply being aware of ourselves, our breath in our body, and nothing more can be very calming.  Consider joining our Friday 10 AM meditation, or our Vespers service Wednesdays at 6:30.


If we don’t mind the triteness of it, a gratitude diary might help.  At the end of each day, we just jot down a few things that we are grateful for, or that brought us joy, perhaps a few places or activities where we felt calm or at peace.  This both encourages us to notice these moments, and can give us ideas of other, similar experiences we might deliberately incorporate in our lives.


It’s a wonderful thing, finding these moments of calm, noticing that which brings us joy and taking a moment to embrace it.  Let’s open ourselves to discovering and embracing a little joy this morning, as we worship together.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Reflections on “Disclosure”, a 2020 film directed and produced by Sam Feder

I recall reading “Myra Breckinridge” when I was barely 16, and being more than a little freaked out by it.  The transsexual woman as insane, murderous rapist is an old and absurd storyline, particularly with the ending that has Myra "recovering" from her insanity to return to life as Myron.  I can now understand why Gore Vidal might chose to use this as the core of his satire.


But at age 16, the thought that this was a satire didn’t remove the thought, the fears really, that if I were somehow able to come out and live as myself, would I somehow risk becoming the insane and dangerous person that Myra became?    The thing about these fictional characters is that if we don’t have a reference, if there is not a real world contrast we experience to point out the absurd bits in the character, that we may accept far more of the character as being ‘real’ than we should.


When I was eventually caught and put into treatment to correct my errant behavior of being an unacceptable human, a young person with an obviously feminine gender identity against assigned sex, this novel played a part in my eventual cooperation with treatment.  I believed what I was told about my existence being a perversion, and I feared becoming another “Myra.” This cost me dearly, and I believe led to considerable harm to others once I thought I was “cured” and tried to live in a male role for decades.  


I’m better now.


I bring this up because the film “Disclosure”, now on Netflix, chronicles Hollywood's profoundly disturbing portrayals of transgender persons and their relationships with others.  These portrayals are interleaved with commentary of the impact of visibility, and the persistent myths and mockery in the way that visibility is portrayed.


In television and film, transgender persons are the sex workers, the murder victims, the patients ironically dying of some disease associated with their assigned sex at birth.  Transgender women are the ones portrayed by a cisgender male actor, inducing vomiting in their dates on disclosure, perhaps before being murdered or beaten, perhaps being publicly humiliated.


“Disclosure” brings all this to the table.  Actors and producers are interviewed, along with behind-the-scenes folks, the writers, the historian, the folks working with real world issues every day, to comment on the tremendous difference between the on-screen portrayals, the real history, and the real experiences of everyday life. 


In this film, we see the connections from the history of media portrayals to the construction of bigotry, centered on the myth of the transgender deceit trope, existence as a ‘trick.’  We see the reactions of physical revulsion to trans bodies that are considered to be comedy.  We also see the grace and dignity, the forbearance displayed by transgender people in the face of the indignities foisted upon them in the media and real life.


Producer Janet Cox does explain that even the most misguided portrayals can provide a starting point for dialogue to improve the understanding of others, and offers hope that the future may not be as ugly as the past.


This is a positive, if difficult film.  I strongly recommend it for those why would like to consider themselves as allies, and a useful tool and reminder for those transgender folks who are out, strong and secure in their identities, and interested in the issues involved.


I would proceed with caution in viewing this film for someone young, or someone not out or perhaps early in coming out, without guidance to help in better understanding the information presented and the unrealistic nature of the various media tropes presented.  I mention this because of my own early experience with these tropes and the poor choices that this influenced.


Monday, June 15, 2020

Commentary on the Alliance Defending Freedom response to the Supreme Court LGBTQ Employment Ruling

As many of us would expect, the Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ rights organization and hate group, had a few things to say after finding itself on the losing side of the Supreme Court ruling on LGBTQ employment rights.


The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the ADF:

Founded by some 30 leaders of the Christian Right, the Alliance Defending Freedom is a legal advocacy and training group that has supported the recriminalization of sexual acts between consenting LGBTQ adults in the U.S. and criminalization abroad; has defended state-sanctioned sterilization of trans people abroad; has contended that LGBTQ people are more likely to engage in pedophilia; and claims that a “homosexual agenda” will destroy Christianity and society. ADF also works to develop “religious liberty” legislation and case law that will allow the denial of goods and services to LGBTQ people on the basis of religion. Since the election of President Trump, ADF has become one of the most influential groups informing the administration’s attack on LGBTQ rights.


https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/alliance-defending-freedom


After Aimee Stephens came out to her employers, the Harris Funeral Homes, and indicated her intention to transition, she was fired, explicitly because she was a transgender person and therefore failed to meet the dress code for male employees her employer demanded she follow.  The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission backed her, and the case was litigated with decisions in Aimee’s favor.  On the opposite side of the case was the Alliance Defending Freedom, representing her employer and funded through it’s very conservative Christian backers.


After losing at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which ruled that not only was this discrimination, but the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did not allow an exemption in the case, the Alliance Defending Freedom decided to take the case to the Supreme Court.


That court decision has now been published:

“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids."

- US Supreme Court, Harris Funeral Homes vs EEOC Majority Opinion, 2020


https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf


There it is.  Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids. There isn’t any wiggle room in this very clear ruling.


Naturally, this upset the Alliance Defending Freedom, and they voiced their outrage and disappointment on their website today.


https://www.adflegal.org/blog/supreme-court-delivers-troubling-decision-against-harris-funeral-homes

“Redefining “sex” to mean “gender identity” creates chaos, with widespread consequences for everyone.

  • It undermines dignity, privacy, and equal opportunities for women.
  • It could compel professionals from all walks of life to refer to colleagues with pronouns and other sex-specific terms according to gender identity rather than biology.
  • It puts employers like Tom in difficult positions—requiring them to treat men who believe themselves to be women as if they are in fact women, even if that results in violating the bodily privacy rights of other employees.

The bottom line is that ignoring biological reality in our laws threatens our freedoms of conscience, religion, and speech.”


OK, they said their piece.  Let’s dismantle these intellectual droppings.


ADF writes: “Redefining “sex” to mean “gender identity” creates chaos, with widespread consequences for everyone.”


The Supreme Court decision did not do this.  Instead, they simply applied a test.  If Aimee had been assigned a female sex at birth, would she have been fired?  No, she was only fired because she had been assigned a male sex at birth.  She was fired for failing to adhere to the dress code of her assigned at birth sex, while she identified as a woman and adhered to the woman’s dress code of her employer.


Her employer fired her.  Sex played a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.


ADF writes: “It undermines dignity, privacy, and equal opportunities for women.”


Rights are not a pie, in which a larger slice for one person means smaller slices for others.  Transgender persons, just as women are, are entitled to human rights, the fundamental rights that belong to every person.  Persons who are cisgender (that is, not transgender), or are transgender deserve to live, even flourish within their communities, with freedom to work, love, learn and play.  Both cisgender and transgender persons should be able to build their lives at home, at work, and in public spaces without fear for their safety and survival.  


Each human life, cisgender or transgender, is and should be the prerogative of the individual, deserving of the law’s equal protection.   It is very unlikely that people with a transgender identity simply choose their identity, unlike a freely chosen religious belief, yet the USA protects this choice of religion.  A property as intrinsic to the individual as their gender identity, whether cisgender or transgender, is something at the core of the individual.  The choices each individual makes about the expression of their gender, as a human being, whether cisgender or transgender, affect fundamental aspects of the individual’s identity at work, in school, and in the community, and are supported by our laws and policies, now at the federal level with this Supreme Court opinion.


ADF writes: “It could compel professionals from all walks of life to refer to colleagues with pronouns and other sex-specific terms according to gender identity rather than biology.”


Yes, it’s true.  Professionals really shouldn’t be assholes towards their colleagues.  That’s just... unprofessional.  Professionals don’t typically refer to colleagues with racial epithets, and professionals don’t typically refer to persons of another sex with sexualized or belittling language, either, if they wish to continue their employment.   Colleagues are supposed to be collegial, right?


Oh, and biology A person’s being transgender rather than cisgender is almost certainly due to biology, nature and not nurture.  It’s not mere chromosomes, but a complex dance of genetics, the uterine environment, chemistry, timing, and fetal brain development.  This biology appears to set the gender identity, and in some cases, about as common as natural redheads, this biology sets a gender identity deep in the brain that does not match the genitals that determine the assigned sex at birth.


ADF writes: “It puts employers like Tom in difficult positions—requiring them to treat men who believe themselves to be women as if they are in fact women, even if that results in violating the bodily privacy rights of other employees.”


These are not men who believe themselves to be women These are women whose bodies were assigned a male sex at birth, but whose gender identity deep in the brain is that of a woman.  These are men whose bodies were assigned a female sex at birth, but whose gender identity deep in the brain is that of a man.  These are non-binary people who decide to live true to their gender identity.


These are people who have made the decision to finally live as their authentic selves, deciding to stop hiding themselves within a false front matching the assigned sex at birth and constructed painfully for the purpose of protecting themselves and pleasing others.  Their gender identity is at the very core of their being.  The choices each individual makes about the expression of their gender, as a human being, whether cisgender or transgender, affect fundamental aspects of the individual’s identity at work, in school, and in the community, and are supported by our laws and policies, as affirmed by this decision of the Supreme Court of the land.


If an employer’s workplace is constructed so as be violating the bodily privacy rights of employees, whether of the same or a different anatomy or sex, that employer may want to reconsider how their workplace is set up.  I know that in the women’s room, no other woman can observe details of my anatomy, as we have doors on each stall.  Mens rooms also include urinals, but there can be dividers installed to afford the men a little more privacy.  There are very nice gender-neutral restroom designs available, should one be planning a significant remodel of the facilities.


ADF writes: “The bottom line is that ignoring biological reality in our laws threatens our freedoms of conscience, religion, and speech.”


The biological reality is that transgender people exist, and are human beings, entitled to the same basic human rights as cisgender persons.  If the existence of these people violates your freedoms of conscience, religion, and speech, I have to ask; what exactly do you expect society to do about this?  


Erasure of an entire population of human beings has been suggested by a few of your supporters, however, I suspect that would be considered a violation of the human rights of that population.


Perhaps, just perhaps, it is time to sit with your conscience, and look deep within yourself to see where these feelings come from.  A deeply held belief system is all well and good, until it conflicts with reality.  Remember that your freedoms end when they curtail the basic human rights of another, just as their rights end where they would curtail your own basic human rights.


Your religion, and your speech are your choices.  You are free to make choices that align with reality and civil behavior.  You are free to make different choices, as long as you do not curtail the basic human rights of others.


These are your choices.  Choose wisely.



Thursday, June 4, 2020

Outreach message for Rainbow Community Center

Recorded for a message from Rainbow Community Center reaching out to our community, to all Queer People of Color feeling the distress and pain in this time.



Each of us has worth and dignity.  Each of us deserves to be treated well, fairly, with our humanity recognized.  Yet, we know this is not the case.  Far too often, those holding authority forget that Black Lives Matter.

We see you.  We see your worth and dignity, your humanity.  We at Rainbow Community Center seek to do what we can, from where we can.  Building power takes many shapes.  Thank you for joining us.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Call to Worship for Memorial Day 2020


Hello, I am Michelle Paquette, and my pronouns are she/her/hers.

In 1975, I stood before others, right hand raised, and swore an oath:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Millions of others have sworn that or very similar oaths, marking the beginning of their military service.  We each have our own reasons for going into military service, whether for patriotism, a drive to be of service to our society, for self-improvement, or simply to learn work skills.  

In taking that oath, we are dedicating ourselves, our lives to something greater than ourselves, the Constitution that bound our country together and serves as a guiding set of principles for our land and those who live here.  We agree to defend these principles against all enemies, foreign and domestic, who might seek to deny or subvert them, and to carry out our duties in this greater task faithfully.

I undertook these tasks, like so many others have.  The work was often hard, but the support we gave one another as a team working for a common cause was remarkable and uplifting.  I have fond memories of that time, including my years as an instructor, and my time on board the USS Parche, a fast attack submarine which at decommissioning was the most highly decorated vessel in US Naval history, with nine Presidential Unit Citations, ten Navy Unit Commendations, and thirteen Navy Expeditionary Medals.



I eventually completed my military obligations and returned to civilian life, older and perhaps wiser.  Not everyone who enters military service has that privilege.  

Tomorrow, the last Monday in May, is Memorial Day, a day set aside for honoring and mourning the military personnel who had died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.  These people took an oath, dedicating their lives to something greater then themselves, and lost their lives in that service.  Whether they died from hostile action, or something as prosaic as a vehicle accident doesn’t really matter.  They never had a chance to complete their obligations and return to civilian life, but lost their life in service to our country.

For some, Memorial Day is a day of picnics, perhaps holiday sales next year, or a Monday off of work.  For others, this is a day of tears and mourning, for friends or family we will never see again.  

We may differ as to whether or not their service was the right choice, or whether the tasks they were assigned were just or worthy.  They swore an oath to carry out their duties, without any mental reservation or evasion, and they died while carrying out those duties.  They each were being faithful to something greater than themselves, and they lost their lives in doing so.

Please keep them in mind today and tomorrow, as we worship together.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Dutch Baby With Apple, For 2

My amazing relatives Alyssa and Chris prepared a “Dutch Baby” for their Sunday brunch recently.  The dish is one that I learned a long time ago from Maria, a lovely Hungarian woman who whipped up the most elegant dishes while hardly ever looking at a recipe.  She did have this one written down, flowing longhand on an ancient yellowed recipe card.

Seeing what Chris and Alyssa had made inspired me to try this dish again.  I drew on what I remembered Maria teaching me, along with the New York Times Cooking recipe, and came up with this.



Ingredients
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar, divided
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 Granny Smith Apple, peeled and sliced into small pieces
  • 1 tsp Confectioners' sugar

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Combine eggs, flour, milk,  half of brown sugar, and nutmeg in the blender, and blend until smooth. Batter may also be whisked together by hand.  The batter should rest 30 minutes to allow flour to hydrate.
  3. Place a heavy 8-inch skillet or baking dish in the oven to heat.
  4. Combine the apple slices, one tablespoon butter, cinnamon, and remaining brown sugar in a pan, over medium heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, until apples are tender and evenly coated.
  5. Remove the skillet or baking dish from the oven, and add the remaining one tablespoon of butter.  As soon as the butter has melted (watch it so it does not burn) add the cooked apples and the batter to the skillet.
  6. Return the skillet to the oven and bake for 20 minutes, until the pancake is puffed and golden. Lower oven temperature to 300 degrees and bake five minutes longer.
  7. Remove pancake from oven, and let it rest for a few minutes.  It should loosen in the pan.  Cut into slices and dust with Confectioners' sugar.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Barriers...


Being trans isn’t easy, and on those days when you feel confident enough to let down your barriers, someone may do or say something to remind you of why you built them so high in the first place.