Yesterday at church, I spent some time at coffee hour talking with Mattilda, a transwoman, something that caused at least one straight person I know of to say to her earnestly, “I think you’re one of the bravest people I know!” Brave or not, when I saw Mattilda a week ago (also at coffee hour), she told me she was sinking.

Ack, sinking! When a person tells you she’s sinking at coffee hour, I think you could definitely say that she’s reaching out to you, since at coffee hour, usually, people just have a sip and an inconsequential natter and/or a quick networking convo and then go their merry way. One reason Mattilda may have been reaching out to me is that I’m kind of the Gay Church Lady, in that I’m openly and as aggressively as possible organizing the LGBTQA* folks so that there is even more support, visibility and understanding than there already is. Also I am usually pretty friendly, and I have to say that my instinct when she told me she was sinking was to ask what I could do. Except that I didn’t. I listened, but I excused myself pretty quickly and rushed off. Why? Partly because I felt put on the spot and wasn’t sure what to say. Mostly because I’m a householder.

I got that lovely term from a book I’m reading, Rebel Buddha: A Guide to a Revolution of Mind by Dzogchen Ponlop , and by it he means someone who isn’t able to give up all worldly pursuits and retire to a monastery, someone who has family responsibilities involving spouse, children, job. All of whom and which I was rushing off to that day. And when I found Mattilda yesterday at coffee hour, after spying her across the sanctuary crying during the service, I still had all of whom and which, two of them hulking beside me and grumping at me to “let’s go, Mom, let’s go!”, and I once again had to go against my instinct, which was urging me to figure out what Mattilda needs and just do it, even if it entailed setting aside my own concerns and plans.

I can’t, though. I can’t drop out of my own responsibilities when Seth is flunking math and I have to help keep his nose to the grindstone, when Owen is about to turn 13 and there are all kinds of family obligations for that very important birthday (like preparing for our ersatz/pagan Bar Mitzvah-kind of celebration), I always have to manage and deal with Janis**, my spouse is in grad school so I am the parent-on-the ground, not to mention main cook and cleaning person, and that’s just on the family side. Just a few of the things on the family side.

At any rate, I again listened, and I again skived off. And felt terrible about it in the car going home! I told my family that I wished I could have invited her over, if things were different, I would have invited her over, but, but, but! It’s our every-other-year Easter together, I hadn’t even started cooking, Seth had a lot of homework, both Tex and I were already completely exhausted  etc., etc., etc.!

In the movie “Chicken Run”, the radical Ginger, urging the gals to revolt, declares, “We either die free chickens or we die trying!” and one of the other chickens, Babs asks, quite sensibly, “Are those the only choices?” (A tip o’ the cursor to Jack Halberstam for writing about this scene in her book The Queer Art of Failure.)

It turns out there are other choices for me in the situation with Mattilda, as well. After I had calmed down a little bit, started cooking, boys batting about, Tex making a fire in the living room, I realized that I actually am doing something to help Mattilda, even if I can’t welcome her into my home just at the moment. I’m organizing at church, as I mentioned, and hopefully queer folks will soon have more opportunity to connect there socially – potlucks and the like. Also just ramping up the queer presence through our new chapter of Interweave is changing the atmosphere (Interweave is kind of a UU Gay/Straight Alliance). The more Mattilda feels at home at church, the more likely she is to seek help from other folks, like the minister and lay ministry, who actually can extend more practical help like rides or meals or whatever it is she might need.

I still feel squidgy about the way I handled my two coffee hour scenes with Mattilda – like I failed in a human duty — but it would do neither her nor me and my family any good if I rashly promised her something I couldn’t deliver or couldn’t sustain. As a householder, I have to consider my householder responsibilities first, but that doesn’t mean that I completely cut myself off from others in need. Now that I have that all a little straighter in my head, I hope that I’ll be able to listen and respond a bit more from my heart next time I see Mattilda, rather than feeling so conflicted and squirrely. It’s definitely a tricky balance, though, emotionally and otherwise.

Mattilda, I’m thinking about you, and sending you love.

Seth, you little rat, sit down and finish your math homework! I have to make dinner now.

*Lesbain, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer and Allies

**my ex and the boys’ other mom with whom I share custody; she gets a different nom d’ex in every post

Published in: on April 9, 2012 at 12:37 PM  Leave a Comment  
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