Second Class Citizen

“You are not a second class citizen.”

As I read the words from Kim, my professor turned mentor and friend, hot tears filled my eyes.

I was in graduate school, and I had sent Kim an e-mail telling her about an incident that had just happened to me.

It was a nice day, and I was walking down Parker Street, one of the main roads on campus, and I was enjoying a nice breeze and sunshine as I walked across the crosswalk to the Counseling Center where I was completing my internship for my counseling program. A car was going by, so I paused in the middle, next to some flowers in the median. A back window rolled down, and out of it, a young man yelled a word at me. Just one word.

“DYKE.”

Then, the car sped off.

Shaken, I hurried back to the counseling center, shut my office door and cried. I e-mailed Mike, who was my pastor, the lead administrator over the chapel I led worship for, and who had been a go-to in my role in student leadership. He told me not to report it, because nothing would happen. It was just one of many non-empathic responses.

Kim knew I was gay. She had walked through the valley of self-loathing with me when I first came out to her. She urged me to view myself with value. So, it was only natural that she was one of my people I could trust and talk to about this terrifying moment.

During my last semester of my internship, I brought up this instance again during a Counseling Center staff meeting. Through my tears, I was expressing my anger and sadness about how a psychologist that believes in changing a person’s sexuality was brought to speak on campus, in chapel – the one I led worship at. I didn’t tell them how many of my own therapy sessions I spent preparing for it or how my set list that day focused on God’s unconditional love because it was my one way to be vocal. But, I did tell them how hurt I was. How much I longed for social justice to be an issue, because LGBTQ people were experiencing a lot of pain, by the world, and by members of our campus community, and I told them what happened. Members of the staff cried with me, reassured me with a hand on my shoulder, and embraced me as one of their own.

I haven’t thought about this whole instance or the feelings I had around it in a while. But last night, I didn’t sleep much, and at 2 AM, it played over and over.

It’s no coincidence.

I’ve spent more nights crying in the middle of the night than not lately.

Because I feel like a second class citizen.

We live near the border of another state, my home state. We are expecting again, and planned to use the same hospital and midwife as before. I’m halfway through this pregnancy. But now we have to embark on finding a new midwife and new hospital – all because of a new law that, after talking with our lawyer, has the potential to cause us a litigation nightmare just to secure our names on our child’s birth certificate.

“So, just have the baby in your own state.”

“Just use the local hospital.”

“It’s not that big of a deal.”

Maybe it sounds over the top to say I’ve cried about this so much. Maybe it sounds like pregnancy hormones. That’s the excuse I used when I could barely speak through my crying when I called my midwife’s office last week.

But it’s so much more than that.

It’s the fact that me, my wife, and our children aren’t treated like other families. It’s the fact that even though we thankfully have marriage equality, we are still not seen as equals. It’s the fact that so many people want to make sure they assert to us and others like us, that we are, indeed, second class citizens.

UpWorthy posted a nifty video about religious freedom bills. It makes some really solid points from a philosophy professor. But, after I watched it yesterday, I thought of our own experiences.

Like when we went to a local jeweler for our wedding rings, and they “mistakenly” never ordered them. Or how after we did order from another online company, a different jeweler botched our rings  when they engraved them, and the woman who was working the store when we came to pick them up told us “it’s not a big deal.”

I also thought about how we have had to call places ahead of time – “We are gay. Is that going to be an issue?”

Can you imagine?

Calling the place you want to stay for your honeymoon just to make sure that you won’t get kicked out when you get there? Or calling a pediatrician’s office to see if they will still see your child? Or telling your financial advisor – so you can make sure that you are treated fairly? Or making sure the hospital you go to is progressive so that no one will try to keep your spouse from you?

I’ve thought about the many times I was treated differently after people found out – like the entire group that refused to go to my baby shower, the faculty member that stumbled all over himself and has since ignored me after I said the words “my wife,” and the many former friends and family I have lost or had significant wounds from.

No wonder I have suffered from depression and anxiety for much of my life. No wonder the slumps and feelings of panic still return from time to time.

In the quiet of the middle of the night, I felt hot tears hit my face. A tiny hand kept reaching over to touch my hair and to put her arm around me. She had woken up very upset, and now was trying to go back to sleep in the security only her moms can give. I thought about how much she deserves to have her emotional needs tuned into. How much she deserves to be loved fully. How much she deserves to be treated with fairness, dignity, and respect. Which was quite the feat when you have toddler feet jabbing into your back and pregnant belly.

Surely, God looks on us and thinks the same.

Grief is such a difficult and long process. And it’s just one part of our process for justice – which is also long and difficult. I’m still figuring out the pieces and where I am.

I’m still figuring out where my citizenship belongs. But my hunch is, it’s inside of love. And real love has no second class citizens.

– C.

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Like a Tree Planted by the Water

To say my heart has been broken these past few days would be an understatement, and yet, I know that this feeling is nothing compared to the crushing blow of the families who have lost their loved ones, the fears of so many who wonder if they will be next, and the weight of living in this day after day after day.

When I came out to my good friend and mentor, Kim, she responded to me by recognizing her privilege – that while she had asked many of the same questions I was wrestling with regarding faith and sexuality- she recognized that I lived in them with “every thought, every prayer, every breath.” I don’t pretend to know anyone else’s pain. I don’t pretend that I know what it means to be black in America. This is not my story or my life.

And yet, I am moved. My soul feels heavy. I feel this urgency and need to act deep within me. The urge to use my voice in every way I can.

I am tired of arguing. I am tired of repeating over and over why “black lives matter” is not discounting other lives. I am tired of trying to convince others that racism is still rampant and thriving – when really I am just trying to at least get an acknowledgment from others that it is real.

Instead of repeating these lines of thought which so many others have eloquently done, I simply want to share some stories – my stories. Stories which are meaningful to me. And then, I will share my take aways, my hopes, and my own mandate. Then, I’ll invite you to join me.

Light a candle. This is sacred space. 

When I was growing up in the very rural and very white area of Falling Water, TN, I wasn’t around black people much at all. Like many churches, ours was absent of any color other than white. My school looked very similar. Occasionally, I saw people of other races when I was out and about with my family. Some of my extended family used “the n word.” My momma taught me that that word was wrong. From an early age, I started arguing with my family members who said things I thought were wrong. Even though I didn’t fully understand.

When I was 12, I went to a drama camp over the summer. I had a very hard time making friends. Until a black girl named Tiffany sat next to me while we ate our sack lunches, and she started talking with me and we became fast friends. I hung out with her and the other black kids the rest of that camp. We laughed, we had fun, and she introduced me to eating dill pickles with fun dip – a habit that lasted until high school.

When I went to Middle School, things changed. For the first time, I was in a school and riding a school bus with black kids. For the first few weeks of catching the bus to go home, I had to stand up, because the bus was very crowded, and for my chubbiness, my buck teeth and every other flaw, I wasn’t allowed to sit down next to anyone. Until this one black girl made eye contact with me, and scooted over ever so slightly. She was too busy listening to her walkman to talk with me. I don’t know her name, but I remember her face and her compassionate eyes. I rode next to her the rest of the year.

Middle School was hell on earth. I was punched in the face, pushed around, made fun of incessantly for everything from my name to my teeth to the way I walk. I was hated for my very being. Before classes – at breakfast, and then again at lunch, I found solace at one table. The “black” table. When I sat there, I was invited to be me. Not a single person at that table ever laughed at me, laid a hand on me, or made me feel less than. Instead, I felt valued and affirmed. Every single one of my bullies was white. Some of the black girls took up for me. Two even threatened my bullies that if they messed with me again, they would have to answer to them. I felt protected.

In high school, I still found some connections and though the bullying lessened, the damage was there. It was with my black friends that I felt I could be the most real – the most me. They never said a hurtful word to me.

When I was going to community college, my parents were separated and going through a divorce. I was struggling. I sat outside the choir room in the Fall semester and listened to the gospel choir practice. In the Spring semester, I joined. The friends I made in choir were mostly black – and they embraced me. They encouraged me, prayed with me, and they supported me in my own music – giving me a boost of confidence when I needed it most.

I moved with my mom to Murfreesboro. I went to Nashville to attend audio engineering school. While there, I had a terrible car wreck and totaled my car. Among the faces running toward the wreckage, a black woman who called 911.

I got a pickup truck to replace my car. It was longer than what I was used to, and one day, I had to parallel park much to my chagrin. As I tried for the 8th time, two black guys walked up smiling and motioned for me to roll down my window. I did. One stood at the back, the other at the front. They called out directions, and taught me to park my truck in a parallel spot that day. And I continued on with that valuable knowledge.

While in Middle Tennessee, I joined a church that I thought was fantastic. I was quickly embraced with open arms and included, by the black girls in the church. We hung out at each others’ homes, made meals, talked over coffee, and worshipped together. Unfortunately, the leadership (white leadership, I might add) in the church was incredibly spiritually abusive , and when I left, I left behind all of those valuable connections.

After that, I found more and more welcome by brown faces – at new jobs, new churches, new schools.

If there is one thing that I have been taught by my black friends, it’s that I matter. That I have inherent worth and value just because I’m me.

So, to Denisha, Tiffany, Kimberly, Quincy, Char, Chris, V, Jacki, Monique, Angela, Moe, Celeste, Yunice, Ms. Bynum, Lassundra, Sherri, CC, JC, Kay, Anthony, Amber, and so so many many more…

THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart. 

Secondly, 

YOU MATTER.

And I will be damned if I ever let anyone get away with actions that degrade people who look like you.

I love you. Even if we lost touch over the years, your impact stays on me like a musical memory in my mind reminding me of compassion and care.

 

There’s an old spiritual – I Shall Not Be Moved,

Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved

Though the cross and burden are heavy

when the darkness is thick

when hatred is loud and violent

when people turn their heads away…

 

Like a tree planted by the water, we shall not be moved.

I am with you. I stand with you. To my friends who can join us – will you?

 

I say all the time that love wins, because it does indeed. Love is the water of life to the tree. It is where we live and move and have our being. Can we not love more? Can love not be what removes our blinders and moves us to action for our neighbors, our friends, our brothers and sisters?

Can love not bind us together and drive out the darkness as Martin Luther King Jr has said?

In my life, black has been beautiful and welcoming, and I have received life and affirmation for being me. It’s my turn to only do the same.

Like a tree planted by the water.

With much love.

C.

Summitt

When I was in middle school, I saw approximately 2-3 hours of play time as a point guard for my church’s team. I drug my little round short self up and down the court every week for practice, and I was always lagging behind the others when we would run.

When I was around the age of 12, I played with an official NCAA Women’s ball for the first time. I couldn’t believe how great it felt in my hands compared to the ones we had at home, a full size, and a junior ball. A friend of the family who was a coach gave me the new ball. This family friend also had an adjustable hoop – the first time I ever saw one, and I thought it was the best God send ever to my less than 5 foot self.

But we never got one of those. Instead, I had the hoop outside our house, situated between the master bedroom and the gravel lot. Lot is actually a misnomer. It was more like just enough gravel space to park approximately 1.5 cars. When I faced the basket, a steep bank with clay and pines rose to my right, briars and woods and snaky overgrowth stood behind me, and to my left was a long, long, gravel driveway that descended at a grade notorious for causing falls and slip ups and my first fender bender when I accidentally went too far back, slipped up, and then came up the drive again like a bat out of hell into the back of my dad’s car. Sorry, dad.

As an adolescent, through middle and high school, I recall lots of hours “shooting hoops” and playing horse. I also recall running down that hill a lot to try to stop the ball from rolling all the way down the driveway, across the street, and into the field/fence that sat across from us.

Perhaps it was all that ball chasing that motivated me, but I actually got pretty good at shots. I would go down to the gym at church and play horse and could make 3 pointers, foul shots, and do pretty well over all with getting that ball into that net. I wasn’t a bad dribbler, either.

I sucked at running. Layups were a joke. And I learned very quickly on that middle school team, that I was not an aggressive or defensive player.

Still, I loved basketball.

More specifically, I loved Lady Vol basketball, and their coach, Pat Summitt was an icon to me.

I spent hours upon hours pretending I was on the team, trying to make a shot for Pat. Pretending I was on the court with Chamique Holdsclaw, “Ace” Clement, Tamika Catchings, and Michelle Snow. We were facing, UConn, of course.

I spent hours cheering them on through win after win on my TV screen. They were so unstoppable. Until that National Championship loss, and the streak was over. And I was beyond disappointed. I was bewildered. How was this possible?

I never got to see “my team” in person, but somehow I felt connected with them. The dream team all graduated. Some went on to play for the WNBA.

My life changed. My parents divorced. I moved a couple hours away from home. I got into the music industry, and my focus shifted. I still managed to catch a game here and there, but never at that same intensity.

Life gets even busier, somehow, after college graduation, and I hardly ever caught a game. But then I heard something sad and shocking on the news – Pat had Alzheimer’s.

How was that possible? Surely not.

My biggest regret has been that I never went to a game. Never sat there in that arena and cheered my dream team or my dream coach on.

I can’t explain why I have cried more over Pat Summit’s death than I have over any other celebrity. Yet, somehow, hot tears still fall from my eyes as I write this.

I think, as I have reflected the past two days – that Pat was a constant for me.

Pat pushed hard, played hard, and inspired hard.

Pat inspired my non-athletic self to get out and move and do the best I could.

More than that, I wonder – no, I know –

that dream team and Pat Summit allowed me a space to be me. When I thought about being a Lady Vol in my fantasy world, I was just me – all of me. The writer, the singer, the lover of basketball and women, and the dreamer, and the goofball. And it was ok.

I was ok.

When I watched those girls take charge of the court, empowered and taught by Pat Summitt, I felt like they were unstoppable, and I felt like I could be unstoppable, too.

I felt empowered to be a woman. I felt like women could really make a difference, and if there’s anything Pat taught us and did, it was to teach us that gender roles and stereotypes and limitations are hog wash.

I like to imagine that as Pat’s spirit was lifted, she could see the impact she has made on people she hasn’t even met along with those who knew her best and were touched by her.

I know that if that is true, that she saw a candle over my head, especially the 12-19 year old me, that felt a little more empowered, a little more free, and a little more inspired to be a woman, and to get that ball through that net.

Now, at almost 35, I’m sitting here moved, inspired, empowered – and I think it’s time I go over next door sometime soon and get that ball in that net again. It’s been too long.

Pat, you can’t read this, but hey –

thank you. Thank you for being an inspiration. Thank you for the motivation. Thank you for being you and being the only you that ever was.

You never coached me in basketball, but you sure as heck coached me in life though those lessons you talked about, wrote about, and displayed on and off the court.

We’ll miss you. I’m so thankful you shined your light.

Forever grateful. With love always,

C.Pat-Summitt-Icon