A Tamed Tiger Is Still a Tiger

 

tiger

Maybe I should start at the very beginning. (Reliable sources–musicals, natch–suggest it’s a very good place to start.) From the word “go,” I have been obviously queer and trans, a strident tomboy who stared too long at beautiful women and played too rough with cute boys. Constant insistence that I conform, be a little lady, and mind my manners ensured that I’ve become a polite and charming adult–or so I’m told–but it did nothing to change the way I was wired. Even tamed tigers are still tigers.

As a wee tiny queer trans person, young Thursday was extremely precocious and an absolute misfit. From the beginning, I gave my fundamentalist Christian neo-Pentecostal parents fits. I had nothing but questions, and often they couldn’t answer them. So many earnest, desperate queries received the response, “Ask God,” or “Pray about it,” or “Study your Bible.”

Well, that’s exactly what I did.

Though my family was abusive, the situation was untenable, and we were often very poor–I went hungry some nights, giving most of my meal to my baby sister–we were at church almost every time the doors were open. I was hungry for more than food, too; I craved Truth.

In my tiny rural Texas town, everyone assured me all the world’s truth was to be found in the Bible, or down at the altar on my knees. Even as a small child, I sang my heart out at praise and worship, lifted my hands into the air to pray to Abba God to deliver and instruct me, and fasted to better hear his voice. I read the Bible cover to cover, using a Concordance and comparative Bible to ferret out the hidden meanings lost in translation. I pored over the text, talked about it with adult scholars…and had an insatiable interest in verses regarding the appropriate behavior of women and what healthy sexuality looked like.

Without vocabulary to express why these issues mattered to me, I nonetheless strove to understand them. I read endless monthly magazines from Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, and Concerned Women for America. (Somehow, even when we didn’t have enough food, we still bought subscriptions and supported those “ministries”.) I listened to Christian talk radio, absorbed the teachings on offer from dozens of Houston area ministers, attended tent revivals and church camps, went on retreats, and eventually taught Sunday school and youth groups, even as a teenager myself.

No one was more invested in believing fundamentalists’ truths than me. No one more desperately wanted to find answers in the Bible or comfort in a heavenly Father who’d never dislocate my shoulder or threaten to kill my mother. But as a teenager, my separateness–my innate Otherness–began to disturb other congregants.

Was I confusing the girls? Was I too close with the boys? Why was my manner so masculine?  Why did I spend so much time cuddling with my female best friend–the pastor’s daughter?

I was 14 when they grew wary, mistrustful, began avoiding me. Would this tiger stay tame in the face of adolescent temptation? Or would the obvious tiger in shadowwildness at my core surface in some unacceptable way?

My family had to leave that church. We went to another down the road–there’s one every couple miles in my town–and began anew. But that rejection by my “church family” destroyed something fragile in my faith. I had performed Christianity to a level of technical perfection none of the adults rejecting me ever did. They had frequently expressed disbelieving admiration for my fasting, my massive prayer journal, my ardent study of Scripture. They admitted to me they had never devoted themselves so wholly to knowing God.

And yet, those same people believed I couldn’t be trusted in God’s house. They didn’t want to worship with me. I was different. Tainted. Corrupt.

How could that be true?

My study of what the Bible has to say on queer issues and female behavior only intensified after that experience. At sixteen, I went to Bible college. I dug deeper and deeper. I attended numerous Bible studies. I listened to endless talks, speakers, evangelists, and supposed experts.

I didn’t want to be queer. I didn’t even know trans was a thing. I was trying my best to live the life God wanted from me. Wasn’t I proving that every time I went above and beyond to answer His call? Didn’t my passionate study of Scripture and my unfailing attendance at lectures demonstrate my eagerness to understand Him? How could I be sexually corrupt if I was still a virgin? How could I be dangerous when I was the only one of my peer group so committed to God’s will?

Never did I find a real rebuttal to queer, trans, or feminist issues in Scripture. For every seeming law, there were conditions, context, and Jesus’s words to alter God’s probable intent. What I realized eventually was that those who believe Scripture gives a clear answer on such matters don’t study much Scripture. If they do study it, it’s without a Concordance, without going back to the original language, without studying the context, without accounting for translations and culture and the endless intersections and self-referential moments within the Bible. The New Testament is an extended answer to the Old Testament, a conversation with its predecessor, updating God’s laws to account for the change in His relationship with His people with the coming of His son. People who treat it otherwise are ignorant, no matter how fervently they believe the pat answers and knee-jerk hatreds they’ve absorbed.

tiger teethIf queer people are tigers–some tamed, some wild–then those who pit themselves against us are sport hunters. They scream about how dangerous we are, though we often keep to ourselves, though we rarely provide a real threat. And they arm themselves with man-made weapons like organized religion and cultural norms. And they come after us not because we’re truly dangerous to them but because they want to assert their dominion over something magnificent–something that doesn’t acknowledge their supposed superiority. They want to triumph over us, turn us into trophies, make our defeated bodies monuments to their power. They come after us where we live, and they hunt us down, and they seek to destroy us. Whatever you might think of an apex predator like a tiger, its destructive power doesn’t begin to compare with that of man.

I grew up in captivity. It took me two decades to understand how to Tiger like other tigers. I wasn’t hunted when I lived in captivity, but every day I yearned to be free of restrictive patriarchal constructs, to unleash the true power of my nature. It was “safe,” but it was slowly killing me.

Sport hunters don’t seek us out, invade our spaces, and rob us of our rights and our safety because they’re afraid for their families. Bathroom bills and discriminatory practices aren’t about keeping anyone safe. It’s not about the Bible, about God’s will, or about right and wrong or natural and unnatural. Whatever they tell themselves to get to sleep at night, when it comes down to it, they hunt us because we do not respect them as our masters. We do not conform to their ways. We cannot be truly domesticated. And no amount of conforming will ever get us there.

A tamed tiger is still a tiger, and this fight will not end until we are all appreciated with all our queerness, all our differences, with our non-conformity and our wildness… Not just “passing” trans people or the Modern Family variety of non-threatening, Middle America, family-focused queers. All of us, with our unique bodies and expressions, our monogamy or lack thereof, our celibacy or promiscuity, our customs and mores that may or may not line up with the mainstream.

Whether we’re wild tigers or tamed tigers, we’re beautiful, and we deserve to live free, preserve our habitat, and be appreciated for what we are.

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