“Life is difficult.”
Those three words form the opening sentence of M. Scott Peck’s first and finest book, The Road Less Traveled. I first read the book in 1984. The Road Less Traveled got me into therapy and onto the journey to stop pretending I did not know what I did, indeed, know.
I am not speaking of the fact I am a transgender woman. I am speaking of the awareness rising during my 30s that when it came to the church, I was going to have some difficult decisions to make. The Road Less Traveled raised the most important question of my life. Did I really believe the truth would set me free?
It does. The truth, that is. It does set you free. But here is a little secret. It does not make your life easier. In fact, freedom takes you to deeper places in which you find fewer fellow travelers, and you are constantly confronted by your need to grow in ways in which you have no interest in growing. There is a reason people regularly give away their freedom. It is painful to be free.
We live in a time in which social media allows us the luxury of avoiding any voices that do not reflect our own. I do not have many friends on Facebook who do not hold an open and affirming position on LGBTQ issues.
I chose this path because there are a lot of angry people who hate me, and for a good long while their rhetoric was simply too painful. Last summer, after an article appeared in the New York Times about my son and me, the right-wing Christian media had a field day. There were thousands of comments on a plethora of sites. I skimmed the comments from just one site. Every single word excoriated my son and me. (Interestingly, they saved their most vitriolic thoughts for the New York Times.)
The readers of these right-wing Christian sites have the same problem I have. When you only preach to the choir, it is easy to see the problem as being “over there.” It is not. The problem is not over there. The problem is right here, in my own heart.
The line between good and evil runs straight through my being. I have rejected the evangelical teaching that my sin demands a blood sacrifice before I can be accepted by God. God loves all of me, just as I am, just like I love all the parts of my children and grandchildren, just as they are. But that does not mean I am free of sin.
I am as incapable of living consistently as the next person. One moment I can be loving, generous and kind, altruistic in every observable way. The next moment I am self-centered, distracted and distant. I can justifying my own positions and see those who do not share them as lesser than I.
We are all broken, but in our bipolar world it is hard to see our own brokenness. Our friends are broken in the same places in which we are flawed, and therefore less likely to see the log sticking out of our eye. Why? Because the log sticking out of their own eye looks satisfyingly similar. We encourage one another in our shared blindness.
Society does provide a natural antidote to this tendency. It is marriage. If your marriage is healthy, your partner calls you on your shit. Occasionally friendships will rise to that level of honesty, but it is rare. I can count on Cathy, my children, and a couple of friends to call me on my lived inconsistencies. Most of the time I am grateful. Most of the time I am also resentful. You can be resentful and grateful at the same time. We humans are complicated.
I am struggling to find a way to hear the voices from the far right. In my case, their rhetoric can be dangerous, filled with rage as it is. I usually hear their words through the filter of another, who protects me from the extraordinarily hurtful words flung my way.
But that does not mean I get the luxury of not listening. Dialog is what keeps me honest. To her clients struggling in relationships, Cathy often says, “You keep stopping the conversation too soon.” People usually stop talking before they ever get started on the real issue standing between them. They do not trust the truth will set them free. They settle for pseudo-peace, which has the lifespan of a fruit fly.
Genuine peace requires a willingness to enter into chaos and emptiness. It takes hard work and is not easily achieved. Only the brave are willing to travel through chaos and emptiness. No wonder most just live quiet lives of desperation. It’s not very satisfying, but it’s easier than the hard work of full consciousness.
The truth is that my life is no less difficult today than it was before I transitioned and left evangelicalism. It is just a different kind of difficult. Today’s difficulties result from being awake and aware, at least most of the time. They are the difficulties of seeing clearly how my decisions hurt others, how my words continue to serve a patriarchal system, how my condescension diminishes the humanity of another, and how I contribute to the ever-widening gulf between the right and the left.
The line between good and evil runs straight through the center of my heart. It always has. It always will.
And so it goes.