Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Friendsday #5

If you got here somehow other than through Facebook, here's a catch up: I'm starting a series of posts about people in my life who make my life better.  I want to take the time to thank them because it's just a great way to live.  If you missed my other Friendsday posts, you can read them here and here and here and here.

When I’m in OK for visits, I have a standing date with my dad and a few other friends on Tuesday nights.  We play trivia at the 51st Street Speakeasy, where my friend, Patrick, of The Lost Ogle fame dishes up pop culture/OK-specific/headline news trivia, while we eat nachos and bacon-wrapped jalapenos.

A couple of summers ago, my friend, Jim, invited one of his friends to join us.  I was happy to meet a new team member, especially because I am frequently the only girl at the table.  Fallon was already part of a regular trivia team—The Oklahoma Atheists—but they only met every other Tuesday, so on her off Tuesdays, she joined our team.  Fallon was witty and laid-back, and her engineering background gave us a skill set to add to our team’s collective knowledge base.

I quickly learned that Jim had originally met Fallon at church.  They were part of a group of people that met regularly outside of normal worship hours called a “life group.”  Clearly, I was curious how Fallon went from being an active member of an evangelical megachurch to being an active member of the Oklahoma Atheists.  Luckily, Fallon was and is completely open and honest about preeeeeetty much anything you would want to know about her, so over time, I learned her fascinating story.

Allow me a tangent for a moment.  Growing up “fundie” as we evangelicals like to say, I was taught to love God and love my neighbor.  I was taught that mature Christians are servants like Jesus.  I was taught that the church is not a building but a people.  I cherish the lessons I learned in Sunday school from little old ladies, at youth group camps and retreats, and in Sunday morning services.  Along the way, however, I picked up a lot of things that I’ve had to unlearn over time—one of which is the submissive role of women in the church and in the home.

Most of what I was taught as “Biblical” was—to oversimplify—that I was inferior because I didn’t have a penis.  Our church was progressive in the sense that women were allowed leadership roles and even preached from the pulpit at times, so I’m not saying it was all patriarchy and submission all the time, but there was certainly an undercurrent of inferiority complex, especially in matters relating to dating and marriage.  I was to be pursued.  I was to be modest and genteel and quiet.  I was to submit to my husband’s spiritual authority.  (I ran this by Scott one time when we were dating, and as the good democratic Presbyterian that he is, he stared at me like I was speaking Martianese.)

I spent my teen years and the time leading up to marriage (at age 23) trying to separate the grain from the chaff so to speak.  While I certainly liked the idea of having a boyfriend or husband who could lead me spiritually and protect and provide for our family, I couldn’t really wrap my mind around the idea that a penis was the thing that qualified someone to lead.  The argument was that this was “God’s design,” but when I looked at my parents’ relationship, which was configured like a partnership rather than a top down structure, that made more sense to me.  I also saw many of my friends who were being raised by single mothers, either through divorce or the death of their fathers, and those families seemed to be pretty tight with God, too.

Okay, one more tangent, and then I swear this is all going to come back around to Fallon and why I’m glad she’s my friend.  Just after college, I read Jeffrey Euginedes’ Pulitzer prize winning novel, Middlesex.   Aside from being beautifully constructed, the book is the hauntingly stirring story of Cal Stephanides, a man with gender identity issues due to a developmental sex disorder.  Several years later, Oprah would choose the book for her book club and then host several shows with real people dealing with intersexual issues.  In being exposed to these very human stories, I became fascinated by this aspect of human sexuality—boys who were genetically girls or girls who were genetically boys.  In reading and dime store researching, I learned how wide the spectrum of sexual “disorders” is.  From hormonal differences to chromosomal differences, “male” and “female” seemed to be more and more limiting in terms of human sexuality.
Which brings me back to Fallon.  Lovely, funny, open Fallon.  Who is a girl.  But who is technically male.  Fallon describes herself as an AIS patient—someone with Androgen Insensitivity Syndome, which means that she is technically XY, but by all outward appearances is female.  (You can watch this talk she gave at the University of Central Oklahoma in February of 2012.  It’s long, but if you have the time, I encourage you to take a listen.  There is so much to be learned when we listen to other people’s stories.)

Over time, I learned from Fallon about how during puberty, she came to know of her condition for the first time, and how over time, her struggle to define her sexuality (meaning human sexual function, not just sex) led her to walk away from her faith as an evangelical Christian.  One of the things I appreciate about Fallon’s approach to the faith/science dialogue is that I have never felt judged.  In other conversations with atheist friends, I have at times felt condescension for being a person who believes in God.  Whether it’s on purpose or inadvertently, some atheists have a tendency to treat people of faith as if they are stupid or just haven’t thought about their faith.  On the flip side, people of faith tend to assume that all atheists are angry and reactionary, when many of my atheist friends are such because that was how they were raised and/or they have reached their conclusions logically and not just from a place of hurt.

Being friends with Fallon has made me more sensitive to other people’s perspective on my faith.  If I—a person who was raised in the church and still very much believes in God—struggle to find my place based on the social/gender constructs set up by the church relating to how men and women are to interact, what is Fallon to do?  When we talk about he “role” of women, where does Fallon fit?  Since Fallon dates men, does that make her gay since she’s technically male?  If we have distinct gender roles, did God make a mistake when Fallon was born?  If we really believe that we are made in God’s image, well…

These are HUGE questions, and I don’t have answers that will satisfy everyone, but if we as Christians are to live out our faith in practical ways, we have to come to terms about what we believe about my friend, Fallon.  In thirty three years, I’ve had approximately ten official “pastors” who have challenged me to a deeper faith.  Some of them have been great teachers, some great mentors, some great friends.  I’m adding Fallon to my list of pastors because she’s led me to new places in my faith that I never could have imagined, simply by sharing herself, by just being Fallon.

The thing is—Fallon is obviously much more than her AIS.  She’s a daughter and sister and friend.  She’s always up for a good time, and she loves her dog.  She’s an adventurer, a risk-taker, a person who feels deeply and doesn’t know how to be something she’s not.  She’s an open book that I’ve been lucky enough to read over the last couple of years, and in that vein, she’s a bestseller.

Thank you, Fallon, for challenging me in ways you don’t know.  And for all your help at trivia.  This world is bigger because of you.

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