Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Assimilation sucks

This is the week that comes around each month when my hormones rage and my emotions are raw and I fear everything and doubt everything and am pretty sure that everything sucks. I know someone who is transitioning from male to female, and I wonder if nobody every cautioned her about this week. It's hell.

I want to cry. I am scared. All the time.

I went to meet with the seminary people yesterday and it went pretty well. I had done enough homework on my own by the time I got there that the questions I had were not so much about whether I would attend, but more in the lines of how we're going to make that happen.

I came out of there with a sheaf of paperwork to fill out and return. I mentioned before that paperwork and I do not get along. It is true. Paperwork, forms that I have to fill out, cause enormous, unfounded anxiety in me. My chest gets tight, the words on the page all swim in front of my eyes, I get short of breath and I want to run away. This is part of why I am self-employed. Because to work for someone else means I would have to fill out a job application, and I have not been able to do that - honestly - for three or four years now. Even filling out the paperwork at the food pantry was tough. They want all kinds of data that I don't have - things like income stuff, pay stubs, that kind of stuff. To say it causes anxiety is something of an understatement.

But I came home with these papers, and they all had to be filled out. There was even a worksheet for federal financial aid. The form itself is online. Which scares me at a different level. I get frustrated with on-line paperwork at a level more extreme than the paper one.

But someone talked me through it and I came home and filled out what I could and will have the rest done by the end of the week. I'll be OK. I just had to sit down, breathe properly, and look at it one line at a time. Bird by Bird, the book says. That's what I did. Line by line, I got through it.

But then.

I am beginning to get feedback about how my status has changed in the public eye. Since I let people know about my plans to attend seminary, my behavior is now viewed in a different light. Suddenly I have become "a UU I know who's going to seminary" and everything I do will be viewed through that filter.

I did not ask for this mantle, nor do I want it. I want to be me. I want to go to school and to learn the things I need to learn to be an effective minister. I do not want to be a poster child for anything. I'd like to have my life back, please.

They say seminary is a transformative experience, that it will mold and shape me into a new and improved version of me, one better suited to ministry. But how much of myself do I lose in the process? How much of what makes me ME must I muzzle, or censor, or otherwise squelch so that I become palatable to the masses? And now I ask - am I willing to give parts of me up for this? I don't know. I know that the call to ministry I got was loud and clear and I can't ignore it, but I don't remember any part of it that said I had to assimilate into the collective. That was never mentioned, and I'm feeling more than a little ripped off.

I'm a bit of a sexual outlaw. I know that and like it. The people around me know it, and it doesn't seem to bother them. But I get the feeling its going to bother the shit out of a lot of people whom I have yet to meet.

There is a process by which ministers get approved. There is seminary, then ordination, and then fellowship. From what I can tell, fellowship is sort of like tenure. Once you get it, you're pretty much set, unless you do something profoundly stupid/crazy/unethical and get yourself bounced from the ministry. Seminary has a definite beginning and end and is relatively predictable. Ordination is often done by a congregation, and while it is nice, it is not the thing that matters most. Fellowship is the thing that matters most in the world of a professional minister. It is the official stamp of approval from the faith community and its representatives that person X has the training and temperament to be a minister and do good work.

The way I feel right now, I am never going to pass that test.

All my life I have been hot-headed and impulsive. I have great passion for things, and not always the patience and foresight to see how my actions are going to have long-term effects. I know. You're all stunned, I'm sure.

What is this transformative process going to do to me? Am I going to become like some rehab regular, shuffling through my days doing the thorazine shuffle? Am I going to be muted to the point of a bland, beige existence? Bile rises in my throat at the very thought. Honestly, my reactions to these thoughts are both emotional and physically visceral. I feel my eyes narrow, my shoulders drop back and my chin jut out just a bit. I feel my lip begin to curl in a sneer. If that's what I have to go through to be a minister, this is simply not going to work.

How much of what is integral to my person-hood must I sacrifice for this calling? Is not my sexuality and its expression an integral part of me? Is not my political heart and mind an integral part of what makes me uniquely me? Is not my confrontational style an integral part of me? Am I to become the demure lady that my grandmother had so hoped for? Crossing my feet at the ankles and wearing white gloves? Sipping tea with my pinkie extended just so?

I don't fucking think so.

I know my emotions are on high this week. And at my age, they are more prone to go in funky directions for extended periods of time. I am not looking forward to this roller coaster of emotion around the concept of ministry every month. I'd like some reassurance that I am not going to be assimilated and washed out, losing all of what is me to become a minister.

It took me years and years of step work and spiritual growth to get to the point where I can accept and even love myself. And now I step into something that wants to tear it all apart and reassemble it in a shape that is more palatable to others? I spent more than 40 years trying to be what other people wanted me to be to get their approval. I am finally at a place where I don't much give a damn if they approve of me or not. And suddenly my success or failure -- in a calling that had nothing to do with them, mind you -- is dependent upon the approval of a group of people whom I have not met and who have no idea who I am or how long and hard I have worked to get here, never mind where they think I ought to be.

Do I have to say out loud that I think that whole proposition is so much bullshit? I didn't think so.

I am raw. I am reacting. I know this. At least I am getting it out instead of internalizing it and letting the pressure build up until I explode. Although who knows. Perhaps this blog is another thing that needs to be muzzled. Maybe I shouldn't show doubts any more. Maybe I shouldn't put voice to the things I think and feel. Or maybe I should just do it privately. So as not to scare the horses. Or the committee. Or whatever.

Time for coffee and to read my newspapers on line. Then off to work for an incredibly long day.

Stay tuned.


MRMacrum said...

Conflicted to the nth degree. You say in one breath you have spent a lifetime trying to appease and fit in, then in the next, you contend you could not care less what people think. Yet, you are considering joining an organization that surely will demand a serious chunk of your individuality.

The call to minister is there. Fine. Do you absolutely need an organization to provide you a pulpit?

I am not trying to rain on your parade. These were just the questions and observations I had after reading your post.

dolphyngyrl said...

I don't think assimilation is a requirement.

Yes, you maybe have to make some changes. Maybe it will be a stronger division between your public and private selves. Maybe it means your definition of "ministering" will require some adjustment.

When you look around your congregation, do you see the assimilated masses? Or are there all walks, all types?

It takes all kinds, dear. Both to minister and to be ministered to. You'll find your way.

Middle Aged Woman said...

My best friend's sister is a UU minister, which she came to at around our age. She is also a lesbian. What I've noticed about Julie is that she is still the same person.

I think you will get out of seminary what you put into it. Best case scenario is that you will learn to love even the unlovable parts of yourself, so you can teach others to love themselves a little better.

Somebody told me that if it's not the cat's idea, the cat doesn't like it. That reminds me a little of the cat's mama.

Carlita said...

I second Mike. Not every minister needs a pulpit. Follow the path and be who you are and things will sort themselves out.

A couple of other thoughts: Your sexual outlaw-ism is just as much a part of your spiritual quest as your call to ministry. It is possible that something interesting might happen at the intersection of those two things.

Also, the best teachers are often not the ones for whom things come easy. How many other people of faith do you think are struggling with this issue on some level?

padi said...

don't hold back, tell us how you really feel! seriously, your readers do hope you won't go all quiet on us. and i can empathize, i'm in a grad program and we are all watched like hawks--pretty weird esp for me, being middle aged and having ppl my age act like i barely deserve to live, much less pass their muster! but you can do whatever you choose w/ the degree once you get it...that's what i'm telling myself in the meantime. go thru baptism by fire and come out the other end transformed, and do it Your way when you're done!

Anonymous said...

Well, right off hand, I'd suggest you not make any decisions THIS week, that's for sure. And secondly, if this path is one that will take you where you really don't want to go, stay home and save your money. But if you can go in there and learn a few things like a teeny leetle bit of diplomacy and the ability to speak to people in a way that changes their minds and hearts instead of pissing them off all to hell, as well as all the other good stuff, sounds like a good deal to me.


Miss Trudy said...

Look. You knew it would not be easy. If the calling is true, there will be some serious roadblocks, but your faith and (hard-earned) patience will pull you through. You will find the strength. It will come. Part of the learning process, surely, is learning patience. I don't think you have to give up core parts of your personality. Perhaps some parts of you will evolve or transform, but it will still be you and your core will still be you. Just know that anxiety is normal--this IS a huge change in your life--but also know that you have what it takes to make it work for you. By the way, what does "UU" mean? Pardon my ignorance.

Dawn on MDI said...

Thank you all for your thoughts. I know that the words I wrote were put down in a time of emotional upheaval and conflict, so they were harsh and defensive. If I was not supposed to be in ministry, I would not have received a call. It will happen. I will go into this thing with my heart and mind as open as I am able to make them. I will learn and grow as much as I can possibly do. And I will find a ministry somewhere. It may not be what I imagine it to be today or tomorrow, or even what I envision when I think about it a year from now. I am me, and that's good. I have gifts and assets that will serve me well, and perhaps gain me entry into places where others cannot go. There will be something for me to do with this, I have faith.

Miss Trudy - UU means Unitarian Universalist. It is my church, my religion. Like Episcopal or Lutheran or Baptist, but much more liberal than any of those.