A Bitter Thanksgiving

by - 7:14 PM

This post was originally written for and posted on Reconciling Ministries NetworkAs a United Methodist organization Reconciling Ministries Network mobilizes United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform the Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love.The original post can be read here.

“....And since I have learned from the tradition
that we bless both the good and the bitter,
I will bless in a voice, hushed and weak,
Blessed are you, O Lord,
who has not made me a woman.”
Excerpt from Even Bochan: a poem by 13th Century Jewish Trans Woman Kalonymus ben Kalonymus


If there is one subject I can speak on it is this one.

It’s thanksgiving and this is usually the time for writing about family and being aware and thankful for the blessings that we have received. For celebrating abundance or providence or grace.

But instead I find myself contemplating a different concept altogether.


Because I am bitter.

Because my people are bitter.

Because there is little to celebrate and much to mourn.

Because this is thanksgiving, and I Am Bitter.

I need to address this topic not because I have no right to be bitter, not because the Transgender community has no right to be bitter, but because we so obviously do.
We are a people beset and embattled. We are often rejected, often scorned, perilously close to tragedy at any given moment and painfully aware of it. We are forced to forge our own family and find our own paths unsupported and seemingly unloved.
We know this. Intimately. And we choose to walk it anyway.
This is our life and it is full of beauty, and full of bitterness.

I worry that my readers will think that I am stating this as a character flaw or a flaw of our community. All that is not said to condemn, this is not a statement of morality, it is a statement of reality. We need to start accepting our reality and learning to work with it.

“Praised are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Your commandments, and commands us to eat Maror.”
Passover blessing over the Bitter Herbs
When I first came out as transgender and was learning to accept myself I was extremely angry. I was angry at myself, angry at the world and angry with God. I was upset that God could be so callous as to allow me such suffering, I was drowning in my self pity and despair. It was a dark time and I felt that I would be swallowed up within it. One night while I was at the very bottom of my despair, I was lying in bed screaming at God, soul blazing with fury and broken in more ways than I could comprehend. I was incoherent with pain and grief and could barely even imagine that God existed much less cared. It was in this place that God reached through the darkness and noise and spoke two tiny words to me.

He said this. “Thank Me”

I did not think I could be more hurt or angry, I was wrong. The idea that I should thank God for my suffering, for the future that I rightly saw coming, it was too much. I screamed, slammed my fist into the wall and spit through gritted teeth, “Thank You”.
I don’t know why, but that was what finally broke me out of myself.
In that moment I learned that accepting the bitterness was not the act of rebellion I had been taught. But rather one of surrender.
I had swallowed the Bitter Herbs.
I had accepted the reality and dared to accept that even the suffering belonged to God.

In Jewish tradition there are two types of suffering, Merirus which we call bitterness, and Chassidus which we call depression.
Chassidus leads us nowhere, it is an acceptance of reality which keeps us from moving forward, paralyzed by our weakness.
Merirus leads us away, it is an acceptance of reality which pushes us forward, it recognizes that we may not be able to change anything, recognizes that we may in fact be powerless and unable to make things better, but refuses to stop trying.
Merirus. Bitterness. That is strength.

I used to think thankfulness would keep me from bitterness. Then I learned how weak I was. Then I learned how little power I had to change the hearts and minds of those who hate me.

Now I realize thankfulness serves to keep me from depression, from sinking into inactivity.  
I can be thankful for all the blessing and the beauty of life. I can bask in the glory of love, I can accept that the world is full of joy AND suffering and not turn my back on either.

I can do all this because when I face the challenges that lay ahead of me, challenges that might be bigger than I can even handle, I say two tiny words. I say them and then I swallow the bitter herbs.

So this season as I choose what to be thankful for, I choose Bitterness. And I choose to keep moving forward.

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