jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

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All Aboard!

The other day a coworker mentioned that he was about to take his first ever train ride. I was stunned. How had he never been on a train? I’ve lost count of the trains I’ve been on. Big ones, little ones, zoo trains, city trains, scenic trains with coal-powered locomotives, fresh-off-the-factory-floor self-powered glass rail cars, freight trains. I’ve been on trains for romance and I’ve been on trains to calm a fussy baby (and I just now realized those are connected). I have packed my middle-school aged kids up in the middle of the night, hauled them across town to the rail yard, and put them on a freight train like little hobos off for an adventure, Natty Gann style*. And then there are the trolleys! Be careful with trolleys. They can get you married. (Don’t ask.)


My younger son’s first trolley ride. Wasn’t he just adorable? *squee*

My coworker and I were born in the same hospital, less than a year apart. We’ve both lived our entire lives within a 100 mile distance from where we work. We are both white. We both dropped out of high school. We even both took our GED tests at the same place. Yet our experiences are very different.

I recently heard an episode of Queerology featuring Kevin Garcia, and he talked a little bit about his experience with gender dysphoria. I thought, “I can’t imagine what that’s like.” And I really can’t. I don’t have any personal experience that I can draw on that comes anywhere near his. Many of the things he talks about, I can find parallels in my own life, but this one I just cannot.

When confronted by someone whose experience seems so alien to our own, we have choices. We can dismiss their experience, or we can listen to them. We can insist that we understand how the world works, or we can learn that the world works differently for everyone. We can remain comfortable and ignorant, or we can allow some discomfort to bring us enlightenment. Boiled down, we can value (love) ourselves above others, or we can value (love!) others as we do ourselves.

So often, people hang tightly to their own view of the world. They speak as if their experience is truth, and others’ experiences are fiction.

I don’t experience sexism/racism, so you can’t be experiencing it.
I’ve seen others pull themselves out of poverty, so you just aren’t trying hard enough.
Everyone has the same number of hours, you just aren’t using yours wisely.
I’m not angry, so your anger is wrong.
If you just looked at things like I do, you’d feel better about them.
I was a tomboy and still grew up to be a woman, so you must just be confused about your gender.

And on and on. But here’s what that sounds like:

Coworker: I’m going on my first train ride!
Me: Of course not, you’ve been riding trains all your life. Maybe you just didn’t notice, or you thought the trains were cars or boats or planes, but trust me, I know how life works, and it involves a lot of trains.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be the person who says, “That’s awesome! Tell me all about it.” Because I don’t even remember my first train ride, but I’ll bet his is different.

*Relax, their dad was on the train with them and it was all mostly legit.

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I homeschooled my kiddos. One day during the grade school years we took a midday bike ride down the path near our apartment. That path winds past a grade school, skirting the property just outside the playground fence. It was recess, and we caused bit of a panic. Kids rushed to the fence and shouted, “Get back inside! Get back inside! You’ll be in trouble!”

My boys found it amusing, of course–little rebels on two wheels. I found it sad. Those poor children, with no idea of the freedom that lay just beyond the fence. (My own school years felt very much like prison; I know it’s not like that for everyone.) But really, how could they conceive of a world so different from the one they lived in? School, when you’re a child, is the clock by which you tell time. It anchors your days and months. It directs the seasons.


Somewhere in the heap of parenting and homeschooling books I consumed as my kids were growing, I read of a study done on schoolchildren. The fence around the school playground was removed. Suddenly the children stopped exploring the outer edges of the playground, and instead huddled in the middle. The lack of boundaries frightened them. The moral of the story, of course, was that children need boundaries in order to feel secure and explore their world.

And I agree. But there comes a time when those boundaries are unhealthy, when they confine instead of guide, when they stifle exploration rather than support it. Wise parents move the boundaries outward and open gates as their children grow. In this way, the children gain confidence in their ability to handle the outside world. They learn how to handle tough situations while they still have the safety net of parents to fall back on.

And they learn that their parents are not always right. This is a very uncomfortable thing for parents!

Today’s sermon, at the little church I attend with the rainbow flag posted out front, was on doubt. The pastor stressed that doubt is not a bad thing; in fact, it is a necessary thing. To doubt, to struggle with something, is to learn what you really believe.

Too often, though, doubt is seen as failure. It is seen as disobedience. Too often, evangelicals are the kids inside the playground fence, terrified for the kids on the outside, sure that they’re risking their very lives. Too often, evangelicals are locking the gates on a playground that is far too small for growing believers. Too often, evangelicals are the parents who won’t let their children grow up for fear they’ll turn out ‘wrong’ somehow.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:11

A faith that is only faithful inside the fence is no faith at all. A God that can’t withstand doubt is no God worth following. And, I am beginning to think, a grace that can be confined is a weak grace, indeed.

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Facebook memories: some days they make me giggle, and some days they make me blue. Lately it’s been the latter. Around this time of year, I’m usually training for Bloomsday.


You only get the t-shirt if you finish the race.

Bloomsday is a 12K race that takes place each year in Spokane, WA. Forty-thousand-plus people coming together to conquer and/or torture themselves. I generally dislike crowds, but there’s something exhilarating about it. In addition to the runners, walkers, and rollers, the entire town seems to turn out, lining the streets to cheer and wave and spray us with water. It’s a giant party. Live bands play, people sell popsicles two for a dollar and hold up encouraging signs.

Not all the signs are encouraging. One dude in particular dedicates himself each year to holding a sign that proclaims, “God Hates F*gs.” He’s a charmer, that one.

I wondered how I’d handle that this year; whether I’d lose my temper, or try to change his mind, whether it would upset me, or if I’d be able to ignore it.

Time out for a story: A little over a year ago, a neighbor and his pastor came to our door to assure themselves of our salvation, or lack of it, as the case may be. Now, I live with a woman. We are not romantically involved, and at that point I was still very quiet about my sexuality. Nevertheless, they must have possessed better gaydar than I do (or perhaps a startling ability to jump to conclusions), because they left us with a pamphlet about how God hates homosexuality. I really want to repay their kindness, but I cannot, because there is no such thing as pro-gay tracts! Why do we not have these? When I am done interrogating him about the satisfaction of his sex life, and whether his mother was distant and caused him to seek after womanly affection, I want to be able to leave him a little rainbow-covered pamphlet explaining that we have way, way more fun over here on the queer side of things. They call it gay for a reason. That should be the title.

But even if I had a pro-gay tract, I would not have the opportunity to bestow one upon the Bloomsday sign holder, because I will not be going. I will not be going because Bloomsday, for me, was a church trip. I went with church friends. We took church kids. We stayed at an affiliated church, where we supported their spaghetti feed and helped clean up. We went to the Saturday evening church service they held, so that everyone could be free on Sunday morning to participate in the race and festivities. We began the race side by side the next morning.

And every year my church friends would frown and shake their heads in dismay at the anti-gay sign holder. Why must he be so hateful, so mean? Why couldn’t he just love people? What good did he think he would accomplish this way?

From where I stand, I can tell you that the sign holder may hurt me, and hurt the cause of Christ, but he doesn’t hold a candle to the hurt inflicted on me by those who frown and shake their heads as they pass by, but who who turned their backs on me. Who willingly expelled me from their church family. Who claimed I was the problem. Who encouraged me to keep silent about who I am. Because I’m queer, and unashamed of it. Their rejection cuts far deeper because it comes from a place where love once claimed to live; from people who knew me, who ate and prayed and worshiped with me. People who claimed to be family, until I turned into the black sheep.

Why must they be so hateful, so mean? Why can’t they just love people? What good do they think they’ll accomplish this way?

I doubt I’ll ever know.