When I was a kid learning how to play baseball, I had a hard time trying to bat. Overcoming the urge to run away from a ball hurled in my direction was one obstacle, but it was relatively easy once I realized the pitcher wasn’t actually trying to hit me. Then came learning how to stand and swing. I kept trying to bat like a left-hander, a stance that felt natural to me, but my coach insisted I was doing it wrong, making me stand as a right-handed batter. I struck out again and again during batting practice, ultimately frustrating my coach and peers. Needless to say, I didn’t make the team (back then we had to try out for little league). It took me a few years to get good at batting as a right-hander, to learn how to catch and throw as a right-hander.
I even had trouble in basketball, told over and over again that I was trying to shoot at the wrong step, cross-bodied and off balance, corrected by being taught how to approach the basket as a right-handed player. When I took boxing lessons, I lined up like a southpaw, much easier to jab with my right. I was a physically awkward kid, uncoordinated, tripping over my feet, clumsy when it came to athletics. Much of this may have been my fast growth, my size always two years ahead my agility, but I’ve wondered if my clumsiness might have been mitigated if I’d been encouraged to be a lefty.
I write with my right hand, and, mostly, I eat right-handed. However, in recent years I’ve become very good at using my left hand while eating, and I can write with my left hand, also. With practice, I’m sure I can match my right-handed penmanship – not that my handwriting has ever been that great. Basically, I’ve come to understand myself as ambidextrous: some things I do well with my right hand, some things I do well with my left hand.
Yet another way I’m stuck in between in this life.
I am a person of ambiguities, complexities, and contradictions. I’m large bodied with a deep voice and a female gender identity. I am a liberal who labored in professions most suited for conservatives: military and law enforcement. I’ve been a minister, and I’ve struggled with doubt. I have been the beneficiary of privilege and one who has been marginalized. I have been a first responder in disasters and a person who has been rescued. I’ve been hailed as a hero and derided as a fraud.
I have longed for simplicity, envious of those on either side of the politico-religious spectrum who seem to understand the world in certain, unshakable terms. I have wanted to be the cop portrayed in country music videos, the one who walks the thin blue line night after night, coming home to a pretty wife at the end of a shift, praised by my pastor for being a man of faith, and held in high esteem by my colleagues. I have wanted to be the social justice advocate, the one who can see the constructs of society, the systemic injustice that holds people down, denying them opportunity – the one who sees capitalism as corrupt, soldiers as imperialists, and police officers as agents of oppression. I have wanted to live a life where things were easy to define, where good and evil were in sharp contrast, where I wanted to stand on the line against evil and say, “You shall not pass!”
But, I am not a person who sees things in such simple terms.
When someone vilifies all cops, I can’t help but think of my friends who ran into the Murrah Building on April 19, 1995, my colleagues who have run through fields of wreckage, gas lines hissing after a tornado, into wrecked buildings to unbury survivors, to assist the wounded, and guard the dead. When they make fun of soldiers, I think about the ones who serve in combat zones, the ones who huddle together during mortar attacks, the ones who run into a volley of bullets to save a buddy. I think of the ones who died on the field of battle so far from home.
When someone makes fun of social justice advocates, I think of my friends who have stood against injustice, calling out corruption even when doing so places them at risk. I think of those who are willing to take a beating, the ones who are willing to face arrest and judgement, and the ones who receive threats from the people who hate. I think of the ones who are killed for what they believe, martyred for a cause that may not succeed. I think of the ones who risk everything trying to create a better world.
And because of these examples, I cannot be dogmatic. I cannot be someone who will portray whole professions, whole communities, whole ethnicities, whole religions, and whole movements as wrong. I try to look to the heart of the movement, to the heart of the people because I have been on both sides of a protest as one calling out injustice and as one holding the line making sure protesters are safe to express their views while at the same time holding them accountable for their behavior.
I believe Black Lives Matter, that we have a terrible history in the United States of America when it comes to dealing with the African American Community. I worry that the sentiment behind All Lives Matter is a jumbled bit of denial mixed with outright prejudice, that those who often express that All Lives Matter are really just trying to diminish our nation’s original sin, pretending that racism no longer exists. Of course all lives matter, but we shouldn’t express such without first acknowledging the disparities in our economic, political, and criminal justice systems – the overrepresentation of minorities in our prison populations, among our unemployed and underemployed, among our undereducated, and among our impoverished. We can do better.
I believe queer lives matter, that lgbtq people are part of the tapestry of diversity comprising the human race, that we are capable of great love, blessed with talent and intelligence, and endowed with valuable insight about what it means to be an outsider hiding in plain sight, what it means to step into the light and embrace human authenticity.
I believe most cops want to serve their communities honorably, that they routinely put themselves at great risk for the benefit of all people. I believe soldiers want to serve their country, protect our citizens, and return home after a job well and honorably done.
I also believe police officers should take the time to get to know the citizens in their districts, that they should be encouraged to confront their prejudices (we all have them), that they should be held accountable when they cross the line from protector to abuser. I believe we should hold our leaders more accountable, be more educated and skeptical about their agendas and motivations when it comes to using our military, when it comes to sending our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen into harm’s way. We should be better voters, more active with political engagement, more deliberate and more caring, more protective of our young people, and more willing to support them for the sacrifices they make when deployed – not just yellow ribbons and parades but a lifetime of support as needed: education and quality healthcare are good starts.
And I believe we ought to be more humane and less judgmental, more neighborly and less isolated, more compassionate and less resentful.
It occurs to me that my sentiments might be seen as wishy-washy, indecisive, and too deliberate for the world we live in, a world that is too often polarized by binary thinking – too much this or that, right or wrong, up or down, black or white. I feel out of step, undervalued, and overlooked quite often. I feel ambiguous.
So, what is the strength of ambiguity?
Doubt is the seed of ambiguity, which can be a very good thing because it compels people to ask more questions, to scrutinize messages and speakers, to be more thoughtful when engaging others, more polite and respectful. Ambiguities can lead to more inquiry, more dialogue, more constructive and imaginative problem solving. Ambiguities can lead to more thoughtful resolutions, a more humane perspective.
The perspective thing. Perhaps that is my gift. Perhaps being transgender has forced me to develop skills in perspective taking, in learning how to think and behave like a cisgender man when I knew I had a different insight. When I finally began expressing my truth, I learned how to think and behave differently. I learned how to engage the world as an outsider. Being ambidextrous has helped me to see the world as more than left and right, as a place beyond binaries and constructs, beyond partisan politics and religious sectarianism.
When it comes down to an essential truth, I am not ambiguous. I am certain every human being alive and every human being who has ever lived has been part of something precious: life and insight, all at once more aware and less certain about our existence. That is the reason we seek order and conformity, why we create communities and institutions, and why we try oh so hard to get it right.