Tag Archives: religion

No Ban, No Wall

[Image: A group of immigration rally attendees hold signs reading “Refugees Are Welcome Here!” and “No Ban No Wall”.]

On Saturday I attended a protest of the executive order limiting U.S. immigration for the purported reason of “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States. While it was no surprise to many that Trump would attempt to fulfill his campaign promise to ban Muslims, protests occurred throughout the country, especially at airports, after he signed the order. I missed the large protests at SFO the previous weekend, but then found out about this rally at Civic Center, which was reported on before, during, and after in local news media.

Rally organizers on stage[Image: Organizers Dex Torricke-Barton, Camilia Razavi, Arya Aliabadi, and Kayla Razavi begin the rally.]

The event was organized by a handful of individuals rather than a formal group, and they did a reasonably good job, securing a stage, sound system, and multiple volunteers acting as security. They emphasized that this was to be a peaceful rally, as many were nervous following the violent outbreak that forced the cancellation of a Milo Yiannopoulos speech at UC Berkeley last week (which made national headlines). But that was a completely different situation, where black bloc protesters came in to disrupt an unrepentant bigot who had already been banned in venues, including Twitter, worldwide. San Francisco representatives have been outspoken in support of immigration, so there would be little cause for that kind of a demonstration at City Hall.

Respect Immigrants or Expect Resistance[Image: A rally attendee holds a sign reading “Respect Immigrants or Expect Resistance”.]

Speakers included immigrants and children of immigrants. Many spoke about their love for this country and our (supposed) values. I wasn’t too enthused by this, preferring the more radical tone of the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition rallies I’ve attended. One of the speakers, new San Francisco supervisor Ahsha Safaí, suggested that we not continue the protests of Uber, but instead encourage companies like them to contribute matching funds, and only delete their apps if they don’t comply. I wasn’t thrilled with Uber even before Trump’s inauguration, personally; this is the sort of capitalist apologism that wouldn’t likely occur at an A.N.S.W.E.R. rally.

Resist[Image: A rally attendee holds a sign reading “Resist”.]

There was some criticism on the event’s Facebook page that too many speakers were from the tech industry and government, and that no ASL interpretation was provided, which were valid concerns. Regardless, I appreciated that the event was organized by and centered people of color and people of Muslim heritage. A number of people in the crowd carried the flag of Yemen, one of the seven countries affected by the immigration ban.

Yemeni flag[Image: A child holding the flag of Yemen sits on an adult’s shoulders at the rally.]

Protest signs and flags[Image: Rally attendees hold protest signs and the flag of Yemen.]

The rally continued for a full three hours (as scheduled), but I left halfway through, as I needed to rest and relax before running a half-marathon the following morning. Protests are certain to continue, despite a federal judge putting a temporary stop to the travel ban. I said the day after the election that this would not be a peaceful transition of power, and I meant it; I expect massive unrest in the coming weeks, months, and years, for as long as the Trump administration remains in power.

My full set of photos from the event is available on Flickr. Some photos are also available (alongside those of other contributors) on Wikimedia Commons. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!

Marching against hate in San Francisco

[Image: Trump protesterrs march through the Castro in San Francisco, holding signs with slogans including “Not My President”, “Queers Bash Back”, and “I Will Not Be Silent.”]

Yesterday I joined one of the many anti-Trump protests that have been taking place throughout the country since Tuesday’s election. This one did not have a specific group or organization sponsoring it. We gathered at the Powell Street cable car turnaround, where a Christian evangelist was preaching “love” in the form of denouncing anyone who didn’t accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior. We shouted him down, and started marching through the Tenderloin to City Hall.

Trump protest SF[Image: Protesters hold signs reading “Not My President” and “Dump Trump.”]

Trump protest - Love Trumps Hate[Image: A protester holds a sign with an image of Donald Trump crossed out, and the words “Love Trumps Hate”.]

Trump protest - Hands Off Our Pussies[Image: A protester dressed as a vulva holds a sign reading “Hands Off Our Pussies”.]

City Hall was barricaded by fencing and police when we arrived, as expected. We stayed there for awhile, and I found my friend Dana, who hosted a Food Not Bombs serving I volunteered with for a couple of years. I was glad to see a friendly face, as I was in a terrible mood. We marched together for the rest of the day.

Trump protest at SF City Hall[Image: Protesters hold signs outside of a barricaded San Francisco City Hall.]

Trump protest - Not My President[Image: A protester wearing a Trans Lifeline T-shirt holds a sign reading “Not My President”.]

We marched on to the Castro, where we sat down in the street. A black woman (as far as I could tell) took the megaphone to address us, urging us to get to know the names of those sitting next to us, as we would need each others’ support. I appreciated that she was the first to speak, as I didn’t see many black or brown folks in this crowd.

Trump protest - Sit-in in the Castro[Image: Protesters sit in the street in the Castro, San Francisco.]

Trump protest - Sit-in in the Castro[Image: Protesters in the Castro are addressed by a black woman with a megaphone.]

We marched onto the Mission District, where we had another sit-down, and were told that the march would be continuing to the Ferry Building.

Trump protest - Sit-in in the Mission[Image: Protesters sit and stand in the Mission District, holding signs including “Never Again Not Mein Fuhrer” and “Remember Hitler Was Also Elected”.]

As darkness fell, we sat again on Market Street, near where the march began. One protester took the megaphone, saying that she was a child of immigrants, both Muslim and Jewish, and queer.

Trump protest - Market Street[Image: A protester speaks into a megaphone, surrounded by fellow protesters filming with cameras and smartphones.]

After over three hours of marching and demonstrating, we ended at the Ferry Building, where protesters again sat in the street, and offered the megaphone to anyone who wanted to address the crowd.

Trump protest at the Ferry Building[Image: Protesters occupy the street in front of the Ferry Building.]

I’m glad that I attended this protest, one of many more to come. I expect that the resistance will only intensify as the inauguration approaches, and that police will become increasingly aggressive in response. We must be prepared, and we must organize with specific goals in mind so that these rallies aren’t seen as merely the venting of sore losers.

My full set of photos from the march is available on Flickr. I have uploaded them to Wikimedia Commons as well (alongside photos from other contributors). Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of them, thanks!

Religion and politics

[Image: Bishop Gene Robinson speaks into a microphone, accompanied by four other ministers.]

Back around 1990, I took a class called “Religion and Politics” from Professor Garry Wills* at Northwestern University. The man—a practicing Catholic—was so unassuming that I mistook him for a janitor on first encounter; I only found out later that he was actually rather famous. I learned from his class that the USA was one of the most religious—Christian, specifically—countries in the world, second only to Ireland in regular church attendance. Twenty-odd years later, I read Society without God by sociologist Phil Zuckerman, and learned that the USA was still far more religious than most other Western countries.

I had these facts in mind when reading an article in The Guardian about the Wikileaks revelation of an apparent DNC strategy to discredit Bernie Sanders based on his supposed atheism. As the article states and as I can verify from my own experience, many Jews in the USA are atheists or agnostics; one can claim a Jewish identity without a belief in God. (Green presidential candidate Jill Stein is an agnostic Jew, for example.) The same cannot be readily said of Christianity, although from reading Society without God I learned that there are many “cultural” Christians in Europe who are actually atheists. (In fact, the countries Zuckerman visited that had official state religions had far, far fewer religious adherents than the USA, where we supposedly have separation of church and state.)

In the article about Sanders, a Jewish supporter of Hillary Clinton states, “I’m gay and America would have less of a problem with a gay president than an atheist president.” I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true. Our country is and always has been overwhelmingly religious, and overwhelmingly Christian. Outside of progressive hubs like the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, atheists are still looked upon with distrust.

Some Christians are becoming more tolerant of the LGBT community, and I’ve spent a lot of time around queer religious people as part of the fight for marriage equality. I took the photo at the top of this post at a Eucharist ceremony (the only one I’ve attended to date), just prior to the 2011 San Francisco Pride Parade. Gene Robinson, pictured speaking, became the first openly gay Episcopalian bishop.

Jerry Peterson and Roland Stringfellow[Image: Jerry Peterson and Reverend Roland Stringfellow embrace at a marriage equality rally.]

I was hired to shoot the parade by Reverend Roland Stringfellow of the Coalition of Welcoming Congregations, pictured above in 2012 with his now-husband Jerry Peterson. Yes, in San Francisco we have plenty of openly gay interracial couples. But we still have respectability politics, and a dark-skinned black man with locs like Stringfellow is still at risk of police profiling, even if he is a Christian minister. (He and his husband-to-be had actually just been released from police custody when I took this photo, but their annual Valentine’s Day marriage equality sit-in at City Hall had been conducted with the police department’s prior knowledge and full cooperation.)

Religion and respectability politics are part of why I’ve heard nearly as much mention of God at the Democratic National Convention as I did at the Republican event. President Obama might have thrown a crumb to atheists by acknowledging “non-believers” in his inaugural address, but we’re still not fully trusted by the US-American public. Religious institutions get tax breaks, God is on our currency and in our Pledge of Allegiance (though the latter only since the 1950s), and most public officials swear in on Bibles. People who don’t care much about religion might not notice or be bothered by it, but when you’re a committed atheist, religion—and Christianity specifically—is very much in-your-face.

Our theistic, Christian foundation is part of why I don’t think our government can be reformed, even by third parties, to my satisfaction. What viable candidate is really going to call for complete pacifism? We now have a pair of vegan candidates in the Humane Party’s Clifton Roberts and Breeze Harper, but I’m still not convinced that continuing with our current system of government is a good plan.

Hearing Democrats at their convention compete with Republicans for who could praise our “great country” and military might the most just crystallized for me how unpatriotic I’ve become. I don’t agree that we’re the greatest country on Earth. I don’t have a better one in mind because I haven’t traveled abroad much. I’m just not into this “us versus them” mentality. I’m a US citizen by accident of birth, not by choice. And I’m questioning more and more every day whether or not I really want to stay here.

*ETA: Interesting analysis (from 1995) by Wills of the right to bear arms, in light of our country’s current debate over the Second Amendment.

Thou shalt not kill

[Image: Assorted kitchen knives on a magnetic strip.]

I’m having trouble coping in a world that seems resigned to the inevitability of killing. Deliberate, premeditated killing. Whether of our “enemies” in other countries, “thugs” on our streets, or “livestock” on our farms, there always seem to be exceptions to the commandment that billions of people claim to live by: “Thou shalt not kill.”

As a pacifist, I don’t want guns “controlled,” I want them gone. All of them, not just “assault weapons” but handguns, rifles, and every other tool designed for the specific purpose of killing another person. I include animals as people, so I’m not interested in exceptions for killing a charging bear in the wilderness (for example). Humans—with the possible exception of the few remaining indigenous groups that have kept mostly to themselves—have encroached on the territory of other animals far too much already. (I’m not opposed to using tranquilizers and other non-lethal means to fend off attackers, however.)

The abolition of guns and other lethal weapons cannot and will not take place through legislation alone. Even without guns, humans will just kill each other with cars or knives. Eliminating murder completely might be impossible, but I have to believe that we can evolve beyond this culture of killing, even if it will take what seems like a miracle.

As an atheist, I’m not praying to any gods for a miracle, but I leave open the possibility that help might arrive through extraordinary means. I recently re/watched the entirety of Star Trek, from the original series through Enterprise. The one episode that stuck with me the most was “Errand of Mercy“. This was not because it was the episode that first introduced the Klingons, but because of another species: The Organians. Disguised as humans, they revealed themselves to be powerful beings of pure energy. Without violence, these pacifists neutralized the weapons of both the Klingons and the Federation, bringing on a (forced) peace treaty.

Of course, this morsel of Gene Roddenberryesque idealism was isolated; fighting and killing continued throughout the television series, and the Organians showed little regard for human life in a prequel episode. Still, I sometimes can’t help but think that intervention from an outside source is the only thing that will stop humans from being such a murderous species. Though the idea of a Supreme Being that created and rules over the world makes no sense to me, I’m entirely open to the possibility of other lifeforms that are so powerful that some humans would worship them as gods. In fact, I would find it very depressing if humans represented the most intelligent beings that the universe could come up with.

Some say that philosophizing about “big picture” things like this is what separates humans from our fellow animals. Even if that’s true, it’s no justification for killing them or treating them as property. If we won’t even stop murdering the most defenseless among us, what hope do we have to stop murdering each other?

I don’t have all the answers here, and I’m suspicious of those who claim they do. I only know that I want the violence to end.

Cissexism and community standards

(Disclaimer/reminder: I am registered with no political party and endorse no presidential candidates at this time. Please do not shill for either Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton here, thanks.)

I’ve been listening to the words of Donald Trump a lot more carefully since he’s become the presumptive Republican nominee. Like it or not, he may well become our next president, and I will have to live with that somehow. As much as I fantasize about moving to another country—for a variety of reasons, not just the threat of a Trump administration—realistically, I know that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. So I want to prepare myself.

I’ve also been watching CBSN a lot, not because I prefer that network, but because they have free 24/7 live streaming that I can watch on my TV via Roku. (We don’t have an antenna, cable, or satellite.) So I’ve noticed that Trump has hired some women to be spokepeople for him, no doubt in response to the (very legitimate) charges of sexism against him.

In this interview, spokesperson Katrina Pierson explained Trump’s response to the bathroom battles, saying that the decision should be left to the states. That much didn’t surprise me. What disturbed me was her explanation that “the federal government’s hands should be tied” because “this is a republic, not a democracy.” (Also disturbing, but not surprising, was her assumption that we were too small a constituency to matter, because in some places, “there may not even be a transgender in that area.”)

It’s been a long time since I studied history in high school and college, but I was under the (perhaps mistaken) impression that civil rights were an issue of national concern. Pierson seems to think civil rights aren’t at issue here because Title IX does not define what gender is. I could write (and have written) many essays on the subject of gender, but that would be missing the point. The point is that these restroom restrictions are being enacted by bigoted, transphobic people whose concerns about the safety of (cisgender) women and children in public facilities have no basis in reality.

I didn’t feel comfortable living in a country where one’s marital status could be invalidated by crossing state lines. The Supreme Court ultimately handled that in Loving v Virginia in 1967 for interracial couples, and in Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015 for same-sex couples. Perhaps the right of trans people to use facilities in accordance with our gender identities will go to the Supreme Court as well. But however that court fight turns out, I am still bothered living in a country where so many people seem to think “community standards” should trump (no pun intended) basic human rights.

Here’s a sample of what community standards look like: A public comment session at a Board of Education meeting in North Georgia where attendees used their Christian faith as an excuse to hurl vile insults at trans people. “Gays and transgenders are genetically wired to have sex with children,” said one parent. “We need to stand on God’s truth in this perverse situation,” said a pastor. “I drive a Ford pickup. If I take the bumper off of it and I take the hood off of it and I put a Chevrolet bumper and Chevrolet hood on it, is it a Chevrolet? No it is not,” said another attendee. Fortunately, some others (cis and trans) in attendance stood up for trans people, but the transphobic remarks were cheered.

This is not just about Georgia, or North Carolina, or Texas, or any of the other states that are loudly and publicly trying to deny the rights of trans people to live in dignity. But the idea that a trans person’s—or any person’s—civil rights should be dependent on something as arbitrary as the soil they are standing upon runs counter to everything I believe in. I am ashamed to live in a country where people use religion and politics to enforce bigotry. (Note: Do not write “Not All Christians” in response to this post.)

With visibility comes violence, and the entire country is waking up to the fact that trans and non-binary people exist. We have always existed, and many cis people have had interactions with trans people without even knowing it. Cis-passing trans people have been quietly using public restrooms in accordance with their identities all along, and most will continue doing so, regardless of the local laws. But now we are all in increased danger, as self-appointed police spy on us and spread hateful lies on the Internet.

As I mentioned in my previous post, allies can help by sharing the words of trans and non-binary people who are affected by these issues. The Transgender Law Center is a good place to start, as they are an organization created by and for trans people, and are up to date with the latest legal developments in this country. The TransAdvocate is another trans-run organization, and a good alternative to mainstream media. Please help make this a country where everyone is treated with dignity, fairness, and equality, regardless of gender identity.

Oppression, Christianity, and “forgiveness”

[Image: A church building with a sign in front reading “The Pittsburgh New Church – Welcome to Worship.”]

On Friday I watched a segment on the CBS Evening News that really angered me. It was about a black man who was framed by a white cop, spent four years in jail, and later came to forgive and even “love” his oppressor. Please watch or read the story for yourself before continuing (it’s three minutes long).

I didn’t write anything about this at the time, but today read a post by Son of Baldwin which encapsulated all that’s wrong with this shitty “feel-good” example of white supremacy. I posted this reply:


This story made me so angry when I watched it on the CBS Evening News. Especially the last line: “And clearly, if these two guys from the coffee shop can set aside their bitter grounds, what’s our excuse?” Their bitter grounds? As if a racist white cop has any “grounds” for being angry with the innocent black man that he framed? As if having four years of your life stolen from you by a racist white cop is something you should just “set aside?” As if the racist prison industrial complex — where one of out three black men can expect to serve jail time —can be papered over by Christian forgiveness?

I’m an atheist, but I’m not going to blame Christianity specifically for white supremacy (though the #NotAllChristians excuse is just as bad as #NotAllWhites and #NotAllMen). Regardless, if this particular black man wants to forgive this particular racist white cop that’s his prerogative, but it is not, not, not incumbent upon anyone else to forgive their oppressors.

Make no mistake: This story is not just about a “crooked” or “bad” cop. This is racism, which does not have to look like the “n” word or hooded figures burning crosses on lawns. If you deny that this man’s arrest and the subsequent framing of this “feel-good” story is white supremacy in action, you seriously need to check your privileges.


I want to expand here on the part about Christian forgiveness. As I’ve written before, the only person who can forgive an oppressor or abuser is their victim (or survivor). No one else. I’m just going to say it: A religion that assigns ultimate judgment of human affairs to a supernatural being is a tool of the oppressors. Christianity in particular has been used to justify racism (including slavery), sexism, sexual abuse, heterosexism, and cissexism for centuries.

As I posted on Medium, I do not want to hear “Not All Christians” in response to this charge. Christianity is the dominant religion in the USA, and always has been. While church attendance and theism dwindle in Europe, Christian beliefs and practices remain strong here, and are reflected in our politics. It is incumbent upon Christians to reform their religion, not upon atheists and those who practice other religions to submit to it.

While Protestant faiths dominate here, Pope Francis, who gets news headlines for saying anything that sounds the slightest bit progressive, is also not a friend of the oppressed. I especially do not want to hear “Not All Catholics,” when the Vatican has made it clear that only straight cisgender monogamous men are fully deserving of rights. Catholics who support birth control, abortion, “extramarital” or homosexual sex, gender transition, or women holding church leadership positions are acting in direct opposition to the central authority of their church.

Believing in God might not be a choice, but in the USA, church membership is voluntary. Christians who oppose oppressive church doctrine ought to protest against it, loudly, or else leave those churches behind.

I take heart in sites like The Orbit for featuring black atheists (among other atheists of color) in a society that too often assumes that all black folks are Christian. While I never belonged to any church (or temple or mosque) to begin with, many atheists have left their religious communities, and that can come at a cost. Atheists need communities as much as any other group, and women/of color especially need supportive environments in a movement that is dominated by white men.

But I digress. The point is, when I point out racism or any other oppression, do not come to me speaking of forgiveness. Fix the problem, rather than blaming the victims.

Freedom to discriminate in Mississippi

Add Mississippi to the list of states making it clear that people like me do not deserve equal rights. The governor has signed into law a “religious freedom” bill, protecting the right to discriminate against people in same-sex marriages, transgender people, and people who engage in “extramarital” sex. As someone who falls under all three categories, I am triply sure I will not be visiting that state anytime soon.

As the linked article points out, LGBTQIA+ people are already discriminated against in Mississippi—as well as many other states—in employment, housing, and other accommodations. Anyone who thought that legalizing same-sex marriage was the greatest victory of our time needs to wake up to the harsh realities faced by any non-hetero person who is not also cisgender, white, able-bodied, and financially secure. This conservative backlash in state after state is just going to keep coming, as long as people with cishetero privilege remain silent while our personhood is gradually eroded.

Whether or not you live in one of the affected states, you can help stop this cancerous spread of hate and fear by speaking out. Don’t wait until the entire country officially declares open season on queer folks, especially queer folks of color. You might think I am exaggerating for effect, but I assure you I am not. The lives of millions of people are under threat, for no reason other than our distance from the inner “charmed circle” of straight cisgender monogamous whiteness. Don’t allow this situation to continue.

Social justice mages head to Washington

[Image: Banner reading “Interspecies & Intersectional Justice – Animal Rights, Human Rights, Just Society, Healthy Planet.” Animal footprints – non-human and human – adorn the sides of the banner.]

Tomorrow Ziggy and I are heading to Whidbey Island in Washington State for the Intersectional Justice Conference that I’ve been writing about. I’m excited about this event, and especially looking forward to meeting Aph Ko and Christopher-Sebastian McJetters*, whose work I’ve linked to frequently.

As much as I’m looking forward to this weekend, regular readers of my blog know that my mind is heavy lately, and the current political climate does nothing to assuage it. Mainstream news channels are covering “Terror in Brussels” 24/7, a level of concern not expressed for the victims of recent attacks in Istanbul, Ankara, and the Ivory Coast. Republican presidential candidates are calling for closing our borders and patrolling Muslim neighborhoods.

The same sort of conservatives who are predisposed to Islamophobia are introducing bill after bill to dehumanize trans people. After efforts in South Dakota and Tennessee** were thwarted, North Carolina joined the list of states attempting to force people to use restrooms matching their “biological sex” (wasting a great deal of taxpayer money in the process). Meanwhile, Ziggy and I will be arriving at the airport two hours before our scheduled (domestic) flight tomorrow, because the TSA treats trans people as potential terrorists.

Islamophobia, racism, sexism, and cissexism are all prevalent in animal rights and vegan messaging, and will be among the topics discussed at the Whidbey conference. Vegans and non-vegans alike often derisively label folks who care about these issues as “social justice warriors.” As I’m a pacifist, I like activist vlogger Kat Blaque’s comeback to this charge: “I’m a social justice mage.”

I likely won’t be blogging again until after the conference, though I’ll still review and approve comments if I have time. I believe the presentations will be filmed (though not live-streamed), so hopefully those who cannot attend in person can watch them later. There will be an official photographer, so I’m not planning on taking many photos, but I will post any good ones that Ziggy and I take for sure. Here’s to a successful conference!

* Whose arm I will be gently and lovingly twisting until he agrees to set up a web site of his own to host all of his brilliant writings. I hate linking to Facebook!

**After posting this entry, I learned that the anti-trans bill in Tennessee has not yet been killed. I wish I could say I’m surprised.

Finding my tribe

[Image: A young woman lights the first of a semi-circle of thirteen candles.]

I’ve just read a moving essay by Sherry F. Colb, a Jewish vegan professor, daughter of Holocaust survivors, and author of the book Mind If I Order The Cheeseburger? (which I recommend highly). As we’re currently in the season of the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I’m reflecting on my own Jewish history. As with my difficulty fitting into the black community, I’ve never felt truly at ease with this aspect of my heritage.

I was born in 1970 to a white Jewish father and a black mother who believed in God but did not profess any specific religious affiliation. My father was very secular, said he hated going to Hebrew school and so didn’t want to make me suffer through it. I did attend pre-school activities at a Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh briefly when I was very young, before we moved to a WASP town in West Virginia in 1975.

We drove to Pittsburgh to attend a Passover seder at my grandparents’ house each year, and I lit Hanukkah candles (next to our Christmas tree), but that was about the extent of my Jewish upbringing. I never had a bat mitzvah (the one pictured above is from a hired photo shoot I did a few years ago), and did not attend any religious services.

We moved back to Pittsburgh in 1982, and in 1984 I enrolled in high school in a heavily Jewish community, with numerous synagogues. We often saw Orthodox families walking to shul, and some businesses were closed on Jewish holidays. But most of my Jewish friends were secular like my father, and agnostic or atheist in their beliefs even if they did observe various holidays and customs. I had already begun to doubt the existence of God by age 12, and by age 16 I was decidedly and openly atheist, a position I haven’t wavered from since.

In college at Northwestern, I became good friends with a couple of observant Jews (of the Reform variety), one of whom I began to date seriously.  He knew I was an atheist, and he hoped to become a rabbi. I tried to learn more about Judaism so that I might relate to him better, attending a few events with other students at Hillel.  But I simply could not reconcile my atheism with the direct, unmistakable presence of God in the Hebrew Bible. I did not feel that I could ignore this and simply celebrate Judaism in a secular way.

I tried once again some time after moving to California in 1992, reading books about Judaism and attending High Holy Days services at a synagogue in Berkeley. Once again, I was very uncomfortable with the theism inherent in the services. I could witness these events as a cultural phenomenon, but my perspective definitely felt  like that of an outsider, despite my Jewish heritage.

I knew many other atheist Jews felt strong connections to their heritage. I became quite enamored of monologist Josh Kornbluth, an atheist who spoke about Judaism frequently in his shows, and eventually traveled to the Holy Land for his bar mitzvah at the age of 52. But his upbringing – raised by Jewish Communists in New York City – was nothing like mine.

Along the way, I explored other religions. I discovered Buddhism in college, and identified as a Buddhist for a good 20 years. But I rarely practiced formal meditation, either alone or with others; Buddhism to me was (and still is, to some extent) primarily an ethical and philosophical stance. I’ve more recently read about Jainism, and have concluded that I agree with the fundamental ethics, but cannot relate to the metaphysics.

Starting in graduate school I also explored neo-paganism, doing a fair amount of reading (The Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk was one of my favorite books) and briefly participating in a Church of All Worlds circle. But once again, the theism – even if there was more than one god/dess – turned me off to the practice. I felt that deifying nature by assigning human characteristics to nonhuman animals, plants, and natural phenomena diminished rather than enhanced these elements of our shared Earth. I also was a vegetarian moving toward veganism by this point, and felt a disconnect from people who practiced a nature-based religion while killing and eating farmed animals. (Many of the Buddhists I met ate animal flesh as well.)

Eventually, I decided I shouldn’t try to force a connection that just wasn’t there. When I realized two years ago that I was trans, part of the reason I changed my last name along with my first was that my original last name (which I never changed through two marriages) was very obviously Jewish. While there’s nothing more wrong with Judaism than with any other theistic religion (from my perspective), I felt strongly that I wanted to assert my own identity, not my father’s.

I took the name Gethen from The Left Hand of Darkness, a book by Ursula K. Le Guin about a planet with no gender roles, as all of the humanoids are literal hermaphrodites*. Being in the family of nonbinary people makes sense to me. And yet, I haven’t felt entirely comfortable in that “tribe” either. Nonbinary people, as with trans and other gender-variant people, have widely differing attitudes and life experiences. I attended a local genderqueer peer support group briefly, but felt it only highlighted how different my feelings about gender identity and expression are from most people.

Coming out as bisexual and, later, polyamorous, predated my coming out as trans by many years, and I did actively participate in bisexual and polyamory-focused events for awhile. But eventually I stopped going to these because I realized that sexual orientation and choice to have multiple partners were not enough of a common bond for me to spend time with others on just that basis. Changing my identity from bi to queer, and becoming much less sexually active, further distanced me from these communities.

Animal rights activists are another “tribe” I’ve tried to integrate with, but I’ve found that vegans and AR activists who are also staunchly against human oppression are seriously lacking. I’ve met some good friends through Direct Action Everywhere, but I haven’t been attending actions or meetups lately, for reasons I’ve written about previously.

Musicians are the group I’ve had the most trouble with. While I have sung or played some kind of musical instrument since the age of three, I’ve never been able to maintain connections with other musicians outside of structured, paid settings, like the band workshops I took at the Blue Bear School of Music or my singing in the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco. I’m in an uncomfortable middle area where I’m frustrated with casual, inexperienced musicians, but not skilled enough to join the ranks of serious amateurs or professionals. The effect of testosterone on my vocal chords has further limited my ability to make music with others, though private lessons are helping.

It’s possible that I simply don’t have a “tribe,” and I should be OK with that. Over the last few months, I’ve preferred to spend as much time alone as possible, so not having any regular commitments to meet with others helps me relax a bit. But I do feel isolated and lonely at times.

I keep returning to the idea that there’s some group out there that relates to the world in the same way that I do. A community of nonbinary vegan atheist anarchists or socialists would be close to ideal, I suppose. But for now, I’ll continue to write and read and learn about the world around me, and hope that I find the inner peace I need to become a more effective activist.

* While appropriate in this fictional setting, the term “hermaphrodite” should never be used to describe humans with variant sexual anatomy. “Intersex” is the preferred term.