(This is for Autistics Speaking Day 2018. Content warning: Misogyny, depersonalisation, ableism. I wanted to include the picture of this protester, but I do not know if I could secure permission, so I left the picture out. Also, I’m posting this today as I will be too busy dealing with Breeders’ Cup work.)
To the Tattooed Bald Feminist on Facebook: Thank you.
I do not know who are you and where you are, but I figured that an open letter might reach you eventually in hopes that you read this with a open heart and with the hope that you are doing well.
I am an openly Autistic woman who have been deeply religious for over 30 years. I am a widow of a Lutheran pastor and I hold a consistent pro-life ethic that seeks solutions to the deeper problems of the human lifespan. We are different as day and night.
Yet… we have several things in common. First, we both have shaved heads and tattoos on our bodies. Second, we speak our minds. But most of all, we value self-expression. The right to express and present our personae as we see fit.
You came in the picture several months ago on a Facebook post. I was on the fence for various months. I was coming out of the dark night of the soul, a period of 11 years. When I moved to Kentucky, I was looking for a place to worship. I thought I could stay with the Missouri Synod. However, I was reminded by little things that I don’t really belong. The voice of my deaconess studies director haunted me. “You are not suitable for church work.” I pick up my Book of Concord. “You are not suitable for church work.” I try to read my Bible filled with academic notes. “You are not suitable for church work.” So I would visit the Orthodox Church, but that too felt alien. So I came back, hoping for a community in which I can do service.
I wanted to do things on my own terms. My hair was unmanageable and uncomfortable. So I got myself a buzzcut. I got another tattoo on my leg, and I’m hoping to get a Triple Crown themed tat on my right arm next year. I also have an eyebrow piercing.
I went on Facebook. And your picture was there, posted by a Lutheran pastor I knew. The comments were mocking your appearance. One pastor suggested that no guy in his right mind would be with you. To which an actual professor from my alma mater said: “Did you assume its gender?”
“It”. In the eyes of the “holy” men, you are an unf*ckable object. I looked at my own body and saw that if these guys never knew me before, they too would view me as an “it” who threatened their way of life. It was bad enough that they saw me as an useful idiot unsuitable for service. Seeing their unChristian behavior out in the open was the last straw. I mean, you might not care as these people are beneath you, but suppose you are an inquirer to the Faith and these profs– who are PhDs for heaven’s sake– told people publicly that you are too ugly to get laid or whatever. I doubt they got the stones to tell you in your face if you were to set foot on the Fort Wayne campus. I no longer want to remain in an organisation that only catered to what they considered as acceptable.
As an Autistic woman, I wanted a Church that won’t force me to pretend I am their “normal” kind of woman. I want to worship without feeling othered and alienated. I had to write a letter to the Lutheran Witness in response to some Synodocrat alluding to the scriptural “Foolish Things” to describe people like ME. I refuse to let people in the Missouri Synod look down on me as an object of pity. Christians are content to let us pass out bulletins so they can get ego strokes for “including the disabled.” But when a Blind guy or an Autistic seminarian wanted to serve the Church because as a member of the Una Sancta they felt called to serve, we hear “There is nothing suitable for you. Find another vocation.” They might as well have their eyes telling their feet: “I have no need for you. Get stuffed.”
Most of all, I want to attend a service in which *you* and I are valued and welcomed as a forgiven guest. So I blocked their asses on Facebook and announced that I’m bailing out of the toxicity. Those who attempted to justify their colleague’s behavior by saying that your clothes and style are inciting others to confront you, I blocked them too. That was when things were looking up. Those who questioned my competence cannot touch me any more. Believe it or not, your presence on Facebook revealed the lack of love and grace of those who I once respected. We all need that love and grace from God, from humanity, from each other. You cannot get that from an abstract, detached ivory tower. Your sign said “Without Apology.” I want to exist as an Autistic and be part of the One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church– without apology.
Last year, I’ve written an Autistics Speaking article about how I found love and acceptance from the kiss of 1997 Kentucky Derby winner Silver Charm. His hoof prints were all over my quest for a good church home. I thought of places in Louisville to attend when I remembered that Silver Charm’s owners were Anglicans. So I thought: if it was good enough for Bob and Beverly Lewis, it might be good enough for me. So I took an Uber to a small church near the Outer Loop area of Louisville. I met the rector and had a good meeting. I’ve mentioned your protest picture and how the insults against you have me leave a toxic situation.
And you know what? He understood. And then, he invited me to worship and I’ve met the AV guy…who is Autistic himself. My first impressions of that parish was very positive and I felt happy during worship. When it was time for the Prayers of the Church, the AV guy prayed face down to the ground. Some people would think… too Pentecostal. I say: Y’all do not know the implications of talking directly to God! No one thought that his worship was weird. In fact, after the service, the kids hugged him and the members greeted him with sincerity. I thought that if he was accepted as a full-fledged member of the parish, I too can worship with people who can accept me as I am– buzzcut, tats, and all. With love and grace.
In less than two weeks, I will be confirmed into the Anglican Church. After that, I will serve as an acolyte. Thanks to you, I found a healthy parish where my competence is acknowledged and I am not invalidated by my disability. Granted, you rather be thanked for other things, but at least let me thank you for revealing the need for a healthy spiritual environment.
I do not know whether or not I will be called to serve as a deaconess. Right now, I am happy to receive instruction as laity, knowing that God has a place for me. Although it is unlikely you would attend my church, you are invited to sit with me at the pew. Or at Barbaro’s grave at Churchill Downs. Either way, without apology, I will tell you that God loves you dearly and I think you look great as you are.