This is a guest post by Marsha Botzer for SSA Week.
What a good thing it is to be involved with the Secular Student Alliance!
I’ve been an out and proud Atheist since I was a young adult and went through a lonely summer of doubt, confusion, and intellectual struggle, emerging as many of us do with a firm realization that all religions are created by people, and most often as systems of control rather than systems of comfort.
These days I spend most of my time working for social justice issues, with a focus on LGBTQ, especially Trans* and Gender Non-conforming concerns. So far it has been a great life, one that I did not expect and was not prepared for by my family, school or first work, but one I truly love. What changes we have made! We have gone – in some areas of the world at least – from the days of simple survival as a trans person to today when trans people are leading organizations and taking on strong roles in politics and social change.
When I first heard transitions were possible and that I wasn’t alone in my feelings about self and gender it was a time of surprise and hope. Like a lot of LGBTQ people early on I had the fear I might be the only one or one of a few having such different feelings and thoughts. Very much like coming out Atheist, actually.
That time for me was during the 1968 Workers and Students uprising in Paris. Among all the turmoil and struggle I met some great people who were leading actions, creating change and art, and we had many conversations. During one night of talk I heard someone say they knew of a person who made a gender change! Later, as I traveled I met another activist who also knew of someone else who’d transitioned. The knowledge I wasn’t alone made a difference, and I came back home with real hope of finding help.
There was no help – at least none I could access our use. I spent a lot of time trying to find people, but “they just did not know what to do” in the best cases, and “don’t contact me again” in many other cases. Again, I see this can be a lot like coming to understand our secular selves within systems that have other ideas: in one world they only allow ridged ways for gender to be expressed, and in another there is only a very limited option for how you should think about the universe. Neither of these ways worked for me.
What happened is that I finally realized what I knew all along: If it isn’t there we must make it ourselves. That is, we must bring together others who are asking such questions and learn from one another and make the changes we need to make. I began to put the word out for others, not for already existing systems, and that led to founding Ingersoll Gender Center. Ingersoll, named after Robert Green Ingersoll, has been serving the Trans* and Gender Non-Conforming Community, our families and friends, for over 35 years.
And here is Secular Students Alliance doing something similar! Creating a way and a place for people to pursue their true selves and their real understandings. As I speak about gender issues with other organizations these days I often mention secularism and freethought as valuable allies in creating safe and healthy spaces for people to discover all parts of themselves. And people respond! I see so many opportunities for our groups to work together, so many people who are excited about including both our areas into their work, and who want to help LGBTQ and Secular organizations.
I say: Why shouldn’t we – LGBTQ and Secular – be a primary core around which other groups can gather? Once Labor joined together different progressive groups in the United States, now Labor has been weakened. Where is a core for all to gather around today? Why not us?!
There are already good people at work on these ideas, the amazing Greta Christina for example. Let’s build on this work. What better way to spend your heartbeats than in building a better world, a freer world?
This week is Secular Students Week, when we are all celebrating the fantastic work the SSA is doing to empower students. Their goal is to get 500 donations this week, and if they do they will receive a $20,000 challenge grant! Help them keep up their amazing work by giving this week.
Thanks to everyone involved in Secular Students Alliance. I am proud to join you in your work. Like Robert Ingersoll said: “The Time to be Happy is Now”, and together we can make this so!