Learning from the Past

A note before you read this: I do not mention names or names of places in my posts for a reason. Please don’t ask me for such details. While this was one of the worst times of my life, I do not wish ill-will on the church mentioned or its clergy. They have blessed a lot of people. Their way works for a lot of people, and I accept that… but it did not work for me. I can only pray that their minds and hearts be opened should they encounter more autistic, or LGBT people.

Enter my freshman year of high school. I had become the sound crew chief in the drama department, I also ran sound for all of the choir concerts and assemblies. I was getting good grades. I had a lot of friends and I thought I had found my niche in the world. I had a very influential teacher who taught me more in one year than all of my other teachers through my school career ever had. She didn’t teach me math, reading, or science. She taught me how to be a functioning member of society, and the only reason she could get through to me was because she could speak my language.

In the autism presentations I give, I emphasize strongly how important it is to learn an autistic person’s language, use their highly focused interests to make them interested in school work. For example, I speak sound. I understand things in technical sound engineering terms. Talk to me about emotions, innuendo and social cues, I’ll be completely lost. The aforementioned teacher told me once while I was having a very bad day, “OK, view the world around you as various channels of input. Sometimes, you get a bad signal and you have to fix it.” Suddenly, it all made sense. I was able to understand the “life gives you lemons” teaching for the first time, and it didn’t stop there.

At the end of my freshman year, I was running sound for the Baccalaureate service, after which a local church was providing lunch for the teachers as a thank you for several years’ use of the auditorium some time back. The woman serving the lunch was a heavily involved member of the church, and told me that her church needed help with sound. Having already had bad experiences with church sound, I shrugged it off and went about my business tearing down so I could get home and get some rest before finals the next day. The following week, I was asked to run sound for the dance team’s summer camp. It was something to do, and got me out of a non-air-conditioned upstairs bed room for a few hours in the heat of July. On my way home, I stood at the bus stop and waited. Something in me decided to give the church lady a chance. The church itself was two blocks up from the high school, so I walked.

Upon entering, I was instantly recognized by the lady from the lunch, who greeted me with a friendly smile and a handshake before introducing me to the lead sound guy. I was expecting some half-deaf old fart. The guy that walked into the lobby was a short, skinny dude full of tattoos and piercings, wearing a punk band shirt and girls’ flare-bottom jeans. I remember thinking to myself, “OK. This could work.”

The guy led me up to the sound booth to show me the system. Now, a lot of people don’t believe in love at first sight. For an objectum-sexual person, it’s especially rare, but the moment I laid eyes upon that broad, dial-laden control panel, my heart sang. I’ll never forget the joy I felt. That soundboard and I had an instant connection, a bond that I thought could never be broken. In a few weeks’ time, I became one of the top three engineers at that church, working over 40 hours a week. They told me they accepted me. This church was different. People wore regular street clothes, the musicians were hardcore rockers, and the pastor wore jeans on stage. These people would never turn their backs on me.

Love does stupid things to people. I opened my heart to the people, and trusted them with things I had never told another human being. I told them of the overwhelming joy that they had given me by introducing me to the love of my life. I told them how I thanked God everyday for their organization. I told them of my gender identity issues. I even told them of my strong belief in animism, and my objectum-sexuality. When I looked at that soundboard, when I watched her meters sway to the beat of inspiring, uplifting music… you ever get that feeling where your stomach tickles, and tears of joy come to your eyes?  That feeling where your feet feel funny, and for a brief moment all of time stands still? That was how I felt when I was with her, and that was my greatest undoing.

It was the first week of school, the same week of my birthday. That Sunday, I was asked to be a part of a service called “Drop your Rocks”. In it, the pastor had eight people up on stage representing eight different things that people judge the most. Each person in the congregation had a small stone under their seat, and was asked to lay the stone at the foot of the person who represented that which they’d judged most in their lives. I was labelled “Different”. Throughout each of the six identical services, people hugged me, loved on me, told me that I would always be accepted. A woman even climbed up on the stage and told me that I taught her how to love her daughter that day.

That story is important to remember as I go on with this because just three days after that very service, I walked over to the church after school and began to set up for that evening’s youth service. The new lead engineer came up into the booth with an uneasy look on his face. He began to explain that they were switching to a broadcast model, and that the sound team was being reorganized. Reorganized? I thought to myself, my mind knowing full-well what he meant, but my heart refusing to accept it. He meant that I was no longer a part of the crew. He asked me to leave right then. I had no ride home, and my dad didn’t get off work until 9:00 PM. That in itself was the least of my worries, however. They had successfully ripped my heart clean out of my chest. I was never allowed to see the love of my life again.

I don’t remember much after that. It was a pathetic blur of tears, heartbreak, and the endless questioning: why? What did I do wrong? Was I not a good sound engineer? They had all told me I was a great sound engineer. My skill level was apparently not the issue. I sobbed so hard, I couldn’t stand on my own two feet. I remember falling to the ground in the lobby, completely… broken. Through sobs and tears, I demanded to speak to the worship pastor who headed up the music department. They gave me a meeting time, and like clockwork, I showed up to defend myself and my love. The worship pastor proceeded to tell me that I was no longer allowed in the sound booth because I had the soundboard in my heart and not Jesus. I tried to explain that I was autistic, and that autism causes obsessive behavior. I also asked him, “Do you not love your wife? You do, but you still have God in your heart. I have God in my heart more than you could ever know, but I am in love with the soundboard much the way you are in love with your wife. It’s different. It’s not idolatry.”

The pastor told me that if I ever told anyone that I was “kicked off the sound team” that I would be kicked out of the church for good. Well, if that was how it was going to be, fine. I wouldn’t ever go back.

Shortly after, the choir director told me I was done running sound for her as well. Through the duration of my senior year, I had lost just about everything. I was still getting OK grades. I was going to graduate on time, no problem at all. I had become an empty shell. Living day to day, not really knowing why. I spent a lot of time in the counselor’s office because there were times in class when some subject would bring up everything, and I’d just break down. I’ve never been through so much hurt in my life. Even amidst all the bullying and harassment, none of it hurt so bad as the way that church treated me, and tears still well up, even now as I write this.

There’s a few lessons to be learned here. Like the vast majority of what I write, it all comes down to this: do not judge people. You never know how you hurt them when you do. I would give a million dollars to that church if it meant I could see her again. I would go to the ends of the earth and back, but bear in mind… I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. By the grace of God, I have been able to recover. That event didn’t shake my faith. I will always follow my Rabbi. I had lost faith in churches, but I didn’t lose my faith in God. I had lost my faith in intimate relationships, but I did not lose  my faith in God. To this day, in the words of Kelly Clarkson, “Because of you, I never stray too far from the sidewalk. Because of you, I learned to play on the safe side so I don’t get hurt. Because of you, I am afraid,” I do not let myself get attached to anything but God, for He is the only one in life I can truly rely on. He will never leave my side. He will always have my back. Some will say this is a good thing, especially for a clergyperson. However, sometimes I wonder if I’m missing out on something wonderful in life: the power of love. God gave us the ability to feel that emotion for a reason. Just because I don’t feel it for human beings doesn’t make it any less valid. I will always be objectum-sexual. I have been since I was a child, clinging not to friends or members of the opposite sex, but to my sound equipment, and the sound equipment I worked with since the first handheld tape player I got for Christmas as a first grader.

My breakthrough finally came when I graduated high school and moved back in with my mom. She told me that I was fine just the way I am. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Shortly after, I joined a Unitarian Universalist church, where I had a meeting with the minister in which I told her everything before I even became a member. I learned that the best thing to do is to always be yourself no matter what. If people don’t like it, don’t try to change. Move on, and you will find your place. The UU church restored my faith in organized religion, and I had a new outlook. I joined the sound crew and the choir, and everybody there knew everything about me and still welcomed me with open arms. Contrary to popular belief, open and accepting communities can and do exist. With this newfound faith, I was ready to seek another calling outside of sound engineering: ministry.

- To be continued.

- Fr. Ford

Taking a Moment to Say…

After writing yesterday’s post, the comments flooded my Facebook page. Others told their tales of hardship at the hands of school yard bullies. Some told of overcoming the bullies by beating them up, while others told of simply taking the abuse. Their stories inspired me to take a little break in the telling of my life story, and share with you all the wisdom I have gained from the hardships I have endured.

When I was in school, I often asked my counselors, “Why do they do these things to me? I have done nothing to them.” To which the counselors replied, almost invariably, “They make fun of you because they get made fun of. They’re insecure. It makes them feel better about themselves.” I never understood that because the only thing being bullied ever made me want to do is be a better person, stand up for the downtrodden, and never fall victim to peer pressures to put down my fellow man. In simple words, I knew how awful it felt so I would never do it to another person. I always thought you had to be some kind of evil-doer to know how bad it feels to be put down, and then turn around and put down the guy standing next to you.

To this day, I really don’t understand why people thrive on others’ pain and suffering. What I do know, however, is that I can break the cycle. I can stand up and be compassionate to all of God’s children, even those who once used me as the butt of every joke. I had a childhood bully once who was in the school band with me. We had a week-long camp before the school year started, and at the end, each person performed a simple piece of music they’d worked on all week for the rest of the students. Once the little concert was all over, the bully walked over to me. I furrowed my brows, bracing for what he had to dish out at me this time. I looked him in the eyes, and said, “You did good up there today.” He looked at me like that was the first compliment he had ever received in his life. He took a deep breath, shook his head and said, “I’m sorry for teasing you all the time.”

A little compassion goes a long way. Later on down the road, that bully grew to be one of my friends. Sure, he was a little rough around the edges, but he ceased to be mean to me, and it all started with a simple act of kindness. Words are powerful things, perhaps even moreso than muscles and fists. You can be the break in the cycle. You can inspire those bullies to be a better person.

There was another event in my life that turned my school experience completely around. I had just moved in with my father, and started going to a new school. There, a girl started talking to me, acting friendly. We exchanged instant messenger addresses. Later that day, I came home from school, got on my computer, and found a message from her stating, “Why do you walk like you have a d*** up your a**?” To which I explained, “I walk a little awkward because I have issues with my knees and ankles.” The conversation went on and on, insult after insult. At that moment, something in me snapped. There I was, having moved out of state just to escape, and yet the harassment still found me. I said to the girl, “Look. There’s two things you need to know. Number 1. I know a lot about computers, and I have every message here saved and linked to your IP address. Number 2. I have lived all my life putting up with harassment and I am done. You are harassing me in my own home, and I am going to call the cops.”

In an instant, the girl signed off. Five minutes later, my phone rang. It was my good friend who I had gotten to know over the past week, and he said, “This girl is at my house. She’s my next door neighbor, and she’s cryin’ her eyes out. Can you please talk to her?” I had my friend put the girl on speaker phone, and she began to beg me not to call the cops because if she got into trouble for harassment one more time, she would have to move to Kansas to live with her abusive father. I came to find out that the girl was bisexual, and was struggling with her identity. She was afraid of her peers. I told her, “I’ll make you a deal. I won’t call the cops if you promise never to harass a person again.”

Now, this girl was at the top of the social ladder and from that moment on, I was never bothered. School became fun for me. By my senior year, the girl was a member of “Rachel’s Challenge,” a group dedicated to putting an end to bullying and harassment. The important thing to remember is this: I never laid a finger on that girl, but my words were powerful enough to change her life. Everybody has that capability.

So here’s my challenge to you all: break the cycle. Be a beacon of light in the darkness. Show unconditional compassion for all of God’s beloved children. Loving your enemy is hard, but it is possible. Show that to the world. Use kind and loving words instead of fists, for they are far more powerful than your fist ever could be. Let the Holy Spirit guide you, let the Love of Christ radiate from your every action, and always hold the downtrodden in your thoughts and prayers.

May the peace of Christ always be with you,

Fr. BC

 

 

Who’s Up for Round Two?

Let’s pick this up where I left off…

I’m not really one to share the negative aspects of my life, as I don’t want to be that annoying friend who constantly brings everybody down, but I feel it necessary to share the hardships I’ve endured so that you, the reader, can better understand my triumphs and successes. I had a magnificent home life as a child. My mom is perhaps the greatest inspiration a person could possibly ask for. She guides me, comforts me when I’m sad, takes care of me when I’m sick, and has shown me true unconditional love. I’ve always had a very tolerant family. They accept all my quirks for what they are, be it my almost extreme animism (the belief that inanimate objects have souls), my gender transition, or my calling into consecrated life. They’ve always had my back, but that was at home. School was an entirely different story.

I can’t remember the first time I was made fun of. I suppose when it’s a daily happening, all the instances just seem to blur together, but in the midst of the terrors I encountered in school, one thing beamed through the darkness: I discovered sound engineering. I had started going to a new school after my family moved when I was entering the third grade. At this new school, the sound system was set up for assemblies right out in the open where everybody could see it. I realized that the two things I loved, music and electronics, could be made into one and the same. I asked the principal of the school if I could join the “tech team,” and a few months later, I was shown the ropes. I thought I had found my true calling. By the time I was in sixth grade, I was running the sound system for every event the school held, both during the school day and in the evenings. My peers rejected me. I began to feel a sense of kinship with the sound system that I never felt with the kids around me. I sensed that the soundboard understood me in ways no human being could. I fell in love with the soundboard. Generally, at that age, most folks realize they either like men or women, they begin to feel intimate emotions toward their peers, and become interested in one another. For me, it was a little different. I couldn’t relate to my peers, and the thought of kissing a human being on the mouth made me want to yack. It wasn’t that I couldn’t relate to human beings, of course I could. I had friends. It was that I couldn’t form, for one reason or another, the same deep emotional bond with a human being that my friends did. I explain it similar to how a gay man cannot feel those deep emotions with a woman. I simply cannot feel them with a human of any gender. Confused about my sexuality, my gender identity, and constantly questioning my purpose in life, I fell into a rather deep depression. The kids in school only made matters worse. They made me believe I had no reason to live. That, coupled with being on a drug that induces suicidal thoughts in children, led me to attempt suicide by throwing myself down a flight of wooden stairs.

I remember that night like it was yesterday. My mom, tears streaming down her face, asked me, “Why?” I told her the truth, “I feel stuck. I feel like I am in a little box, trapped, and I can’t get out.” It was with that statement that made my mom decide to take me to the hospital. I don’t really recall what happened after that. I don’t think I stayed the night in the hospital, but I’m unsure. I was rather a mess at the time, drugged to a stupor on my own overwhelming emotions.

Life seemed to perk up after that. In seventh grade, I was the school sound guy, I sang in the choir, and I was in drama club. I also began going to a church that two of my friends invited me to. I won’t mention any church names in this blog with the exception of the Church of Jerusalem, but I’ll put it this way: they were very traditional southern Baptists. Even so, the preacher’s powerful sermons touched me, and led me to dedicate my life to Christ. I was baptized in that church, and I thought I had it made. They even accepted me onto the sound crew. Then one day, during Sunday school, I asked the teacher if I could become a pastor. She said, “No. Women are not pastors. They never will be. Women are not leaders. I can teach Sunday school, but I will never pastor a congregation, and I will never teach men.” At that point, I began to become angry with the church. After all, God had put this fire in me, the ‘calling’, yet His supposed followers told me that what I felt so deeply in my soul was wrong. Needless to say, my experience at that church ended rather abruptly, and on quite a sour note. At the same time, the bullying in school just got worse.

Enter my eighth grade year. By that time, I was riding the public transit bus to school, I stayed in the same classroom all day, I had to arrive ten minutes late and leave ten minutes early, and teachers had to go get my lunch for me because if I went out into the mix of the student body, I’d get hurt. There were several methods they used to hurt me. People say that names cannot hurt a person, but when half the people you walk past yell ‘freak’ in your face… that can hurt. They also favored a couple different weapons. One was called “flickers”. They were plastic sack fasteners often found on loaves of bread, broken in half to create a sharp edge, and then flicked from the index finger at a high enough speed to leave a nice, red welt. The second favorite was called “stingers”. Stingers were pieces of paper, rolled tightly and licked to make them hard, and then shot off of rubber bands. Sometimes, stingers were capable of drawing blood. The hardest part of all this was actually the fact that the faculty of the school insisted that I made everything up. It wasn’t until the end of my eighth grade year when my sister witnessed it happening that they finally gave a kid detention for harassing me. By that time, it was too late. I had had enough. There I was, a very intelligent individual, getting straight F’s. I feared going to school everyday. That’s when I decided it was time for a fresh start. With just two months of my eighth grade year left, I moved in with my dad. I knew it was the only way I would graduate high school.

I had a new outlook on life, and I was prepared to succeed, and not let anybody get me down.

To be continued.

 

Godspeed!

- Fr. BC

The First of Many to Come

This will hopefully be the first of many blog posts to come. I’ve always wanted to share the goings-on of my life, and many have asked me to start blogging. So here it goes.

My name is Fr. BC Hall-Ford. I currently reside in the state of Oregon. I was diagnosed autistic at age five. At age 17, I came out as female-to-male transgender. At age 22 (just last weekend in fact), I was ordained a priest in the Catholic Apostolic Church of Jerusalem. That sounds like the beginning to a bad joke… “An autistic, transgender priest walks into a bar…” I’d say I have a pretty unique outlook on life, and I’m here to share it with the world because perhaps my story could bring hope to those who have lost it. My story is one of perseverance, and following one’s dreams to the ends of the earth, for I truly believe that nothing is impossible with our Lord Jesus Christ at our sides.

I will follow our Lord’s example, and start at the beginning. In the beginning, I was born two months premature with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck three times. My folks have told me that my head looked like a giant grape. To top that all off, I was born cross-eyed, and was forced to wear eyepatches as a toddler that flared up my skin’s allergies to adhesives. More importantly, I survived. I grew into a healthy, albeit pudgy toddler that enjoyed playing with strings, clothes hangers, and cleaning tools such as mops, brooms, and washing machines. I don’t remember much of my early childhood, except the floorplan of the apartment my family and I lived in at the time. The earliest solid memories I have are those starting at first grade. Even at that age, I was a little off. The apartment complex we lived in had a swimming pool, and whenever my mom would take us swimming, I insisted upon wearing trunks instead of the brightly colored, wedgie-inducing swimsuits my sisters seemed oh-so fond of. My siblings and I would play together, and I always took the role of the knight in shining armor, or the protective father in a game of House. Somewhere around that same time, I met the Lord. My mom had started going to a Baptist church, and every once in awhile, would take us kids with her. I remember riding home in the family Suburban, thigh skin stuck to pleather seats and all, singing “Yes, Jesus Loves Me.” I remember pondering what my mom had said, “Jesus lives in your heart.” I always had this image in my mind of Jesus standing with His hands folded against His chest, encircled in a deep red Valentine-esque heart. I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody about that until now. To this day, I remember that child-like mental drawing of the Lord, and it brings a smile to my face. That stage of innocent bliss was soon to end as my peers began to realize that I wasn’t quite like them.

- To be continued. It’s time for the morning coffee clatch with my mom.

The Lord be with you all,

- Fr. Ford

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