When I was a kid, I gave little thought to the meaning or origin of Thanksgiving (or any other holiday, for that matter) — the celebration of holidays centered around time off school, and an all-family gathering at my house. Winston Churchill once said that history is written by the victors. Though probably not speaking of Thanksgiving, this saying is all too appropriate in considering this particular holiday.
When I was a kid, the official history of the U.S. (as written by the victors) went something like this: our ancestors landed on Plymouth Rock. There were some people there who fed them through their first winter. Later our ancestors fought off the global empire of Britain and declared themselves an independent country. We were inordinately proud of this. I grew up with the belief that the West was settled by brave souls who ventured into unpopulated lands, bringing order to previously uninhabited areas. Indians were depicted as savages who popped up randomly and unpredictably to attack the brave homesteaders. Manifest destiny epitomized.
I never knew until I was long adult that the westward movement of white people was a genocide. So this means… Thanksgiving is a holiday in celebration of genocide? Damn. ALL my ancestors, on both sides of my family, were on this continent long before any westward expansion began, but nowhere near as long as the folks who ended up being killed or displaced. Damn.
It is a nice idea to have a holiday dedicated to giving thanks. I am now attempting a reclamation, a day of thankfulness not for genocide but for the blessings in my own life. This is a new holiday for me, Thankfulness. This past year, I am thankful for:
January 4… every January 4, I am thankful for Cristina. Our first date. Every time I go in Peet’s Coffee on NE Broadway, my eye is drawn to a particular table, where we sat smiling shyly at each other in 2008. Every 4th is our monthaversary. (I never can decide how to spell that…)
Attending the Trans Voices Festival in Minneapolis in April. Despite a freakish blizzard that closed the festival early, this was a wonderful weekend. So energizing to meet other trans singers and performers. My peeps! In a moment of weakness I approached the organizers and said the next one would be in Portland. I am thankful for the committee that is helping me organize this endeavor. Go us!
I am thankful for the New Insurgency Revolutionary Choir. Connecting musically with Naomi Littlebear Morena has given me new singing connections with my past. Singing once more with some members of the Portland Lesbian Choir has brought me full circle to my roots. My first choral experience was with the PLC.
The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I’m not sure there are words enough to express what this organization means to me, especially after August 30. On that day, we took off from Seattle and flew to Beijing. The ten days in China that followed changed my life to the core, leading to the rest of what I’m thankful for.
I am thankful for a newfound connection to spirituality that has added a peaceful dimension to my life, and a deep sense of connectedness not only to others, but to myself. My life is now one continuous seamless thread, no longer pre-transition and post-transition. I am thankful for the reconnections I have made as a result — Amy, Lynda, Kathy, Adrian.
I am thankful for the profound bonds I formed with various chorus members as we shared this intense and exhausting and exhilarating trip. We have brought those connections back with us, revitalizing the chorus and deepening the bonds between all of us. Half the chorus went to China, and all of us are reaping the benefit.
Most of all — I am thankful to be me. PGMC is singing a song in our upcoming holiday concert, Nia. One of the seven principles of Kwaanza, nia means ‘purpose.’ I am thankful that my purpose in life has been, continues to be, fostering connection and hope. As a therapist I was aware every day of my impact on others. The awareness has been less tangible in the years since I left the profession. Now I understand — while I may not be part of the profession any longer, that doesn’t mean I have stopped practicing its guiding principles: understanding people in the service of fostering connection; giving support as needed and appropriate; giving advice rarely. Through writing, through teaching and mentoring, I continue to live out my nia.
I’m looking forward to seeing what I have to be thankful for in the coming year.