Several months ago I was asked to speak at a symposium on gender and religion in Salt Lake City, Utah. I stood on a stage and shared the story of my transition and how it impacted and deepened my faith. After I spoke there was a time for questions and answers. Two of the questions stayed with me and seem to interplay with one another.
Question One (paraphrased): You use “I” a lot in your story which seems to be very American and individualistic. How do you bring out the community?
As marginalized people who have often had our voices silences, often the first step toward healing is to be able to stand up and say “I”. I believe this. I am this. This claiming of an “I” that has been so long denied is powerful and important.
I believe that we need to do theology and storytelling in the first person. We need to claim our social location and speak out of it. And by speaking our “I” we acknowledge that we see things differently and that that difference has something to teach the people around us.
All theology and stories come from a particular social context and situation. It’s just that often that context and location goes unspoken or is considered somehow “neutral” or “unbiased” when it comes from straight, white, cisgender, men. Doing theology from an “I” perspective is vital.
The other reason I speak from the I is because I have a story to tell and only I can tell my story. I don’t have the only story in the world. But I have my story and it matters. By telling my story with boldness and vulnerability I hope to open up space for you to tell your story.
Which brings me to Question Two: If I wanted to start sharing my story, how would I go about it? There is so much noise in the world I’m not sure it would be heard. And also, how do I figure out the language I need to tell my story?
- Just start talking. I don’t say this to be flip, but telling your story is the best way to begin telling your story. Find a trusted friend or group of friends who will listen and then tell them.
- It doesn’t matter if you share your story with a million people or with one other person. This isn’t about celebrity it’s about telling others the things that matter to you. We share stories in order to connect with other people. We share stories in order to deepen the bonds between people. This doesn’t have to be a formal situation, it can simply be a conversation.
- Find a medium that works for you. Some people best tell their story in 140 characters on Twitter, others use blogs (I recommend WordPress), still others find that they would rather use the camera on their laptop and record videos for YouTube. Maybe you want to launch a podcast. Maybe for a while you need to be anonymous, that’s totally fine (I wrote under a pseudonym for several years before finally revealing my name). There isn’t one right way to do this there is only the way that is right for you.
- If you’re having trouble figuring out what your story even is or putting it into words, I recommend buying a journal or notebook and spending time writing every day. My journal is the first place I go to tell my stories. I start by telling them to myself and that helps me figure out what I am ready to share, what words I might use to share it, and what matters the most. There are also books you can get on creative journaling that might help if you need some prompts.
- Read a lot of memoirs. Watch videos of people telling their stories. Seeing how other people structured the stories they tell, examining the language they use, seeing how they put it all together has been helpful in my own journey to telling my story better.
- Figure out what it is that you want to tell. Why does your story matter to other people? (Make no mistake, your story does matter to someone, maybe a lot of someones!) What is it that you have experienced or overcome or learned that could be useful to someone else? What parts of your story might make things easier for someone else? What parts of your story could open up a new way of thinking and being for those listening?
- If you decide you want to tell your story in front of larger crowds, take some public speaking courses. Learn to get comfortable in front of people. Practice, practice, practice. Figure out what you’re ready to share. There is nothing worse than being in front of a crowd and saying more than you intended to and having to deal with the fallout or the discomfort later.
Above all, simply start. Your story matters. We need you to tell it.