Sunday with Kuchus
David Weiss, March 24, 2013
It is LATE here. After 1:30 (and I need to up and ready to go at 6:30 in the morning – Yikes!), but I need to get these words out before I sleep.
I am so much like Emily in Our Town today. Somewhere she’s cries out, “Stop, it’s all moving so fast. Does anyone ever realize life while they live it – every, every minute?!” And the Stage Manager replies with a weary acknowledgment, “No.” Then he adds, “Saints and poets maybe … they do some.”
And it is 1:30 and as I write my shoulders shake, my cheeks are wet, and I can barely see through the tears. It is SO full. There is TOO much to take in, but it is rushing in, and I don’t want to lose any of it. So I just weep.
The afternoon began at Rev. Mark’s city office, where we would gather with a handle of grassroots LGBT activists (in Uganda they call themselves “Kuchu” – which approximates our word queer, maybe not so much in exact meaning but in being a blanket reference to LGBTQI folks) to listen in on a meeting about the challenges they face in funding their work.
We were back in the city, although you would never know it from the road we were on which matched the Kawanda road rut for rut. Rev. Mark’s office is a simple cement building; spartan is a gracious word. Office space, meeting space, a simple kitchen and a bathroom. We were among the first to arrive. Longjones, whom I’d met yesterday was already there. So was Stosh, and she (or he?) mostly is the reason for my tears. I had never met her, but I recognized her immediately from the film Call Me Kuchu, in which she tells of being subjected to violent corrective rape, becoming HIV positive as a result, and wrestling beyond this grief to comes to terms with her trans identity (a process in which she is still immersed, and I am unsure whether it is up to me to switch pronouns without being invited or asked to do so – others in the room joked about her being defiantly “inbetween”).
She and I sat alone in a room for a short while, and I explained who I was and why I had come. And she melted with gratitude. She swelled with joy. And I had not expected this. Her story had touched me deeply. My simple tale of Ally-on-adventure-in-Africa had no reason to move her as well. But there she was – beaming at me just because I came.
And so, it seemed a small gesture to offer her a copy of my book. It was not small at all. Stosh exploded with joy. She was beside herself with glee. “Oh, oh, oh, you do not know, but I so love to read. Oh thank you! Thank you!” And it was all I could do then to hold back then the tears that stream so freely now. And I said, “You are so welcome.”
Before the long the room filled and then some. Maybe twenty Kuchu (I do not know if the plural takes an “s,” or if it is singular and plural in one form) gathered: gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans at least. I will not try to capture the conversation, suffice to say for four hours it sounded like “justice flowing down like mighty waters.” Well, not always. But it was more than animated. People grabbed the floor and held onto it long after their “turn” had expired. People debated the causes behind the frustrations they faced. People shouted, less in anger than in sheer passion. Two complaints surfaced repeatedly. One, that the big and “sexy” LGBT groups in Uganda tend to hog the funding stream to themselves and shut out of the process those who are working in the trenches with the most marginalized of all. And these were the activists in the room. The other, that too many times persons in the LGBT community itself – no doubt because of the very desperation that frames and distorts their lives – act with less than the best character. That there are too many times that Kuchu undo their own progress by acting out of selfishness, greed, or stupidity. Human vices that are freely available to all of us, but which can be triggered especially when life is desperate.
I was the fly on the wall. This was not my room to speak in, merely to listen and learn. But oh my. So much pathos. So much passion. So much suffering. And so much hope.
And as the evening wore down to its end (around 8 p.m.) person after person came up to me and thanked me for being there. No, I don’t think you understand. I mean hero after hero. Person after person whose life is in danger daily, thanked me for spending a few days in Africa. No. It is too much.
I don’t deserve all this thanks. I am not worthy to be here among these people. And I remember the words I wrote sixteen years ago in my “coming out” piece as an Ally:
“I see now that if God keeps silent in the face of your anguish, it is only because I wouldn’t lend God the use of my words. Well, here they are. … Against all this that you know so well I can offer only words—but maybe this is precisely what I have not done often enough or loud enough or long enough.”
Its sixteen years later, and I’m still talking. Tonight I’m weeping, too. Because such a beautiful tragic holy person as Stosh squealed in joy over me. “Saints and poets maybe … they do some.” But it hurts and it heals and it flows down like mighty waters tonight.
David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God’s welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). He and Margaret have a blended family of five children, five grandchildren, and assorted animals that approximate a peaceable kingdom. A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, David is committed to doing “public theology” around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. He lives in St. Paul and speaks on college campuses and at church and community events. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at http://www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.”
David: This lengthy gathering of GLBT activists is exactly the type of experience in which we hoped you would be able to participate. I was moved by both your description of the deep expressions of gratitude from people concerning your visit; and your identification of how funding is not reaching these individuals, in support of their struggles. I am also struck by how much Rev. Mark is involved in ministry with Kuchus – I had not been aware that his connections were so deep; and I think I have been too narrowly focused on Bishop Christopher’s work. I can also feel with you the surprise about how much your visit means to the GLBT folk you met. Sometimes, I think we are a bit blind to how much our minimal actions touch others. Such revelations are always very moving; and I am excited that the Spirit is so obviously moving along with you during your visit. You continue to remain in our prayers and we pray you will have more such moving experiences, in the days that remain. Stay will and safe my friend! Leo