On Saturday morning (Oct. 11) my partner and I went to Atlanta PRIDE to assist our sister, Cheryl, with her organizational booth. Trans Individuals Living Their Truth (TILTT) was the only Transgender-specific group with a booth at Atlanta PRIDE this year. Hence, Monica and I were intent on supporting Cheryl in her mission to promote a positive image of trans people in Atlanta and to educate the broader GLBT community on trans issues.
I became involved with engaging passersby, drawing them towards our table with information and fundraising items for sale. Meanwhile, Monica went to help with preparations for the Transgender PRIDE march. Past noon, I changed into my white, Jersey-cotton ceremonial dress and unpacked my drums. One of my dear young brothers and his seeing eye dog then showed up at the booth and we both headed towards the corner of Tenth and Charles Allen, where the Trans march was scheduled to start. Milling about in the gathering crowd of many colors, many ages, both transgender and cisgender, I tentatively began drumming.
As the lead marchers filed onto Tenth street behind Atlanta Police Department escort, I began to drum more confidently. I brought up the rearguard of the 250 or so participants while Monica rode the trolley, also at the tail of the march.
As I took in the energy of my brothers and sisters, along with the love of our supporters, I must have been beating out a catchy rhythm, for two young women began skipping and twirling ecstatically to my drumming. I allowed them to borrow my drums and their euphoria shone ever more brightly.
They handed my drums back, claiming that I played them better. Regardless of the particulars of these young women’s beliefs, they demonstrated that the act of celebrating the rights and liberty of Transgender and Gay persons is a most rewarding spiritual experience.
As we reached 14th street to turn back towards Piedmont Park, the previously blue-and-white-patched skies were completely darkened under thick cumulus. Seemingly on cue from the weather, a group of ten or so anti-GLBT “street preachers” began to heckle us. Their tall signs bearing dark words along with thier harsh, angry speech seemed to constitute sincere acts of worship to their abusive, patriarchal God of the Underworld.
As we filed through the 14th street entrance to Piedmont Park, a downpour ensued and we sought refuge under the immense oaks. The anti-GLBT demonstrators followed us into the park, despite the rain, and a man among them in a black shirt shrieked a sermon through his bullhorn. His words were so contorted with rage as to be incomprehensible, but I felt led by Divine Mother’s Love to drum before this man, thus drowning out his dark words. Many of the young trans marchers and allies walked out into the rain to add their voices to the shield of sound we built before the black-shirted man. He lowered his bullhorn at increasingly long intervals, realizing none would hear nor understand his words. I felt compassion for the black-shirted man and I wanted to thank him for providing me the opportunity to make music. Everyone on both sides began to tire and I did not want continue soaking my drums under increasingly heavy rain. I headed back to the booths where a friend from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation invited me to sit under her booth to chat and catch up. It seems that all people have good in their hearts, even the anti-GLBT street preachers with thier death-and-judgement-preoccupied God.
I returned to the TILLT booth as the rain subsided. Two young queer women from Memphis, having been in the trans march, complemented me on my “positive energy” and my manner of countering the words of the man in the black shirt. As sunlight returned, I felt moved to stand out beside the TILTT booth for more drumming. Despite the raindrop splotches on my dress, I felt confident in projecting my rhythms and engaging passersby. Thus I spent my last hour of Saturday at PRIDE, before Monica and I packed up to return home.
Sunday, my second day at PRIDE, would prove to be even more inspiring. More than a few young people of high-school and college age were to speak with me as I tended the booth. For the first time, I felt the reassurance that I am no longer marginalized, for the young generation fully accepts those of us who cross gender boundaries. Divine Mother thus blessed me as I offered service to my dear sister, Cheryl. In addition, I shall pray that others who served on this PRIDE weekend, particularly the Atlanta Police Department, will likewise know blessings and health. In light of the new APD procedural guidelines for interaction with transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, I am proud to call Atlanta my home.