My name is Dawnne Woodie, and I live in a tiny town in Southwestern Montana, named Anaconda. I was, until the congregation was disbanded a year go this past June, the Music Director of the Anaconda First United Methodist Church. The church was originally started in 1877 by circuit rider Brother Van Orsdahl, who planted nearly all of the Methodist churches in Montana. Brother Van is synonymous with the history of the Methodism, especially here in Montana.
In Anaconda, when I arrived here nine years ago, no one had ever seen a transperson, and they had no idea what transgender even was. I found this little town by accident and instantly felt a healing quality about the community, and decided to stay. (I’ll share that story another time.)
For the past eight years, our community has held a Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial Service at the church here, until last year, when we had to find a new home. The St. Mark’s Episcopal Church here adopted us, and we hold our memorial service there now each year. We now have an entire week of celebration of transgender accomplishments here in the area, and we hold events from Anaconda to Phillipsburg to Butte. This year, we held a self-defense class specifically geared to women at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Butte (Rev. Melissa Engel, Pastor), and had pretty good attendance there. We had a day of outreach in Phillipsburg, and we had a couple of other community events in Anaconda.
Our big outreach event here is our Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial Service, where we have members of the clergy in the area, as well as the community overall participate. We have several that come in from around the country to speak and lead various events during the week, and then speak during our memorial service, which took place Saturday evening, November 17th. We present both a Christian and a political perspective in our speeches, and then we follow it by reading the names of those transgender persons who have died the past year from violence or suicide.
I’ll be honest, we don’t read ALL the names. From the foreign countries, we read the name of the country, then the number of deaths in those countries. When we get the USA, we do read the names here, and for the first time, I read the cause of death of those persons. We typically do not do that, but I wanted the impact to be there, in light of several who were present that were “doubters”. As each country and then name was read, we rang a bell as a memorial to them. We followed the reading of the names with a candle-lighting ceremony as we departed the church. A reception followed.
The impact was not in vain. I used a story that I picked up on Facebook, comparing a rose to the transperson, talking about how the rose begins just as a seed, grows into a small plant, eventually creating a bud that as it opens, becomes more and more beautiful, becoming all that a rose should be. I reminded those present that the rose has no need to be better than anyone else. It just is. The rose, just as the transperson does, starts from a seed. The transperson begins, usually from our earliest childhood memories, knowing that we are special. That is the seed that begins to germinate in our lives, and as we begin to understand it, it begins to grow into a tiny little plant. As we can allow it, that tiny little feeling, that tiny knowledge, misunderstood often as we try to overcome it and kill it off, still is there deep inside us.
When we are facing each day the idea that we are being erased, we must be willing to show our authenticity, stand proud, and speak our truth to the world.
Last year, I used the analogy of a tiny little candle in a lamp sitting in the window of an old barn. It glows softly, barely more than a smoldering wick, until it is blown off the window ledge by a breeze. Where it lands, it begins to set the hay on fire in the barn, along with the dried-up, ramshackle barn. Eventually the flame of the candle builds to a conflagration, burning the barn down and destroying the enclosure completely.
The comparison to us as transpersons is that we have that tiny little flicker of a flame. Maybe we push it down to a smoldering wick, but once given fuel to develop, we begin to blossom much like the rose, much as the flame burns down the barn. We can no longer hide that flicker of flame.
We cannot just stay a bud, but we must come out and show the world just who we are and how beautiful we have become.
This is the message we need to hear in these tough, hateful, bigoted political times. When we are facing each day the idea that we are being erased, we must be willing to show our authenticity, stand proud, and speak our truth to the world.
The transgender community in Anaconda is strong here now, with five of us currently living here, and with numerous others having come and gone. I am proud of my community and my part in building understanding and acceptance here. I am deeply involved in the local community, participating in three nonprofits beside my own nonprofit that works to rescue transpersons who are in danger across the country (again, a story for another day.)
This is my story, and I’m sticking to it.