There are some writers who’s work is so rooted in place. Who’s voice is so shaped by the land they come from. I think, especially, of writers like Flannery O’Connor and all of the writers of the deep south, or the ones from the desserts of New Mexico (like Natalie Goldberg), or the mountains of the West.
There is often this question with a novel or play: “Where is it set?” Because the geography matters.
Then there’s the other world I inhabit; the religious world. And we are very focused on our spaces. The land we own, the buildings we build, the places we come from.
Have you ever tried to throw something out at church? Even something old and severely worn and basically no longer usable? We just can’t!! So and so donated it. And so it sits. Collecting dust. Taking up space. Making sure that nothing else can be purchased to replace it.
But what about those of us who are rootless? Or, maybe a better term is uprooted?
When I think about “my place” I think about rural Pennsylvania where I spent most of my life. But even when I loved it there I never really felt like I belonged there. This queer and transgender kid in a hunting town. This boy in a non-boy’s body. This queer in a fundamentalist church. Yet I also don’t belong in Indiana where I went to college, or New Jersey where I lived for three years, or New York where I went to seminary. And I also don’t belong in Minneapolis even though I have lived here since 2009.
When I think of home I think of my own body. The apartment where I live now. I think of the places and people that I have made home. Even as those places and people move and shift and find their own new homes.
What does it mean to be rootless?
I wonder, sometimes, about people who are so attached to buildings and places. I wonder if they have ever felt that lack of home. If they maybe don’t know how to create their own homes (like most of the trans folks I know are forced to do).
I wonder if their clinging to spaces is a form of privilege. A privilege that my community rarely gets. Because our families are so often safe places. Our home towns are often the places we need to leave as soon as we can. Our churches are cruel and hostile. Our bars close down when the neighborhood shifts. Our lives are transient. Rootless.
Not always. But often.
So I don’t get tied to places or buildings. When I am in them I am ALL IN. But when the job ends, when the community shifts, when I get pushed out I leave. And I go to the next place. And I go ALL IN there. And it doesn’t feel fickle, it feels like survival.
And it makes it hard to understand how place matters to other people. Why they get so tied up in buildings and spaces.
I realize that for some people they have never been forced out or had to make a new home.
But I have always been on the move. Always been in exile. From my body, from my church, from my family.
It is a burden to constantly be forced out. To feel like you have no home. To know that any home you find might not be long lasting: That the rent might get too high, that the landlord might snap, that you might lose your job. That the church will stop being so accepting of your queerness, of your transness, of your prophetic voice.
And it is a gift to be able to make a home anywhere. To learn to love your body and have it be home. To cultivate community and safety wherever you go. To make new family. To make a new home.
To be okay with impermanence.
Because the future depends on those of us who can roll with it. Who can build and make wherever we are. Who can carry the tradition in our hearts and bodies and not need the tradition to be held in a physical space.
So allow yourself to be shaped by where you are from. And then carry it with you wherever you go.