Punny business

I keep telling you that I’m more than just a pretty face.  Here’s proof, some of my recent jokes.

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Having worked in a used clock shop, I have first hand experience with second-hand secondhands.

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Facing a budget crisis, the cemetery found it could only afford to employ a skeleton crew.  They sent a host of ghosts out to scare up new business.

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When an Arabic ruler is deposed, it’s a big sheik-up.

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Size matters?

  • When it comes to measuring earthquakes, seiz matters.
  • As for opinions about each year’s best major league pitchers, Cy’s matters.
  • I find myself breathing heavily so often that I keep track of them.  I have a file titled “Sighs Matters.”

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How I read the president’s tweets: Trumped up charges.

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When I see a convoluted string of consonants and vowels, I don’t see a typo. I assume the writer is mentioning a town in Iceland.

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When fishing in the Everglades, before me arose a large, unusual animal. I hollered, “Are you related to the elusive monster in Scotland?” To my surprise, it replied, “No, I’m not, but we bear a similar lochness.”

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Police raided the studio of the famous artist, who was suspected of plotting history’s largest art heist. They were foiled in their attempt to arrest the painter. Why? Details of his plan were sketchy.

You will have to draw your own conclusions.

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I signed up for a weekend seminar on how to get ahead in life. It’s a retreat on how to advance.

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I have a gnawing desire to study cannibalism. It’s eating away at me.

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At the time I retired, did I become unemployed? Absolutely not!

  • When I do my daily jogging, I am runemployed.
  • Every time I participate in having a good time, I am funemployed.
  • And with each wordplay I compose, I am punemployed!

Trans Ed 101: rude questions

When Caitlyn Jenner was on her book tour in the spring, she revealed that, yes, she had undergone gender confirming surgery. She said something like, “There, now you know, so don’t ask about it any more because I am done talking about it.”

You can imagine that trans folks are sensitive to questions like this. That’s why it was easy for me to find this picture:

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Do an internet search that goes like this: what questions should I not ask a trans person? Plenty of articles will come up. Most of them have lists.

Lists of questions you should never ask a trans person. Lists of ways you easily will offend a trans person. Lists of things you would never ask a non-trans person.

Memorize the questions. Got ‘em down pat? Good. Now, never ask them.

No, wait. I have another idea. It will be easier to remember.

Consider this. If you were standing next to a stranger in line at a store, would you ask her if she ever had cancer? “Hey, lady. I don’t know you at all, but I’m going to ask you this deeply personal question.” Of course, you would not. But, if you were sitting with a good friend, and the conversation led you to wonder if she ever had suffered cancer, it would be natural to ask. “Oh, wow. I didn’t know that about so many of your family members. Have YOU ever had cancer?”

It’s as simple as that. How well do I know the person? What is our relationship? Do we usually talk about personal things? Is this person normally open to discussing her private life?

If you have that kind of relationship with a trans person, you’ve probably already talked about her or his or their transition. If the person had planned or undergone surgeries, it’s likely been on the table. If you care about each other at a deep level, to talk about these things is as natural as caring about any health issues, or family troubles, or you name it.

If your friendship is more casual, you likely won’t discuss sensitive, personal issues. This could be a neighbor, a co-worker, a cousin, a member at your church, and the like. You know the person well enough, when you see each other you always greet each other, you make small talk, and perhaps more. But, anything deep? Anything really personal? Nope. You simply don’t have that sort of relationship.

If that person were transgender, that’s one to whom you would not ask things such as:

  • “Are you on hormones?”
  • “Have you gotten your name legally changed?”
  • “Do you date men or women or both?”
  • “What surgeries are you planning on having?”
  • “What does your family think of all of this?”

If that person were cisgender (if you are not transgender, you are cisgender, meaning your sex/body type and gender/identity match), you wouldn’t ask any of those questions to a casual acquaintance, right? See how easy it is to know what’s okay or not to ask a trans person?

That said, there is one final thought. Let’s say your co-worker, next to whom you sit, and with whom you have only a casual relationship, says to you, “Gosh, I feel lousy today. My hormones are all out of whack. The doctor just changed my HRT meds and it’s affecting me.” Because that one opened the door, not only would it be fair to enter it, it would be friendly to reply with, “I’m sorry you’re feeling lousy. I’m afraid I don’t know anything about that. How would you describe it?”

The more private a person is, the less open they will be to questions. The more open a person is, the more available they will be to fielding questions. Of course, every question needs to be asked in a respectful manner. Never rudely. Never to be crude.

This entire conversation comes down to respect. And being a considerate person. And treating others in the manner we desire for them to treat us.

Trans Ed 101: dead name

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Broadly speaking, the dead name (also used as deadname, one word) of a transgender person is her, his, or their birth name. Specifically speaking, a birth name is a dead name only if the trans person never wants it used. In some cases, one’s birth name is completely rejected, as if it never existed.

When someone uses the dead name of a transgender person, it is called deadnaming.

The first time I ever heard this term, dead name, was in September, 2015, when I sat on my first transgender panel discussion in a class at Indiana University. Six of us were on the panel. We were introducing ourselves. As one young person, who explained why “they/them/their” were their preferred pronouns, gave their quite gender-neutral name, they said, “My birth name was very feminine. I never want to hear it. It is a dead name to me.”

They were emotional as they spoke. Not surprisingly, the first question from a student went to them. “What do you mean by ‘dead name’?”

They told how, from their first memory, they did not identify as a girl. How their parents nurtured them very definitely as a girl, despite their protestations. How they always felt completely misunderstood by family and teachers and, well, by the world. How important finding themselves—they currently was a student at IU—in the past few years was to them.

Each of us on the panel were then given the chance to speak to the question. Our feelings were quite varied. Generally, none of us wanted our birth name used. The other three young people felt nearly as strongly as the first. The only panelist who even approached my age, who, like me, was early in transitioning, was more easygoing about it. As for me, I said that, sure, I now prefer to be called Gina, but I told them my birth name is Greg, I don’t despise my name, and that I had no intention of changing my birth certificate.

For you who might find this dead name business ridiculous or awful, consider the young guy who was known as Billy from his youth. Everyone called him Billy. He was never William, to no one. Growing up, he felt that Billy no longer fit him. He wanted to be called William. Not only did he feel that his adult station in life was a “William” one and not a “Billy” one, he now felt like he was a William. For him, Billy was a thing of the past, almost a dead name to him. Sure, some old friends might still slip with a Billy here and there, and his parents and siblings likely do the same, but they grasp William’s desire to be called what he wants to be called. And, after all, it’s HIS name, not theirs, so it’s his decision.

Why might some trans folks feel very strongly that their birth name is a dead name?

For those who experience from very young a mismatch of sex and gender, outward and inward identity, life often is traumatic. Thankfully, we are hearing more and more stories about parents who are listening to their children, who take seriously a child’s plea about who they are, and the children are enjoying peace and are prospering. Sadly, too many children continue to be told, “That’s nonsense. You’re a boy (or girl), not a girl (or boy),” and as the years go on things only get worse.

These children might be physically and emotionally abused. As with Leelah Alcorn, the young trans woman who stepped in front of a truck in order to die, they might be taken to pastors or counselors who use conversion therapy, also known as reparative therapy, “to get their head straight.” You know, “pray away the gay”—try the same for the person who thinks she or he is transgender; if you think right, you’ll be right. (I had several pastors try that with me, to fix me.)

While I’ve never heard of a really young child being kicked out of the house for being transgender, I have heard too many accounts about and from teens and young adults. They have lived in a world so far from my imagining, experiencing things that I only ever saw in the news or the movies.

One trans woman I got to know quite well told me of the sexual abuse she suffered. As she recounted the maltreatment she, as the young boy she had been, suffered at the hands of older boys and adult men, including her step father, she had that far away look in her eye, choking up at the hardest parts which were almost unspeakable.

Even for those who did not suffer trauma as children, including those who were well into adulthood before realizing their troubled heart was from gender dysphoria, transitioning is as huge a challenge as there is in life, and one’s name is integral to the process.

No matter the content of one’s history, one’s birth name is unequivocally attached to that history. Moving on from that history and into whatever becomes of one’s life in transitioning calls for changing much. As important as surgeries might be, and our appearance, and how we are seen and interact in the world, is how we are named.  (Just ask William.)

Is it any wonder that some transgender women and men want their birth name never to be used again? Why they not only adopt a new first name but, in the most serious cases, even opt for a new last name? Why their birth name is now dead to them? Why they don’t only change their birth certificate for legal reasons, but for the most deep, personal ones?

In the fewer than two years since I first heard it, I have watched the use of dead name explode to where it is now used synonymous with birth name, even if one’s birth name has not become dead. One trans friend refers to her birth name as her dead name, yet will use her former guy name in context. Even her wife will use it, referring to before her now wife transitioned. I find it odd how they call it a dead name when they continue to resurrect it, yet how they use it demonstrates how deeply integrated into trans culture dead name has become.

What the adoption of this term—this attitude about one’s birth name—demonstrates is how significant one’s name is to her, him, or them. As with the Billy/William example, it’s OUR name, so how we feel about it is our decision.

On the positive side, the name we choose for ourselves is a wonderful name to us. We selected it because we connect with it, that it fits us. We love how it sounds when others use it. We relish seeing it in print, and signing our name using it.

We rejoice that we are finding ourselves, have found ourselves, and can now be ourselves. Our name is as integral as anything to our lives.

Using HRT to remain male

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Not yet forty, he’s still a fairly young guy. Married, with two young children, and a member of a congregation in the church body where I was a minister, he longs to be a man, a husband and father, and everything else he has built over his lifetime.

He does not want to transition. No, wait. That is not nearly strong enough. He has told me there simply is no way he can let this happen. He needs to resist what he says is “the alluring call of femininity.”

This man, whom I will call Robert, contacted me last year, another in a growing list of folks who found my blog and reached out to me. He identified with me in many ways, except that he had resolved not to transition. He then told me the craziest thing. He was about to go on hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in order to help him remain male.

Yes, he was going to use HRT as medicine—the HRT that trans women use in order to be female—as the prescription for calming the call to femininity. He was about to do that for which I had longed, but could locate no doctor who found it a possible remedy, and no information on the internet to show that anyone had done it.

Robert told me that he knew a man who was doing it, who had gone on HRT and was having success with it in his effort to remain male. Robert found a doctor who agreed to prescribe HRT for him and, in June of last year, he began taking estradiol to increase his estrogen and spironolactone to block his testosterone.

In other words, Robert set out to reverse his sex hormones, so that his higher estrogen and lower testosterone would reflect that of a genetic female, so that he might continue to live as a male.

I have chatted twice with Robert this year. He reports the good that is happening in him, along with the undesired side-effect. The good? HRT has, indeed, calmed the call of femininity. He is feeling strong, finding himself more capable of being a male. The side-effect? He’s growing breasts.

Since no male desires a flabby chest, especially one in which his breasts are obvious and might invite questions or suspicion, Robert has found himself needing to resort to flattening them. He opts for one of two options, depending on the type of shirt he is wearing. If he can get away with it, a sport bra does the job. When he needs to smooth out his chest the most possible, he binds his breasts, which is the same procedure for genetic females who transition to male.

The goal for many genetic females who transition is to have top surgery, that is, to have their breasts surgically removed. If HRT proves to work for Robert over the long term, he could find himself opting for top surgery.

This begs the question. Will HRT provide the type of relief for Robert, over the long term? Even more, can HRT do this? Does it have this ability?

How much of Robert’s situation is hormonal/physical, and how much is emotional/mental? Is sheer determination on his part a factor—perhaps even the ultimate factor—in his succeeding?

Besides the desire to physical transition from male to female, one of the hopes for taking HRT is that it will calm one’s brain. The person with gender dysphoria experiences fierce mental fighting—I always say that my brain was on fire—and if one does much reading, one learns that trans women report that HRT calmed their dysphoria, causing them to (finally) feel right about themselves.

I reached this point, but before I settled into it I experienced a calm so great that I had no interest in being a female. For the first time in my life, all feminine desire was gone.

My doctor told me to give it eight weeks before I began to feel the effects of HRT. At seven weeks, I did, with the first sign of tender breasts. At eight weeks, the calm arrived. By the third day of it, I wondered what was going on.

I found myself with no interest in being a female. I was dumbfounded. It was so extraordinary, I waited another day to tell Julie what had been happening that week.

Telling her the next day, we both wondered if HRT had gotten my sex hormones to levels which were in proper balance for my endocrine system. It really made sense to us. It’s essentially what Robert set out to do, and he even reported to me, the last time we chatted, that he found that to have his testosterone too low—where a female’s would be—did not feel good for him, so he eased back on the blocking medication, allowing his testosterone to rise but still be significantly under what it had been before he began HRT.

When I experienced the profound calm, I began researching it online. Sadly, I could find no reports of a man’s using HRT to produce the effect where he felt right as a male. Next, I reported it to my therapist. He’d never heard of it. He checked with other therapists, who work with trans folks. None of them had heard of it. Finally, I asked my doctor. He had never heard of it. He did, however, say that if I liked how I felt we could work to keep my dosage where I would feel good.

That sounded great to me.

That didn’t work.

After six weeks, I crashed. Adjusting my meds made no difference.

I went through the experience two more times. I quit HRT, not wanting the physical effects of it and determined not to transition. After several weeks, when my hormones reverted to pre-HRT levels, my brain once again caught fire. I restarted HRT and, in about a month, I experienced the same calm which had me feeling like a guy, with no desire to be a female.

Each time, I didn’t want to stay on HRT, so I quit taking it. Each time, after awhile I crashed.

Retiring from the ministry and moving to Indianapolis, I found an endocrinologist. I explained to my new doctor my history with HRT. As with the others, she had never heard such a story, and she has had loads of trans patients. I asked whether she thought HRT could be used to keep a guy feeling like a male. She was veritably blunt in her reply. “No,” she said without hesitation. “I don’t.”

Still, I restarted HRT and hoped for the calm. Sure enough, it arrived . . . and remained for exactly one day. From there, for weeks, I was in and out, until I finally settled into feeling female and, in the summer of 2015, undertaking living full time as a woman.

My Indianapolis therapist thought that my determination to remain male had worked with the HRT to provide those periods of calm, of feeling good as a male.  Determination, however, was not enough to uphold me. It would be like telling a person with cancer to convince himself that his tumor no longer growing and cause it to cease.

I hope Robert continues to have success. I hope others hear of him and decide to undergo HRT for the purpose of remaining in their birth sex, if that is what they want and find that they need.  I hope doctors would do more research into this, that it might be an effective therapy for all with gender dysphoria who prefer not to transition.

As Robert keeps me updated, I will report on his progress. Later this month, he passes the one year mark of being on HRT. So far, he’s doing well. Indeed, he is doing better than I thought he would be able to do.  Maybe, just maybe, he’s onto something good.

Understanding for the trans’ spouse

Last week, to my post, “I Don’t Understand,” a friend authored an astute analogy. He suggested that the family member or close friend, who is dealing with a loved one’s transitioning sexes, might be akin to any person suffering significant trauma and, when in a traumatic situation, a person’s ability to deal with things easily can be profoundly affected.

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Since 2015, I have been corresponding with a man, whom I will call Jack. Jack is a traditional Christian, at the crossroads with his gender dysphoria, and longing to transition. Jack’s struggle has been manifold. He can only see transitioning as the remedy for his dysphoria, but his wife, whom I will call Barb, is completely against it, and they have all of the usual factors in their lives—children, work, church, family and friends—which complicate the situation.

Last week, Barb got directly involved in communicating with me. To summarize where she is, first, she is committed to a traditional reading of God’s Word and cannot fit into it that one might transition without it being a sin and, second, she finds in her husband longing to be a woman a direct attack on her own femininity.

As I pondered her long, question-filled, impassioned note, I realized that I could not only defend Jack’s need for relief from his gender dysphoria. I considered the trauma idea of my friend, and I added to it the attitude that I have had for my own loved ones, having determined that I would always be patient with them, recognizing that my news was tremendously hard on many of them. I knew that I had to display the same concern for Barb as I had for Jack.

I told Barb that I saw her to be in a situation which is, in its own way, as bad as her husband’s and, in a specific way, worse. The worse way? Jack could decide to transition and Barb could lose all that she has invested in their marriage, all that she is working hard to retain, and she wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

From what Jack has told me, Barb already has decided to divorce Jack should he transition, and yet Barb has no interest in being divorced. She longs to have her marriage—to keep the man, the male, whom she married—and everything they have built together. Yet, because she is convicted from God’s Word that transitioning is wrong, and because it personally troubles her so deeply, she would leave the marriage.

If this isn’t a case of being stuck between a rock and a hard place, nothing is.

Barb’s lousy position is where many spouses find themselves, whose mates reveal their gender dysphoria, whether or not that one goes on to transition.

We trans folks long for sympathy from our spouses. I am one of the too few who, in Julie, has a completely understanding mate. What of those, who cannot abide with their spouse’s transitioning, or their fear that it could happen at any time even if, as of yet, it has only come to the revealing of the gender identity issue? Should we trans folks not sympathize with them at the same level as we desire for ourselves?

This is not to speak of the parents of trans persons, or the children, the siblings, and name any family, friend, coworker, and so on. If our news is such that it does not match the worldview, or religious beliefs, or whatever the challenge might be for them, must they automatically drop those and accept everything about us, or shall we extend to them the same longing to be understood as we crave from them? And be patient with them? And show them compassion?

Yes, we should.

I loathe asking this question: who wins? Sadly, in so many areas of life, we humans do things in order to get our way with something, and, yes, we want to win. And we don’t care if that means making a loser of someone else.

Years ago, I was taught that, in marriage, one should never carry with his or her spouse the notion of winning something. Any loving spouse should never want to make a loser of her or his mate.

Spouses always should work on areas of disagreement so as to come to the most satisfying result for both, so that they win together as a couple. This is what love does. Love seeks what is best for the object of his or her affection.

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In the most difficult of situations—and what could be more difficult than what Jack and Barb are experiencing?—patience, compassion, and calm must be the order of the day. Since both parties want to retain the marriage, there should be no stop left unpulled, no angle left unpursued, no potential remedy short of transitioning left unattempted, no amount of studying not undertaken.

Both Barb and Jack want to preserve their marriage. Jack is hurting so badly that, right now, he only sees transitioning as his way to heal. Should he transition, and finds the relief he seeks and adjusts well in the many facets of his life, and Barb feels she has to divorce him, then Barb becomes the one in need of relief—from healing because of her lost marriage, to embarrassment she might experience, to any number of new struggles, including the concerns for her ex-husband which she would continue to carry.

Because of her husband’s challenging situation, Barb has suffered her own trauma. She also seeks relief, is in need of healing.

Barb deserves as much understanding, compassion, and patience, as does Jack.

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“I don’t understand”

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A couple of weeks after undergoing sex reassignment surgery (SRS), I had a long, profitable, wonderful conversation with a man who is dear to me. I’ve not interacted much with this man since I transitioned, and have longed to have a meaningful conversation.

He had not rejected me; he didn’t know what to do with me. He didn’t know how to talk with me. He didn’t know what to call me, and admitted that he could not bring himself to use “Gina” for me. He didn’t know what to make of my being transgender.

We had very briefly seen each other, only one time since I transitioned, and he now admitted that he struggled with seeing me dressed as a woman.

It was easier simply to keep some distance between us.

How did we get reconnected? He gets all of the credit. He texted me, to tell me that he had been praying for me. He knew that I had just undergone SRS. I used this to seek a phone call. He was hesitant. He owned up to not being ready. I asked how a person gets ready for this, to take this step.

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NOTE: Soon after I posted this, Rick Cruse made some insightful comments.  I commend you to read them, below.  Rick’s comments reminded me that I neglected an important point: I had vowed to be patient with everyone in my life, grasping that I had surprised them with the revelation of my gender dysphoria, then compounding it when I transitioned.  In each one’s own way, my being transgender is as hard on them as on me.

As with the person in question in this piece, I have given everyone space, never pestering them or acting out to them.  It has been very hard, in many instances, to leave people be and give them time.  I continue to wait on many, am resigned to the worst with some and, thankfully, have had lovely success with others.

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I hope I wrote gently, but I continued to press him to call me. I told him that being disconnected was very hard on me, that it felt like rejection. I assured him that I spoke the same as always—well, my voice would sound hoarse because I was still recovering from surgery to my vocal cords—that I talked and acted exactly as he always knew me. I told him that he could call me whatever was comfortable for him, either Greg or one of the nicknames that he’d used over the years.

He said he would call. Seconds later, we were saying our hellos. We immediately fell into talking with each other in the same manner as we had so many times before.

As we got into discussing my transitioning, and what that means for me being a Christian, a familiar pattern emerged. With his every comment after concern after question, he began, “I don’t understand.”

He asked me about everything. How I got to the point of transitioning. What it meant for my marriage to Julie. How I understood it as a Christian. What will happen when I die, and when we are resurrected from the dead. And more.

Everything was now on the table that had been left unsaid, unasked over the past few years since I first told him about my gender dysphoria.

It wasn’t long before I noted and addressed how he kept beginning a new thought, “But, I don’t understand . . .” I said, “Have you heard yourself? You have been saying how you don’t understand, and then you ask me an excellent question, a question for which I need to have an answer, and I’ve had good answers for all of your questions. Because you’ve never asked your questions, you have never given yourself a chance to understand. You’ve never given me a chance to explain. Now that we are talking, you finally have a fighting chance to understand.”

“Yeah. You’re right.”

We talked for ninety minutes. Eventually, we caught up on happenings in our families and shared interests. We made our goodbyes with promises to stay connected.

As I make the next statement, I do not mean it to sound judgmental, but simply as what the situation was: he let this situation become worse than it was and harder than it needed to be.

What happened with him is terribly common. When something is very foreign, really challenging, tremendously troubling, we all can be prone to avoiding it. I know that I’ve sure been that way plenty of times. We make the thing bigger than it is, harder than it needs to be, and it finally becomes virtually impossible to tackle.

We let “I don’t understand” tumble around in our head so long and so often that coming to an understanding seems so unlikely that we give up on trying to tackle it.

Relationships should be too important to allow “I don’t understand” to win the day. Whether it is parent and child, sibling and sibling, friend and friend, church and member, teammates or coworkers or fellow Americans, people who are important to us should be—no, need to be those for whom we will not allow unknown, troubling, and foreign things to keep us apart.

Love perseveres. Well, it’s supposed to, anyway.

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I don’t begin to imagine that one conversation removed every struggle for the man regarding me, and those concerns he has involving the entirety of the topic of transgender. It didn’t have to. The first step has been taken. We are once again walking together.