The worst reactions

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One year ago today, on April 11, I had sex reassignment/gender affirming surgery. I was going to use this first anniversary to talk about how I have healed and what I have experienced this first year, but I find that I’ve written all of this in the updates I provided as 2017 progressed. Thus, on this first anniversary, suffice it to say that I healed perfectly and wonderfully, and I am very thankful for that.

Arriving at this one-year mark, I note that I am nearing the three-year mark (April 29) of having gone public with my suffering gender dysphoria. By the summer of 2015, I would be living full time as a female.

One likes to think he or she has fully prepared for what is to come when entering new territory such as I did. One can try. One should try. One would be naive to think she or he will be fully prepared.

Reflecting on the comments and questions I either directly received or that I was told were said about me, here are seven of note, the ones I can recall which hurt the most.

“Why does he want to have boobs? Mine only make my back hurt.”

A friend told me this is how his wife reacted, when he told her that I was transitioning. Knowing the woman, I easily could hear her. The reaction fit her personality. Thus, I took it as the way she reacts to things, and not as a crack against me.

Even so, it informed me that many might have such a simplistic reaction to a person’s transitioning—as if my transitioning were all about having breasts. Or enjoying dresses. Or wearing makeup.

“The devil is leading you by the nose.”

This assumption came via email, from a fellow Christian. She did not write much more than this, other than to appeal to me to repent of what, to her, was my obviously sinning.

I wrote her a respect-filled reply, explaining that I was taking most seriously my faith in the Lord, explaining how I was addressing my gender dysphoria as a medical issue. She listened. While she continued to struggle with my transitioning, she wrote friendlier emails the couple of times I have heard from her since this.

“How can you live in such a worldly way?”

A similar one I have heard is “I don’t agree with the transgender lifestyle.” I have no idea what that means. There is no transgender lifestyle, just as there is no professional athlete’s lifestyle, and no plumber’s lifestyle.

As for worldly living, I am about the least-worldly-living person you will meet. I rarely drink and never get drunk. I have never smoked a cigarette. I don’t gamble. I’ve never tried pot or any illicit drug. I have no tattoos.  I don’t spend money on the latest this or that, but am cautious with our funds. I get my jollies by jogging, and gardening, and writing, and cooking for my family, and Netflix. I begin every day with prayer, and reading the Bible lessons for the day, and listening to and reading devotions.

Assuming that transitioning is living in a worldly way displays either a terrible lacking of knowledge or an extreme prejudice, or that a person simply spoke without thinking.

“I would never let my young children meet you.”

I had a series of email discussions with a man, which led to two Skype conversations. He has some credentials in the Lutheran faith, with a well-read blog, which made me interested in conversing with him. Sadly, it seems we got nowhere.

He has two young children. When he told me that he would not want me around them, I was sure I knew why, but I asked him to explain. He said just what I thought. He wanted to protect them, not wanting to explain this person who looked like a man, but was trying to look like a woman, who has a female name.

I told him what he already knew, that they would eventually encounter the transgender topic, perhaps even in grade school. He replied that he would protect them as long as possible.

Though I grasped his attitude, even agreeing with his desire to do best for his kids, I still was left feeling like someone who is to be feared—a freak, a leper, an object of scorn.

“You will never be a real woman.”

This often is said in a way which sounds like this: “You don’t know what you are doing. Do you really believe you can change your chromosomes?”

I have yet to meet a trans person who is so naive as to think that she or he can do a complete change from one sex and gender to the other, that they can rid themselves of all traces of being their birth sex.

It seems to me that comments such as this one are knee-jerk reactions, made out of frustration, or because they find this trans stuff to be offensive, or they simply don’t know what to say and so they blurt it out. I get it. I’ve said dumb things, not knowing what to say in a ticklish situation.

Understanding that doesn’t remove the sting. A widow grasps why someone says at the casket of her dead husband, “He was so sick. It’s for the best,” even as she wants to scream how deeply she feels this loss. And a friend knows that his buddy is trying to help when a girlfriend has broken up and the friend remarks, “There are other fish in the sea.” We’ve all been on the poked end of this stick. We understand that people don’t know what to say, and so they say dumb things.

It still hurts.

To those who have told me that I could not become a real woman, I replied that I knew that, that becoming a real woman was not my goal, but to find some measure of healing in my terrible mess of a situation.

“Why didn’t he try harder?”

I was not directly asked this. I wish the man had done so. I was told by another that he asked this, so it’s hearsay, but it fits his personality. Indeed, I can hear him ask it, his words filled with befuddlement and bewilderment, because this transgender stuff totally baffled him.

This question comes from frustration—he really didn’t want me to transition—so I get it. Even so, it landed on me very hard.

To the person who told me, my reaction went something like this: “What does he mean, try harder? I was suicidal! I thought I was losing my mind! I tried so hard, for so long, and I was only getting worse! Transitioning was a last resort. I don’t like this. I’m just trying to survive.”

When a person asks why I didn’t try harder, it makes me wonder what they think of me. In every facet of my life, I strived to be an honorable person, a hard worker, one who has strong convictions about the things he believes and lives by them. That I would try my hardest is what I would hope people would think about me.

“Surely, it can’t be that bad.”

Nothing has hurt me so profoundly as this sentence.

Three years ago, as I was beginning my transition, I was emailing with a pastor, a former colleague and a man with whom I was friends. After a couple of emails back and forth, with my answering his many questions about gender dysphoria and what I was experiencing, I wrote how I almost daily fought off thoughts of suicide and fears that I was going insane. In his next email, he wrote, “Surely, it can’t be that bad.”

This, from a man who suffers Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This, from a man who sometimes referenced his PTSD as to why he was so snarly with his words and demeanor. This, from a man who longed for his condition to be respected, so that no one would think he would act so poorly if he were healthy.

His reaction spoke volumes for how people see gender dysphoria. It was akin to the several who were offended when I compared my suffering with a person’s experiencing the worst of cancer or Parkinson’s. Boy, did I get an earful from them! They found my comparisons to be out of bounds. One wrote, “I watched my husband die of cancer!”

Yes, and I ministered to many who suffered and died from cancer, and I find my comparison to be on the mark, that’s why I used it.  Are you listening to me?

You, friend, do not suffer gender dysphoria, so instead of your reacting with offense perhaps you ought to listen. If I, whom you always knew to be one who thinks seriously and speaks well, compares suffering gender dysphoria with some of the well-known, terrible ailments, instead of your outrage might you hold your tongue, think for a moment, and then show compassion.

It’s how you would want me to react to you.

Yes, it can be that bad. It has been that bad. 41% of us, with gender dysphoria, attempt to kill ourselves. As I would lie on the floor, pounding my fists and screaming at the top of my lungs as I tried to get the pain out of me, I would beg Julie to let me commit myself to a psych unit of a hospital, wanting to be medicated to the point of not even knowing my own name.

To maybe, just maybe, take away the pain, because, yes, it was that bad.

And, sometimes, it still is.

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The healthcare catch-up

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At the invitation of my endocrinologist, last week I attended an afternoon of transgender education at a local hospital, which is part of the IU Health system. The afternoon began with a one hour lecture to more than one hundred—Trans Ed 101, if you will—and concluded with a two hour Q & A with a number of representatives of various areas of healthcare.

IU (Indiana University) Health is in network for the insurance Julie has through her job. Because IU Health has doctors in town covering you-name-it, I became a patient with them for my transition, not to mention my new primary care physician, cardiologist, and more.

When, after Wednesday’s main presentation, I had opportunity to address the auditorium, I later learned that, besides being littered with nurses and technicians and doctors, this group ran the scale of the more experienced to those who have had little or no interaction with patients who are transgender. In the Q & A with the group of eight, only two said they had ever knowingly met a transgender person.

That meant that, for seventy-five percent of them, I was the first trans person they had knowingly met.

The purpose of the larger presentation was to provide the basics regarding gender dysphoria, the differences between sex and gender, the wide variety which comprises those on the transgender spectrum, and many helpful insights so that these folks might do well for their trans patients. The presenter did a marvelous job and, as the mother of a female-to-male trans son, spoke eloquently from her experience.

The purpose of the small group session was to dig deeper. My endocrinologist, Dr. Melissa Cavaghan, led the discussion. She provided both medical information and reflections from her having cared for many trans folks. It didn’t take much from Dr. Cavaghan to launch the group into enough questions that we never had a lull during the two hours.

During the main talk, the presenter showed the progression of names for the condition which is generally behind one’s being transgender. For years, it was “gender identity disorder.” Seeking to rid this of “disorder,” a few years ago the official name was changed to “gender dysphoria.” The presenter then suggested that, in time, it might be renamed “endocrine dysphoria,” to highlight what some, perhaps most, find is the origin of the condition/malady, that a person experiences ill feelings of self because the hormone system is out of order.

This has been my thought, so I liked her idea. When in the small group, Dr. Cavaghan, who is an expert of the endocrine system, said that she does not think this is only a disordering of the hormones, and might not be at all, and that we really have no idea why some people experience gender/brain and sex/biology which do not match.

Putting into my own words what she said in conclusion, she hopes we get to the day where we simply accept it, that it is a fact of life for some people, and that we provide good care to those experiencing gender dysphoria and give these folks a fighting chance at a good life.

I certainly want the latter two of her thoughts to occur, but I am not with her on the first one. No matter how a person considers gender dysphoria—the range is from those who find transgender a completely normal way to be, to the likes of me who find it a physical malady and a terrible situation—the fact is that, in most cases, it has to be treated medically, at the very least with cross-sex hormone therapy, and with re-socializing as the other sex, and with great disruption in the lives of those transitioning, perhaps with surgeries, and at great cost.

Since when do we accept any situation in life that has so much struggle and effort and cost attached to it? We do not. We seek to find causes. Create solutions. Keep it from occurring it if it might be preventable.

At the close of my short talk to the group in the auditorium, I quickly sketched the wide range of doctors I have seen since moving to Indy in 2014—the three surgeons for my transition surgeries, a cardiologist, a podiatrist, eye surgeons in two offices, an endodontist, and a primary care physician—and remarked on the wonderful treatment I have been given in every place. I thanked everyone in the room and encouraged them to keep on doing well.

Politically, Indiana is quite conservative and very traditional. (We sacrificed our governor, Mike Pence, for the sake of the nation. You’re welcome!) Yet, let no one accuse Indiana of being in the dark, of living in the past, of being backward. Having now been here nearly four years, my experience, living outwardly as a transgender person, has far exceeded all notions and concerns I had, of everything Julie and I discussed before deciding this is the place to which we would move.

IU Health admits that it is a bit behind with transgender healthcare, hence the title I chose for this piece. Fair enough. The good news is that they recognize it, they are striving to catch up, and they have a collective heart to do so, to provide good care and a hopeful future to its transgender patients.

The autism connection

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Is there a connection between those on the autism spectrum and those who experience gender dysphoria? The evidence mounts that there might be.

The following article prompted me to write this piece. The article doesn’t answer anything, but presents good information and asks important questions:
https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/03/why-are-a-disproportionate-number-of-autistic-youth-transgender.html

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I had my first significant experience with a person with ASD—autism spectrum disorder—as a pastor. A boy in our church was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I had never before heard of this. Getting to know him, and studying about this condition, I found him to have classic signs. He was very intelligent and highly focused on single topics, with almost no social skills. That was 2001. Since then, I have had a lot of exposure to those, as they say, on the spectrum.

In 2015, I went to my first trans group meeting. I have now met dozens of people who identify as transgender. It wasn’t long before I was seeing trends. Because I had a relatively small sampling, it would be irresponsible for me to state things statistically; no, my evidence remains anecdotal. This doesn’t negate it. Indeed, anecdotal evidence often leads us to investigation, which leads us to facts.

The fact of the matter is that I noticed these things:

  • a greater than average number of the trans folks I was getting to know work in the computer field;
  • a greater than average number are left handed;
  • and a greater than average number appear to be on the autism spectrum.

One thing I found it to be in accord with what I already had learned is the way-above-average number of trans persons who were in the military. Those I know transitioned after serving. I have read studies which show one in five trans persons have served in the military, which is twice as great as the general population. Since this essay is supposed to be about autism, I’ll let that thought percolate as I go onto the next, which also will not be about autism.

I am not the only person who has noticed the trans/computer science connection. Also noted is a trans/math association. Search the internet. Enjoy the info you can find.

Looking for a tie between left handed and transgender, I find studies to be all over the map, and most encompass LGBTQ. This possible connection was noticed decades ago. Some studies show very highly elevated numbers of LGBTQ folks who are left handed. Other studies show not so much. Searching the reason why we even have left handed people—about one in ten are—and why isn’t the split around fifty/fifty, one finds that no one knows why some, and only a small percentage, are left handed.

We also don’t know what causes ASD. One guess regarding lefthandedness is that the endocrine system of the fetus was affected. We know this to be true regarding why a boy will develop an Adam’s Apple when he hits puberty. If the androgen processed properly while the fetus was forming, he will have an Adam’s apple. If not, he will not.

I don’t have an Adam’s apple.

I am left handed.

Enough about me.

The cause of ASD has not been identified. Much has been learned about the genetics of it, but it has not been specifically identified as has, say, Down Syndrome. Might ASD be a combination of genetics and hormones? Might it be started by endocrine disruption as the fetus forms?

We humans have many hormonal maladies. Two of them are terribly common. Diabetes is one of them. Hyperthyroidism is another. There are lots more. Hormones play a huge role in us. When they get messed up, the impact often is great.

Some transgender persons have an identifiable intersex condition. The one traced through history is hermaphroditism, that is, those persons with sex attributes of both male and female, and ambiguous genitals, which often cause a misidentification of a person. Now that we are able to identify chromosomes, we know that there are genetic intersex conditions. In all of the visible-to-the-eye intersex conditions, a person will not necessarily identify as transgender, or, better said, might not alter how they live from how they were identified at birth.

I have never had my chromosomes tested. Because I fathered children, I am highly doubtful that I have a genetic intersex condition. It seems to me that most folks who suffer gender dysphoria have no physically identifiable intersex condition. My years of study lead me to believe that disruption of the endocrine system could be behind most gender identity struggles, and that there is plenty of information regarding endocrine disruptors—chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and plasticizers—and the damage they have done which has been identified, to find it reasonable to think there could be a link to gender dysphoria.

It is debated whether there is more autism these days. The same goes for gender dysphoria. The questions are whether there is more, or that we simply identify it better, or that people are more open to revealing and sharing it?

Information is mounting that those on the autism spectrum are around ten times more likely to identify somewhere on the transgender spectrum. Is it genetic? Hormonal? Or is it not physical at all, but connected to how so many on the autism spectrum are not tied to social mores, freeing them to express themselves?

The important questions must be asked. It is only in the asking of questions that we find answers. Deep research has led us to discovering the cause of innumerable maladies, conditions, and diseases, which have led us to cures for some, effective treatments for many, and a fighting chance with most.

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Discovering causes also leads us to respect things. Forgive the way I say the following should I come off as crass as I return to the boy I met in 2001, the one who has Asperger Syndrome. I met him before I knew about the Asperger’s. I had just arrived in Port Hope. I went to lunch, to sit with the school kids and begin to get to know them, and them to get to know me.

I just happened to sit next to the boy in question. He quickly got my ear. Over the next twenty minutes, I learned everything I never knew about, if I recall correctly, rockets. At first, I was intrigued that this fifth-grader knew so much. Soon, I wanted him to stop. Finally, I found him rude. His behavior was the very definition of what, when I was a kid, we would label a weirdo. I was determined that the next time I came to lunch I would sit with other kids.

It wasn’t long before I was told about his Asperber’s. I immediately did my homework on the condition. And, equally immediately, the boy went from being someone who bugged me to a person I respected.

Knowledge, as they say, is power. Often, it is power to lead us to respect people—people of other colors, and other creeds, and other cultures, and, I dare insist, potentially of any “other” we might encounter.

Even transgender persons.

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This is a nice opening to the event I attended yesterday, where I was the trans person whom a group of healthcare professionals got to question, with the hope that increasing their knowledge might help them improve their care of trans individuals.

J. John Eilers’ autobiography

A few years before my father died, my step-mom, Louise, encouraged him to write the story of his life.  Thankfully, he did.  He literally wrote it out, in longhand and in cursive.  The day of Dad’s funeral, Louise surprised each of us kids with a copy.

I have typed it all.  Often, Dad wrote in sentence fragments.  I turned them into proper sentences, never altering the sense.  At times, I struggled to make out what he wrote, but I believe I never lost track of what he was saying.  In a few cases, I have inserted notes to add insight to what Dad wrote.  Everything in [brackets] is my insertion.

Based on two of his comments, it appears that Dad wrote this in 2007.  He died in 2010.

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By John Eilers

Joseph John Eilers

Born March 17, 1927

Claybanks Township

Oceana County, Michigan

School

I was born during the Depression and going to school was a big chore.  At five years of age you had also to do a lot of work.

The Pine Grove School—now the Claybanks Town Hall—had poor heat, four in my class, and about twenty-five total.

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The Claybanks school now serves as so many do, as the township hall.

School/Farm

As soon as school was out for the day, it was walk about two miles home and start chores.  Sunday was the only time for play and visiting friends and relatives, or vice versa.

High School was a mile walk to the Montague bus.  Because of the war, farm work was a must, so up until I was drafted into the army I could only go three to four days a week, yet I had a B or better average.  Farm work was hard but had to be done.

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The Eilers family farm.

Military Service

Right after my eighteenth birthday, I had to go to Detroit for an exam.  Shortly after, I was ordered into the service.  Into the Army I went.  From Detroit to Fort Sheridan in Chicago, to Camp Hood in Texas.  Everyone was homesick.  It was hot and a rough seventeen weeks of training.  One good thing was a special award from the state honoring me for my service as a 4-H leader.  When I was seventeen, and up until going into the Army, I was a young leader because no men were available.

After training, I was home for eleven days and then off to Europe.  That was tough not knowing when or if I would come back.  I went to Camp Pickett, Virginia, and then Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and on to a boat, landing in Le Havre, France.

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In service to his country.

When we were about to leave New York, I had a swelling in my neck and could not swallow sweets.  With luck, I passed my physical exam, but was sick as a dog half way across the ocean.  When I got to Le Havre, I was sick on the other side of my neck.  I thought I would die.  In the Army, you did not report sick.  I made it and later found that I had the mumps.

Before leaving Camp Philip Morris, they wanted thirteen of the tallest guys [Dad was 6′ 3″] for a special guard for General Mark Clark, a great guy, who was coming up from Italy.  We traveled through France and Germany, thirteen of us, and late at night arrived as I later found out in Vienna, Austria, fifty miles inside the Russian area, a total of five hundred soldiers behind the Russian line.

I got assigned to the police, I think, for a couple of reasons.  First, when Dad got out of the Navy, WWI, he worked on the Muskegon Police Force and, second, I was put on four Power Patrols working with the French, British, and Russians.  It was great work.  Colonel Knudsen was right under General Clark and took a liking to me.  I got to drive his Hudson, all decked out doing errands for him.  I was only a Tech Corporal, but he ranked me higher.  I had to be careful around the Russians.  I got to salute General Montgomery (British) and General Zhukov (Russian).  No big deal.

I left for home out of Bremerhaven, Germany.  I learned German and got along well with the natives.  In fact, they wanted to know where in Germany I had been educated—in Austria or Germany.

When I got back in the US, the Statue of Liberty sure looked good.  I went back to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and was discharged.

Back Home: 1947

When I got home, along with farming I worked part time in the oil field in the area running a well dozer and everything else. [Oil had been discovered on the family farm, and was pumped for many years.]

I needed my diploma, so I went to school in the afternoon, from March to May.  I needed 1/16 of a credit.  My service picture is in the school today. [Dad is the only Montague graduate pictured in uniform, a fact we kids loved pointing out to our friends.]

I also started playing trombone in Muskegon, with a military band.  We played all over Michigan and in Canada.  I also played trombone in high school.

I married Ma [Floye Vogel Omness] in 1951.  We lived in Montague.  I worked the farm and she worked in Muskegon.  Jimmy was born in 1952.

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Mom, in her twenties.

New Job

I was commander of the Rothbury American Legion.  Ma and I, Doc Gillan and his wife, attended a dinner at the Post, and Doc needed an emcee at the large alumni banquet.  I said anyone should be able to do that.  A week later, he called and said I was it, and could not back out.  I said okay, but how to get a babysitter would be a problem, because the banquet was so big that the sitters were all there, and he would have to supply me with one.  Doc said to go down the street and see Mr. Aley, which I did.  He asked how I was doing and I said that until something better came along I was fine.  His daughter babysat and had a great time.  A couple of weeks later, at a FFA banquet—I was FFA president—this Mr. Aley, who sat at the head table on stage, called me and said I should send to the city an application for the police job.  Floye and I talked about it and thought I should go for it.  I did have police experience in the service.  In Austria, I set up the postal service and police department, so I knew a little bit.

I hand wrote an application and sent it in.  A couple of weeks later, I was asked to attend a council meeting where five other guys got the same notice.  The interview went well.  I thought that if I got the job, that would be fine and, if not, that too would be fine.

A couple of more weeks later, Mr. Aley called and said I had the job; get ready to go to work.  I started on June 15, 1952.

The job was seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day.  Along with acting as police chief was the job of constable.  I summoned two juries in the township.

1957 saw the city superintendent leave for Du Pont [which had a plant just outside Montague].  I stayed and was promoted to city superintendent and also held the police chief job.  In 1958, I was out of police work completely.

I became chairman of the county building inspectors.  My farm background and training made the superintendent’s job easy.  I joined the Old Newsboys/Goodfellows in 1952, retiring after fifty years.  For Montague, I made many big improvements, including a big water job which included the building of Park Street to make another short route downtown.  Miss America 1961, Nancy Anne Fleming, was a lifeguard for me.  My son, Tom, rode on her parade float.

Off to Hart

The former Whitehall city manager, who went to Hart for the same job, was retiring.  He got a hold of me and said it paid really well.  I sent in an application.  They wanted a manager who was an engineer, but still hired me.  In Hart, I became president of the Rotary, built a new city hall, and set up the first fire district in Michigan (Montague’s was number two).  I was appointed county supervisor/commissioner and got the board off dead center.

After four years, I was approached by the Muskegon County Road Commission, to take the maintenance superintendent’s job.  They had been trying to get me for years.  Our house in Montague was available and school about to start. [Dad had built a two-bedroom house, quickly expanding it to four bedrooms; when moving to Hart, they sold it on a land contract to a young couple who was now getting divorced; Dad and Mom took back the house just in time for our return to Montague.]  I took the job.  In Hart, because I acted as the city clerk from 1964-67, I signed birth and death certificates, so I will be history for a lot of years.

Back to Montague

Hart was good, but we were glad to get back home.  I had built our house in 1954.  I put lots of hard work into it.  Now, we were home.

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The house John Eilers built.

I served on the city council and as mayor pro tem, and started as maintenance supervisor for the Road Commission in Muskegon.  After seven years, the city leaders wanted me to come back as Montague’s city manager, to build a sewer system.  I did so in no time.

I was elected Chamber of Commerce president, and also chairman of the building improvement board, which I had gotten started, and at the same time was chairman of the county energy commission.  I got the old theater torn down and then moved into the present city hall when we sold the one that was on White Lake.  Ferry Street [Montague’s main downtown street] was redone.  The Ludington Bank branch closed and I was elected chairman of the Senior Center, which came about after a formal study.  The Senior Center went into the vacant bank building after I negotiated the sale of the building and got a grant to buy it.  Being downtown, the building was a great location for a Senior Center, and it is still going.

The Park Street extension was completed and a second water project was started with a grant.  The citywide sewer project was completed. [When Dad was interviewed by the Muskegon Chronicle, they quoted him saying, “They say if you can go through a project like this without turning to drinking or women, you’re doing good.”  Mom was understandably horrified.]

I ran for and was elected to the board of directors of the Government Employees Federal Credit Union.  I still am on the board.  I was commander of the VFW post in Montague, and then was appointed to serve with the Veterans Trust Fund Board of Michigan for Muskegon and Ottawa counties, serving as the board chairman for many years.

I spoke around the state on having formed the first fire district and then the second in Montague.  I succeeded at getting the law changed so these districts could be formed.

After coming back home, I served on the Shelby Hospital Board, and saw a large addition to the hospital.  My service on that board concluded when the hospital was sold.

Retirement

In 1996, I ran for and was elected to the City Charter Commission.  The old city charter was revised.

When I retired in 1996, the one award I received was because of Congressman Guy VanderJagt, who had a flag flown over the US Capitol in my honor.  I don’t know of anyone else who had this honor.

I joined Christ the Rock food pantry and still serve going on ten years. [This was not Dad’s church—he was Roman Catholic—but, in retirement, he continued his life of service.  He was working in the food pantry when, at age 83, his hip broke, which a few weeks later resulted in his death.]  I also work for Whitehall Congregational Church food pantry.  I had lots of enjoyment with keeping up on my gardening, with the local papers featuring me. [When I was first married, and Dad got me started gardening, I happened to grow a huge watermelon.  Dad contacted the Montague Observer, which sent a photographer to my house.  I, with my young daughter, Erin, was pictured in the newspaper with our prize melon.] When I turned eighty, the White Lake Beacon did an article on me. [At Dad’s death, the Muskegon Chronicle did a very nice article on Dad.]

http://www.mlive.com/news/muskegon/index.ssf/2010/04/j_john_eilers_remembered_for_h.html

Family

First off, let me say that we had a lot of family serve in the armed forces.  Dad and his two brothers served overseas in WWI, I served in WWII, and my sons, Tom and Dave, in the Navy, with Tom serving in Vietnam.  My brother, Russ, served in the Korean Conflict.
When Jim was born in 1952, he was just perfect, but then a sleeping sickness took its hold and left him several handicapped.  We had no insurance back then and loads of bills.  All were paid off.  Jim is in a home and is doing fine. [Dad and Mom had Jim put in a state home when he was five because Mom simply could not give him the care he needed, they now had Tom and Sue, and I was soon to arrive.]

Tom works for the City of Montague.  Dave is with Du Pont.  Sue is disabled.  Greg is a Lutheran minister.  Mark is a machinist.  All are doing well.

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At Dad’s funeral, from left to right standing behind Jim: Mark, me, Sue, Dave, and Tom

Coming from a poor family, my brothers and sisters did well.  I became a chief of police and then city manager.  Francis was on the Claybanks Township Board and farmed.  Betty retired as Oceana County clerk.  Pat was a nurse.  Barb married a pharmacist.  Marilyn was a food caterer.  Margaret married a fruit farmer.  Russ worked for the Oceana County Road Commission.

After thirty-five years, in 1986 wife Floye died of cancer suddenly and I was left alone.  Louise [Dad and Louise married six months after Mom died] was just like Floye—a good cook and could handle finances.  I have been lucky.

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Dad and Mom at their thirtieth wedding anniversary party.

I came into a second family as Louise’s husband died and left her with a young daughter, Allison.  Allison would have a son, Anthony—my buddy—and then a daughter, Paisley.  We somewhat raised Anthony for his first four or five years.  They, like my other grandchildren, are good kids.

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Louise, three years younger than when she and Dad were wed. They enjoyed twenty-three years of marriage.

Now, the family is of an age where instead of baseball they are comparing illnesses and pills.  Me, too.

Over the years, I’ve had a lot of fun and also trying times, but have the best of family.

Stories

When I was about twelve, I picked cherries.  Those were long, hot days.  I made a total of about $15.00.  Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs were used in the outhouses, so I knew them page by page.  I went through them and ordered a red and blue hanky, six pairs of work socks, a blue denim shirt, and a pair of blue jeans, all of which you can buy today.  Jeans bib overalls were just coming out, and Dad said I should have ordered them.  I could not wait to get the order; it was just like Christmas.

Next was Christmastime.  I was still age twelve.  St. John’s [the Catholic church near home] gave each kid a box of peanuts and hard candy.  They had a talent show, but no piano.  First prize was a one pound box of chocolate.  If I could win that, we would have a great Christmas at home.  I sang Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.  I won the chocolate.  The next week, St. James [the Catholic church in Montague] had the same talent show.  A five pound box of candy was the first prize.  We got there and a lady who played the piano introduced herself (she played the organ in church).  Because we had a piano-playing teacher in school, I felt a little at home.  We hit it off.  I won the five pounds of candy.  Now, we had a real Christmas coming up: six pounds of candy, plus each one’s bag of peanuts and candy.

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St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, where Dad won the Christmas chocolate, and where he and Louise were married.

I note that Ma sang in the church choir.  And who played the organ?  This same lady who, over the years, was a great friend.  This experience helped me later on to play the trombone in school band.  The school superintendent, Mr. Oehrli, and I were the only trombonists.

I learned over the years that I could face competition and win, and the rest of my life proved so.

The next story in music was after I got home in 1947.  I met Bill Thoma, who moved into Montague from Muskegon, at a VFW meeting.  Muskegon VFW was forming a professional band and needed a tuba player.  Bill’s son, Tom, seventeen years old, played tuba, but could not drive.  I had no car, but Bill said I could use his, so Tom and I could go to practice.  I was not that good, but made the band.  I would leave Mrs. Thoma at relatives, we would go to practice, and then pick her up and go home.  Our band was the best in the state.  We played all over Michigan and in Canada.  I played until I got married in 1951.  I cannot believe it.

Getting lost overseas was one I will not forget.  We arrived behind the Russian lines—at Vienna, Austria—at night, and went to a bombed out building and slept.  The next morning, I was taken to a building and told to wait for someone who never showed up.  I was in a place where I did not know how to get back and I was all by myself.  How I got back to a place I had not seen in daylight, I will never know.  I did not know my outfit—we did not yet have a name, and I had no buddies or anything.  The next morning, I told the lieutenant what had happened.  This is where I met Colonel Knudsen.

I could be rich today.  When in Vienna, I had a worker who had been in a Russian prison, who was working to get back to Prague, Czechoslovakia, and whose family had been killed by the Germans.  They were jewelers, and had hidden many diamonds.  This man offered half to me if I would go into the Russian area in Prague and bring the diamonds back.  I almost did, but I knew that if I were caught by the Russians and found out I was a G. I. I would be killed.  I think about that, yet today.

When we started to get Vienna put back together, I was busy and had my own jeep.  Hitler took over Austria.  Many Americans were caught and could not return to the US.  CARE packages were being sent through the Red Cross to them, but they were not getting to the people.  My job, among many others, was to check this out.  I sneaked into the Russian area.  I was wearing a German POW uniform and I could speak German.   I found out the Russians were stealing the CARE packages.  I reported this.  I soon got a letter from some of the sick relatives and one of their families, who were thankful for what I did.  They offered me an all-expenses paid trip when I got home, to contact them.  They would meet me at home and we would go to Austria, where they would meet their relatives and give them some help.  I turned them down.  I had enough of overseas at that time.  I should have gone, and again probably be rich.

Some of the hard times in my life have been:

  • Jimmy getting sick.
  • Signing Jimmy over to the state, which meant that I legally was no longer his father.
  • Floye dying.

Good times:

  • My fine family.
  • Two wonderful wives.

People I met over the years:

  • President Ford.
  • Chairman Greenwalt of Du Pont; we became friends because he also was a gardener.
  • Michigan governors G. Mennen Williams, William Milliken, and Jim Blanchard.
  • General Clark.
  • British General Montgomery.
  • Famous Russian General Zhukov.
  • State Police Commissioner Joe Childs, who became a good friend.
  • Congressman Guy VanderJagt, a good friend.
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Cheers to you, Dad!

The LCMS and transgender acceptance

I selected what I find is the worst possible word for the title because for many LCMS Christians “acceptance” evokes this reaction: “I will never accept transgender people as God-fearing Christians.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My chief complaint with the LCMS is that, overall as a synod, gender dysphoria has been judged as either a mental illness or a sinful proclivity, and transitioning a sinful response to it. While there are pastors and lay folks who are open to learning, even to recognizing gender dysphoria as arising from a real, physical condition, and transitioning as a medically viable option, the general sense in the LCMS is that those who transition willfully sin and thus are found ineligible for membership in LCMS congregations.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Acceptance” is commonly heard from LGBTQ folks and their allies.  It is synonymous with tolerance. The sense of its usage is that one consents to, is tolerant to, whatever a person says about himself, however he lives, whatever his take is on his situation in life, and no judgment will be taken in opposition to the person’s actions.

Because LCMS Christians hold a traditional understanding of God’s Word, and with how “acceptance” is used, it is largely rejected. I am reminded of the term, “born again Christian,” which is also largely unused by LCMS Christians. The term is correct—there is no such thing as a Christian who is not “born again”—yet, because of the wrong theology attached to it by evangelicals, it is mostly unheard in the LCMS. So it goes with “acceptance” in the transgender conversation.

For many in the LCMS, acceptance with transgender issues feels like support, which feels like caving in and giving up one’s theology. My best example is when Julie and I were received into membership in a LCMS congregation in 2016. The uproar among LCMS pastors was swift and vicious, and taken right to the top of the synod.

None of these, who called for our congregation and pastors to be kicked out of the LCMS, sat in on any of the meetings I had with the pastors. They did not inquire of the pastors as to these discussions, as to my answers, as to the pastors’ stance. They simply judged each person and the situation as sinful.  I know; I read their comments on several websites.

They made assumptions about things which were in violation of the Eighth Commandment, that we shall not bear false witness against our neighbor. Martin Luther explains this command wonderfully: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” The reputation of our pastors, the congregation, and Julie and I, all were hurt. From the outcry, it seemed that no one was interested in learning anything from us, but only condemning us. Few of our fellow Christians defended us, or spoke well of us, or explained anything about this situation in the kindest way.

There are many unfair assumptions about transgender persons, including:

  • their actions are sexually motivated;
  • they live a lifestyle unfit for a Christian;
  • they all are part of a movement to impose their beliefs on others.

None of these assumptions are true about me.

Speaking only for myself, yet having had other Christians express similar things about their experience,

  • I have poured out my heart to many pastors, expressing how difficult is this malady;
  • how strongly I fought it;
  • how deeply I longed to remain living as a male;
  • how the last thing I wanted was to sin against the Lord or offend my fellow Christians, yet how weak I was against my gender dysphoria;
  • how thoughts of suicide constantly visited me;
  • how I truly thought I was going to lose my mind;
  • how I struggled to live a God-pleasing life because this led me to hate everything;
  • and how I feared that I would have to go on medication which, because it would be very strong in order to address my anguish, would leave me in a stupor, which would leave me a shell of a person and unable to fulfill any of my vocations.

I have explained how my studying has led me to be all but convinced that my gender dysphoria—and, I suspect, most cases of gender dysphoria—was caused by disruption to my endocrine system when I formed in the womb, which explains why talk therapy and repentance does not address it. I have provided all of the evidence I have accumulated, to demonstrate the science of this.

While I realize that this is challenging stuff, I do not understand the replies I have received from so many. Some simply dismissed what I said. Some were highly skeptical. Some returned to the various Scriptures which they had already quoted, such as “male and female He created them,” as if there have been no maladies of our sinful nature which could attack the uniqueness of the two sexes.

I have continued to demonstrate that I hold to all LCMS doctrine, and that my desire is to love the Lord with all my heart and my neighbor as myself. Because I cannot undeniably prove anything regarding my malady—and, my experience informs me, I am up against misinformation and prejudice—I am left on the outside looking in, as are others in the LCMS who share my situation.

Instead of being helped, we are shunned.

Instead of being heard, we are ignored.

Instead of being fed with the nourishing Word and Sacraments of Jesus Christ, we are starved.

Is this how Christians are supposed to act toward their brothers and sisters in Christ?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My experience informs me that most LCMS pastors find that gender dysphoria is a mental illness. I will now take them up on that assumption. One pastor said to me, “You wouldn’t tell a woman, who is anorexic, not to eat,” making that the correlative to my transitioning. Indeed, no one would encourage the anorexic to starve herself. However, if she were not able to conquer her malady, and she did, indeed, eat so little as to continue to worsen, even to hasten her death, no respectable pastor would kick her out of the church!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here is what I do NOT want from the LCMS:

  • I do not want the LCMS to accept one’s being transgender as normal, the “God made me this way” which is argued by some.
  • I do not want the LCMS to cave in to the secular LGBTQ agenda.
  • I do not want the LCMS to alter one word of its doctrine.

Here is what I DO want from the LCMS:

  • I want the LCMS to recognize that gender dysphoria is a real, physical condition, suffered by Christians just as believers are prone to experience any aspect of our fallen and fractured nature.
  • I want the LCMS to accept that it has members who strive in right doctrine, who struggle with gender dysphoria, who long to be healed, to remain in their birth sex.
  • I want the LCMS to see that it is possible for a Christian to transition, to hate that transitioning was found to be the only solution to quelling suicidal thoughts and fears of insanity.
  • I want the LCMS to acknowledge and treat us as the equals we are in the Lord’s sight, every last one of us humans a fallen and fractured person, all of us unworthy of the Lord’s grace.
  • I want the LCMS to speak and act compassionately toward we who are burdened and heavy-laden, whom the Lord Jesus encourages to come to Him for rest.

This is how acceptance looks to me. It looks like Christians commiserating with their fellow Christians. It looks like working to understand, not judging and discarding. It looks like longsuffering. It looks like compassion. It looks like 1 Corinthians 13’s definition of love.

It looks like how God the Father looks at us—at ALL of us—through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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100 hours!

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As I hit the landmark hour, I grabbed my phone and snatched a shot as Barb kept on going.

I made my way the twelve minutes north and west from my house and parked in the large-enough-to-hold-three-vehicles side of the driveway.  Making my way along the north side of the house, the part which contains Arborcrest, I entered to the familiar chime which announced my arrival.  As I grabbed a fun-size candy bar from the inviting bowl, Barb the Impaler appeared and greeted me with her cheery, “There she is!”

Easy for her to be upbeat, she wasn’t about to spend an hour of poke after jab after stab of an electrified needle pulling hairs out of her face.  No, that would be me on her table.  And, this day, we would pass the one-hundred-hour mark in our odd relationship.

The male face holds approximately 30,000 hairs.  My best estimate is that Barb has seventy percent of my beard cleared.  That would mean that she’s removed 20,000 or so hairs.  That’s 20,000 times she has inserted her needle, zapped the root of the hair, and pulled it out.  That means I can look forward to about 10,000 more.

Almost every week—usually on Tuesday, so that I can shave for church and then allow my now-sparse beard to grow on Monday and Tuesday, so that the hairs are long enough for her to grab—in one-hour sessions, Barb pokes and zaps and snatches a couple hundred hairs, many which leave me wincing and whining, and then I pay her good money for the experience.

Sadists and masochists got nuthin on me.

I recall the beginning of this long process, how after the first session I could barely see where she had yanked hairs from the tip of my chin; to when I could finger areas which were now smooth; to where enough were removed that I no longer had a five o’clock shadow and didn’t need to cover it with makeup; to where I am now, that I can skip a day of shaving and can run to the store without concern.

I set a goal of being done this calendar year.  If I don’t miss more than a few weeks, I should be close to achieving it.  After this, the hope is only to have to see Barb once every couple of months, to touch up where formerly dormant hairs have decided to once again grow.

I want to say that I will miss our time together.  Forgetting the pain which The Impaler inflicts on me, I can say that I will.  Barb is fun and funny, wise and kind and smart.  She could put her personality to work as a therapist or bartender, and excel at either one.  If a person has to go through a process as lousy as is electrolysis, what a blessing for it to be with someone whose presence you enjoy.

Two weeks ago, I asked her how many of her clients she enjoys, with whom she has good conversation as she works.  She said that about five percent are unpleasant, another five percent are always a joy, and the rest are neither here nor there.

Since I gab away every hour, I figure that I fall into one of the two five-percent extremes.

I was afraid to ask which one.

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This was March, two years ago, right after my article was published in Indianapolis Monthly magazine. http://www.indianapolismonthly.com/features/the-real-me/

How to tell others of your gender issues

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Ready to boil over

You are struggling. You think you might have gender dysphoria, the ill feelings one experiences when biological sex and sense of self are in conflict. You have gone on the internet, searched the topic in every conceivable way. Your suspicions about yourself are continually confirmed.

Your conflict persists. It worsens. As you have read from others, at times you think you will go over the edge and become one of the 41% who attempts suicide, or you will flat-out lose your mind.

You need to tell someone. You want to tell the most important people in your life—parents or spouse, siblings or best friend, pastor or boss, and perhaps eventually all of these. This feels like an ocean to swim, followed by a mountain to climb, followed by a trip to Mars.

How can you possibly tell anyone that you might be transgender?

First tips on how to speak

Opening up about your gender conflict might be the most difficult you will ever do. When I began telling others—pastors were first, then my closest friends, then my children—after I explained that I had something serious to discuss, it took as many as fifteen minutes for me to begin. I said, often through tears, “Once I explain what’s going on, it could change our relationship forever.”

The first time I did it, I blew it. Clueless as how to begin, I told my close pastor-friend, “I’m a woman who is trapped in a man’s body.” He replied, “No, you’re not.” I set a terrible tone for the conversation which ensued.

Before telling the next person, another pastor, I worked to come up with an opening which would draw in the listener and not freak him out. I decided to put it into the form of a question: “What do you know about gender dysphoria?” It worked. I used it every one of the dozens of times I would broach the subject. Everyone asked, “What is that?” I replied, “Dysphoria means ill feelings. The person with gender dysphoria has ill feelings about his gender. I have struggled with this my entire life.”

Zero people freaked out. Every one of them was immediately engaged. I had their attention and, perhaps better, their concern. As I proceeded to tell my story, though I would go on to tell them things which would indeed trouble them, I had their concern and their sympathy for the lousy spot in which I found myself.

Know your audience

Before I became a minister, I worked in business. My job had me interacting with folks in every department. I often needed something from the department supervisor. I learned the personality of each, and dealt with him or her accordingly. One man reacted favorably when asked and not told, so I framed things as questions. With another, I was able to suggest things without fear of rejection. One man and one woman were opposites in that he was a goof ball and she was always serious, so with him I always had a joke at the ready and with her I kept it to the business at hand.

When you sit down to tell someone about your gender issues, it is vital to know how they are built. Traditional? Conservative? Open-minded? Judgmental? Easily frazzled? Empathetic?

Who is this person to you? What does this person know about you? How does he or she view you? How do you interact with each other?

My experience, and hearing the stories of many, has provided me much information as to how people in specific relationships receive the news of one’s gender conflict.

Parents: Dad and mom might take this news harder than anyone. No matter how old is their child, parents hurt terribly for their children. Add to the mix that, now, this person they always knew as a female or male might outwardly live as the other sex. As you want their compassion in this difficult time, it is vital to extend the same compassion to them.

Spouse: Hopefully, this is not the first you have spoken of gender issues with your mate, whether or not you have gotten married. Regardless, this is tremendously difficult for a mate to hear. Gentleness, patience, compassion—every reaction you desire from others—needs to be your reaction to how they hear you. Never raise your voice, especially if their reaction is to yell their objections. Verbal sparring never solves a problem and always makes it worse. Remember, this is the most important person in the world to you, and married persons are in the one-flesh union.

Children: You are the one to whom your kids look to as leaders, as guides. Nowadays, by the time they reach the teen years, young people are aware of transgender folks and might even know one, yet for dad or mom to reveal a gender conflict is immensely greater than to hear that a classmate is transitioning. Take it slow with them. Roll things out gently. Don’t act quickly, which would be very scary for them. My children would go through all of the stages of grief, at their own paces, over the first few years after I told them of my gender dysphoria.

Siblings: You’ve always been known by these people as a boy or girl, man or woman. Because you all grew up together, each of you might have thought you knew everything about each other. This big secret revealed can be shocking. I was such a regular guy’s guy, my brothers took my news very hard; my sister, with whom I share the same kind of personality, was shocked but then wonderfully accepting.

Pastors: If we are talking about a LCMS pastor, or any minister which practices a traditional theology, there is a good chance that he will hear you saying you are experiencing a sinful temptation. Thankfully, by 2018, many have learned that this is not about temptation to sin but a real, physical malady. If you find you want to tell your pastor, be clear with yourself as to why. You likely want to tell family members and others first, and even to have some allies before breaking this to your pastor.

Friends: The more open-minded a person is, the better she or he will receive your news, and exactly the opposite with those who are judgmental, and who don’t handle adversity well. Some of my friends embraced me, while others walked away.

Your boss: More companies now either have experience with a trans employee or have been provided information as to how to work with trans employees. Still, it is vital to consider the particular personality of the person with whom you speak. Before speaking with your supervisor, if you have a human resources department you likely want first to talk with the appropriate person there.

LCMS and similarly traditional Christians

The LCMS has a personality very much as an individual does. Where, say, the United Church of Christ is open to things and adopting new ideas, the LCMS is conservative, has remained traditional in its views, and is slow to act.

A common, modern American argument is, “Don’t I deserve to be happy?” This is often heard from those who want to transition or have done so. It does not play among LCMS pastors and lay women and men. Don’t say it.

Because so many LCMS folks view gender dysphoria as a mental illness, and transitioning as sinful, how you frame the topic is vital. My best experience is to keep this in medical/physical terms.

While I do not call gender dysphoria an illness or disease, I do refer to it as a malady. (Secular folks in the LGBTQ sector reject the idea of this as a malady. In the Church, things are seen differently and must be addressed as Christians see them, and then they will be more open to hearing about them.)

Christians of a traditional and conservative nature understand the nature of maladies, having a deep sense that Original Sin causes every form of trouble for us from within ourselves and out in the world. While I refer to the impact of Original Sin, I don’t frame the talk as to our sinful nature, because all that will be heard is that word, sin. I talk about our nature as being fractured and fallen—synonymous to sinful, but words which will be heard more in the realm of, say, one’s getting cancer.

When one reckons he has a malady, the next step is to diagnose it. Once it is diagnosed, one or more proper treatments can be considered.

In conclusion

This is where we currently hit a wall in the LCMS. Generally, the LCMS as a whole, and similarly traditional Christians, see gender dysphoria as a malady, but strictly a mental illness and one which creates a sinful temptation. While there are some who find transitioning a viable way to address gender conflict, these folks are in the minority among traditional Christians. Even more, those who are opposed are vocal about it, and they can be because that is the easy position to take in the LCMS and other theologically-similar church bodies.

I take care in how I write about this. While I generally believe a Christian may transition akin to how any person takes steps to heal a dreadful condition, I do not have all of the answers. This is a field where there are more questions and answers. So, what do I do? I land firmly on the Gospel. The Lord knows our hearts, our struggles, that no one has gathered all of the facts behind gender dysphoria. He loves us with a perfect love, which He proved by taking on our flesh, then carrying our sins in His death. This is how I proceeded with transitioning, even as it is my hope that no person ever has to find transitioning as necessary.

Before you speak with anyone, I commend you to be prepared. Indeed, by reading this you have done some good prep work. As much as I prepared, I still had to go through each step, consider each type of person I told, to get a full understanding of how things would go from there.

The best we can do is to know ourselves, to know our audience, and to know our topic. This won’t work, “Don’t I deserve to be happy?” but everyone will have compassion when they hear, “I’m trying to figure out how to get healthy.” Even more, with Christians, they need to hear from you, “I want to live a God-pleasing life, and handle this in a manner befitting a Christian.”

Finally, you can avoid a classic mistake. A trans woman tells how after decades of her gender conflict she determined that she was transgender. When she told her family members, she didn’t understand why after the first week they were still struggling with her revelation. What an unfair thought, that the thing which took you decades to grasp will be apprehended so quickly by your family!

The Golden Rule must always shine from us. The Lord be with you to treat others as you want them to treat you, whether you are the one revealing difficult news or the one hearing it.