The more I change . . .

 

Say goodbye to this old mug!

As, tomorrow, I head into my third transition surgery of 2017—this one being facial feminization surgery (FFS)—here is what I am expecting:

  • I will look less masculine, more feminine, yet still look like me. Oh, and a bit more youthful, thanks to the face lift—sagging neck and jowls, begone!
  • I will feel about myself exactly what I feel today, which is what I have been feeling about myself throughout this surgery-filled 2017.

Which has been quite surprising.

One does not know what one will experience by transitioning. One can read about the experiences of others, watch videos, and ask questions. I sure did a lot of all three of those. Yet, as is the case with everything in life—lessons I especially learned firsthand when my son died and when I went through a divorce—observing the experience of other does not come close to personally going through something.

I had watched two siblings go through divorce. I knew people who had lost children. When I experienced the gut-wrenching loss, the gigantic hole which both of these created in me, I learned that I had not learned anything significant from only observing them.

So it has been with transitioning. I prepared as best I could, and then I went and underwent stuff that was completely my own, things for which no amount of reading could ready me.

Fourteen months ago, I wrote about how Gina was deepening and Greg was lessening. This was something I expected to occur, even as I did not know exactly how it would happen. Here is that post:

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2016/09/14/gina-deepens-as-greg-lessens/

In that piece, in September of 2016, I wrote this, “A very odd experience is that I view my former life as if looking at photo albums and home movies of another person . . .”

This sense remained with me for several months. It was not a comfortable thing, feeling that I was seeing another person’s life when it was my own. I am pleased to report that it no longer is the case. Sometime early this year, I noticed that it was gone. Now, when I ponder any time of my life, I experience it the same as I did before I began transitioning.

Indeed, what I have found is that the more I change—living as a female, legally changing my name, going through the three transition surgeries—the more I do not change. Not a bit. Not the person who is me.

Wrap the package how you want, the contents are not affected.

I am pleased to report that this is marvelously comforting.

As, over the course of my fifties, I grew to hate myself, I now am able to compartmentalize what the hatred was. My self-loathing was strictly due to my gender identity struggle, being a male, forced to live as a male, feeling there was no future for me as a female, yet finding the lifelong desire to be female to have deepened so much that it was as deniable as a basketball-sized tumor in my brain.

I hope you understand how that would develop into self-hatred. Of not being able to look at myself in a mirror. Of cursing the male clothes I had to put on every morning. Of being unable to scream out to the world how badly I was hurting.

That was then. It’s not now. Whew.

Removing that self-hatred, I can once again see and appreciate the wonderful, blessed life I’ve enjoyed, one full of love and achievement and unique experiences. While it would have been nice not to have had to live through those years, which were worse than my divorce and the death of my son, combined, the Lord got me through it. And Julie, my little Jesus, got me through it. And many of you, and a host of therapists and doctors, got me through it.

And I am coming out the other end of it all the same person I was when I entered it. And this pleases me because—I hope this does not come off as bragging—I worked really hard at my life, and I was happy with the person I was.

In 2013, my hope would have been that, by 2017, I would feel and look and act completely differently, so badly was I hurting in body, mind, and spirit. Now, I am so pleased that I feel and act exactly as I had before I grew ill.

So, what of tomorrow’s surgery? As for how I look, I want to continue to look like me—I no longer hate the image I see in the mirror, but I want the image to be more feminine—so my hope is that my new face will be a gently more female version of the same old-but-now-slightly-younger-looking me.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’m still me. Whew.

To you, that might sound like a silly thing, as in, “Who else could you be?” I’m here to tell you, I was someone else. The 2013 me was a mess; I was pasting on Greg for the sake of others. 2014 was no better. 2015 had some ups, but the downs were just as deep. 2016 was a turnaround year. 2017 has continued the turnaround, but I’d be deceiving you if I led you to believe that all of my struggles are gone.

But, wow, much progress has been made. Yea, for progress! For healing! For figuring things out! For living to tell about it!

Julie and I will head to the hospital before sunrise, tomorrow. I’ll be in surgery up to eight hours.

The plan is to be discharged from the hospital on Thursday. Thanksgiving Day. While Julie and I will not be feasting on food—we already did that with our Indy daughter and grandchildren—we will come home from the hospital and, no doubt, will let out a great big, “Whew!” like the one I just let out as I paused after typing that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Finally, though these days I go by Gina, I’m still Greg.

I’m still Greg.

I never saw that coming.

I’m really pleased about that.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Right before surgery, I will take Julie’s hand and we will pray.  I will begin by reciting the 121st Psalm, which is my favorite.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

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Meet a trans person: Colleen

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Not everyone is “happy” about transitioning. If it were possible for me to NOT transition and live my life peaceably being a grandfather to my grandchildren, I would jump at the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to disrupt my relationships with my children and cause confusion to my grandchildren by my transition. Yet, I see no viable alternative to transitioning. I’ve come to realize that, before I started on the path to transitioning to live my life as a woman, I was slowly dying. I was living each day, waiting to die a natural death. I call this committing “passive suicide”. There was no hope for me in this life. Now that I am on the path to transitioning to living as a woman, my life has gained new vitality, excitement, joy, hope and peace.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The opening quote comes from Colleen, a fellow Christian, who prefers, as do I, to remain a member in a congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), but who has been facing the same obstacles as I. This profile of Colleen is what I hope is the first in a series, in which you will get to know trans folks, to learn of their struggles and joys, gains and losses, unique challenges and our common experiences.

Last spring, Colleen was informed about me at her trans group by a trans guy who knew of my blog and, what he thought would be most interesting to Colleen, that I had been a LCMS pastor. A few days after Colleen’s first comment on my blog, we were talking on the phone. Over the past six months, we have become great friends, especially able to commiserate with each other in our transitioning, our Christian faith, and family concerns.

Noting her Irish ancestry, Colleen, who continues to identify as a genetic male while she now considers herself a transgender woman, says that she chose the name because she likes it and it’s Irish. She quickly pointed out that “Colleen” is Irish for “girl,” which, she giggled through the phone, seemed appropriate.

Colleen is a bit older than me and, in commencing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in January of this year, began her route to finally, fully transitioning about a decade older than when I began. This is not her first attempt at transitioning. She initially considered it at the age of twenty-two, after finishing her army enlistment and becoming a college student. Fourteen years later, she once again was giving it serious thought, so she began seeing a therapist.

The next year, she backed away from transitioning and found a Christian psychologist. She longed to salvage her marriage, to be the best husband and father she could be, and understand what it meant to be a godly man.

Her story matches that of so many who suffer this terrible sex and gender mismatch. She once again found herself struggling to be the man she longed to be. In 1998, she finally tried HRT, taking estrogen transdermally for four months. When she was diagnosed with lymphoma, which would require chemotherapy and radiation, she feared that the estrogen had caused it. Though she was assured it had not, this was a setback to her transitioning.

As is the case for so many of us, Colleen tried to distract herself from her identity issues, which she prefers to call “gender dissonance” rather than “gender dysphoria,” as “dissonance” means “discord” and “unrest,” where “dysphoria” means “ill feelings.” She finds that discord and unrest speak better to the internal struggle for identity. She sought to ease the dissonance by dedicating herself to her three children, and to work and church. Twice divorced, Colleen was dedicated to the job of single dad, and the person whom everyone saw as a regular man excelled in computer work and was a valuable member of his congregation, even becoming an elder and church convention delegate.

But, “he” had been experiencing identity issues since the age of five or six. Colleen says, “I remember a specific time at about the age of six when I recall watching my mother getting ready for work and I was thinking, ‘when I grow up, I’m going to be like her.’” Around age ten, she had seen a sensational tabloid newspaper article about the USA’s first transsexual, Christine Jorgensen. “I was fascinated by the article and I re-read it numerous times. I realized, after reading about Christine, that this was what I was; a transsexual.”

Toward the close of our first phone chat, I told Colleen that I found us to be kindred spirits. For both of us, our ultimate concern is our faith in the Lord Jesus, along with abiding in right doctrine and living God-pleasing lives. Both of us were concerned, first and foremost, that our desire to be female was nothing but a sinful weakness. It was only in learning that our identity issue was as physically real as any malady that we were able to address it head on. “As a committed, born again Christian,” Colleen says, “I did not see how I could transition without sinning in the eyes of God. I have since come to understand that this is not some sinful desire which I feel and am acting on. I suffer from a physical malady. My gender dissonance is likely the result of something which went wrong in my brain development while in my mother’s womb.”

Colleen has continually displayed a desire to be a godly person. In 2006, her mother now diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and father in the early stages of dementia, the dutiful son left Michigan for Alabama to care for them. Both parents now deceased, Alabama stuck as home.

Though she is at an age when many go into retirement, Colleen needs to be working, so she is facing what so many trans folks encounter: looking for a job, only at the beginning of legally changing her name, presenting herself as male in this situation and as female in that, and for the last several months going through the methodical process of telling family, friends, and business associates about her being transgender. She is diligent about considering every situation, wanting things to go best for her and, even more, longing for those she encounters not to be hurt, offended, or put off in any way with her being trans.

This is commendable about Colleen, and it is not unusual for a trans person. My experience with trans women and men has taught me that it is more common than not that we don’t want to upset others. Also, we realize that the smoother we make it for our families, friends, and coworkers, the smoother things will be for us.

For Colleen, this is of the greatest importance to her being a Christian. As she longs to glorify her Lord Jesus, she is keenly aware that we best do this by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, always striving to live the Golden Rule, treating others as we want them to treat us.

As Colleen has been transitioning this year, she has been regularly pleased that she is gendered by others as a female. Numerous times, as we have chatted, she’s said, “I was presenting as a male, even with a name badge which has my birth name, and they still thought I was a female!” As one who has struggled in this arena, I’ve regularly told her that I hate her . . . jokingly.

Besides transitioning socially, getting her name legally changed, and with HRT, Colleen hopes to have gender confirmation surgery, a tracheal shave (smoothing out the Adam’s apple), and a face lift. Does she need all of this in order to live as her authentic self, a phrase heard from many trans folks? “I have never felt I was not my ‘authentic self.’ I have always been just ‘me.’ From my earliest years, I have experienced the tension of dissonance between my physical body sex and how I perceive myself to be in my brain. Even today, as I am in the middle of transition, I just feel like ‘me.’ I cannot comprehend that I could ‘be’ anything else.”

For the trans person, issues arise in every sphere of life. Because civil rights are involved, the T of transgender has been combined with the LGB of lesbian, gay, and bisexual, and of late the Q of questioning/queer. Colleen would prefer the T not be included because of a common misconception about trans folks. “I think we are being connected with the LGB people because most other people view us as being extreme homosexuals.”

How do we improve the situation? “This is a good news/bad news question. I believe it is good news that the gender identity issue has been publicized. Cisgender people need to be made aware of, and educated about, the reality of gender identity dissonance. This is also the bad news, because the trans community is being very forceful in demanding acceptance and support from all areas of society. This has caused considerable social conflict and misunderstanding. Finding some middle ground will, in my view, likely take decades to accomplish.”

As Colleen faces every struggle, she never forgets her blessings. “My greatest joys in life have been the births and lives of my children and my grandchildren. It has been so rewarding to see my children grow to become self-sufficient, responsible, capable adults. And likewise, I take great satisfaction and joy in participating in the life and growth of my grandchildren (three of five live nearby). It has also been a joy and a struggle as I work through the process of transitioning from living as a male to living as a woman. I have found great peace and contentment since being on hormone replacement therapy. I have never in my life felt such peace. The process of transitioning is also my biggest struggle. As someone who is well known in my local business community, it has been a struggle to inform my business acquaintances of my transition and to gain their acceptance and retain their respect.”

Respect. That’s a big one for almost every trans person. For Colleen, it extends to her Christian faith, which is the most important thing in her life. As a “born again, conservative, evangelical, liturgical, confessional Lutheran Christian,” she longs not to offend the Lord, her fellow Christians, or any human being. Once again, from the quote which opened this piece: “If it were possible for me to NOT transition and live my life peaceably being a grandfather to my grandchildren, I would jump at the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to disrupt my relationships with my children and cause confusion to my grandchildren by my transition.”

Oh, that every American would be as concerned as Colleen, working to live a highly ethical life, with kindness and compassion for all. No matter one’s gender identity or sexual orientation, what a country we would be if we had a lot more like Colleen.

Trans Ed 101: sex and gender

In the news: Kim Kardashian accidently revealed the gender of her baby on Ellen. My reaction: Um, nope; she didn’t.

Speaking of a Kardashian, I am reminded of Caitlyn Jenner, of whom it’s often been questioned whether she’s had gender reassignment surgery. The answer is “no,” even without asking her. The reason? No one has ever had gender reassignment surgery, because it doesn’t exist.

On my driver’s license, I had my gender marker changed from male to female. Or, wait—I had my sex marker changed. Ugh. Which is it?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Sex and gender are not the same thing. To help keep it straight, it is bluntly said that sex is what is between your legs and gender is what’s between your ears. More scientifically speaking, sex is biological and gender is experienced. Or, to put it yet another way, sex is objective—I can identify my sex organs with my eyes—and gender is subjective—by simply looking at another person, I can’t tell whether this one or that identifies as female or male or questioning/queer.

tumblr_lq17xb4mvK1qe0cm1

In this age of our finally, openly talking about transgender issues, it is bewildering so often to hear sex and gender being used interchangeably, as if they mean the same thing. Turning my bewilderment to downright consternation is that even transgender folks are heard confusing the two.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I begin with this thing which, along with baby bump selfies, has become popular: the gender reveal.

The doctor moves the sonogram wand over the pregnant woman’s belly, gets a good view of the fetus, and then asks, “Do you want to know the baby’s sex?”

Catch that: the baby’s sex. The doctor sees the genitals of the fetus and feels confident making a pronouncement. Assuming the genitals do not appear ambiguous, one of two determinations is made: boy or girl—the baby’s sex.

Sex, not gender. The sonogram wand cannot read the baby’s mind, to determine her or his or their gender.

Somehow, identifying the baby’s sex has gotten translated to revealing the baby’s gender. Despite our new awareness of all things sex and gender, I should not be surprise; almost everyone uses “jealous” when they mean “envious.” We simply don’t pay enough attention to words.

[In case you’re curious, and I hope you are, think of jealousy and envy this way: when you are jealous of someone, you don’t want her to have what she has, and when you are envious you want what she has. Jealousy: “I wish that guy were my boyfriend, not Monica’s.” Envy: “I wish I had as nice a boyfriend as Monica’s.”]

Trans folks have preferred to get away from the use of the word “sex,” because it can cause hearers to think that this is about sex, or the act of having sex, and having sex is not what we want heard. So, the original word, “transsexual,” has largely fallen out of favor and replaced with “transgender.”

This takes me to the term “gender reassignment surgery.” The original term for the surgical alteration of one’s genitals was “sex reassignment surgery.” With the new preference for using “transgender” over “transsexual,” it seems that folks simply replaced “sex” with “gender” for the term for this surgery. Not so fast.

The gender of a person is not being changed. To alter one’s gender would mean to do brain surgery, to perform a self-identity-altering procedure. Such an operation does not exist. If it had, I might have opted for it, so that I could have successfully lived as a cisgender male, “cisgender” referring to one whose sex and gender identity match.

Since “sex” is no longer preferred for this surgery, how might we replace it with “gender”? It’s easy enough and is done by those who are paying attention. Many now call it “gender confirmation (or confirming) surgery,” while others, such as the University of Michigan’s hospital, use “gender affirmation (or affirming) surgery.”

I like the sound of “affirming,” but I refrain from typing the term as an acronym, as U of M does: GAS. Believe you me, having this surgery was not a gas! [Note to those of a younger generation regarding having a gas: https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/having+a+gas ]

Onto the driver’s license, and the question on so many forms. Are we being asked our sex or gender? Historically, the request was: “Sex: Male___ Female___.” Nowadays, forms might ask your sex, and they might ask your gender. There seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Maybe, they should ask both.

When I was in the early stages of transitioning, months before I had my name and, ahem, gender marker legally changed, and well over a year before my GAS (see? It looks weird), I was filling out a form at my dentist. Asked for my sex, I indecisively circled “male” and moved on. I returned to it and circled “female.” I then made a line joining the two and wrote “transgender.”

Some places are getting away from asking one to indicate sex/gender, while other places are offering a number of options, and still others simply present a __________ and let the person decide how to indicate this personal designation. Facebook tries to offer every imaginable option, now with up to seventy-one gender—um, sex—well, which is it?—opportunities for a person’s self-identity, including “asexual,” “intersex man,” “gender neutral,” “male to female transsexual woman” and—catch the difference!—“male to female transgender woman.”

While folks are busy making their “gender” reveals, others are saying that babies are assigned a sex at birth. No longer do we say of a trans woman, “She was born a male,” but, “She was assigned male at birth.” It makes sense. Naturally, I was assigned male; I had a penis. No one could know that I would have a gender identity issue and one day be transgender.

The following cartoon humorously takes this entire issue to its ludicrous conclusion. Well, wait; for we who experience the tremendously challenging and difficult disassociation of sex and gender, it’s not funny at all.

tumblr_m584ln1xnn1r08enqo1_1280

No, I’m not jealous of you cisgender folks but, I gotta be honest, I am envious.

All of this talk has not touched on sexual orientation.  Instead of making this a long and ponderous post, the following diagram nicely and succinctly encompasses the entire conversation.  Memorize this, and you will have it!

1600-Genderbread-Person

 

 

What I hoped to achieve by attempting suicide

aid27365-v4-728px-Be-Friends-with-Someone-Who-Attempted-Suicide-Step-5-Version-3

You have likely heard it said that suicide attempts are cries for help, that these people really don’t want to die but use the moment to get help, help which they otherwise could not figure out how to get, even with the availability of suicide prevention phone numbers.

I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, ended up dying, who never wanted to die.

I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, found themselves in no different a situation after the attempt, leaving them just as frustrated, leaving them just as trapped, leaving them feeling just as terrible as before.

And leaving them contemplating their next suicide attempt.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I found myself feeling the worst, I never wanted to die, but I really wanted to try to kill myself. Over and over, and over again, I had the same conversation with myself: “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. I wanted to “beat this thing” as I would say, whatever that would mean. And though my will to live was so strong, I could not shake the thought, even the desire, to try to kill myself.

Outside of talking with Julie, with whom I shared everything, holding back nothing that I was experiencing, I had no ability to imagine revealing my secret to anyone else. Telling my kids—are you kidding me? Telling my siblings—was that any less worse? Telling my closest friends and fellow pastors—was that not just as bad?

Trying to transition? At my age? As tall and large as I am? Having the money to do so? Becoming a laughing stock, an offense to many?

Leaving the ministry?  Leaving the work I so loved, the perfect job for me?  Leaving the people and town which Julie and I adored?  Giving up a secure income, with good benefits?

Trying to keep my mouth shut and go on as I had been? Hoping therapy would finally help me find a way to stop hating myself?

Every question came back with an answer that just plain stunk. How was I ever going to live through this?

So, what did I do?  I went about my life as if all were well.  I did my job, putting on a happy face for everyone and then, when I went home, once again fell apart.  One would have had to have been able to read minds to know that I was constantly thinking about killing myself.

That’s the way it is with those suffering suicidal ideation—they are really good at hiding it.

It was this time of year, four years ago, that I began the trek of telling my kids, and then my siblings and, as I had opportunity and need, talking with friends and professional peers. That I navigated everything and successfully transitioned, mine is a survivor’s story and, just for that, it is worth telling, because someone might read it and find the strength to take heart and move forward. Even more, I find it important to talk about why people try to kill themselves, because what I hoped to achieve by it has a common plot.

Two of every five people—41%—who are struggling with their gender identity, will try to end their lives. The reasons come from the internal struggle and the external realities. I am confident that there rarely is one thing, but a mixture of stressors—trying to accurately understand oneself, fear of rejection from family, what will happen to job and economic situation if I attempt transitioning, will I be safe, will God reject me, and more—which pile on, egging on that “just kill yourself” voice, to call more often and more clearly.

Again, we who are suffering—not only we with gender dysphoria, but anyone who is suffering terribly—don’t really want to die; we simply can’t see a way out in which we will not suffer horribly, ending up in a life which could be far worse than what we have now.

But we don’t know how to cry out, to say the words to others, and so we turn inside. Fear is mighty powerful; addressing it can be crippling.

We make a plan. We hope that, should we attempt to carry it out, we won’t die, and we won’t be permanently disabled, but we will be hurt badly enough so that when the most important people in our lives ask why we did it there will be so much concern in their words and compassion in their hearts that we will finally be able launch into our story.

I had made a plan. Whenever I thought about my plan, I wondered why it was my plan. “Just take a bunch of pills,” I would tell myself. “You’re not a violent person. It’s the only logical way to do it.” Yet, pills were too passive for me. Though I constantly rejected the notion of causing pain to myself, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

Another reason some of us attempt suicide is because we believe we deserve to be punished. We tell ourselves that we were not strong enough to get our act together. If others knew about us, that’s exactly what many of them would say. Indeed, after I undertook transitioning, I was asked: “Why didn’t you try harder to be a man?” Before I transitioned, one pastor said it straight out: “Greg, be a man.”

I was finding it impossible to satisfy either of those men, and I wanted so desperately to do so.  I was a failure.

Encapsulated in their words is another reason we attempt suicide. We are misunderstood. Many will never understand us. Many will not even try. Many will allow their prejudices and preconceived notions to speak louder than we can talk to them.

Two events in 2013 stand out as low points, when I so wanted to try to kill myself. The first occurred just before I was about to begin telling others about my gender dysphoria and that I was going to retire from the ministry. The second came in the autumn, after I had an intense week of telling key people in the ministry.

Both times, I was on county roads near Port Hope. In the first, I was heading home, just east of Filion on Filion Road. In the second, I was going south on Ruth Road, on my way to Bad Axe.

Both times, my situation had so broken me that I devolved into bitter bawling. I was driving fifty-five miles an hour, crying hard and screaming at the top of my lungs everything that I was feeling, and begging the Lord to spare me.

“Please, let me die,” was combined with, “Please, let me live.” Back and forth.

On Filion Road, a semi was heading west. “Turn into its path,” I tried to convince myself. “You have to do it now, or the opportunity will be lost.” As the truck neared the ideal spot, I knew I could not do it, because I would have put another human into harm’s way. No, if I were going to try to kill myself, I could not bring another person into it.

Four months later, as I was crying and screaming and praying down Ruth Road, I had already formed my plan. These county roads have really wide and deep ditches. I had buried two teenagers who had fatally met up with them in separate crashes, so I had experienced their power against a careening vehicle. I would release my seat belt, increase my speed, and aim myself at the ditch on my side of the road.

If it is possible to be equal parts angry that you didn’t do something and glad that you didn’t, I was that. My desire to live, to “beat this thing,” not to test the Lord that He was duty-bound to take me to heaven, not to harm Julie and my family and all who loved me, won the moment. I would drive to Bad Axe. Instead of calling on some shut-in members, I headed to Julie’s place of work. She came home with me. I resolved to quit the ministry that very day. My pastoral counselor talked me out of it. I managed to plow forward eight more months in the ministry, to tell my kids and siblings, and Julie and I figured out a path for ourselves, a path which now is in its fourth year.

I didn’t try to kill myself mostly because I didn’t want to die. I also didn’t try because I feared that I would . . .
. . . barely be hurt, but I would total my car, and the whole thing would simply be an expensive, embarrassing, impossible-to-explain mess.
. . . be hurt so badly that I would be left paralyzed. Can you imagine that, still suffering gender dysphoria and now confined to a wheelchair? I could, and it almost took away my breath.
. . . actually die. And I didn’t want to die.

But I so wanted to try to kill myself. I saw it as a way of letting the world know so that I didn’t have to find my own way to do it. I wanted sympathy, because I feared judgment. If I went public only after surviving a suicide attempt, maybe—just maybe—I would get the “Poor guy. What he must be going through” comments for which I longed, that everyone would feel sorry for me and, if I did find that I had to try transitioning, they would recognize it as the life-saving measure it would be.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you know anyone who is hurting badly, please show them a gentle spirit and compassionate concern.  They might be suffering suicidal ideation.  And they might find you a safe person to whom they can open up. You might just save their life.

If you know anyone who tried to kill her- or himself and lived, please be sympathetic and kind, and do not judge them as weak. Actually making the attempt to take one’s life might be the hardest thing a person can do. How badly does a person need to be hurting, to finally take the pills, hang the noose, turn the wheel, pull the trigger?  For as badly as I suffered suicidal ideation, I still think an actual attempt was a long ways from my grasp.

If you know anyone who has succeeded at the act and is now dead, I hope you are able to mourn and grieve this horrible loss, to love those who remain, and to grow in compassion and understanding. Somewhere, someone else is having the thoughts, making the plan, and longing to try to end it all.

And hoping to live through it, so that the suicide attempt can speak for them, to be their lifeline.

Pics of my surgery

Each time I visit Dr. Gallagher, the doctor who performed my sex reassignment/gender affirmation surgery, the appointment begins with her asking, “May I take a picture?”

I appreciate that she does this, and that I am now in possession of those pictures. I was glad to be able to see the healing path. And, I am pleased to be able to share these with those interested in seeing the process.

But, wait. Can’t you find online all the pictures you want? Yes, you can. I’ve searched for them. There are plenty. Over and over, I see surgical work that looks identical to what I have and, frankly, younger people who look better than I. So, why the need for me to make available my own pictures?

The answer is that mine show the work of Dr. Sidhbh Gallagher and, in the short time since she arrived in Indianapolis two years ago, interest in Dr. Gallagher has quickly taken root, blossomed, and exploded into full color. I have had several folks contact me with questions regarding her, and some of whom have followed through by inquiring of her for information.

Thus, the obvious folks who might want to see my pictures are those trans women who are contemplating the surgery, especially if they are considering Dr. Gallagher. Others having interest might be family and friends of trans folks, who seek to learn more and be compassionate, though these folks can satisfy that desire by searching the internet.

If you would like me to send you my pictures, please email me, providing a brief reason as to why you desire the pictures. For my email address, click on my photo in the upper right of the banner bar, then click on My Profile. You will find it toward the end of the About Me section.

Kevin Spacey: the neglected key point

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With all of the discussion regarding Kevin Spacey’s admittedly inappropriate, and most likely illegal behavior with a then-fourteen year old boy, something has been missed. Ignored. Totally glossed over. In the section of his response which I quote, see if you catch it.

“I’m beyond horrified to hear his story. I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago. But if I did behave as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior, and I am sorry for the feelings he describes having carried with him all these years.”

Did you catch it? I am referring to this word, “drunken,” as the modifier of his “deeply inappropriate behavior.”

Why has no one pointed to Spacey’s being drunk as part of his offensive actions? (If they have, I’ve not heard or read it, though, yesterday, in the second allegation against him, the man said Spacey was “falling down drunk” when he accosted him.) I know why. Since he wasn’t behind the wheel of an automobile, his being drunk was not illegal, therefore, because drunkenness is so accepted, it is not, in itself, considered inappropriate or immoral.

When was the last time you heard someone lament, “I did regrettable things because I was sober. I was able to think clearly, and that clouded my judgment. Oh, why, why did I remain sober?!”

Now that we know Spacey’s sexual preference, do we know whether he has desires for underage guys? I don’t think it can be assumed that he is prone to pedophilia (unless a report has come out since I wrote this).  As terrible as that criminal behavior is, it’s not the focus of this essay. What we do know is this, that when drunk he’s prone to doing awful things, even perhaps acting out on desires that he would otherwise be able to keep corralled.

Gosh. What a shock. Drunkenness causing someone to do something awful, or just plain stupid.

They don’t call it “liquid courage” for nothing.

I hate being around drunks. They talk and act like idiots. They make me feel uncomfortable.

I’ve heard plenty of drunk guys walking around to every other guy and proclaiming, “I love you, man.” I know, that’s an old joke. It’s an old joke, because it’s true, but it’s not funny.

One of the low points of my ministry came after a sermon in which I spoke very sternly about the widespread abuse of alcohol among many in our congregation, and that my concern was amplified because it seemed that many did not take it seriously, as if their drunkenness were perfectly okay. (The Holy Bible: drunkenness is a sin.) The low point came a few days later, when I saw a church member—a prominent member of the community and a known over-imbiber. He said, “Pastor, why don’t you lay off talking about people getting drunk. We’re not going to change.”

When I arrived at my first church out of seminary, I was surprised to learn that a woman, who had six children, one of which was still school-aged, was a widow. I was curious how her husband had died. Soon, I had a chat with her and asked. She said, “It was New Year’s Eve. He was at the club. Driving home drunk, he wrapped his car around a tree.”

You can tell your own horror stories of families ripped apart in this way, and of innocent loved ones killed by drunken drivers.

Bad behavior begets more bad behavior. When are we going to realize this?

In the same congregation, I noted that soon after my arrival one of the church’s prominent men was absent for several weeks, while his wife was in worship. Being the new minister and not yet knowing these folks, I didn’t want to pry. Soon, I knew them well, and soon after that he ‘fessed up. The weekend that I was installed as pastor, he had gotten arrested for drunk driving. It was not his first arrest. His punishment was weekends in jail for a month.

Oh, about his wife. She was blind, the result of juvenile diabetes. While she was an amazingly capable person, she relied heavily on her husband. What if he had crashed his car, and taken lives and landed in prison? What if he had killed himself? Not only was his behavior—what was Spacey’s phrase? Oh, yeah—“deeply inappropriate,” it was illegal against his fellow citizens whom he might have harmed, and it was sinful against his wife.

As a pastor, on two occasions I officiated the funerals of men, one in his forties and one in his fifties, who drank themselves into their graves. Both had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Their family and friends lamented their deaths, yet I never heard anyone proclaiming that they needed to mind their alcohol usage, lest they wind up committing suicide-by-too-many-cases-of-beer.

How much harmful, wrong, offensive, illegal, behavior would never occur if people did not abuse alcohol?

I like alcohol. I often have a beer when we go out to eat, and wine with a festive meal. I am not anti-drinking. Alcohol is not problem.

Alcohol is not the problem; abusing it is the problem.

Alcohol is not the problem; not acting like responsible adults is the problem.

Such a small thing it is, for a person to say, “Okay, I’m feeling the alcohol. It’s time to cut it off.” Why is that so hard, even seemingly impossible, for so many otherwise smart people?

Because of the attitude of the people of our culture, there is nothing about the Kevin Spacey revelation that surprises me. Troubles me? Indeed. But of no surprise.

Neither am I surprised that no one has picked up on “drunken” as an important aspect of his “deeply inappropriate behavior.”

It turns out that Spacey was living in his own house of cards, which was waiting for thirty years to finally come tumbling down. I always enjoyed the man for his many talents, but I have no admiration for him as a human being.

I am left wondering one thing, which I’d love to ask him: Hey, Kevin, did you catch that word, “drunken,” as key to your “deeply inappropriate behavior”?

Martin Luther, the Gospel, and I

After becoming Lutheran, I easily identified with Martin Luther. As he did, I grew up Roman Catholic. As his life went, I spent my life trying to figure out how to live well enough so as to please God and not be eternally damned to hell. As with him, I was finally set free by learning the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

After nailing to my Facebook wall my theses regarding what it means to be a Christian who is transgender, and experiencing the fallout from that on several Lutheran websites—from fun being made of me (“He’s nothing more than a man in a dress”), to accusations that I wanted to change the church by introducing new ideas (that is, the entire LGBTQ agenda), to being told that I am going to hell—my identifying with Martin Luther increased five hundred fold.

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While pondering Luther has been my regular companion these past three years, I am sharing my thoughts now because this October 31, 2017, is the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s coming out on his Facebook-equivalent wall—the front door of his church—with his arguments against the Church, the ninety-five theses which found him in the spot I would find myself: everything from a joke, to a heretic, to damned.

Martin Luther had many arguments with the Church, with teachings that did not align with Scripture, and with various abuses, notably the selling of indulgences with the promise that these notes moved souls from Purgatory to heaven.

Ultimately, Luther’s fight was for the Gospel, for the purity of the Good News about Jesus Christ. Non-biblical teachings—such as Purgatory, praying to saints, the merits of Mary, making satisfaction for sins—had obscured the finished work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and the granting of eternal life to the believer, and the assurance of salvation because of Christ’s work.

The Church was outraged by Luther. He was viewed as nothing but trouble. Discussion after argument after defending his teachings left Luther with a bounty on his head and excommunicated from the Church.

Luther never wanted to leave the Church. He did not want to start a new one. He loved the Church and, because he loved it, he longed for it to correct its errors. Luther longed to be heard, not to be misunderstood, for his opponents to be able to see and admit to the errors he had rightly recognized. He used Scripture as the basis of his doctrine, and any Church teaching or doctrine which did not align with Scripture was rejected.

The Church, with the pope as head, said that it had authority along with Scripture; when the pope spoke, it was as good as what Paul and Peter had written. Indeed, the pope, they have long taught and still do, sits in Peter’s seat. You don’t tell the pope that he’s wrong.

That’s exactly what Luther did.

A lot.

And he was really good at it.

The pope wanted his head.

Before it got to that point, Luther got to make a defense of his teachings. The image one conjures is of him standing before a council, behind a table, his books stacked high. The council put him on the spot: recant your errors and you can go home and all will be well. Luther finally replied, “I cannot go against Scripture and conscience.”

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His response was perfect. It has been my wisdom ever since I learned it, and especially these past three years.

Luther never wanted to be a trouble maker, and neither did I. I am confident that Luther spent many hours trying to figure out another way than to take his ninety-five arguments and post them for the attention of all and the consternation of many. Surely, Luther had many friends and peers who urged him to back off, to chill out, to come to his senses.

But nothing he argued was against God’s Word, and because he was convinced about the seriousness of these matters he could not go against his conscience. If he had backed down, he would not have been able to live with himself. He would have felt like he was a chicken, nothing more than a punk monk. His conscience would have pricked at him, poked and prodded him. He would have no peace.

As I have more intimately identified with Martin Luther, I have homed in on the purity of the Gospel. I find a correct understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ to be foundational to my fellow Lutherans (and all Christians) in grasping everything I am trying to teach about intersex conditions, gender dysphoria, living as a transgender Christian, and how the Christian Church should treat us.

Sadly, I too often feel as Luther surely did, that many will never hear, that my claims are too outrageous, that people have turf to protect, that fear—especially in the realm of all things sex and gender—easily wins the day for a multitude. As I have continued in God’s Word, constantly applying it to what I have learned about my confounding malady, I have worked to do everything in a God-pleasing manner, with a Christian conscience.

As with Luther, I am convinced by both Scripture and conscience that my cause is right, and that if I did not speak I would not be able to live with myself, that my conscience would only prick and poke and prod me into submission.

I never wanted to be an outrage to my Missouri Synod Lutherans, or to any Christians. I do not enjoy troubling people. It’s no fun being sneered at as a kook, a freak, a terrible sinner.

The Lord Jesus regularly ate with kooks and freaks and terrible sinners. He had compassion upon them. Ultimately, He laid down His life for them. No charge. No questions asked. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Ahhh, there’s that pure Gospel.  Here’s some more:

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17).”

“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).”

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

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My favorite picture of Christ’s cross, painted by my daughter, Erin.

Am I a sinner? Yes. Do I continue to sin? I sure do. Might I have sinned, and continue to sin, in my transitioning? You betcha.

In the end, what will save me from my impending death? Will it be my personal purity? That I’ve done enough good works to stave off God’s wrath? That I finally get my head screwed on straight and repent that I caved in to my gender dysphoria and transitioned? Nope, nope, and nope.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).”

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15).”

I am placing my eternal life on the Lord’s telling me the truth. I am counting on Christ’s proclamation from the cross: “It is finished.” I am trusting in the pure Good News about Jesus Christ.

That’s what Christians do, setting everything else aside and “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

That’s what Martin Luther fought for: Christ alone, given by grace alone, received through faith alone, taken from Scripture alone.

I cannot go against Scripture or my conscience. Every night, after I recite the Apostles’ Creed and Martin Luther’s evening prayer*, I close my eyes with a clear conscience and go to sleep in peace, thankful that Jesus loves us sinners.

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*I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.