Who is my true self?

Tomorrow, I will talk about Bruce Jenner. In him, I see a person for whom there have been no easy answers about transitioning, seeking one’s true self.

All of us are prone to the easy answer. When we were young, and our friend’s girlfriend broke up with him, we likely said, “There are other fish in the pond.” When a friend buries a spouse, we might say, “Time will help.”

Are both of these true? Sure. Are either of them helpful? No.

Serious situations deserve serious answers.

When I am told, “You have to be true to yourself,” I want to reply, “To what ‘self’ am I to be true?” There are a host of problems, one of which is that my brain doesn’t stay in one place long enough for me to have confidence to be true to whom, exactly? More on that another day.

All of us live in a number of communities—family, nation, town, job, church, sports teams, and the like. Each has its own set of ethics and rules to follow, builds its traditions and holds expectations of its members.

To be members in good standing in any community, we must meet expectations and observe the rules. Under our government, tax cheats do not get a pass; on a baseball team, outfielders who let fly balls drop because they are cozying up to the ball girl will not be outfielders for long; in our families, we do not abide with those who habitually skip out on holiday get-togethers.

In each context, these are serious infractions. Each will be dealt with for the health of the community.

Who makes laws, shapes rules, maintains customs and expectations? The community does these things, not the individual.

We fight with this in the USA. We are so big on the freedoms of the individual that we often overstep the line of the community. We say, “As long as I’m not hurting anyone,” but who is the final arbiter as to whom is hurt? If I feel that I can safely handle 70 mph in a 55 zone, does that allow me to do so?

If the individual is allowed to decide when it is okay to break laws or neglect traditions, the result is chaos.

My two most important communities are faith and family, being a Christian and an Eilers. Both communities have expectations of me. I know the laws and rules and customs and expectations of both, how I fit into both, how I am viewed in both. I blew both of them away with the news of my gender dysphoria, especially when I revealed that I truly thought my only solution would be to transition.

As I stated in “Who am I?,” I am small town middle-class, lifelong committed Christian, husband and father and grandfather, traditional and conservative in every way from how I live to how I dress to how I spend my money to how I vote, and as a Lutheran minister I am one who holds a very by-the-book biblical doctrine. This is how I see myself; this is how I am seen in both family and faith communities.

My personal make-up and my place in my faith and family communities make my gender dysphoria a serious situation for them and me, why it might differ from another’s, why “just be true to yourself” is too easy an answer. I am not built to say, “That’s their problem.” If I did, I would tear down a lifetime of beliefs which I have worked hard to build, which takes me back to the age of seventeen.

It was 1974, late in my junior year in high school. It was my favorite of the teenaged years: I could drive but I didn’t yet have the pressures of adulthood. But, I was troubled. I recognized that I didn’t know what I believed in and stood for. In school, I was taught evolution as fact, but in church I was taught the six day creation. Abortion had just been legalized, but my priest railed against it. The voting age had been dropped from 21 to 18, so I would be voting in a year, yet my parents were divided when it came to politics and I did not have a clue on which side I fell on many issues.

I decided that I needed to be a person of integrity. I decided to answer these questions. Over many years, I answered them and many more. I have stuck with my answers.

My blood family and my faith family are the two communities in my life in which the foundational traditions, rules, expectations, and doctrines are non-negotiable. In both, I have fallen short of the mark in various ways. I long to fulfill the expectations and maintain the traditions of my family and obey the laws of and my vows to the Lord.

And so I struggle, both from within and from without. In 2013, expectations of my communities and myself led to every internal conversation concluding, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. So just kill yourself.”

No one wants that. The 41% attempted suicide rate among those with gender dysphoria and who are transgendered illustrates that this is not as easy as “be your true self.” All of us live in communities. We value our position in them. We feel pressure from them—sometimes unfair, sometimes justified, always present. Every factor influences our decisions.

I await your replies. My essays are nothing without your feedback. I value every public comment and personal message.

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