Think of a make-or-break moment from your life.
• A decision you could not have imagined which you now had to make.
• Words you could never dream of speaking.
• A change so radical that it might as well have been altering your summer vacation to a mission to Mars.
I’ve had my share of make-or-break moments, but none comes anywhere near the circumstances in which I found myself in 2013, which came to a head three years ago today and tomorrow. I finally was so crushed that I had to break the news to Julie which I never dreamed I would speak.
“I want to be a woman so badly. I need to be a woman. If I am going to survive, I might need to transition.”
How she would respond would make or break me. You already know that she did not break me, so let me back up to show you how my gender dysphoria was in the process of doing just that.
I have likened my condition to a slow-growing tumor. When I was young, I was confused about myself but, as with a tumor that is microscopic, I was not in pain. Something wasn’t right, I was troubled, but I had no idea what it was behind my longing to be a girl.
I was happy as a boy. I was pleased to grow up to be a man, marry a woman, father children, and do every sort of thing a male does. There was nothing female about me. Even so, not a day went by that I didn’t wish to be a girl. In deep desire and utter frustration I would say to myself, “The only thing I want in life is to be a woman,” then tell myself, “No, that’s not the only thing you want in life.”
What it was is this: It was the only thing I wanted in life that I could never attain.
And I couldn’t shake it. No matter how hard I tried. No matter how much I repented. No matter how persistently I prayed.
For me to be a female was so unattainable, so foreign, that I could not even fantasize about it. The greatest dream I could muster was that if I had not been reared in such a tight-knit family, with deep Christian faith, I could have run away to Chicago and become a female impersonator.
Even in my fantasies, I could not transition, and there was going to be a way for me to do it in real life? Get me that ticket to Mars.
Reaching my thirties, I continued to be happy to be a guy. I became a minister. It was the work of my life and I could imagine nothing else. But the tumor was on the move. My desire to be a woman kept growing, ever deepening, and it was a longing now even more incompatible with everything about me.
As with my first wife, before Julie and I married I told her about myself. She replied, “I don’t know anything about this, but I can tell it is integral to who you are.” She then asked the hard question: “Do you think you will ever want to be a woman?”
I breathed hard. “I don’t think so. I love you and I want to be your husband. But I also know that this thing has gotten worse over the years, so I really don’t know.” That was in 2001.
Eating wisely does not stop tumors from growing, and a happy marriage to Julie did not stop my desire to be a woman from turning into all out gender dysphoria, a total hatred of being a man.
I always say that I fell apart in January, 2013, but I now recognize that I was losing it for several years before that. I turned fifty in 2007. By my early fifties, I no longer could look at myself. I would make a funny face before leaving the mirror. After a couple of years of that, I simply stopped looking, never allowing my eyes to face me. When I did, I was disgusted. On bad days, I cursed myself, then I quickly hated myself for hating myself, and prayed the Lord would forgive me and help me.
Getting dressed for work became an awful chore. Where I had always wished I could dress for work like a professional woman, now I was hating my men’s clothes. At times, I sat on my bed, delaying the act, as if I could put it off forever.
On New Year’s Day, 2012, I had a meltdown, feeling like I was a failure as a human being. Though I did not attach the meltdown to my two-person struggle, I now was officially at odds with my existence.
Every winter since the early 2000s, I was shaving my legs, and in 2006 added my arms, loathing the body hair which made me look and feel that much more male. In the spring of 2012, letting it all grow back for summer threw me into misery. I could not wait for autumn—for long sleeve shirts and no more wearing shorts. I would shave as soon as warm days were done.
I selected October 15 to shave myself. Soon, I moved it up to October 1 and then could not hold out for that. I used my Friday day off, September 28, to do the deed. Hair-free once more, I breathed a sigh of relief.
I had no idea of the crash that was coming or how badly I was about to be crushed.
In January, Julie took on the long hours of tax season and I took on the long evenings of being alone. Despite her having worked eight tax seasons before that one, I never had a need to dress up female more than once in awhile. Often, even when it sounded good, the thought of the entire process, and then removing everything, especially the makeup, convinced me to forego it.
That January, however, the dysphoria had become a tumor that had finally grown so large that it was pressing on me too hard to ignore. By the end of the month I was doing something I had never done in my entire life. I was dressing every free chance I had, makeup and all. Church work saw me busy one or two, sometimes even four evenings a week. Every evening that was free saw me head upstairs to our bedroom to transform.
Most nights, Julie did not get home from work until it was my bedtime, so I was left to remain dressed until I decided I needed to hit the sack. (Though she was fine with my dressing, I did not like to burden her with it.) Changing back became a problem. I no longer could face returning to wearing guy’s clothes, to seeing Greg all over me.
Around this time, I settled on a name. After trying on several over the years, poring over a baby name book found me narrowing it down to three, and then quite easily selecting Gina.
By late January, when it got to be time to dress down for the night I would fall into a heap in front of our full-length mirror. I begged myself, “Please, Gina, don’t leave me.” I bawled. I wailed. I was inconsolable.
And then I prayed.
Wow, did I pray.
P A R T T W O
All my life, I had asked the Lord to remove from me the desire to be a girl. I always thought I was the worst sinner, so weak, so easily tempted. For one entire year, when around sixteen years old, I put myself to sleep every night trying to imagine damnation in hell for eternity because, certainly, I never could be worthy of heaven. I was scared to death.
Now, I was pleading for my life. My daily mantra became, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” I plotted my death many times. Thankfully, my desire to live, to serve the Lord and not wanting to do great harm to my loved ones, always prevailed.
In my prayers, I would beg my Lord to take away my desire to be a female. Then I would ask Him if it would be possible for me to transition. Finding that absurd, I would then ask Him if I might lose my mind or become a split personality, thinking that if either of those happened, and I became a woman in the process, I would have everyone’s pity. “Greg went crazy. We knew it would happen someday. Poor thing.”
It was now February and every dressing session went the same. After a couple hours of relaxing en femme—I would read, surf the web, play music—I collapsed. Every collapse led me onto my bed and into an intense prayer session. Lutherans are not exactly known for two things: praying out loud and talking directly to the Lord Jesus. I broke the mold by doing both.
I would lie on our bed and talk out loud directly to my Savior. I required His complete and undivided attention. I needed Him to know how serious I was, how bad things were. I had to flesh out everything I could think of.
Having learned His Word came through for me. I repeated to Him many of the promises in the Holy Bible, reminding Him that He is faithful to fulfill them. “You can’t ignore me, dear Jesus! If you aren’t faithful to help me, then you aren’t who you promise me you are! And I know you are! I KNOW you! I TRUST you! PLEASEHELPME!”
Some nights, these conversations lasted an hour. If that doesn’t seem like a long time, trying praying for an hour. Shoot, try praying for ten minutes. In my pleading, I left no angle unaddressed with my Jesus. In His Word, He taught me to knock His door down with my petitions. I was not going to disappoint Him. I unleashed everything the Holy Spirit had ever taught me.
A funny thing happened on my way to being destroyed: I wasn’t. The Lord fulfilled every promise He ever made. He upheld me with His righteous right arm (Isaiah 41:10). He made Himself more real to me than ever, and I had always found myself to have a deep faith in Him. I knew He would remain faithful come what may, that He would never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5), that I could do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13), that nothing in all of creation could separate me from Him (Romans 8:38-39).
I could do all things, but could I hold out until April 16, when tax season was completed, to tell Julie that I was a mess? Thankfully, I rarely saw her in the wee hours of her nightly returns, and by morning I was recovered enough that I could paste on a smile for her.
February turned to March, and like the melting snow I turned to mush.
The seventh of March was a Thursday. That evening followed what was now the routine, but the pattern finally broke. I was a mess from the moment I was dressed. My prayer session found me realizing that I could keep this from Julie no longer. I resolved to tell her before work the next morning.
That Friday saw us in our usual routine. It was my day off, so I got started slowly, relaxing in my office with my reading of my favorite websites—how I love the free, complete sports sections online of both Detroit newspapers—and writing emails while downing a pot of coffee.
My office was in the front of the parsonage. When Julie arose, she stopped in before heading anywhere else. “Hon, I need to talk with you before work.”
Soon, she took her familiar spot on my desk, with me in my chair. I really did not want to burden her with this during tax season, when she was working 12-15 hour days, seven days a week. But I also could not deal with the guilt of keeping this from her. We had no more than a half-hour to chat, so I plunged in.
I have to pause from typing. I am crying great tears. I can see us in that space in which I so loved to write sermons, counsel members, and enjoy the best job on earth. I see Julie’s gorgeous cuteness, that smile that melts me every time. I knew that as soon as I opened my mouth, I could lose her and everything.
I looked up at her. “I’ve been struggling so bad,” I begin. After explaining how badly I had crashed, I finally said the words that I never imagined ever saying out loud to any human being: “I want to be a woman so badly. I need to be a woman. If I am going to survive, I might need to transition.”
I collapsed into sobbing. I told her I was so sorry. What she did next told me that there is at least one person on earth who believes the marriage vow that countless people have made: For better or for worse.
“If you need to transition, we’ll figure it out.”
Everything I knew about Julie, everything I loved about Julie, everything I trusted about Julie came together in her sweet face, her kind eyes, her gentle response: “We’ll figure it out.” As my Lord Jesus Christ remained faithful to His promises, my little Christ remained faithful to hers.
I feared my future, but I knew that I would not be going it alone.
That evening, she would do the unimaginable and get off work in the early evening. I would explain in more depth. That depth brought me to melt down. On our bed, she sat in silence as Gina pleaded with Greg, “You have to go away! You have to go away!” Later, she would tell me how profoundly that moment spoke to her.
Julie would observe dozens more meltdowns throughout 2013 and into 2014. Every event was the same: I would be destroyed by my angst. I would bawl. I would wail. I would beat the floor with my fists. And when I was done, she would finally speak. We would talk for hours.
You know the rest of the story, and now you know the back-story. You know of the woman who always has my back. The woman who never fails to be everything she promised me. The woman whom I adore more than ever.
That was three years ago today. I am shaking my head at all that has happened. Not only have I lived to tell about it, I am stronger than I have ever been in my life. I experience no more two-person struggle. I trust in the Lord Jesus more than ever. I am crazy in love with my wife and that silly girl is still crazy in love with me.
I am internally content for the first time in my life. I am filled with zeal and energy to proclaim my Lord Jesus to the world and to teach about what it means to be transgender. I can’t wait for every new day to arrive.