Why did I crash in 2013? Was I running away from being a man? Was becoming a woman my form of escape?
Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book, “The Tipping Point,” provided an intriguing look at the whats and whys behind a situation’s or a thing’s going from average to phenomenal. For example, how do fashion ideas become trends, or a city’s crime rates make definite rises or plunges?
Gladwell recognized tipping points, specific events which prompt dramatic changes. This leads one to ask where it concerns a person’s lifelong questioning of his or her gender identity, might there be a specific event to which one can point to see why it exploded into crushing gender dysphoria?
This is a question which has been widely asked and deeply studied, for which there is no definite answer. In our interview with the podcast, “Virtue in the Wasteland,” Julie spoke eloquently to one of the prime suspects which might have been my tipping point.
It is known that when people pass middle age, it is not uncommon for them to examine their lives for things they have longed to do, wanted to accomplish, desired to change—to “live authentically,” as Julie put it. For some, this time is so challenging it is called “Middle-age Crazy.”
It is especially common for genetic males, when attaining their fifties, who have fought a lifetime battle with their gender identity, to reach the tipping point, falling over into ill feelings about their birth sex, feelings with which they finally must deal.
Such was the case with me. This is WHEN I tipped, but is this the WHY?
The examining of one’s life might be conscious—“I never owned a cherry red sports car, so I’m going to buy one this year”—but it might not be; it might simply creep up on a person without any deliberate pondering of it.
I certainly felt it without specifically thinking about it. I am now able to reflect on the four or five years before 2013 when I became unable to look at myself in the mirror, gradually hating the man I saw, his ever-receding hairline, and then everything about him. When brushing my teeth or combing my hair, I avoided eye contact with myself. And, the times I did allow myself to look into my eyes, well, let’s just say that I was not kind to me.
My having reached my fifties might indeed have been my tipping point. Since, in 2013, I began therapy, I have wondered if my tipping point might be something else, that it might have been something which I might have been able to conquer and therefore remain male.
This is the first I have ever written about this, the first I have ever openly asked the questions: Was I running away from being a man? Was becoming a woman my form of escape?
Over the past four years, I have spent many hours pondering these questions. I most often have returned to two times in my life, the age at which I began having the daily desire to be a girl and my years as a pastor.
My first memory of wanting to be one of the girls was when I was around nine years old. It stands alone from my early memories, but only perhaps a year before I began wishing I could make myself look like the girls in my sixth grade class, and then began my lifetime chant: All I want in life is to be a girl.
I have been haunted by my inability to determine what caused my desires. My childhood was idyllic. If I were to draw up the blueprint for a good, safe, happy, healthy, fun, wonderful childhood, I could not design a better plan than my own life.
Those, who deny that folks like me might have a physical intersex condition, point away from one’s nature to issues of nurture to explain the problem. Surely, the person questioning gender identity
- was sexually abused, or
- had been emotionally abused by father, or
- had an overly-doting mother, or
- an absent mother, or
- an absent father.
I experienced none of these. Deep conversation with my first therapist—whom I virtually begged to uncover in me a memory which I had been refusing to allow to surface, so that I could heal that and get rid of my gender dysphoria—came up empty.
Was moving from one town to another, which we did early in my second grade year and then right before sixth grade moving back to my home town, the cause for my escaping into fantasies of being a girl? I have no bad memories from both moves; indeed, everything I can produce is good. Moving, changing schools and making new friends, never felt like a cause for anything negative in me.
I also proposed to him what I will now discuss, which he also, ultimately would dismiss.
The ministry years
Restating an old adage, I used to say, “I’m the best stressed pastor in town.” I came to this after taking my second call in the ministry, landing me in the place from which I would retire, St. John Lutheran Church, Port Hope, Michigan.
At my first call, to a lovely dual parish on the shores of the Mississippi, in Guttenberg and McGregor, Iowa, the nearly five years were quite uneventful but were a wonderful grooming period. Almost immediately after arriving in Port Hope, the end of February, 2001, I experienced just about every challenge in the books, to where I finally dubbed myself The Disaster Pastor.
I was already living through my wife’s having filed for divorce only a month after being installed when, in early June, a seven-year-old girl of our congregation and first-grader in our church school was hit by a car and killed. This was not the first tragic death through which I had lived—my own son was the first—but the initial one in which I now had to minister to others.
Over the course of the next ten-and-a-half years, tiny Port Hope, population 265 and set in a very rural, mostly farmland area, would suffer seven serious tragedies.
2. A young lady, a few weeks from entering her senior year in high school, died in a one-car accident.
3. A young man, a senior in high school, whose family had filed a civil suit against the Port Hope school and several of his classmates and other school leaders, claiming he had been sexually assaulted by his basketball teammates, died on Halloween night in a one-car accident. Cries of foul play rang through the community. Our village was torn in two. We were near eruption. At his funeral, sherif’s deputies were stationed outside the church.
4. A young wife and mother of three was killed when her car was struck by an elderly woman who blew through a stop sign.
5. A fourteen-year-old girl in our congregation gave birth by herself, no one knowing the large-framed young lady was pregnant. She claimed her baby was born dead. The revealing of the father created a scandal. That was only the beginning. Ultimately, I assisted the mother in court as we took her family into the parsonage for two weeks when they were not allowed to live in their house. The mother lost all rights to her four children.
6. Two days after the previous situation began, one of our Marines lost both legs to a landmine in Afghanistan. Our close-knit village was so devastated by this one-two punch that I was urged to hold a special service the very next day, to help our folks grasp the ungraspable. Members of both involved families were among those from the village, many who were not part of our congregation, who crammed the church full.
7. A young mother was murdered by her husband, who then killed himself. Only a few months before, I had instructed the woman in the faith. When she joined the church, I baptized her five-year-old daughter, who was a student in our church school. Now, the family asked me, with many of them gathered around, to tell the child that Mommy and Daddy would not be coming home.
The seventh and final tragedy came in late November, 2011. Thirteen months later, no one had a clue that I was becoming number eight.
I remained the best-stressed pastor in town. The Lord equipped me with the ability to handle tough situations with calm and cool. I had become a fierce preparer; I entered the most terrible situations with confidence.
And I wanted to be the minister in that spot. No one looks for tragedies, but when they came it was a privilege to be the pastor. I came to say that when it is the bottom of the ninth, in the seventh game of the World Series, and the big hit is needed, I want to be the one stepping into the batter’s box.
I never got rattled. I didn’t experience sleepless nights. But after the murder, I found myself muttering to myself for weeks, “I can’t believe I am the pastor of someone who was murdered.”
Within a year, I found myself chanting, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.”
Was the murder my tipping point, in a series of tipping points—the seven tragedies—each chipping away at my resolve and knocking me a bit closer to the edge?
Was my now all-out desire to be a woman really a longing to get out of being a man, so that I had a way out of the ministry? Regardless of how well I handled these years, were they taking this steep a toll on me? Is there any way of finding an answer?
As I said, my therapist did not see this as my case. Julie and I were very impressed with the man, but I always wondered whether he were right.
Perhaps, an answer
As 2013 developed, by summer I knew I could not continue in the ministry. Though I remained unable to land on a consistent answer as to whether I would try transitioning—I changed my mind dozens of times—I had become an emotional wreck with worse than no end in sight; with each passing month I was more of a wreck.
After announcing my retirement, I admitted to the congregation that I had cried more in 2013 than in the previous fifty-five years of my life put together. This was no exaggeration. To some, I admitted that I had a nervous breakdown in view of everyone, but no one could see it.
Even as my retirement date approached, I fought myself over it. If there were any hope that I could hold myself together and remain the pastor in Port Hope, I would have grabbed onto it.
More than two years later, there are things that are nice to be out from under. My meals are never interrupted by the phone, and I never have to walk into the house to see the blinking light on my answering machine with the latest who-knows-what to immediately address. I want to say that I’m glad that church meetings are a thing of the past but, honestly, I enjoyed most of them. I simply enjoyed being with the members of the congregation, whether in meetings, or during a church dinner, or a Bible class, or, best of all, in worship.
More than two years later, I can, at any time, find myself with tears in my eyes during worship, longing to be back in the pulpit, feeding the Lord’s Supper, blessing the people in Christ’s name.
Even so, I do experience a certain amount of relief that I am no longer in the ministry. Don’t fall for that old joke, that pastors only work one day a week. No. The ministry is a grind.
When I consider all of these things, and ask myself if the Crash of 2013 had been my way of escape, it gives me pause.
Until I recognized this.
I never went into retirement.
I did not remove myself from things which put me into pressure situations. If stress had been silently growing inside me, I did not walk away from placing myself into stressful situations.
In retiring from the ministry, I always knew that I had a new career in front of me. I planned on it. I told the members who said, “You’re too young to retire,” that I knew the Lord had another career for me.
I knew that I would eventually write about my struggles—during 2013 and 2014 I wrote dozens of pieces so that I would have recorded what I was going through—and that I would blog about all of this, whether or not I transitioned, because my fellow Christians are so in the dark about gender dysphoria and what it means to be transgender.
I could not have predicted, when I crashed in 2013 and retired in 2014, that transgender folks would find themselves in many headlines in 2015. Caitlyn Jenner was still Bruce. Bathrooms were being used by trans folks in the quiet, respectful manner they always used them. Governments were making no wacky legislation regarding the transgender community.
I had researched whether or not a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) pastor had ever left the ministry because he was transgender. I found one tiny reference, on a Lutheran chat site, about a man who had done so, but no name was given, no town or dates cited, nothing to aide my search. If there had been a LCMS pastor who had transitioned, he did it quieter than a church mouse.
Quietly was never in my game plan for the reason cited. Besides, in this Internet age, I could not see quietly being pulled off. Therefore, the only way I could show myself to be the same person of integrity I always strived to be with my church members, and with all my family and friends, I could not risk transitioning quietly, because the moment the news got out I knew exactly what would be said. “He was too chicken to tell us what was going on with him.” And though it was not the case—I was not allowed to tell—I wouldn’t blame them for saying it.
Therefore, that I finally came to open up in April, 2015, was always in the works. At the time, I still was fighting to remain male. When a few months later I found myself needing to try living full time as a female, and found that doing so provided me with longed-for relief, I soon revealed that online.
Ever since, I have been writing about all of this, both from the transgender topic in general and from my personal experience. I took on every opportunity to educate, putting myself into a variety of situations, both in print and in person.
Since my story went nationwide in LCMS circles in September, and the uprising was virtually all negative as links to my blog were posted on Lutheran websites where I was then picked apart, I did not run away and hide. Oh, I could write for pages about the hurt I have felt, but whining gets one nowhere. I have a job to do.
And that’s my point in this final section, the answer to the questions: Was I running away from being a man? Was becoming a woman my form of escape?
If I were escaping the challenges of the ministry, why did I create a new pulpit? And if I were running away from being a man, why have I continued to live my public life in the exact same manner as I always had?
As with all those tragedies, why do I meet each new challenge the same way, with deep preparation and confidence to enter the situation?
If my transitioning were my way of escape, I would have found my comfort zone in Indianapolis, settled into my new role of house spouse, and dug into the quiet life.
I enjoy many things about this time in my life. Okay, I hate cleaning the house. But I’ve loved having the time to learn so much more about cooking. Things like doing the dishes and laundry, running errands and grocery shopping, all are fine by me. Just someone please get me a self-cleaning house!
Reflecting on those tragedy-filled years in Port Hope, I find that they were not my tipping point, causing me to want to run away from being a man.
Reflecting on my youth, there is nothing to which I can point that tipped young Greg into wishing he were a girl.
Reflecting on the oft-pointed-to theory—that having battled ever-deepening gender identity issues, and reaching my fifties finally caused me to crash—is where I find the likely culprit. I simply could not outrun, outlast, our outlive my condition. It got the best of me the way myriad conditions, diseases, and illnesses do to so many.
Back to Gladwell’s book, a thing about tipping points is that you can’t see them at the time; you can only recognize them after the thing tipped over and there is a path to trace.
So it is, it seems, with issues regarding my struggles with my gender identity.