I bet you know the old Lou Reed song, “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” In it, Reed sings of Holly Woodlawn, an actress and transsexual, who came from Miami to Hollywood and “plucked her eyebrows along the way, shaved her legs and then he was a she.”
As if it were that easy to transition sexes.
In one of the books I read about understanding transgender, the author, a trans man, fielded what was tossed at him as a criticism, that trans folks are awfully self-absorbed. To what I suspect was the surprise of the critic, he agreed. More than simply agreeing, he continued, explaining how the trans person, by nature of how challenging it is to suffer gender dysphoria and how to address it, is forced to be self-absorbed.
When I read this, it was 2015 and I was on the verge of beginning the Real Life Test. I was heartened by it, for I had long wondered if I had not been thinking too much about myself. Was I being the vain person, letting my ego get the best of me—I sometimes thought so—or was mine a case more akin to a terribly ill person trying to deal with a condition which required arduous treatment, surgeries, and therapy, which envelops a person’s body, mind, and spirit?
I came to identify with the latter.
Having been a sports fan all my life, I have admired the dedication which athletes have. Sure, they might have gotten their start from their natural desire and abilities, but those will not carry anyone to the top of any sport, such as competing in the Olympics. To succeed, these folks must apply themselves in every way—body, mind, and spirit—or they will not succeed. Worse than not succeeding, failing might profoundly, adversely affect them.
Transitioning from the sex and gender in which one had been known to the “opposite sex” could not be further from what Lou Reed sang and, having now been in the process for four years, I have found it comparable to what a successful athlete endures.
Transitioning is grueling.
Simply deciding to attempt this is the initial high hurdle. I first decided I would need to at least try to leap it, to see if I felt better. I began hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in September, 2013. Before I began HRT, I waffled at least a dozen times, finding transitioning to be too big, too hard, too much. Because I kept feeling worse, I could not ignore that I would have to give it a go. Even after beginning HRT, in 2014 I would stop it three times before finally sticking with it.
The mental strain of all of this is nothing like I had ever experienced. It seemed never to leave my mind. Was I understanding myself correctly? What of my being a Christian? And a husband? And father? And of my work, and where Julie and I would live, and how we would make a living?
What if I tried transitioning and it didn’t work for me? What then? I hated retiring from the ministry; how much guilt would I carry if transitioning was no remedy for me?
And what if it did work? Would I proceed with surgeries? Changing my name? Of some of the things or every thing which I had been mulling all of my life, which now were real possibilities?
How does one know when is the right time? Even when my therapist endorsed me, giving me the letter that I needed so that I could proceed with things, did her finding me to have passed the Real Life Test, that I could succeed at living in the world as a female, mean that I was ready to go further with it?
Even when I found myself ready for each next step—the first big one would be to have my name and gender legally changed—the big picture reality always gripped me like hands wringing a chicken’s neck. It wasn’t only I who was being affected by each change, but my entire family, my fellow Christians, and many others who had gotten to know me and were following my story. I wrestled daily with “Am I doing the right thing?”
Grueling. I looked before me and all I could see was a never-ending line of hurdles to be jumped.
How could I ever have the energy to leap them all?
It was grueling.
I continued to experience new rejection. As people learned about me, they contacted me. One after another either tried to stop me or pronounced me a sinner who is bound for hell. I am a person who longs to be liked, to unify people, never to create dissension. That I had become one who now causes great disagreement, who was no longer wanted in the circles where I wanted to be, I was constantly being crushed.
Because I was finally feeling unified internally—the two person struggle subsiding, my gender dysphoria finally being addressed—I found myself moving forward. Each new battle with others always led me into terrible turmoil and huge bouts of crying, and this always led me into deep prayer and meditation on God’s Word.
And every time—every single time—I came out of the situation to be stronger in my conviction that I had to keep moving forward, and that the Lord was with me and I with Him.
Finally, the line of hurdles is growing short. I am almost done transitioning. With my upcoming facial feminization surgery, I have gone through another grueling period. I have been the self-absorbed person again, just as I was before my vocal cord surgery and sex reassignment/gender affirmation surgery. This one has been the hardest, because this is my face.
As with my initial decision to transition, I have changed my mind a dozen times about having this surgery. It has only been since early August that I have found peace about it and, now, can finally look forward to it and, even more, look forward to being done with all of the major steps in transitioning.
This will be no time for me to rest on my laurels. I strive to erect my own hurdles, the goals I have so that I might use this for good. I continue to seek ways to educate my fellow Christians of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), so that the LCMS does not lock out—worse, judge as impenitent sinners—those who transition, and to show proper understanding and patient compassion for their members who suffer gender dysphoria, along with the families of these folks who also are profoundly affected.
I am thankful that I am healthy and have a lot of energy. As long as I can run and jump, I plan to keep training so that I can run the race—all the way to the finish line.