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.
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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.