Ready to boil over
You are struggling. You think you might have gender dysphoria, the ill feelings one experiences when biological sex and sense of self are in conflict. You have gone on the internet, searched the topic in every conceivable way. Your suspicions about yourself are continually confirmed.
Your conflict persists. It worsens. As you have read from others, at times you think you will go over the edge and become one of the 41% who attempts suicide, or you will flat-out lose your mind.
You need to tell someone. You want to tell the most important people in your life—parents or spouse, siblings or best friend, pastor or boss, and perhaps eventually all of these. This feels like an ocean to swim, followed by a mountain to climb, followed by a trip to Mars.
How can you possibly tell anyone that you might be transgender?
First tips on how to speak
Opening up about your gender conflict might be the most difficult you will ever do. When I began telling others—pastors were first, then my closest friends, then my children—after I explained that I had something serious to discuss, it took as many as fifteen minutes for me to begin. I said, often through tears, “Once I explain what’s going on, it could change our relationship forever.”
The first time I did it, I blew it. Clueless as how to begin, I told my close pastor-friend, “I’m a woman who is trapped in a man’s body.” He replied, “No, you’re not.” I set a terrible tone for the conversation which ensued.
Before telling the next person, another pastor, I worked to come up with an opening which would draw in the listener and not freak him out. I decided to put it into the form of a question: “What do you know about gender dysphoria?” It worked. I used it every one of the dozens of times I would broach the subject. Everyone asked, “What is that?” I replied, “Dysphoria means ill feelings. The person with gender dysphoria has ill feelings about his gender. I have struggled with this my entire life.”
Zero people freaked out. Every one of them was immediately engaged. I had their attention and, perhaps better, their concern. As I proceeded to tell my story, though I would go on to tell them things which would indeed trouble them, I had their concern and their sympathy for the lousy spot in which I found myself.
Know your audience
Before I became a minister, I worked in business. My job had me interacting with folks in every department. I often needed something from the department supervisor. I learned the personality of each, and dealt with him or her accordingly. One man reacted favorably when asked and not told, so I framed things as questions. With another, I was able to suggest things without fear of rejection. One man and one woman were opposites in that he was a goof ball and she was always serious, so with him I always had a joke at the ready and with her I kept it to the business at hand.
When you sit down to tell someone about your gender issues, it is vital to know how they are built. Traditional? Conservative? Open-minded? Judgmental? Easily frazzled? Empathetic?
Who is this person to you? What does this person know about you? How does he or she view you? How do you interact with each other?
My experience, and hearing the stories of many, has provided me much information as to how people in specific relationships receive the news of one’s gender conflict.
Parents: Dad and mom might take this news harder than anyone. No matter how old is their child, parents hurt terribly for their children. Add to the mix that, now, this person they always knew as a female or male might outwardly live as the other sex. As you want their compassion in this difficult time, it is vital to extend the same compassion to them.
Spouse: Hopefully, this is not the first you have spoken of gender issues with your mate, whether or not you have gotten married. Regardless, this is tremendously difficult for a mate to hear. Gentleness, patience, compassion—every reaction you desire from others—needs to be your reaction to how they hear you. Never raise your voice, especially if their reaction is to yell their objections. Verbal sparring never solves a problem and always makes it worse. Remember, this is the most important person in the world to you, and married persons are in the one-flesh union.
Children: You are the one to whom your kids look to as leaders, as guides. Nowadays, by the time they reach the teen years, young people are aware of transgender folks and might even know one, yet for dad or mom to reveal a gender conflict is immensely greater than to hear that a classmate is transitioning. Take it slow with them. Roll things out gently. Don’t act quickly, which would be very scary for them. My children would go through all of the stages of grief, at their own paces, over the first few years after I told them of my gender dysphoria.
Siblings: You’ve always been known by these people as a boy or girl, man or woman. Because you all grew up together, each of you might have thought you knew everything about each other. This big secret revealed can be shocking. I was such a regular guy’s guy, my brothers took my news very hard; my sister, with whom I share the same kind of personality, was shocked but then wonderfully accepting.
Pastors: If we are talking about a LCMS pastor, or any minister which practices a traditional theology, there is a good chance that he will hear you saying you are experiencing a sinful temptation. Thankfully, by 2018, many have learned that this is not about temptation to sin but a real, physical malady. If you find you want to tell your pastor, be clear with yourself as to why. You likely want to tell family members and others first, and even to have some allies before breaking this to your pastor.
Friends: The more open-minded a person is, the better she or he will receive your news, and exactly the opposite with those who are judgmental, and who don’t handle adversity well. Some of my friends embraced me, while others walked away.
Your boss: More companies now either have experience with a trans employee or have been provided information as to how to work with trans employees. Still, it is vital to consider the particular personality of the person with whom you speak. Before speaking with your supervisor, if you have a human resources department you likely want first to talk with the appropriate person there.
LCMS and similarly traditional Christians
The LCMS has a personality very much as an individual does. Where, say, the United Church of Christ is open to things and adopting new ideas, the LCMS is conservative, has remained traditional in its views, and is slow to act.
A common, modern American argument is, “Don’t I deserve to be happy?” This is often heard from those who want to transition or have done so. It does not play among LCMS pastors and lay women and men. Don’t say it.
Because so many LCMS folks view gender dysphoria as a mental illness, and transitioning as sinful, how you frame the topic is vital. My best experience is to keep this in medical/physical terms.
While I do not call gender dysphoria an illness or disease, I do refer to it as a malady. (Secular folks in the LGBTQ sector reject the idea of this as a malady. In the Church, things are seen differently and must be addressed as Christians see them, and then they will be more open to hearing about them.)
Christians of a traditional and conservative nature understand the nature of maladies, having a deep sense that Original Sin causes every form of trouble for us from within ourselves and out in the world. While I refer to the impact of Original Sin, I don’t frame the talk as to our sinful nature, because all that will be heard is that word, sin. I talk about our nature as being fractured and fallen—synonymous to sinful, but words which will be heard more in the realm of, say, one’s getting cancer.
When one reckons he has a malady, the next step is to diagnose it. Once it is diagnosed, one or more proper treatments can be considered.
This is where we currently hit a wall in the LCMS. Generally, the LCMS as a whole, and similarly traditional Christians, see gender dysphoria as a malady, but strictly a mental illness and one which creates a sinful temptation. While there are some who find transitioning a viable way to address gender conflict, these folks are in the minority among traditional Christians. Even more, those who are opposed are vocal about it, and they can be because that is the easy position to take in the LCMS and other theologically-similar church bodies.
I take care in how I write about this. While I generally believe a Christian may transition akin to how any person takes steps to heal a dreadful condition, I do not have all of the answers. This is a field where there are more questions and answers. So, what do I do? I land firmly on the Gospel. The Lord knows our hearts, our struggles, that no one has gathered all of the facts behind gender dysphoria. He loves us with a perfect love, which He proved by taking on our flesh, then carrying our sins in His death. This is how I proceeded with transitioning, even as it is my hope that no person ever has to find transitioning as necessary.
Before you speak with anyone, I commend you to be prepared. Indeed, by reading this you have done some good prep work. As much as I prepared, I still had to go through each step, consider each type of person I told, to get a full understanding of how things would go from there.
The best we can do is to know ourselves, to know our audience, and to know our topic. This won’t work, “Don’t I deserve to be happy?” but everyone will have compassion when they hear, “I’m trying to figure out how to get healthy.” Even more, with Christians, they need to hear from you, “I want to live a God-pleasing life, and handle this in a manner befitting a Christian.”
Finally, you can avoid a classic mistake. A trans woman tells how after decades of her gender conflict she determined that she was transgender. When she told her family members, she didn’t understand why after the first week they were still struggling with her revelation. What an unfair thought, that the thing which took you decades to grasp will be apprehended so quickly by your family!
The Golden Rule must always shine from us. The Lord be with you to treat others as you want them to treat you, whether you are the one revealing difficult news or the one hearing it.