My facial feminization surgery (FFS) for today has been postponed. Another operation took precedence and bumped me. My new date is November 22.
I received this news last Friday. It landed hard on me, for two reasons. First, I simply want to get it done, to get through another period of healing, to enjoy the end result. Second, it took a lot for me to mentally prepare for this surgery.
This surgery feels like the biggest one of my transition, because it is to my face. While my sex reassignment/gender affirmation surgery cannot be topped for how invasive it was, and for the severity and length of recovery, it was a personal surgery. When I go about my life, no one is aware of this surgery, and those who know I had it never see it.
But, my face? The face is our most public attribute. The looks on our face, our smiles and frowns, the expressions we make with our eyes—we don’t even need to open our mouths to convey a lot about us.
While I anticipate with joy finally having a face that looks feminine, which should go a long way towards others gendering me as a female, I don’t despise the face that I have had for sixty years. Shoot, I’m kind of used to it. Seriously, I thank the Lord for it.
I don’t go into this FFS lightly. As with making the decision to transition, to which I said yes, and then no, dozens of times from 2013 until the summer of 2015, I did the same with FFS over the past two years. It has only been since early August that I have remained firm in my resolve to have the surgery and, finally, to be able to look forward to it.
So, to get the call on Friday of this delay . . .
With all that is going on in the USA with two hurricanes, it seems selfish to be upset about this, doesn’t it? I have worked to keep it in perspective. Yet, I must confess, Friday and Saturday had me very down. Thankfully, I have gotten through it, have determined to use this autumn to accomplish good things, and to be ready for November.
In case you’re curious, November 22 is the day before Thanksgiving. Surely, most surgeons will be taking a long holiday weekend, right, and won’t be working that day? The odds of my getting bumped again surely must be all but non-existent, right?
Thinking positive, I’m putting my best face forward!
You might have noted only one other “Trans Iowa trip” blog post, which brings one to wonder whether I had mistitled this post. Nope. I never wrote about our trip to see Julie’s family in Iowa two years ago, which came only two months after I began living full time as Gina. (Beats me how I neglected to write about it.) That makes our early September, 2017, trip number three, though post number two.
As 682-mile trips go, this one was pretty uneventful. When one is transgender, uneventful travel is especially welcomed. Indeed, during our nine days at Julie’s folks’, the biggest things to happen came to me from Indianapolis, by way of the phone.
Julie and I have been married since 2001, so we have made numerous visits to her folks and family, some of whom live close to her parents, while the others are faithful about coming from Minnesota. It’s only since I retired in 2014 that we’ve been able to make annual, week-long trips to see the Leckband clan.
Besides being with this fun bunch, I love the week in the country. Even more, the Leckbands have created a gorgeous oasis in the cornfields of northwest Iowa.
Julie grew up on a farm, not quite two miles to the south of the house, below, which her folks built in the early 1990s. Dad had left farming for other endeavors, so the move was on.
Ain’t it gorgeous? And dig that pond, which has been affectionately dubbed “Lake Leckband,” and which had to be dug in order for us to dig it.
The pond’s ten acres were dredged by the Leckbands. In 1979 (Julie was seven), Dad put his vision into action, and employed Mom in the work. Two years later, the creek bed had been turned into the pond, with the east end dammed. Below, I was standing on the dam wall, which must be traversed to get to the road . . . or to the house . . . depending on your direction.
Thanks to Google, the next picture is a Hawkeye’s view of the whole pond-and-caboodle. Note the larger trees across the top. Julie planted those. Sister Sheri planted the two rows of smaller ones, just below—the two straight-as-can-be rows. Julie also planted the majority of the trees that are set about the property. To know that the family created this oasis from a creek running through pasture land is, well, mighty impressive stuff.
Across the top of the aerial view, that green patch is all crops. This is Iowa, kids, so it is acre after mile after county of corn after soybeans after hay fields.
It’s one thing that we have to travel the three consecutive I states—Indiana, Illinois, Iowa—to see Julie’s family, it is another to have to cross Iowa nearly all the way to South Dakota. See the red county, below? That’s Osceola County. That’s where the Leckbands live. That’s a whole lot of Iowa to drive.
Northwest Iowa sits at a higher elevation than the rest of the state. The effects of the glaciers is seen in the Ocheyedan Mound, below, which is a glacial kame. From the Leckband’s, the Mound is two miles as the smell of the manure flies.
Kames are deposits of sand and rock, left by melting ice. This kame made the Ocheyedan Mound the second-highest point in the state of Iowa.
This post is woefully lacking in pictures of human beings. My bad on that, especially when Julie and I enjoyed a reunion with a good friend of mine from my ministry days. (Thanks, Paul, for the lovely afternoon!) Rest assured that we enjoyed much family time. And lots of great food. And I went running six of the eight full days we were there. And read two books.
And took a nap every day while Julie actually accomplished things for her folks.
When Hurricane Katrina hit, some Christian talking heads proclaimed that the storm was God’s judgment upon New Orleans, because the city was, they said, a den of iniquity.
They were wrong.
I’ve been waiting for a similar declaration regarding Harvey. I’ve seen some minor ones, but not the attention-grabbing headlines as with Katrina.
People love to look at events and make decisions about them as if they can read God’s mind. If I am blessed with good things, then God must be smiling upon me for being a dandy person, and if bad stuff occurs then it clearly is God showing displeasure with me.
There are religions and philosophies which teach this notion, that their definition of god, or their understanding of the universe, balance things out in this manner, or reward or punish individuals for their behavior. Nowadays, it is popular to hearken to karma, that the universe gets even with us or rewards us based on how we live.
(Properly understood, the Hindu teaching of karma is that it is past lives which affect the present life, not the actions of the present life affecting a person as this life progresses.)
Since Christianity remains the religion of more Americans than any other, and Christian thought permeates the American landscape, Christians leaders who have the ear of the media get the headlines. Sadly, the media don’t use orthodox theology to sift out bad teaching, and bad teaching makes for outrageous, attention-grabbing headlines.
It is just as likely that your great aunt or brother-in-law is filling the air with their prophecies.
According to the Holy Bible, God the Father meted His wrath upon His Son. “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. … God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:19 & 21).”
Jesus Christ bore the sin of the world. By His death He satisfied the wrath of His Father, which was proven by His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven. God has no wrath left for the world. He does not zap cities with hurricanes, or individuals with illnesses or tragedies.
If He did, if God plagued us every time we did a wrong thing, we’d be toast on a daily basis.
So, you’re wondering, why do bad things happen? Hurricanes send fifty inches of rain, and cancers take over bodies, and wars break out, and spouses cheat on their mates, and unfairness and inequity occurs on a regular basis because the world does not work right.
As a pastor, I would return my congregation to Adam and Eve, to the original sin which corrupted the world, and to its permeating all humans and the entire creation. For the sake of writing here to a wide audience, I don’t have to hearken to the Holy Bible, because the mess is obvious to all, no matter one’s religion or lack of one, whether or not a person believes in a god or is an atheist.
We love to find someone to blame—it’s important when a crime has been committed—or to be able to point to a cause—vital when diagnosing an illness—but there isn’t always a place to satisfy our curiosity. When it comes to hurricanes and other natural disasters, the cause and blame always go to the same place: that’s how this world works, and it doesn’t always work in ways which are beneficial.
Returning to questions of God, if not as punishment might there be a purpose to the suffering produced by storms like Katrina and Harvey which devastate huge numbers, and by individual suffering—illness, untimely death, job loss, and the like? Absolutely, yes.
Whether to our person, or to a community, or to a nation, these things teach us that we really are not in control of our lives. If you think you are powerful, then, please, the next time the electricity is knocked out in your house because of a bad storm, use your powers to restore it. If you think you are the master of your fate, then no car accidents or other similar negatives should ever happen in your life. If you are in control of your destiny, then you will have no problem staving off diabetes, or high blood pressure, or Alzheimer’s, or, shoot, the common results of aging.
You can’t even stop a cavity from needing a dentist’s attention, or your child from doing the exact opposite thing you taught him to do, or the raccoons from raiding your garbage can.
Did God zap the Houston area with Harvey? No. Is He happy that people are suffering? No. Does He desire that we learn from this catastrophe, so that we recognize that we are not in charge? Yes.
Punishment and discipline are not the same thing. The following is a vital truth regarding the purpose for our undergoing discipline:
Is it God’s will that we use the catastrophes and tragedies of life to make us better people for the sake of our families, and neighborhoods, and communities, and countries, and the entire world? You betcha.
Love and compassion for each other is always the goal.
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.
In a move as improbable as hillbillies relocating to Beverly Hills, twenty-five years ago this week my little family and I left my hometown so that I could attend seminary in Indiana. Our convoy of a van and two trucks was capped off by my dad’s very-Beverly-Hillbilly-looking pick-up which, we commented at the time, was stacked in such a way that it only lacked Granny Clampett’s rocker resting atop it.
While, for several years, my fellow church members were very generously telling me that I would make a good minister, the thought of it was unfathomable. Not only did my wife, Kim, and I have four young children, I had an excellent job, was finally making enough money that we were becoming economically stable, and we had completely remodeled the house we bought when it was a condemned eyesore.
Besides, I had determined my life goals, and had already accomplished them. I wanted
to be married, presumably till death parted us;
a bunch of kids. After losing our first, we then had two daughters and two sons;
to work in Montague, at a job where I could be a lifer. Employed at MasterTag since I was twenty-four, I not only had found the job to meet both criteria, there was lots of opportunity for growth;
and to own a home and live in Montague for the rest of my life.
Even more, I never saw myself as seminary material. That I took the college plunge right out of high school was only because I had no plan when I graduated, and everyone who didn’t either go away to school, or into the military, or had a job lined up, enrolled in Muskegon Community College, a quick half-hour from home.
Though I did not lack the smarts for college—I had never missed the high school honor roll—I was left wanting because I had no direction—what did I want to do in life?—which resulted in no motivation to do the work.
As my first year of the standard two semesters came to a close, I was informed that I had been put on academic suspension. I thought, “So what? I’m doing the same thing to you.”
On my final day, I made the trek to the far end of the parking lot, got into my car—well, my folks’ lime green Chrysler—and headed over to JC Penny, where I bought my first stereo. The date was April 23, 1976. My parting words to MCC were, “I’m never coming back to this place.”
If “never” equals fourteen years and nine months, I had been correct.
How I came to return to MCC has been told in my piece entitled, “Pastorized.” It’s a great story—one of the neatest things of my life—so if you’ve not yet read it, consider yourself encouraged to do so. It’s right here:
Long story short, my desire to be a minister had grown fiercely. Before I could attend seminary, I had to have X amount of certain college courses, all which I would be able to take at good old MCC. In January, 1991, I returned for my first class—every-Monday-evening sociology—laughing to myself all the way how I had vowed never again to set foot in the place.
If the school remembered my words, it bore no grudge.
By the spring of 1992, after once again having become a full time student, as I went to a part time role at MasterTag while grooming my successor, I was ready for seminary.
Well, virtually so. I was entering as a non-graduate of college. At my age, and having passed a test which gave me credit for work experience, Concordia Theological Seminary would take a small number of these men every year. As they allowed me to begin taking Greek in June—the prerequisite for regular seminary classes, since the New Testament had been written in Greek—the committee would not be meeting until I had done the first few weeks of the ten week course.
Because the chance existed that I would not make the cut, and so that Kim and the kids could enjoy a final summer in Montague, which, if you are not aware, is only five miles from Lake Michigan, I commuted back and forth to Fort Wayne, a three-and-a-half hour drive. During the week, I lived in a dorm room. We had class every morning and afternoon, Monday through Thursday, and only in the morning on Friday, when I would fly out of there after class and be home by mid-afternoon.
At first, I returned to Fort Wayne on Sunday evenings. A few weeks in, as I headed out on Sunday and was just north of Grand Rapids on I-96, I had car trouble. I was in the passing lane when the HOT light flashed on my dash. I quickly got into the right lane and was slowing fast to get onto the shoulder when it happened.
The radiator exploded, its contents spraying across the windshield. Thankfully, I was able to keep control of the car and come to a stop. But, here I was, pre-cell phone days, a few miles from tiny Marne, on a Sunday, with no idea if I would find a phone near the exit.
Whew! There was a phone next to the shop very near the overpass. I was able to call home and, in an hour, Kim and our kid-packed minivan arrived for me. In the morning, I headed out very early to make it for 9:00 a.m. class. After that, I did the same, the final seven weeks, enjoying three nights at home.
Finally, the day arrived when I got word from the admissions committee. After Greek class, I checked my student mailbox, finding an envelope. Under blue skies, I made the short walk to the dorm, removing the envelope’s contents to find the letter. Immediately, I saw “congratulations.” I was in! The proverbial weight fell from my shoulders and the sun never felt warmer.
Greek was a pass/fail class. I worked hard at it and succeeded. The fall quarter would begin mid-September, and the kids would have to be in school before that, so as soon as Greek ended in early August we got packing.
On a late August Saturday morning, the six of us packed our minivan, leading the caravan of our friend’s moving van, and my dad and brother with their trucks, Granny Clampett nowhere in sight. With so many hands, we unpacked into our townhouse apartment so quickly that the rest of them headed back to West Michigan that afternoon, leaving us in Fort Wayne to begin the adventure of our lives.
For the transgender person, who wants to transition to female or male (and not be gender fluid),
passing is being seen by others in such a way that they do not notice that you are transgender, while
blending refers to any trans person, no matter her or his appearance, who achieves the goal of fitting into the environment.
Many transgender women and men are able to transition to where they may be “stealth.” “Stealth” literally means to be in secret, covert. That is the idea, that one is able to keep secret that she or he is living opposite of the sex in which they were identified at birth. In other words, the transgender person appears to be cisgender, that is, a person whose gender/identity and sex/body type match.
Because of the many hurdles and potentially harmful situations faced by trans folks, those who are able to pass often prefer to remain stealth, to keep their birth identity secret. It’s not that they are ashamed to be transgender; quite the opposite, they simply are acting wisely, protecting themselves bodily, economically, and potentially in many other ways.
Many transgender women and men are not able to transition to where they may be stealth. Lots of things factor into the challenge, including physical size, facial structure, and voice. One does not want her or his presentation to be a factor, which takes us to blending.
Blending is key, even if one passes, but especially when we don’t, so that passing is not constantly on our mind, and so that we don’t stand out.
I recall the advice that I read before I ever went out as Gina. Act as if you belong, dress appropriately, and do nothing to draw attention to yourself.
The first place I ever went by myself was to a grocery store. Women don’t put on a dress and heels to get groceries. Women wear whatever they’ve been wearing around the house, likely jeans or shorts, flats or sneakers, little or no makeup.
That’s how I dressed. I entered the store, mustering every ounce of my usual self-confidence, and shopped as a woman as if I’d done it a thousand times before.
Everything went smoothly. Making my usual friendly small talk with the cashier, she was not responsive, and I felt the look on her face was not positive—that she knew I was transgender and was unapproving—but that might simply have been her usual demeanor. In the parking lot, when I finished putting the groceries into my trunk and looked up, a few cars down I caught a woman staring at me. I smiled. She quickly looked away. I got into my car and headed home.
Upon arrival, I knew that I had been tense because when I entered the kitchen my entire body relaxed. Finally, I rejoiced that I had done it, and I used the event as my springboard to going anywhere and everywhere and, now in my third year I blend in wherever I go—and I still don’t pass worth beans.
Later that year, I met a trans woman at a public event. It was outdoors, midday, a weekday, and not a dress-up event. She came in a dress, very high heels, and lots of makeup. She stood out, and terribly so. I wish I could have found a way to gently tell her that she’d overdone it, that she was not blending.
As I think about blending, I am reminded of liars. Liars tend to talk too much. They have a subconscious need to convince others that they are telling the truth, so they feel they have to create a truth, a story for people to believe, something on which to latch instead of the thing on which they don’t want them dwelling, the thing that will expose them. People who are telling the truth don’t oversell it. Since they know what they are saying is true, they don’t feel compelled to over-elaborate.
We trans folks want to appear in public as if we are telling the truth—indeed, this is why we transition; we are seeking to live authentically—that we are whom we are presenting ourselves to be. This means that we don’t want to appear, act, or speak in ways which make it seem that we are overselling it, that we are trying to cover up anything, that we are striving, if you will, to keep a lie from being exposed.
How do we do this?
Dress fitting the place and occasion, and always appropriate to your age.
Act as if you belong.
Though you might feel that everyone is looking at you, they probably aren’t. (This was one of the best things my therapist told me, and repeated until I got it.) People are busy doing their thing; they aren’t on the watch for the next trans person.
If you see someone look at you, give them a friendly smile. This is the best way to turn a potential negative into a positive.
Be wise about where you go. Don’t go places that are unsafe, or out late at night when punks are more likely to be feeling their oats or using the cover of dark to do their vile deeds. (A trans man once told of the beating he took at a bar, and displayed some of his injuries which were still healing. He told of trouble he had there before this event. I thought, “What a dumb thing, to go back to a place you knew could hold danger.”)
Use your gifts and abilities. Example, if you have the gift for gab, chatting with clerks, or wait staff, or doctor’s office receptionists and nurses will smooth your path. Friendliness is a marvelous cure for many ills; it sets people at ease.
Build on your successes and learn from any failures.
It’s okay to be scared. We all experience fear in certain places. For example, though I have never had trouble in a public restroom, I always enter with a bit of trepidation. It’s okay to be scared—a bit of fear can help us to remain vigilant—but it is not okay to be stifled by fear. Overcome fear with logical thinking and practical steps.
This is how we trans folks blend into society. While most of us would love to pass so that no one can tell we are transgender, we recognize that the world is filled with a wide variety of people. There are tall women and short men. There are females who don’t have hips and men with big butts. Some males have high-pitched voices and some females’ voices are taken for males’. And on and on.
There is no standard. We are wise to remember this, that we not obsess that we can’t achieve stealth, but always striving to blend in—just another regular person out doing regular things.
I made a video as I watched the eclipse. Here in Indianapolis, we had 92% coverage during totality, which was at 2:25 p.m.
When I went outside, before 2:00, we had blue skies overhead. I saw the edge of the moon over the sun. The clouds then moved in. The cloud bank was so large that I feared I would not see the full eclipse.
As you will see in the video, the clouds cleared just in time and I wound up with a great view and a marvelous experience.
The first nearly two minutes of video have me waiting for the clouds to clear. The best part of the video is from 1:55, lasting for two minutes.