Trans Ed 101: drag queens

Are drag queens men who want to be women, who identify as women, who consider themselves transgender?

No.

Yes.

Maybe.  But probably not.

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Drag has been around for a long time, so long that no one is sure from where the name originated. The common thought is that it is an acronym, where D.R.A.G. stands for Dressed Resembling A Girl. Some contend that it comes from men struggling to drag around the full length gowns of women, as in the era of the photo, below.

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A drag queen in the late 1800s.

While drag queens are more common, there also are drag kings, women who are Dressed Resembling A Guy. Because drag queens both predominate and, of late, have made a splash into the mainstream, I will concentrate on them.

Surpassing whether or not drag artists are transgender is understanding what drag is. Drag is performance art. It’s entertainment. It’s over-the-top playing the opposite sex for the purpose of putting on a show or simply having fun.

Anyone can do drag and, nowadays, it seems is. Drag shows are everywhere from professionals making a living in nightclubs to college students getting dressed up to raise money for a charity. RuPaul, the now famous drag queen, of whom I first became aware twenty-five years ago, hosts the continually-growing-in-popularity RuPaul’s Drag Race, which has been renewed for a tenth season.

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Generally, drag queens are gay men. “Queen,” which now is celebrated and embraced, began as a demeaning slur against homosexual men.

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Shane Jenek is a gay man whose drag persona is Courtney Act.

Drag has long been common in gay bars. But not only gay men do drag; it’s not a requirement. Straight guys do it, too, the most famous of whom might be Barry Humphries, married to a woman, who parlayed his character, Dame Edna Everage, into a long career that included a popular television talk show parody, the late 1980s’ The Dame Edna Experience. (I loved the show. I envied Humphries for being able to play a woman in public, and the guy was just plain hilarious.)

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Barry Humphries and his alter ego, Dame Edna Everage.

Some males get into drag, who are dealing with gender identity issues. Every year during Rupaul’s Drag Race there will usually be one or two contestants who announce that they are, in fact, transgender.

Carmen Roman—better known by the stage name she took when she began drag, Carmen Carrera—is a trans woman who began work as a gay male doing drag. A couple of years into it, she revealed that she is transgender, and now has fully transitioned. As a male, she had married a man. They remained married through her transition, but eventually divorced.

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Carmen Roman/Carrera

Carmen Carrera is the exception to the drag queen rule. Generally, if you watch Rupaul’s Drag Race, or see drag queens in the news—this summer, there was a report of drag queens reading books to kids in libraries as part of a worthy cause—your first assumption should be that they are regular guys who do drag for whatever their reason might be.

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A drag queen reading this summer to children in a New York city library.

It seems to me that when a person, such as Carmen Roman, began as a drag queen but then comes to identify as transgender, she should no longer be called a drag queen. But this has not been the case with many who are full time trans women and continue to do drag. So, not only can males be drag queens, so can transgender women. Oh, and so can cisgender women, both straight and lesbian, perform as drag queens.

The art is open to all.

Drag is synonymous with over-the-top. The point of drag is not, in the strict sense, to impersonate females, but to have fun with the hair and clothes and makeup.

While the term “female impersonator” is not used as much as it used to be, when men want to convince an audience that they are seeing a woman, the men keep their hair, makeup, and dress in conformity with typical feminine appearance.

Often, the aim of the female impersonator is to mimic a famous woman. The first female impersonator I ever saw was on The Carol Burnett Show, in 1972. The video, above, is from that episode. Jim Bailey appeared as Barbra Streisand, even singing her songs in his own voice. In places like Las Vegas, one can find female impersonator shows. Impersonators of Cher, Madonna, Britney Spears and Dolly Parton remain favorites.

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Turning around the discussion, don’t think that trans women want to be drag queens. While I love performing, and probably would have a ball as a queen, I don’t have any interest in it. I might first want to actually go to a drag show, something which I’ve never done.

You don’t have to be transgender, or gay, or lesbian, or bi, or queer to enjoy drag. When it is done well—superb wigs, expert makeup application, splendid clothing, all wrapped into performance which clearly has been well-rehearsed—drag can be as entertaining a show as anything.

And its usually done by guys who like being guys.

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From the mid-1980s to 1990, I performed four years in the Montague Showboat.  One year, I wrote a skit which was set in a diner, with a mouthy waitress as the star.  There were a lot of lines to learn and we struggled to find a woman to play the lead role.  No one knew, but I really wanted to play this part, both because I would get to play a woman and for the saucy punchlines she would get to deliver. I had to contain my giddiness when I “volunteered” to take on the role.

I’m sorry for the poor quality of these pictures, but that’s me, center stage, when I was in my early 30s.

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Below, I am waiting on the unsuspecting John Calkins.  He asked, “What’s the soup of the day?”  I replied, “It’s creamed pheasant.”  As he drooled, “Mmm, that sounds good,” I interrupted, “Yup.  I creamed that pheasant with my Buick on my way to work this morning!”

Raucous laughter ensued.

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I considered this neither playing a drag queen or being a female impersonator.  Besides, I surely wasn’t good enough to receive either lofty designation.

 

 

Using the past to inform the present

I do not have all of the answers regarding gender dysphoria and being transgender.  I have learned that we have much to learn.

With this essay, I seek to present the past as instructor for the present, that we might remember that we have been wrong and ill-informed about many things over the years, and we have changed our position on many.

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I suspect that you know of this fellow, Copernicus.  My friend, Rick, does, and his referring to Copernicus to me provided an impetus to write about things of, pun intended, astronomical proportions.  Thank you, Rick!

Copernicus was that troublemaker, er, mathematician and astronomer who, in the 1500s, proposed that the earth revolves around the sun, when the accepted belief—and a biblically-quoted one at that—was the other way around.

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Some listened to Copernicus—even in the Church—and were favorable to learning from him.  Others were not.  It took others over the years—who doesn’t know of Galileo?—to promote Copernicus’ sun-centered idea and move it forward. Eventually, our abilities for observing the solar system, along with more people being willing to listen, combined with time for things to progress, got us to where we are, with full acceptance of how the planets and stars orbit.

How many things could we name, throughout history, which were rejected, considered foolishness and worse, because they were too unusual, even seemingly impossible to be anything different than the current accepted belief?

With gender dysphoria and a person’s transitioning sexes, I find us in this spot with many in society and, as is my especial concern, among Christians who hold a traditional reading of the Holy Bible, that one’s being transgender cannot possibly be different from the perspective which has always been held.

Recalling the maxim, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it,” I urge all to practice caution and remember the attitude of Copernicus’ day, who believe the case is settled regarding gender dysphoria and being transgender.  To further my cause, I present situations from far more recent history to help us see what we once believed and how we changed.

As recently as fifty years ago—the 1960s—depression, interracial marriage, and dramatic surgical procedures were viewed as differently as we once watched scratchy images on black and white TVs to where today we walk around viewing vividly high definition videos on our phones.

Depression

From antiquity, depression was not understood.  Even by fifty years ago, we did not know anywhere near what we now know of the physical nature of this awful malady.  People who are depressed do not simply have the blues.  Their problem is not laziness.  And, when they are Christians, theirs is not a case of not having enough faith.

(When, last year, I talked about this with some ministers, and commented that fifty years ago a pastor might tell his parishioner, “You need to have a stronger faith,” one of the ministers very soberly interjected, “Some pastors today would still say that.”)

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When depression was not understood, sufferers were not respected for the ailment which plagued them.  We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.  Today, finally, most of us who do not suffer depression can listen to others describe it, truly hear them as having the real, physical trouble they have, and have compassion for them rather than ridicule and disrespect them.

Because medical science worked to understand depression, we have learned a great deal about how  it works in us, even providing medicinal treatment to give relief to many sufferers, which was not possible for centuries.

Interracial marriage

In the 1960s, if a white man took a black woman’s hand in marriage, the couple very possibly would have been excommunicated from their Christian congregation.  These marriages were not legal in all fifty states until a US Supreme Court decision in 1967.

Is it against the Holy Bible for Christians of different colors and cultures to marry?  No.  In the Old Testament, it was forbidden for Israel to marry outside of Israel, but in the New Testament it is not forbidden for any Christian to marry another Christian whose skin color, culture, language, nationality, you name it, is different.

So, what was the problem for blacks and whites marrying?  In the USA, it was racial prejudice which influenced secular laws, and this flowed into the Church.

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Today, we have millions of mixed-culture couples in our country, and these couples marry and are members in good standing in our churches.  What changed?  The Holy Bible didn’t change.  The country and culture changed, and the Church changed in response to it.

Dramatic surgical procedures

It rings in my ears: “They’re playing God.”  I was a young kid and heart transplant surgery was in the news a lot.  “You can’t give one person’s heart to someone else.  That’s playing God.  It’s sinful.”  The “playing God” card has been tossed onto the table many times over the years in situations akin to heart transplants.

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Today?  I have never heard a minister say that receiving another person’s heart is playing God or is sinful.  When I was a minister, and a car accident left one of our members brain-dead, her heart was given to another person, who was given a renewed chance at good health.  There are a host of other similarly dramatic procedures that are carried out—even face transplants—and we Christians praise God for the good that is done for those who suffer.

Putting it together: medical, cultural, and church

I use these three examples to show where we were fifty years ago to where we are today, hoping all can see that it is easily imaginable that we are

  • only at the beginning of understanding gender dysphoria (the medical part),
  • finding transitioning acceptable (the cultural part),
  • and recognizing that a Christian (the church part) could transition, doing so as any person makes use of medical services, and not be sinning.

As for the past two years I have been making my appeal to all, and especially with my fellow Lutheran Christians, the singular wall which has been erected before me has been when people have decided they know all they need to know about one’s being transgender, yet they have done little to no study on the topic.  Sadly, my discussions with them continually show that they base their decision on long-held beliefs, and these beliefs do not allow for advancing in learning.

I appeal to all, both secular and in religion.  Let us do what we always say we want, but when it comes time to apply it so often fail: Let us put ourselves in the other guy’s shoes and say, “Wow, what a tough spot.  I know nothing of this, but I can imagine this is very hard for people with gender dysphoria and who have transitioned.  Well, I am not going to make it harder by assuming that I know anything.  I will remember the past, and how much we thought we knew, and how much learning has changed our thinking and our behavior on so many topics.”

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Letter: transgender and the Church

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Last week, I received an email from the family member of some folks for whom I was pastor. I barely met this man, so I was all the more pleased that he wrote, and in a respectful manner and with a genuine interest in learning.

Other than removing references to his family, I have copied in full his letter and my response. His portion follows in italics, with my replies in regular type.

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Gina, I have many questions about your transition. I have followed your blog for a while and decided it was time to contact you! I come to you not to rebuke you or your transition, but to understand it better as I look to solidify my beliefs on the relationship between transgender people and the church. Your story has intrigued me and I knew I needed to be in contact with you.

One of the many things I don’t know much about (and seek to learn more about) is transgenderism. I cannot personally identify with it. Further, I have not understood the relationship between transgenderism and the church. I believe being transgender is a result of the Fall, just as having lustful desires, stealing, etc. God created us all in his image and our unique characteristics are to be used to further the Kingdom. Similarly, I do not believe that being gay is a sin in itself, however acting upon it is. This is where I get a bit confused as, with many other subjects, the Bible does not explicitly address transgenderism whereas it does homosexuality.

I like that you said that you cannot personally identify with being transgender. This is an important point. Anyone, who has not experienced the disconnect between mind/gender and body/sex, cannot know what this is like. My Julie has said, “I wish I could spend one day in your brain, so that I could know.”

Yes, being transgender is a result of the Fall, though I would take care in how you proceeded, using lust and stealing as correlatives. When one does that, it labels being trans as a sinful desire and nothing more. It is better to say that the root cause of being transgender is akin to any malady of our body, whether an illness, a disease, or a condition. I generally call it a condition or a malady.

You are correct in that transgender is not directly covered by Scripture. So, how do I use Scripture to guide me? Before I learned of the many factors which can create intersex conditions, which led me to believe that I have one—a disruption to my endocrine system when I was in the womb which left my hormones out of whack for a genetic male—I thought I only had a sinful proclivity—as with lusting or wanting to steal—and treated it as such, with ongoing repentance. As I grew worse, even becoming suicidal and fearing I was going to go insane, and Julie and I got deep into learning about this (in 2013, the year before I retired), and learned of its physical nature, and came to understand that I have an intersex condition, I was able to proceed with addressing it medically (though I continued to work to remain living as a male, fighting back and forth for two more years), as any person would seek treatment for a malady which has made them ill.

I get it: transitioning from male to female is way more, even crazy sounding, compared with having a tumor removed, or having heart bypass surgery, or taking medicine to control one’s thyroid. This is extreme. Well, that’s the nature of the mismatch of brain and body, of having one’s endocrine system messed up so badly.

You can find in many of my blog posts, where I have said how I keep the two great commandments ever before me, that I strive to live my life loving the Lord with all my heart and soul and strength, and my neighbor as myself. That is one reason I blog, to educate about all of this, and so that my fellow Christians can see that I continue to hold biblical doctrine and practice, and work to deal with my situation in a God-pleasing and neighbor-edifying manner.

I understand your situation to be more complex than a simple desire to be female. It is a desire so core to yourself that remaining male would have been too detrimental to your well-being. From my perspective, I find this to be an issue of identity. Colossians 3:1-3 comes to mind. From the blog I gathered that you view your specific situation as curable, which I empathize with. If you feel that transitioning can help you proclaim Jesus’ name to the nations more resoundingly, then perhaps it is a positive to do so! However, being told we are made in God’s image, how then are we to justify transitioning? Is living as the opposite gender of the one we desire not a burden we must overcome?

[Colossians 3:1-3: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”]

Indeed, this is way more than a simple desire to be female. It’s funny how, all of my life, I told myself, “All I want is to be a girl,” and then when the gender dysphoria crushed me and it became apparent that I had to try transitioning to see if it helped, and when it did help my mantra became. “Oh, how I wish I could find a way to be a male.”

I have had folks quote Colossians 3, and many similar passages, to get me to see the light and repent. In return, I ask if they would use the same passages on those seeking a cure for their cancer, that they not accuse them of being too concerned about their earthly life. No, of course, they don’t find anyone like that guilty of being too stuck to this life.

Others have accused me of being worldly. To them, I ask about Christians who get tattoos, and who get deeply into all sorts of worldly things. At what point are they doing so in a godly manner, and at what point might they be sinning? They accuse me of being worldly, because they only see transgender as the T in LGBT, or they have an image of trans people which has been honed by movie and media portrayals, and they have stuck in their heads “male and female He created them” and go deaf when I appeal to intersex conditions, and to their being worthy of treatment just as is any physical malady.

Yes, we have been made in God’s image, and we live with Adam’s image, the result of the Fall. So, I justify transitioning as I’ve written, treating my condition as a physical malady and working to be healthy so that I am able to fulfill the two great commandments.

Here’s the thing: I had grown so ill that I often was not able to fulfill the two great commands. I was angry, I was sullen, I wanted to die, my brain felt like it was on fire. I had two people inside of me, both fighting to win me over. I got to the point where I had to create what I called “the objective G” to referee between Greg and Gina, as the two sparred. No, I never became a split personality (though I wondered if that might happen), but as I experienced Greg stronger than Gina he would fight to rid me of her, and when Gina was stronger she wanted to destroy Greg.

I bawled. I pounded my fists into the floor. I cried out to the Lord for help, for direction. Ultimately, as I worked through therapy and addressed my issues, transitioning ended up providing me relief. And—this is important—when I went on hormone replacement therapy and it provided me relief (which transwomen always say), calming my brain and easing my pain, I grew in my understanding that I have a physical condition, not simply a sinful desire.

To your final question, in what manner do you suggest overcoming this burden without transitioning? This is a discussion I had with nearly ten LCMS pastors before I did so. Guess what answer I received from every single one of them? “I don’t know.”

How does one deal with “I don’t know”? One does what he feels he needs to do. Even LCMS leaders recognize that talk therapy does not solve the problem—and I worked hard, for two years, for it to do that for me. There are no medicines, and there are no surgeries to ease gender dysphoria in order to remain in one’s birth sex. So, what does one do, when one worsens to the point of being suicidal and fearing insanity?

I found myself so close to insanity that it would either happen, or I would kill myself, or I would go on medication that would have to be in such a heavy dose that I would be left in a stupor. Then, how would I be using my life to glorify the Lord?

There are bigger fish to fry in the world than this topic, but I humbly come to you for answers on how best to share the Gospel with those who have this longing to transition or for those who have transitioned.

How best to share the Gospel is not to shut out the likes of me, don’t automatically cast judgment and be hardhearted toward us. We long for compassion, to have the Church work to understand us. We don’t want to be transgender. We didn’t ask for this. We are only trying to be healthy and whole and to live in peace and joy, with God-pleasing lives.

Finally, we long for our fellow Christians to recognize that we all are equal in the Lord’s sight: outside of Christ, equally worthy of damnation; in Christ, equally cleansed and holy, beloved children of our heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters of every Christian.

We are family.

I hope I’ve provided good, thorough, helpful replies. I hope to hear back from you, to get your reactions. The Lord be with you!

The transgender suicide problem

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The transgender spectrum is anyone who has a mismatch of sex and gender, whether or not they transition, attempt to transition, or transition full time.

The attempted suicide rate for those on the transgender spectrum is forty-one percent.

41%.

Two of every five.

That’s ten times the rate for all Americans, of which it is estimated about 4% will attempt suicide at least once.

In this piece, I endeavor to examine why those on the transgender spectrum are prone to attempting to kill themselves.  I will break it down into four groups, seeking to cover vital areas of impact but not presuming to address every last one, nor to cover things in great depth.

Those who are keeping it to themselves

For those who feel wrong about themselves in their sex and gender, the idea of telling anyone—spouse, parents, children, siblings, friends, even a therapist—can be beyond their imagining.  Many circumstances can increase the height of the hurdle, among them being marriage, religion, and work.

“No good thing could come of it,” is where the person arrives.  “And much bad would come of it.”

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Alone.  These folks feel completely alone.  They cannot comprehend anyone understanding.  They easily can envision trouble with every person, in every sphere of life, a total destruction of their lives.  So, they stuff—check that, they try to stuff their feelings deep enough to be able to ignore them, which they find impossible to do.  They find they must deal with their angst, yet they cannot find a way to do it.  In time, they might arrive at an impasse so great that death seems like the only answer.

Those who open up

The next group includes those who took the leap and gave voice to their gender identity issues.  Perhaps, they told one or more of those closest to them, or they first sought a therapist.  They have gotten it off their chest, revealed their deep secret.  In one respect, telling someone felt good.  Of course, there now are others involved.

If it were a close relative, that person’s reaction and feelings are now on the table. If the person saw a therapist, there will be much to work through.  By telling the therapist, the person might find facing it—“The therapist said I might in fact be transgender!”—to be too much.  Whatever was said, the person now is facing the issues, can see being on a path, and the path might look very scary.  By confessing to the family member, the fall-out could easily have done perceived or real irreparable harm to the relationship.

These matters might now be mulled in this person’s head so much that they become big, and they can become so big that they can be seen as unconquerable.  “Why did I ever open my mouth?!”  Seeking an exit, suicide begins to look like the way out.

Those who begin transitioning

Should a person progress, transitioning might be undertaken.  The person tells family and friends, those at work and online.  There will be many supporters, but there will be those who do not.  Worse, there will almost assuredly be opposition, and the resistance can come from people in positions to adversely affect the trans person’s life—emotionally, spiritually, economically.

Virtually no transgender person experiences 100% acceptance from the entire family.  Some of the contention can be so severe as to be traumatic, even to cause division between the supporters and the opposers.  If it is internalized as guilt, the impact can be experienced deeply.

Your transitioning could bring you trouble at work—from not receiving a promotion which, otherwise, you are confident was coming your way, to an out-of-the-blue firing when you always had been an appreciated employee.  Indeed, every sphere of your life now is in play.

If you find transitioning to ease internal stress, because of these new, external stressors, the tension can mount to the point of needing to alleviate it.  You might first try (and likely already have) relieving the stress with alcohol or drugs.  Indeed, some studies show the alcohol abuse rate to be higher than the attempted suicide rate among those on the transgender spectrum.  Distraction is another tool employed by many—“If I just stay busy”—but it’s one you probably tried before you ever bared your soul, so you already know it is as temporary a fix as getting drunk.

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If this person’s pain becomes too great, the scales will tip.  Tip too far, and it will crash in a suicide attempt.

Those who have completed transition

We arrive at those living entirely as how they sense themselves.  If they longed to have their name legally changed, to have any of several possible surgeries, to socialize in their revealed self, they have accomplished each aspect on their wish list.

They have undertaken the challenging task which is transitioning, and they have succeeded.  From my reading of books and getting to know many who have transitioned, when the task is undertaken methodically and carefully, not rushed or with a person mistaken in the source of the gender identity issues, most reach peace.  The internal tension has been resolved.

We began with having issues which are only inside us.  Should we tell our story, then, if we attempt transitioning, we move to now experiencing issues both inside and out.  If we successfully transition, that should take care of our issues, shouldn’t it?  All desire to kill oneself is erased.  Right?

While in the surveys I have read I have yet to find accurate studies done on this, some show that the attempted suicide rate remains high among those who have fully transitioned, perhaps even not having reduced from the 41% of all on the transgender spectrum.  While I have neither appreciated nor respected the manner in which this specific bit of information has been used—always by those who are adamantly opposed to transitioning—it is not a shock to me that the fully transitioned person does not fall back to the attempted suicide rate of the average American but remains somewhere between the 4% and the 41%.

Whatever the attempted suicide rate is for transitioned transgender individuals, it should surprise no one that it likely remains unacceptably higher than the general population. Even if a person has erased all inner turmoil—even when this provides a new, perhaps never-before-in-life-experienced emotional strength—there possibly remain areas of outer turmoil.

No, that is not strong enough.  There will remain areas of outer turmoil.

  • At home.  There might be family members who are struggling with, or opposed to the one who transitioned.
  • With family and friends.  Estrangements and losses will have littered the way.  One might feel, or be made to feel out of place at gatherings, weddings, funerals, or might not even be invited.
  • Religion.  While some faith groups have become understanding and accepting, many have not.  It is common for transgender members to be condemned and expelled.
  • At work. Biases against trans folks can arise in many and various ways, some of which I noted.
  • Under the law.  Protections and privileges which belong to everyone else might not be yours where you live simply because you are transgender.
  • In public.  Trans persons never know when someone will take exception and bring harm to them.  Even insults, which can be quick and casual—looks and stares, laughing behind one’s back—sting and add up.

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How trans folks manage all of these—how many of them there are, and to what degree the impact—will make a huge difference in their lives.  I have heard far too many sad stories from folks who continue to have family squabbles, who are not accepted, who are called by their old name and misgendered, who are told, “I will never accept this.”  I have heard far too many upsetting accounts of trouble in the workplace, when the trans person has done the job and minded his or her own business.  I have heard from far too many who are afraid of going out in public, as after the Pulse nightclub massacre last year and whenever there is another report of a trans person being murdered: real fear smacks the trans person right in the face.

Get enough of these into the equation and they can add up to too much.

These are not weak people.  Let no one look at them and think that they are lacking in character, in personal fortitude.  Those on the transgender spectrum share every attribute of any group of people.  Indeed, as a group, transgender women and men might be stronger than the average Joe.  As metal is tempered by fire, the trans person grows for having endured the heat.

Ultimately, trans folks are typical folks—regular people in an extraordinary circumstance.  We can take a lot, but we feel and hurt just like the next gal or guy.  We can take a lot, but sometimes it’s too much.

All we want is what everyone wants: peace, respect, and the chance to live a decent life. When we have finally gotten what every human desires, thoughts of killing ourselves will have melted away.

Trans Ed 101: transsexual

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Have you noticed that this word, “transsexual,” is no longer used in regular conversation about, um, transsexuals, er, I mean, transgender folks?

If you’ve not noticed, perhaps it’s for the same reason I couldn’t figure out what was missing from my buddy’s face after he’d shaved his mustache. It’s hard to detect what isn’t there. While my friend wasn’t wearing the mustache for a century, believe it or not the modern age of trans is coming up on being one hundred years old.

Soon after surgery was introduced in Germany, in the early 1920s, to conform the male genitals to those of a female, “transsexualism” was coined, which means “to go across from one sex to the other.” It took until nearly 1950 for the word to be translated from German to English. Dr. Harry Benjamin, who is essentially the USA’s father of all things transsexual, popularized the term in his 1966 book on the topic.

Also in the mid ‘60s, “transgender” was created by John Oliven. By the 1990s, “transgender” became the umbrella term for the entire spectrum of people who are trans, with “transsexual” a specific subset. (All historical information gathered from the Wikipedia page, “Transsexual.”)

Nowadays, though “transsexual” and “transgender” are true synonyms, one rarely hears “transsexual.” Besides being reduced to a subset of transgender folks, it also has been largely corrupted, often used to speak unfavorably about “trannies” and “she males,” and others in what are viewed as less than savory occupations, or about whom the speaker is intentionally degrading. When the media want to sensationalize a headline, they will use the older term, as in “Big star caught with transsexual hooker!”

In my reading of scholarly books on the topic, I have found “transsexual” still to be used in an honorable way, to be a term for those transgender persons who have undergone a surgical change to their genitals, the procedure which I have always referred to by its old name, sex reassignment surgery (SRS), which is more often now called gender confirmation (or affirmation) surgery (GCS/GAS) and, even more recently and picking up steam, simply as bottom surgery, which allows one to speak of the variety of possibilities of surgery for both genetic males and females.

There is one thing that I like better about “transsexual” over “transgender,” and it is that it does not need a qualifying word to accompany it. One may speak of a transsexual, but not of a transgender. I can say that I am a transsexual, but to use the other term means I have to add a word: I am a transgender woman.

Transgenderal will never be a word.

Some simply add an “s,” referring to transgenders. If you want to raise the dander of a trans person, go ahead and do this. Um, please, don’t. Besides, I have noticed that the predominance of those who call us transgenders are those who disrespect us.

I like specificity in words. The more specific one is, the better understood with the fewest words. Thus, I hope an honorable usage of “transsexual” does not completely fall out of favor. Indeed, now that I have had SRS, I identify as a transgender person who is a transsexual.

Ultimately, one term is not inherently better than the other. The “sex” of “transsexual” points to the sex characteristics regarding the mismatch of brain and body, while the “gender” of “transgender” focuses on the experienced identity of the individual. It is my opinion that “gender” is winning over “sex” because how one identifies speaks for us better, referring to how we see the entirety of our lives.

“Sex” and “sexual” immediately takes one’s mind to one’s genitals, and being trans is tremendously more than about one’s genitals. For many, being trans has nothing at all to do with the genitals.

Even more, being trans has nothing to do with having genital surgery, as with when the word was originated.  For many reasons—no interest or need to have surgery, or it’s not economically feasible—many trans folks never have surgery, and consider themselves fully transitioned.

As much as “transgender” came to replace “transsexual,” the simple “trans”—removing “gender”—is taking over for both of the full terms. For example, I am a trans woman.

Because to be trans is way more than simply male or female, woman or man, in our trans group meetings we have come to refer to those who are “trans feminine,” “trans masculine,” and “non-binary.”

“Non-binary,” you ask? Indeed, a fairly new term, and one which has made great headway toward regular usage. To learn more about that, stay tuned to more Trans Ed 101 posts.

Punnier business

The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  Thus, I post more of my goofy wit.

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When I was young, I went with my friend to visit his grandmother. He eagerly took me to a brook, which was deep in the woods, where he loved to swim. The water was clear, the bottom was sandy, the spot was perfect.

I asked, “Since you only come here once a year, how do you remember where this spot is?” He replied, “I recalled that there is this beautiful bed of clover all around.”

When I was back home, I found myself at our nearby stream, and my eyes lit up when I saw the same type of greenery growing near it. I quickly threw off my clothes and plunged in. Argh! The water was muddy. The bottom was rocky. It was just awful.

As I quickly got out of there, the old saying dawned on me and it sure was proven true:

Never judge a brook by its clover.

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My bucket list and my grocery list are the same list.

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A Wednesday joke:

Today is Hump Day.  Make it a special one.  Treat your camel to lunch.

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I made a batch of dough.
With it, I was able to form a loaf.
But I lacked the skills to shape rolls.
Once again, an old saying was proved true:
Easier bread than bun.

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After yoga, my yodeling yogi, Yolanda from Yonkers, took me out yonder for yo-yo lessons and yogurt.

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No longer am I only the gardener. I have been promoted to branch manager!

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Shirley Dorland—matriarch of Port Hope

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She was, in a word, memorable. If you ever knew her, or met her for more than a moment, you could never forget her, even if only for that Phyllis Diller-like cackle.

Shirley Dorland was 92 years old when she was called home to the Lord on July 2. The last time I saw her was precisely three years earlier, when I retired and moved from Port Hope, Michigan. I had been her pastor for thirteen years.

And did we ever grow close.

Shirley was one of those folks who, when the call goes out for the need for helping hands, her hands were always helping. At church, she was one of only a couple of women who were part of both the Ladies Aide and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. When there was a church dinner, she was working it. Whatever it was at church, if it were something she could do, she was doing it.

As for her faith life, she made the most of it, always in the late service and always in Bible class—both Sunday and Wednesday—and always in the same spot. Until she could no longer navigate the stairs to the church’s balcony, she sang in the choir.

If she only were a church lady, I could not have crowned her Port Hope’s matriarch. Her attitude toward her community equaled that toward her church. Shirley’s obituary captured that aspect well:

She was a member of the Port Hope Women’s Club, was secretary of the Port Hope Chamber of Commerce for many years, member of the Home Makers Club, secretary of the sewing circle, and was president of the pinochle club.

More than a doer, Shirley was both spoken and outspoken. Never afraid to offer her thoughts on a topic, she also was not shy to say what everyone else was afraid to admit. As for Bible class, she never lacked for asking the pertinent question, often leading into deep discussion of a topic that was a curiosity for the entire group.

Often, she began, “Maybe, I’m wrong, but . . .” It wasn’t long before our combined gregarious personalities had found us fond of each other, and I so loved to pick on her. So, if the mood were right—and it usually was—I would be ready for her opening, “Maybe, I’m wrong . . .” and I would quickly slip in, “Yes, Shirley, you’re wrong.” Shirley would bellow, “WHATTT?” and everyone would laugh, and we would once again shake our heads and murmur, “That Shirley.”

I could count on her to be quick to speak. Once, during a sermon, I was to pose a question in a way that I was sure would get the wrong answer from the congregation. Even more, I was confident that I could do it in a way to get Shirley to answer out loud.

I got to that point in the sermon. I crafted my words and tone of voice just so. And, sure enough, from out of the pews came one lone, loud, “Yes!” I said, “Thank you, Shirley. I was counting on you to answer for the crowd . . . and to be wrong.” “WHATTT?” she bellowed, and the congregation was roaring.

When she was in her mid-eighties, Shirley took quite ill. Her husband, Don, had died in 2002. They had no children. Shirley lived alone in the house they had bought, which looked east toward and provided a view of Lake Huron before the trees grew tall to obscure the scene.

Shirley became homebound for some time. She was in great pain and convinced the end was near. I thought she might be right. I visited regularly. She desperately missed worship and being in her church. I communed her, of course, but paid my visits as both pastor and friend. Most stops at her house lasted way longer than the usual pastoral calls. It didn’t hurt that she always had coffee and cookies for me. Thankfully, she rebounded and was back to her old self.

Perhaps what follows is why she and I liked each other so much, because folks say the same about me. Shirley was loud. She spoke freely. She laughed easily. Getting her goat was no chore. She didn’t take it personally. She was, as they say, a real people person.

Now, for the hard part. When it became obvious that the news of my being transgender had become common knowledge in Port Hope, Shirley was the person who epitomized all of the church members for whom I was concerned how they were taking the news.

I so feared hurting these good people. I could only imagine older folks being jolted to learn about their pastor. I wanted them neither to be harmed in their faith nor angry with me. I longed for them to know that I still believed everything I taught and proclaimed when I was their pastor. I made a video for the congregation, asking some folks with the Internet to be sure that Shirley, and those like her, got to see it.

This past February through Facebook, Judy Schuett let me know that Shirley was failing. Shirley asked Judy to inform me. That act alone elated me so. Then, it got even better.

I wrote to Judy:

Thanks to you and Gene and Wally Schave for doing the work of being her power of attorney. Shirley sure relied on her friends, and she did so much for the community and the church to have earned the lovely return of her affection. Tell her that her old pastor said, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” and that I so wished I could preach her funeral sermon.

To say that I loved Shirley doesn’t come close to saying enough. She meant the world to me all my wonderful years in Port Hope. She was one of the many whom I so feared that I freaked out with my situation these past couple of years. I pray that I didn’t harm her. In fact, I hope you can tell her that Julie and I love her, and then this most important thing: My faith in the Lord is exactly what it was when I was her pastor. My present struggles have only driven me closer to the Lord, relying on His strength and love more than ever in my life.

Whenever we would talk in Bible class about heaven, she would say, “I just want to get in. I only need a crack in the door.” And then she would cackle as only she could do. Well, tell her that I plan on entering that same door as she, and we will rejoice together forever with the Lord Jesus.

The next day, Judy replied:

We took your letter to Shirley today and she was so pleased. She wants us to give her sister Helen a copy too. You made her day, thank you!

Shirley didn’t hate me! I could not have been more happy! I broke down in tears of joy, which were mixed with tears of sadness because I could not be there with her. I am shedding the same tears as I type right now, so longing to be the pastor in the pulpit for her funeral.

At her funeral, I think sister Helen will be the only family who will be able to be there. The only blood family, that is. I hope, and surely suspect, that the church will be filled for the matriarch of Port Hope with her children, the congregation and community which Shirley made into her family.

A family which she served with the heart of a loving mother, and which gladly gave its heart right back to her.

I love you, Shirley.  I look forward to sitting with you at the throne of our Lord Jesus, praising Him forever for loving us.