My reply to a newspaper column

 

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Port Hope, where I served as pastor from 2001 to 2014, is in Huron County, Michigan. The Huron Daily Tribune, out of the county seat of Bad Axe, is the local, daily newspaper. I check it online every day for news and, especially, deaths.

On January 6, the Tribune printed this column—
http://www.michigansthumb.com/news/article/Things-I-thought-I-d-never-see-12478254.php
—in which the author reflected on various things she thought she would never see. In the column, among the things she thought she would never see was “Have people deciding for themselves if they want to be male or female. Hmmm, I always thought God did that. I guess I just don’t understand it. God forgive me.”

I did not see the column; a friend made me aware of it. I located it on the Tribune’s Facebook page, where I posted the following.  I was not able to isolate their Facebook post of this so, if you go to their Facebook page, you have to scroll to January 6.

https://www.facebook.com/HuronDailyTribune/?ref=br_rs

My intention, as with everything I write, was to enlighten and educate.

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Traci, I write regarding your item #5: “Have people deciding for themselves if they want to be male or female. Hmmm, I always thought God did that. I guess I just don’t understand it. God forgive me.”

Traci, please know that this is far too serious an issue for such a short comment, which, for folks like me, feels flippant, even if that was not your intent. We, who suffer gender dysphoria, including we who have transitioned, never wanted to be in this terrible situation, suffering this confounding malady which is so misunderstood, in which so many judge us as some instantly and unfairly judge books by their covers, which leaves many of us torn from families and fired from jobs and out on the street, and in which 41% of us will attempt suicide.

Yes, God made humans male and female. Before Adam fell into sin, there would be no problem. But, after the fall into sin, human beings have suffered every possible malady, disease, ailment, and so on, including ill effects to our sexual being, which attack our self-identity.

There are many intersex conditions—those of the genitals, of the chromosomes, and of the hormones. People, like me, who suffer one of them, often experience a fierce internal battle, which is exacerbated by the way so many in the world speak and act toward us. We typically feel as if we have two people living inside of us, because we have both male and female components to our being, or we simply feel as though our body and brain is a complete sex and gender mismatch. When we have been brought up as one sex and gender, the natural thing is to work to conform to that sex and gender, not to freak out anyone by telling them we experience life so much differently. This creates excruciating internal tension. Because many of us live in families which are openly anti anything that does not match their worldview, killing ourselves comes to feel like a viable option. (If you do not know of Leelah Alcorn, her short life is highly informative.)

Not only do we suffer suicidal thoughts, the fear of losing our sanity is not an uncommon visitor. From 2013, when I still lived in Port Hope, until I began transitioning in 2015, I thought that, at any time, I was going to lose my mind.

We strive to figure out how to be healthy so that we might live productive lives with some measure of comfort. For many of us, transitioning provides that. Now in my third year, it has helped me tremendously.

Huron County is not exempt from this. I lived there for thirteen years and, because I went public and blog about this I have heard from many back home. Indeed, I wrote about those who don’t understand: https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/06/01/i-dont-understand/

In Huron County, you have folks who either battle gender dysphoria or who have transitioned. Their families are also profoundly affected. Some have reached out to me. It never helps to make statements which only serve to get those who agree with you to say, “Right on! That’ll teach ‘em!” while those who suffer only have their battle for understanding made worse.

Please know that I do not assume that you meant to harm anyone. I wrote this to inform you, to help you where you have admitted that you don’t understand. Perhaps, you know someone who is transgender, maybe even a family member, and this has created a stir for you. I understand the challenge, having been through every twist and turn with my family and friends, and with my Christian brothers and sisters.

In the spirit of Christ, we would have compassion for all. We would refrain from simplistic comments regarding complex issues. We would be mindful of the least of our brothers and sisters. We would listen and learn and love, even if we might never agree.

I wish you well. I hold Huron County dear in my heart.

What I hoped to achieve by attempting suicide

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You have likely heard it said that suicide attempts are cries for help, that these people really don’t want to die but use the moment to get help, help which they otherwise could not figure out how to get, even with the availability of suicide prevention phone numbers.

I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, ended up dying, who never wanted to die.

I wonder how many, who attempted suicide, found themselves in no different a situation after the attempt, leaving them just as frustrated, leaving them just as trapped, leaving them feeling just as terrible as before.

And leaving them contemplating their next suicide attempt.

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When I found myself feeling the worst, I never wanted to die, but I really wanted to try to kill myself. Over and over, and over again, I had the same conversation with myself: “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” But I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live. I wanted to “beat this thing” as I would say, whatever that would mean. And though my will to live was so strong, I could not shake the thought, even the desire, to try to kill myself.

Outside of talking with Julie, with whom I shared everything, holding back nothing that I was experiencing, I had no ability to imagine revealing my secret to anyone else. Telling my kids—are you kidding me? Telling my siblings—was that any less worse? Telling my closest friends and fellow pastors—was that not just as bad?

Trying to transition? At my age? As tall and large as I am? Having the money to do so? Becoming a laughing stock, an offense to many?

Leaving the ministry?  Leaving the work I so loved, the perfect job for me?  Leaving the people and town which Julie and I adored?  Giving up a secure income, with good benefits?

Trying to keep my mouth shut and go on as I had been? Hoping therapy would finally help me find a way to stop hating myself?

Every question came back with an answer that just plain stunk. How was I ever going to live through this?

So, what did I do?  I went about my life as if all were well.  I did my job, putting on a happy face for everyone and then, when I went home, once again fell apart.  One would have had to have been able to read minds to know that I was constantly thinking about killing myself.

That’s the way it is with those suffering suicidal ideation—they are really good at hiding it.

It was this time of year, four years ago, that I began the trek of telling my kids, and then my siblings and, as I had opportunity and need, talking with friends and professional peers. That I navigated everything and successfully transitioned, mine is a survivor’s story and, just for that, it is worth telling, because someone might read it and find the strength to take heart and move forward. Even more, I find it important to talk about why people try to kill themselves, because what I hoped to achieve by it has a common plot.

Two of every five people—41%—who are struggling with their gender identity, will try to end their lives. The reasons come from the internal struggle and the external realities. I am confident that there rarely is one thing, but a mixture of stressors—trying to accurately understand oneself, fear of rejection from family, what will happen to job and economic situation if I attempt transitioning, will I be safe, will God reject me, and more—which pile on, egging on that “just kill yourself” voice, to call more often and more clearly.

Again, we who are suffering—not only we with gender dysphoria, but anyone who is suffering terribly—don’t really want to die; we simply can’t see a way out in which we will not suffer horribly, ending up in a life which could be far worse than what we have now.

But we don’t know how to cry out, to say the words to others, and so we turn inside. Fear is mighty powerful; addressing it can be crippling.

We make a plan. We hope that, should we attempt to carry it out, we won’t die, and we won’t be permanently disabled, but we will be hurt badly enough so that when the most important people in our lives ask why we did it there will be so much concern in their words and compassion in their hearts that we will finally be able launch into our story.

I had made a plan. Whenever I thought about my plan, I wondered why it was my plan. “Just take a bunch of pills,” I would tell myself. “You’re not a violent person. It’s the only logical way to do it.” Yet, pills were too passive for me. Though I constantly rejected the notion of causing pain to myself, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.

Another reason some of us attempt suicide is because we believe we deserve to be punished. We tell ourselves that we were not strong enough to get our act together. If others knew about us, that’s exactly what many of them would say. Indeed, after I undertook transitioning, I was asked: “Why didn’t you try harder to be a man?” Before I transitioned, one pastor said it straight out: “Greg, be a man.”

I was finding it impossible to satisfy either of those men, and I wanted so desperately to do so.  I was a failure.

Encapsulated in their words is another reason we attempt suicide. We are misunderstood. Many will never understand us. Many will not even try. Many will allow their prejudices and preconceived notions to speak louder than we can talk to them.

Two events in 2013 stand out as low points, when I so wanted to try to kill myself. The first occurred just before I was about to begin telling others about my gender dysphoria and that I was going to retire from the ministry. The second came in the autumn, after I had an intense week of telling key people in the ministry.

Both times, I was on county roads near Port Hope. In the first, I was heading home, just east of Filion on Filion Road. In the second, I was going south on Ruth Road, on my way to Bad Axe.

Both times, my situation had so broken me that I devolved into bitter bawling. I was driving fifty-five miles an hour, crying hard and screaming at the top of my lungs everything that I was feeling, and begging the Lord to spare me.

“Please, let me die,” was combined with, “Please, let me live.” Back and forth.

On Filion Road, a semi was heading west. “Turn into its path,” I tried to convince myself. “You have to do it now, or the opportunity will be lost.” As the truck neared the ideal spot, I knew I could not do it, because I would have put another human into harm’s way. No, if I were going to try to kill myself, I could not bring another person into it.

Four months later, as I was crying and screaming and praying down Ruth Road, I had already formed my plan. These county roads have really wide and deep ditches. I had buried two teenagers who had fatally met up with them in separate crashes, so I had experienced their power against a careening vehicle. I would release my seat belt, increase my speed, and aim myself at the ditch on my side of the road.

If it is possible to be equal parts angry that you didn’t do something and glad that you didn’t, I was that. My desire to live, to “beat this thing,” not to test the Lord that He was duty-bound to take me to heaven, not to harm Julie and my family and all who loved me, won the moment. I would drive to Bad Axe. Instead of calling on some shut-in members, I headed to Julie’s place of work. She came home with me. I resolved to quit the ministry that very day. My pastoral counselor talked me out of it. I managed to plow forward eight more months in the ministry, to tell my kids and siblings, and Julie and I figured out a path for ourselves, a path which now is in its fourth year.

I didn’t try to kill myself mostly because I didn’t want to die. I also didn’t try because I feared that I would . . .
. . . barely be hurt, but I would total my car, and the whole thing would simply be an expensive, embarrassing, impossible-to-explain mess.
. . . be hurt so badly that I would be left paralyzed. Can you imagine that, still suffering gender dysphoria and now confined to a wheelchair? I could, and it almost took away my breath.
. . . actually die. And I didn’t want to die.

But I so wanted to try to kill myself. I saw it as a way of letting the world know so that I didn’t have to find my own way to do it. I wanted sympathy, because I feared judgment. If I went public only after surviving a suicide attempt, maybe—just maybe—I would get the “Poor guy. What he must be going through” comments for which I longed, that everyone would feel sorry for me and, if I did find that I had to try transitioning, they would recognize it as the life-saving measure it would be.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

If you know anyone who is hurting badly, please show them a gentle spirit and compassionate concern.  They might be suffering suicidal ideation.  And they might find you a safe person to whom they can open up. You might just save their life.

If you know anyone who tried to kill her- or himself and lived, please be sympathetic and kind, and do not judge them as weak. Actually making the attempt to take one’s life might be the hardest thing a person can do. How badly does a person need to be hurting, to finally take the pills, hang the noose, turn the wheel, pull the trigger?  For as badly as I suffered suicidal ideation, I still think an actual attempt was a long ways from my grasp.

If you know anyone who has succeeded at the act and is now dead, I hope you are able to mourn and grieve this horrible loss, to love those who remain, and to grow in compassion and understanding. Somewhere, someone else is having the thoughts, making the plan, and longing to try to end it all.

And hoping to live through it, so that the suicide attempt can speak for them, to be their lifeline.

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.

The bear trap

This is dedicated to all who suffer from gender dysphoria, to give hope to all who endure in silence, who cannot give voice to their pain, who do not dare to speak, who attempt to take their lives, who see no way out, and to demonstrate to everyone else how terrible it can be for we who live through this extreme conflict of self.

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I once again found the bear trap had snapped firmly onto me.

It was one year ago, today. I had my first ever appointment with an endocrinologist. I bawled through the entire appointment. My new doctor gave me time so she could get to know me. She patiently listened to me tell her how I worked so hard not to transition, how I still did not want to transition, and how I saw no other way out of my mess but transitioning.

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I have written about the suffering that crushed me in 2013, the result of the extreme internal turmoil that left me constantly lamenting, “You hate being a man. You can’t be a woman. Just kill yourself.” I have not explained all of this thoroughly enough.

You might recall the statistic: 41% of people on the transgender spectrum will attempt suicide—from those who have a gender identity question, to those for whom it develops into gender dysphoria, to those who attempt transitioning, to those who transition. This, alone, should speak to how difficult it is to live through the incongruence, the extreme conflict which it is to have a body and brain that do not match; to be seen as one sex but feel like another.

It is far from only the internal struggle. Indeed, if not for the outer forces—the potential for being rejected and misunderstood; of losing a job or a home or both; the risk to one’s emotional life, economic life, the loves in one’s life; rejection by one’s church; every last sphere of life—if not for all of these, the internal struggle would be so much smaller, the attempted suicide rate way easier to stomach.

As much as I pondered killing myself, I was not going to do it. As a Christian, I would not test my Lord that He would give me eternal life; it’s His call, not mine, when I die. As a human, I would not do that to my family and everyone else, who would be left with the worst of emotions, and especially to my Julie, who would have to make it in life on her own. And, frankly, I could not bear to hurt myself.

Even more than killing myself, I thought about running away from home. Sundays came to be the hardest day of the week. I loved leading worship, proclaiming Christ, and teaching Bible class. When I came home at noon, I crashed horribly. I hated myself the worst. Outside of church, I could not sustain the good feeling I had when leading the Lord’s people. Often, during worship, my mind slipped away to the coming gloom, and I felt like a sham of a person.

So, Sunday afternoons were spent planning my getaway. On Monday, whenever Julie might leave the house, I would quickly throw together some things and take off. I would drive to who-knows-where. I would only check in with Julie after I got far enough away, and only so that she knew I was safe.

Several things kept me from running away. I’m so stinking practical that I could not bear the thought of wasting money on hotels and dining out all of the time. Besides, I knew that, eventually, I would have to come home and face my life. Thus, I was able to conclude that running away, like suicide, was no answer.

What did I have left? Since transitioning was an impossibility—this was the mind-set I worked so hard to retain, that my becoming a woman was the stupidest idea on the face of the earth, and even when I would decide that I would have to transition I would work so hard to change my mind—the only other option I could fathom was to enter a psych ward of a hospital.

Here is what I want you to know about how horrible my life was in 2013, and that what I experienced was what thousands of precious people go through who have gender dysphoria.

My mind was on fire.

I have never had a tumor growing in me, so I don’t know how that feels. I have never delivered a baby, so I don’t know how that feels. I have not experienced many of the things which bring the worst pain to the lives of people, so I don’t know how they feel.

But what I know about delivering a baby is that after hours of pain one has a gift of joy. And what I know about tumors is that there are plans for addressing them. And what I know about every other malady under the sun—even the ones which become lifelong plagues, and those which end in death sentences—is that people can tell their families about them, and they won’t be shunned or hated or misunderstood for having them, and even when there isn’t a cure there are many and various ways to treat them, to ease them, and they will be respected for having the surgery or taking the medicine.

Forgive my presumptive arrogance: Because of its uniqueness, my pain was worse.

My pain took me into the wilderness. And feeling like there was no one on earth who could understand, no minister who would think me anything but a sinner, that I had a condition which my family and friends might not/would not respect for its seriousness, in this wilderness I found myself tightly ensnared in a bear trap.

And so I suffered. I hurt the same each new day as I did the day before, yet I wouldn’t die. I just kept on suffering. I bled, but the blood would not run out. There was no end in sight, no expectation of help, no hope that death would come. And there was nothing I could do about it.

That’s how the world looked to me: I was lost in the wilderness, tightly ensnared in a bear trap.

Thankfully, I had Julie, but I feared wearing her out. I undertook therapy, to see if I could learn some skills to abide in my male life. I regularly spoke with a pastor, for spiritual strength. I would wind up speaking with many pastors, and placed myself under the care of several of them.

I took refuge in my work. I still loved being a pastor, and I adored the people of my congregation and the village in which I lived. I did not want to leave there until I retired at a good old age or, as I came to joke, when my friends at Ramsey Funeral Home would have to come and pry my dead fingers from the pulpit.

But I could not work twenty-four-hours-a-day.

I cried constantly. I would finally tell my congregation that I cried more in 2013 than in the first fifty-six years of my life, combined. That is no exaggeration.

I cried when I got up in the morning. I cried when I got dressed for work. I cried when I came home from work. I cried when I prayed. I cried when I was driving my car. I cried in my therapy sessions. I cried when I tried to go to sleep at night.

My mind was on fire. The bear trap tightened.

Before I had begun telling pastors about myself, the thought of telling them crushed me. Then, the pastors I had come to tell, who had influence over my professional life, completely did not get me. They were sympathetic, but they didn’t get me. In the end, to them I was struggling with a sinful situation and I had to get my healing from Christ. Their answer to my plea, “What am I supposed to do with myself? If I can’t transition, how am I supposed to ease my pain?” was always, “I don’t know.”

I would rather be told that I have a terminal illness than to hear “I don’t know.” At least with that I would know where I stand.

Every two or three days, especially from winter of 2013 through that autumn, before they became less frequent, I would fall into a complete meltdown. The bear trap was at its tightest. I was filled with pain. With anger. With rage. I had nowhere to go with everything that was inside of me. I couldn’t transition. I had to transition. I had to figure out how to be a male. I couldn’t figure out how to be a male. I couldn’t kill myself. I couldn’t stop thinking about killing myself. I wouldn’t run away. I kept planning my escape.

There was no end in sight for my pain. In my mid-fifties, I was still young, still wanted to be a pastor, still wanted to be a husband and father and grandfather and brother. I didn’t know how I was going to be that person. I hated myself, and then I hated myself for hating myself, sniveling ingrate that I was.

I came to say that I suffered a nervous breakdown right in front of everyone, and no one saw it.

In April, I started therapy. I had a marvelous therapist. I felt like I exasperated him with my bawling, pain-filled sermons about myself. He worked hard for me, but he could not remove the bear trap.

He taught me that only I could remove the bear trap. Only I could walk back from the wilderness.

At times, I had a meltdown on my bed. I would kick, and scream, and pound my pillow. I would holler my prayers to Christ, begging His mercy. After an hour, I would collapse in exhaustion and fall asleep.

At times, I had meltdowns when Julie was home. These usually took place in the living room. I would either pound away at the arms of my chair, or I would fall to the floor and writhe in pain. I put my pain into screaming words, as if blowing it out of me would finally get rid of it.

I never put myself into physical danger, so Julie would sit by, observe me, and wait. When I had exhausted myself, she finally spoke. Then we talked. Always an hour. Often two. The same stuff, over and over. New stuff, as it arose. We addressed it all. The profound love and respect we already had for each other grew in a way that cannot occur unless a couple does the hard work of suffering together.

I would beg her to commit me to a mental hospital. Many times, I pondered driving to one and committing myself. I saw it as a reasonable form of running away. And if I wound up in the hospital and I came to tell my world what landed me there, then maybe, just maybe, they would have sympathy for me. Maybe, just maybe, if I were hospitalized for a good, long time, they would feel sorry for me. Then, maybe, just maybe, because I was this completely screwed up person—this man who was their minister in the stead of Jesus Christ, who led them with integrity, who spoke by the Spirit as one who had authority, to whom they looked in tragedy after tragedy which continued to befall our congregation and community—maybe, just maybe, they would have sympathy for me. Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t hate me.

But Julie would not do it. Julie would not commit me. And when I was tempted to drive myself to Bay City or Port Huron—to the psych wards where I had ministered to some of my members—when I thought of placing myself in one of these places her reason for not doing it rang in my ears and kept me at home.

We were convinced that they would so heavily medicate me that I would basically be left in a stupor, that it would take the most serious sedatives to douse the fire in my brain so that I could relax

But the drugs would not cure anything. They would only delay any decisions I had to make. They would leave me in a spot where I was useful to no one—only a blithering idiot, one who could do no more than watch TV.

Drugs. Mental hospital. Suicide. They’re all just other forms of running away.

Another form of running away: One evening, I tried to get drunk. It was during tax season, when Julie was not getting home till 11:00 p.m. or so. We had a bottle of wine. I drank the first glass very quickly. I poured a second. I began to sip it. The alcohol hit my brain. I’ve never been drunk and that first feeling always makes me stop. I started crying so hard that I flipped my La-Z-Boy onto its back, and I spilled onto the floor. I lay there and bawled. I couldn’t even ease my pain with alcohol.

By summer 2013, I finally agreed that I possessed the keys to the bear trap. That’s keys, plural. It would take me two years to finally grab onto these to where they did not slip out of my grasp.

Doc, my exceptional therapist, then Julie’s echoing him, encouraged me that I was the only one who could decide about my life, so the first key was that I could not make decisions based on who would be hurt or by whom I might be hated.

Another key was educating myself, learning that I had a real, physical condition. Once I knew that the origin of my suffering was not some nebulous mental illness, I was able to take control of it.

Another key was Julie and I talking through every last detail as to how we would proceed, figuring out my retirement and our future, how we would tell people and the order in which we would do it, striving to know how each would react so that we were ready for this largest hurdle (and after we got the first few under our belt, we were 100% correct as to the reactions of everyone).

The final, most important key was the Holy Spirit’s abiding presence, His always holding my Lord Jesus Christ before my face, and the excellent theology in which I had been trained, which I had proclaimed and taught, which I believed. I found myself trusting in Christ more deeply than ever, that He loved me and that I was proceeding under His good and gracious will.

I continued to suffer, but it gradually eased. Even at the three year mark, this past winter, I would feel the grip of the bear trap; old wounds would bleed. When they have, I’ve used the keys to free myself.

Through it all, I have taken refuge in Christ and in many of His promises, including this one: “God keeps his promise, and he will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, he will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out (1 Corinthians 10:13b).”

She was a real person

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I wrote the following in January, after the death of Leelah Alcorn, the young person who took her life by stepping in front of a truck. She despaired because her parents refused to see anything but the child who was identified as male at birth. If you are not familiar with her: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Leelah_Alcorn.

There was to be a vigil for her in Indianapolis and, though I would never speak at it, the writer in me had to compose what I would have said. After my post on Thursday, “I Am a Real Person,” I finally found a good time to use this.

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2015/08/20/i-am-a-real-person/

I hope this demonstrates the tragedy of so many young people and the need for education and compassion. Remember, 41% of the gender dysphoric and transgender will attempt suicide, where the number is 2-4% in the general population.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The impetus for this service was Leelah’s tragedy, but this vigil really is not for Leelah and, therefore, my encouragement is not for her, but for you.

This is not for Leelah, because, sadly, we can no longer help Leelah. We cannot help the dead. We cannot dry their tears, or mend their hearts, or hold them close until the pain subsides.

We cannot affirm their personhood, show them hope for a bright future, or walk side by side to fight the good fight.

We cannot fight for the rights of the dead, because they no longer can enjoy the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Leelah was pushed from the pursuit of happiness into the corner of grief. Her liberty was forcibly stolen as she was imprisoned by the expectations of others. Her life was robbed of her as she was led into the valley of the shadow of death.

Therefore, this is for every person who is alive, who is being bullied, who is being mistreated, who is being made to feel afraid and ashamed and abused, who is not being heard, being helped, being upheld.

This is for every person who does not make the supposed grade of his peers, of her friends, of family and government and workplace and sports team and you name it.

Yes, Leelah Alcorn needed our help, but so do countless others who are stuck between the rock and hard place of so many of life’s craggy conundrums.

We must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Now, however, I am not talking about the Leelah Alcorns, who can no longer enjoy the good we might do, the justice we strive to achieve, the way of hope we shall strive to pave. It does no good to speak for the dead, for we can no longer help the dead. Look around at the living; it is they who need us to speak.

We must speak, but we must never be guilty of what we never want from others. Let us be the ones who model the Golden Rule. Let us be the ones who take the high road, whose words and actions prove who we are, that we only want to do good for all people.

Let us never be the ones to lash out. Let us never be the ones who fight back with words and actions that only serve to make more regrettable headlines.

Let us not bring more heat, but cast a brighter light.

If people insist on hating us, then let them hate us because we are so stinking nice to them. If anyone continues to dwell in ignorance, let it be because they refused to listen. If anyone will not work with us to create a peaceful world, with safe neighborhoods, where understanding and hope abounds, let it be because they would not take our hand when we held it out to them.

There is no Gospel that we can proclaim to Leelah, for she can no longer hear the good news which brings hope to the hurting, which is a balm to those who have been battered, which leads the lost to a place of love. Leelah has been removed from this vale of tears and, we pray, she is at rest, dwelling in peace.

It is we who cannot rest until there is peace—peace for us and peace for all. Justice for us and justice for all. Hope for us and hope for all. A safe world for us and a safe world for all. The Golden Rule lived for us and the Golden Rule lived for all.

A world where no one would ever begin to give the first moment’s consideration to treating another person any differently, any less, any worse than that person would have him or her treat her or him.

A world in which I want to live, and be free, and pursue happiness, and so do you, and so does the person who, right now, thinks he is my most bitter opponent, for whom it is my job to be the most winsome person on the face of the earth, that I might win him over. If I do, hooray! If I do not, I cannot be faulted, because I always cast a brighter light.

I commend you to the spirit of kindness, the spirit of patience, the spirit of harmony, the spirit of education, that we might be known for who we are:

We are them. They are us. We are in this together.

Let’s be in this together.

Shall we do this for Leelah? Of course, for Leelah. But, infinitely more, that we never need to learn the name of another Leelah, because she will be just another teenage girl who is way more concerned with the things with which a seventeen-year-old should be concerned—learning about herself and what provides her with the satisfaction of accomplishment, getting into the college of her choice or the job which interests her, and giggling with her girlfriends the way young people should giggle.

The church of my youth was fond of a hymn which you might know. “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. With you. With all.