Talking transgender with children

parents-talking-to-kids-about-money_725x377-1365627520

A woman recently wrote a thoughtful note to me, which included this: “Our state has changed many laws recently with regards to transgender-ism. Is that a word? My kids are in the public schools and this is creating lots of questions and conversations at home. I know you write a blog. Can you tell me a certain entry where I can start?”

First, transgenderism is a word for some. Sadly, those who believe that transgender does not truly exist, or stems from mental illness, are generally the ones who use it. Therefore, you can easily imagine that trans folks reject it, besides that to put “ism” on “transgender” makes it sound like it is a belief system, akin to Catholicism or Buddhism.

You asked for a certain place to begin on my blog, but as I re-read your note I thought about the need to give an assist to parents in how to talk with their kids, and I could not recall a piece where I had specifically done that. So, here goes.

It is interesting that you wrote this week, when Texas is again in the news with its legislature considering another bathroom bill. Regardless of where a person lives, there will be transgender women and men, and gender fluid and queer folks, and very likely trans kids in the school system, so it is wise for all people—and perhaps doubly so for parents of school-aged children—to be educated and able to speak on this.

reading-book-with-child

Parents will want to answer their children, using simple words and in a straightforward manner, about anyone who might look different. For my part, I did not grow up around African Americans, so they were foreign to me. In our area, we had farm workers from Mexico, and their language confused and bemused me. For my folks to be able to answer my curiosities was beneficial, and even better that they always stressed respect for all people, no matter how different we might be.

And that is a great place to start. Every human being deserves our respect. They only lose it when they act disrespectfully—not because they look “weird,” or practice a different religion, or have skin color or a language that doesn’t match our own—but who act disrespectfully, breaking rules or hurting others. In school, almost assuredly the trans boys and girls act as respectfully as the cisgender (gender identity and body sex match) girls and boys. So, we begin there. Each child has the right to be in school, to be in society, and to have the same rights and privileges under the law, and to be treated honorably.

parent-talking-to-child-couch-450px

Okay, Mom, and how about it, Dad: what makes a boy want to be a girl, or a girl think she’s a boy? Is there an easy way to answer that to a five- or ten- or fifteen-year-old? Yes, there is.

Always wanting to address our children in ways appropriate to their ages and ability to grasp concepts, a parent can begin as simply as this: “Sometimes, a person begins growing up and they feel like they are different from the way everyone sees them. When they were born, the doctor looked at them and said, ‘It’s a boy,’ or, ‘It’s a girl,’ and the parents gave them a boy’s or girl’s name and then dressed them that way. But, as they grew up—maybe when they were really young, like two or three, or maybe a little older—their boy name felt wrong to them, or their girl clothes felt wrong to them. They told their parents about it. Usually, a transgender person will explain, ‘You think I’m a boy, but I’m really a girl. That’s how I feel.’ When the child is able to pick a correct name for him or her, and wear the kind of clothes that feel right, and play with whatever toys they enjoy playing with, and have their hair cut or grow out how it looks nice for them, then they feel good about themselves and can grow up happy and healthy the same way you are.”

What if a child now asks, “But why do they feel that way?” I suggest something like this: “It is a hard thing to understand why some boys feel like girls and some girls feel like boys. There are lots of things in life where people feel strongly, and that’s what makes all of us special. You are good at painting. Your sister is athletic. Your older sister wants to go to college to learn how to create buildings. I’m left handed, but all of the rest of the family is right handed. Your cousin Becky has Down Syndrome. She has a hard time speaking so we can understand her, but she’s the sweetest person. All of us are different. All of us are equally valuable. We don’t have to understand why things are, just to enjoy each other and be nice to everyone.”

Conversation-father-and-son

The rest of the conversation depends on the age of the child and the next questions they ask, and things like bathrooms.

Let’s talk about bathrooms. If a child expresses concern—“I don’t want one of them in my bathroom”—remain calm and remind your children that when they go to the bathroom they only want to do their business and get back to class or lunch or recess. The trans kids feel exactly the same way.

Sadly, there are many alarmists out there, and parents who are filling their children with every bogey man idea about transgender folks. Children easily adopt parents’ ideas and practices as their own. Behavior toward trans kids—and towards immigrants, and people of a different color, and those who dress and sound “weird”—often is deplorable, downright mean, and totally unfair. The more children who are taught to respect all people will then go to school and be the friend to the “different” student, sometimes the one friend this child needs so as not to be driven to despair. (I still cannot digest the eight-year-old boy who recently hung himself to death.)

o-TEENS-AND-PARENTS-facebook

Depending on how curious your child is with questions about transgender persons, you can even say, “You want to know how I learned about this? I asked a person who is transgender. She is as old as your grandma and grandpa! In fact, she has four of her own kids and seven grandchildren. All of them love her just the same as when she was a man. And now she teaches why some people are transgender, to help us understand. Most of all, she told me that she wants everyone to know that transgender kids and adults are regular people who want to have a good life like everyone else.”

I hope this is helpful. I hope even more that you can have this conversation with your children.

Now, what if your child brings up the topic in this way, “Mom and Dad, you think I’m a girl, but I’m really a boy”? I will address that in my next post.

Advertisements

One year as Gina

On July 2, 2015, I made my second stab at living full-time as a female (the first being on January 1 of last year), and on August 19 I went public, changing my profile and picture from Greg to Gina. Thus, mid-July works for me as a time to give a one year update.

And what a year it was! Here is a bullet point summary of some highlights.

  • July: I began the process of being with my kids in person.
  • August: I did my first interview, for a podcast on Radical Grace Radio: http://lutherandifference.blogspot.com/2015/08/427-dealing-with-gender-dysphoria.html
  • September: I used public women’s restrooms for the first time when Julie and I traveled to Iowa.
  • September: I began serving on transgender panel discussions at Indiana University, a total of fourteen through June of this year.
  • November: I spoke at Indianapolis’ “Transgender Day of Remembrance” rally.
  • February: I attended my first family funeral and many aunts and cousins happily greeted me and chatted with me.
  • February: I received my first therapist’s endorsement letter, affirming that I am succeeding at transitioning.
  • March: My article was published in Indianapolis Monthly magazine: http://www.indianapolismonthly.com/features/the-real-me/
  • March: I had my initial consultation with a surgeon, beginning the process toward having sex reassignment surgery, hopefully this autumn.
  • April: Julie and I returned to a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) congregation (the church body in which I was a minister), not having worshiped in one since I transitioned because we knew of none in town that would have us. We are now taking this congregation’s new member class with the intention of joining in September.
  • May: My name was legally changed. I now have a drivers license and credit cards which reflect how I am living.
  • May: I was interviewed live on the BloomingOut radio show. Here is the podcast: http://wfhb.org/public-affairs/bloomingout_/bloomingout-gina-eilers-may-5-2016/
  • May: I received my second therapist’s endorsement letter, which I need so that I can be approved by insurance for my sex reassignment surgery.
  • July: I attended the annual reunion of my dad’s side of the family, my first since I moved away from Montague in 1992.

If there have been any obstacles, they have been in my head. Certainly, as the list shows, I have jumped many hurdles, but a hurdle need not be an obstacle; a challenge, indeed, but only a barrier if one allows it.

I credit much of my success to you—my family, my friends, and my Christian brothers and sisters. Many people have just plain knocked my knee-highs off with how nicely they’ve treated me. I could not have guessed nor hoped for the great numbers of folks from every sphere of my life who have been supportive or, at least, kind and patient and understanding.

I knew I would have detractors. I expected to be unfriended on Facebook by some and I was. Because I knew I would have some people contact me with very strong objections—I already had experienced this in the two years previous, as I had privately told dozens of family, friends, and church leaders—I had resolved to lash out at no one who lashed out at me. I am pleased to report that I have been 100% successful in responding to everyone with patience, and with thoughtful reactions and explanations.

Because I chose to transition in public for the purpose of educating, I opened myself to a wider audience of unfavorable judgments. Here is a sampling, each from last summer, and each from a person who is a Christian in my LCMS.
• From a former member: “The devil is dragging you along by the nose. Turn to Jesus!”
• From a relative of a former member: “Do you have to do this in public? Think about your former congregation!”
• From a pastor’s wife: “You are living a worldly life. Where has your faith gone?”
• From a LCMS layman, whom I do not know: “Repent of this public sin. Your actions are scandalous.”

I did not hear from the layman after I sent him a friendly message. I heard once more from the pastor’s wife, who did not change her stance. And, thankfully, both of the folks connected to my former congregation hung in there with me, listened and learned, and now are understanding.

Yes, there are those who simply walked away without contacting me, which hurts a lot. Each one I have in mind is a Christian, and most of them are fellow Lutherans. I continue to seek openings so that I might accomplish good and repair these relationships. I will stay patient.

Finally, I have many thoughts on how I now feel about myself, the dramatic changes which have occurred in the past year. I am currently composing a piece regarding them. Thinking of what that will include, I have in mind the saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Wow, ain’t that the truth where it concerns the entire experience of transitioning from male to female.

In summary, the contentment which I finally experience informs me that I have done the right thing. The option to continue to fight as Greg—which was the only option I was ever given by my pastor peers—constantly left me in the position of either contemplating suicide or undergoing sedation which, I was convinced, would have to be so significant that I would have been left in a stupor. There is no exaggerating on these points. This conclusion was reached from fighting this battle with every bit of spiritual and secular strength and knowledge that was available.

So, here I am. A year under my belt. And moving forward.

When I was a white man

I had almost nothing to fear from my fellow Americans when I was a white man.

I lived around people who were like me. I carried out my work around people like me. I was able to shop and see doctors around people like me. There was no reason for me ever to put myself into a place or a situation where I would be the different one, the minority, to fear another person or group.

I was always in the majority—the super-majority, where privilege is concerned.

Now that I live as a transgender woman, I do have something to fear—especially because I do not smoothly pass as a genetic female. Even so, I wonder if I still am not inestimably safer in the world than a young, African American male.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The problem with white male privilege is that one has no idea what it means to be in such a privileged spot. It is akin to a sighted person attempting to fathom having never seen anything but darkness.

Even as a so-called enlightened people, far too many of us Americans continue to live in the darkness.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Until last year, I had no idea what it meant to be a minority, and a minority among minorities at that. In my new status, I cannot even be comfortable about a place we have euphemistically dubbed “restroom.” I have no rest when contemplating my next entrance into the women’s space, never knowing if someone will freak out and speak out; never knowing if I might wind up as one of these statistics, which I took from this report: http://www.ustranssurvey.org/preliminary-findings.
• 1 in 8, who have been hassled, attacked, or sexually assaulted;
• 1 in 4, who have been told they are using the wrong restroom;
• 3 in 10, who report keeping from food and drink when out in public so that nature might not call until they are safely at home;
• 6 in 10, who simply avoid restrooms to save themselves the potential for trouble; or
• 1 in 12, whose “holding it” resulted in a kidney or urinary tract infection.

I had spent my life in the majority. I enjoyed the positive side of life, in every possible way. White American. Male. Married with children. Educated. Professional man. Respected Christian minister. Economically stable. Good relationships all around. Every freedom and privilege.

Every freedom and privilege.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I never feared The Man.

I had no need to fear The Man.

I did not respect those who viewed the government, the police, as The Man.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

From my young-adult years, I recall conversations in which my peers shook their heads at the behavior of young, African American males, those who lived in Detroit, Chicago, and the like. Why were they involved in so much violence, always dealing in drugs, knocking over the corner bar for cash? Why didn’t they stay in school, work to get a good education, get out of there? The problem, it often was assumed, was that they were nothing more than punks. Thugs. No desire to do good, but only caring to get the goods on the next guy, even if it meant killing him. As if this were genetic.

Empathy was the last thing that my peers experienced for them, and it took many years for me to shed the negative assumptions before they didn’t even begin to rear their ugly head of prejudice and racism.

Until two years ago, my world was almost totally white. This has been an excellent experience, living in Indianapolis. I have met and made friends with numerous black folks. I have learned so much.

The number one lesson I’ve learned? They are just like me. Regular people. Simply trying to get on in life.

I have learned that I am only lighter-skinned than them, which should mean nothing other than I am lighter-skinned than them.

If only.

In the tiny church Julie and I attended for nine months, from July, 2014, through March of this year—which was, as I liked to put it, 50% white, 40% black, and with two of the sweetest old Japanese ladies you’ve ever met—I had some long, edifying conversations over after-worship fellowship lunch.

One of the African American ladies grew up in the South. As a young woman, she marched with Martin Luther King in Selma, Alabama. She told of the events with such detail and emotion—I heard in her voice both the courage it took and the fear that could not be shook—that I almost felt I had been right there with them.

Almost.

Talking face-to-face with an African American who actually lived through and worked in the battle for civil rights instilled in me a depth of appreciation for the fight, which I had never before known.

I am old enough to have lived at the time of so many race riots—1968 in my home-state town of Detroit—the Rodney King mess in 1991, when in 1995 blacks cheered for O. J. Simpson as whites were dumbfounded that he had been found not-guilty, and the latter decades of young black men being shot by whites for, well, it depends on with whom you speak and how you lean to determine the reason.

I reached young adulthood just as the Holocaust became a thing of movies and documentaries. I watched them until I could watch them no more, so sickened by the treatment of a group of people for only being different from another group of people.

In the USA, we are barely touched by the racial divides across the globe which result in war, in genocide, in citizens being driven from their homelands. It’s too far “over there” to grab our hearts for longer than the short clip we watch, and then we are onto the latest viral video so that our fancy might be tickled.

As long as my life is not directly affected—I can go to work, buy my groceries, the gas station has plenty of fuel that’s not too expensive, and my TV keeps me fed with eye-candy—I can live as if there is nothing wrong.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I fear that we are living in the greatest age ever of the “I don’t care” attitude. We Americans are so rich—I am referring to the vast middle class, we folks who have good housing and autos, food on the table and health care insurance, and every unhindered right and privilege and gadget and you-name-it—that we need not be bothered.

We don’t need our neighbors, as in days past, so we don’t get to know them. Because we do not know them, we do not care about them.

We whine about the government but, truly, we—the vast middle class—are generally scarcely affected by the many levels of government and their actions, that we do not have to care.

And if we have a family member, friend, or coworker who is in need, who might have delivered the news such as I did last year, or who now has a debilitating disease, or who lost a job and is in real need of tangible help, or who suffered the loss of a loved one or a job or something else traumatic, well, there simply are enough other people around, enough resources, others who are better than we at such delicate matters, that we can click on our “I don’t care” button and be on our merry way.

I hate this phrase—“I don’t care”—more than folks despise the N word.

And if you are shaking your head in disagreement over anything I have asserted in this section, can you see yourself putting yourself on the line for it, for any person’s need, for a social cause, for a wrong which needs righting?

Would you, privileged white person, march for it? Would you place your neck on the line for it?

Would I?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I don’t mean to say that we are not bothered by events, such as those last week which prompted this essay. I do, however, mean to say that the amount we are bothered is minuscule.

We spot and take the exit with ease: “There is nothing I can do about it. I don’t live there. I’m not a lawmaker. I am just a citizen. It’s for others to deal with.”

Does that mean that there is nothing for the vast majority of Americans to do? Absolutely not.

There has never been a greater need for every American to practice the Golden Rule, to treat the next person the way I want the next person to treat me.

There has never been a greater need for every American to practice friendliness toward his neighbor, toward those with whom she works, toward those where all of us interact in our stores and offices and ballparks and elevators and on the street.

We all know that apathy begets apathy, that hatred begets hatred, that violence begets violence. It is a way more desirable truth that caring begets caring, and kindness begets kindness, and love begets love.

There is only one person over whom I have control. That person is me.

How shall I live? How shall I treat the next person I encounter? What kind of ripple will I send out into the world which I directly influence?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I was a white man, I enjoyed every privilege. I have given up the crown of that favor, but I continue to enjoy the vast realm of my white privilege, and every other one I have ever known.

What a terrible thing this is, a full half-century after the civil rights movement, that a young black man cannot boast which I can boast, even as a transgender American.

What a terrible thing this is, that the supposedly enlightened nation of people whom we think we are so often act no better than the very people at whom we look down our noses.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Romans 12:14-21: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Bathroom liberty for all

Enough arguing. Enough posturing. Enough beating up each other. It’s time for a resolution which serves all. In this essay, I propose the solution.

Restroom-1

I care about the needs and rights of our trans youth, but I also care equally about the needs and rights of our youth who have been sexually assaulted. And our youth who are socially awkward or overly shy. And our youth whose family or religious upbringing is more strict than the general culture’s. And any other category one might imagine, and let us imagine them so that we understand that all youth potentially have serious challenges in the many facets of social life.

Regarding our nation’s youth, President Obama’s administration last week brought the bathroom debate to the entire nation. While no new law was fashioned, plenty of excitement was created.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said, “There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex. This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school policies.”

One reaction to this informed me that both the Fourteen Amendment and the Civil Rights Act provide for the full rights of all Americans, which would mean that all people are allowed to use the bathroom which is right for them.

These bathroom concerns are only about discrimination, right?

Not so fast.

As a transgender person, I long to be protected, I desire full civil rights, and I appreciate every privilege the average American enjoys. Equally, I strive to care for all persons affected by any situation.

I long for this to be the attitude of every American.

Life provides us with countless opportunities to practice the Golden Rule, to treat others the way we want them to treat us. Sadly, this flies in the face of our selfish nature, which wants the other guy to think of my needs first.

And so we hear the trans community screaming for its rights, while forgetting the needs of others. And so we hear from every other sector screaming for its rights, while not giving a hoot about trans people.

Some equate these days with those of African Americans’ fight for their deserved rights. Where I find many comparisons, this is not entirely the same. The similarities end when there are honest sensitivities.

When whites got the heebie-jeebies over things like using the same water fountain or dining at tables next to blacks, their anxieties, fears, even hatred, were borne of prejudice, of deep-seated biases which were not based on facts. Thus, they were dishonest.

In the bathroom debate, there certainly are dishonest feelings, prejudices held by many. They are heard plenty. Once again last week, the popular blogger, Matt Walsh, wrote on the topic and he continues to refer to us as “transgendered”—always in quotes, as if we are not real—and calls us “confused.” The conservative The Federalist posted this piece in light of last week’s government letter to schools: “Obama Threatens Schools: Let Men in Little Girls’ Room or Else.” The readers of both of these have added their “hear, hear” affirmations.

There are plenty of people who are transphobic. There also are plenty of people who have honest concerns, real sensitivities, even true fears, which have nothing to do with trans folks.

As I have been debating this heavily, I have been given a lesson in not having grown up female, a person who never was abused just because she was there. I have heard from several women who have been sexually assaulted. It is not uncommon for these women to carry a phobia for spaces where they might be prone to a man who has harmful desires.

I checked several sources for statistics. I find these two numbers to be accurate and eye-opening:
• Nearly 1 in 5 women have experienced a completed or attempted rape.
• Nearly 1 in 2 women have experienced some form of sexual violence.

This simply is unacceptable.

I really am not a fan of comparing numbers, but many are, so here goes: The number of women who have been sexually assaulted or had sexual violence carried out against them dwarfs the number of transgender people. While this shall not be cause for any lessening of the concerns for we trans folks, I take very seriously how many others are holding cards at this table.

We trans folks are far from the only people who long for peace and comfort in using our desired restrooms.

Since the government’s letter focused on schools, I will now do that. School culture varies by size and type of school, size of town, area of the nation. This is not a one-size-fits-all situation because we do not live in a one-size-fits-all world.

Many school districts have been dealing with this issue for years. I have read some marvelous success stories where concerned people, with helpful spirits, acted wisely and resolved their issues. For the most part, you and I were never aware of these because they were handled discreetly.

As with the need to remember the adult women who are vulnerable, how much more children? Too many children have been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused by adults and peers. But, a child need never have been sexually hurt to experience honest anxiety over these bathroom issues. Children do not have the benefit of maturity, of experience. If they are very young, they might know little about the sexes. If they are teens, they very possibly experience plenty of awkwardness regarding their changing body, sex, the opposite sex, and peers. Add into the mix those who are socially awkward, reared in stricter homes and churches, or are just plain shy. And one never knows when terribly challenging gender identity issues are brewing, or a young person already identities outside of the male/female standard.

I was so shy in high school, with my own gender identity issues always simmering under the surface, that I never once used a regular restroom while in high school.

I loathe the forcing of anything on anyone when concerns are honest. I find the concerns of parents, of women, of children to be genuine.

The cry we hear is “children’s safety.” “Safety” is more than concern for things physical. “Safety” includes emotional well-being.

Last week, a friend wrote, “How come Americans always argue with each other instead of working together to find solutions?” I believe I have fallen upon a solution when I remembered the Americans With Disabilities Act.

When this act was made law, it put the vast majority of American stores, schools, hospitals, churches, and workplaces into the spot of having to change or add to bathrooms, not to mention some entrances, sidewalks, and parking places. This law cost many establishments a lot of money to come into compliance.

But they did it.

And the USA is better for it.

And the number of people with disabilities who use these bathrooms, these good parking places that often remain empty, these . . . is how many? It doesn’t matter. Americans with disabilities matter, and so the law was wise and just and necessary.

All-Gender-Restroom-Sign

Plenty of other countries already have figured out what we are arguing, but if we must do things The American Way then let us commission some creative designers, builders, and architects to draw up plans to make our bathrooms and locker rooms safe for all, with privacy levels which meets everyone’s needs and standards that span the spectrum of public places.

As several have said, all of the hullabaloo around bathrooms have been a solution in search of a problem. What had been a non-issue to almost the entire population now is being talked about as much as The Donald and The Hillary. Now that it is this huge issue, it must be addressed.

Echoing the Americans With Disabilities Act, I call for the Bathroom Liberty for All Act, which would address both restrooms and locker rooms, and set standards for every setting as affected by the Disabilities Act.

Every American deserves to know that wherever he, she, or they might be, the law is the same, so they don’t have to question whether there is a safe place or what the law is in that place, so their expectations are always the same, just as with disabled Americans.

What do we do in the interim? Well, what did we do for our Americans with disabilities before we made the many required updates?

Until we can sort this out and remodel our bathrooms and locker rooms, let us be honest with our concerns and fair with our neighbor. Drop the propaganda pieces. Stop the shock videos. Cite statistics accurately. Cease with unfairly portraying trans folks AND care for the weak and vulnerable and sensitive of every age and situation in life.

I promise that I will practice the Golden Rule toward you. Will you promise the same toward me?

Let us make into law the Bathroom Liberty for All Act. Let us do it now. Let us quell all concerns so that we can move on and once again provide all Americans what our great land of freedom has always offered.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Name change day

2016-04-24 10.01.54
Greg’s final drivers license, July, 2014

“I wish I didn’t have to do this.” I wiped the tears from my eyes and resumed looking at Julie. “It will be okay.”

This was last night, as Julie was kissing me goodnight. She sat on my lap, facing me. I peered into her eyes. Mine welled up with tears. I spoke of the big day that is finally upon me, the legalizing of my female name. “I wish I didn’t have to do this.”

A tear slid down my cheek and landed on my shirt. I removed my glasses and with a tissue soaked up the pools in my eyes. Replacing my glasses, I calmly continued, “It will be okay.”

A strange thing happened on the way to my court date, when my name will be legally changed from Gregory John to Gina Joy: Gina has no joy at the arriving of this landmark day.

As I think back to December, 2014, to the first trans person with whom I spoke about this topic, I recall the triumphant tone in her voice, the unbridled joy in her words. “I left the courthouse and was barely touching the ground as I walked to my car. I finally had my name to go with my authentic self, and I was so happy.”

Two weeks ago, a good trans friend got her name changed. With that, and the receiving of her corrected Social Security card and drivers license, she was just plain giddy. Her reaction is the expected one. This is one of the top steps in the long ladder of transitioning, and the sense of accomplishment is strong.

I am writing this two hours before my court appearance. I have no sense of my authentic self being acknowledged. I know that I am a male, and would be if not for the endocrine disruption which left me feeling female. Thus, this is not a “Yea, the day is finally here!” moment for me. I just want to get it over.

What is going on with me? Do I feel that I am making a mistake? As the ten weeks have elapsed since filing my paperwork, this has weighed on me. The past two weeks have just plain been painful. A week ago, I found myself at the crucial point, asking whether I should do this.

I imagined cancelling today. I remembered what happened to me every time I stopped transitioning, each time I took a step back and tried to resume living as a male. I recalled that not only did I wind up crashing after a matter of days, each crash was worse than the one before.

There simply is nothing in me that can imagine being a male. It’s not in my brain. Why do I keep struggling over it?

I continue to desire it because Greg can move through the world without a care in the world. The recent bathroom debate exemplifies this. Friday evening, I was in a women’s restroom, in a stall, when numerous young women came in. One was showing a new employee how to change the towel dispenser, another took the stall next to me. While I have been in similar situations, with emotions running high over bathrooms I was not eager to approach the sink on this day. Thankfully, the coast was clear for me to wash up and get out.

Greg never has this concern. Greg never has people misgender him because his phone voice doesn’t match his gender. Greg doesn’t have his own people-group—traditional Christians who are politically conservative—the vocal opponents of trans folks in the bathroom debate. Greg doesn’t cost his family a lot of money for doctors, hair removal, and prescriptions. And none of this is to discuss the impact on my family and my Christian family.

Greg had it made, and so I continue to long for his return, and it happens every time I reach a milestone in my transition.

The problem is that I cannot find myself in a spot in which I have any realistic hope of resuming living as a male and not having it work to destroy me.

Despite things like public restrooms, I, Gina, go about my business in the world in relative ease. I am self-confident. I don’t look over my shoulder. When, as Friday evening at the brewery where my son’s band played, I see the stares of people, I don’t wince.

I feel right as Gina. I am happy to see a way-more-female-looking person in the mirror. I find that man, who is in my current drivers license, to be a handsome guy, but I don’t identify as him. He doesn’t feel like me. He has become a foreigner to me. I ponder his life as if looking through a family photo album.

There is no course of action but to continue to transition and I have practical needs, none more practical than having a drivers license which is appropriate to me. And then credit cards which match me. And on down the line so that mail no longer comes to a person who does not reside at this address.

Julie and I will be heading downtown minutes after I post this. I am not nervous. I am neither excited nor upset. I am neither happy nor sad. I am simply resigned. I will be glad when it is done.

Maybe, just maybe, I will even be pleased about it. I suspect I finally will be pleased about it. I certainly want to be. But, I can’t shake that mourning feeling.

As much as Gina needs this, Greg didn’t deserve it.

Lifestyles of the trans and middle class

LifestylesFull-300x161

The public debating over bathrooms has been hot and heavy this week. Inside the debate, that thing that sounds to a transgender person like fingernails on a chalkboard has been repeated often enough that it needs addressing: “I don’t agree with that lifestyle.”

I know what is meant, but still I must ask: What “lifestyle?”

Let me tell you about my lifestyle.

1. I am a Christian. My lifestyle is to worship the Lord every Sunday morning. My lifestyle is to attend Bible class, to be on church committees, and generally to try to be a blessing where I am planted. My lifestyle is to read from the Bible every day, the first thing I do, and to listen to a podcast devotion, and to read from two devotion booklets, and to pray throughout the day.

2. I am a husband, and father, and a grandfather. My lifestyle changed a bit since retiring from the ministry to where I now take care of my beloved Julie by being the house-spouse. My lifestyle is to cook and do the laundry and you name it, to make her life at home comfortable because she works hard five and six days a week bringing home the bacon for us. We also have one of our children and two of our grandchildren with us these days, and I have supper on the table for them every evening, and work to make a good home for them. And when I can I visit my other three children and other five grandchildren, and live the lifestyle of a typical parent and grandparent.

3. I am an active person. My lifestyle is to garden, to make good use of the variety of vegetables the Lord gives me through the earth each year. I have been a runner since I was in my early twenties—this is my thirty-seventh year of jogging. My lifestyle is to work to stay healthy so that I can live well and long and take care of my family and enjoy the gifts with which the Lord blesses me. My lifestyle is to write and to speak, to educate what it means to be transgender and a Christian and a spouse and so forth.

4. I am frugal. My lifestyle is not to be wasteful. I will not hesitate spending money on groceries or nice restaurants, but I’ll drive my car till it no longer pays to drive it (I drive a 2001 Chevy Impala that still gets great gas mileage), and gladly shop at thrift stores for clothes (the top and jeans I’m wearing right now came from one at a total cost of less than $10), and watch movies on Netflix than go to the theater.

5. I am about as common and boring as the most common or boring person around. My lifestyle is that I drink coffee and water, and that’s about it. I rarely drink alcohol. I’ve never gotten drunk. I’ve never smoked. I’ve never tried pot or any illicit drug. I don’t gamble. I have no tattoos. I set my cruise control so that I don’t speed. I mow my own lawn, and not on a riding mower. I can the tomatoes I grow so that I have them all year.  I compost my kitchen and yard waste.  I recycle.  Yawnnnnnn.

I pray that I’ve made my point what my lifestyle is. Being transgender has nothing to do with it. Indeed, here is the number of things that have changed in my lifestyle since I transitioned:

ZERO.

Nothing. Nada. Nil. Zip. Zilch. The big goose egg.

So, if you don’t like, approve of, or otherwise dig my lifestyle now, you didn’t like, approve of, or otherwise dig my lifestyle before.

My being transgender is, well, I said it in the word before transgender, my being. It is who I am, as another person’s being a cisgender female or male is their being; as a person’s being Caucasian or African American or Asian is their being; as being a lefthander is my being.

A great stigma is placed on people when “lifestyle” is thrown about. It seems to me it is always used as a pejorative. Derogatory. Belittling. Looking down one’s nose at another. Disapproving.

I, too, can talk about lifestyles which I disrespect.  I point to my fellow Christians because they are my spiritual family and the ones who most abuse the use of “lifestyle.”
• Drunkenness—and I know a lot of cisgender Christians who regularly get drunk.
• Gossiping, lying, backbiting, and trouble-making—and I know a lot of cisgender Christians who excel at these sinful traits.
• Sex outside of marriage and unbiblical divorce—and I know a lot of cisgender Christians who fall into these two categories.

I could go on for awhile. That’s enough. The point is made. One’s “being” has nothing to do with one’s “lifestyle.”

Let’s debate everything that is worthy of debate. As we do, let us do so wisely, kindly, and correctly.

To a concerned mother

racism_2

Yesterday, on a Facebook thread regarding transgender folks and bathrooms, a newer friend of mine posted the following, which I have abridged only for length.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

As you know Gina, I am new to the understanding of the transgender world as far as understanding what all you go through. Because of you and others I have reached out to for real life experiences and what a transgender person goes through I am looking at this bathroom issue from both sides.

Seventeen years ago I went out with my mother-in-law for lunch with my newborn. I got up from the table and went to a family bathroom to breast feed my baby. I didn’t want others to be uncomfortable with me feeding my baby in the most natural, healthy way.

As a victim of assault as a young teenager, I am still very sensitive of potential danger. I have raised three girls and have done everything in my power to keep them safe, as I would have with boys. While I have said to you before with the school situation that brought me to you for understanding and information, I don’t want anyone to be put at risk for any harm for being their true self. While I don’t fear someone whom is transgender, I don’t agree with the gender specific areas being open for anyone male or female to enter them, Those out to cause harm to another are always looking for easy prey and I believe this makes it easier for them.

Most areas have family restrooms for many reasons, fathers out with their young daughters, etc., to give them a safe place to do their business without sending them into a bathroom alone or taking their daughter into a men’s bathroom where they stand against the wall. Am I being insensitive by wanting the gender specific areas to remain and the family/gender neutral areas to be single occupancy? For the potential of being a little safer I have a hard time believing that I am.

~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~   ~

Dear friend ~

You betcha you are on guard for your children, just as I was with my four kids.

I totally understand the desire for privacy, such as you describe, and those who have experienced terrible personal assaults as you have. I admire you for not wanting to make others uncomfortable, and feel the same way about myself.

One never knows the history or current mind-set of the many strangers which might be encountered at any given time. Everyone has baggage, and some folks out in the world have great personal struggles, fears, concerns, and needs which are impossible to see simply by observing the person.

One also hopes that people will simply not be paranoid. Yes, our guard goes up in the situations and aftermaths you describe. Even so, that does not make the risk go up, only the sense of risk. I am reminded of a friend who is extremely afraid of bridges. With her one time as she drove over one, she kept saying, “It’s only a bridge. It’s only a bridge.” The danger for her was no greater than for anyone else crossing that span. It wasn’t the bridge that needed mending, but her perception of it.

When you say, “I don’t agree with the gender specific areas being open for anyone male or female to enter them,” what does this mean? Look at my profile picture. Am I male or female? The fact is, I am intersex. Who gets to decide which one, male or female, rules me? Are my hormones, which tell me I am female, to take second to my body, which is male? Who decides?

Which bathroom should I use? If I go into the men’s room, I am going to face trouble, or laughter, or worse. I truly fear being beaten in a men’s room when presenting as a female.

I, and all my trans women friends, use the women’s rooms, we do so the same as all women do, and we blend in. Rarely do trans women go out in public who are dressed, as one keeps hearing from those against us, as “a man in a dress,” with five o’clock shadow, ill-fitting wigs, and clothes and makeup that are not appropriate to the location. No, we blend in because we want and need to blend in. We are just regular people, who dress and act like regular people.

I personally am okay with there being special bathrooms open to anyone who wants a personal space—where a dad can take a daughter, where a trans person can feel more comfortable, whatever the situation. Let’s have men’s rooms, women’s rooms, and unisex rooms everywhere. I would gladly use them equally for MY comfort, though I navigate women’s restrooms just fine. But, you have those trans folks who don’t want to be singled out because the singling out is a signal that “freaks need to be kept separate.” And, when that is the reason, I stand in opposition to the haters and shoulder-to-shoulder with my trans friends.

I don’t see you as insensitive. Perhaps, you have been hearing some of the scare tactics and they have played on your mind, and you are more sensitive because of the situations you described. Look up the statistics. You will find extremely few instances of trans people sexually assaulting others. No, the rapists and pedophiles are almost always males, who purport to be heterosexual, who blend in with society as regular-looking guys, who often are married and have kids, who don’t have to stoop to dressing as women because they already know how to make their opportunities. THESE are the ones who are predators.

The argument is always brought up about children in bathrooms who would be at risk of men dressed as women who are out to harm them. But, what about boys in men’s rooms and the male predators that have always been out there? The present situation is ignored and scenarios are created that are highly unlikely.

The people who are against us have set up a false argument in order to scare people. They should be ashamed of themselves.

We trans folks might actually be better behaving in public than the general population for the sole purpose that we do not want trouble, because, if we wind up in trouble, our problems are going to be multiplied because we are trans. So, we shop and eat out and do everything else with very good behavior. We use restrooms quietly, get in and out, because we just want to pee and get safely back to living.

racism_1

For people out in the public to be a little safer, transgender people are not the issue. We never have been. We are not now. We are being unfairly picked on by those who hate us. This really is no different than when, fifty years ago, whites were disgusted at the thought of sitting next to a person of color, or attending the same school, or sharing a seat on a bus or the same water fountain. Those whites could not imagine black people being equal to their bigoted idea of who they were in American society.

Many people think that, because I am transgender, I am less than them. I am mentally ill. I am a kook. A freak. They are superior for no more of a reason than they supposedly have their act together. They are not weaklings as I am. They are not perverts, sexual fetishists, trying to be someone they are not.

Their shit doesn’t stink.

It is the same mind-set that so many whites had for blacks, and one which many whites still have for blacks—I’ve heard it plenty in my lifetime—and for anyone who doesn’t meet their personal standard, and I am not even going to get into the hatred many have for Muslims, Jews, and others not like these bigots. Because we transgender folks finally have a voice in American society, we now are the whipping girl and boy for the prejudiced class which believes it is superior.

We are a threat to their sense of what is “normal.” They are either too lazy, or too prejudiced, or too bent on whatever their ideology is to learn why we are transgender and what kind of people we are.

They are people who do not want to learn that people like me are just as upstanding as the most upstanding, just as much of a contributor to good in the USA as the best of contributors, highly educated, very successful, hardworking blue collar laborers, health care workers, teachers, serving in the armed forces, faithful spouses, caring parents and grandparents, good neighbors, volunteers, loyal friends—in every way people which make our neighborhoods and towns and churches and schools and workplaces—and the USA—better for our being in them.

What we need is balance. We need calm. We need people speaking with care and listening with patience. We need everyone, on every side of any serious issue, to have compassion for their fellow man. We need honest discussion, not lies and scare tactics.

When we do things right, we can do this successfully for the good of the USA. When we don’t, well, we have good people like you who are properly concerned about what is going on around them, and yet needlessly concerned about things which will never be a problem for them.

Peace,
Gina

lady-justice-blindfolded_55d3389af74020f6