2018: goodbye, Gina; hello, Greg

As 2018 opened, I was settling into my new, finally completed self. In 2017, I had every transition surgery so that my body would be aligned with my brain, and that they would confirm my legal name, Gina Joy.

As 2018 closes, I am printing the same forms I filled out three years ago, for the purpose of getting my name changed back to Gregory John.

I contemplate how this might proceed in court. When I did it the first time, I had lots of info from other trans folks on how the process goes. Going to court on May 2 2015 I was properly equipped, including having a letter from my doctor verifying my transition.

I won’t have a doctor’s letter this time—at least, I don’t think I will. If the judge hesitates at approving my petition, it seems to me enough that I can say, “Look at me, your honor. Do you see a man or a woman? This is how I live. Do you need a doctor to tell you what your eyes confirm?”

While I am anxious to get my credit cards back to reading as Greg, there is one positive about having a drivers license for Gina, a female: I am one very careful driver, not wanting to get pulled over by the police. “Well, you see, officer, here’s the deal . . .”

Hopefully, by springtime I’ll have my court-approved name change. Then, I can do what I did three years ago—or rather undo all of it—and once again be Greg everywhere my name appears.

I’m still a numbskull

When I had facial feminization surgery in November 2017, I was told that the worst numbness would ease in a few weeks, and the rest would resolve in six to twelve months.

The numbness was bad. It was everywhere, from the top of my head, down my forehead to my eyebrows, along the sides of my face, around my lips, and across my neck.

Though I have seventy percent of my facial hair removed via electrolysis, I still need to shave every few days. My numb face made shaving a miserably uncomfortable chore. In three weeks, enough sensation returned to make shaving easier, but I am not back to full feeling. My neck still is perhaps ten percent numb, while the sides of my face are probably twenty percent numb.

Thankfully, numbness is not the equivalent of pain. Feeling across the top of my skull has barely returned. It’s perhaps fifty percent better than right after surgery. My forehead is barely better than that. It feels tight, which I especially feel when I raise my eyebrows.

Tightness is the bugaboo with my lips. They are the only area that truly annoys me. Most of the time, I can feel the outline of my lips, which were stitched all the way around. It doesn’t hurt. It’s just there, an almost constant sensation of tight, taut tension.

Because I have passed the one year mark since surgery, I fear that I’m done healing, that I will be living with this numbness and tightness for the rest of my days. Rats. Thankfully, it’s not painful. Thankfully, it’s mostly an annoyance—as are my too-large breasts, which gotta go.

Friends gained . . .

We have lived in Merrymoss, the house we bought in 2015, for 3½ years. In 2018, I met more neighbors than any previous year. And it was way easier to do so.

I hesitated to meet neighbors as Gina. I encounter folks when jogging, walking by their house, or when I’m working in my front yard garden. Dressed for running and yard work, I looked like a guy. I never came up with a smooth way to introduce myself as Gina.

Oh, I did it. I said something like, “Hi, I’m Gina. I know, I don’t look like a Gina. Here’s the thing: I’m transgender . . .” The conversation always felt clunky. Uncomfortable. Way too much for a casual introduction.

But, this year? I gladly introduced myself! And it seemed that as yet unmet neighbors came out of the woodwork and into my path. I love being able to say, “Hi, my name’s Greg. I’m the guy with the front yard garden.”

One man, whom I already knew, truly became a friend in 2018. Mac lives across the street. He’s married to Alice. They are a bit older than me. Mac’s lived in this house for decades, but he and Alice married only two months before we moved into Merrymoss.

I can’t say that Mac is more comfortable with me as Greg—he and I always waved and had done plenty of brief chatting—but this year we found ourselves having longer conversations. On Labor Day, I knew I was truly in with him when he was with another man, who was getting into his car to leave. I was in the garden. Mac hollered for me. Arriving in Mac’s driveway, he said, “I want you to meet my brother.” We gabbed for ten minutes. Walking home, I beamed.

The most profound meeting of 2018 came late in the year. A man contacted me, who is battling gender dysphoria. He’s a young guy, married, children, and a Christian in my former church body, the LCMS. He is a good example of someone who, if he were to transition to female, would freak out a lot of people.

While he’s not a pastor, much of our lives match up. We have found in each other a natural kinship. We’ve talked several times, always long, emotion-filled conversations. He is hurting badly, aching to be female, striving to live as a male, having a difficult time seeing himself long term as a guy. Right where I was in 2013, when I was trying to figure out how I was going to survive.

I ache for him. I commiserate with him. More than anything, I make sure to end every phone call with the assurance that the Lord Jesus loves him with all His heart. Always.

. . . and lost

In 2015, when I announced online that I suffered gender dysphoria, even though I was striving to remain male some friends and fellow Christians unfriended me on Facebook, without saying a word. One of them was one of my oldest, closest friends. Man, that hurt.

That August, when I revealed that I was living as a female to see if it helped me, I lost even more. Only two people let me know they were unfriending me, because I was an offense to them.

In 2018, resuming living as a male, what should I have looked for in the friend/unfriend venue?

I am pleased to report that a nice number of folks have friended me, including some which I would not have expected when I was online as Gina.

I am sad to report that several transgender folks have unfriended me. And not one of them told me why. I’ve had to discover it when wondering why I had not seen them for awhile.

They just left.

Why?

Did I offend them by detransitioning?

A common theme among trans folks, as it long has been with gays and lesbians, is to be accepted. “Acceptance! Tolerance!” is the cry across the globe. At many a meeting of the local trans group, one hears a newcomer declare, “You people understand me. I love you because you are totally accepting.”

Accepting . . . except when they are not.

I learned long ago there is no group of people in which the persons of that group—be it a religion, a political persuasion, a nationality, you name it—are one hundred percent like-minded.

When I transitioned, I could not be the online friend of some because I was transgender. Having detransitioned, I can’t be the online friend with some because I am no longer transgender.

From trans persons, who long to be accepted—who harshly criticize those who do not accept them—I am especially hurt for their rejecting me. I am sad they felt they no longer could be connected to me.

I bet, if the roles were reversed, they would long to continue to be accepted.

Publish it!

I’ve been writing my life story for five years. In 2018, completing it has been my biggest project. I finished the first draft in September. Since then, it’s been edit, edit, edit.

As the year ends, Julie is busy reading it, providing me important improvements. Most don’t know that Julie holds her bachelor’s degree in journalism, wrote for newspapers for a number of years, and is an excellent writer. Her expert eye on my text is giving it real polish.

I asked my son, Alex, to create a cover. He took my ideas and wowed me. I presented it on Facebook, seeking feedback. Many folks provided excellent insights. Julie, Alex, and I discussed them and implemented a few of them. We’ve arrived at the final cover.

Here the cover. Below it is the original version. Look for the book to be published soon!

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Robert had a double mastectomy

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He didn’t have cancer. Or any other health issue. The breast tissue was healthy. But it had to go.

It was too much for Robert (not his real name) to succeed at living as a male, to have these now too large breasts, which, ironically, grew so large because he was doing everything he could do to remain a male.

I wrote about Robert in Using HRT to remain male.

In 2016, Robert contacted me, having found my blog. He suffered gender dysphoria. Married, with young children, and a Christian of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod  (my former church body), he found that he simply could not transition to female.

He called this desire to be a female “the alluring call of femininity.” Down deep, he wanted to answer the call. But, he knew, as with the siren song of Greek mythology, answering the call would only dash his entire life upon the rocks of being transgender—the rocks upon which so many trans folks have been unfairly crushed.

He had learned of a man, who had gone on hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which people take for the purpose of transitioning, but this man was using it to alter his hormone levels so as to remove, or at least lessen, his gender dysphoria. It was working for the man, so Robert went on HRT.

The idea is that hormone levels, which are typical for a male, are out of whack for some men. So, perhaps, if a guy doesn’t have so much testosterone coursing through his body, and, perhaps, a bit more estrogen, he would feel better. I call it “the sweet spot.”

I liken this to a person who suffers depression, who never experiences total relief while on depression medication. There is fluctuation. Good days and rough days. The need to change dosage. Riding it out. It can be hard to find the sweet spot. It can be hard to remain in the sweet spot.

Robert texts me every few months. This is what he has described, in and out of the sweet spot But, he continually informs me, he’s succeeding in silencing the alluring call of femininity.

Of course, he knew his breasts were going to grow. The other effects of lowering his testosterone and raising his estrogen—softer skin, some fat deposits shifting, body hair becoming more sparse (it’s different for everyone; as the saying goes: your mileage may vary)—likely would never be noticed. But, growing breasts? Those are hard to hide. Of this, I know.

As trans men do, who have not had top surgery, he bound his chest. This works to hide the breasts, but it is tremendously uncomfortable, and even dangerous if the breasts are bound too tightly, and for too long. Robert reported that at times he almost couldn’t breathe. And, of course, the larger the breasts grow, the tighter the binding needs to be.

For Robert, it had to stop. He talked to his doctor about having his breasts removed.

Softly, the sirens sang. They called to Robert, “If you have your breasts removed, it will be that much harder to transition should you ever decide to.” This is my translation of how Robert put it, that there was this little part of him which was mourning the thought of surgically removing his breasts.

He moved forward. He set the date. Two weeks ago, he had a double mastectomy.

Last week, he told me that he is healing well. The surgeon is pleased with the outcome. Robert would be back to work by the time I posted this.

As one who longs to have his breasts removed (this post isn’t about me, so more on that another time), I can easily imagine that Robert now dresses for work and moves about in the world with renewed ease. No more painful binding. No more wondering if people are noticing his chest. Looking like the regular guy he longs to be.

The Lord be with you, my friend, that you are able to continue, to be strong, to steer clear of the rocks on which the sirens would dash you.

For those who are able to transition and it works for them—which means it also works for their family, and for every situation it affects—I am pleased with them, that they have found health and wholeness. For those who do not want to transition or feel they cannot, I am pleased with them when, as with Robert, they can find a way to health and wholeness in their birth sex.

Thank you, Robert, for sharing your story with me, that I might share it with others, that others might be served in their battle with this cursed gender dysphoria.

Let’s suppose it is a mental illness

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Dear fellow Christians: If you believe gender dysphoria is a mental illness, why do you treat transgender persons so terribly? How do you treat those who suffer any of the many other mental illnesses?

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Because I am transgender, my former church body, the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), is keeping me from being a member of one of its congregations. I believe there are numerous church bodies, which have the same attitude toward transgender persons, because they are like the LCMS in its biblically-traditional doctrine and conservative practice.

My experience informs me that the majority of these types of Christians hold that gender dysphoria, which leads to one’s identifying as transgender, is a mental illness. I have argued against this, finding evidence for gender identity issues arising from a physical condition. Certainly, one’s mental state is affected, but I cringe at this term—mental illness—because, I have observed, it is not respected. In other words, if a person has cancer, his illness is respected—it’s real, it can be touched, surgery can be done on it—but mental illnesses are not so easily located, often are perceived as personality-driven, and thus are not viewed with the level of seriousness as cancer. One hears, “Oh, he’s mentally ill,” the words perhaps dripping with contempt.

Since I have left many unconvinced that gender dysphoria arises from a condition which is just as physically real as cancer, I will now take up the position of the traditional Christian, that gender dysphoria is a mental illness, that I might help my fellow Christians see how they are improperly treating their transgender brothers and sisters in Christ.

First, a look at some common mental disorders. I bet you are aware of all of these:

  • anxiety
  • eating
  • mood
  • obsessive-compulsive
  • psychotic
  • post-traumatic stress
  • sex

Each disorder has one or more specific conditions associated with it. For example, under eating disorders are listed bulimia and anorexia nervosa. At least one medical website places gender dysphoria under the various sex disorders.

Preparing to write this essay, I read over many of the specific ailments which fall under the general headings. I have found that I could use any of them for my point of comparison. I have chosen to begin with anorexia nervosa because, four years ago, a pastor, whom I told that I might transition, used it in his rebuttal to me.

Believing my gender dysphoria to be a mental illness, and finding that it is sinful for a Christian to transition, he said, “You wouldn’t tell a person with anorexia not to eat, to give in to that desire.”

Of course, no one would encourage the anorexic not to eat. I can’t imagine anyone saying, “Let her be. If she doesn’t want to eat, that’s her business.” No, starving yourself  is an awful thing.

The pastor made his point. I had no comeback. We both thought he had won the argument.

I would now reply to him, thus:

“No, I would not encourage the anorexic not to eat. However, if I were this person’s pastor, and she would not eat, I wouldn’t kick her out of my church. Just the opposite, I would show the deepest compassion. I would encourage and love and do everything in my power, and give Holy Communion—even if it had to be the tiniest sliver of a wafer soaked in a single drop of wine—to provide her with the love of our Lord Jesus. What I would NOT do is shun this child of God, or kick her out of the congregation. I would not make fun, or hold in contempt, or ostracize this Christian, which is what pastors and Christians are doing with their transgender sisters and brothers.”

There it is. It seems to me that my fellow, traditional Christians want it both ways—they want to call gender dysphoria a mental illness, but they want to treat it as if it were nothing more than a sinful desire, nothing different from a person’s bad habit of misusing the Lord’s name. (Funny, I know a lot of Christians who have spent their entire adult lives misusing the Lord’s name, but I can’t think of a one who has been kicked out of a congregation for it.)

I will now make this mental illness argument harder for myself to argue. It seemed impossible when another pastor, who found transitioning an unacceptable way to treat gender dysphoria, said to me, “If a person were a kleptomaniac, you would not prescribe stealing as the cure.” He’s right; I certainly would not prescribe it. However, if he continued to steal and I were his pastor, what would factor into my decision as to how to deal with him? If he told me that he could do whatever he pleased, I would find his position unacceptable. I would tell him that his attitude is sinful. But if he said, “I hate that I do this. The talk therapy helps sometimes, and other times I’m just so weak that I can’t stop myself,” I would show him compassion and have mercy on him.

Every pastor, with whom I have talked, I have told that I hated to transition, that I found it a terrible “cure” for gender dysphoria. If I have missed anyone, I say it again:

I. Hate. This.

As I have gotten to know other LCMS Christians who are in my same spot—some have transitioned, some have family members who are doing so, and some are fighting not to—every one of them has my attitude. They do not embrace this. They do not say that being transgender is normal. They hate being plagued with this awful thing.

Even after transitioning, I continue to hate this—and I am using “hate” in the biblical sense, “to consider evil.” I find gender dysphoria and one’s transitioning among the evils meted upon we human beings because of the Original Sin we inherit from Adam, through our parents. Just as anorexia and cancer are evil things and come to us because of Original Sin, so does gender dysphoria.

I am not happy to be transgender. I do not embrace it. I do not say that I can do as I please.

I will now provide a third, more challenging argument. Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) describes the malady where a person has a compelling desire to have a limb amputated—often, a leg—or wishes he here blind or deaf. The person suffering with BIID feels, for example, that the leg in question is foreign to his body; it needs to go.

Thankfully, BIID is a rare condition, but for even one person to experience it is one too many. If I were this person’s pastor, my compassion for him would overflow. Now, let’s say, despite my pastoral care and encouragement that he work hard at talk therapy, he proceeds to have a leg amputated? How shall I minister to him? Should I inform him, in no uncertain terms, that he has sinned, and that he cannot come to church now because the sight of him would offend the members of the congregation?

You know how I would minister—exactly as in the two previous examples.

It was important that I work toward BIID because there are those who argue that a gender dysphoric male’s desire for sex reassignment, and the gender dysphoric female’s wish to have a double mastectomy, are cases of BIID. (In reply, I point out that the desire is not only for this procedure, but one’s entire life to be corrected. In other words, it is not the desire to have something removed, but the desire for that area of the body to be correct according to the feminine or masculine nature of the person’s gender.)

Whether anorexic, or a kleptomaniac, or with BIID—I could keep naming mental illnesses—I cannot imagine a pastor would treat his member as the gender dysphoric and transgender Christian is being treated.

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Three years ago, on April 29, 2015, I went public with my gender dysphoria. At the time, I was fighting to remain male. I had the love and compassion of one hundred percent of those who responded to my post.

Four months later, I revealed that I was attempting transitioning, so that I might find some healing, to try to remove the thoughts of suicide and fears of insanity. Immediately, many had contempt for me. I was accused of being a sinner. Some longtime friends either chastised me or simply walked away without a word.

Since then, matters only grew worse with my fellow, traditional Christians.

Most of them would say my gender dysphoria is a mental illness.

If it is a mental illness with which I have to be plagued, I wish it were a different one.  Maybe then, I would not be hated by so many of my Christian brothers and sisters.

The LCMS and transgender acceptance

I selected what I find is the worst possible word for the title because for many LCMS Christians “acceptance” evokes this reaction: “I will never accept transgender people as God-fearing Christians.”

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My chief complaint with the LCMS is that, overall as a synod, gender dysphoria has been judged as either a mental illness or a sinful proclivity, and transitioning a sinful response to it. While there are pastors and lay folks who are open to learning, even to recognizing gender dysphoria as arising from a real, physical condition, and transitioning as a medically viable option, the general sense in the LCMS is that those who transition willfully sin and thus are found ineligible for membership in LCMS congregations.

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“Acceptance” is commonly heard from LGBTQ folks and their allies.  It is synonymous with tolerance. The sense of its usage is that one consents to, is tolerant to, whatever a person says about himself, however he lives, whatever his take is on his situation in life, and no judgment will be taken in opposition to the person’s actions.

Because LCMS Christians hold a traditional understanding of God’s Word, and with how “acceptance” is used, it is largely rejected. I am reminded of the term, “born again Christian,” which is also largely unused by LCMS Christians. The term is correct—there is no such thing as a Christian who is not “born again”—yet, because of the wrong theology attached to it by evangelicals, it is mostly unheard in the LCMS. So it goes with “acceptance” in the transgender conversation.

For many in the LCMS, acceptance with transgender issues feels like support, which feels like caving in and giving up one’s theology. My best example is when Julie and I were received into membership in a LCMS congregation in 2016. The uproar among LCMS pastors was swift and vicious, and taken right to the top of the synod.

None of these, who called for our congregation and pastors to be kicked out of the LCMS, sat in on any of the meetings I had with the pastors. They did not inquire of the pastors as to these discussions, as to my answers, as to the pastors’ stance. They simply judged each person and the situation as sinful.  I know; I read their comments on several websites.

They made assumptions about things which were in violation of the Eighth Commandment, that we shall not bear false witness against our neighbor. Martin Luther explains this command wonderfully: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him, and explain everything in the kindest way.” The reputation of our pastors, the congregation, and Julie and I, all were hurt. From the outcry, it seemed that no one was interested in learning anything from us, but only condemning us. Few of our fellow Christians defended us, or spoke well of us, or explained anything about this situation in the kindest way.

There are many unfair assumptions about transgender persons, including:

  • their actions are sexually motivated;
  • they live a lifestyle unfit for a Christian;
  • they all are part of a movement to impose their beliefs on others.

None of these assumptions are true about me.

Speaking only for myself, yet having had other Christians express similar things about their experience,

  • I have poured out my heart to many pastors, expressing how difficult is this malady;
  • how strongly I fought it;
  • how deeply I longed to remain living as a male;
  • how the last thing I wanted was to sin against the Lord or offend my fellow Christians, yet how weak I was against my gender dysphoria;
  • how thoughts of suicide constantly visited me;
  • how I truly thought I was going to lose my mind;
  • how I struggled to live a God-pleasing life because this led me to hate everything;
  • and how I feared that I would have to go on medication which, because it would be very strong in order to address my anguish, would leave me in a stupor, which would leave me a shell of a person and unable to fulfill any of my vocations.

I have explained how my studying has led me to be all but convinced that my gender dysphoria—and, I suspect, most cases of gender dysphoria—was caused by disruption to my endocrine system when I formed in the womb, which explains why talk therapy and repentance does not address it. I have provided all of the evidence I have accumulated, to demonstrate the science of this.

While I realize that this is challenging stuff, I do not understand the replies I have received from so many. Some simply dismissed what I said. Some were highly skeptical. Some returned to the various Scriptures which they had already quoted, such as “male and female He created them,” as if there have been no maladies of our sinful nature which could attack the uniqueness of the two sexes.

I have continued to demonstrate that I hold to all LCMS doctrine, and that my desire is to love the Lord with all my heart and my neighbor as myself. Because I cannot undeniably prove anything regarding my malady—and, my experience informs me, I am up against misinformation and prejudice—I am left on the outside looking in, as are others in the LCMS who share my situation.

Instead of being helped, we are shunned.

Instead of being heard, we are ignored.

Instead of being fed with the nourishing Word and Sacraments of Jesus Christ, we are starved.

Is this how Christians are supposed to act toward their brothers and sisters in Christ?

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My experience informs me that most LCMS pastors find that gender dysphoria is a mental illness. I will now take them up on that assumption. One pastor said to me, “You wouldn’t tell a woman, who is anorexic, not to eat,” making that the correlative to my transitioning. Indeed, no one would encourage the anorexic to starve herself. However, if she were not able to conquer her malady, and she did, indeed, eat so little as to continue to worsen, even to hasten her death, no respectable pastor would kick her out of the church!

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Here is what I do NOT want from the LCMS:

  • I do not want the LCMS to accept one’s being transgender as normal, the “God made me this way” which is argued by some.
  • I do not want the LCMS to cave in to the secular LGBTQ agenda.
  • I do not want the LCMS to alter one word of its doctrine.

Here is what I DO want from the LCMS:

  • I want the LCMS to recognize that gender dysphoria is a real, physical condition, suffered by Christians just as believers are prone to experience any aspect of our fallen and fractured nature.
  • I want the LCMS to accept that it has members who strive in right doctrine, who struggle with gender dysphoria, who long to be healed, to remain in their birth sex.
  • I want the LCMS to see that it is possible for a Christian to transition, to hate that transitioning was found to be the only solution to quelling suicidal thoughts and fears of insanity.
  • I want the LCMS to acknowledge and treat us as the equals we are in the Lord’s sight, every last one of us humans a fallen and fractured person, all of us unworthy of the Lord’s grace.
  • I want the LCMS to speak and act compassionately toward we who are burdened and heavy-laden, whom the Lord Jesus encourages to come to Him for rest.

This is how acceptance looks to me. It looks like Christians commiserating with their fellow Christians. It looks like working to understand, not judging and discarding. It looks like longsuffering. It looks like compassion. It looks like 1 Corinthians 13’s definition of love.

It looks like how God the Father looks at us—at ALL of us—through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Two more rays of hope

This is another follow-up to The Lutheran Witness article which sought to answer the question, “Can people really be transgender?” Following are the links to my reaction to the article, how I responded with my letters to the magazine and to the author, and finally the first letter to the editor which took exception with the article.

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/09/28/dear-lcms-transgender-is-not-like-making-a-chevy-into-a-ford/

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/10/04/chevy-into-a-ford-follow-up/

https://eilerspizza.wordpress.com/2017/10/18/chevy-into-a-ford-a-ray-of-hope/

In LW’s December issue are two more letters from folks who were not pleased with the article. If the magazine has followed the typical practice, printing a representative number of letters which reflect the tone of all letters received, the readers of The Lutheran Witness found the article greatly lacking.

While I was hoping my letter would be printed, I am pleased that they published the excellent one from my friend, Norma Sander. I came to know Norma when I was a pastor, her being related to others in our congregation. After I went public regarding my being transgender, she became a grand ally. I am very thankful for her, and that she wrote to LW.

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It is with a heavy heart that I write to say how disappointed I was in the August 2017 article about transgenderism.

The whole problem is the lack of education and understanding. I wonder what kind of research the author did before espousing such simplistic views. Does he know that children from good Christian families tell their parents at a young age that they are really the opposite gender? Can he imagine the heartache and strife accompanying these feelings? Is he aware of the suicide rate among transgender people? Does he really think someone would choose to be transgender?

Please know that there are many LCMS Lutherans who know, are related to, or are friends with transgender people. These people need our prayers and support. They deserve our understanding and willingness to learn.

Amen, Norma! You touched on many vital areas concerning which all simply must be aware. As you write about Lutherans who have trans relatives, that is the perfect introduction to the other outstanding letter.

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Like Pastor Christenson’s response in October, I was dismayed with Pastor Vogt’s article about transgender people in the August LW. It’s not that I disagree that God created us male and female and we can rejoice in how He has made us. God’s original design seems clear that we are created with distinct differences in gender for both body and mind. Part of that difference is that we have an internal sense of our gender. For most of us our internal sense aligns with our physical body. When your internal sense diverges—you are transgender. The biggest problem the Christian church faces with transgender people is that we treat them as modern day lepers—spiritually unclean. Such articles don’t bring compassion and understanding about people for whom Christ died. I have a transgender child, and now many transgender friends and loved ones. They deserve to be treated with respect.

Thank you for this, dear brother in Christ! I found this thought to be especially poignant: “The biggest problem the Christian church faces with transgender people is that we treat them as modern day lepers—spiritually unclean.”

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2017 was pretty quiet for me in the pursuing of my former church body regarding its understanding of gender dysphoria and transgender folks. I was very active in 2016, and was shot down one time after another. I grew disheartened. Couple that with 2017 being my surgery year. I laid low, save for a few letters and my blog posts.

Now that I am done transitioning, and I am heartened by these letters in LW, I am ready to get back to engaging LCMS leadership.

Echoing the two letters, education where there is ignorance, understanding where there is misunderstanding, compassion where there is hardheartedness, and we-are-all-sinners where trans persons are treated like lepers, are my areas of focus.

The job to educate, and to open eyes and hearts, is huge. It is high time the job gets done—for the benefit of all, and to the glory of Jesus Christ.

Meet a trans person: Colleen

 

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Colleen, in the autumn of 2017.

Not everyone is “happy” about transitioning. If it were possible for me to NOT transition and live my life peaceably being a grandfather to my grandchildren, I would jump at the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to disrupt my relationships with my children and cause confusion to my grandchildren by my transition. Yet, I see no viable alternative to transitioning. I’ve come to realize that, before I started on the path to transitioning to live my life as a woman, I was slowly dying. I was living each day, waiting to die a natural death. I call this committing “passive suicide”. There was no hope for me in this life. Now that I am on the path to transitioning to living as a woman, my life has gained new vitality, excitement, joy, hope and peace.

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The opening quote comes from Colleen, a fellow Christian, who prefers, as do I, to remain a member in a congregation of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), but who has been facing the same obstacles as I. This profile of Colleen is what I hope is the first in a series, in which you will get to know trans folks, to learn of their struggles and joys, gains and losses, unique challenges and our common experiences.

Last spring, Colleen was informed about me at her trans group by a trans guy who knew of my blog and, what he thought would be most interesting to Colleen, that I had been a LCMS pastor. A few days after Colleen’s first comment on my blog, we were talking on the phone. Over the past six months, we have become great friends, especially able to commiserate with each other in our transitioning, our Christian faith, and family concerns.

Noting her Irish ancestry, Colleen, who continues to identify as a genetic male while she now considers herself a transgender woman, says that she chose the name because she likes it and it’s Irish. She quickly pointed out that “Colleen” is Irish for “girl,” which, she giggled through the phone, seemed appropriate.

Colleen is a bit older than me and, in commencing hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in January of this year, began her route to finally, fully transitioning about a decade older than when I began. This is not her first attempt at transitioning. She initially considered it at the age of twenty-two, after finishing her army enlistment and becoming a college student. Fourteen years later, she once again was giving it serious thought, so she began seeing a therapist.

The next year, she backed away from transitioning and found a Christian psychologist. She longed to salvage her marriage, to be the best husband and father she could be, and understand what it meant to be a godly man.

Her story matches that of so many who suffer this terrible sex and gender mismatch. She once again found herself struggling to be the man she longed to be. In 1998, she finally tried HRT, taking estrogen transdermally for four months. When she was diagnosed with lymphoma, which would require chemotherapy and radiation, she feared that the estrogen had caused it. Though she was assured it had not, this was a setback to her transitioning.

As is the case for so many of us, Colleen tried to distract herself from her identity issues, which she prefers to call “gender dissonance” rather than “gender dysphoria,” as “dissonance” means “discord” and “unrest,” where “dysphoria” means “ill feelings.” She finds that discord and unrest speak better to the internal struggle for identity. She sought to ease the dissonance by dedicating herself to her three children, and to work and church. Twice divorced, Colleen was dedicated to the job of single dad, and the person whom everyone saw as a regular man excelled in computer work and was a valuable member of his congregation, even becoming an elder and church convention delegate.

But, “he” had been experiencing identity issues since the age of five or six. Colleen says, “I remember a specific time at about the age of six when I recall watching my mother getting ready for work and I was thinking, ‘when I grow up, I’m going to be like her.’” Around age ten, she had seen a sensational tabloid newspaper article about the USA’s first transsexual, Christine Jorgensen. “I was fascinated by the article and I re-read it numerous times. I realized, after reading about Christine, that this was what I was; a transsexual.”

Toward the close of our first phone chat, I told Colleen that I found us to be kindred spirits. For both of us, our ultimate concern is our faith in the Lord Jesus, along with abiding in right doctrine and living God-pleasing lives. Both of us were concerned, first and foremost, that our desire to be female was nothing but a sinful weakness. It was only in learning that our identity issue was as physically real as any malady that we were able to address it head on. “As a committed, born again Christian,” Colleen says, “I did not see how I could transition without sinning in the eyes of God. I have since come to understand that this is not some sinful desire which I feel and am acting on. I suffer from a physical malady. My gender dissonance is likely the result of something which went wrong in my brain development while in my mother’s womb.”

Colleen has continually displayed a desire to be a godly person. In 2006, her mother now diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and father in the early stages of dementia, the dutiful son left Michigan for Alabama to care for them. Both parents now deceased, Alabama stuck as home.

Though she is at an age when many go into retirement, Colleen needs to be working, so she is facing what so many trans folks encounter: looking for a job, only at the beginning of legally changing her name, presenting herself as male in this situation and as female in that, and for the last several months going through the methodical process of telling family, friends, and business associates about her being transgender. She is diligent about considering every situation, wanting things to go best for her and, even more, longing for those she encounters not to be hurt, offended, or put off in any way with her being trans.

This is commendable about Colleen, and it is not unusual for a trans person. My experience with trans women and men has taught me that it is more common than not that we don’t want to upset others. Also, we realize that the smoother we make it for our families, friends, and coworkers, the smoother things will be for us.

For Colleen, this is of the greatest importance to her being a Christian. As she longs to glorify her Lord Jesus, she is keenly aware that we best do this by loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, always striving to live the Golden Rule, treating others as we want them to treat us.

As Colleen has been transitioning this year, she has been regularly pleased that she is gendered by others as a female. Numerous times, as we have chatted, she’s said, “I was presenting as a male, even with a name badge which has my birth name, and they still thought I was a female!” As one who has struggled in this arena, I’ve regularly told her that I hate her . . . jokingly.

Besides transitioning socially, getting her name legally changed, and with HRT, Colleen hopes to have gender confirmation surgery, a tracheal shave (smoothing out the Adam’s apple), and a face lift. Does she need all of this in order to live as her authentic self, a phrase heard from many trans folks? “I have never felt I was not my ‘authentic self.’ I have always been just ‘me.’ From my earliest years, I have experienced the tension of dissonance between my physical body sex and how I perceive myself to be in my brain. Even today, as I am in the middle of transition, I just feel like ‘me.’ I cannot comprehend that I could ‘be’ anything else.”

For the trans person, issues arise in every sphere of life. Because civil rights are involved, the T of transgender has been combined with the LGB of lesbian, gay, and bisexual, and of late the Q of questioning/queer. Colleen would prefer the T not be included because of a common misconception about trans folks. “I think we are being connected with the LGB people because most other people view us as being extreme homosexuals.”

How do we improve the situation? “This is a good news/bad news question. I believe it is good news that the gender identity issue has been publicized. Cisgender people need to be made aware of, and educated about, the reality of gender identity dissonance. This is also the bad news, because the trans community is being very forceful in demanding acceptance and support from all areas of society. This has caused considerable social conflict and misunderstanding. Finding some middle ground will, in my view, likely take decades to accomplish.”

As Colleen faces every struggle, she never forgets her blessings. “My greatest joys in life have been the births and lives of my children and my grandchildren. It has been so rewarding to see my children grow to become self-sufficient, responsible, capable adults. And likewise, I take great satisfaction and joy in participating in the life and growth of my grandchildren (three of five live nearby). It has also been a joy and a struggle as I work through the process of transitioning from living as a male to living as a woman. I have found great peace and contentment since being on hormone replacement therapy. I have never in my life felt such peace. The process of transitioning is also my biggest struggle. As someone who is well known in my local business community, it has been a struggle to inform my business acquaintances of my transition and to gain their acceptance and retain their respect.”

Respect. That’s a big one for almost every trans person. For Colleen, it extends to her Christian faith, which is the most important thing in her life. As a “born again, conservative, evangelical, liturgical, confessional Lutheran Christian,” she longs not to offend the Lord, her fellow Christians, or any human being. Once again, from the quote which opened this piece: “If it were possible for me to NOT transition and live my life peaceably being a grandfather to my grandchildren, I would jump at the opportunity to do so. I don’t want to disrupt my relationships with my children and cause confusion to my grandchildren by my transition.”

Oh, that every American would be as concerned as Colleen, working to live a highly ethical life, with kindness and compassion for all. No matter one’s gender identity or sexual orientation, what a country we would be if we had a lot more like Colleen.

Martin Luther, the Gospel, and I

After becoming Lutheran, I easily identified with Martin Luther. As he did, I grew up Roman Catholic. As his life went, I spent my life trying to figure out how to live well enough so as to please God and not be eternally damned to hell. As with him, I was finally set free by learning the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

After nailing to my Facebook wall my theses regarding what it means to be a Christian who is transgender, and experiencing the fallout from that on several Lutheran websites—from fun being made of me (“He’s nothing more than a man in a dress”), to accusations that I wanted to change the church by introducing new ideas (that is, the entire LGBTQ agenda), to being told that I am going to hell—my identifying with Martin Luther increased five hundred fold.

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While pondering Luther has been my regular companion these past three years, I am sharing my thoughts now because this October 31, 2017, is the five hundredth anniversary of Luther’s coming out on his Facebook-equivalent wall—the front door of his church—with his arguments against the Church, the ninety-five theses which found him in the spot I would find myself: everything from a joke, to a heretic, to damned.

Martin Luther had many arguments with the Church, with teachings that did not align with Scripture, and with various abuses, notably the selling of indulgences with the promise that these notes moved souls from Purgatory to heaven.

Ultimately, Luther’s fight was for the Gospel, for the purity of the Good News about Jesus Christ. Non-biblical teachings—such as Purgatory, praying to saints, the merits of Mary, making satisfaction for sins—had obscured the finished work of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and the granting of eternal life to the believer, and the assurance of salvation because of Christ’s work.

The Church was outraged by Luther. He was viewed as nothing but trouble. Discussion after argument after defending his teachings left Luther with a bounty on his head and excommunicated from the Church.

Luther never wanted to leave the Church. He did not want to start a new one. He loved the Church and, because he loved it, he longed for it to correct its errors. Luther longed to be heard, not to be misunderstood, for his opponents to be able to see and admit to the errors he had rightly recognized. He used Scripture as the basis of his doctrine, and any Church teaching or doctrine which did not align with Scripture was rejected.

The Church, with the pope as head, said that it had authority along with Scripture; when the pope spoke, it was as good as what Paul and Peter had written. Indeed, the pope, they have long taught and still do, sits in Peter’s seat. You don’t tell the pope that he’s wrong.

That’s exactly what Luther did.

A lot.

And he was really good at it.

The pope wanted his head.

Before it got to that point, Luther got to make a defense of his teachings. The image one conjures is of him standing before a council, behind a table, his books stacked high. The council put him on the spot: recant your errors and you can go home and all will be well. Luther finally replied, “I cannot go against Scripture and conscience.”

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His response was perfect. It has been my wisdom ever since I learned it, and especially these past three years.

Luther never wanted to be a trouble maker, and neither did I. I am confident that Luther spent many hours trying to figure out another way than to take his ninety-five arguments and post them for the attention of all and the consternation of many. Surely, Luther had many friends and peers who urged him to back off, to chill out, to come to his senses.

But nothing he argued was against God’s Word, and because he was convinced about the seriousness of these matters he could not go against his conscience. If he had backed down, he would not have been able to live with himself. He would have felt like he was a chicken, nothing more than a punk monk. His conscience would have pricked at him, poked and prodded him. He would have no peace.

As I have more intimately identified with Martin Luther, I have homed in on the purity of the Gospel. I find a correct understanding of the Good News of Jesus Christ to be foundational to my fellow Lutherans (and all Christians) in grasping everything I am trying to teach about intersex conditions, gender dysphoria, living as a transgender Christian, and how the Christian Church should treat us.

Sadly, I too often feel as Luther surely did, that many will never hear, that my claims are too outrageous, that people have turf to protect, that fear—especially in the realm of all things sex and gender—easily wins the day for a multitude. As I have continued in God’s Word, constantly applying it to what I have learned about my confounding malady, I have worked to do everything in a God-pleasing manner, with a Christian conscience.

As with Luther, I am convinced by both Scripture and conscience that my cause is right, and that if I did not speak I would not be able to live with myself, that my conscience would only prick and poke and prod me into submission.

I never wanted to be an outrage to my Missouri Synod Lutherans, or to any Christians. I do not enjoy troubling people. It’s no fun being sneered at as a kook, a freak, a terrible sinner.

The Lord Jesus regularly ate with kooks and freaks and terrible sinners. He had compassion upon them. Ultimately, He laid down His life for them. No charge. No questions asked. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Ahhh, there’s that pure Gospel.  Here’s some more:

“God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him (John 3:17).”

“God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5:19).”

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).”

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).”

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).”

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My favorite picture of Christ’s cross, painted by my daughter, Erin.

Am I a sinner? Yes. Do I continue to sin? I sure do. Might I have sinned, and continue to sin, in my transitioning? You betcha.

In the end, what will save me from my impending death? Will it be my personal purity? That I’ve done enough good works to stave off God’s wrath? That I finally get my head screwed on straight and repent that I caved in to my gender dysphoria and transitioned? Nope, nope, and nope.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of His blood—to be received by faith (Romans 3:23-25).”

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15).”

I am placing my eternal life on the Lord’s telling me the truth. I am counting on Christ’s proclamation from the cross: “It is finished.” I am trusting in the pure Good News about Jesus Christ.

That’s what Christians do, setting everything else aside and “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2).

That’s what Martin Luther fought for: Christ alone, given by grace alone, received through faith alone, taken from Scripture alone.

I cannot go against Scripture or my conscience. Every night, after I recite the Apostles’ Creed and Martin Luther’s evening prayer*, I close my eyes with a clear conscience and go to sleep in peace, thankful that Jesus loves us sinners.

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*I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have graciously kept me this day; and I pray that You would forgive me all my sins where I have done wrong, and graciously keep me this night. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.