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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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.

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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.

Transgender prejudice in the LCMS?

Screenshot 2016-05-07 16.25.46

The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) is the church body in which I was a minister for eighteen years, the church body to which Julie and I returned in April after nine months in the more progressive ELCA. I needed to return to the LCMS so that I might have a voice in it.

Last week, an essay was posted to the LCMS website regarding the current bathroom debate. I exchanged several messages with its author, Kim Schave, in which we were able to agree on nothing except our common hope in Jesus Christ. Three times, I posted comments to the blog. Each one was not approved and they were deleted. My attempt was unsuccessful to get this critique to her, before I posted it.

Her essay is here: https://blogs.lcms.org/2016/male-and-female-he-created-them

Entitled, “Male and Female He Created Them,” quoting Genesis 5:2 in the King James Version, the essay is subtitled “Protecting the Vulnerable in the Transgender Public Facilities Debate.” I found the piece to be a haphazardly assembled series of thoughts. The author told me, “The point of my post was to offer consolation to Christians who have been mocked, ridiculed and insulted for holding fast to the Holy Word of God in this debate over new policies being pushed on us by the LGBT lobby—policies that put the rest of the population at risk.”

I appreciate the desire to console Christians who are often derided, even hated, when their goal is to be true to God’s Word and to protect people. What I do not appreciate is information presented in a way which displays biases, and too often is superficial and incorrect.

Mrs. Schave begins with a series of questions, beginning with, “Have you been called a bigot?” and concluding with, “Have you noticed how the argument has been twisted to claim that we are afraid of those identifying as transgender as the demographic we fear will exploit those in public restrooms and changing areas?” She then proceeds with a series of statistics and news citations which, because of the way she presents the information, the very likely possibility is created that “those identifying as transgender” will indeed be the demographic Christians fear.

She begins her third paragraph: “It is estimated that up to 0.3% of the U.S. population identifies as transgender, roughly 700,000 individuals. It is also interesting to note that there are 747,048 registered sex offenders nationwide in the U.S.” How is this interesting? How do these two categories have anything to do with each other? I suggested to her that by placing these two statistics together she gives the impression that there is a correlation between trans people and sex offenders. She replied, “My intention with quoting the statistics together had nothing to do with linking the two groups and everything to do with demonstrating that there are similar numbers of folks desiring to be protected in the transgender community as there are criminals who have sexually violated others.” So what? It means nothing that these numbers are similar, but placing them together might put an errant, prejudiced thought into the mind of the reader.

The next sentence begins, “While the prevalence of sexual violence among the transgender population is disconcerting…” Following the link she provided, the cited page clearly says that transgender people experience “shockingly high levels of sexual abuse and assault” against them. Why didn’t Mrs. Schave write, “While the prevalence of sexual violence AGAINST,” rather than “AMONG”? Writing “among” makes it sound as if trans people have a propensity for committing sexual abuse and assault.

This immediately follows the previous sentences which cite how many U. S. trans people and registered sex offenders there are. The impression is vivid: trans people are sex offenders. I asked her to correct all of this. It remains.

This sets the tone for the entire essay. How can the reader continue without a bias against transgender people? I do not contend that it was the author’s intention to create a bias. Regardless of intention, the bias has been created.

After citing numerous news stories about perverts in public places, Mrs. Schave moves to a brief discussion of gender dysphoria, beginning with this: “The medical community has thus far not completely caved to the LGBT lobbyists.” She then discusses how gender dysphoria is listed in the Diagnostic Manual as a disorder, adding “much like other mental disorders” without justifying her addition, and then neglects to outline why gender dysphoria needs to be categorized as a disorder so that those who transition, who often desire or require medical care, might qualify for health insurance benefits, which, more and more, cover these things in the manner they insure any viable condition.

The balance of the essay discusses Scripture and a Christian’s response to these matters. She writes, “When we despise the very way in which He lovingly formed us, we sin against Him.” When she mentions the oft-cited Deuteronomy 22:5 against “transvestism,”—now always called crossdressing—and insists that all people are made “male and female” as Genesis 5:2 teaches, she ignores intersex conditions as if they do not exist.

When Mrs. Schave writes, “Given the fall of mankind in Genesis 3 when sin entered the world, it is not a surprise that our view of the sexes would be corrupted,” she forgets that way more than “our view of the sexes” has been corrupted, but our very sexes have been corrupted, just as every aspect of the human condition has been corrupted. There are many intersex conditions, including hermaphroditism, ambiguous genitalia, chromosomal variations, and endocrine disruption.

If I had been created solely male or female, I would not be a transgender person. Mine is a physical condition from the womb as real as for the one inflicted with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, as ever-present as for the one dealing with Multiple Sclerosis, as physically debilitating as for the one undergoing treatment for a life-threatening disease.

Deuteronomy 22:5 does not apply to me (and one wonders why a multitude of verses surrounding it are ignored by the modern church while this one is regularly used) because I am not a male pretending to be a female, or seeking to get my sexual kicks, or trying to deceive anyone. My brain, where my endocrine system was disrupted and malformed, left me with a female identity. After a lifetime of battling myself and my finally becoming suicidal, transitioning to living as a female is for me viable medical treatment.

After citing an LCMS document on gender dysphoria, Mrs. Schave writes, “Indeed it is possible as a Christian to oppose these new understandings being foisted upon us of practices long considered sinful, yet treat those we encounter who struggle with such inclinations with dignity and respect.”

I wrote to her, “Please, learn about this topic before writing about it, before condemning me as a sinner for something you know nothing about—the same way blacks and whites were condemned as sinners when they married each other, but now it’s okay by God’s Word— the same way people with depression were condemned as sinners because they didn’t rejoice in the good life the Lord gave them, but now we know they have a real, physical malady—the same way people were condemned as ‘playing God’ when the first heart transplants were performed, but now these surgeries are accepted by all.”

This summarizes much of why I long to educate in the LCMS. Mixed-race marriages, depression, and heart transplants are but three things Christians once condemned and, without the Word of God changing, now are accepted. What caused the change? Education. Understanding. New and more information about previously unknown things. Yes, even cultural shifts. Gender dysphoria and being transgender is akin to where we were fifty years ago with the three cited issues.

I find my church body sorely lacking in humility. Church leaders are regularly writing about transgender issues as if they possess the final word on it. They argue as if this is cut and dried, strictly applying theology and morality, yet one of the LCMS’ own theologians, my seminary classmate, Rev. Scott Stiegemeyer, wrote last year in our alma mater’s scholarly publication that this is not a condition which is cured by theology and repentance, and it is an intersex condition.

Mrs. Schave concludes her essay, “Often times it feels as though the battle is lost. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57).” I agree with her on both our victory in Christ and our continuing struggle. I often feel that my battle is lost in trying to educate Christians, and especially the LCMS which is beloved to me.

The Lord has taught me that to whom much has been entrusted, much more will be asked (Luke 12:48). I trust that He has led me to this day, to fight the good fight of the faith, to rely on the pure Gospel of forgiveness, life, and salvation in Jesus Christ, and to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8), which, among others, would be we transgender persons.

I stand with Kim Schave in our faith in Jesus Christ. I also stand with her in my concern for children and others who need protection. I desire calm conversation in the bathroom debate, with no one foisting an agenda on another. Finally, in all of this, let us speak truthfully, without prejudice, caring for our neighbor as much as we care for ourselves.