Julie’s foreword to my book

Having completed the final edit of my book, Julie said, “I’ve been thinking about writing a foreword.”

“Oh. Wow. Okay. Yeah, I like the sound of that. Do you have in mind what you’d write?”

Giggling, she replied, “No.”

“Well, now that you’ve mentioned it, I love the idea. Just start writing, it will come to you.”

She retrieved a pen and pad. She started writing:

Soon, she was typing. A few hours later, she showed it to me. Immediately, I was dazzled.

I am but a few days from offering the book for sale. I present Julie’s foreword now because she sets the tone for what I’ve written, the spirit in which I’ve described the challenges I’ve endured.

Julie’s spirit shines through her words—the lovely person with whom I fell in love by her words, before I ever saw her face.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“I would have left in a heartbeat.”

The declaration is volunteered by many, men and women alike, upon hearing the story about a transgender husband transitioning to live as a woman. The question I, the wife, expected—“Did you ever think about leaving?”—is bypassed, and the listeners fast forward to their own bold assertion about hitting the road. As though even asking the question about staying means there is a sliver of possibility they themselves would have to live through something so unfathomable, so unpleasant. Better to nip that in the bud, slam that door shut. Outta here, in a heartbeat.

How a couple handles a big situation has more to do with how they handled all the little things in all the previous years. Since our wedding on December 30, 2001, I’d learned a lot from Greg Eilers about respect, unconditional love, and kindness. We’d built a pretty deep store of those Golden Rule treasures, so it was only natural that we drew upon it when Greg’s gender dysphoria upended our lives.

I couldn’t declare “I didn’t sign up for this”, because this—facing hurdles with my life partner—was exactly what I did sign up to do. I couldn’t turn my back on the person I loved, because I knew he, without hesitation, would face any deluge of difficulties I threw his way. I couldn’t run the other direction because, I asked, what would I want my spouse to do if I were in his shoes? I couldn’t shout “This is not fair!”, because life isn’t about fairness. It’s about being our best for others.

We tend to view relationships as a give and take proposition. That what we give and what we receive is measurable and should somehow balance out the scales. As if every checkmark in the debit column deserves a credit entry on the next line.

What if we saw it this way instead: that both sides of the scale belong equally to both partners, that all the debits and all the credits belong collectively to the team.

Living through a spouse’s gender dysphoria and transition from one gender to another seems a very debit-heavy transaction. It is excruciating to watch the person you love experience the torment of being one gender on the inside and another in public. It is painful to see your spouse feel trapped in an unchangeable life and view death as the only escape. It is sorrowful to mourn the loss of the only identity (husband and wife) you’ve known with this person. It is daunting to fathom an existence where you expect to be condemned and ostracized. It is nerve-racking to think about how your family, your friends, the world will see you.

Life has an abundance of challenges, but the majority of them are understood and accepted. Most everyone will commiserate with you when your spouse has a terminal illness, a disability-causing accident, an affair, a job loss. People can imagine themselves in common situations. They have a frame of reference. You might still feel isolated, but at least you know you’re not the only one.

The crossing of gender boundaries, though, is just too weird, too outlandish, too forbidden for most people to wrap their heads around. You don’t have the luxury of calling up friends and family, of drawing on a readily-available support network, to help get you through this. This—the “my spouse is transgender”—starts out a closely-held yet extremely-loaded secret—a frightening one to share. And when you do begin to share, it’s very often not support you get, but highly-opinionated directives and ultimatums.

It’s no wonder most marriages don’t survive a gender transition.

Jesus teaches us in Romans 5 that we should “rejoice in our suffering”. Quoting scripture doesn’t take the hard stuff away. But understanding the point—looking though our earthly suffering to the ultimate spiritual reward God gives us, eternal life with our Savior—helps us take a bigger picture approach to the struggles we have in life.

Despite the trying times, despite the unconquerable mountains and precarious ravines that riddled the landscape of my spouse’s gender dysphoria, I always had one thing to cling to: hope. Hope for the four things I desired for my spouse—that he stay alive, that he keep his sanity, that he be as healthy and whole as possible, and maybe even that he achieve happiness. Hope that Greg and I would emerge as a couple—however that looked—stronger, better, and deeper in our love. Hope is a powerful little thing. Hope let me redefine the debits as credits.

It is my hope that Greg’s story, and the story of all transgender people, will prompt others to see the bigger picture. To set aside their preconceived notions about what it means to be transgender. To turn their ears and listen to a group of people struggling to be heard. To brave their awkward feelings and step into a space they’ve never been.

Comfort zones are tough to give up. When faced with an unfamiliar situation, particularly one vastly different than we are accustomed to, our tendency is to recoil, get back to the easy. Something new might pique our curiosity, but we’re careful about getting too close, cautious about letting ourselves be vulnerable. Yet, there are some really valuable benefits outside our bubbles: Enrichment. Love. Growth. Understanding. Compassion. Selflessness. Humanity.

Would I leave my comfort zone to stay with Greg? In a heartbeat.

Advertisements

Silence Is Rusty #5

855-suffering-quotes

“Being a person is hard.”

The day after I told my daughter, Jackie, about my gender dysphoria, this was her primary reaction. For the dozens of people I told face-to-face, and then the hundreds who provided feedback when I went public online, Jackie’s reaction easily was the one that most stuck with me.

I like it because it is a realization about life, with an underlying empathy. What I heard Jackie say in those five words were, “No one gets off easy. We all have our own struggles and trials and hurts. I have mine and you, Dad, have yours. I heard you loud and clear last night, how deep your pain is. I feel for you.”

This is empathy, the finding of a connection with other humans which drives our caring for them.

Empathy feels. Its opposite is an “if you just tried harder” contempt.

Compassion cares. Its opposite is “I don’t care” indifference.

Affinity finds in the other an ally. Its opposite is “I don’t need this” animosity.

Affection forms and then fuels empathy and compassion. Its opposite is antipathy—lack of caring—which inflames hatred, which deepens into prejudice and bigotry and a sense that one is superior to another, which incites narrow-mindedness, unfairness, and separation from those who are different from us.

inspirational-quotes_16345-4

This came close to home in the 1990s when my sister, Sue’s, TMJ grew very serious. After surgery on her jaws she could not talk for eight weeks. The surgery did not provide the healing she sought. Her jaw pain has been awful all these years.

Sue has had to pick and choose when she can be with people. She and I are alike; she is super-friendly and loves talking with folks. But the more she talks, the more pain she has, and the more she has to deal with for days, even weeks after the event.

This caused her to become a bit of a loner. She avoided some family functions. And some of us were not always kind in our assessment, criticizing her for going to that thing but not to this one, of using her ailment to her advantage. Giving her the benefit of the doubt was seldom heard by those who had an opinion about her.

It was when I finally came beside Sue that I grew in my empathy for her. The closer we became, the better I heard her, the more I cared about her. Suffering must get personal, or else we will always work to avoid it.

My earliest lesson was my brother, Jim. Visiting him at Fort Custer, near Battle Creek, we kids were exposed to people whom society dubbed “monstrosities.” Our mother told us that they are no different from us, that we are no better than them. Her guidance absolutely formed me.

Suffering the loss of a child did the same. My compassion exploded for all people who suffer sudden, tragic loss. Then, as a pastor, as I ministered to folks in every death situation, I learned that it doesn’t matter how the loss occurred, but that all death stinks and hurts to our core, and we all need to feel for those who suffer this loss.

When I went public with my gender dysphoria, I finally could appreciate what my sister went through, longing to be understood, for people not to judge what they do not know, and not to decide for me how much pain I was in. One pastor, with whom I used to be very close, reacted this way when I told him that I had grown suicidal and truly feared that I would go insane: “Oh, come on. Surely, it isn’t that bad.”

You can bet that my sister never said anything like that. After Julie, she became my biggest ally.

suffering-is-one-of-lifes-great-teachers-quote-1

These twelve days in which I cannot speak, friends are encouraging me with their stories. One woman explained how after serious dental work she was instructed that for six weeks she could not bend over, sneeze, drink through a straw, go under water (they had a pool), had to sleep sitting up, and could not blow her nose. A man told me of his late father-in-law who had suffered a stroke and became speechless. He got a spelling board, where he pointed out letters. Sometimes he got so frustrated trying to spell he would throw the board across the room.

I remember how often my mom would say why she watched soap operas. “When I see their problems, mine don’t look so bad.” Over the years, many people would quote this to me, but too often it was to downplay their situation. I would not let them do it. Their suffering was their suffering and they did not need to lessen it by comparing to someone supposedly suffering worse than them.

Who says they were suffering worse? Suffering differently, perhaps, but worse? Who decides that? Why do we keep score?  Why are we always deciding for others what their situation is? Why are we so stinking judgmental?

The woman’s post-dental surgery situation, the man with the stroke, and being reminded of my sister’s post-surgery silence all help me keep my situation in perspective. For that, I am grateful the folks shared these with me.

The word which best describes people in their falling short of goodness and caring is the word “selfish.” Our inclination is to think of our self first, and when that becomes difficult because of suffering—whether our own or someone else’s—we are prone to avoid  or remove the suffering. That is what breaks up many marriages, strains families, ends loads of friendships, results in some people killing themselves.

I know that the Lord doesn’t like suffering any more than I but, as I like to say, He is the ultimate lemonade-maker out of life’s lemons. Romans 5:3-4: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” While the next verse directly ties this to our trust in Jesus Christ, this is a truth which can be applied anywhere, for anyone: Embrace suffering so as to work good with it.

For the suffering/perseverance/character/hope track to come about, we need to directly deal with our suffering and the suffering of family and friends and community. If we slough it off, we gain nothing. And neither does anyone else gain anything from us.

Being a person is hard. It’s not only hard for me and for you, but it is hard for one hundred percent of us. I long for a world in which all people grasp this.

If we will suffer together, it will happen that we will care for each other. If we will not, the world we have is the one in which we will continue to clash.

slide_71

Five days are in the books.

Seven days to go.

A week from today, I see the surgeon and have my first opportunity to hear how my voice will sound.

Make good use of suffering

I wrote this the fifth day after having surgery on my vocal cords, hoping to raise the pitch of my voice.  I would have to refrain from talking for twelve days.  Many lessons in life were coming together.

855-suffering-quotes

“Being a person is hard.”

The day after I told my daughter, Jackie, about my gender dysphoria, this was her primary reaction. For the dozens of people I told face-to-face, and then the hundreds who provided feedback when I went public online, Jackie’s reaction easily was the one that most stuck with me.

I like it because it is a realization about life, with an underlying empathy. What I heard Jackie say in those five words were, “No one gets off easy. We all have our own struggles and trials and hurts. I have mine and you, Dad, have yours. I heard you loud and clear last night, how deep your pain is. I feel for you.”

This is empathy, the finding of a connection with other humans which drives our caring for them.

Empathy feels. Its opposite is an “if you just tried harder” contempt.

Compassion cares. Its opposite is “I don’t care” indifference.

Affinity finds in the other an ally. Its opposite is “I don’t need this” animosity.

Affection forms and then fuels empathy and compassion. Its opposite is antipathy—lack of caring—which inflames hatred, which deepens into prejudice and bigotry and a sense that one is superior to another, which incites narrow-mindedness, unfairness, and separation from those who are different from us.

inspirational-quotes_16345-4

This came close to home in the 1990s when my sister, Sue’s, TMJ grew very serious. After surgery on her jaws she could not talk for eight weeks. The surgery did not provide the healing she sought. Her jaw pain has been awful all these years.

Sue has had to pick and choose when she can be with people. She and I are alike; she is super-friendly and loves talking with folks. But the more she talks, the more pain she has, and the more she has to deal with for days, even weeks after the event.

This caused her to become a bit of a loner. She avoided some family functions. And some of us were not always kind in our assessment, criticizing her for going to that thing but not to this one, of using her ailment to her advantage. Giving her the benefit of the doubt was seldom heard by those who had an opinion about her.

It was when I finally came beside Sue that I grew in my empathy for her. The closer we became, the better I heard her, the more I cared about her. Suffering must get personal, or else we will always work to avoid it.

My earliest lesson was my brother, Jim. Visiting him at Fort Custer, near Battle Creek, we kids were exposed to people whom society dubbed “monstrosities.” Our mother told us that they are no different from us, that we are no better than them. Her guidance absolutely formed me.

Suffering the loss of a child did the same. My compassion exploded for all people who suffer sudden, tragic loss. Then, as a pastor, as I ministered to folks in every death situation, I learned that it doesn’t matter how the loss occurred, but that all death stinks and hurts to our core, and we all need to feel for those who suffer this loss.

When I went public with my gender dysphoria, I finally could appreciate what my sister went through, longing to be understood, for people not to judge what they do not know, and not to decide for me how much pain I was in. One pastor, with whom I used to be very close, reacted this way when I told him that I had grown suicidal and truly feared that I would go insane: “Oh, come on. Surely, it isn’t that bad.”

You can bet that my sister never said anything like that. After Julie, she became my biggest ally.

suffering-is-one-of-lifes-great-teachers-quote-1

These twelve days in which I cannot speak, friends are encouraging me with their stories. One woman explained how after serious dental work she was instructed that for six weeks she could not bend over, sneeze, drink through a straw, go under water (they had a pool), had to sleep sitting up, and could not blow her nose. A man told me of his late father-in-law who had suffered a stroke and became speechless. He got a spelling board, where he pointed out letters. Sometimes he got so frustrated trying to spell he would throw the board across the room.

I remember how often my mom would say why she watched soap operas. “When I see their problems, mine don’t look so bad.” Over the years, many people would quote this to me, but too often it was to downplay their situation. I would not let them do it. Their suffering was their suffering and they did not need to lessen it by comparing to someone supposedly suffering worse than them.

Who says they were suffering worse? Suffering differently, perhaps, but worse? Who decides that? Why do we keep score?  Why are we always deciding for others what their situation is? Why are we so stinking judgmental?

The woman’s post-dental surgery situation, the man with the stroke, and being reminded of my sister’s post-surgery silence all help me keep my situation in perspective. For that, I am grateful the folks shared these with me.

The word which best describes people in their falling short of goodness and caring is the word “selfish.” Our inclination is to think of our self first, and when that becomes difficult because of suffering—whether our own or someone else’s—we are prone to avoid  or remove the suffering. That is what breaks up many marriages, strains families, ends loads of friendships, results in some people killing themselves.

I know that the Lord doesn’t like suffering any more than I but, as I like to say, He is the ultimate lemonade-maker out of life’s lemons. Romans 5:3-4: “We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” While the next verse directly ties this to our trust in Jesus Christ, this is a truth which can be applied anywhere, for anyone: Embrace suffering so as to work good with it.

For the suffering/perseverance/character/hope track to come about, we need to directly deal with our suffering and the suffering of family and friends and community. If we slough it off, we gain nothing. And neither does anyone else gain anything from us.

Being a person is hard. It’s not only hard for me and for you, but it is hard for one hundred percent of us. I long for a world in which all people grasp this.

If we will suffer together, it will happen that we will care for each other. If we will not, the world we have is the one in which we will continue to clash.

slide_71