Meet my first wife

Christmas Day, 2018. Kim and her husband, Randy, drove down from Michigan to spend the holiday with Julie and me, two of our kids, and two of our grandchildren. Of course, Kim brought homemade cookies!

In December, I spoke with my first wife, Kim, about my book and her role in it. I desired her blessing, and to assure her that I address our marriage in a responsible way.

Me, humorously: “Don’t worry, I go easy on you.”
Her, laughing: “You’d better!”

It didn’t hurt that I told her Julie read the book and approved of how I covered sensitive things. Of the two of us, Kim considers Julie the wise and mature one!

From the book, here’s how I tricked … er, turned Kim’s head, so that we wound up dating.

Kim entered my world because of her friend, who was interested in my buddy. Brian and I were in a bowling league, and they visited the lanes so that Kim’s friend could try to get near to mine. Brian wasn’t interested, but she persisted.

Thanksgiving evening, Brian and I went to a movie. The girls learned of it, found us, and sat with us. Kim, who had not warmed up to me at all the several times the girls visited the bowling alley, remained cool. As we chatted before the movie, she shushed me. “You’re so loud.” I also knew she felt I was too demonstrative, from comments at the lanes. After nailing a strike led me to do a happy dance, I heard, “You’re a show-off.”

After the movie we went to a disco. This was 1978. Discos were all the rage, even in Muskegon, Michigan. The four of us sat in the kaleidoscope-light-drenched room enjoying one Bee Gees hit after another, when Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana” came on. I casually remarked, “I have every Barry Manilow album.”

Kim turned toward me. Barry Manilow changed everything.

In the book, I didn’t write about how different were our families. I worked with her older brother in the iron foundry in Montague, and his personality clued me in as to that of Kim’s parents. They certainly were good-natured, lovely people, but my goofy sense of humor was worlds apart from them. They made my traditional, conservative beliefs and lifestyle appear that I was comedian George Carlin’s hippy dippy weatherman.

Meeting Kim’s dad is seared into my memory. It was a snowy December Friday evening. I arrived at their house to pick up Kim for our first date after Barry Manilow brought us together. Mr. Bassett was eating supper at the dining room table, which was directly across the living room from the front door.

I had traipsed through several inches of fluffy snow, and my boots were a mess. He looked at me. No words. Expressionless. In my exuberant manner, I said, “Hi, Mr. Bassett. I’m Greg Eilers. I’d come in and shake your hand, but I don’t want to track in snow.” He looked at me. No words. Expressionless.

Oh, gravy. What have I gotten myself into?

I came to find him to be a good guy. We were different from each other, that’s for sure, but we always got on well.

Kim’s mom was the chatty one. She never got my sense of humor—a pretty common experience for me!—but we also got on well. Kim’s folks let me marry their only daughter, so I had no complaints.

They lived east of Whitehall. I was four miles west in Montague, still at my folks’. As Kim and I found a church together (the book covers that), Kim stayed overnight on Saturdays. For the eight months we did that, virtually without fail she brought over fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies.

One of the several ways to this guy’s heart were traversed through his chocolate-chip-cookie-loving stomach.

For every reason I adore Julie, I loved Kim, and continue to hold dear those attributes. She is all parts smart and kind and fun and hard-working and responsible and compassionate and thoughtful and generous—everything one desires in a mate and the mother of his children.

Early in our marriage, we experienced the types of traumatic and financial hardships that often bring down couples, and just as we had conquered those and were settled in we went through the upheaval of my quitting my job and our leaving home—with four small children!—so that I could pursue the ministry. We weathered all of those years well.

The external things had nothing to do with our divorce. In 2013, I learned and finally realized her loss of love was all on me.

As Kim neared age forty, she experienced an event unlike any I’ve ever known. Here’s a book excerpt:

Kim had attended Thursday morning Bible class at the McGregor congregation, then headed across the Mississippi, to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, for some shopping. Overnight, it had rained hard. The ground was drenched.

One crosses from Prairie du Chien into Iowa at Marquette, then follows the highway south to McGregor before hitting the bluffs and hollows on the way to Guttenberg. The road south from Marquette runs with the river immediately on one side and the steep bluff on the other.

Kim was tooling along at the forty-five speed limit. She could have no idea that, ahead atop the bluff, a forty-foot-tall, fourteen-inch-in-diameter tree had pulled loose from its rain-drenched mooring. Down the side of the bluff it came, landing squarely across the windshield of our van then, miraculously as Kim hit the brakes, bouncing off and landing on the highway.

Kim was both shaken and stirred, but not physically injured. The van would need significant repairs, but would be fixed. Kim’s heart, however, was forever altered. Her comments to me, displaying her frustration, increased in intensity.

A few months after that, Kim told me that she was contemplating leaving me. A year after the tree incident, she filed for divorce.

Finally, one last book selection, an important note regarding my attitude in writing about delicate matters:

There are two events in this book of which I write most delicately, my divorce being the first. While I provide enough detail so as to make sense of things, I am not some tell-all author with an agenda to scathe those about whom he writes. Quite the opposite, I am not interested in burning bridges. I long to remain in good relationships with these very people, one of whom is my former wife who has been tremendously gracious to me so that we regained a marvelous friendship.

I write with no anger or bitterness. Though I hurt deeply by being divorced, I eventually grasped why Kim could not remain in our marriage. I am very thankful to Kim for everything she was to me and for me, and continues to be.

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Book excerpt: family rejection

“A Roller Through a Hurricane” is far more than my memoir. I use my experience to explore how transgender persons are affected—the internal struggles and the external challenges.

The following section from “Family Rejection” hits home to every trans person. These are the portions of the book where I long to show the reader how profoundly affected we are when we bare our souls and then face the fallout.

It doesn’t get any closer to home than family.

I wanted my old life back.

I bet you know the feeling, when something has happened and you want a time machine to get back to before everything went wrong. Before your spouse left you. Before you lost your job. Before the doctor’s pronouncement of cancer. Before a loved one’s death.

From my reading and getting to know trans folks, I believe one hundred percent of us experience rejections by family. Sometimes, it is stark: “You’re no longer my child.” Often, it is blunt: “I’ll never use your new name.” Regularly, they persist in using the pronouns of our birth sex, no matter how much we appeal to them to correct it. Many times, they set ground rules: “You can attend family functions as you, but not as this person you are pretending to be.” And, in that decree, they show their attitude regarding our transitioning. That they have not truly heard us. Have not grasped our struggle. Our pain. How badly we have been torn apart for so many years. How much we need to figure this out so we can finally experience peace. Wholeness of being.

We suffer the worst rejection from the ones we need the most. We are not respected in the place we most deeply long to be understood, to be valued, to be beloved.

Yes, there are allies. Perhaps one of the two parents will be understanding, even wonderfully so. A sibling or two will hear us and rally to our side. Grandparents often surprise us with their love, their ability to accept our revelation, when we fear their being two generations removed will make that impossible.

We are deeply grateful for the ones who accept us. We rely on them. We cling to their affection. They often go to bat for us. They try to pave inroads with other family members. They are the ones who might be heard when we are no longer given an opportunity to speak.

Sadly, though, we rarely achieve a full round of acceptance. Without the complete support of family, there remain gatherings to which we are quietly not invited, or blatantly unwelcome: “You will in no way go to the funeral.”

These are the stories I have heard firsthand from trans folks. These are the accounts I have read on social media and blogs and in books, and in emails I’ve received. These are the situations of my own experience. These are the matters which plumb the depths of our hearts and the pain we suffer, the aching for love, the longing to be understood. To be included.

When we come out, we often are not allowed in.

For the rest of the story, look for my book to be published soon. I will provide details here and on my Facebook page: “A Roller Coaster Through a Hurricane.”

Read my book free!

I am aiming to publish an e-edition of my book, “A Roller Coaster Through a Hurricane,” this month, then follow with a printed version.

Amazon makes available offering ebooks for free, for a few days. The purpose is to encourage people to read it and post a review of it on the author’s Amazon page. The more reviews, the better chance a book has of being recognized.

To give me a boost, I would love to have you read and review my book . . .

  • If you know me well or if you don’t.
  • If you are a relative, old friend, or newer one.
  • If you have agreed or disagreed with my living as a transgender person, are a Christian or not, and so forth.

In other words, it doesn’t matter who you are, or who you are to me, if you are interested in reading and reviewing then I am interested in you.

A few things for you to know about the book:

  • It’s my life story, but I concentrate on the transgender aspect.
  • I describe my experience, but I use it to explain issues which affect all trans persons.
  • It’s the length of a typical novel.
  • I keep the chapters short, each one with a theme.
  • My proofreaders found it to move along quickly.

If you raise your hand to indicate your interest, I will ask you to agree with a few things:

  • You will read the book in a timely manner which in my view is a week, no more than two.
  • Then, you will write a review and post it on my Amazon page.
  • Your review can be anywhere from short, as in, “I didn’t want to put it down!” to a detailed look at key topics.
  • You may sign your review with your name, include your city and state or not, or simply give your initials, your Twitter handle, or whatever works for you.

If a lot of folks indicate their interest in this offer to free read and review, I will likely select from them a group which provides a variety of viewpoints. If you have the opportunity to read for free, I will inform you when it will be available.

Let me know of your interest by emailing me at porthopepizza@gmail.com, placing a comment on this post, via Facebook Messenger, or in a comment on the Facebook post which links to this.

Thank you!

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!

“My New V—– Won’t Make Me Happy”

This op-ed, the title of which I discreetly edited for my heading, published in The New York Times on November 24, quickly fueled a storm of conversation about trans persons, surgeries, insurance coverage, and oh so much more. You can read it here:

Andrea Long Chu begins with this: “Next Thursday, I will get a vagina. . . . Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound; as a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain. This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. That shouldn’t disqualify me from getting it.”

If Chu were looking to be provocative, to gain a name for herself, she nailed it. But if she wanted to be helpful—

  • helpful to other trans folks,
  • helpful to those who are weighing whether to have surgeries or begin HRT,
  • helpful to those who are pondering bringing loved ones into their tightly held secret that they suffer gender dysphoria,
  • even to be helpful to ultra-conservative trans-deniers that they might come to understand trans persons

—then I find her to have laid a big, fat egg.

And the egg isn’t only on her face. It’s all over transgender persons and the transgender conversation.

From what Chu wrote about her experience on hormones, I wouldn’t expect her to be overly optimistic that she will be happier after gender affirmation surgery. She wrote this: “I feel demonstrably worse since I started on hormones.” And this: “Like many of my trans friends, I’ve watched my dysphoria balloon since I began transition.” And this: “I was not suicidal before hormones. Now I often am.”

Truly, I am befuddled why Chu transitioned, or, when recognizing these dramatic negatives, she continued.

And who are her trans friends? I’ve not heard these things from the many trans women and trans men I’ve gotten to know.

And I went through gender affirmation surgery. My neo vagina healed nicely. If my body reckons it as a wound, it hasn’t informed me that it does. And, painful attention to maintain the neo vagina? Yeah, there is some pain. For awhile.  It wears off.

Sheesh, Andrea. Talk about painting something as negatively as one can.

All of this might arise from her mindset. Earlier in the piece, she wrote, “I like to say that being trans is the second-worst thing that ever happened to me. (The worst was being born a boy.)” [parentheses hers] I understand this thinking and have written about it. Since the mind is the quarterback of the body, it calls the shots, and if a person identifies as female, then the easy, even automatic, response is to wish the body conformed to the brain. But why not the other way around? Could not Chu just as easily, from another mindset, have written the following? “The worst was being born with a mismatch of brain and body. Oh, that I could always have felt that I am a boy to match my body!”

Before writing how she feels worse since starting hormones, Chu says it is wrong for a person to think that feeling better will accompany transitioning. But isn’t that the entire point of transitioning? Isn’t it improved health which is behind every aspect of the process, to get the mind and body and the way one lives into alignment so that one feels better?

When I undertook living full time as a female—and, if you are curious, what happened with me, this year, resuming living as a male, is unrelated to any of this conversation—my twins demons were addressed. My suicidal thoughts almost entirely resolved; only rarely did a short term one pop up. The fear I had, that I would lose my mind—which had grown so severe, so real, that I often thought it would happen any given day—was entirely extinguished.

If I could sit with Andrea Long Chu, I would softly and compassionately ask her why she continued with her transition, and why she is going through with having her genitals reformed. From her essay, for the world of me it seems that she is doing all of this to prove a point, which she makes toward the end of her essay, and on which I comment in my concluding paragraphs.

I’ve read one response from a trans person, who noted that Chu doesn’t speak for all trans folks. She sure doesn’t. To me, not only is Chu not on the same playing field with the transgender population, she’s not even observing from the bleachers.

Chu seems to have forgotten a vital point, especially when someone lives in a way which is controversial—in this case, transgender—and discusses a topic which is controversial—here, gender affirmation surgery and all of the other aspects of transitioning—and writes about it publicly, and all the more so in a world-wide-read publication such as The New York Times: Chu doesn’t speak for all of us, but many—especially the trans-deniers—will hear her as doing so.

I feel that she threw all of us under the struggle bus.

I am confident she submitted this with the desire to do good, to benefit others. I find that she completely and utterly failed.

Chu concludes her essay: “There are no good outcomes in transition. There are only people, begging to be taken seriously.”

Yes, Andrea, every trans persons longs to be taken seriously, and who are you to suggest that there are no good outcomes in transition? Do you not see that your former assertion negates your latter point?

If a thing will not have a good outcome, why do the thing? If a thing will not have a good outcome, isn’t that a thing from which we run, a thing we avoid, a thing to be set aside in search of a thing which will produce a good outcome?

We figure out Chu’s thesis along the way but, finally, nearing the conclusion, she states it: “Let me be clear: I believe that surgeries of all kinds can and do make an enormous difference in the lives of trans people. But I also believe that surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want.”

There it is. “A simple demonstration of want.” I want it, therefore I get to have it.

No, Andrea Long Chu. Not a simple demonstration of want. Need? You betcha. Need, for the purpose of healing and improved health? You betcha.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

From glaad.org.

309, worldwide.

23, in the USA.

Murdered. Simply for being transgender.

And those are the ones we know of.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Imagine being killed, simply because you are different.

It’s easy, if you try.

The lives of our fellow humans are unjustly ended in every conceivable situation, when one person is so prejudiced, and is so filled with hatred that he (or she, but, yeah, it’s almost always a man) finds a way to give himself permission to kill the object of his contempt.

The murdered person need not have done anything but existed as a fellow human being, but of a different color, or different religion, or different nationality, or different culture, or different language or different sexual identity, or different you name it . . . including different gender identity.

Different.

Often, different is all it takes to fuel the flame which ignites into the inferno of homicide.

The murderer need have no other motivation than his prejudice, which fuels his hatred, in which he possesses a skewed sense of superiority.

Isn’t that what these murderers possess? Isn’t it their skewed sense that they are somehow superior? Isn’t this how they acquire the self-permission to mind the business of those who are minding their own business?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Today is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Among those whose lives might be unjustly taken are transgender persons, whom prejudiced, hate-fueled, self-superior-minded individuals found to so offend them that the haters gave themselves permission to end their lives. To get them out of the way. Out of their sight.

You know, to cleanse the land of those queers.

But, hey, let’s have the prejudiced haters roam free.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, known as TDOR, was initiated in 1999 when one trans woman, Gwendolyn Ann Smith, found it vital to pause in reflection over the murder another trans woman, Rita Hester. See Wikipedia for more information: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transgender_Day_of_Remembrance.

Since 1999, groups all over the country and world have used this day to remember those whose lives were unjustly taken during the past year, and to reflect on the state of things for the sake of those who identify as transgender, in the various ways one might identify as trans.

Over the past twelve months, 309 trans persons worldwide were murdered simply for being trans. That’s to the best of our knowledge. In the USA, the number was 23 of our fellow citizens. I took this information from the TDOR website: https://tdor.info/. If the numbers are incorrect, it is because I made an error in counting.

It is good—yes, it is important—that we remember these trans persons, our fellow human beings. We pause to remember many things, those which make us sad and glad—9/11, the days wars ended, holy days, birthdays, death days, and the like. In our remembrance, we hallow those events, we honor those people and, when we recognize that change must still be accomplished, we hone our hopes for a better remembrance the next year.

We’re all together in this thing called life. We are one human family. Let us love one another.  Let us respect the lives of one another, no matter their different.

Let us especially look out for the least of those among us.

Too often, the least among us are those we remember, today.

I returned to deer camp!

My first night, all by myself in the camper, getting into a book which, despite its title, is a work of theology, written by Jeff Mallinson, one of the two men who interviewed Julie and me for a “Virtue in the Wasteland” podcast.
Later, I had to drop the table into a bed, because it’s also where I sleep.

From Monday, November 12, to Friday, the sixteenth, I camped in the woods of the Manistee National Forest, a twenty-two minute drive northeast of my hometown of Montague, Michigan.

I camped with two of my brothers, two nephews, one cousin, and a family friend.

It’s our family deer camp.

It’s a place to which, the past three years, I thought I would never return, because I was a transgender woman.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When I was a kid, I tried to get into hunting. I found it to be too much walking and sitting, with too little action. Oh, and it was always so stinking cold.

In 1981, my dad, three brothers, and a few others, decided to camp, rather than daily make the drive to and from home. This caught my attention. I decided to give it a try. In 1982, I became a member of what was quickly named “Dead End Camp,” because, well, camp was set up at the dead end of a two-track road.  (That road has since been blocked off by the state.  We’ve now moved two times, but still are in the same section of woods.)

(A note for those who do not know what a two-track road is, which, by moving to Iowa in the 1990s, I learned that not all people use this term, though these roads exist everywhere. They are little used, unimproved roads which, by the two tracks of tires that create and sustain them, have a hump of grass in the center, making them, you got it, two-track roads.)

Entering camp from the two-track road.  Note the two tracks of the entrance lane.  Why can’t the entire world get on board to call two-track roads what they are?  I’m talking about you, Iowa!

I loved the camping and being with the guys. At one point, our number swelled to over a dozen for the first couple of days of hunting, a mixture of relatives and friends. We developed traditions, such as Festivities Night, which is the eve of Opening Day, when everyone brings some sort of finger food—deviled eggs, rumaki, ham-and-cream-cheese-wrapped pickles, sausage, cheese, and the like—which we set out as the hoity-toity-ly named hors d’oeuvres table. For Festivities Night, we make an oversized campfire. I always had the honors of building it, often making it so large you couldn’t stand within fifteen feet of it, and which we joked that it could be seen from outer space. The festivities were topped off by the reading of the camp poem, which was created by my younger brother, Dave, who wrote it until he ran out of ideas, and then by me for over a decade.

Everyone had his own duties. Older brother Tom was the natural Camp Coordinator. Youngest brother, Mark, was Camp Grounds, because he loved to rake and tidy the camp. I was Camp Pyro, because of my too-large fires. After Dad no longer was able to camp, I took over the cooking of breakfast. Everyone did his part, such as washing dishes. Nothing was left to chance.

In my first years of hunting, I did not see a buck so as to be able to shoot my gun. Though I didn’t want to give up camping with the gang, the long, cold hours sitting in the woods became an unbearable chore. The morning of Opening Day 1986, my fifth year of hunting, I decided that I would hunt out the day, tell the guys I was done, go home, and never return.

After lunch, I sat in a different spot. I wasn’t sitting ten minutes when Tom’s brother-in-law, who had just shot at a buck, hollered, “Shoot him, Greg!” Before I could think, “Shoot what?” the buck came into view. He was forty yards away, running all out—carrying the mail, as we say—from my right to left.

I began shooting.

I had a shotgun. It held three shells. For having never shot at a deer, I unloaded in quick succession, as if I had done it many times. Thankfully, after the third shot, he dropped.

Amazing myself, I remained calm as I adroitly opened my gun and inserted a fresh shell. I carefully walked up to the buck, which was struggling to stand. Dad’s advice, spoken years earlier, rang inside me: “If you have to finish off a deer, plunk it behind the ear.” And so I did. I walked up to that buck, and with no hesitation I plunked him behind the ear.

He stopped moving and my jaws started moving. I screamed at the top of my lungs:  “I got one! I got one! I got one!”

Finally succeeding at bagging a buck, it forever changed my attitude about hunting. Even when I would go a couple of years in a row where I saw no deer during my three to six days of hunting—which were determined by what day of the week November fifteenth’s Opening Day landed and how much vacation time I had—I sustained a love for hunting, for sitting in the woods, and, ahem, reading novels while doing so. (Hey, the hours grow long out there.)

The view of camp from the corner of the outhouse.  Those four trailers housed seven guys this year, and easily could sleep several more.

When I moved away in 1992 to go to seminary, and then was a pastor in Iowa, and finally on the other side of Michigan from Montague, going home to camp often was the only time each year that I saw family. Deer camp grew precious. Each year, when we passed Halloween, I counted down the days the way kids do anticipating Christmas.

And then, in 2014, I revealed my gender dysphoria, and that I might need to try transitioning in order to see if it would relieve my suicidal thoughts and fear of losing my mind. I retired from the ministry that summer. I attended camp in 2014.

In 2015, I transitioned to living full time as a woman. I didn’t even have to ask if I would be welcome at camp. Things already had been said. Besides, while I knew a few of the guys would be okay—they would accept what they knew about me, and it would be tempered because, at camp, I would be dressed as they always knew me, in the usual casual clothes and hunting garb—I knew specific ones who would not be able to abide my presence.

Missing camp in 2015 caused me to suffer a terrible meltdown, which lasted for days. 2016 was hard, but not as intense. Last year, I barely was affected.  2018 brought the dramatic change in me, which had me announce in July that I now felt completely male and had resumed living as Greg.

When two brothers, who still are at this camp—last year, one brother fulfilled a long-held dream, buying land and a cabin north of home—urged me to come to camp this year, I was slow to be interested. I knew I wouldn’t hunt, for two reasons. First, a non-resident license is nearly $200. Second, with Opening Day on Thursday, I wouldn’t be able to hunt more than a day or two.

Mostly, I had gotten out of my heart the desire to be at camp, and I didn’t know if I wanted to get back into it.

But, I knew that I needed to seize the opportunity to get reintegrated with family. It was important that I show my brothers how important to me it was that they invited me. And, I knew full well that once I got there I would be happy about it.  Plus, when at camp I can drive into town and see other family and friends.

As I made my way to Michigan on Monday morning, I found myself to be in the groove. I was excited and really looking forward to camp and being with the guys.

Because I was three days ahead of Opening Day, I would be at camp by myself the first two days. Mark had his trailer set up, which is where I have slept for years. I got my old bed back.

Mark’s trailer, and my cherished deer camp home.

From Tuesday evening through Wednesday afternoon, the others streamed in. Each one greeted me as usual. All of them said they were pleased to see me, that they were glad I was there. No one acted oddly as to all that had transpired with me, and it would not be fodder for conversation. Only in private, with two of the guys, did I have any openings to discuss my situation.

As much as I long for my loved ones to show their concern by asking me about all that I’ve experienced and suffered, I understand that it’s just too much for them—truly, too weird—and so I have to take their being happy to be back with them as confirmation that they love and accept me.

It’s a good lesson for all of us. As much as we long for acceptance and understanding from others, it’s on us to give to others the same level of bearing with them.

As for me, they saw the same guy they always knew. If they had any fears that I would be different, or not as goofy, they should have quickly melted away.

I plan to return next year. I’m still not sure whether I will hunt, the price of a non-resident license standing as a cost which I might not be able to swallow. But, I’ll be there. Hanging with the guys. Acting like an idiot. Savoring the treats on Festivity Night’s hors d’oeuvre table.

And frying the eggs for the guys every morning.