Friday, February 3, 2017

The land of the free and the home of the brave? The True North strong and free?

Hundreds gathered at the Peace Arch Border Crossing Sunday afternoon, January 12, 2017 to express concern and opposition for recent American immigration policies and attitudes impacting immigrants and refugees. This peaceful demonstration had originally been planned for January 5th but had to be postponed due to poor weather conditions.

I was invited to say a few words; this is the text:

I am an immigrant, first to the United States, and later to Canada. I am Hispanic, I am Latina… I am white skinned. I am a citizen of Colombia by birth—and a citizen of Canada by choice. I am a transgender woman I am a lesbian

Like every single person who has ever lived, I had no choice in which country I'd be born in; Nor into which religious tradition. I did not get to choose my parents, I had no choice over my mother tongue. I had no choice when it came to the color of my skin. I did not choose my sexual orientation And I did not choose to be transgender.

Of all these things I have listed, only one did I choose for myself. I chose to become a Canadian citizen.

I had no choice over anything else on my list.

Isn’t it ironic—indeed, isn’t it tragic how the very things none of us got to choose are the things which historically have been used to justify vilification, then discrimination, then persecution, and ultimately—and potentially—annihilation and erasure?

Isn’t immoral how any one of these unchosen things can become a liability when a group needs someone to blame for their woes and needs a convenient scapegoat?

That is what we are witnessing today, and it’s not just the immigrant and the refugee who is being singled out. The same mentality that has resulted in the Ban and the Wall is casting a wide net. Women's reproductive rights, race relations, LGBTQI rights, to name just three, are threatened.

As a transgender person, I am particularly aware of how my trans and non-binary friends in the United States are losing protection from discrimination, medical coverage, and access to public restrooms, to name a few.

The seriousness of the situation cannot be underscored enough. I personally know of one 21 year-old trans woman, who one week after the new President took office, chose to end her life.

She could no longer envision a hopeful future for herself. Executive orders wiped out her access to trans-related healthcare, and she feared future executive orders would make her life less safe.

Her parents buried her on Monday, January 30th. This was so unnecessary. This is tragic. This is so incredibly sad. Her name was Amber.

It is a travesty how so many people in America are suddenly made to feel: Devalued and Marginalized; Ostracized and Rejected; Hopeless; and The convenient scapegoat!

When I trained to be a multi-faith chaplain, I chose to embrace the radical and downright scandalous teachings of inclusion proclaimed by Jesus, the Nazarene.

He dared to challenge the notion of exclusion on the basis of where someone was from, what they did for a living, their economic or social status, or how they chose to live authentically. He spoke against intolerance. He challenged the gender hierarchy.

He championed the inherent worth of every person, of the prostitute, the beggar, the leper, the physically disabled, the tormented by personal demons, children and the aged.

More importantly, he invited us to seek the face of the Divine in the face of the orphan, the widow, the imprisoned, the hungry, the untouchable, the homeless and the refugee.

This was good news to me.

But these are not the good news I hear coming these days from those who are consolidating power in the United States. Indeed, these are not the good news coming from those who support these policies, yet claim to be Christian.

Shame on them for their hypocrisy!

What happened to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “Do unto others as your would have them do unto you?”

I am sickened by how some in the United States—and Canada—have been emboldened to spew out their bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and islamophobia, in recent weeks—with tragic consequences.

While we shook our collective heads at the headline: “Hate crimes soar after the election,” we were jolted by the senseless shootings in Quebec City!

Our countries are better than this.

The United States’ anthem ends with the phrase “The land of the free, and the home of the brave.” A similar sentiment is expressed in the Canadian Anthem, “The True North strong and free.”

Would that both refrains be true and not just wishful, empty claims in patriotic songs.

There is nothing freeing about banning or rounding up people on the basis of their creed, race, or color.

There is nothing brave about building walls or placing handcuffs on grandparents and children.

Let these refrains inspire our two countries to be lands where there is freedom from rejection, marginalization, discrimination, and violence for being different.

Let our countries be known as lands where one’s freedom does not come at the expense of another’s;This is true freedom.

Let our countries be known as lands where one’s bravery is not measured by valor in the battle field alone, but by the resolve that it takes to welcome the refugee and the alien, the courage to protect the marginalized, and the generosity to feed and house the destitute,
This is true bravery.

Let our countries demonstrate their strength by how they lift the burdens off their neighbor’s back.
This is true strength.

Let’s be:

Truly free;

Truly brave;

And truly Strong!

But more than anything else, let our compassion be what truly defines how we as “Brethren dwell together in Unity!”

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Cats and dogs seem to matter more to the ruling BC Liberals than trans persons.


The Apparent Hypocrisy of British Columbia’s Elected Liberal Government

The same week that Transgender advocates and allies stood in front of the BC Legislature in support of the introduction of a private member’s bill aimed at protecting the rights of transgender people, the BC Liberal Government announced an order-in-council that adopts the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association’s Codes of Practice for both kennel and cat breeding.

Indeed, this is very good news for dogs and cats in British Columbia.

Yet, this same Government has sat intentionally on it’s laurels, refusing to pass an exact version of the “trans rights bill” on three previous occasions. This is the fourth time the Honourable Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for Vancouver-West End, introduces this bill. The bill would amend the BC Human Rights Code (BCHRC) to include “gender identity and gender expression.”

Having “gender identity and gender expression” included in the BCHRC will afford increased protection, safety, and equity for transgender and gender-variant persons in at least three significant and compelling ways: 
  1. It will help educate the public
  2. It will inform the way organizations and companies implement their HR policies by providing an explicit statement of protection 
  3. It will clarify the code and hopefully mitigate and help resolve contentious situations—including discrimination—before they escalate to expensive, lengthy, and onerous legal actions for all parties.
This logic has so far failed to influence the Primier, Christy Clark and her Minister of Justice, Suzanne Anton, who refuses to bring this bill to a vote. But when it comes to cats and dogs, this government clearly recognizes the importance of explicit language in the law.

B.C. Agriculture Minister Norm Letnick alluded to the importance of specificity; he is quoted in a CBC story as saying:  

“What this will do, is it will provide clarity to breeders of dogs and cats of what the standards of care are in B.C. and will also provide that same clarity to judges and the SPCA as they go about their work to bring people into alignment with that.” 

The trans community has had to listen to the Government’s shallow argument the BCHRC already offers all the protection we need under the category of “sex.” That sounds like how it was for cats and dogs until this new order-in-council came to their rescue. 

It was noted BC already relied on the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to help regulate and police breeders. Yet codes will now be added as a new regulation along with the act. Why can’t trans persons be at the receiving end of this kind of humane legal consideration?

Do we not matter at least as much as pets? If it would help our cause, I’m willing to sit on the Liberals’ lap and wag my tail—no licking or sniffing, though.

All kidding aside, this is serious business. 

Why is the Liberal Government willing to act on the recommendation of pet experts but disregards their own human experts within the Ministry of Health, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, and more significantly, the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution on Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity (adopted 26 September 2014 - A/HRC/RES/27/32)?

BC has fallen behind other Canadian Provinces and Territories which have already amended their codes to include gender identity and gender expression—and will soon be overtaken by the Federal Government as well. This is especially sad—and disappointing—since BC amended the BCHRC to include sexual orientation in 1992, 24 years ago. Then, in 2003 became the second province to legalize same-sex marriages. Why the delay and outright refusal to include explicit protection for transgender and gender non-conforming persons?*

We’ve tried having a civil conversation, but this has failed. It’s time to shame them for their hypocrisy.

*This paragraph was added May 1, 2016 @ 5:33 a.m.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

For me, transitioning was the equivalent of committing career suicide.

My letter to the editor was published in today’s the Province newspaper; it’s reposted below. I wrote it in response to a full-page feature story that appeared in Sunday’s (Nov. 29th) edition, titled ‘There’s a revolution going on’.

Lisa Salazar: Despite Caitlyn Jenner, many people still struggle with ‘men in women’s clothing’

While I am always grateful for positive press regarding trans issues, especially when I happen to know some of the players in the stories, my hopes for greater understanding and acceptance continue to be tempered by the lived realities of most of the trans persons I have come to know. The revolution University of B.C. student Cormac O’Dwyer alludes to in Province reporter Glen Schaefer’s article on Sunday is, unfortunately, nothing more than a tempest in a teacup.

While it is true that Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out caused a 100-per-cent increase in the number of people who claim to know a transgender person (to 16 per cent from eight per cent), being aware that someone is trans does not necessarily mean you embrace and affirm them. It simply means you know they are trans.

Additionally, for most trans persons who have transitioned and are transitioning later in life — let’s say after the age of 30 — dealing with secondary sexual characteristics is not only time consuming, it is also extremely expensive. For many trans persons, it means having to deal with physical and emotional discomfort on a daily basis.

Not every trans woman can afford facial hair removal, for example. In my case, it took 300 hours of painful electrolysis and close to $24,000 over a two-year period. Thankfully, I no longer had to shave. I was still employed at the time and was able to afford it. But this — never mind Jenner’s financial ability — is not the norm for the majority of trans persons.

Compared to the experience of many trans persons, I have been fortunate in other ways. Not only did my family embrace me and my three adult sons allow me into their lives, my friends and clients offered their ongoing support. At least that is how things started out with friends and clients. (Since then I have experienced being ghosted and have seen most of my previous friendships and business relationships grow cold. I tried to be the one to keep relationships alive but my efforts were not reciprocated.)

I transitioned fairly late in life, at the age of 57 in 2008. I struggled for many years not knowing why I felt the way I did. Like many trans persons of my generation, it was not until I was almost 40 before I first heard the word “transgender.’’ This word did not come into use until the late 1980s or early 1990s. Until then, I had “spiritualized” this internal conflict, for which I had no explanation or vocabulary.

In 1999, at the former Gender Clinic at Vancouver General Hospital, I was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and was offered assistance to transition medically and surgically. However, it took me almost nine years to act on the recommended treatment.

I first had to reconcile my faith to what the doctors told me. I didn’t want to trample over my religious faith, but I also didn’t want to park my brain on the shelf by discounting the science. As the devout Christian I had become in the hope of “being healed,” I struggled with incredible guilt and believed that all my internal confusion was simply an attack from the devil.

While it seemed as if my marriage and my freelance graphic-design business were going to survive my transition, my wife asked for a divorce in 2011 and my business gradually dried up. Lamentably, I now find myself severely underemployed; I’m back to living with my 91-year-old mother.

It was in recent conversations with two of my ex-clients that my worst fears were confirmed — transitioning was the equivalent of committing career suicide.

Though Vancouver’s progressive social scene offers one of the safest places for trans persons to transition, the sad truth is that when it comes to employment and business, things are seen through a much narrower lens. Employers and clients worry about the optics of associating or working with a trans person. There is the fear that they will drive business away or make co-workers, clients and customers feel uncomfortable.

If you are a business owner or a recruiter and have a choice between two persons with equal credentials, but one is trans, chances are you will go with the cisgender person. Why risk impacting the bottom line by hiring the trans person? This, sadly, is why so many trans persons continue to be unemployed and underemployed.

North Vancouver counsellor Elizabeth Cooke’s company Inclusivity — which helps businesses, non-profit groups and governments accommodate transgender people — is a much-needed service. But I suggest it will be a long time before trans persons are truly included and allowed to be integrated into society’s fabric. Too many people, while giving intellectual ascent to what it means to be trans, still are not comfortable with “men in women’s clothing,” the default perception, never mind the reductionistic and ignorant restroom debate.

Lisa Salazar is a Vancouver graphic designer, author and photographer.

The editorial pages editor is Gordon Clark, who can be reached at Letters to the editor can be sent to

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Applying for a job on-line feels like joining a dating service.

I’ve got a profile in Linkedin and half-a-dozen other job banks, and after months of sending out resumes and cover letters, I feel my self-worth declining. 

My morning routine is to pour myself a cup of coffee and sit at my computer for a couple of hours to see what new job postings appear in the above mentioned job banks and send out cover letters, resumes and the link to my website. My Google search is simple: “graphic design jobs in Vancouver, BC.”

These days, many graphic design job descriptions include so many technology qualifiers, they might as well be advertising for computer programmers and engineers who like to use other fonts besides Arial Times Roman and Comic Sans, and can take photos with a real camera.

What really gets to me, however, is how f**k**g impersonal this on-line job application process has become. 

The adage “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know” must be true. Even Psychology Today has talked about it. One gets the feeling it doesn’t matter what you can do and has done, if you don’t have a connection to someone in the company, you might as well forget it.

I’m jaded as hell. I don't like feeling this way; it’s way too negative. This negativity, unfortunately, came out today in a cover letter I sent in response to an ad for a Digital Graphic Designer. I’ve heard so many people claim that if you can’t grab someone’s attention with the first paragraph, then you’re not going to get a call. I’ve taken that advice to heart; I’ve tried all kinds of ingenious ways of starting my letters. Once again, I’m ready to throw in the towel.

That’s what I did today. The very last question in the application I filled out had a text box with the instruction to “say something unique about yourself in 150 words or less that will catch our attention and make you stand out.” That did it…I obliged.

I said: “Really? Why don’t I just turn around and moon you? Alternatively, read my cover letter.”

This was my cover letter:
Hello and good morning. 
You know what they say about a job applicant’s cover letter, how the first paragraph should grab the readers attention.
Well, choose your pick:
  1. Incredibly talented and skilled designer looking for a long-term relationship with someone who is intelligent, sensitive, believes in transparency and has a good sense of humor.
  2. Looking for someone oozing with talent and bursting with creative energy? Let me introduce myself. (Yeah, this one makes me gag, too; but that’s why I'm giving you a choice.)
  3. This on-line application process companies embrace today really sucks! Tell me how it differs from an on-line dating service? I mean, how do you really know what people say about themselves is genuine and not simple misrepresentation?
  4. I like grabbing the bull by the horns, not beating around the bush, saying it like it is…I’m transgender and if you can't deal with it, then read no further. I probably wouldn’t be comfortable with you if that’s your attitude. (Believe me, I've been tempted to use this one many times...silent discrimination really, really sucks.)
  5. They say looks can be deceiving; so can words on a page—and by extension—all electronic communication. Let’s cut to the chase and meet face to face.
Attached is my resume and a generic cover letter. I would have personalized it if I had your real name rather than a job description. You’re so much more than a “recruiter.”
Lisa Salazar, MAPPL, BAGD, CGD
(phone number removed)
Visit to see samples of stuff I’ve designed and produced over the years.

I’d like to know how you find the on-line job application process. Leave a comment.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

What's next for Uganda, even if the "Kill the Gays Bill" never passes?

I must confess that it was not until January of this year that I invested any think time on the situation in Uganda.

Yes, I had heard of the crazy "Kill the Gays Bill," but I was focusing on personal stuff and I simply shrugged my shoulders and said, "I'm glad I don't live in Uganda."

To say that I did a 180 degree turn out of my own convictions and outstanding character is not what happened. The truth is I was surfing the web on Dec. 30th and went to a friend's blog post titled, "Genocide Brewing in Uganda," in which she summarized what was taking place and how imminent was the passing of this insane piece of legislation. She provided links to CNN, Amnesty International, BBC, Time and a few other news organizations. I spent the next two hours going from one link to another and I was horrified.

I emailed my friend and asked if she had any links to where I could send an email to; I needed to scream at someone. She replied that it may be a lost cause since the Ugandans seemed to be completely defiant in face of the international outcry. I concluded I had to act. I found the Ugandan Parliament's website, which profiled all 327 Members of Parliament and I spent the next three hours extracting all of their email addresses. I wrote a letter and sent it to all of them. I sent the list to my friend so that she could post it on her blog. But the reality was that I couldn't see too many people taking the time to compose a letter, copy all the email addresses, and not to mention, spend more than a couple of minutes doing so.

That is when the idea hit me to create a website that simplified the process, albeit, not too automated since anti-spam filters would quickly reject hundreds of emails if they were coming from the same server. That is how the now-inactive website ugandaurgentaction (dot) com was born. The domain was registered the following day and the site went live within 6 hours. I sent a New Year's greeting message to all 120 of my email contacts and begged them to send emails immediately. But it was New Year's weekend and not many people saw the email until the early part of the week. Soon, I started getting replies back as friends let me know they had sent letters and were sharing the link with their friends. It was a slow start, but it got the ball rolling. Three days after I sent my letter to Parliament and the site had gone live, I started getting responses from some of the MPs. Those who favored the bill were, for the most part, nasty and rude and suggested I mind my own business. Those who opposed the bill were, on the other hand, grateful for the letter and my advocacy. I was stunned. What had I gotten myself into? I also started receiving emails from LGBT Ugandans who had come across the website and they too were grateful for the effort.

How could I not get sucked into this vortex of human rights activism? The stories I have heard, their hardships and the struggle to exist is beyond anything I could imagine. The struggle will not be over until all laws that criminalize and stigmatize the LGBT minority are repealed and new laws enshrining basic human rights and equality for all are passed.

As I stated earlier, I came upon this struggle recently, but it is never too late to add your voice to this and to invest your time and money by supporting organizations such as St. Paul's Foundation for International Reconciliation ( Also, avail yourself of the excellent work done in 2007 by a group of international advocates called the Yogyakarta Principles, which offer hope for a long term solution. Here is a link to a PDF version of their document:

In closing, if you are person of faith, pray for Uganda.

Postscript — As soon as the 9th Parliaments email addresses are published, hopefully sometime in June, I will post them on the website. We must keep the pressure on new Parliament; they will need to be reminded that they are citizens of the world and that the world is watching.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Today’s Lament (on trans equality)

At times I feel like weary, bitchy and annoyed at my world.

It’s easier, if not safer and less painful, to keep it vague and generalized than to think of actual persons in my life. It’s like looking at a large, indifferent audience without trying to make out individual faces for fear I might see my friends in the crowd.

This is what evokes my lament today:

What brought it on was a friend’s innocent question of his Facebook post this morning. He shared an article from The Guardian entitled Church of England to consider transgender naming ceremony  and asked if I had any thoughts.

I was going to start out by saying, “Wow, that is amazing!” Then I remembered this idea is not really new. In fact, it’s been suggested for at least a dozen years. Why has it taken this long? Consequently, my response became more somber—and longer. This is what I said:
In 2003 Justin Tanis published "Trans-Gendered Faith: Theology Ministry and Communities of Faith." In the Appendix, he offers liturgical resources which include Baptism and a Service of Renaming for trans persons who transition. 
I agree with you, this is a beautiful idea, and I've heard of this being done in a few places. That the Church of England is considering this is also beautiful, but the reality is that trans people are, for the most part, non-church goers, only 1 out of 14 trans persons attend a church or remain in a church and less than 2 out of 5 identify as Christian, which is less than half of that in the North American general population. 
Let’s put this in perspective, when only .3% of the population is trans, and only 7% of them are in a church or hope to be in a church, they are only 1 out of 5,000 persons. But this .3% includes trans people who have yet to come out; so then the question is, how many trans people have come out and transitioned? That is a number that no one knows for sure, but even if we use 50% optimistically, then only 1 in 10,000 persons is 1) trans, 2) has transitioned, 3) attends or hopes to attend church. 
Yes, we are a pretty insignificant number to be sure, and perhaps that is why our voices are not heard enough. That is also why it becomes more important for non-trans persons—especially in the church—to speak out on our behalf. 
Yet, I wonder how comfortable non-trans persons are in speaking out in defense and support of trans equality? A good test is the "Trans Equality Now" pledge/petition that is circulating on Facebook since yesterday (May 11, 2015). It is meant to be signed and shared. How many of my non-trans friends on Facebook who saw my post have shied away from signing and sharing this pledge/petition because having it on their own wall may offend some of their friends, or they'll have some explaining to do? I'm grateful that as of this writing 22 persons have liked, 13 have commented on my post from 20 hours ago, but only 4 have shared it. 
So my point is this: we have a long ways to go before trans inclusion in church and society actually takes hold and becomes the new normal. What the Church of England is considering is pittance, but even that is better than nothing—it expands the conversation. What we need if for it to be shouted from the rooftops.
I fear I’m beginning to sound like a broken record. In my May 13, 2015 blog post I wrote about how trans people are not likely to attend church and explained why. That was preceded by a similar sounding blog post on January 13, 2015. Maybe I need to change my tone. How can I recruit non-transgender persons to join the battle? Would it make it more palatable if I called it “the chorus,” or “the party” instead of “the battle?” No. Unfortunately, it is a battle, lamentably. I won't bore you with examples and all the stats. Only one story: two days ago in “progressive” Vancouver, a transgender woman—a friend of mine—was spat on and elbowed as she walk down the sidewalk minding her own business. It appears the instigator hoped she would fight back, she didn’t. She walked away.

An afterthought three hours after the original post:
We all have down days. This is one of mine. But reading and thinking about all of this in a sad fog, I guess that what I look for is all kinds of change and recognition for trans persons that doesn’t come quickly enough. Like the Green Party wanting to immediately be the next government. It ain’t going to happen. A seat here and there, but a long wait for Big Change. This is not a copout, but you have seen the TG statistics and it’s not that there is a big ‘anti’ movement out there, it’s simply not big on the radar of interest. And I can appreciate that for most people this may be one of many causes nagging at them today. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Herding cats might be easier.

This post was inspired by my friend Candace Chellew-Hodge’s opEd. The headline read: PEW CONFIRMS LGBT REJECTION OF RELIGION: WHY THAT’S A GOOD THING

Her piece was in response to the latest Pew Survey from the Pew Research Center, which found LGBT persons have abandoned religion big-time. This was also the finding of an earlier Pew Survey of LGBT Americans (2013). The problem with these two studies is the relatively low number of trans respondents, the latter only had 5% trans participants.

By comparison, the study I just completed for my Master's degree polled only trans persons; it found very few trans individuals interested in any kind of church participation, much lower than the Pew Research findings for LGBT. Only 15% include church involvement as one of their intentional spiritual practices. What this means for pastors is they don't have to worry about trans persons breaking down their doors if their church should ever become affirming.

Significantly, the study also found that trans people have not only shed dogmatic religious traditions, they are also more spiritual than the general population. What does this mean? It means that trans inclusion and affirmation as a means to draw them to churches might be a futile endeavor with a low ROI. How futile? If your hope was to have ten trans persons in your church, for example, you would need to canvass over 100,000 persons to find them; and you would still have the challenge of offering a style of worship in which these ten persons might feel comfortable with, despite your open arms. 

The fact is trans people are not likely to come anyway, not even if you hang banners outside proclaiming trans people are welcome. The reasons are quite obvious—nobody wants to become the poster child for trans inclusion, nor the elephant in the room, nor the panache factor, nor a special project. This does not mean that churches should not be preaching trans inclusion; the fact is there may be a trans person in their midst who is yet to “emerge” … it could be a child, a teen, a young adult, or even a grandparent. (According to the Williams Institute there is one trans person for every 333 "cisgender" persons in the general population.) Will these invisible-for-now trans persons in their midst have no choice but to shed their faith and walk away from their community, too? 

There is another important reason for being a trans-inclusive and affirming congregation, it is preparing "church people" to be accepting and affirming of trans persons outside the four walls of the church…the barista, the lawyer, the doctor, the hair-dresser, the clerk, the gardener, the police officer, the food server, the teacher, the nurse, or their neighbor.

What trans persons are watching and waiting for is for the church to stand up for their defense in the public square, when it’s not just trans voices advocating for trans inclusion that are heard at city council meetings, school boards, legislatures or in Congress. 

Until this happens, for trans persons, the church will continue to be irrelevant, if not the enemy. This is not to deny there are churches with trans persons, but these are the rare exceptions, rather than the rule. In the meantime, trans persons will continue to practice a very deep and personal form of spirituality, and sadly, the institutional church will simply continue to miss out on their giftedness and authenticity.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A note to fearful pastors: Don't worry, trans people aren’t likely to break down the doors to your church any time soon.

Some thoughts in the aftermath of a young trans girl’s tragic suicide on Dec. 28, 2014.

Lelaah, you left too soon.
A recent survey indicated close to 70% of transgender persons wanted nothing to do with organized religion. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to imagine why this may be so. I would not be surprised, given the viral reaction in the trans community to Lelaah Alcorn’s death, if that number isn’t 90% by now. If you haven’t read the story, here’s the Google search link.  Or see this on MSNBC

Interestingly, one reality that is emerging in my research is that the church is not seen as a place of refuge by trans persons. As a matter of fact, most trans people would rather stay away—forever. Who walks bleeding into a lion’s den?

Despite the fact that there are conversations happening, they are likely to be akin to “preaching to the choir.” Churches that genuinely want to be or are already inclusive will continue to be few and far between. It’s wonderful there are conversations taking place and that some trans persons have found church homes, but honestly, I don't believe we should expect much more growth in numbers. 

If there is going to be any movement, it won't be trans persons towards the church, it’s going to have to be the church moving towards the trans community. Let’s wait an see if this happens. 

When will we see large numbers of church people attend TDOR, for example? Or when will parents who love and support their trans kids not be made to feel like child abusers? Better yet, when will parents be told to love their trans kids (or family members)? When will we hear preachers telling their congregants to support trans inclusive policies in schools, etc.? When will unemployed trans persons be offered jobs by Christian business owners? When will we see fund-raisers at churches for trans persons who can’t afford medications or surgeries? 

These may all be pipe dreams, but I am more convinced than ever that the King’s banquet is not going to take place in big cathedrals, it’s going to take place in community shelters. Church people are going to have to leave the comforts of their sanctuaries if they want to celebrate diversity.


I'm generally fairly optimistic, but I am no longer fooling myself that the church is ready for trans persons. Jesus’ proviso continues to temper my hopes. “Not everyone can accept this teaching, but only those to whom it is given.” (Matt. 19:11)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Christmas Eve story and a photo—seven years later.

Story: Excerpt from Chapter 27
“The Day the Music Stopped”
Transparently: Behind the
Scenes of a Good Life. 

This was the 7th Anniversary of our shopping trip to Costco on Christmas Eve, which we now celebrate by going shopping at Costco on the 24th, followed by brunch! Photo: Selfie with Duncan at the Richmond, BC Costco, Dec. 24, 2014. Here’s the back story.

How and when I would begin transition—that was the $64,000 question. I still did not have the confidence to present as a female when I started to disclose to people. My friend Duncan convinced me one day to come visit them as Lisa. His argument was that I needed to start presenting, and what better place than in the safety of close friends. He wouldn’t take no for an answer, insisting this was something I had to do. 

There was a lot of truth to what he was saying and I concluded he was right about my feeling safe with them. I finally did this one Friday afternoon in early November, 2007. I wore a long-sleeved top with a crew neck, a black skirt, clip-on earrings, and a wig I had recently purchased for $45. I found some low-heeled mules my size at a shoe discount store to complete the outfit.

I will give Duncan and his wife the benefit of the doubt, but I think they were just being polite as they received me that afternoon. As we chatted and had tea, Duncan took some pictures, but I must admit the adrenaline was flowing fast and furious, so the experience was more nerve-racking than enjoyable. My second visit to Duncan would prove even more stressful.

It was the morning of Christmas Eve. Again, Duncan had convinced me to visit them as Lisa for Christmas, and we had a lovely visit. Everything was going well until he said he needed to go to Costco to purchase something. Since I was the card-bearer, the implication was I was to go with him. Costco is about half way between our homes, so the plan was for each of us to drive our own cars and meet in the parking lot. I thought he was crazy for suggesting such an idea, especially on the busiest shopping day of the year. They both assured me no one would know.

“You look fine, dear, better than most of the women who will be there. Just relax, keep your chin up and walk slowly. You’ll do fine.” Those were his wife’s comments as we went out the door.

I remember very little about that trip to Costco—I had tunnel vision from anxiety. I just knew we had to find what he was looking for quickly and make a beeline to the checkout. We were in and out in less than ten minutes—mission accomplished! Back in the parking lot we wished each other Merry Christmas, hugged, and said goodbye.

I don’t remember driving home; I know I felt I was going to puke when I came in the door. It was going to be a long time, a very long time, before I transitioned, I said to myself. Going out in public was so stressful. Yet it felt right on a different and deeper level: the guilt was gone.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Come and see.

Such a simple invitation, but when acted on, it has the power to change.

One might think it's getting better. After all, how many millions saw Laverne Cox, the transgender actor of the popular "Orange is the New Black" Netflix series on the cover of Time Magazine? And what about all the buzz regarding the Amazon TV series "Transparent"? I'm talking about transgender inclusion. But I have my doubts that even such high-profile public relation coups have made that much impact on most of the population.

I hate to sound so pessimistic, but when school boards, city councils and other elected members continue to debate whether or not to give gender non-conforming persons some basic level of human rights protection, what else can I think?

Even in Canada, with its fair share of progressive people, there is little to no discussion about the Canadian Senate's stonewalling of a proposed bill to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. The bill would add language offering protection on the basis of gender identity (Bill C-279). It's the same kind of protection the law already offers on the basis of sexual orientation. In other words, if you are gay or lesbian, you're covered.

The silence from the cisgender (non-transgender) majority of the population is deafening. Especially disappointing is the silence from the cisgender gays and lesbians who, one would think, would be crying out with us. Personally disappointing to me is the silence from people of faith.

As long as there's and attitude of apathy and there's silence on the issue, no wonder the decision-makers simply sit on their asses and do nothing. 

The only voices that seem to get attention are those of uninformed politicians and pundits who weigh in with the tired (and completely false) myth that if transgender rights are enshrined, men pretending to be women will be peeing and showering next to your thirteen year-old daughters and your wives. They've dub these laws "the bathroom bills" (see here and here and here). They fail to take into account the stories of the violence experienced by transgender and gender-variant persons when using public restrooms. 

When the very serious conversation of human rights for transgender persons gets reduced to which restroom a person can use, how do you get people's minds out of the toilet?

Come and see.

I'm convinced that the only way minds are going to be changed is if minds are first opened. And it's going to have to be done exactly the same way that Jesus began his relationship with two of John the Baptist's disciples. The two walked up to Jesus and asked, "Rabi, where are you staying?" and Jesus responded, "Come and see." Then we are told that they went with Jesus and remained with him that day. (John 1:39)

Please consider the lesson from this simple account: Jesus could have simply given them an answer that satisfied the question. Instead, Jesus does not give them an answer; rather, he welcomes them into a relationship of discovery. Instead of giving them data, Jesus allowed them to see and experience the answer to their question—and they could not leave—they remained.

Then, the Gospel writer tells what happened the next day when Philip, the latest to be invited by Jesus to follow him, goes to tell Nathanael. Nathanael, a devout Jew, responded to Philip's declaration "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote…" with sarcasm. Instead of debating him and trying to convince him, Philip, too, said "Come and see." (John 1:45-46)

Once again, the experience of seeing and experiencing for yourself is preferred instead of data and debating points. Come and See. So simple, yet so life changing.

That is what I am proposing and suggesting is the only way this impasse is ever going to be overcome. There is plenty of data I could dump on anyone who only wants to engage the brain. But is you want to engage the heart, you'll need to use your eyes and ears a little differently. Come, see, listen and remain with us…stand with us. Listen to our stories, see where we are being forced to stay.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Popular professor at Regent College weighs in on the transgender debate by sharing a link to an Oped first published in WSJ.

I won't malign this said professor, but I did take issue with the OpEd and his comments on Facebook.

All the discussion had to do with the recent debate at the Vancouver School Board regarding their policy on how transgender and gender-variant students are to be treated. This turned into a bit of a circus when parents self-identifying as conservative Asian evangelical Christians lobbied against it.

Needless to say, there has been much said for and against this policy, including the comment thread in the professor's Facebook wall.

I just added this comment. That's all I'm going to say, I think I've said enough.

One perspective missing in all of this banter is that we are talking about only two to three transgender persons per two hundred (1-1.5%). Additionally, at most, only one in three experience gender dysphoria that is severe enough to warrant social and eventually medical transition. In other words, all the pedagogical anxiety expressed is for the most part unfounded. Not every teacher, not every class, and perhaps not every school runs the risk of being blessed by a gender non-conforming student.

If the numbers are so “insignificant,” some would argue, then why force this issue on the 98.5-99% of the students who don’t struggle with their gender identity? The reason is this: in a study of close to seven thousand transgender persons published in 2011 by the National Centre for Transgender Equality, 41% responded they had attempted suicide at least once. That number is twenty-five times higher than the percentage in the general population. Why such high numbers? The simple answer is that they are made to feel unwanted and rejected by the 98.5-99% of the population (now commonly referred to as those who are cisgender).

The fact that younger and younger gender-variant persons are emerging does not mean there are more and more transgender persons. All it means is that transgender persons, thanks to the availability of information and services, are able to access help much sooner than ever before. This is germane to the conversation; these ever younger emerging persons have every right to not have to postpone their transition until after they are out of the school system. By this time, their bodies will have matured with the ‘wrong’ secondary sexual characteristics. And it follows that many trans people face the difficulty of changing their bodies to conform to their gender identity. Transitioning from one gender to another can take many forms, but often requires hormone therapy and sometimes surgery on the face, breasts and/or genitals. The financial cost, which can range from $75k to $150k is one that creates an impossible barrier for many.

All this to say that by accommodating and supporting trans youth during their emergence and social and medical transition is the most compassionate thing that can be done for them. It will not only avoid traumatic, painful and expensive procedures later in life, their bodies will develop and mature with the desired secondary sexual characteristics. How can this not be considered a modern day wonderful gift of science?

I wonder if this understanding, or lack thereof, regarding gender identity and transgenderism is not our modern day equivalent of Jesus’ comments about eunuchs in Matthew 19. Especially significant is the caveat he uttered, that not every one who hears his words will be able to understand them. The fact is he repeated this caveat in a slightly different way at the end of his comments; as if to say, try to wrap you brain around this.

What most people fail to realize is that given the trend for trans persons to transition sooner, rather than later, it won’t be long before transgender persons will fade into the woodwork and not be seen. Not because they have disappeared, but because, as stated above, their appearance will not give them away to society’s obsessed gender watchdogs who freak out when people don’t conform to their ideas of what is acceptable masculine and feminine behavior and presentation. Yet, there will still be those who for whatever reason will choose to, or are unable to transition from one gender pole to the other and will be quite comfortable living with a degree of ambiguity. While this may drive many people crazy, it points to the need for society to chill out and learn from these courageous and brave souls that life has more to do with what is on the inside than what is on the outside. I could hit you with a barrage of Bible quotes about this, but I will respect that you are smart enough to know this already.

The reality is this, transgender persons exist in every culture, age group, etc., etc., etc. The reality, too, is that living today are many trans persons who live stealth and are successful, contributing members of society. If you are reading this comment thread, then there is a high chance you are serious about your theological education, perhaps you are a student at Regent? Think about this, it is quite possible that one day a person or family may come to your church or congregation (or school) who transitioned in their youth. There are many trans persons in their twenties today who transitioned early and have enjoyed the benefits of having a body that only went through the ‘correct’ puberty and you would never be able to point them out in a crowd. It is within the realm of probability that you may already have a transgender person in your midst and you don’t even know it. If the church cannot open itself to this probability and refuse to welcome and affirm transgender persons as equal and full participants, you will be going against the very Gospel you preach. You might as well adopt the Southern Baptist Convention’s recent resolution on transgenderism.

Consider this possible scenario: a family with teenage children comes to your church and one of them is transgender, but how will you know unless they volunteer this information? Maybe, just maybe, they will decide to keep it to themselves so that this truth will not prevent that person from full participation. Maybe the person is the dad, or it could be the mom, both gifted and talented with an expressed desire to get involved in leadership. The same could be true if it is one of the children.

Now consider this same family coming to you and volunteering that one of them is trans. What will be your response to their desire to be full participants? Will you now impose some ‘biblical’ restrictions and prevent this person from taking part in the life of your church without any objection? Wouldn’t this mean that you have a double standard? That as long as you are in the dark, you will be welcoming, but if you are in the light you will have issues? Doesn’t this seem wrong to you?

I am open about the fact that I am a transgender woman. But I am not about to place myself in a situation where I will be made to feel “less-than” or to be the elephant in the room. I know that the majority of churches in this great city of Vancouver would impose restrictions on what I would be able to do, should I express an interest to join them. For example, I may be banned from attending a women’s retreat, or told that I can only use the handicap washroom. That is, if I make it known that I am transgender. I am fortunate that I ‘pass‘ society’s test for femininity and have never been confronted, but that would all change if I walked around with a sign on my forehead that read “transexual.”

The genie is out of the bottle, how will you respond? With compassion and understanding, or with judgement? Let me leave you with two names: Copernicus and Galileo.


Here is the link to the original OpEd in the Wall Street Journal that was hailed as worthy of note by the prof. Unfortunately, you need to be a subscriber to access the article. Link to WSJ

Here is the link to a blog that copied the OpEd form the WSJ, this was the link provided by the prof. Link to Copy

Friday, June 13, 2014

Paradox = Father’s Day for a trans woman.

It seems innocent enough, to have a day to celebrate fatherhood, paternal bonds, and the influence of fathers in society.

The Salazar family, summer 2002.

If one’s relationship with their father was a good one, this day of honor will seem completely appropriate and welcomed. If your dad was not deserving of this kind of respect, then this yearly reminder could be extremely painful.

Equally, if you’re a trans woman who fathered children, this day can either be a good or a bad—if not surreal—experience. It all depends on the kind of relationship you now have with your children. Father’s Day is extremely painful when your children have rejected you and want nothing to do with you. As far as they are concerned, you might as well be dead. It hurts. However, If your relationship has survived, then you can count yourself extremely lucky.

I was fortunate on two counts. On one hand, I had a dad who was loving and, best of all despite his relative old age when I came out to him (he was 89), he did not reject me. On the other, my sons did not reject me either.

I have three adult sons and two young granddaughters. How does this paradoxical reality I find myself in as a transexual woman and father and grandfather work itself out? This, you can say, is part of the ongoing process of transitioning. Though I am coming up to the sixth anniversary of living full time as female, there are still a lot of i’s to dot and t’s to cross before it’s all said and done. In the process, I have learned the journey is full of surprises.

I remember, for example, the day I was helping my middle son in the back room of his art gallery when we heard the front door open. My son went to see who it was and I could hear him talking to someone, they were obviously friends. I heard them walking in my direction and when the entered the room, my son said, “Dave, I’d like you to meet my dad, Lisa. Dad, meet my friend Dave.” There was no sense of awkwardness, there was no embarrassment or hesitation on my son’s part. This really struck me. Actually, it bowled me over—it was a gift to me.

How else could he have introduced me? His warm and uncontrived introduction was evidence of how absolutely comfortable he was with me. Had he been embarrassed about me, he could have dispatched his friend at the front door and nobody would have been the wiser for it. I have often thought about that incident; it has helped me to embrace the fact that I am, above all else, a dad.

For one of my recent courses in pastoral care I had to write a reflection paper at the end of the term. It talked about my experience providing spiritual care. I made the comment that I felt very protective of one of my clients—that I experience strong paternal instincts. My supervisor wondered why, if I was a female, I had not said “maternal” rather than “paternal”?

This is part of the paradox, I suppose. But as I thought about it, I said perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I vowed I would never assume the title of “mother” with respect to my own sons. It would be presumptuous to equate my parental role to that of my ex-wife’s, who mothered and nurtured my sons. She alone deserves that title and honor, and I get to claim that I am their father.

This helps explain why I may find it more authentic to say I have paternal versus maternal instincts that can be evoked. Perhaps I should consider the gender neutral alternative and say “parental” instincts instead. But to me, that is just splitting hairs.

How do other transwomen deal with the fact they may have fathered children? I know one whose children were much younger than mine when she transitioned. She negotiated terms with the whole family and they chose to refer to her as “maddy.” I’ve heard of others who have done something similar. It does get complicated, especially with young children.

With my own granddaughters, who are almost six and three respectively, I am referred to as Tia Lisa. This seemed like a reasonable monicker since my niece has two young children close in age and they often spend time with my granddaughters. I still don’t know how I will be addressed by them when they are older and are finally helped by their parents to understand what my true relationship to them is. Will my grandchildren say to their friends, “Meet my granddad, Lisa”?

Two days ago I received a text message from the youngest of my three sons; he is thirty-one and married. My middle son, who now lives on Vancouver Island, is coming for the weekend and the two have invited me out for dinner to celebrate Father’s Day. You cannot imagine how thrilled I am. I feel like a kid before Christmas; honestly.

Such a paradox this Father’s Day thing is for me. I’m relieved that I have not been given a Happy Mother’s Day card to date; that wouldn’t be paradoxical, that would be weird.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

We're in, we're out.

It’s a dizzying time for trans people.

Vancouver parent's opposed to trans inclusive policy, June 11, 2014

Last night I attended a meeting at the Vancouver School Board (VSB) as it listened to the final presentation from medical experts. The issue being considered is the revision of a VSB policy that has been in place since 2004 that spells out the district's guidelines for providing a safe, positive environment for transgender and gender-variant students in all grades, from kindergarten to grade 12. According to the associate superintendent, “The biggest change, really, was about getting some clarity of language.”

This simple administrative procedure became the entrĂ©e for a well-organized and vocal group of conservative parents who self-describe themselves as Chinese evangelical Christians. They used this as an opportunity to lobby against the adoption of the proposed updated policy, arguing that this policy took away their rights as parents and guardians to decide what was best for their children. It's unfortunate these parents are using both the race and religion cards.

They demanded more scientific research and that the BC Medical Association and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC to weigh in on this issue. While claiming that they care about transgender students, the truth is they don't want their children to be subjected to having trans and gender-variant students in their classrooms.

What they seem unwilling to recognize is that the original policy has been in place for several years and that the policy aligns with both Federal and Provincial guidelines with respect to the school boards responsibility to provide a safe space for all students, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity and is in keeping with both the Federal and Provincial human rights codes.

Additionally, the policy has the full support of the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, designated by the Provincial Health Ministry to oversee these kinds of things. In other words, all the demands these parents are making have been met already, years ago.

This policy not only protects students who are LGBTQ2S+, but also those who are perceived as such. This is an  important qualifier in the language of the policy; there have been instances of students who are "straight" but for what ever reason are perceived as gay or lesbian, or some other letter in the "alphabet soup," who have been bullied or made to feel unsafe at school.

This was the fourth and final public meeting before the proposed updated policy goes to a vote next week. In the previous meetings, the board patiently listened to countless persons who spoke passionately for and against this policy. At the end of the meeting last night, all of the trustees had a chance to make a final comment and each one, without exception, thanked all who made presentations and shared their stories, including a Chinese mom of a young trans boy who eloquently shared her family's story of acceptance. With the exception of two of the nine trustees, all said they would be voting in favor of the proposed updates to the policy.

What is the fear?

You only have to engage some of the parents in conversation to realize how much misinformation exists about transgender person and issues. The persistent fear is that their children will be turned into transgender persons by the school staff.

I was flabbergasted when I asked one of the mothers whose name tag said "Organizer" if she knew any transgender persons. I recognized a slight language barrier so I asked the question again. She nodded that she did, but still wanting to make sure she understood my question, I asked her if she knew them personally. She answered that she felt sorry for them and added, "I don't want to become trans, and I don't want my children to be made transgender. Schools should be about education." Oh, the irony.

The irony too is that within a week of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ruling that people receiving Medicare may no longer be automatically rejected for coverage of sex reassignment surgery, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution that opposes attempts to change a person's "bodily identity" through such treatments as gender reassignment surgery and adds "God's good design that gender identity is determined by biological sex and not by one's self-perception" and "we continue to oppose steadfastly all efforts by any court or state legislature to validate transgender identity as morally praiseworthy."

We're in, we're out.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Can I Trust You With a Secret?

Another friend, Susan Cottrel, also invited me to write some thought. 
This is the link to her blog, FreedHearts
I invite you to visit her blog.

Do you have a secret? How big is it? How do you think people will respond if they find out?

Disclosure, revelation, exposure, or whatever word you may have for it, is a visceral, frightening process to go through. Especially if the information is so sensitive, some would prefer death by flaying. But in fact, that is what disclosure is all about, peeling away the layers that hide the “body” of truth. Perhaps that is why it can be so traumatic.

On October 2007 I began disclosing to family and friends that I had been diagnosed with acute gender dysphoria—that I was “transgender.” I had already lived eight years with this verdict; it took me that long to reconcile myself and my faith to my diagnosis. The news was a shock to everyone in my life; only my wife had known my secret.

Ever since I put my faith in Christ at the age of twenty, I had prayed to be normal and coped with this secret, ugly, persistent, cursed and yet unnamed condition by spiritualizing it; maybe it’s more accurate to say by “demonizing” it. (I had no name for it because the word transgender was not coined until around 1990.) But not even placing my faith in a savior and doing all the things a Christian “soldier” is supposed to do, like putting on the armor of God and claiming victory over a defeated enemy, did nothing to stop the battles from raging.

The amazing thing to me, as I look back on those years, is how this conflict was so well hidden from view. It’s as if this war took place on another planet or in a parallel universe. The curtain was drawn and the wounds were shoved deep down to hide the evidence.

There is this idea among Christians that if you act right, look right and live right, everything will work out. It’s not true. Didn’t Jesus accuse some who held this view of being nothing but white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones? That is how I felt: squeaky clean and spiritual on the outside and complete chaos and confusion on the inside; integrity quotient: zero.

Does this mean that there are no simple black and white “Christian Guidelines for Dummies”? Well, actually, no, there aren’t any simple answers. That is not to say that there aren’t some radical one-liners with the power to change the course of history. I can think of several, but just one will do: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Frederick Buechner, author of “Telling Secrets”, adds: “and love yourself as your neighbor.” But I digress; I was talking about disclosure, yes, and secrets.

Let me try to bring a more positive note to this conversation to make my point. Instead of thinking about a horrible secret, let’s talk about a wonderful, beautiful secret. One that gives you goosebumps just thinking about it. Maybe it’s how you felt the first time you fell in love with someone and nobody, but nobody knew—especially the one by whom you had been smitten. (If you’ve never felt this, let me tell you, it’s ga-ga-land amazing!)

Now, think back and try to recall some of the emotions you felt and how the palms of your hands sweated and your heart raced every time you thought about them. Then recall the moment you told them and how that felt. If you are anything like me, you may have felt a combination of nausea and ecstasy—all at the same time, followed by a moment of surreal transcendence.

Still thinking about emotions, now substitute this secret love with a horrible secret, one that instead of giving you goosebumps, makes you cringe and gag with shame. Now imagine picking up the phone to tell the person(s) you love the most this explosive truth. What emotions might you experience?

Physiologically, you may experience some similar things, such as a pounding heart and nausea, but also fear. Not just any fear. I’m talking about the kind of fear that may propel a person to jump from the twentieth floor of a burning building. The kind of fear that is extremely irrational on one level, and extremely logical on another — the logic that says, “This will spare you any more pain.”

Now imagine having to repeat this disclosure a dozen, or even a hundred times. Could you do it?

Coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) can be this traumatic. While disclosure may be one experience that’s common to all LGBT persons, it is several levels more intense for transgender persons.

The reality is that for most, the process has to be done twice; once when you disclose that you are transgender, and once when you present yourself for the first time as the gender you identify as. In my case, as a woman.

The sense of vulnerability is akin to disrobing in front of people. Then, just when you think the whole world knows or has seen what you look like, you get a call from an old friend (or distant relative, or client) who knows nothing about your new life and needs to meet with you. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it before, even if everything turned out okay, it’s just as heart-stopping scary every time you do it. There is no thrill in it; you just want the earth to open up and swallow you whole.

In many ways, it’s much easier to deal with strangers with whom you have no history. It’s counterintuitive. The truth is that it’s our family and friends, the ones who should be our source of support, who can inflict the most pain.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately, not just because it has happened to me again recently, but because I get several emails each week from total strangers who bare their souls and tell me their secret, including pastors and church leaders. These men and women are terrified of what will happen once their secret is out; it’s the primal fear of abandonment and rejection.

When as many as 50% of transgender persons are rejected by their families, many of them wonderfully squeaky clean on the outside church people, you can understand why 41% of transgender persons admit to having attempted suicide at least once.

I am therefore deeply touched with the level of trust these frightened souls place on me — most of all, I admire their courage — for I know their heart was racing and they felt nauseated as they wrote their email and pressed “SEND.”

If you have previously thought being transgender is a deviant lifestyle choice, let me ask you: Who would choose such a thing, given the gloomy statistics?

If the abandonment, rejection and judgment of transgender persons is ever going to end, I believe it will be up to people of faith to make that choice. It really is in our power to love and embrace.

That’s what the Bible shows us, and it’s what I had to do for myself.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

On Belonging and Mattering to God

A friend, Matthias Roberts, recently invited me to write some thoughts on belonging. This is the way he put it: "Specifically, if you could share a story on a time where you felt that you truly belonged — even if was just for a moment." He published my response today (May 17, 2014) so I'm sharing it here too. This is the link to his blog, Not Boring Yet
I invite you to visit his blog and read some of the other stories from other contributors.

For nearly two decades I felt like I did not know how to pray. Oh, I prayed, but my sense was that my prayers were ineffective—like lead balloons—my prayers didn’t even reach the ceiling, let alone God, so I thought.

Maybe the reason I felt this way had more to do with my expectations and not with my prayers. I really wanted to be “normal.” I did not want to undergo social, medical and surgical transition from male to female.

At times I preferred death than all the potential shame, awkwardness, and embarrassment that transition would heap on the most important people in my life: my wife and my three sons.
And my parents.
And my sisters.
And my brother.
And their spouses and kids.
And my friends.
And my clients.
And my church.
And my students…You get the picture?
The very public process of transitioning seemed so drastic and unfair. After all, the struggle with my gender identity was a very private matter. Why was the solution—if in fact transition was the only solution—so damn public?

On top of that, the prospect of rejection loomed large and it was too scary to consider. I fully expected all of my relationships would come to an end; who would want to be seen with a freak and a deviant? I was pretty hard on myself.

When I was young, I prayed for God to make me a girl. That didn’t happen. As I grew older and the reality set in that my body was not going to be transformed miraculously, I then prayed for God to fix my brain; to keep it from replaying the endless loop that caused so much self-loathing and guilt. But God didn’t cooperate. I figured the problem was not with God but with me. Like Paul’s diatribe in Romans, I concluded it was sin living in me that was the problem.

Ever since I placed my faith in Christ during the Jesus People days, Jesus’ invitation to come to him with my burdens was what stirred my heart the most. I wanted to find rest, which literally meant, as I stated above, I wanted to be normal. Over the years I figured it would only be a matter of time before God snapped his fingers and “poof!” I’d be a regular guy, no more wanting to be a girl. I was memorizing Scripture, reading devotional books, reading about how to pray with power, etc. Yet, nothing.

The persistent, pervasive and insidious nature of gender dysphoria only intensified my guilt and sense of defeat as a follower of Christ. But one surprising thing I discovered, which literally saved me, was how God allowed worship and praise music to be my connection with him. I played the guitar well-enough to help lead worship services in the churches we attended as a family in Vancouver. These churches had one thing in common, they sang the same style music and each had enough talented musicians and singers among their respective members. This meant we would rotate and take turns leading and playing on Sunday mornings.

Through the worship and praise songs I discovered I could commune with God. What prayer and crying could not do, worship and praise did; I experienced amazing intimacy with God; it transcended my self-loathing and guilt and transported me into God’s presence. It provided temporary rest for my weary soul.

The songs I gravitated to were those we sung directly to God, expressing our deep love for Him and the yearnings of our hearts. What I call “marches, witness and cheerleading songs” did nothing for me. Most of the music we learned came from Maranatha Music, Vineyard, and later Hillsong.

These were the days before iTunes, when music CD’s were the thing. As with all music, unless you know a band or singer real well, much of what I bought ended up collecting dust on the shelf after listening to the CD once. Perhaps one or two songs deserved consideration, but there really was a lot of bad music with simplistic and trite lyrics. But every once in a while, I struck gold. One such song was The Sheperd Song by Bob Farrell, sung by Kelly Willard in a compilation CD titled Evening Tapestry (1992). When I heard this song, I immediately connected it with Jesus’ tender words about how he is the good shepherd. But the one verse that still fills me with joy every time I think about it is found in John’s gospel, chapter ten, verse sixteen. It says this:

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

This verse stirs me and fills my heart with gratitude on so many levels. Most powerfully for me, as someone who felt disqualified for being different and really felt like the “other,” it reminds me of the verse above. The Shepherd song has always made me feel like I belong and matter to God. Despite the fact I struggled with my chaos all those years, this song offered me a pasture where I felt safe and gave me hope.

There words to the song are as follows:

Shepherd Song — by Bob Farrell

I can’t live without your love
I can’t find my way back home
If I wander far away
you carry me back to the fold
Sing to me and I will follow
The only voice I know
Safe inside the Shepherd’s care
for you know the way back home 
Through your gate I come and go
For your pasture is all I need
When there was no one to save me
You laid down you life for me
Comes the time to move along
You gather me to your side
Leading me so carefully
You’re changing me all of the time
Sing to me and I will follow
The only voice I know
Safe inside the Shepherd’s care
For you know the way back home.

I absolutely love the second verse with the line “You’re changing me all of the time.” Hasn’t that proven to be true?! Maybe it is the simplicity of the words that contain such rich imagery that has made them possible for me to sing to Jesus. Or maybe it is because the song helps to remind me that I do know his voice and that I belong to his flock. How amazing is that?

Monday, March 24, 2014

Personally, I look forward to falling into the hands of God.

Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, but not into the hands of mortals; for equal to his majesty is his mercy, and equal to his name are his works. (Sirach 2.18 – NRSV)

In all the reading I've been doing in preparation for my Hebrew Bible class, I’ve come across several verses that have captured my imagination. The one above made me pause and the more I reflected on what it describes, I couldn't help but compare it to the admonition in the letter to the Hebrews were the perspective of falling into the hands of God is described as a frightful experience. (Heb. 10.31)

Because of my personal involvement a couple of years ago with respect to the "Kill the Gay" Bill that eventually was passed in Uganda, I have kept an eye on the key players—the American fundamentalists who are recognized as being fully responsible for instigating the kind of homophobia that resulted in the infamous legislation.

In an OpEd in the Los Angeles Times on March 23, 2014, Kapya Kaoma (an Anglican priest and the senior religion and sexuality researcher at Political Research Associates in Boston), said:
"The vitriol that has fueled U.S. culture wars for so long is now being exported, and some of our most ardent culture warriors are finding a far more receptive audience abroad.

In nations such as Uganda, Russia, Nigeria and Belize, an insidious homophobia engineered in America is taking root. I have seen this hate being spread with my own eyes."
What does this have to do with the verse in Sirach and Hebrews? A lot. It’s a matter of perspective, and perhaps it is also a matter of experience—experience of God. Our interpretive principle about the nature and character of God, I suppose, can fall anywhere along the spectrum between a deity that is consumed with rage or one that is consumed with compassion. If the idea of falling into the hand of this deity is frightful prospect, then you will be motivated to scream out the warning as loudly as possible, like the watchman in the tower who sees danger on the horizon. If, on the other hand, one’s concept of falling into the hands of a deity who is compassionate and merciful, then what should the response look like? If those whose God in angry are motivated to frighten people into compliance, what do those whose God in love do impact their world?

By looking at another event that took place last wee, the death of the homophobic Southern Baptist pastor from Kansas, Fred Phelps, it has been interesting to read the range of opinion his death has generated. From those who despised the man and all he stood for and are glad that he is gone, to those who also despised everything about him but are willing to recognize that his hatred and anger brought a different God into focus, a God who is love. It’s that logic that helps us understand something by first understanding what it is not.

In a somewhat related way, I stumbled upon a newsfeed on Facebook, it pointed out that 34 years ago today, Archbishop Oscar Romero of Sans Salvador was assassinated as he lifted the chalice celebrating the the Eucharist. Why? Because he had spoken out against poverty and social injustice. He once said that “There are many things that can only be seen by the eyes that cried.” Perspective, there it is again...and experience.

It occurs to me that we have a tendency to equate evil with really bad people, that they are in bed with the devil. But as I have listened and read the words of the American fundamentalists that Kaoma accuses in her OpEd, one is struck with their passion and zeal for God. Unfortunately, on that spectrum I described above, they seem to fall on the side of an angry God who is looking forward to the fiery death of all those who do evil.

And there lies the tension. When we act according to our perception of God, it can sometimes result in evil and unfortunate consequences. If our perception of God is rooted on our experience of God, is it possible that maybe we have entirely different Gods? Despite the fact that we may all claim the there is only one God over all, it seems that we all describe God very differently, based on the part of the elephant we get to feel. Hence, our reality is the only reality we may claim to know for certain, but that is where faith has the opportunity to broaden our perspective(s). Can we trust what another’s person’s experience of God might reveal to us that may not be part of our reality? I hear myself say what sounds too simplistic...does it first meet the test of LOVE?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

No, I haven't seen the movie Dallas Buyer's Club and don't plan to.

It's my wallet that decides what I do these days!

Jared Leto as Rayon in Dallas Buyers Club. Anne Marie Fox — Focus Features

But in the mean time, I have been reading the on-going negative commentary about the portrayal of the transgender character "Rayon" from the perspective of the trans* community. 

What needs to be taken into consideration is that there is today a generational divide in the trans* community that needs to be understood. For us who are over 55, our experience is vastly different from those in their thirties and forties. And a universe away from those who are in their youth and into their twenties.

I suspect that all the clamor is coming from the younger sets who have not lived through the painful years when we did not have the nomenclature to make sense of our lives. 

In 1980 I was thirty. I had been married for six years and was terrified. I didn't know what I was. That year I came out to my wife. All I could tell her was that I felt inadequate as a man, that I felt feminine and confessed to my secret guilt-ridden cross-dressing episodes and how I needed her to help me fight Satan. Yes, those where my words and that was my mind set. I saw it as a spiritual attack on me as a person and as an attack on a couple of young parents. 

It would be another ten years before I learned that there was a word for this cursed condition. But it would take another ten years for me to be able to apply that label to myself. To have considered myself transgender would have been akin to admitting defeat to the devil. I wanted this to go away. 

Earlier I said I was terrified; let me tell you why: I had no role models and the only "transgender" persons I had seen—from a distance—were the pathetic Rayons. It was them and the drag queens in the media that provided perspective for me and both of these characterizations offered no hope for me. If I was transgender, I was going to be either a joke and a laughing stock, or someone who would be relegated to the margins of society. I preferred death. 

I agree with what Capelinia Addams says, in today's trans* community there is an "elitist hypocrisy" that wants to erase these negative portrayals and reminders of what it was like for our pioneers (italics my words). They were braver than me and it is because of the path they helped to clear that I can speak now from a relative secure position of privilege. I had access to services and help that were not there even twenty years ago. 

While I am uncomfortable with portrayals that depict trans* persons and less than, in this case, the historical perspective needs to be appreciated.