Monday, January 31, 2011

More Thoughts on Luke's Account of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Here is something I was thinking about the other day. It was in regards to Luke's account of the Ethiopian eunuch.

First, I am more and more fascinated that Luke, a physician, is the one who wrote about Philip's encounter with this sexually other person. Could it be that in his years of practice, he had faced the difficult task of helping parents make sense of a child born with ambiguous genitalia? Where there cultural, religious and social complexities that he understood with a more enlightened frame of reference? Who knows, but something to think about.

Then there is the issue of how it was that this person's 'abnormal' sexuality was known in the first place. We don't know how Luke found that out. We can surmise that Philip must have shared this incredible event with others, including Luke. So then, we need to ask, how did Philip find out that this person was a eunuch? It is not as if this person went around with a sign across his forehead that said 'eunuch.' How then did this somewhat, if not very private detail become known? Could it be that this person's dress was more 'flamboyant' or feminine than what would have been expected for a man to be wearing? Again, we don't know. Another possibility is that there was nothing strikingly different in appearance, except for perhaps something as subtle as the lack of facial hair, or feminine gestures, or a gender neutral voice pitch.

A more realistic explanation might have to do with the question this person asked after Philip helped him understand the passage in Isaiah he was struggling with and became a believer in Jesus as a result. He wanted to know if there was anything preventing him from being baptized. It is not out of the realm of possibility that the eunuch, who happened to be the Treasurer for the Queen of Ethiopia and a devout Jew and had travelled all the way from his country to Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, would say something like, "I am a devout Jewish proselyte, yet because I am a eunuch, I have been considered ceremonially unclean and have not been able to participate fully in my religion and have been relegated to the side lines all my life. Will it be the same with the church? Will I be marginalized, or will I be treated as an equal?" Philip did not hesitate to baptize him. PLUS - the fact that the Holy Spirit made sure that the 'eunuch' detail even became part of the story is a huge deal, especially if this event took place during the formative first days and weeks of the church. It is a message of inclusion, where sexuality and gender identity have no bearing.

To me, as I discussed in another post (Part 2), this harkens back to Jesus' bizarre interjection of eunuchs into the discussion about marriage and divorce. I believe more than ever that the lesson Jesus was teaching His disciples had everything to do with how God desires that when we enter into a loving and intimate relationship/union, that it is to be valued and not dispensed with frivolously and casually for selfish reasons. Then he introduces the eunuch in to the discussion. Interesting... because it had nothing to do with the first part of the discussion, when he quotes from the O.T. about "for that reason God created them male and female."

As I've pointed out in (Post-Part 1) what is interesting here is what Jesus doesn't say and that is as important as to what he does say about eunuchs. First, he does not say anything that would disqualify a eunuch from entering into a a union with another person. But wait, what gender should that other person be? It obviously did not matter to Jesus, Otherwise he would have said something about it.

Additionally, we know that biologically speaking, there is a range of possible 'anomalies' so, for example, one could be more male than female, or more female than male, or right in the middle with a 50/50 split. Again, Jesus didn't draw any lines of distinction and he placed no conditions on what would then constitute an acceptable union. And finally, He did not condemn the eunuchs, nor did he say they would go to hell. Now, if Jesus' lesson had to do with the inherent beauty and value of two people making a life-long commitment to each other and he did not get bogged down with the person's sexuality, then why the hell do we?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"I do not identify as transgender! Transsexual people are unique within that very large transgender group"

Written by Nichole Shannon in January 2010

She communicates some of my sentiments very well, so I'm copying and pasting it as a post.

I do not identify as transgender. Transsexual people are unique within that very large transgender group for several obvious reasons. It does not make us any better than anyone else but we do have much different medical and often personal and social needs or desires as opposed to CD (cross dressers) or TV's (transvestites). I do not identify as transgender. Not in any militant or disrespectful way to the transgender community. I am simply a woman or trans woman when necessary. There is strength in numbers and I respect people for being who they want to be. But, I do believe at times the transgender umbrella does not and cannot address all the needs of everyone lumped into that category. It does not fit. I know a growing number of transsexual men and woman that feel the same way.
Most often we are simply looking for meaningful dialog to help us understand ourselves or each other better. As we all search for our "fit" in this world it is good to know how others similar to ourselves feel. And to express our discomfort with something not to be hurtful or degrading but to help educate each other so that we may come to some mutually agreeable position one day.
Hopefully in a respectful and discursive way. …One of the biggest issues we trans people face is the constant need to lump us all in a single homogeneous category. That is just fundamentally wrong. I know this is going to cause a shit storm but so be it.
I do not want to be lumped in the same category as cross dressers and transvestites. We are not the same. My life is neither a sexual fetish nor a lifestyle. We do not have the same social, medical or political needs in many ways. YES we all deserve respect and equal protections under the law. I support that and I get that so lets move on.
The big question is how does the TS crowd address their unique and often very profound differences as an individual group without alienating ourselves from the rest of the LGBT community. It's confusing to many when you blur the lines of gender and sexuality and fetishism in the same conversation.
Diversity or being different is a wonderful thing. I like a colorful world.
We all have valid points in this discussion. Labels suck. We all interpret terminology in varying ways and identify in as many varying ways. I think I can safely say we all just want to be ourselves and comfortable about discussing who we are when appropriate.
How to do that is often difficult as one person identifies as a Trans-something where another ID's simply a woman or man or a little of both. The point that keeps being made and I feel attacked too often is that many of us in whatever group we identify or would rather not be identified in are often very uncomfortable or made to feel uncomfortable for expressing how we feel about said categorization.
I wonder if anyone of the activists ever wonder why so many transsexual men and women go stealth or non-disclosure? Or in this case don't wish to be regarded as transgender. Forget about any surgical side of this for a moment. I am not an elitest nor do I think myself any better than anyone else. But I can say from my experiences and in talking with other men and women like me that we are driven out of the transgender community. Yup I said it.
Why? Because we are not comfortable with the establishment. We are not comfortable with being told we are A or B and we have the same needs a C. Yes I do feel slighted when I get compared to a CD or TV. Everyone agrees labels suck. They do have their good intentions. But unfortunately it dose not work for everyone it is intended to support. And when people speak out against or simply in contrary to that they are chastised and cast upon the rocks as traitors to the greater cause. And they quickly exit the TG community.
The TG community is divided and will probably always be that way. Maybe because it its too broad a term covering sexuality and gender. It is unfortunate the TG community eats its own. It's even more unfortunate we still do not understand each other very well all too often. We may be unite in cause but not in how are lives are lived.
Most of the transsexual people I know now did not gravitate towards hyper masculine careers. I know I did not. Yes many of us have our moments. I am a artist, writer, musician and programmer. But that is not really important. The point I believe Ashely wants to make and I too is that as we have said. We are not all the same. We cannot all be lumped into the same categories and generalized. And all of our lives are certainly not the same. This is problematic when such a large and diverse group of people is herded into one coral.
The Trans movement is gaining ground worldwide and so much change is in process. So many good things are happening. We need to stay focused but, I wonder if it is not time to take a small step back and look at how we can provide more focused support on the smaller or more specific group's needs."

Friday, January 21, 2011

The "Letter" That Spilled the Beans, Let the Cat Out of the Bag and Opened Pandora's Box

This letter was first drafted in October, 2007 and has gone through several revisions to keep it current and up to date with the changes in my life. Last revised April 30, 2010.

Dear Friend—

I'll begin by telling you that I'm not a big risk taker, for fear of my worst fears becoming reality. I have feared rejection, ridicule, humiliation, losing friends, being the object of mockery, not blending in, being different, hurting or embarrassing loved ones, and as a self-employed person, I have feared losing clients.

I need to take the risk of sharing something about myself with you -- secrecy is no longer an option and I have come to realize that disclosing to you is the only way our relationship can continue, if it is to have integrity.

About ten years ago, after a lifetime of guilt and confusion, I was diagnosed as having Gender Dysphoria at Vancouver General Hospital's Gender Clinic -- a condition commonly referred to as being transgender. This diagnosis was simultaneously a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing because it provided and explanation of my past and a signal of hope for something that might end the guilt, confusion and shame, but it was a curse because the options and choices offered to me not only had a hefty personal price tag, they also confirmed that there were no magic cures that could make me "normal." While I accepted the diagnosis, I concluded that I could not possibly begin down the prescribed path, which would potentially end with gender reassignment surgery.

I left there not knowing what to do. I needed time to sort things out. At the time, I was not willing or able to pay the social, economic and emotional price that would be involved, not to mention the incredible impact this would have on my wife and our three sons.

The big part of my ongoing struggle is that I've always felt at odds with my body. But these confusing feelings were always kept private. Growing up, I sought to be what most defined as "normal," even as I struggled with my own gender identity. As early as the age of four, I remember becoming aware of this dynamic, I also remember sensing that I had to keep these thoughts to myself. As a child, I would often pray that I could wake up with a new body. Then, as I got older, I prayed for God to correct my brain. What research I did on my own just left me more depressed, confused and totally defeated. I begged God to make me normal, one way or another.

It wasn't until I was almost 40 that I finally sought professional help. Seeing a psychiatrist for the first time in my life was not easy. However, he skillfully helped me to verbalize my conflicting thoughts. He also offered to refer me to the Gender Clinic, but I refused. "Hell, no!" was my response. It would take me almost ten years to finally accept his recommendation and ask my GP to refer me to the clinic. Perhaps they now had a cure -- that was my hope for going.

Why am I sharing all of this, and why now?

My hope is that by sharing honestly with you, you will be able to understand that it is time for me to face life honestly and allow the hidden person inside me to emerge. Like a butterfly? Maybe not quite that, but a metamorphosis to be sure. And the new person will need to inhabit the place that has been vacated by the person you thought you knew.

As to why now, that is a harder question to answer. You can imagine the struggle I have had in reconciling this to myself and to my family. I just know that I cannot live the rest of my life attempting to maintain the shaky facade I have had to erect all my life. I trained myself to behave and act in certain ways for more than five decades, not only for the sake of others, but as a way to survive. So there is need for a time of restructuring. Fortunately, caring professionals are helping me to navigate these intimidating waters.

I cannot fully express how I felt when I first shared this letter. On one hand, I had never been so scared and felt as vulnerable. On the other, I felt a very large burden finally lift from my shoulders as I began the process of disclosing. The most difficult of these, second only to disclosing to my wife more than 25 years ago (before I understood my condition), was disclosing to my parents and to each of our sons. This finally took place in the spring of 2008. I had already shared with my sisters and brother and their respective spouses a few months earlier. Though each person has accepted the news in his or her own way, I am grateful that I have not been rejected and ostracized. The complete opposite is true. I have never felt as loved and accepted.

I have also shared with close friends and clients, and that circle has been growing gradually. At first, each disclosure was emotionally exhausting. That helped to slow down the pace, though at times I wished I could have shouted it from the rooftops and gotten it over with -- once and for all! Now I find that forwarding this letter to people as the need arises has made the process easier on all. It gives people a chance to absorb things at their own pace, and I am spared from having to retell things over and over again.

All of this has been very difficult for my wife, who feels as if she has lost her husband. I have felt at times that I defrauded her when I married her. My only defense is that I honestly believed that marriage was the answer to prayers for a normal gender identity. When this uninvited inner person resurfaced, I then prayed and hoped that being a father would finally do the trick. What more proof would I need? On and on, my hopes and prayers were always based on yet another milestone of manhood. In all honesty, it is really to her credit and God's grace that we have remained together since I first revealed my gender dysphoria to her.

I am eternally grateful that three sons resulted from our union. Had I been brave enough to come out sooner and not married, I may have avoided years of struggle, but then these three wonderful lives would not be here today, and I would not have known the love that I have experienced from my dear wife and our sons. This I cannot deny and I would not trade the past -- even if it were possible to do so.

I am alive today because my faith enabled me to live a life that is one thing on the outside, and a very different thing on the inside -- but I felt as if I had simply become a master of disguise. More importantly, my faith protected me and kept me from harmful and self-destructive behavior, which is not uncommon for individuals saddled with my condition.

I am aware that not everyone will accept my transgenderism as a genuine medical condition -- as something I was born with -- but rather as a lifestyle choice. I spiritualized it and tried to deal with it as though it was a matter of the will and something that could be eliminated by the retraining of my mind, by perseverance and dying to myself daily. This is what I desperately prayed for and tried to do as I struggled to reconcile my identity with my beliefs.

After all these years I have finally come to peace about my diagnosis. As my pastor put it, this is not a moral issue anymore than being born with a physical disability or any other medical condition. But I am guilty of a sin, and that 'sin' has been my reliance on the secrecy that has underscored my adult life. It is not that I have been living a lie -- but rather living without acknowledging the full truth about myself.

The Changes—

In July of 2008 I started living fulltime as a female. Until then, coping had been possible by a gradual discovery of what allowed me to be at peace with my body. Dressing in an attempt to present realistically as female was a learning experience, yet there were changes I had to make before I felt confident enough to be in public. For example, I have endured and will continue to endure countless hours of electrolysis to remove my entire beard, which is almost gone. I also needed to lose weight and was able to come close to the weight of an average female of my age and height. Finally, there was the issue of an age-appropriate wardrobe that would allow me to fly under the radar without drawing attention.

Though my physical appearance has gradually changed since I transitioned, I am still the same person inside, but I am no longer a dual person. I am no longer cloaked in silence and motivated by fear and a sense of shame from not being truthful about myself. What is new for me is that now when I am asked how I am doing, I give an honest answer and not one that is complicit with a cover-up. You don't know what a joy it is for me to now be able to answer that question honestly and to be transparent! I have nothing else to hide.

The final step in the long process of transformation took place on March 30, 2010. I underwent gender reassignment surgery in Montreal. Friends asked me before the surgery if I was excited or nervous. The truth is that I was neither. What I felt was relief since I would no longer be straddling the gender divide. There is a sense of calmness that I have felt ever since and it is most welcomed.

In closing, I don't know how much you may already know or understand about transsexualism. There are many professional resources on the Internet that I can provide links to. Others continue to explain transsexualism and its ramifications better than I possibly could, but if you have questions of me, please feel free to ask. Let me know if you would like me to forward links to you because simply doing a search on the web can be quite disturbing. Unfortunately, there is much pornography based on this issue.

I have shared with you because I felt it was safe and important to do so. I apologize for not having shared with you directly and for relying on what amounts to be a "form letter." Because I value friendships, I was compelled to include you so that we can continue journeying together in complete openness.

Yours with all sincerity,

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Part 2 — How I Reconciled My Faith to My Diagnosis (Gender Dysphoria)

Excerpt from “Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life” — Chapter 32

The first twelve months of living full-time are called “the real life test.” It is a significant milestone on the transsexual road map, because after one year of living full time and surviving, one is eligible for gender reassignment surgery (GRS). That is, of course, if you pass the psychological assessment.

As I mentioned earlier, originally I did not plan to have the surgery. What tipped the scale in favor of it was a conversation I had with my doctor at the clinic. Unfortunately, some of my blood tests had given the clinic some concern. Both my kidneys and liver had shown signs of distress, and the doctors had even considered taking me off the medications if the next test showed similar results. However, if I were to have the surgery, I would be able to go off most medications. If I didn’t, then I would need to continue taking them for the rest of my life if I still wanted to suppress testosterone, which would keep me at risk for all kinds of complications. That was reason number one for reconsidering GRS.

Reason number two had to do with the legal and safety aspects of living as a woman but still being identified as male in all of my official documents, including passport and driver’s license. If I planned to travel, the incongruity between how I presented and my stated gender could potentially cause some problems, depending on the jurisdiction. There would always be the risk of being delayed, humiliated or worse, if some official were to make a case out of it.

The third reason was a moot point for me—validation. Some transsexuals view the surgery as the ultimate validation of who they are, and this is all the reason they need. For others, it is crucial for them to undergo GRS so they can enjoy heterosexual intercourse and function sexually as a woman. Neither of these was of any consequence or significance to me. I didn’t need the surgery for validation, and the last thing I wanted to do was make love to a man, since I have never been attracted to men.

I chose to request surgery on the medical and legal/safety issues alone. For my one-year anniversary appointment at the clinic I brought letters from individuals who could vouch that I had been living full-time for one year. I asked a couple of clients and a couple of friends for such letters, since letters from family members were not accepted. My doctor then submitted the letters, along with his report and a copy of my file to the provincial Trans Health Services office in Victoria, the provincial capital. He told me this office would contact me in about three months to schedule me for the psychological assessment.

In September, I got a call from the provincial office requesting my email address so I could be notified about when and where the assessment would take place; they suggested it would be sometime in October. The following week, however, I was called again, because they had a cancellation and I could be seen sooner. The assessment, done by two of the Trans Health psychiatrists, lasted one hour; I was approved for surgery. Then I had to wait another three months for the Authorization for Surgery letter from the Ministry of Health. With that letter in hand, I could call the hospital in Montreal to book a date for the GRS. For now, the Province of British Columbia farms out the surgery to the clinic of Dr. Pierre Brassard, a world-renowned GRS specialist. Travel and extended care for recovery are the patient’s responsibility.

The Authorization letter arrived the week before Christmas, so I called the hospital to book a date; the earliest would be May 17, 2010—a five-month wait. I wanted to think about whether the other dates might work best for me, but since the hospital was closed for two weeks over Christmas and New Year’s I was asked to call back in January. I chose the first date they had given me, May 17th—but, once again, there had been a cancellation. March 30th was now available so I went for it.

Friends have wondered if I would be attracted to men, and if I would consider that possibility in the event that my marriage does not survive. My instant and emphatic answer has always been no, I do not wish to have any intimate relation with a male. I am not curious or remotely interested in such a thing, and never have been. The surgery does not change one’s sexual orientation. If I were not monogamous and celibate, I would be open to an intimate relationship with a female—I suppose, technically, that would make me lesbian. And that’s an issue for Rachel: she is one hundred percent heterosexual.

The best explanation I have heard about this complicated multi-level issue of gender, sex and orientation, was by Dr. Cameron Bowman of the University of British Columbia, the only gender surgery specialist in our province. In an interview on a local cable community program, the interviewer asked the question if all trans- sexuals were attracted to the members of their original sex, now their opposite sex. He explained the need to take each of these three areas and discuss and understand them separately.

Gender, he said, is how we identify ourselves—it is the brain’s imprint. We either identify as male or female, but there are some who identify as neither—they are asexual; others identify as a combination of both; and yet others as more of one than the other, but not one or the other.

He described Sex as the body’s biological, physical characteristics—the plumbing. Again, most have either fully developed male or female “plumbing,” but there are a few who have ambiguous sexual characteristics and cannot be categorized as either male nor female—they are intersex.

Finally, there is sexual orientation. Again, most people are attracted only to the opposite and never to their own sex. However, there are some who can go either way, or are only attracted to their own sex.

What complicates things is that each of these layers is a spectrum and when you superimpose all three, you have an endless set of possible combinations.

The majority of people have a gender imprint that matches their body and they never question or wonder what they are. If you are one of these, consider yourself fortunate. For me and for many like me this has not been the case. And it goes both ways. There are women who identify as male and men who identify as female, others who identify as both male and female; and yet others who identify as more of one, but not totally. It is not an issue of being right or wrong. We cannot and should not be so literal as to say, “You have a man’s body, therefore, you are male.”

If you don’t struggle with your gender imprint, at least give those who do the benefit of the doubt, and be open to the amazing diversity in our human family. None of us gets to choose and that should keep us all humble, compassionate, and inclusive.
In Chapter 26, I talked about how I came to a new understanding of Jesus’ comments about eunuchs. That was a pivotal point in my life, because it was then I was finally able to reconcile faith with what the doctors had told me. It was only after I saw God was not going to judge me for the choices I needed to make, and that my faith was not at odds with what I was, that I finally felt I had permission to proceed.

I must admit, however, there was a touch of doubt that lingered in my mind. Was I fooling myself, and only seeing this issue from a selfish point of view? Any doubt I may have had evaporated when I realized there was corroborating evidence in the Bible. I now believe the disciples did come into a new understanding of human sexuality, (as well as marriage—the high calling of the committed, intimate relationship between two persons) as a result of Jesus’ teaching discussed earlier. The evidence is in St. Luke’s account in the Book of Acts, about Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Luke tells it like this:
But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Get up and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he got up and went; and there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure; and he had come to Jerusalem to worship, and he was returning and sitting in his chariot, and was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this:

The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch no longer saw him, but went on his way rejoicing.
There are so many lessons we can unpack from this story. For example, the Ethiopian eunuch’s devotion to Judaism had compelled him to make the long, treacherous, and dangerous journey to Jerusalem from Ethiopia to celebrate the Jewish feast of the Passover. He did this even though, as a eunuch, he was unable to enter the Temple grounds to fully participate in the feast, since, as was the custom at the time, eunuchs were considered ceremoniously unclean. He could therefore only stand on the sidelines and watch; he was an excluded person, through no fault of his own.

I appreciate you may not hold the same beliefs as me about Jesus, and I am not sharing all of this with you to convince you one way or another. I simply want you to understand that it was important for me to work these things out. As I said earlier, I needed to reconcile what I was inside with my faith. The narrow focus and very simplistic views I had held is what made it so difficult for me to accept what I was. This was the tension and the battleground, and nothing made sense for most of my life.
As a believer and follower of Jesus, what touches me about this story is this is one of the first acts by one of the apostles, and more significantly, it is the act of including sexually and anatomically “other” persons. Additionally, for this to be one of the first “church” events is evidence things were going to be different from the very start. It declared that none would be excluded for being “different.” That Philip did not hesitate to reach out and affirm this sexually-other person as a believer is an equally monumental lesson. I suspect Philip must have been just as surprised as the eunuch by this amazing encounter.

When the eunuch asked Philip if he shouldn’t be baptized, he wasn’t saying, “Hey, I want to start out right by following the new rules.” Instead, the question was packed with so much more importance. It was as if he was saying, “Though I have been a devout Jew all my life and have done everything that is expected and demanded of me, even coming to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, I have not been a full participant. As an other-sex person, I have had to stand on the sidelines. Will this also be the case now, or can I be a full participant as an equal?”

Humor me a little bit longer, and just imagine how the eunuch must have felt to no longer be marginalized and excluded. He was now an equal. How could there be no rejoicing? That, in essence, is how I finally feel after almost six decades. I finally accept myself as a woman, and though there is still a long road ahead and it won’t always be smooth travelling, I am finally able to rejoice in who I am.

With that said, I must say good-bye; it’s time to finish packing the suitcases. My flight is tomorrow morning and the surgery is in a couple of days. My surgeon is waiting!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Would I Revert Out of Love?

A letter written to a transsexual, a stranger to me. I was in Montreal at the residence, next door to the hospital, recovering from my surgery. Somehow her call was put through to my room by the nurse who answered the phone. Donna just needed to talk to someone and I had nothing better to do. She was seriously considering reverting back to male mode after living 24 years as a female, because her new girlfriend did not want to be in a lesbian relationship. Donna loved this woman and didn’t want to loose her. Complicated, to say the least.

April 4, 2010 (Good Friday) 
Gender is the brain part, sex is the biological part, orientation is the relational part... each of these needs to be considered on its own before we can assemble the three together. Where it gets complicated is that each area is also a continuum from male to female. As you aptly put it, for the great majority of the population, these three parallel each other and these "lucky" people never question what they are in any of these areas, they are all the same... male or female. Then there are the lucky few who have one or more of these areas out of sync and their gender/sex/orientation settings are not the factory default. 
One thing remains true for all of us, we are created in God's image and as I was saying when we broke off, he knows my(and your) name and he knows what my(and your) default values are, and He is OK with them. I finally was able to separate the fundamental, black and white false reality society sometimes latches on to, from the simple fact that creation is full of variety and even Jesus acknowledged this. 
I had always struggled with Jesus’ comments recorded in chapter 22 of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus was having a discussion with His disciples about divorce and marriage and quoted the passage from the Old Testament that we often hear at weddings: 
“Haven't you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 
The disciples asked him a few more questions and he answered them but adds: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (my emphasis)
Now, tell me that the last part of the conversations makes any sense to you if the discussion is about divorce and marriage. For years I used the first part of this passage with its reference to the Old Testament to beat myself up. Then one day, I saw something in Jesus’ last statement I had never seen before. First, Jesus re-stated that God created us male and female, but He concedes that it doesn’t always work out that way. “Some are eunuchs because they are born that way.” 
This one fact didn't just crack the door open for me, it blew the door off its hinges. I no longer felt that my condition was the result of my sin or my lack of faith. More importantly, I knew he loved me as I was and I no longer feared accepting the prescribed course of action. I transitioned with total confidence that he had answered my prayers by allowing me to live at a time and place where my condition was understood and there were caring people who were available to be there to help me.
I have one regret and I will take this to my grave: I have caused unimaginable pain on the person I love most, my best friend for 35 years, my wife. I recently had a conversation with my Dad, he commented that what I was doing to my wife was too hurtful. He asked why couldn’t I say to myself that I had endured my condition for 58 years and I might as well stay unchanged for how ever many years I may have left and return to being a man for her. If it only were so easy. I asked him if he would say the same thing to me if what I had was another “congenital” or lifelong medical condition for which there was now a procedure that could improve the quality of my life for my remaining years? Should I not have that procedure performed on me but just take it with me to the grave because, after all, I had already lived with it this long? “That’s different.” he said. I asked him to tell me how it was different morally but he couldn't answer. But I know what he was talking about... this "procedure" impacts my wife's factory setting to be united to a man, and how she views herself and how she wants others to view her.
Ultimately, it came down to whether it would be better for her to have a dead husband and no marriage, or a live marriage but no husband. You know what I mean. I'll put it this way, I deal in pictures—I make my living doing visual stuff—so it was no great surprise an image came to mind one day as I was trying to explain to someone how I saw my life: I remember unraveling a large ball of heavy string I found when I was a child. I pulled on the end that was poking out of the center and started pulling on it. I kept this up until the ball lost its critical mass and what was left collapsed and was formless. Until that very moment, the outside shape was intact and one would not have known that its core was slowly disappearing by just looking at it. That was me. That was my life—I was unravelling from the inside but no one was the wiser. I knew that my “critical mass” would soon be gone and I would collapse into an unrecognizable heap. I didn’t what that to happen to me for my wife’s sake. I didn’t want it to happen for our sons and the rest of my family’s sake either.

I knew that it was not healthy to dwell on death all the time and to think that death would solve so many of my problems. Additionally, I thought is paradoxical and ironic that God had not taken me on any one of the many times I escaped death in nothing short of miraculous ways. “Why, why didn’t You take me then?” I have asked God. To simply say that my time had not yet come is a cop out. Why wasn’t my time? Could it be that I had something to live for? If so what is it? I love life as much as the next person and from this human point of view, there is a lot I will miss when I’m gone. But the things I am talking about are not material, they are persons. Each of our sons, my family, but most of all my wife. So, I plan to be around for as long as I can and I thank God for the years He has ordained for me, including all the the painful ones. 
RE: Your photo. (Which she emailed after the phone call)
You are lovely, Donna. should you decide to re-embrace the gender you chose 24 years ago. My absolute honest response is that if I knew nothing about you, I would read you as female. I wish I had your hair.
You mentioned your height being a challenge, have you seen Kimberly Reeds, award-winning film maker? She is 6'1" and used to be her high schools star quarterback. 
You mentioned your voice being too masculine, well, there are voice training tips and exercises that you can do to affect a more feminine quality (I am currently in a regimen that is making a difference for me when I am in public- Google "Changing Keys transsexual voice training" You should fined some articles in the BC Trans Health Services program).
The person you are in love with, I know... I know. You and I cannot imagine life without our two friends, I don't have an answer for you.
I will include you and your friend in my prayers as I continue to lift my wife up to Him, I pray she will remain my friend. I have never loved her more than I do now and that will never change. 

Is Being a Transsexual Scriptural?

A letter written to a Christian friend who questioned my transition and offered to pray for me to not go through with it. He was aware of another transsexual who had a change of heart and reverted back to male. My friend thought I was making the same mistake and offered to put him in touch with me so we could talk. I declined the offer.
August, 2008 
Hi Terry.
Thank you for your email.
My dad, who is a very devout Christian, came with my mom the day after I shared with them in April. He had been wrestling with what I had shared all night and was afraid that I was slapping God in the face and going against His divine plan. Or worse yet, that I had turned my back on Christ. Those questions were not new to me since I had in fact been wrestling with them all of my adult life, since I was 20 years old. That is when I came to faith in Jesus, in large part due to His invitation for all who are weary and heavy laden, and also His promise, that I would find rest. In the ensuing 38 years I developed a very fundamentalist view that was pretty black and white with regards to my "burden." along with my wife, we approach it on a purely spiritual level and saw it as a spiritual battle. 
Of course, there is a spiritual component to everything in our lives, but we are also physical and mental beings and consequently vulnerable to the corruption that is in the world. I answered my dad in the form of a question. I asked him what God's divine plan was for our niece who at the time was pregnant and had been told that her baby had a 90% chance of being born with serious complications and possible malformations in her body? And what about people with physical disabilities who required painful surgeries and or who were unable to move or take care of themselves? And why didn't God heal people universally? 
These questions were not meant to be a smokescreen or a justification for the decisions I have had to make, because if I could have it my way, these would be the last things I would have chosen for myself, nor would I wish them on my worst enemy. I have only recently been able to reconcile who I am inside with what I have believed all these years. I have come to a place where I no longer view my condition as 'bondage" but as my thorn in the flesh. I think there is a very big difference between the two. Yes, they both result from the Fall, but in the same way that Jesus did not heal everyone in His generation, then we must acknowledge like Paul did, that not everything that is broken is going to be fixed in this life. Christ is still first in my life.
I have read many testimonies of others with a similar burden to mine. Like the person you mentioned, I have read about those who have decided to revert to their original gender role and have thought about their reasons and how they might apply to my life. My expectations for embarking on this prescribed path for myself has been tempered by many, many stories like these. As I said, these are really my last options because I have exhausted everything else. I have not rushed into this without serious consideration for what this would mean spiritually,  socially, physically, financially and to my family. And I have also come to a place in my understanding of Scripture that there is a lot of ambiguity with respect to many aspects of the human condition.
I also see that when we attempt to establish a doctrine in some of these areas, that we run the risk of becoming like the Pharisees and erect walls of exclusion to separate us from anyone who may hold a different view. Is God not big enough to include and invite those who are marginalized and "different?" I believe He is. Otherwise, why would He have dispatched Philip to intercept the Ethiopian Eunuch as he return home from Jerusalem? The fact is that this person would not have been allowed to step on the Temple grounds because he was ceremonially unclean, yet he had a heart for God and had travelled hundreds of miles to come to Jerusalem. Though being a devoted Jew, he was still excluded until the Holy Spirit drew him in and then there was no distinction between the eunuch and any other believer.
I have come to realize that I misunderstood Jesus' invitation most of my life. I had expected Jesus to remove my burden and weariness and kept waiting for the day when I would be made normal. I became very adept at collecting verses like one might gather ammunition in order to shoot myself down and beat myself into submission. But I had no rest until It dawned on me that Jesus never promised to remove the burden, but instead to give me rest in spite of my burden and weariness. I am finally at rest with who I am in much the same way that a person who is paralyzed is at rest in their condition. 
One other thing that I realized was that God was answering my prayers in a way I never acknowledged. It wasn't until I had this mental picture of someone with bone cancer who is told that the only way to save their life is by amputating both legs above the knee and objects to the proposed treatment because they will look different, will have to learn new skills and will be in a wheel chair the rest of their lives. Perhaps God's provision and answer to this person's prayer was that he had the right medical care and access to those who would help rehabilitate him so he could live, rather than die from cancer. In my pride, I was that person. I recoiled at the proposed treatment because it would mean a set of life changing steps I would have to take. Why couldn't God mend something so private and personal quietly and secretly. Why such a public remedy? 
The fact is that much more is understood about gender dysphoria today than ever before and we live in a city, province and country that is open minded towards the condition. God has allowed me to live in a time and place where there is hope for me, to finally be released from the sadness and depression that have been my curse ever since I can remember. 
As a believer in Jesus, I look for the day when we will be set free once and for all. I look forward to a new spiritual body that will be neither male nor female. More importantly, I look forward to seeing Him face to face and falling at His feet in humble adoration.
I hope this might answer and address some of the concerns you expressed. I have had the privilege of sharing with many fellow believers who have never considered this issue before, at least not until I disclosed to them. I am grateful that I have many who have pledged to journey on with me, with my loving wife and our three sons, and to love us and pray for us. 
Faith, hope and love.

Part 1 — How I Reconciled My Faith to My Diagnosis (Gender Dysphoria)

Excerpt from “Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life” — Chapter 26

“What will people think?” I’ve discovered this question can never be adequately answered, ever.

I became very paranoid about being seen going in and out of the Clinic, the doctors’ offices and medical labs I was now having to visit on a regular basis. Our church has many members who work in health sciences, and since I didn’t know where any of them worked, I was always on the lookout as I entered and left the medical buildings.

I worried that if people found out about me, the discovery would embroil our church in controversy. I knew one individual who was very critical of anything that hinted at the acceptance of gays. One Sunday during a pastoral prayer there was a request on behalf of victims of violence due to their race, color, creed, gender or sexual orientation. That week he railed into the pastor, members of the deacons’ board, and anyone who crossed his path. Since when did we start to look favorably on gays? My, oh my, was this individual incensed or what? I was one of the unlucky ones he dumped on. All I could think of at the time was, “Well, brother, you ain’t heard nothing yet!”

A few years earlier, some members had left our church because the new assistant minister, who was female, presented too “butch,” and they thought this was wrong. When they lost the vote at the confirmation meeting they protested with their feet. Granted, they were only two or three individuals, but they certainly did not like the fact so many stood up for this young woman and voted for her.

Aware of the potential damage that could result if my disclosure was not handled correctly, I decided it was time to step down from my involvement in the worship team. Towards the end of September, 2007, the worship leaders got together to discuss and plan the music for the Advent and Christmas seasons. The pastor chaired the meeting and, like all other meetings we’d ever had, this one was sprinkled with laughter and warm camaraderie. We all got along and worked together really well; no one had an ego—and I’ve seen some egos when it comes to worship leaders. So it took the pastor by surprise when I met with him a few weeks later to resign from all my responsibilities on the worship team.

We met one morning and over coffee I told him everything. I explained I was worried about being recognized entering or leaving a specialist’s office by someone from church, about people jumping to conclusions without having all the facts. I did not want to cause a rift in the congregation; neither did I want to become the elephant in the room. Most of all, I did not want to become the poster child for transgender issues, or a cause célèbre. I reminded him of how some people had been upset during the hiring of the assistant minister, and opined my issue had a much larger potential for making things uncomfortable for him and the Deacons’ Board.

Admittedly, this is what I said to him, but it wasn’t easy for me to get the words out; my heart was in my throat, and I had to stop and compose myself throughout my disclosure. Have you ever been so nervous you can’t stop talking? I think that was me that morning. I was absolutely terrified the pastor was going to judge me and exact his godly wrath on me.

He just sat there and listened to me, handing me extra napkins to wipe my eyes, and waited for me to finish. I’ll never forget his first words, and the way he said them, full of compassion. He told me this was not a moral issue any more than being born with a physical disability or any other medical condition.

He thanked me for sharing with him and told me this did not disqualify me as a worship leader, adding it made me more qualified because of my integrity and honesty. Then he suspected, quite correctly, that I had been beating myself up all my life with scripture, and assured me he did not judge me. He was very concerned for Rachel and how this had affected her; he sympathized with her and what she must be going through.

When would I begin to make changes in my appearance, he wondered, and when was I planning to start presenting as female? I explained to him some of the changes that were already taking place. And, to the question of when I would start presenting as female, I told him he didn’t have anything to worry about, it might not be for one or two years, or longer. I told them as long as my parents were alive I would most likely not take that step.

He then said something to me I will never forget: he promised me if I ever came to church as female he would stand with me and affirm me as a member of the congregation. As we were saying goodbye he asked me if I would like him to let the rest of the worship team know about my resignation or if I wanted to do that myself. He promised this information would be absolutely confidential between the two of us; he would not say anything to anyone about my reasons for stepping down. I was so grateful for his offer, I accepted—I could not see how I could possibly speak to all those people.

It must be said I was able, finally, to reconcile my faith to my condition, thanks to my pastor’s first sermon as our new minister in which he set the tone for his style of teaching. He warned us then if we were looking for black and white dogmatic answers from him we were going to be disappointed. He explained, having been a diligent student of the Bible for close to twenty-five years, that he had come to the conclusion that no one had the right to pull out one or two verses of it to formulate a doctrine.

He told us we needed to approach the Bible with humility, recognizing the Bible itself is ambiguous, if not silent, on most aspects of the human condition. To compound the challenge, he asked how many times Jesus answered His questioners with ambiguity? How many times did He leave His listeners with more questions than they had before? Therefore, the pastor told us, we needed to be open to different points of view as we try to make sense of scripture and how it should be applied to life.

His sermon that day breathed life into my soul. I had always struggled with Jesus’ comments recorded in chapter nineteen of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus was having a discussion with His disciples about divorce and marriage and quoted the passage from chapter one of the book of Genesis that we often hear at weddings:

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

The disciples were perplexed by his answer to the Pharisees, then he added this, which seemed out-of-the-blue:

“Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”

Now, tell me the last comment makes any sense to you if the discussion is about divorce and marriage. For years I used the first part of this passage, with its reference to Genesis, to beat myself up. I would often castigate myself with this rationale: “It says we are either male or female, there is no other option. Why do you allow yourself to go there in your thinking? Get it out of your mind, you are male! You have fathered three children, what more proof do you need?”

Then, gradually, after the pastor’s sermon, I began to see something in Jesus’ last statement I had never seen before. First, Jesus re-stated God created us male and female—but, He concedes, it doesn’t always work out that way. Some are eunuchs because they are born that way.

In this one statement Jesus tells us it isn’t all black and white. There are individuals who are neither male nor female; they are eunuchs, or inter-sexed, somewhere in between. We are, therefore, not to view gender and sex strictly as one or the other, but as a continuum with many aberrations and manifestations. Doing so only causes some to be marginalized ostracized, hated, and even persecuted.

Doctors and the parents of an intersex child have a difficult time deciding how to best raise that child. They will often make a decision one way or another, to raise a girl or a boy. The deciding factor might simply be a cultural preference, or what the parents feel they want in terms of gender. Unfortunately, studies show in fifty percent of the cases, as that child gets older and becomes more sexually self aware, the sex chosen for the child is at odds with the child’s gender identity. If this is the case for a person born with “ambiguous” genitalia—that their gender identity is not directly related to their biological sexual characteristics—then who has the right to draw any lines of delineation as to which gender and sex pairings are correct?

This thought or understanding didn’t come to me all at once; it was as if the scales fell off my eyes gradually, until I finally saw what Jesus was saying to his disciples was applicable to me. What also struck me was what Jesus didn’t say; the implications are huge. First, he didn’t condemn the eunuch, whether he/she was born that way, or was made that way, or chose to become that way. He also did not place any conditions on them with respect to the subjects at hand, marriage and divorce. He also did not list which parings of unions would be acceptable for gender variant persons. Should eunuchs only be paired with other eunuchs? I read somewhere the Hebrew language had five variations for eunuch because only one designation was not enough. For example, they had a word for a female eunuch, and a different word for a male eunuch. In the first case, it was used to designate a mostly female person with some male sexual characteristics, and in the other, a mostly male person with some form of female sexual characteristics. The point Jesus was making was gender and sex are not binary in nature, and therefore needed to allow for a broader understanding than simply and only male or female.

Additionally, Jesus’ comment not everyone can accept this is significant. The statement is similar to when in other places he said, “let him who has ear to hear, hear,” or, “eyes to see, see.” It is a teaching device, and it is not meant as a declaration of exclusivity for only a few. Rather, it is a challenge to the listeners to wrap their brain around this because I want you to get it! Jesus wanted to raise their awareness by challenging their small thinking. He wanted to change their paradigm on sexuality.

Finally, this served to temper my expectation that I would enjoy universal acceptance, because not everyone would choose to view things from this much more inclusive perspective.

I find it ironic how the passage I used for years to beat myself into submission was the very one that freed me and gave me permission to be who I am. Unfortunately, the same phrase I used out of context, “the Creator made them male and female,” is often quoted by all who oppose lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusive, doctrines, policies or laws. Listen for this phrase in the sound bites when reporters ask how people feel about same-sex relationships or marriage. It is also ironic how the conservative and right-wing churches and organizations judge and condemn LGBT persons while insisting they love the person, but hate their sin. The volume and temperature of their condemnation, if applied to the issue Jesus was really addressing in the Matthew chapter nineteen discussion, which was divorce and infidelity, would be detrimental to their cause. If they preached against, rejected and judged divorced persons in the same way they preach against, reject and judge LGBT persons, their churches would be empty and so would their bank accounts.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Why do I feel like a liability as a T in the GLBT/church bridge building taking place?

In recent months, I have become more aware of several evangelical Christian individuals and groups, both straight and GLBT, who are committed to 'bridge building' between the church and the GLBT community.

I must admit that this is all new to me because even though I only transitioned recently in view of my age, I existed in a self-imposed cloister of sorts, and avoided immersing myself in trans (and GLB) politics.

I can be accused of reaping the benefits of all the hard work done by others. But I am appreciative and need to make it known that I do acknowledge that if it had not been for the advocacy and hard work of all those who have dared to navigate the uncharted waters, that my ability to transition and finally enjoy 'congruence' as a person would have been impossible.

At least in Vancouver, and in Canada in general, the laws, medical services and the general attitude of the people, are all contributing factors in making our situation more bearable, compared to what I perceive it to be for our American counterparts. Having said that, things are not perfect in Canada either, but at least our rights, as are the rights of all Canadians, better enshrined and protected, and with respect to rights specifically protecting Trans people, there is a bill that is making its way through Parliament that seems to be very close to passing.

But I digress. I started out by talking about the work taking place in the church and my conclusion is that the bridge builders seem to be holding the 'T' in GLBT at arm's-length, in much the same way the secular "GLBT Inc." has been guilty of doing, especially in American politics. Perhaps it is oversight on their part and they just simply need to be nudged, or perhaps it is more systemic and an indication that their work becomes more challenging if they have to assert the T.

I would like to think that it is the former.

Alternatively, it may be incumbent on us to not rely of the GLBs to be our voice in this church arena? This is not to undermine the good work that is being done by these individuals and groups, it is to add to it.

The fact and the reality is that GLB issues are less overwhelming to resolve than T issues, and our experiences as individuals is markedly different.
As a foot note, it also needs to be pointed out that even under the T umbrella, there are huge differences between those who are medically transsexual (like myself), and those who are simply gender benders, drag queens and kings, cross-dressers/transvestites, the fetishist and "hobbyists." I speak for the transsexuals, which, I suppose, makes me guilty of the very thing I suspect of the GLBs and their allies, since I am holding the rest of those under the T umbrella at an arm's-length. It's complicated, isn't it?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Open Letter to the (9th) Ugandan Parliament

Dear Sirs and Madames,

I am writing to you, as I did earlier this year to the members of the 8th Parliament, to express my concern for the proposed anti-gay legislation as well as for some of your recently passed laws that criminalize sexual orientation.

Mr. David Bahati, who has introduced the bill to Parliament, has based his position on discredited sources which erroneously and maliciously blame all manner of dangerous behaviors towards children and declare that homosexual behavior can be eliminated.

I urge you to distance yourselves from those American fundamentalist Christian Right, anti-gay extremist who have descended on your country and are fanning their homophobic agenda, which could have grave consequences for your country's human rights. They have not done your country any favors.

I am a Christian myself. I am also a transsexual. But more importantly, I am grateful to live in a city and country that has afforded me the ability to live without fear. Additionally, I am grateful to live in a day and age when my condition is recognized by the medical profession and that there aremedical professionals throughout the world who have dedicated themselves to learn everything they can about how to help individuals like myself to live healthy and productive lives.

Even though gender identity and sexual orientation are two different things that must be understood and discussed separately, they have one thing in common. Neither of them are a choice. One does not choose to be gay or a transsexual any more than one chooses to be straight. It is therefore inhumane to single out those who don't happen to conform to the binary view of sexuality and criminalize their personhood.

Additionally, to make it a crime not to report a gay person within twenty-four hours is beyond evil. To lay charges against family, friends, counsellors, ministers, doctors, landlords, employers and neighbors will turn your country into a land full of suspicion, tyranny and fear. Where then can someone who is ostracized and persecuted for being deemed different turn to for soccur? How much more inhumane can laws become?

In closing, please know that I will continue to uphold your country in prayer, that all elected to the 9th Parliament on February 18, 2011, will be marked with compassion and that the legacy of your tenure as a Member of Parliament will be how you protected the human rights, the dignity and the diversity of all the citizens of Uganda. Please repeal and abolish all laws that target any minority group, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Ugandans.

Respectfully yours,
Lisa Salazar
Vancouver, Canada