Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bump in the Road, or a Major Seismic Event to Start the New Year?

2011, for all intents and purposes, was a difficult year for me personally. It marked the end of my marriage of almost thirty-seven years and, consequently, this made Christmas and the year-end festivities almost unbearable. I am most grateful to my friends and especially my immediate family for their sensitivity and love during those difficult days.

The year had started on an urgent note, when after reading my friend Kathy Baldock's blogpost in Canyonwalker Connections titled "Genocide Brewing in Uganda," I was inspired to write an open letter to the Parliament of Uganda in opposition to the anti-gay legislation making its way through Parliament, which carries the death penalty. Wanting to do more, I also created a website to encourage others to send their own letters to the two-hundred plus Members of Parliament, whose email addresses I gleaned from the official Parliament of Uganda web site. I am pleased to report the humble letter campaign did have a modest effect, as evidenced by internal emails which were forward to me by friends inside the Ugandan Parliament. A frustrated Cabinet minister complained about the pesky "Canadians" behind this email campaign.

There have been life and death implications resulting from this little bit of advocacy. I am unable to expand on this because there are persons in peril who must be protected, except to say the stories coming out of Uganda of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons who have been persecuted, beaten and killed, are both sobering and heart-wrenching. The unfolding stories I am referring to make my sad personal episode pale by comparison. Does this make things easier to cope with? No. but it helps put my life in a much larger context, and for that, I am humbled and grateful.

What does 2012 hold in store? With respect to Uganda, the proposed bill still has not been passed, in large part to due to international pressure, but that is small comfort given the intensely homophobic mood of the politicians and the country as a whole. Homosexuality has been illegal since colonial times and Ugandans, as well as other Africans have this idea that homosexuality is a recent import from the west. The history of the most recent moves by Ugandan lawmakers to add the death penalty is not without some irony. A group of fundamentalist American preachers went to Uganda in 2009 and poured fuel on the fire by scaring the Ugandans with claims of a sinister gay conspiracy to recruit Ugandan children into the homosexual lifestyle by bribing them with money and expensive toys. They told Ugandans their traditional family values were under attack and that they had to take action, and that they did by torquing up their homophobia and disdain with the proposed "kill the gays bill."

I hope and pray the bill never passes, but I also hope all countries that criminalize same sex relationships or non-conforming gender identity will heed the international outcry for the protection of sexual minorities. I really hope 2012 will be a better year in that respect.

The new year did start on an otherwise hopeful note for me. I just returned from the Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference in Orlando, Florida. Kathy Baldock has been attending the GCN annual conferences for several years and she has become one of their staunch allies. Kathy encouraged me to attend and to propose a workshop to the organizers, which they accepted. I titled it "Getting Serious About the 'T' in 'LGBT.'" I wanted to draw attention to the challenges and opportunities of being transgender-friendly as individuals and as an organization.

GCN is not the only gay-friendly organization that describes itself as LGBT welcoming, unfortunately, the sad fact is many of these organizations just pay lip service to the "T" in the equation. If, statistically speaking, transgender persons make up 1.5% of the population and gay, lesbian and bisexuals make up another 4%, and if we lump the two groups together, that means a group of LGBT people should have 27% transgender persons in their ranks—but they don't. Of the four-hundred plus people attending this year's GCN event, I only counted four trans persons. I was one of two transwomen and there were two transmen.

It begs the question, why so few transgender persons in attendance, and why so few transgender persons forming part of LGBT groups, both secular and religious? The answer is really quite simple, transgender persons tend to prefer anonymity for very valid reasons. You could say we fall into one of three sub-groups when it comes to how we live: we are deeply closeted before we emerge to transition, we transition and are so traumatized by the process that once we have achieved a sufficient congruence as persons and ability to navigate life, we revert back to the closet, hoping to live the rest of our lives in stealth mode. At the end of the day, the hope is to no longer  see and refer oneself as a transsexual male or female, but simply as a man or a woman. Period, end of sentence.

So if that is the case, then how does an organization as desirous to reach out to transgender persons as GCN claims to be, actually reach out to transgender persons if anonymity is their mantra? This is a challenge which is also facing me, a transexual woman and one of the co-ordinators of my church's Transgender Ministry. The needs of transgender persons are nothing short of overwhelming, so I won't go into them because this blogpost is already getting a little long. In many respects, most of the fears lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGB) face are also true for the transgender persons. The big difference is that being LGB does not impose any external changes, as is the case for transgender persons. Let's say, for example, that you come out as LGB or T to all your family and friends at the same time and announce this is who and what your are, and if you are "T," that starting tomorrow you will present yourself as the sex and gender you identify as. Let's imagine that on day two you need to renew your driver's license, or you have an emergency requiring hospitalization, or you simply have to go to work—well, guess what—if you just came out as LGB, there won't be any direct ramifications. But if you came out as T and are now presenting as the opposite sex, your world will be turned upside down. Literally.

I wish I had the answer for how to recruit transgender persons to join a group like GCN, or attend a Bible study at   my church. I suppose I am an exception in that thought I also aspire to go through life in stealth mode as a woman, I am not hung-up by the need to hide the fact I am transsexual. That does not mean I announce to everyone I meet I used to me a man, for that is really none of their business. However, I cannot erase my past, nor do I want to. I was a good husband and I tried to be a good dad, even though it felt like I was dying slowly on the inside as I struggled with my confusing gender identity. Like every LGBT person I have had the privilege to meet and talk to, I prayed to God to make me normal and I knew it would take a miracle. The miracle never happened and the longer i lived, the more defeated I felt. Was it my lack of faith, or was I not praying the right prayer?

I came to faith in Jesus Christ when I was almost twenty-one years old. I honestly expected God to heal me somehow. Falling in love with a devoted Christian girl, marrying her and fathering three children, one would think, should have done the magic and taken away the dysphoria (deep sadness) I felt inside with respect to my sexuality. My faith kept me from self-destructive stuff, but it produced mountains of guilt. I spiritualized my struggle, not a bad thing to do under most circumstances, but this prevented me from allowing myself to accept the diagnosis I received after six months of assessment by the gender clinic at Vancouver General Hospital in 1999. It was not until 2006 that I was able to reconcile my faith to my diagnosis, and now, forty years after my conversion, I find myself living as a woman.

Why did God not "heal" me? And why was the "cure" for such a private and personal struggle so exposed and public? Think about it, don't you think I would have preferred it if God had quietly snapped His finger and corrected my gender identity? You bet. Unfortunately, that is not how it turned out.

Just about every LGBT person I know will echo a similar lament, if you ask them. Yet, in God's silence, or call it unwillingness to grant our wishes, perhaps there is an answer. Could it be he views our gender identity and sexual orientation differently from what we have been led to believe by Bible teachers who claim to speak for God and condemn LGBT persons in the process?

GCN invited Alan Chambers to the conference this year. Chambers is president of Exodus International, one of the most powerful, if not the largest organization claiming it can help people change their sexual orientation. Justin Lee, Executive Director of GCN spoke of the need for reconciliation between Allan Chambers and all he represents and those who have gone through the Exodus and similar ex-gay programs, but have not experienced a change in their orientation as promised. This was a very sensitive issue since many GCN members have not only spent a lot of money to pay for the help offered, but have also paid heavy emotional prices in the process, yet failed to become straight.


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I can understand why Justin Lee has been criticized by many who feel betrayed or hurt by Exodus for having given Chambers a platform, and though many can forgive, there are some who cannot accept any apology for the pain they suffered. For example, there are stories of young persons being forced to go through programs or face being kicked out of their homes. There are others whose parents threatened not to help pay for their college education. There are some who were told they could not possibly be Christian if they had same sex attraction.

However, I admire Justin Lee for taking this step by opening dialog with Chambers (see Lee's official statement here), even before the conference began. Perhaps, in someways, we have to give each other the benefit of the doubt and assume that Chambers et al are genuinely wanting to do the right thing, and as followers of Jesus we should humbly take all things into consideration. But when the growing evidence is that a person's same sex attraction or gender identity cannot be changed by an act of the will, then there needs to be a change in tactics and ideology, if not complete abandoning of faulty ideas and programs. In many respects, what Exodus claims to do is no different than someone offering sufferers of Crohn's disease a cure but it requires them to stop eating.

In what is now being reported and talked about all over the internet since the January 6, 2012 historic opportunity for Mr. Chambers to defend his position (an Exodus' by extension), is the admission by him that 99.9% of the people who go through the Exodus program don't experience the promised change. This is a huge admission and it should be seen as a major seismic event with far-reaching consequences. It specifically calls into question the claims being made in Uganda by proponents of the "kill the gays bill" that it is possible for people to leave the "homosexual lifestyle" with the help of reparative programs, such as the ones offered by Exodus.

How will Chambers' admission be explained away by those who hold fast to the belief that change is possible? For those who claim homosexuality is a choice, this might simply be seem as a small bump in road. No doubt some will state Chambers was under duress since he was having to defend himself agains four powerful opponents, all who had been involved with Exodus and or associated organizations until they had a change of conscience and now basically believe gay is okay with God. But this was no forced response, it may have been a slip of the tongue, but my belief is that truth cannot be hidden forever. It is similar to how I finally came to the point where I admitted to myself that I could not change my gender identity, as much as I wanted to, and that I was not condemned by God.

I really do pray 2012 will be better for LGBT persons worldwide.

If you are transgender or know someone who is and would like to connect with me, I would be honored to hear from you. Here is a link. 


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