Thursday, October 18, 2012

Behind the scenes of "Ask a transgender Christian"

A young woman I greatly admire is Rachel Held Evans. She is an amazing author, blogger, speaker, wife, mother and a seriously articulate Evangelical Christian who is not afraid to enter into conversations that would make many others run and hide in their little dogma houses.

Earlier in September of 2012, Rachel contacted me to see if I would be willing to be interviewed as part of her popular blog series titled "AKS A…" Would I be willing to be the target for "Ask a Transgender Christian?" My new friend Justin Lee, executive director of the Gay Christian Network (GCN) and author of the soon to be released book "Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate" suggested me as the person to ask. (In the same way, Justin is the person Rachel chose for the "Ask a Gay Christian" interview.

Having followed Rachel for several months, my initial reaction to her email was one of disbelief and trepidation, given the level of intellectual and theological depth of her blog. "Me? She wants to ask me? Why?" But I also felt safe with her and from everything I had read in her blog posts, I knew she would not be throwing me to the lions. I agreed to take on the challenge.

The way the "ASK A…" interviews work is as follows: she first posts a photo and a short bio of the person to be interviewed and invites her readers to pose questions and/or vote for the questions others have already asked. After about twenty-four hours, she cuts off the input and selects between eight and ten questions; these then become the interview. After you receive the questions, you have four days to respond. Once she gets your answers, she does a quick editorial review and posts your response. Sound simple? Well, let me tell you.

The process is pretty straight forward, but the prospect of facing some hard questions is disquieting. In the back of my mind was the nagging thought that everything I said was going to be shot full of holes and I was going to look like an absolute idiot. "What was I thinking?" and "Who did I think that I was?" Yes, pride and vanity did get in the way, and so did my sense of vulnerability. I admit it, I do care what people think about me and always have. And there is the nugget, as it were, that kept me in a constant state of high anxiety and provided the motivation I needed to never let my guard down as I tried to live as a man of good standing in the club for so many years.

But as they say, the proverbial cat has been out of the bag for, let's see, five years. (It was the middle of October, 2007 when I began the process of disclosing to family and friends that some seismic changes were about to happen in my life.) So why would a set of questions now, all of which I had already answered at least a zillion times suddenly reawaken such a deep and gnawing insecurity? The reason is simple; to answer these type of questions with honestly required me to go through a process that is akin to disrobing in front of people. The process also caused me to relive some very painful experiences, but it also evoked some beautiful memories of how things were between my ex-wife and me, the life we had together and how we tried to save our marriage.

In the interview I did not give her enough credit, not because I forgot, but because my words could not have done justice to how much she gave and how much I appreciate and respect her. From accounts of spouses and significant others of transgender persons, there is a sense of betrayal-slash-lack of appreciation that is experienced by them when, despite all their best efforts and sacrifice for their loved one, they proceed to transition. "Didn't I do enough for you that you could not remain as my husband?" My ex-wife has never said this to me, but she did say to me that I rejected her. I think that was her way of saying the same thing...that I had rejected all she had done for me, that it had not been enough to keep me as a man.

The 19th of October is the anniversary of our wedding, This year would have been thirty-eight years. Perhaps it is not fair for me to talk about all of this in a public forum and pretend to fully understand the pain she has experienced as a result of my decisions. I try to put my self in her shoes, but it is useless. It is far better for me to simply say I am sorry that my need to survive eclipsed my ability to say no to transition.

So there you have it. These were the things that were going on behind the scenes as I answered the questions.

Postscript — I was very touched by not only how sensitively Rachel's readers asked the questions, but also by the many follow-up comments to the interview. I thank them all for being as kind and generous as they have shown to be. And if you take the time to read the interview, your comments will also be appreciated.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Some hoops are not a fashion statement.

...the M to F thing is one of them!

"Dear Sir,"

This has been the greeting on recent letters from the Canadian Revenue Agency. I placed a call to the CRA to object to the greeting and to request they update their information. The person I spoke to was very helpful but was unable to change the gender marker in the computer. This was not an option she could access. She gave me another 1-800 number to call. After wading through the menu options and waiting on queue long enough to hear the "due to heavy volumes…" blurb several dozen times, I finally spoke to a real person who listened to my request and politely informed me I had to call another government office.

After another 1-800 routine that lasted another twenty minutes, I learned I had to contact yet another office and after over one hour of phone calls I was finally given instructions for what I had to do. This insignificant one-letter-change could only be done by going in person to a Canada Services office and I would need to bring my Canadian citizenship card, my passport—both of which show my gender as female—and my Social Insurance card.

This morning, after a short wait in the reception area of the Canadian Services office in Burnaby, I was finally able to get this gender thing updated in the government's central registry. I asked the representative if this would now affect all future correspondence with federal agencies. His answer: "It won't be instant, this could take months for all computer accounts to be updated." This young man had not processed this kind of request before and asked for permission to ask me some questions, a detail I greatly appreciated. He wanted to know if I had been required to have surgery before I was given a new citizenship card, which of course is what I had to do.

Canada has come a long way, but the fact I had already undergone a legal name change and had met the requirement for getting the M changed to F when my citizenship card was reissued, how is it that this information did not also affect the central registry? How many hoops does one need to jump through in order to be recognized officially as the gender of your identity? And what about all those transgender persons who choose not to have the surgery or are not allowed to have the surgery for medical reasons, or who are waiting to have surgery in the future? Why can't the process be less onerous and demanding? Such minor aspect of transition, yet one that seems to cause so much angst.

I can't wait to start getting a letter with "Dear Madame" as the greeting. Any bets as to how long this might take?

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