Thursday, August 29, 2013

“Do I know you? You look familiar.”

As featured in Medium.com

Ever wonder what it might be like to change into a different person?

I’ve lived in Vancouver for the last forty years of my life, that’s about two-thirds of the total trips I’ve taken around the sun.

During those years I’ve met hundreds of persons, if not thousands. Some were my business clients; a couple were my bosses; dozens were my employees; about three hundred were my students at Capilano College; a crazy number were customers I had the pleasure of serving at my family’s restaurant in Kitsilano, Las Margaritas; another five hundred or so were fellow worshippers in the seven different churches we attended as a family; and several dozen were neighbors, the parents of our childrens’ friends, and the many other people I knew only by first name—the grocery store clerks, pharmacists, postal delivery persons, etc. I haven’t added all these people up and I don’t know how my list compares to yours—is it larger, smaller, average in size?

I have no way of knowing how many people in total this might be, and this uncertainty contributed to one of the biggest fears I entertained for years. It had nothing to do with anthropophobia; it had everything to do with transphobia—in reverse.

I assume that you are familiar with the term, basically it is the fear of transgender persons. Except, in my case, I was afraid of people who might be transphobic. “Might” is the operative word here, after all, I lived in Vancouver—what better place to be in if you plan to jump into the LGBT alphabet soup?

Unfortunately, “might” is a flimsy platform to stand on when it is the only option to falling on your own sword after growing weary of one’s internal battle. What if all the people in these overlapping circles of my life all chose to hate me? In some ways hate would be preferable to derision and mocking, I thought to myself. For this reason, too, death seemed so utterly convenient and reasonable.

My fear was that everywhere I went, the likelihood of running into someone who knew me in my previous life as a guy was pretty high. What would they say to me, how would they react?

It made sense to me, at the time, why so many transgender persons started life in a new place once they began their life over—presenting as their true selves—with no need to worry that their past would get in their way. But I also saw how lonely this had left many of them, living without the most important people in their lives to accompany them during what must be one of the hardest things anyone could think of doing, to live in the sex other than the one assigned to you at birth.

This is not a plea for pity, I’m only telling you what it was like for me, six years ago, at the age of fifty-seven when I began to disclose to family and friends of the changes that were about to take place in my life. Each person I disclosed to was sworn to secrecy, yet the process left me emotionally drained.

After two weeks, I had only disclosed to ten people, but it felt like I had already poured myself out and there was no more energy to continue. I had cried so much, that all the heaving and wailing had left my stomach muscles cramped. That weekend I went to bed after I did my Saturday morning run and did not wake up until mid afternoon on Sunday. Disclosure was exhausting and I didn’t know how I was going to survive.

One of the first persons I disclosed to, a client, turned out to be a life saver for me; she surprised me by telling me she had a brother who had also come out as transgender. She gave me the best piece of advice anyone could have given me, she told me to give people the benefit of the doubt. “People who know you love you. They are not going to throw you away,” she said. She was right, those first disclosures—as difficult as they were—afforded me the opportunity to experience a deeper connection than I had ever experienced with each person I told. It gave me hope that my life would not be over.

The need to control how the information went out about my pending plans to live as a woman became less important as time went by. Though it had been important at the beginning to control the flow—neither my aged parents nor our three adult sons knew anything—the news spread throughout my world without me having to be the messenger. Yet, I would liked to have been a fly on the wall each time the information was shared.

I quickly learned that once the most important people in my life affirmed me with their love and support, I couldn’t care less what others thought. I’ll never forget how it felt waking up the morning after I shared with my parents. It was a sunny morning in May, 2008, the sky was blue and the birds were chirping. I sat up in bed and took a deep breath—no more secrets to hide, I felt free like a bird being let out of its cage. Tears of gratitude flowed freely, I had a reason to live now.

I’m not a statistician so I have no way of knowing what my actual odds were of running into someone I knew on the street, who would take one look at me as say, “Do I know you? You look familiar.” Nevertheless, I had assumed this would be a regular occurrence for me—isn’t Vancouver just a small village?

Five years ago, on the last week of July I started living full-time as a female, and to this day, I have only run into someone I know perhaps a dozen times. Each time that it happened, my eyes made contact with theirs, I knew immediately who they were, but they—on the other hand—had a puzzled look on their face, their expressions betraying their thoughts…“I think I know you.” Generally, I’ve greeted them by name and told them I knew them from a previous life. Their response has mostly been: “Oh. A-ah. Yeah. Wow! How are you?” followed by a loss of words.

Fortunately, this is not how people have reacted this way.
No one has run for the exit door, yet, everyone has been amazingly mature and supportive once they have recovered their ability to speak intelligently.

It hasn’t been a cakewalk in every one of my circles. I want to be respectful of those who for some religious reason have not yet been able to wrap their brain around the idea that gender identity is not always linked to the set of gonads, appendages and orifices one was born with. This does make me a little impatient at times because, even in Vancouver, life for transgender persons isn’t always easy. We lose people far too often, young and old, who are incapable of imagining a future when all they know in their present is rejection, ridicule and marginalization.

Do I know you? Do you know me? I’ll be looking for you. Say Hi!

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Power of the Paradigm-Shifting Gospel


Which Gospel do you profess?



Do not enter signs


As Stephen, the author of the blog "Sacred Tension // A Story of Dissonance" powerfully expressed in his post today ("The Cost of Words"),
"Most Christians believe they speak eloquently and wisely on this topic (homosexuality), but as long as they fail to realize the cost of their words, they will be babbling uselessly to those who are practically dying to hear the gospel of love."
As a transexual Christian woman, I can say that when it comes to reconciling our faith to our sexuality, all of us who are LGBTQI have experienced an internalized struggle and fierce debate that would make your dogma run for the hills. 

Growing up in a time when the word “transgender” did not exist meant that I did not even have the ability to understand why I felt the way I did. As the fundamentalist Christian I grew up to be, there was only one explanation, I had a perverse bent that needed high spiritual maintenance.

This was my thorn in the flesh and it was also the one area in which Satan would have the best chance to destroy me.

To combat this threat, I used every tool in my Christian toolbox; I memorized scripture, I prayed, I cried to God, I made promises to be good, I pleaded the blood of Christ, and I told Satan to stand behind me “In the name and power of the Lord Jesus Christ!”

The turning point for me only occurred recently, in relative terms. I came to faith in Christ during the Jesus People movement of the early 70s and for forty years spiritualized my gender confusion, while at the same time hoping and praying that Jesus would eventually make me normal.

Even though my prayer for healing never materialized, my faith is what saved me in the sense that it kept me sober of mind, sparing me from self-destruction. It also paid off dividends in that I was blessed with a wife and three sons and a successful career. But the fact remained that the external appearances were only paper thin and in reality I felt more like Jesus' description of the Pharisees, white washed on the outside, but full of dead bones. 

Six years ago I came to the end of my rope. I could no longer fight the battle and I was prepared to fall on my own sword. My internalized, christianized transphobia (and homophobia) had become so intense that it kept me from seeing how God had answered my prayers to have peace about who and what I was. In summary, I was finally able to reconcile my faith to what the doctors at the gender clinic had told me eight years earlier, that I was transgender and that with their help I could enjoy a better quality of life.

My miracle was not that I was suddenly freed of gender confusion and made "normal," rather, I was able to see I lived in a time and place where there was help available to me. This was my miracle—in much the same way that anyone with a life-long medical condition may no longer be doomed to take it to the grave, thanks to modern medicine through surgical or medicinal interventions. 

This realization was possible because I saw in scripture the inclusiveness of God powerfully and beautifully demonstrated in the story told my Luke in the Book of Acts about Philip's encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch. Have you ever wondered why this story includes the person's sexual otherness? Could not the story have been told about this remarkable person—an official from the court of the Queen of Ethiopia—without this very personal detail? It is not out of the realms of possibility that Luke got the first hand account directly from Philip, and if we believe that all scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit, what can we make of this? We need to consider the following questions if we want to learn from this amazing story:
  1. Why was it so important for Philip to point out this official was a eunuch?
  2. What was it about this person that made Philip aware of this? Was it the pitch of the voice, the person's stature, mannerism, dress/clothing? Did the eunuch out himself?
  3. Why did Luke also include this detail, was it because he happened to be a physician and this was a significant detail for him as well?
The first thing we learn about Philip is that he was a visceral and visual person. When he told Andrew about Jesus and said, "we have found the one Moses and the prophets talked about," and Andrew replied with skepticism, Philip did not enter into a debate with him. Instead he simply said, "Come and see." Every story in the Gospels that mention Philip include the verb to see in some form or another. It was to him that Jesus turned to when they SAW the multitudes approaching and asked how they were going to feed them.

Philip took a lot in through his eyes and his paradigms were shifted in the process. What did he learn from seeing Jesus talking to the Samaritan woman at the well? Whatever it was, it explains why the angel finds him preaching and performing miracles in Samaria—he was living out the reality of the new reign, where there are no longer barriers and exclusions based on differences. Likewise, I believe he went through a paradigm shift about sexuality after Jesus talked to them about eunuchs, as recorded in Matthew 19.

These two combined stories of Philip in Samaria and his divine appointment with the Ethiopian eunuch are evidence that, for Philip, all prior barriers to God were no longer relevant. Eunuchs, as all persons with a physical defect were considered ceremonially unclean and could not participate fully in the assembly, and Samaritans were considered infidels. Yet, here is Philip who is willing and FREE to approach and include those who were previously excluded.

After his conversion, the eunuch asks Philip, "What prevents me from being baptized?" Philip's immediate response is "Nothing!" This question melts me every time I consider it and its implications. I don't believe for a minute the eunuch is so religious that he simply wants to start off following all the new rules.

Quite the opposite—what he is saying is "As a devout Jew, I have followed all the rules of the law, yet I am not an equal and I have to stand behind the fence. Even though I travelled all this way to Jerusalem, I could not participate fully and was simply a bystander. Will it be the same in this new Kingdom, will I be sidelined?" Philip's immediate willingness to baptize the eunuch is his declaration, "Nothing prevents you from being an equal!" To see anything less in this story leaves a lot of currency on the table. 

I believe this is the call to all of us who profess to follow Jesus. We must act like Philip with unabashed immediacy in proclaiming the gift of inclusion to all who society—and religion—have labeled "OTHER." To do anything else is to proclaim a different gospel.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

August 7, 2013 GCN Radio Interview


I want to thank Justin Lee for this.



GCN Radio

GCN's weekly podcast features music, issue discussion, and interviews with guests. Listen to any show by clicking below, or subscribe in iTunes or with our XML feed.

New Season 2012-2013

 
August 7, 2013

Transparently Transgender. Trans Christian Lisa Salazar, author of Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life, discusses her struggles to accept herself as transgender and the Bible passages that gave her hope.
[listen to this show] (right-click to download)

To My Blog's Russian Readers

I am moved to tears by the fact that my blog's third largest group of readers are in Russia.



As I ponder the impossible situation you face with respect to the criminalization of LGBT persons, where you are not even allowed to gather for mutual support, it fills me with rage.

It is true that many people were outraged when Russian officials announced that all forms of public display in support of gay rights, whether it be something as simple as wearing a rainbow lapel pin or even same sex public displays of affection, would be enough to incriminate you and get you arrested.

Mr. Putin's denial of basic human rights for LGBT people and your law maker's willingness to pass laws that target sexual minorities is a travesty.

What can I possibly do to make a difference, I ask myself. It isn't enough to sit comfortably in the safety of my home and simply shake my head in disgust. I have signed several petitions in these last few days that have gone to places like the International Olympic Committee. But is that enough?

The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi have become a rallying point for us in the West and we will not let this opportunity pass to draw attention to your untenable situation. You deserve our support.

To that end, I pray that we will have the courage of our conviction and do everything we can to affect a change. Boycotting the games is one option. Another, and perhaps more effective might be to boycott Olympic Sponsors, such as Coca Cola and VISA. The least we can do is write letters to these and local sponsors calling for them to stop supporting the games or suffer the consequences of lost sales and reduced revenues.

We should not wait for others to organize these strategies, we can use our search engines to get the names of the sponsors and invest a little time to write letters. Our individual efforts may seem like a drop in the bucket, but if we can get others to do it, and they in turn get their friends involved, we may be able to douse this fire before it spreads further. In the meantime, if you live in Russia and it is safe for you to write me, please use this contact link.

And thank you for reading my blog, it means the world to me.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

RETRACTION and APOLOGY


I removed the blog post I wrote yesterday. Upon reflection, I confess that I was too harsh and judgmental towards the subject of a story that appeared in the New York Post about ABC News editor, Don Ennis, who only three months ago showed up at work as a woman claiming to be transgender. And now, according to the latest story, Don was reverting back to male, claiming that he in fact was not transgender.

I felt my criticism and skepticism were justified and the story just seemed too fantastic. But as others have pointed out, we don't know all the details, and more importantly, we don't know the person and what they are going through. I have often said that each person’s story is their own and have advocated for understanding because unless we have walked in someone's shoes, we cannot possibly claim to know what motivates them and what their life is all about.

This is my apology for having jumped to conclusions.

I forgot the pain I've seen in the three persons I know who have "detranstitioned" and gone back to their previous gender expression. One did so because the person she loved made it a condition of the relationship, another because all attempts to embody their true identity was going to be impossible, given their very masculine body, and the other could not live with the rejection. In all cases, these friends have struggled with depression ever since and I worry about them. I should have extended the same level of compassion to Don Ennis.

The fact that some trans persons find transition impossible to complete actually says more about society's intolerance than it does about the transperson's character.

* * * *
Excellent Followup to the Don Ennis Story: