Wednesday, June 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, June 13, 2014

Paradox = Father’s Day for a trans woman.

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

The Salazar family, summer 2002.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 12, 2014

We're in, we're out.

It’s a dizzying time for trans people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the fear?

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

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

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

We're in, we're out.