Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Notes on a Discussion

You might be aware that a group of LGB/T activists held a demonstration today near the headquarters of the American Family Association in Tupelo. I didn't get a chance to attend, although there are some bits I did find interesting to hear about, most notably that neither the Daily Journal or WTVA could spare the manpower to offer any coverage.This despite the fact that there was apparently a phony bomb threat called in which forced Tupelo police to sweep the theater where they were meeting. Naturally AFA didn't acknowledge the protest in any way, you can't really expect that. But AFA president Tim Wildmon did write about the coming event in his bi-weekly column for the Journal on Sunday and voiced his objection to the charge that AFA is a "hate group."

Now, I'll admit that as a life-long conservative, it bothers me some to be taking my lead from the Southern Poverty Law Center on that label. I won't chase that rabbit but I like to think I can call something what it is without resorting to sources that my conservative friends will dismiss out of hand without giving them due consideration. More importantly, having spent my entire life within the folks of Conservative Evangelical religion, I think I have a pretty firm understanding of the worldview and motivations of AFA and those who support them and ally with them - and those motivations are NOT, in point of fact, hatred (except for Bryan Fisher - I find it hard to believe there's any Christian love behind HIS words).

I fully understand the theology that provokes their position, and how, within the context of that worldview, cautioning people against homosexuality is the moral equivalent of intervening in the life of a drug addict or an alcoholic. Nevertheless, I likewise understand how an LGB/T person could not possibly help but HEAR their rhetoric as hateful, given some of the over-the-top rhetoric.Very few anti-gay thought-leaders come across as "we love you and we only want to help you overcome" rather than "the vile disgusting gays are coming to get us!" Certainly the result of such rhetoric is an increase in hatred among those already prone to bigotry and not tempered with Christian compassion (yes, my non-christian friends, there are a ton of compassionate and loving Christians out there - AFA does not speak for even most, let alone all).

So it's natural that pro-equality folks would point the finger and say "Haters!" and Wildmon would put on his best innocent face and say "Who me?" and both be sincerely convinced they were in the right. As is my wont, I could not resist an extensive point-by-point reply to Wildmon's column, with the intention of providing as much counterpoint to his comments as possible for the uninitiated or open-minded reader. You may read the entire set of replies at the link above, the content is just too huge to repost here.

I'll warn you though, that there will be things that my friends on both sides of the aisle will disagree with. First of all, there's not complete agreement even within the LGB/T community about how we describe our condition. I, for one, am at peace with the understanding that being transsexual is a birth defect - because I understand that when we use that term for an autistic child (for instance) we are not calling the child "defective" and nor am I calling myself defective - it's simply the common expression. But I know that some within the community strongly resist that acknowledgment.

I know that my believing friends tend to default back to the Bible and filter everything else through what they have been taught that the Scriptures say - without acknowledging the possibility they have been taught incompletely or incorrectly. I would say to these friends that God does not call you to lay aside your reason and logic when you consider the Scriptures and something that seems to be irreconcilable might indicate a place you have been misinformed.

Likewise, I know many of my friends on the left are not Christians, or even religious, at all. and such people will read the discussion and say out loud "But there is no God anyway!!!" To those friends I reply thus: if you start a conversation with a Christian in an attempt to change their mind by discrediting their entire faith system, you will fail. Pure and simple. if you try to defend gay rights by spouting off about someone's "bronze age superstitions" by the time you get that phrase out you have invited them to ignore everything else you say. There are many things which are "common knowledge" believes among Evangelical Christians which I question, or disbelieve to be sure but I do believe in the Gospel of Christ. Nevertheless, even if I didn't, I'm wise enough to understand that when I am discussing this thing with an Evangelical, I MUST present it to them within the context of what THEY believe.

The reality is that even within the teachings of Evangelical Christianity, it is possible to demonstrate that opposition to equality for LGB/T people is unchristian when considered rationally. I choose to approach the discussion from that angle. One of the things we miss while asking for our liberty is that in the same way we don't want fools like Bryan Fisher calling us Nazis or terrorists or vermin or whatever, we gain NOTHING if we return anger for anger, insult for insult and childishness for childishness. that's what they expect us to do, hope that we will do so as to confirm their twisted stereotypes (likewise, as an aside, I always mourn the flamboyancy seen in Pride parades by those who insist on re-enforcing the worst stereotypes).

We must be better than that. Smarter than that. Let the goofy things they say stand in contrast to respectful, intelligent discussion. That's what I attempted to do at the Journal site, and what I hope all of us do.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


So, after that last monster post, this one will start off more brief. but I intend to leave it as a bit of a "running conversation" in that when I become aware of people's questions or curiosities, I can and will come back and add those to the list and answer them here. the idea here is to provide a BRIEF capsule answer to these things, not to fully explain them. Any of these might form the basis for a separate post when the mood strikes me.

Why now?
Like all transsexual (and gay) people, I tried very hard NOT to be this way because I understood the sociological consequences if I accepted this as my reality. Don't believe the baloney you hear so often that people like me choose to be this way or to live this way. If I could have done anything else (short of death) I would have.the first bit of advice given to everyone who says "I'm thinking of transitioning" is "if there's any way you can survive without doing so, don't." It's that hard.

Then why do it at all?
Because to not do so risk my sanity and my very life (and the relationships in it). Transitioning is a last resort, not something anyone enthusiastically embraces. At least, for those of us who do so later in life. it might be that those who do so very young do not feel the pressure ot "fake it" as we had.

What about your family?
is it worse for my kids to see me be brave enough to be true to myself, and stand up for my own life against the pressure of society? or for them to see me beaten down and defeated by the weight of that conformity? Is it better for them to see me admit that it's ok to not be perfect, or better for them to learn to fear speaking any unpopular truth about themselves...or to mock and ridicule any acquaintance they might have who failed to conform? More important than these questions - what the future held for them, had i kept my secret, was a world in which one day they found their father dead by his own hand and had to live with the questions of why it happened and whether it was their fault.

In other words, the question "what about your kids" presumes that the alternative to transition is a nice normal peaceful life - but that's not the case.

And your spouse?
My wife is quite literally being devastated by this situation, but she would have been had a chosen the other path as well. Even had I stayed my hand and soldiered on, she would still have found herself married to a man she did not know. An angry, bitter, depressed, reclusive, uncaring shell of a man who would have been no good to anyone no matter his appearance. She does not, of course, believe that to be true - but i know that it is. I feel, frankly, like an utter monster for the pain this has caused her, and have told her that bluntly more than once. she did not know of this going in, and did nothing to deserve the situation. But a great many men and women find their marriage rocked by an unanticipated situation which was not something they "signed on for" and i have no more choice about this, on a basic level, than I would have had about a debilitating stroke. There was no way there was going to be a "happy ending" either way.

That's not to say she couldn't have handled the situation much better - she definitely could have (and still should) but I fully understand and accept that she deserved better than what she got.

What about employment? Do you really think anyone will hire you like that?
Quite possibly not, at least not around here. But it's also true that my employment history was pretty sucky for almost a decade before I came out. large gaps in employment history work against you, never having developed a specifically marketable skill works against you, being overweight and pushing 50 works against you, having a wardrobe devastated by poverty works against you. there are many reasons why I'm in this position beyond being trans. I know trans people who are gainfully employed (albeit the unemployment rate for us is MASSIVE) and I know very respectable "normal" people who are having as much problem finding work as I. In either case, being a miserably depressed and bitter man is not way to get and keep a job either.

You mentioned homosexuals - aren't you really just gay?

That's one of the biggest misconceptions about transsexualism, and that rooted, I think, in the common con-joining of the two in political action (i.e. "LGBT"). In truth, transsexualism has NOTHING to do with sexual orientation. Many of us are, in fact, essentially asexual. but for those who remain sexual active or at least interested, some estimate as many as 2/3 of male-to-female transwomen identify post-transition as lesbians. given the prevalence of lesbians in the general population is a mere 2-3% it might be inferred that the idea that one transitions so they can safely hook up with guys is a load of hooey.

That said, for many of us, the process of transition (particularly the full effects of hormone therapy and surgery) does interplay with brain chemistry in some way and reveal a heterosexual (i.e towards males) sexual orientation. There's really not much way to know - you just see what happens. That may well happen for me, and if it does, I'm find with that. if it doesn't, I'm fine with that too. If I never have sexual intimacy with another person again because of my transition, I'm fine with that as well. The LAST thing this is about is sex.

That said, looking back over my own thought processes, i have always found, and continue to find, male-on-male sexuality to be a complete turn off which leaves me cold. Not as a moral judgement, but just as a visceral reaction. but on the other hand, when I imagined the life I would have led had I been born right, I always imagined my self being some guys girl, rather than in a lesbian relationship. I do not pretend to know what that means for my future, maybe nothing.

But the fact remains, that who you are attracted to is an entirely different subject than who you ARE. I, for one, would love to see the acronym written like this: LGB/T - even if that's only a small gesture.

Don't you get a lot of criticism?
Not as much as you'd think - at least not to my face - but yes, I get some. I handle it by reminding myself that I once thought as my critics do, and i understand the worldview behind their views. In my opinion, the only way the world gets better for people like me is if i can respectfully engage as many of my critics as possible and help them see past the cultural biases they have been taught to hold. I try to remind people that much of the pain that arises from anyone's transition is not the result of the transition itself, but of the unfortunate reactions which arise from irrational prejudice.
When a parent rejects a trans child (and it happens a LOT) or a spouse rejects a trans spouse (even more so) or a child rejects a trans parent, or whatever - it's almost never because the rejecting party is dwelling on some life complication, it's because they have been throughly trained to believe the "behavior" is WRONG.  without that mistaken worldview, the rejection does not happen.
Likewise, when  trans person can't find work, or a home to rent, it's not because they are wrong - but because of the wrong attitudes they encounter.

What do you expect to accomplish? what do you hope to accomplish?
Hope? I hope to somehow some way eventually put all my parts in the order i believe they should have been from birth - but that is, i admit, irrationally optimistic given my situation. Expect? to find a little more peace for my soul in the days I have remaining on this rock. Whether any one else "gets" me or not, for once in life I have been true to myself and if that's all i leave here with, then that's more than i had before.

What is the process of transition? what all is involved for you to complete it?
That one actually does require a rather long answer, so in the interest of the lateness of the hour and providing a complete answer, I'll break off here and add this answer and maybe more soon.

Hello Again for the First Time

One of the intrinsic aspects of coming out as a transsexual person, be it the process of simply accepting one's own self, or the subsequent challenge of having "the talk" with those you know and love, is the sense of taking off the mask. Of sorting out that which is the real you, and that which is the affected appearance, behavior, and mannerisms of the avatar you have presented to the world for your whole life.In our current generation, this is not always still true. In the 21st century many children have been blessed with the circumstances that allow them to say to their parents "I am a girl(boy)" when the outer appearance would say otherwise and not face a world which immediately pathologize them and starts trying to fix them. They live in a world where they do not assume they are a freak, or worse, because they are not like everyone else.

But for most of us who came of age more than 20 years ago, there is a real sense of duality between the inner you, that you compulsively hid for fear of the backlash that you knew would come, and the persona you submitted to the judgement of the world around you. Some of us are more successful than others at making that persona work and thrive. I've known of transsexuals who were high-powered executives, successful doctors and lawyers, highly ranked military officers, and more (many of them lost that standing by virtue of revealing their true nature, some did not). Others of us always struggle to make the false front "run smoothly" and achieve worldly success. The latter was the group I fell into.

The process of "coming out" (a term I hate, actually, because it reinforces the unfortunate connection in the minds of many between transsexualism and homosexuality, which are entirely different things - but I can't come up with a more handy phrase to use) to your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc, is a long string of trying to make people understand why you would do such a thing over and over again. Because to them, in their eyes, you are the person they have known you to be, not the person you know yourself to be within. You have to re-build yourself in their eyes all over again by helping them reconcile what they thought they knew of you with what you are telling them now. Some react quite poorly to this (my own dad is an example, as is my spouse) and others open their hearts without condition (my mom has been great, among others).

So it seems appropriate to me that in this space, as I hopefully welcome a somewhat broader audience than my previous writing on this subject enjoyed, to go back and lay the foundations again. Having just reconnected with so many lifelong friends, it's fresh on my mind that those people, at a minimum, must have a great amount of uncertainty about how and why things are as they are. Especially given what they remember of my old life, and given how little personal experience the vast majority of people have with this subject. So let me begin, as they say, at the beginning.

Studies indicate that for what some researchers call "true transsexuals" - the great majority of us realize we are different, even if we are uncertain specifically how and why, at a very early age. Some of this has to do with access to information, some with the environment and culture around you, and some of it is just the clarity of the child themselves. I myself have VERY few clear memories in the area of thought and emotion from before I began school. (on any subject) I cannot tell you for sure that I ever felt that I was a girl at that age but I absolutely felt "weird" - that I was fundamentally different from other boys and "wrong" at a basic level. When I was enrolled in school, there was a girl on my bus who, along with a couple of sisters who lived not far from us and a few cousins that i spent a lot of time with who were the embodiment of "girl" in my life. These five or six girls made up for me the first construct of what seemed "right" for me (as opposed to the wrongness I felt about myself) and by the time I was 8 at least, I understood the nature of my problem. what they were, was what I should have been - what I was on the inside.

I had, at that point, never been exposed to any sort of sexuality. Neither porn, nor molestation, nor abuse, nor schoolyard gossip, nor walking in on my parents, or any other things which might have been presumed to have "twisted" me by the ill-informed. In fact, until I saw my first adult magazine at 14 or 15 I could make that statement. My father was not hen-pecked, or absent, nor was my mother over-bearing - or any of the other rationalizations with which people try to explain the existence of trans kids. My interests were not specifically stereotypically "girly" but they were absolutely "soft" things. particularly in contrast to my "all boy" brother. I had no interest in hunting or fishing or cars or even being outside much (and yes, I understand plenty of women enjoy these things - my own mother was an avid hunter/fisher herself).

More obviously, I was fascinated with the girls in my life, not in a romantic way but in a, for lack of a better word, jealous way. I wanted their hair, their clothes, their accessories. while my classmates at Falkner saw an introverted, nerdy, bookworm who had no pride in themselves at all, what I saw in the mirror was  a stack of WRONGNESS. Yes, I admit that when I could get away with it, I was pilfering time with the clothes of cousins that would fit (and eventually makeup) - not for any sort of physical gratification, but as a band-aid on the bullet wound in my soul. It was one  brief moment in which I could be a tiny bit MORE normal (as felt normal to me) than I had been without it. When I was 11 or so, I read a tiny news item in Time (or maybe Newsweek) which was about a man who'd been arrested after having kidnapped a young boy in New Orleans and holding him for several years while injecting him with hormones - and the boy had developed breasts. I remember thinking "what a lucky kid!" and mourning at the news that the breast would be surgically removed. You probably can't really imagine how traumatic puberty was for me, when all the wrong developments started occurring, but  hopefully you can see why it was a disaster in the eyes of that child - and the more so because it came early.

By the time I was 12, I was fitting into my mom's clothes with ease (ask me how I know!) and had, on more than one occasion, tried to get away with shaving my legs and other body hair (and gotten lectures for doing weird things and leaving a mess). The summer before my 13th birthday, in 1976, I concocted a plan to escape from a life that was clearly going down the wrong road and find some place to be myself. I packed a suitcase full of my favorite items from my mother's wardrobe, and left at first light one Saturday morning in July (a crucial mistake in timing!) with the intention of making my way to New Orleans or maybe San Francisco - and doing it as Tammy (cleverly, I thought, they were looking for a boy, not a girl). but I was not really as clever as all that and between the heat and some other circumstances, I was home before dark - and busted with the tell-tale evidence in hand.

But the thing is - it was Mississippi. It was 1976. the LAST thing Ma and Pa Rainey were prepared, or willing, to deal with was a son who thought he was a girl. Between the razor, and the suitcase, they HAD to know this was not your ordinary "phase" but my dad pretended to buy it when I told him it was only a disguise, and he lectured me about the perverts "out there" in the world and what they would do to me if they knew. For my part, I didn't remotely have the courage to tell my manly-man dad openly that I was a girl. so I let the situation play out and resigned myself to being trapped at least until graduation. I went back to school in the fall and none of you ever knew my shame.

I won't belabor you through all the ups and downs of high school, this will be long enough as it is, but I can distinctly remember many incidents and patterns of behavior which make up the mosaic of those years in my mind. It may never have occurred to you to wonder why, so often, you'd see me sitting at recess with 4 or 5 girls rather than playing ball with the guys, but there was a reason. not only was I not a guy, as far as I was concerned, but I was getting less and less skilled at playing the part. The one time I went out for sports (my dad's idea) it was a humiliating disaster that lasted one day. While it's true I did have a close circle of male friends, this was simply a circumstance of the situation. That's not to say that I didn't then and now think the world of those guys - I did and do. but those relationships developed because there wasn't any practical way to get that close to such a cluster of girlfriends. I ended up with one deeply felt "girlfriend" relationship during those years (and until Saturday night she was entirely unaware that I saw it in that light) which, at times, was the only relationship that felt real to me in my entire life.

After high school, I doubled down on the effort to do what "everyone does" - particularly what every guy does.Seeking dating relationships (I never went on the first real date until eight months after graduation), going to parties (and eventually bars, including strip clubs) hoping for an unrealistic amount of casual sex (and generally finding very little at all) and trying to turn every romantic relationship into "the one" no matter how shaky. I tried joining the Navy - you might be stunned to know how many male-to-female transsexuals try to "man up" by enlisting - but my eyes killed that one. when I returned home, I slid into about three years of very deep depression (I had been routinely depressed over my situation pretty much most of the previous decade but only occasionally to the point I couldn't function or considered suicide - though there were times, maybe 6-8 occasions during the period between, say, 15 and 20, in which I did give serious thought to ending my life).

In those years in the mid-80's, pretty much everything in my life felt hollow and meaningless because I knew the life I was living could never have any joy to it, but I also feared that the consequences of changing it would be more than I could handle. Likewise, I seriously considered suicide on an almost daily basis but lacked the spine to follow through. One of the major factors which bound me in indecision about running away or ending my life was my four living grandparents. Each of them were in their mid-70's and I was convinced they would be completely crushed to find out their grandchild was a "freak" or worse have to mourn me. I convinced myself that if I could just hold out until they passed away, then maybe I could make one move or the other that I needed to make (that joke was on me - three of the four lived to see the 21st century).

In the mean time, my dad (who'd been divorced from my mom for several years) dated and married a woman who brought with her a stepsister and stepbrother for me and my brother. At the risk of seeming creepy, that stepsister was the very embodiment of everything I wanted to be. I instinctively drew close to her and her solid faith drew me back to my own, which had been neglected since my return from the Navy.  I'd gotten saved at the age of nine, and been a regular church-goer with my grandparents for years before and after that event. A couple of my friends will remember my interest and involvement in the Bible Club during high school. But over those dark years of depression, I'd tried hard to let the things of the world make me a man. none of that had worked, and when my step-sister invited me to a crusade being held in new Albany, I gladly accepted.

On that night, in the summer of 1986, on the New Albany football field, Evangelist Freddie Gage preached on the subject of "besetting sins" and made the case that while all Christians were plagued with such weaknesses, if we would but give that problem to God and give our lives to his service, he would heal us of the affliction which was giving us problems.

[because of the unworldly length of this article, I'm going to insert a "page break" here.  Catch your breath, go to the can, get a glass of tea, or whatever, before moving on. I'm sorry for the length but it's a long story. Ok, ready now? Carry on]

Really? I could be HEALED of this curse? I didn't HAVE to be a freak who dared not admit his perversion to the prying yes of loved ones and acquaintances? REALLY?  SIGN ME UP!!! That night in sincere faith I promised God I would go to any length to serve him if he could and would remove this affliction from my life. For the decade plus I did not waiver in faith at all that my deliverance was coming. I became involved in a local congregation, served in every capacity given to me (and mourned the missed opportunity when one was given to someone else) and soaked up the "party line" about the sins of perverted folks. It had to be true - I needed it to be true. If such things were indeed sin, then God would hear the righteous prayer of the faithful and provide deliverance and I would no longer be a freak. If it was not true then I was condemned to remain a pariah and a miserable soul and possibly even outside his love.

At length, I felt what I understood at the time to be the call to preach. I did not know it to be exactly that, but nothing else in my experience fit the feeling I had. I said on more than one occasion during my time in the ministry that I never really understood or believed that it was a call to a TYPE of ministry, such as the pastorate. Rather, the impression I had was that God wanted me to "speak up" and tell the truth to people. To speak the uncomfortable thing that no one else would. Would to God I had known then what message he had in mind, but in those days I could only understand that call within the context of the worldview and faith system I'd been brought up in. There was no other context but "go preach" and it would never have occurred to me that the call was something that would place me in the exact opposite position if I'd understood it correctly.

So sincere and unshakeable was my faith that my healing would come that I felt perfectly safe in romancing and marrying an innocent young lady who had no idea what she'd gotten herself into. She thought she was marrying a minister, and moreover a man who'd bring some stability and sanity to what to that point had been a very troubles life. Discretion will not permit me to detail the struggles we worked through in the early years as I gave what seemed my whole life to help her work through that darkness and come out on the other side, And it took over a decade to fully accomplish. I will only say that for those of you who accuse me of being self absorbed now, if you knew what I know about those years, you would see me in a different light I hope.
In all this I never told her about my shame, because, after all, god was going to heal me and it would never be an issue...right?

For over a decade I struggled to be taken seriously in the ministry. while I was mentored by a succession of three sincere and compassionate pastors, I could never understand how I could have been called and yet confronted with closed door after closed door. After over a decade of floundering, I enrolled in Blue Mountain College (a private SBC school for those of you not local) which had a sterling reputation for turning out skilled and well-learned (and well connected!) ministers. To be a BMC alum was to have a vast network of connections to others which was invaluable in making headway in the ministry.

But inside, unknown to those men and women I shared a classroom with, or to my wife and two sons, the cracks were beginning to show in my confidence regarding the oncoming healing. It had been over 15 years now and I did not feel any different about my true nature than I did the day before Freddie Gage came to town. On top of that I felt much worse, as difficult as that was, about the "man" I had become. I literally loathed everything about myself, from appearance to mannerism to behavior. The only thing I took any comfort in was being a very good student, and a good communicator (although even then, one who talked far too much and was far too impressed with his own opinion). But these things had no context. They were built upon a lie.

I did not then and do not now consider myself a good spouse or father. I do not wish to give the implication that I did not or do not love my family - I did and I do. At least to the extent that it was possible to love someone else while hating my own self (there's a reason for the old saw that you can never truly love others until you love yourself). I have two wonderful sons, but they are wonderful in spite of me, not because of me.  Nor did I consider myself a respectable minister. The doors were still not opening, and when I occasionally got a small opportunity, I found that I did not feel a deep sense of love for the congregation, as a minister should have, or a passion for sharing the gospel. Rather, beyond the gospel of grace,  I felt like I could only bring myself to speak against the cliches and misunderstandings common in the church. But I needed something, anything, in my life that would be respectable and maybe make me forget my condition.

By graduation I'd shifted my focus from ministry to education and gotten a degree that would let me teach. but because I was an "idea person" at heart, I chose social science. Bad move. It turned out there's a social studies teacher hiding behind every tree in North Mississippi. I found just as little opportunity to teach as I had to preach, and after one pretty disastrous year in the classroom (mostly not my fault, but still) I found myself looking at my 44th birthday with a life in ruins (I speak here of my internal conflict, not that I intend to imply anything bad about my family). I'd come up short again in an attempt to "man up" and concluded that no amount of faith, or prayer, or tears (of which there had been hundreds of thousands over the previous two decades) or pleadings or tithing or teaching or preaching was going to be enough to convince God to take my pain away. for a time, My reaction to that, at first, was hedonism. If in fact there was nothing to be gained from praying my pain away, then perhaps I could play it away. I won't detail that bit of business, except to say that I'm not ashamed of it and I do not apologize to any human being for it. It was a necessary stepping stone in the process and it taught me some valuable lessons.

At length, however, that last desperate attempt to "man up" failed, as each other attempt before had failed, to reconcile me with my situation. I HAD to settle accounts with God. Given what I believed about the nature of God, I was thus forced to re-evaluate the very question of whether or not I was, in fact, in need of healing in his eyes. To be sure, since I was a teen I had read and re-read the Scriptures looking for some way to rationalize my situation in a way that did not label me a dirty depraved sinned. But I was trapped within the indoctrination that had been my whole source of information all this time, with no actual training in proper exegesis. But over the years after my college graduation I found I HAD to reconcile the God of grace that I knew to be, with the supposed set of rules that I'd been told he was obsessed with. Both could not be true.

A mild digression here: Don't ever, by the way, presume to lecture me on what the Bible says on this subject (or on homosexuality, by the way, given the subjects are so closely bound up in the minds of the conservative evangelical church - homosexuality is not the subject at hand here) or about what my choices might mean to my future and to my family - because when you do you presume I have not given any thought to these subjects, while in fact the reverse is true. If you are not someone afflicted with this condition, or have not loved someone who is, the odds are great you've never spent 10 consecutive minutes considering the subject and it's virtually certain you've given no real study to whether the Bible forbids it.  I, on the other hand, have spent probably more than half of the waking hours of my adult life considering the subject. Thoughtful questions and comments are welcome. "I know better than you" lectures are not. But any way, back on topic.

I came to understand (through research, study, wise counsel and much prayer) that I am not a pervert or a freak in God's eyes, that indeed I have no need to be forgiven or healed on account of being trans (other than letting him heal the pain that accumulated from hiding it for four decades). I came to understand that I had been living an inauthentic life, submitting myself to the expectations and judgements of my fellow man, not those of God. I came to understand that  all those messages he gave me to preach about the masks Christians wear, and the fear we have of letting others see the real self were for me, as much as for them. I came to understand what it meant when he said he had not given us a spirit of fear, because fear had defined my entire existence. Most of all, I came to understand that I could not continue to live in that fear and self-loathing and remain sane. If I was ever going to be any good to anyone in any context, it could only be by living an authentic, honest life.

On the Sunday before Labor Day, in 2008, after some months of waiting for an opening which I would have the courage to step through, I told my wife what I was and what I hoped to do about it. Without adding another 1,000 words to this already gargantuan post, I will only say on this occasion that her life began to fall apart at that point. All the things I had professed to believe - that I had desperately needed to be true - for all those years, she still believed (and indeed, still does today three years later). And her difficulty in processing the events of the last three years is entirely understandable, if all her words and actions certainly have not been. Some months later I sat down with my sons to discuss it (more on that another time) and before the end of 2009 I was making no secret of what I am.

My life is tremendously more difficult now, than it was then, in every measurable sense. One does not become a walking punch line without consequences. One does not announce they are transsexual in small town America without a downside. One does not share a home with a person who violently rejects your very identity without a lot of heartache.

And yet for all that, these last two years have been, deep inside my soul and spirit, immeasurably better than all the years that came before. Every minute of every day for almost 40 years, no matter how otherwise pleasant, was deeply tainted by the certain knowledge that it wasn't MY life - it was the life of this fictional character whose part I'd learn to play. One might imagine an actor playing the role of a groom in a weeding on a TV show. To appearances the wedding is a happy and joyous occasion, but to the actor it's not HIS wedding, it is the wedding of the man who's role he plays. This is not to say I regret any of those moments, or have any less feelings for the people involved (although I do regret those moments led to so much pain for someone I love now) but I'm saying that no matter who relatively happy the occasion, it was stained. Tarnished by the fact that my whole life was a lie (even though a very well intentioned one).

Now, I could if I wanted to, break your heart at all the things which are going wrong for me - but ultimately it's better because it's ME. If you told me that you would pay me $100,000 a year to push a button once an hour for 40 hours a week, that I could work from home, and that I could never lose the job - but as a condition of employment I had to put Tammy away and put the mask back on and live that lie the rest of my life - I would not hesitate to decline. I know that for some who are reading this that seems insane. But not to me.

This one thing I know to be true: I may never have the money to have my surgery, or indeed even accomplish much more modest goals like hair removal. I may find myself at length homeless and alone - but I know that I can never ever put that mask back on. Whatever the cost, I'd a thousand times prefer death to living that life again. The saying goes around, attributed to various famous people, that "it is better to be hated for who you are, than to be loved for who you are not" and I testify to the profound truth of that saying. If I MUST be hated and reviled of all men to be who I am, then it is the price I must pay, or die in the attempt. but I can never be the puppet of the expectations of others again. That way lies insanity.

Whatever happens in the years to come, whether I live or die, whether you see me every day or I "drop off the face of the earth" - if you wish to honor our acquaintance, our friendship, or our love - remember Tammy, and accept her with all her flaws. Please do not try to resurrect that other fellow.He doesn't live here anymore..

Monday, October 3, 2011

Transgender 101

[the following post has been revised and updated from the original]

What is a re-post of an article originally posted as a note on Facebook. It is the first of what might be very few, or several, previously written pieces which I think might be ap
propriate to add to the archive here. If you are interested in more previously posted material, from either my Facebook page or my old blog, links will follow at the end of this post. I'm throwing this out tonight because I think this information can be foundational to understanding the context of anything I might post here in the future. Following this post, and going up later tonight, I will be adding a piece on my own personal situation, and then, if time permits (and if not, then tomorrow) another on the answers to some obvious FAQs that many of you will have, particularly my non-trans friends.

I hope that the three posts together will provide you with a base of information to consider as you process your own reaction to the phenomena of transsexualism, and your opinion of my own credibility as well as giving you context for whatever you might read in this space in the future.

I will not say this often enough in the future so I am saying it now: I am deeply touched that you take the time to visit and read here and you have my sincere gratitude. comments and questions are very welcome and I hope that if you like what you see, you will share it with others you think may be interested.

I'd given some thought to doing a bit of a primer on transgenderism for those of you who might find yourself reading this from my Facebook contacts who through no fault of your own really don't know much about the subject, but I confess that it intimidates me to try to do justice to the subject. Nevertheless, I shall attempt to at least cover some broad foundational information here, in the hopes that open-minded people of good will can be better informed both for their own peace of mind (as many of my friends are Christians and quite naturally have a hard time reconciling that which they have always been taught to be sinful with the friend they think well of) and so that they might perhaps inform others they come in contact with.

Perhaps the first thing that the uninitiated come into confusion about is the wide variety of terms that are used by various people within the gender-divergent community. This is partly because there are different things going on, but also partly because even we can't come to a consensus on the language and so end up creating unnecessary confusion. My position is that simplicity is better. I'm going to give you the most prevalent terms and discuss them but in my opinion, there's more confusion here than there needs to be. The following comments represent what i believe to be the most simple and assessable descriptions for the cis-gender (not trans) person to wrap their heads around.

Transgender is usually considered the broad umbrella term that is inclusive of all the subdivisions. That is, itself,more a political usage in my opinion but that's the situation. In broad terms, it covers anything that is either cross-gender in nature, or crossing outside the usual binary gender roles. It is the most common term in the media and is used specifically to be as broadly inclusive of all sorts of gender non-conformity as possible. This, in my view, leads to some awkward situations but it is the overwhelmingly preeminent usage.

Transsexual is a major subgroup of transgender (and is thus often used interchangeably with that word) but is more specific in focus. Many activists and writers consider it an almost archaic word, and it is almost never used in the general media, but it is the only well understood word which makes a necessary distinction. A transsexual is one who feels that there is a disconnect between their mental, some might say spiritual, gender and their physical bodies. That is, the person's brain sex does not align with their genital sex. this should not be understood as a "mental condition." Science has established to a remarkable degree that the male and female brain are physically and functionally different. We know, as common knowledge, that some children are born with birth anomalies which affect their brain, and some are born with anomalies which result in intersex conditions (see below) so there is no logical stretch necessary to theorize that some will be born with anomalies which affect the sex-specific regions of the brain.
Commonly employed comparisons to "the man who thinks he's Napoleon" or "the woman who thinks she's a cat" are wildly inaccurate and illogical. Likewise, no credible medical professional still considers it to be a mental illness on a par with, for instance, OCD.

A male-to-female transsexual (also called a trans woman) should be interacted with, treated as, and regarded as a woman if they are in or post-transition. You should use female pronouns and their chosen name if you wish to be respectful of that persons feelings (I know of course that not everyone so wishes). Likewise, a female-to-male (trans man) should be considered, dealt with, and refereed to as "he" unless he tells you differently. It's simply the same sort of civility you show when you use "Mister" or "sir" or "ma'am." Speaking for myself, you can ruin my day if you call me "Mr" or "sir" (except on the phone or in some other situation where you cannot see me and haven't seen me).

Intersex -  Any condition in which a person exhibits some physical characteristics associated with both males and females - for instance, a penis and ovaries in the same person, or an XX male/XY female (they do exist). Depending on how you define it, there is somewhere between 12 and over 30 such known conditions. A very solid case can be made that the transsexual is a subset of this grouping of intersex conditions - that is, that a female brain in an otherwise male body is analogous to having both a penis and ovaries (or vice versa).  I believe that in a decade or so that will be the prevalent view among biologists.

Transvestite, or "cross dresser", is the term most people are more familiar with and the common stereotype of the uninformed. A Transvestite (an essentially archaic term) is one who gets an emotional satisfaction, sometimes but not always sexual gratification, from dressing as the opposite gender. It is much more akin to a person who, for instance, like to skydive for the adrenaline rush, or like bondage during sex, than it is to transsexualism. This does not mean they are "less trans" than the transsexual, indeed many transsexuals, in the process of figuring out "what's wrong with them" pass through a stage in which they consider themselves "just" crossdressers. They often precieve it as the lesser of evils. however, it is right and fair to make the distinction that a non-dysphoric man who likes to wear women's clothing, or do drag, on a part time basis does NOT have the same condition that a MTF transsexual has and does not face the same legal, medical, and social hurdles. I realize that some in the community are too sensitive to hurt feelings to address this head on - but it's disingenuous to pretend the distinction doesn't exist.

A cross dresser has no desire to change their physical gender and they are perfectly comfortable resuming their "usual" gender role as necessary to go about their daily life. A cross dresser does not need to find an employer that will let them cross dress - though some may indulge themselves to the extent that they would like it if they could. It is not a matter of "rights" that a cross dresser not be able to dress for work any more than it's a matter of rights that your lawyer can't appear in court in cut off denim shorts.
The biggest fallacy people make is confusing a transsexual and a crossdresser/drag queen. I do not change my appearance because I get a sexual rush or a thrill from it, and I do not feel at all comfortable when circumstances require a less than fully female presentation. In fact, the Standards of Care for transsexual treatment DEMAND a 24/7 presentation among other things.

Let me give you an example - I wrote a baseball blog, and because it started before I came out in real life, it carried a male "persona." This blog is read by and replied to by people who had never seen my real face, either before or after transition. They likely never would. By all reasonable logic, I need not ever go through the hassle of "outing myself" to the guys I interact with there. But I strongly desired to do so. This is an illustration of the difference in transsexual and cross-dresser. No clothing is involved, no appearance is involved, all that is involved is that these people know me for who I am. By contrast, for a cross-dresser, appearance is all.

There is also the category of androgyny. An Androgen is a person who feels they do not fit into either gender role well. These people usually do not desire any specific physical alterations (save perhaps hair removal) but simply do not wish to be defined as either male or female. I confess, I don't understand this feeling - even as my friends cannot understand mine. But I respect their right to self-determination.

Finally, there is that which is being refereed to as "genderqueer." I'll be perfectly frank with you - this is, in my opinion, an unnecessary term within of the transgender demographic. That about it which is real - the feeling of being at odds with the standard binary gender roles - is already covered by more specific terms. That which doesn't fit any of the above listed terms, particularly androgyny, seems to me to be more social protest than condition of being. It seems to me to be more akin to other forms of "deviant" (in the statistical sense) forms of social behavior. To me being "genderqueer" is little different than being "goth" and so I don't tend to recognize that claim as part of the transgender discussion. I know some of my brothers and sisters would be unhappy with me for that description but still, it over-complicates an already complex situation. That said, I fully defend their right to make that determination for themselves. I don't HAVE to comprehend for it to be legitimate, i simply think the simpler our explanation to the cis-gender population, the better we'll be understood.

One other word you need to know - "cisgender." This is a word coined to describe the non-transsexual population in an easy manner. "cis-" is the Latin prefix which is opposite to "trans-". It simply means those who are comfortable in the gender their bodies were born with.It's not a label as such, just a bit of "shorthand" used in trans related discussion to refer to "those who are not transgender."

Once thought of as highly rare - a flawed study in 1968 put the incidence at 1:30,000 for male-to-female (M2F) transsexuals and that rate three time more than for female-to-males (F2M) - the actual incidence of transsexualism is much more common than that. Credible estimates (which are obviously very difficult when so many repress their feelings) range from 1:500 to 1:2,500 for M2F transsexuals. For an anecdotal sample, there are not quite 6,000 males in my zip code, according to the Census Bureau. One might expect that there would then be 2-12 M2F transsexuals in that population (laying aside the local culture and migration patterns and so forth). I am aware of, besides myself, at least 4 others in this zip code. In conversations with others I think that the estimates here are credible. That is roughly the same incidence in the population as cerebral palsy. there is some disagreement over whether F2M is in fact more rare, or simply a function of fewer fully identifying themselves as transsexual because it is easier for a woman to be "manish" or "butch" in our culture than the reverse. One may speculate that many self-identified "butch lesbians" are actually trans, but have found a place of peace without the burden of a public transition. it is not my place to figure out other people's gender identity.

Let me return to the discussion of how transsexuality is not a "mental condition" in the sense of a person who thinks they are Napoleon or some other delusion. First, there's the surface evidence: the vast majority of transsexuals realize their gender incongruity before puberty. Often in preschool. It is almost impossible to imagine the other sorts of delusions one might compare us to tracing back to early childhood. Further, it is difficult to dismiss this condition as a result of environmental factors such as abuse, or porn, or other such factors when there has been no common pattern discovered which is significantly more prominent in transgender people than in cisgendered people.

So if it's not a mental delusion or a product of environmental factors, where does it come from? Obviously science is never conclusive on any subject, but there is a very solid and logical working hypothesis that has held up well to examination, both experimental and logical.

At the risk of repeating myself: We know that there are a number of "intersex" conditions (that which was once called hermaphrodite among them) in which the body is at odds with itself physically in terms of gender - that quite apart from the mental gender. At the end of this blog I'll give you a link where you can read more about these conditions if you like, and of course, Google is your friend. These various conditions are caused, we think, by the interplay of hormones in the mother's womb during pregnancy. there is a "normal" schedule of hormone interplay which if happens as it should produces a "normal" male or female. and just as many factors can go awry which produce many different sorts of birth defects, so things can and do go awry which produce intersex conditions where the child physical body's primary and secondary sexual characteristics are divergent from the "normal" gender binary.

This is not theoretical - these children ARE born - physical living proof that not everyone is born a complete physical male or a complete physical female. if you've ever heard, or made, the argument "God doesn't make mistakes" then you need to reconcile that belief with the fact that children ARE born with birth defects and sometimes those defects relate to their gender.

Now, given that this is undeniable FACT, the obvious question is this - if in fact children can be born with physical inconsistencies in their gender, and if in fact the human brain is a physical organ, and if in fact we know that children can be born with mental "issues" in their brain just as they can be born with physical "defects" (autism, for instance) then by what rational can we NOT arrive at the obvious conclusion that a person inevitably will be, on rare occasion, born with a physical incongruity between their "brain gender" and their "body gender"?

That is not to say that transsexualism is not, in some sense, a mental condition - but it is a mental condition just as autism is, or any other condition of the brain present from birth resulting from a physiological reality.

That being the case, it is as irrational to judge, scorn, or hate a transsexual as it is to judge a child with a cleft palate or spina bifida. While writing this, I erased several more paragraphs I'd written on that thought (concerning judging) because it was overkill. Those of you with the ability to think rationally already see that it is love, and not judgment, that is called for here. Those who do not already see this will not be convinced by more words from me here tonight.

If you wish to read more about these things - and there is a GREAT deal more than what I could practically include here, follow the following link:

Who We Are and Why

That article in turn links to other resources and if anyone has any questions or curiosities they still haven't found an answer to let me know and I'll get you some more resources. In fact, one day in the future I think I'll just do a link list of recommended reading.
Here are the links I mentioned-

Facebook Notes Page: Tammy Rainey's Notes

Old blog: Betcha Didn't See This Coming

And, for a bonus, my baseball blog if it interests you: The Southpaw
If you are interested in my fiction writing, there are samples of it here: Open Diary - Bits and Pieces

Sunday, October 2, 2011

30 Year Reunion: After

Short Version: More than I had any right to expect - doubled.

Long Version:

(before I start just a heads up - "short version" is NOT my area of strength!)

Well, start at the beginning as they say. After some emotional drama on the home-front ( of the sort I'm trying to avoid too much discussion of here) I finally arrived at the restaurant about 10 minutes ahead of time. Earlier in the day I had spent theoretical future money getting my hair done (first time ever I had had it styled rather than just trimmed) and gotten a make-over. This might seem odd given I'm terminally broke (so much so that I declined the meal last night because I couldn't pay for it - more on that in a bit). but my hairdresser will let me run an account, and the girl who booked me at Merle Norman a month ago failed to tell me that makeovers were no longer free, so we worked out an arrangement there.

[EDIT: To repeat, because I've already been chewed out once tonight over this by a concerned friend - I did NOT spend any of my non-existent money on a makeover this weekend. I was under the complete assumption that it was free. I've had one at a MAC counter a couple of years ago, and have been present for three others at this same Merle Norman and I've never seen one that had a fee before. I was humiliated to have to admit to them i couldn't possibly pay. i hope my friends realize I'm not a moron]

Anyway, when I first arrived, i approached two or three separate clusters of classmates who had already arrived and felt very much that i was getting the cold shoulder. Only one man addressed me by name (the wrong one but the expectations on that hadn't been entirely disseminated yet).

It even crossed my mind to give up and leave at one point. But there were a couple of people coming who’d been big supporters on-line and I was more interested in seeing them than in giving in to my self-doubt. Slowly over the next 10-15 minutes the tide began to turn. One of the ladies I’d been waiting for arrived and came directly over and gave me a warm hug, others began to speak, and in what was a turning point for my mood, the first of the guys in the class came up and took my hand and asked “So is it G____ or Tammy?” and when I said “Tammy, please, if at all possible” he smiled and said that works for me” and the name wasn’t an issue to any significant extent the rest of the night.

When we moved inside, any awkwardness for most people seemed to have been left outside the door. Moving about the room, with my friend seeing to it any moments when I found myself adrift didn’t last very long, I lost the feeling that most of them were uncomfortable with me and in fact, a great many, especially of the women, were very warm and kind. There were 42 people who spent the whole senior year in our class, and five of those have passed away. Of the 37 that remain, 21 were in attendance (plus three others who had spent most of our school years in our class but didn’t end up graduating with us). Twelve were males and three others were female. Not one of the ladies was in any way “too formal” with me, which was a massive relief. Of the guys, no one was impolite, although you might expect their to be some awkwardness and their was.

 Two or three held their interaction to a simple polite greeting, Two or three others (including the unofficial “host” and the guy who first greeted me) and the rest fell somewhere in between. The one thing I’d like to have changed, but perhaps that bit which was most inevitable, is that the two guys i was closest too in high school were obviously still having tremendous difficulty with the situation. I would love the opportunity to sit down with those guys for a beer or whatever and be able to answer their questions and make them comfortable if I could but I don’t expect that will ever happen.

As we waited for dinner to be served, I was invited to sit with three of my classmates who were their without spouses (my own had declined to attend from day one, though she had second thoughts at the last minute) and sure enough, one of them - to my pleasure - was bold enough to ask about that which she did not understand. Slaying the “elephant in the room” was a huge relief, even if it didn’t really get any further than our table. When the meal began the host informed me that someone among the group (I can imagine 2 or 3 suspects but it’s bet i never know) had offered to pay for my meal. On the whole, for the majority of the interactions there I felt like I had achieved some level of credibility with the group. Certainly it must be acknowledged that mature people of good will would certainly guard whatever reservations they had behind a mask of politeness. But with that said, it’s not impossible to sense when the reaction is sincere and when it’s affected and for the most part I didn’t get the sense of being simply “tolerated.”

There were a couple of other moments I must bring up. One involves the ladies who was my closest female friend in high school She’s also the most ardently Christian member of our class, then and now. One of the defining moments of the night for me was whether or not this person who had every ideological reason to reject me would do just that or not. This was more important to me than just passing the religion test, it was important because this woman had literally been my lifesaver in high school without ever being aware how important she was. In those days in the 70's where it would have been absolute disaster to come out as trans - especially in North Mississippi - to be able to be “girlfriends” (even though she was unaware) with another girl was of more value that words can describe. For the first time in my life I had a chance to share my appreciation with that friend and make her aware of how much she meant to me (and have her share with me more than I had known about the relationship from her perspective). That moment alone would have been worth a world of grief otherwise if that had been the outcome.

The other person who deserves mention I’m going to go ahead and call by name to avoid confusion and because she deserves it. Lori and i were not, we would both admit, big buddies in highschool. Her and a half dozen other girls were a very tight clique and as the nerdy introverted bookworm I was about as far in the opposite direction as was possible to be . We were never Unfriendly, in a class that small there’s not really so much room for totally not getting along anyway and neither of us were the sort to have enemies, we simply moved in different circles. When we reconnected on Facebook over a year ago, after my transition, I was blown away at the warmth of her reaction. No one, from among those people who had more than a passing acquaintance with him, has been even close to as supportive and openly so as Lori. When the reunion was in the planning stage, I expressed to the organizers some reservations about whether I should attend - at one point specifically offering to stay away rather than risk ruining it for anyone. This was an idea that was specifically shot down by both the organizers and also by Lori, and without knowing details, I am convinced that in the intervening months she kept her cell phone hot building bridges between me and some of the other girls in the class who were less “in touch” with my situation. Possibly I’m giving her too much credit but i cannot believe things would have gone so well without her. As far as i can see, she made the night what it was.

As if that wasn’t enough, she was the one person there that I could talk to about what high school was like for one in my condition. Mostly in the form of funny stories and memories, but occasionally in the form of a serious moment when I could say “you guys never knew it but...” and open up a bit about the places where there was always a wall between me and everyone else. And that without ever making me feel like I was being a bore by dwelling on my story more than hers or anyone else’s. Quite possibly, she got sick of it - but she never once let me see a hint of that opinion. This, while not really the purpose of a reunion, was still something that ended up being a highlight of the evening.

Afterwards, about half of us adjoined to an “after party” at the home of the guy who’d broken the ice for me at the beginning of the night and while “party” s a big stretch for 47, 48 year old parents and in some cases grandparents, it was still an extension of an evening that I hated to see end. In all this, some five hours from that nervous arrival to the point where I decided it best to go home and face the music, not one person was obviously rude, not one person sarcastically misused a name or a pronoun, not one person (after that initial awkwardness) gave me any sense that I should walk away and quit creeping them out they entire experience was uplifting and affirming and a huge blessing. Three or four moments rose to the level of being listed among the very best moments of my transition experience, if not in some ways my entire life (when you consider every event before 3 years ago is tainted by the inauthenticity of my mask).

Not only could I not have asked for more, I would not have dreamed it would have gone that well. This is not to suggest that i assumed my old friends would have been mostly hostile, but I do understand intimately the culture we were all raised in and the mental baggage that comes with that. Maybe it goes to show that the old world, where people like me had to cower in fear of what would happen if “they” ever found out, is indeed slowly passing away.

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to the Falkner High School Class of 1981. You were a blessing to me.