Archives for May 2010

crucifixion part two

Transition is, by it’s nature, both intensely public and intensely private. In the Passion narrative there are parts that Jesus has to face alone. There were moments where his friends could not accompany him, moments when he was the only one experiencing the pain and suffering. Even though, in the end, all of the people involved would be transformed, they were all transformed in their own way.

Before I began to transition friends who were further along in their transitions or post transition tried to warn me about what a head trip it could be. They warned me about things I would experience that I couldn’t really prepare for. In many ways I wrote them off. In some ways I didn’t realize the truth of their advice until much later in my transition. The truth is that transition isn’t just physical, it is also mental. My friends could see my physical changes, they could hear my voice crack and see my scraggly facial hair, but they couldn’t understand what was going on in my mind and I had a really hard time letting them in.

I soon found that words didn’t come to me as easily as they once had. I found myself often with that feeling where a word is on the tip of your tongue but you can’t quite remember it. I realized that I was becoming more visual; I would see images that before would have done nothing for me and now left me aroused. I realized that I was more willing to speak up in class, but that even in my willingness I had a harder time making my point. As an intense introvert I needed even more time along to process the things I was feeling and experiencing.

I was consistently watching men and trying to understand how they acted around one another. I realized that there is a fine balance in making eye contact with another man; you look away too fast and you might be seen as an easy mark for violence, you look too long and you might invite violence. How do you appear not afraid but also not too forward?

I couldn’t always anticipate my moods and I was exhausted a lot. I withdrew from the world because I couldn’t bear to have someone get my pronouns wrong. I didn’t want to be introduced to new people or deal with party situations because they were uncomfortable. I began to really question whether or not I wanted to be out as a trans person or whether I wanted to simply be male.

As I became more comfortable in my own skin there was an element of peace in my life that hadn’t been there before.

But nothing happened overnight. It was all a process. Mostly a painful process. Painful as I tried to get people to understand and they couldn’t. Painful as I dealt with anxiety over giving myself a shot every week. The pain of the actual shot and muscle soreness. Fear that I would no longer be able to sing, or that because I couldn’t think of the right words I would lose my ability to write.

And through all of this there was the dissolution of my marriage, brought on by my transition. It was incredibly painful to have the person who had been my biggest supporter decide she could no longer be with me because I was becoming the person I was meant to be. Without going in to all of the details, it was an incredibly hurtful time. She was watching the person she loved die and couldn’t handle that.

Even though I knew that what was coming was going to be worth it, the process, in many ways, simply sucked. And as I was going through all of this physical and mental upheaval I still had to attend classes, do my homework, go to work (where I was a bartender at a steakhouse; try explaining your gender transition over the noise of political news and sports and see how well it goes!) and try to keep my marriage together. Needless to say something went better than others. I had patient professors for the most part and friends that helped me to get through. My schoolwork definitely suffered and so did my class attendance. I was lost in my own head a lot of the time. I poured out my thoughts in my journals when I could and watched television when I couldn’t. I tried to do things that brought me joy and reminded me of why I was doing this. I will say, though, that from the second I took my first shot of testosterone I never once questioned whether or not this was the right decision. I knew that I was doing the right thing. Even as things happened that I wished were different, even as outcomes came about that I wished I could change, I still knew that I needed to transition and that this was right.

There were dark moments where I wondered if I would make it through. There were dark moments where I worried that I would never be accepted by my family and would lose them. I worried about flunking out of seminary. I worried that my wife was going to leave me. I worried that I would never get to be in ministry and had to deal with the loss of a job that I feel to be my calling but which I am unable to do because I transitioned. There were moments where, while I knew this was the right decision, I still felt abandoned and forsaken. Moments where I couldn’t see anything but my own pain, moments when I wondered why this had to be my path. Moments when God was silent.

In the passion narrative it says that there was darkness over the whole land. Sometimes it felt like that. Like there was only darkness and pain and I was completely alone. That’s the hardest part of transitioning; being alone in the journey. The fact that even though it’s public, there is so much changing that no one can see and you feel like you’re in the dark.

You crucify your body because you have no other choice. Because you know that it’s the only way you are going to survive. Because even if there is no resurrection, there is no life in the way you’ve been living.

girlyman

another fun video post by a great band named girlyman.check them out at girlyman.com

crucifixion part one

Matthew 27: 45-46: From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Most of us know the story of the crucifixion. Growing up in the evangelical church it was used as a weapon to make those listening to the story feel so horrified by what Jesus suffered, because of them, that they would immediately dedicate their lives to Christ and commit to being better. I remember being told in horrific detail the manner of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus. It was as if the gorier the speaker could make it, the more we would be convicted.

As I left the church I grew up in, I discarded the story of the crucifixion. I didn’t want to deal with it any more. A theology that centered around torturing an innocent person because of the wrongdoings of other people was a theology that made me sick. A God who demanded such torture to appease His wrath (and this God was always male) was a God I wanted nothing to do with. I no longer believe that God demanded the sacrifice of Jesus in order to save the world from sin. I believe instead in a more political act; one in which Jesus is so committed to his calling to speak truth to power that he willingly dies on a cross. His willingness to die doesn’t overlook the horror of the act, though, or the wickedness of political power systems that would kill an innocent person because he threatened their sense of themselves.

I realize that writing about the crucifixion as a trans narrative invites all sorts of grey areas, so let me get a few things out of the way first: I am not saying that transition is as horrifying as being crucified or being tortured. Yes, there is pain involved, but in my experience it was nothing like what Jesus must have experienced (besides, I was given vicodin). Suffering of any kind should never be glorified. I want to be clear on this; there is a tendency to elevate people who have suffered simply because they have suffered. I believe this is the wrong approach. Instead we should elevate and celebrate people because they survived and work to eradicate suffering. When I speak of suffering in this way I am speaking about abuse, torture, disease, poverty. Over the years there have been theologies written that say one should embrace their suffering because Jesus suffered. It has been used to tell women to stay in abusive homes, to tell people that they shouldn’t work to eradicate the systems that cause poverty, that somehow they should be happy in their suffering knowing they’ll get a better deal in the afterlife. That to me is complete and utter bullshit and the complete antithesis of the Gospel. Pardon my strong language but I need to be very clear on this point before we continue. Sometimes in life we suffer but our suffering should never be glorified. However sometimes our suffering leads us to a better place, helps us discover strength we didn’t know we had. Those outcomes are positive, but it still doesn’t mean we should glorify suffering. Now with all of that said, let’s begin.

Medical transition is an interesting time. It’s definitely a journey and there are stops along the way. And in a way, it is definitely a crucifixion experience. When I say that I mean that it is a slow death. The person you were slowly dies and disappears.
My transition began by first coming to terms with the fact that I was transgender and realizing that I needed to transition. I told my partner and some of my friends. Then I began the process of seeking out counseling.

There is a lot of debate around the medical/psychiatric profession and transitioning. It’s a long and complicated debate that doesn’t entirely pertain to this subject so I will skip most of it here. But for most people, in order to transition, one must go through a series of steps including a certain amount of counseling (which sometimes involves a diagnosis of gender identity disorder (another heated topic of debate) before one can access medical transition. I was fortunate to live in a city that allowed people to transition on an informed consent model; you were briefed on what the risks were, what the effects were, etc. and then you signed a statement allowing treatment. For me, though, counseling was important on a personal level and so I took that route.

I entered counseling with a wonderful counselor. Most of my counseling involved talking about issues other than my gender identity. It was, in a lot of ways, preparing me for transition and giving me the emotional tools to do things such as come out to my family, deal with communication issues with my partner, prepare for the stress of transitioning while in seminary, etc. After several months of counseling my therapist wrote a letter stating that I knew myself to be male, knew the risks of transitioning and that I understood that transition was permanent. I took this letter to a doctor and got initial blood tests. Then I was prescribed testosterone and got my first injection. Over the next couple of weeks I was trained to inject myself and my transition began.

My process is to inject myself every week with testosterone shots in my upper thigh. I will have to do this for the rest of my life. The next step of my transition was trying to figure out how I could have my chest reconstruction (or top) surgery. Most insurance companies don’t pay for any part of transition (although some do cover prescriptions and some surgeries) and at the time I was not insured anyway so I was paying for everything from doctor’s visits to prescriptions out of pocket. Chest surgery would cost at least $5500 plus travel expenses, hotel costs, time out of work (at least 4 weeks), and other various costs. I was fortunate that I was in school at the time and was able to get extra student loans to cover my surgery. A year after I started testosterone I was able to get chest surgery.

Up until my surgery I wore something called a binder. It’s a super tight shirt looking thing (mine looked like a white t-shirt) that had extra paneling. It held my breasts tight against my body so they looked more like pecs. Then I usually wore two shirts over top to camoflauge my chest even more. Even in the summer. The binder was uncomfortable and hot. It pressed into my sides and left marks. I had permanent bruising around my waist where it rolled up and dug into my sides. The testosterone gave me hot flashes in the beginning and that coupled with the extra shirts made life really unbearable for a while. Not to mention the sheer mental discomfort of having breasts. Ever since puberty I hated them, but once I began transition they were unbearable. I was fortunate to be able to get surgery so soon. It’s something I am grateful for every day. But the time spent waiting for surgery weighed on my mind.

Meanwhile I was doing my weekly shots and slowly beginning to change. My voice started to deepen, my fat started to redistribute, facial hair and body hair began to ever so slowly fill in and become visible. My muscles began to develop more quickly and even a little bit of working out went a long way. My periods stopped (which was a huge relief). I dealt with hot flashes and a cracking voice as I was pretty much going through menopause and puberty simultaneously.

The changes were sometimes unbearably slow. I would look in the mirror and see nothing happening. Then sometimes I would catch glimpses of the person I was becoming and be filled with such joy. But the process was painful. My acne was out of control and very painful. I was still having people use the wrong pronouns for me, I still didn’t know what bathroom would be safe to use. I still had a chest that I hated and didn’t feel right in my clothing.

Surgery had me out of work for about six weeks. The recovery was at times painful. In the beginning I had drains in and couldn’t shower. That was probably the most miserable week of my life. The drains were incredibly painful, I couldn’t move very much and I just felt gross. After the drains were out things got progressively better, but healing still took time. I couldn’t reach up very high, I couldn’t lift or carry anything heavy. Driving was painful. I wore a padded vest pretty much 24 hours a day for a month. It was uncomfortable and constricting. The wounds took time to heal and the scarring even longer to fade.

This transitional time was a death in a lot of ways. I was dying to who I had been; I was becoming someone new, someone unrecognizable. I was in between in a lot of ways; not who I would someday be but no longer who I was. And those are just the physical aspects of transition, there were also mental things that happened that I wasn’t prepared for and couldn’t explain as they were happening. It’s to that aspect of transition that I turn next.

something fun

just wanted to share a music video by namoli brennet. you can check out more of her music here: http://www.namolibrennet.com/fr_home.cfm

the garden

Matthew 26: 36-46: Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if this is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” Then he came to the disciples and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “So, could you not stay awake with me one hour? Stay awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again he went away for the second time and prayer, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” Again he came and found them sleeping for their eyes were heavy. So leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”

Jesus knows he’s headed for trouble. He feels that the end is near. He knows that Judas is about to betray him; he knows Peter is going to bail. He knows that pain is coming, that he’s going to suffer. This is his dark night of the soul. He heads to a quiet place. We can assume that since Judas knew right where to find him that maybe it’s a spot he’s gone before. He pulls aside his best friends and asks them to just keep watch with him. All of his disciples are with him, but he pulls aside those he is closest to; the ones he had his initial coming out to, the ones who had (up to this point) stood by him through everything. He asks them to stay awake while he struggles.

He goes off by himself and has some words with God. He’s agitated and upset. He’s grieving over what is to come. He begs God to let the cup pass from him. He begs God to make things different, to let there be another way. But even in the begging he is resigned to the fact that he might not get what he wants. After a time of intense prayer he goes back to find his friends sleeping. He chides them and tells them that they need to stay awake; that they should be praying for strength because they might not be able to withstand what’s coming next. Then he goes off and prays some more.

The second time he comes back to find his friends sleeping he lets them sleep. I can imagine him being annoyed that they couldn’t remain awake, but there is also a gentleness there; allowing them to sleep, not getting angry. He goes off to pray for a third time and says the same things. Then he wakes up his friends and gets ready to face what’s next.

I think that many of us can identify with this passage. The “dark night of the soul”. The moments where we wonder why we’re going through a trying time, we wonder what God is thinking. We beg God to make it better, to make it hurt less, to teach us the lesson in any other way.

Before I began my transition there were definitely times when I wanted things to be different. I wanted to be able to live as a woman, I wanted to be happy in my own skin. I begged God to let me be okay with myself. I was worried about what I would face, worried about losing my family, worried about losing my partner. I was worried that I would still be unhappy, or that transitioning wouldn’t be enough. I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find a job, that I would lose friends, that I would be considered a freak. I didn’t know how I would afford all of the costs related to transitioning and I worried about the pain of surgery. Basically I was asking God to let this cup pass from me.

There is another interesting part of this passage; Jesus’ interactions with his friends. It’s easy for us to understand why he would be upset with them for falling asleep. Didn’t they know what was coming? Why couldn’t they support him in this? Weren’t they paying attention when he told them what to expect? There were definitely times throughout my transition, especially in the beginning, where I felt like I wasn’t getting the support I needed from my friends or my partner. Looking back I realize that it wasn’t their fault, they were supporting me the best way they could, but sometimes it was too much. My transition was all encompassing. It took up all of my thoughts and consumed me. I was obsessed with counting every new hair, devastated when I wasn’t perceived as male. I needed them to be a support that no person could really be. I’m sure there were times that I railed on them, “can’t you just listen to me for one more minute?” What I love about this scene with Jesus is that he yells at them the first time, but then he lets them sleep. He seems to understand (in a way that I couldn’t) that they needed time to recharge, to not have to deal with my transition. They needed to talk about something else. They needed me to have fun with them that wasn’t about me or about transitioning. That’s a lesson that I understand in hindsight but that was really difficult to understand at the time.

I think it’s important for us transfolks to realize that sometimes our support systems need time to sleep. To rest up. They need to have their own outlets and support groups. They need to have fun. They need to have conversations with us that don’t revolve around our transition. While I realize that essentially a lot of transition is a very introspective and personal time, the world doesn’t stop for our partners and friends. They still have their own problems, concerns and fears. We need to give them time to rest.

In the end what came of my conversations with God was an understanding that transitioning was something I had to do. I knew that there was no other choice when I got to the point where I realized that even if I lost my family and my partner; even if I couldn’t find a job or my life was difficult, I knew that I needed to transition and I was willing to take whatever came with it. I knew that for God’s will to be done in my life, for me to be all that God had intended me to be I needed to transition. I needed to walk the path to Jerusalem. Sure there was a part of me that wished I could just skip the path to Jerusalem, go right to the resurrection. There were times on my journey that I desperately wanted to skip ahead, get to the good stuff, forget all of this pain. But in the end, the walk to Jerusalem is what made the resurrection worthwhile (but we’ll get to that part later).

Jesus needed the time in the garden to steel himself for what was ahead. His friends needed that time in the garden to rest up so they could be a better support system for Jesus. We all do the things that we need to do to get through. Wrestling with God in this way doesn’t make us less faithful or somehow unwilling, it just means we’re being honest about how hard it is to follow the will of God sometimes. I think God invites these conversations.

peter’s betrayal

Matthew 26:30-35: When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night: for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.’ Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all of the disciples.

Peter, Jesus’ most staunch supporter. The impulsive one. The first to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. He’s the one who seems to “get it” in a way that the others don’t. Jesus leans on Peter in a way he doesn’t lean on the others. He is the one that is always pulled aside for extra teaching. When Jesus talks to a smaller group of the twelve Peter is always included. It was always Jesus and Peter. And yet, in this most trying of times for Jesus, Peter becomes the denier. What is it in Peter that won’t allow him to stand by Jesus at the time Jesus needs him most? Is it Peter’s fear? Does he worry what other people will think about him or what will happen to him? Is he concerned about his own identity, about whether he’ll be cast out of the assembly that he has grown to be comfortable in. You wonder why? He’s already given up his profession and his family to follow Jesus, why not take this final step in declaring himself a follower of Jesus?

I was married to a woman when I first admitted to myself that I was trans. In fact, she was the first person to say to me, do you think you might be trans? She got it in a way that I didn’t even get it. She was my biggest supporter in the beginning. She promised to be there as I told my mother, as I came out in my seminary, as I began the process of medical transition. She traveled with me for my chest surgery (even though, as I found out later, she was having some doubts by this point) and cared for me in the aftermath. But after all of my transitioning, she decided that she was no longer attracted to me and that she couldn’t remain my wife. We parted ways.

She struggled with my change in identity. It was hard for her to be with someone who was male. While she supported my self-discovery she was unable to be partnered with someone like me. She felt invisible as I became invisible. Her queer identity was erased in a lot of ways by my transition. As I became more comfortable with being male and identifying less as trans, she felt more and more betrayed. And so despite our marriage vows and promises to one another, we needed to end the marriage.

I say all of this not to demonize her, but instead to illustrate how even the people we expect will be the most on board with our transition are sometimes the ones who will end up denying us. Not in the sense that they deny our identity (although sometimes that happens as well), but in the sense that they can’t partner with us as our new selves. There will be people in our lives who will “get it” but who won’t be able to stay in relationship with us. They will need to go their own way.

Now we know part of the end of the story with Peter; He and Jesus reconcile and Peter does become one of the leaders of the church. Peter does get to retain his ties to the Jewish community even as he attempts to reform it and preach Jesus’ life and message. The thing is, we don’t get to see how Jesus and Peter’s relationship plays out post-resurrection. We get glimpses in the reconciliation, but even in those moments there is hurt on both sides. Jesus tests Peter by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” That must have stung. It must have been hard for Peter to be reminded of how he had failed. You have to wonder what Jesus was thinking in that moment. Was he trying to get back at Peter? He must have known that asking that question and repeating it three times would have been painful for Peter. And I get it; there are moments when I wish I could ask people in my life that couldn’t stick around questions. Questions that might be painful for both of us, but questions that could maybe lead to reconciliation. So while there is a reconciliation moment I wonder if Peter and Jesus would have continued to hang out every day or if they would have needed some space.

In this situation both Jesus and Peter are justified in a lot of ways. Jesus absolutely has the right to be hurt by Peter’s betrayal, anyone would be hurt. And Peter had his reasons for denying Jesus. He was confused, he was hurt, he was scared, he felt like he was losing himself. While Peter could have handled it in a more constructive manner, the truth is that sometimes we do things that we need to do in ways that we might regret later. I can’t help but think that Peter regretted the way he went about distancing himself from Jesus.

For my partner and I neither one of us was in the wrong. I needed to transition. She wasn’t attracted to men and needed to be with a woman. Neither of those things is wrong, it was just unfortunate that we couldn’t be what the other one needed. While we can still be in relationship, the relationship needs to look a lot different than it once did. We aren’t in the same community anymore, we’re not part of each other’s inner circle in the same way. She still supports my transition, but not in the role of partner or wife. It’s not been easy for either of us, but in the end it has been what we both needed.

In all of our transitions there will be people who will not be able to handle our transition. People who will cut us out of their lives. There will be people we will need to cut ties with for our own mental health and safety. Those will not be easy conversations to have. Sometimes there will be a reconciliation that can happen, it might be months or even years later. And sometimes we will be able to remain in relationship with people but with different definitions; partners become friends, friends become acquaintances, and other relationships shift. It will be painful for all involved, and sometimes we will need to ask, “do you love me?” and hope the answer will be, “Of course, you know I do.”

the last supper

Luke 22: 19-20: Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

Photo Credit: KurtClark via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: KurtClark via Compfight cc

Originally I hadn’t planned on writing about the Last Supper. It isn’t that this part of the narrative is uninteresting or lacks meaning, but I just wasn’t sure how it applied to the trans experience. I couldn’t seem to find a correlary in my own journey. Recently, though, I received an email that changed my thinking and is causing me to write this post, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

This is a well known scene in the narrative. It carries some of what I would wager are the most oft-spoken words in the Christian tradition. We call them the “word of institution” and they are recited every time we take communion. The words are so well known that they seem to lose their meaning. But lets imagine we’re sitting in that room, we are the disciples, we are having Passover with our teacher; our friend. Things have been heated lately and we’re not sure what’s coming next. There is tension in the room. Judas is acting weird and we’re not sure what’s going on. Peter is being his usual blustery self, proclaiming that he’ll follow Jesus unto death. And Jesus keeps talking about how he’s going to suffer and die. It all seems like too much to handle.

Then they all sit down to have dinner. It’s like the ultimate television sitcom dinner. The dysfunctional family gathers for the Thanksgiving meal and secrets are revealed! There is fighting amongst the passing of the mashed potatoes. Then Jesus stands up. He takes this loaf of bread and breaks it in half and claims that it’s his body given for them. I’m sure some of them were thinking that maybe he’d lost it. I mean, bread as his body? And broken for them? What does that even mean? Even if they did believe he was going to suffer and die (which it seems like they still weren’t buying), how would it be for them? For the political movement maybe, but for them? And really how would his death help anything? If he died then that’s it. He’d be dead and they’d be left alone and nothing would change. So what’s all of this talk about being broken for them?

Then he raises a glass and says that the wine is his blood. It’s poured out for them and is part of a new covenant. More weird talk. A covenant they could understand; covenants were a part of their community life. And maybe even blood being poured out makes sense, but the blood of an animal, not a person.

The text doesn’t give us a lot to go on. This scene happens and then the story quickly moves on. For such a large rite of the church it doesn’t get a lot of airtime. We get more of the story in Paul’s letters, but by that time it was already a rite of the church. What about this small scene captivated the early church enough to make it a part of their regular worship? And how in the world does this relate to the experience of transition?

Like I said I was resisting writing about this passage. Jesus is very clear in his language here; this was his body broken for other people; his blood poured out for other people. So much of the way I have told my own story has been the complete opposite. I needed to reiterate over and over that I transitioned for myself. That it wasn’t because I couldn’t deal with being seen as a visibly queer person, that it wasn’t because it’s easier to be a man, that it wasn’t get male privilege, that it wasn’t to fit in better, or to buy into the binary. And those things aren’t the reason that I transitioned. In some ways transitioning was a selfish act; I needed to be seen as who I really am. I needed to be in a body that was the right body. It wasn’t for other people. In fact, the moment I realized that I truly needed to transition was when I realized that even if I lost my family, my partner, everything and every one that I cared about I would still need to transition. That was when I knew that transitioning was right for me. So how could I possibly say that this was my body broken for other people? That I shed my blood for other people?

We come back to the email: I have a little sister. She’ll turn eleven this summer. My mom sent me an email saying that my little sister’s class was writing an “operetta” on heroes and she chose me as her hero. Now, my mom hasn’t told my sister about my transition, but my sister has seen me since I started transition, we talk on the phone. In a lot of ways I know that she gets it even without being told. She might not have the language but she has seen me undergo transition. And I am still her sibling and she claims me as her hero. And I realized that in some ways I transitioned for her.

As her older sibling, I want my sister to be happy in the world. To be at peace in her own skin. I want her to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and love who she sees. I want her to walk through the world with her head held high. I want her to be her most authentic self at all times. How could I possibly inspire her to be herself if I wasn’t being myself? If every time I looked in the mirror I hated the person I saw staring back at me? If I continued to walk with my shoulders rounded in order to hide my chest? If, once I started transition, I avoided coming home to see my family because I didn’t want them to know about me? How could I possibly be an example to her if I hated myself and was ashamed of my life?

This is my body, broken for you, so that you understand that sometimes you have to do hard things that no one else understands in order to be true to yourself. Sometimes people will hate your body or judge your body; whether because of how it looks, what color your skin is, or who you love with it. But that doesn’t matter. What really matters is that you can look in the mirror and love who you are. This is my body, broken for you so that we can both learn to hold our heads up high. So we can learn to look in the mirror and love what we see.

This is my blood, shed for you, so that you know that even if you have to bleed you know you will be okay in the end. So that you know that we are family and that the same blood runs through both our veins even if you are grafted into the family by adoption or marriage or whatever. We are family. This is my blood shed for you so that you understand that doing the things you know are right, even when people don’t agree, isn’t enough to make the people who matter stop loving you.

Jesus knew that even after he died that he would be remembered and carried on in the lives of the people who loved him. And he knew that by living the life he was called to, even if it meant death, was a better example for the people he loved than playing it safe and living unscathed.

That is the legacy I want my siblings to have. To know that a life lived truly, authentically, bodily is a life well lived. That to follow your heart, to follow your gut, even if it leads you to scary places is worth it. I want them to know that no matter who they are they will be held in my embrace and loved. So I broke my body for them, so that I could show them that even with scars you can be okay. To be wholly yourself, living wholly in your body is a holy endeavor.

This is my body. This is my blood. For you.

jennifer knapp

in a bit of a digression from my normal posting, i just wanted to share a song with you.

it's been all of the talk of the christian music world over the past couple of weeks that Jennifer Knapp came out as a lesbian. when i was growing up i loved jennifer knapp's music. she was one of my favorite singers. her music touched my soul in ways i can't even explain now. her songs are still some of my favorite to play on the guitar.

i was excited to hear that she had come out. i was happy that she was sharing her truth. happy that she was coming into her own. but i also worried about her. i wanted to hug her, to protect her. i knew she would get trashed by the christian community (and she has). reading the comments on videos of her on youtube and on her facebook page is an exercise in brutality. people saying hateful things. i mean, it's to be expected given the level of discourse in this country but it's still sickening.

i downloaded her new album the day it came out. i had always thought she was a wonderful musician and i was excited to hear her new music. i was shocked at how it affected me. first off was just the joy at her being back (she hasn't performed in seven years). then it was just the joy that someone who spoke to me when i was a teenager was speaking to me again even though i am such a different person now. her words ring with the pain of her journey. of how hard it is to keep secrets. of her fear of the christian community. she articulates the struggle in such a powerful way. and it's powerful for me to be accompanied in my faith journey by someone who was such an influence to me when i was a teenager.

by the nature of my life and my journey there are very few people who are still a part of my journey that were a part of my journey when i was a teen. so anytime someone who has been a part and can continue to be a part it's an incredibly powerful experience.

so welcome back, jennifer. and if you ever need support, know that i am here to walk with you on your journey.

judas

Matthew 26: 25: Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” He replied, “You have said so.” 47-50a: While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; with him was a large crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign saying, “the one I will kiss is the man; arrest him.” At once he came up to Jesus and said, “Greetings Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you are here to do.”

Judas, synonymous with betrayer, one of the most well known vignettes of the Passion narrative. It’s a story that’s been told and retold but still leaves us with more questions than answers. What motivated Judas to betray Jesus? Was he just greedy, wanting the 30 silver coins? Was he upset that Jesus wasn’t the revolutionary, violent radical that he’d been expecting? And what caused Judas’ change of heart after he had turned Jesus over to the high priests? He gave back the coins and killed himself well before he saw Jesus being tortured. What would have prompted so quick a guilt reaction?

Judas was one of the twelve. He was one of the ones that had given up everything to follow Jesus. We don’t know much about Judas’ life before he became one of the twelve. In the Matthew narrative there isn’t a separate “calling story” like we have for some of the other disciples. Judas wasn’t one of the inner circle and it seems that the times he is mentioned alone it’s usually in a negative context. Of course, we know that the stories were written down much later than the actual events, so Judas’ “untrustworthiness” could have been written into the story because the writer had the luxury of knowing how things turned out. We do get the information that he was in charge of the money for the group so obviously he was trusted to do that job.

It’s easy to demonize Judas. He’s a betrayer. He’s a jerk. There’s nothing good in him. It’s harder to wonder why he felt the need to betray; what motivated him to turn Jesus in. They should have been on the same side. They should have had common ground. But yet Judas betrays.

When I began to transition I expected I would feel affinity with transgender people everywhere and even with the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community. After all we were on the same team. We had the same experience and we were facing the same challenges. The same people opposed us. I quickly realized, though, that some of the people I thought would be on the same side as me had the hardest time with my transition. And because I had expected them to be on my team, their rejection was some of the hardest to take.

There were times when I would go on gay or lesbian websites and read some of the most horrific comments about transgender people. Comments full of transphobia and hatred. And I would wonder how people who were also oppressed could say such horrid things. Before I realized I was trans I had been a part of the gay and lesbian community; I still felt some affinity for that community and yet here they were saying such mean things.

And then there are the debates within the transgender community. Debates on whether or not one should seek medical transition, debates about whether to be out as transgender, debates over who belongs in what spaces, etc. etc. etc. It was exhausting, sometimes, to feel like I had to defend myself within my own community. To feel alienated from cisgender people (especially in the very visible parts of transitioning) and yet to also feel alienated from a community that I had expected to give me support and comfort.

Why do we turn on one another this way? Why can’t we get past our own experience to realize that other people have to live out their process? Why must we judge one another? These aren’t easy questions to answer. It would be easier to just cast out the idea of community: Well, if the gays and lesbians don’t want me in their club then I’ll just start my own! Who cares about their oppression since they don’t care about mine! You can see some of that in the debates happening about “don’t ask, don’t tell” in the military. The repeal of DADT won’t do anything for transgender people; it’s a totally separate piece of military law that prevents transgender people from serving and yet some trans people are being very public in protesting in favor of the repeal. They are able to see that oppressions intertwine and that they need to speak up. But there are others who say, “why bother”? It’s the same with the employment non-discrimination act (ENDA) and whether or not gender identity should be included. A couple of years ago there was a very vocal contingent of gay and lesbian people who wanted transgender protections excluded because it would make it easier for the law to get passed, and yet there were some who realized that oppression is oppression and we should all be working together.

What should our response be when our own community turns on us? We never get to see a moment of reconciliation between Jesus and Judas. At the same time, even in the garden, Jesus was gentle with Judas. Maybe Jesus realized Judas had his own issues to work out and that judging him wouldn’t make it any better. My initial response when I am hurt by members of the trans community is to be defensive, to recoil, to state my position and defend my right to my own path. But then I have to step back and take a moment. I realize that my right to my own path can only be assured by everyone having that freedom. For me I needed to medically transition and then to live as male. For others they need to challenge the binary. There needs to be space for all of us. We need to make space for one another. We need to forgive and be gentle with one another realizing that we are all walking a path and that path is hard.

Judas couldn’t bear to be a part of a community that didn’t fit exactly what he wanted. By doing so he cut himself off from support. He didn’t give Jesus the chance to forgive him. In the end, the only person he really hurt was himself.

naming ritual

in addition to the work i am doing around writing a trans theology, i am also trying to write some liturgical pieces surrounding different aspects of transition. the first piece i have been working on is a naming ritual. this piece is decidedly christian in a lot of the language. i realize that for some that might be a turn off, but i also think there really needs to be specifically christian rituals for transition (in addition to rituals from other traditions or no tradition, however since i do come from the christian tradition it is from that tradition i write). i would love any feedback you might have on this liturgy.

If you'd like to use it, you are welcome to, so long as you let me know that you are using it and credit me. you can find my contact info on the contact page.

Naming Ritual

By our names we are called into existence, but sometimes the name no longer fits and so it must be changed.

Jacob become Israel
Simon become Peter
Saul become Paul

And we carry new names, with new weights like Peter, the Rock.
New names that symbolize new roles.

Names are given by someone trusted, they are given to symbolize roles in the community. Names become spoken into existence by the need for a new reality.

So today we speak you into a new name. We speak you into a new role in this community. We recognize that names are important and so we honor your new name and your new place in this community, even as we also honor your previous name and contributions to this community, recognizing that that name and role no longer fit.

By what name do you wish to be called? (name is spoken aloud)

(reflection on the meaning of the new name; why the name was chosen. i imagine the minister or person leading this ritual to spend some time talking about the various meanings of the new name, or the person being named to share with those gathered the reasons they chose their new name.)

We recognize you, (name), as a treasured member of this community and by the name (name here) you shall be called. So say we all.

Congregation: So say we all.