Sunday, September 23, 2007

Seeing Signs

Coincidence? Or Fate? Or God's Hand?

I was never one to believe in Fate - though I often was amused by how things seemingly "happened". And as disconnected I was from the notion of Fate, I was even more distanced from the concept of God's Plan. So it was that when "signs" started popping up as I hit absolute rock bottom in my life, that I viewed them with what little "humor" I could muster.

One of the less appealing facts of life for a male-to-female transgender is getting rid of the facial hair. I always hated shaving, and in fact had difficulty shaving on a regular basis. Whiskers on my neck would often grow back in-grown. Then when I would shave over those affected areas, I'd slice open the whiteheads and bleed all over the place. I'd joke that I needed to call the Red Cross before I would shave! Good thing I've donated ten gallons!! As a result, I would shave when absolutely necessary - weddings, funerals, hockey games and job interviews. Most of the time I sported an embarrassingly scraggly beard. I never "grew" a beard. I just didn't shave!! The most reliable, permanent method of beard elimination is electrolysis, a less than enjoyable experience where a tiny needle is inserted into the follicle and then an electric current is applied to effect a galvanic reaction, or cauterize with heat, or both.

As I mentioned, I had stopped visiting my electrologist because of finances...and then later because of my transitional inertia. I'll also say that she is a terrific friend, very knowledgeable in transgender issues and served as a surrogate "therapist" on many occasions. At the time, I was the Operations Director at the radio station and part of my job was to schedule the underwriters (public radio's version of "commercials") on the air. This had been part of my responsibilities for a decade or so.

At this point, I was attending therapy sessions and classes for six hours a day and still trying to get my work done at the radio station. While I was receiving help, I really wasn't getting any better emotionally. Then came one of those Signs. A new underwriter had been signed - the Oregon Association of Licensed Electrologists! We had never had them as a client before - or, to my knowledge, since. And I did miss my friend Patty. I got a chuckle and went about my business.

Another task of mine at the station was to pre-record and then program for later use about four hours of programming that would be aired on Sunday afternoons and evenings. Actually, I did this for the other six days of the week as well. On Sunday evening, we aired a program called "Choral Classics", a program that features choral music. One of the underwriters - or sponsors - of the program was Dr. James Thomas, a laryngologist. I read his copy before and after each weekly program and had for nearly two years.

In addition to electrolysis, some transgender women undergo surgical procedures on their vocal chords to effect a more female sounding voice....hormones are of no help for the male-to-female transgender for this situation. The success of the various procedures is mixed - and as someone who relied on my voice in part for my occupation, I was a little wary of doing this. And yet, I got to diddling around on the internet at work and decided to follow a link from a popular transgender health website that was simply entitled Voice Feminization Surgery...and whose name pops up? Dr. James Thomas...."The Voice Doctor", as he called himself. I learned that he is one of the leading experts in a technique called Crico-Thyroid Approximation. Another chuckle, another sign. (I'll add that when I did transition and my story became public, I received a very nice card from his office!).

In our therapy program, the first session was a daily check-in - how did you sleep, are you eating well, how do you feel today on a scale of 1-10, etc. There were two groups that participated in the check-in, I was in one group and Richard was in the other - which I surmised was a group with additional problems. Richard was an older man, rather tall, even a bit intimidating. We never spoke to one another. He would sit on one side of the room, I sat on the other and then once check-in was completed, we'd go our separate ways until lunch. I recall that during a lot of the check-in sessions, Richard kept thanking "My Lord and Personal Savior, Jesus Christ". Often. Almost as if that was the period to each sentence. Since I didn't have to interact with him during the rest of the day, I basically ignored him.

One morning, I arrived a bit early, so I headed down the hall, past the classrooms to the small lounge area that doubled as the waiting room for the therapists. As I headed east, Richard was headed west in the same hallway. "Do it", he said. "What?", was my surprised response. "You need to Do It...make your change.", referring to my well-known situation of being "stuck" between Ron and Donna. "Thank you, Richard.", was my half-hearted reply. Of course he was right....and I knew it....but I still wasn't ready to face that future. We never spoke again.

When faced with such difficult issues in our lives, we often get into the battle of the Head versus the Heart. The more practical among us listen to the Head. The more emotional listen to the Heart. My problem was I wasn't listening at all. And what better metaphor for not listening than a hearing aid?

My father needed a hearing aid, something he kept fidgeting with as well. At some point he would manage to break the small tube connecting the earpiece to the small amplifier. And since his hearing aid store was on my way to work from his house, I usually got the call to take them in for repair.

I had probably my worst day in therapy on the day of Christmas Eve morning - December 24th. I had been trying desperately to avoid doing any additional harm to myself until after the holidays. I didn't want my daughters or my wife to have to associate that time of year with my departure. But Christmas Day morning was as low as the night before Thanksgiving a month earlier. "Not today....Not today", was my mantra.

My family usually gathered on Christmas Eve and this year we were at my parent's house. No one, save my wife, knew the depths of my situation - though my oldest daughter was aware I was in some type of therapy. We had dinner, Santa paid us a visit, we exchanged presents...just like any other year. And Dad asked if I would take his hearing aid to the shop to get fixed.

Oh this is too easy, isn't it? I returned the hearing aid after it had been repaired a couple of days later. But that wasn't enough. Dad called a few days after that..."Can you take my OTHER hearing aid in now?". Yep...I still wasn't listening, I needed to do this again. And I did.

It was now January 13th, a Tuesday. I had met with Lynne, my lead therapist, that morning who had indicated we would start working on an exit strategy for me from the recovery program. I remember thinking privately "but I'm not ready....I just know I can't keep myself safe". In my determination to avoid the holidays, I'd set January 15th as the day I would no longer fight if I fell apart again. And I knew I would.

I picked up the second hearing aid after stopping in at work for awhile after therapy and headed for my parents house. This time the discussion turned to one of the seemingly too frequent family squabbles. My mother was enlisting me to take sides - something I usually avoided anyway, but truly had no capacity to deal with. I kept deferring, she kept insisting. Then came those fateful words, "I can't imagine a son of mine not backing me up!". Crushed, I cried. She had no idea why I wanted out of this discussion. I got up to leave, still not planning on telling them my truth. My dad begged me to stay, to talk. I resisted, escaping the situation - just like suicide - seemed my best course of action.

To this day, I don't remember what Mom said next, I just recall that Donna - not Ron - finally stood up and blurted: "I'm crying because I've been in a suicide recovery program for the past month and you didn't even know!". Well, that kinda blew the situation wide open. I called my wife to tell her that I was going to have "the talk" with my parents right then and there. And so they found out - I had finally "listened". It was Donna wanting to live.

That weekend I shared with my wife a story I had not told anyone else. When my paternal grandmother passed away - her name was Gretchen, but we called her Nanny - I kept sensing her continued presence. We'd spent many hours together and she was a fascinating woman - that's an essay all its own! I used to "see" her in that little hazy spot between sleep and wake. Nothing was ever said, just the calm of her presence made me feel she was continuing to watch over me. Those "visits" ended after awhile.

In all honesty, I had sensed that a lot of these signs were at her guidance. And I mentioned that to my wife. I then left for the pharmacy to get a refill for, of all things, my estrogen. It was a lovely, blue sky Sunday morning. And as I pulled out of the parking lot to return home, there was a lone, almost lonely, cloud. From that tiny cloud that had no reason to exist that morning spilled the arc of a rainbow. It connected Earth and Sky. It wasn't a complete arch. As I looked a bit more intently, I realized the rainbow's end had to be falling right on my house. I cried. It's Nanny telling me Congratulations, You Finally Listened. And I said Thank You.

It would be another two years before I would learn that the rainbow is the symbol of God's covenant with me (Genesis 9:13). That day I cried again. I know Nanny was the Angel. I know God sent her.

Oh...almost forgot....Richard. I later learned that he would sometimes get delusional and lose touch with reality. There were many at the therapy center battling incredible challenges. When he was delusional, Richard thought he was Jesus Christ.

On August 21, 2005 I went into a church for the first time for my own spiritual needs and heard the sermon, "Paying Attention to the Signs God Puts Before You". Then it all made sense.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Before the Crash

How Life Fell Apart

I wrote earlier about how it was I came to Faith. In that essay is the story of that first sermon I heard from Rev. Sue Thorne, "Paying Attention to the Signs God Puts Before You". Now I had never been one to believe in God's Plan for me. I didn't believe in Fate, though I didn't totally dismiss it either - I guess I was more amused at how somethings just happened to occur. Were there "signs" before that Sunday morning on August 21st, 2005? Yes. Oh my goodness, Yes.

By 2002, I had fully embraced my goal of transitioning from male to female, it was now just a function of logistics...not emotional acceptance. One hurdle was my job as the color announcer of the Portland Winter Hawks hockey team. I had made my broadcasting career on two traits - being versatile, and being reliable. As a result, the transition would have to occur after the hockey season was over - I didn't want to leave my wonderful broadcasting partner in the lurch.

Another hurdle was my regular job as Operations Director of AllClassical 89.9 radio in Portland. While Portland and Multnomah County had protective laws for transgenders in the workplace - in other words I couldn't be fired by simply transitioning - I was also well aware that it would have been fairly easy to get around that particular law given the very subjective nature of "performance" in the radio field. Still, I had taken some steps to cover that possibility as well. I had heard of others who had lost their jobs and were then economically handcuffed from fully proceeding. I didn't want to be "stuck".

The last, and biggest hurdle, was my parents. I had told many family members and many friends as well. My parents would literally be the "last to know". Both of my parents were in poor health. My father had been on oxygen for years, had Parkinson's and had experienced some "mini-strokes" over the past decade. While most in my family had the most concern for my Dad, my Mom's situation was less apparent. She had high blood pressure, she could be forgetful (we would often have the same exact conversation about something only a few days or a week or so apart) and she was slowly losing weight. I knew - and as it turned out accurately so - that they would have difficulty accepting me as their only daughter. I had a lot of admiration for them, I did not want to add to their difficulties as they neared the end of their days.

All transgenders, especially transwomen, go through a phase I call The Dual Life. Most of my time I had to live in my male presentation (i.e. be Ron) - work, hockey, family events, etc. So my time to be present female (i.e. be Donna), was relegated to weekends and rare evenings. Some economic pressures had stalled my immediate plans of Female By Fifty - that would include the surgery as well. I then stopped visiting my therapist and stopped visiting my electrologist. As the financial situation brightened, my resolve to face my parents had sagged. 2003 became a nightmare. I not only wasn't proceeding with transitioning...but my opportunities to be Donna grew further and further apart. Indeed, there were many times when I had hoped to "be Donna" that got canceled at the last minute. This was incredibly emotionally devastating.

It should be no surprise then that I got into an emotional quagmire. Sometime that late spring, I began to think about the other option - suicide. Suicide is rife among transgenders. Depression prior to transitioning is nearly universal, and almost every transgender I've ever asked has acknowledged either intense, prolong suicidal ideations....or attempts. If repressed feelings are damaging to one's mental health...try re-repressed feelings!

Juxtaposed with this horrific internal conflict was a lot of external "joy". My wife and I purchased our first home. My youngest daughter graduated from college with the party held at my house - it would be the last time my entire family was together (Mom and Dad, my two Brothers and kids, my eldest Daughter, my two Aunts and my Cousin). I got to meet my Mother-in-Law and Joe from Pennsylvania, who visited just as we moved into the new house. That first day we had an empty house except for several bar stools and our barbecue. My parents joined us for a nice "house-warming" dinner. And our financial situation had improved. Everything is coming up roses - so it would seem.

In September, I wrote an explanatory letter to my parents, explaining to them what I needed to do. I never sent it. And while it was written about the future, it was also intended as the "note" of goodbye. In October, I reconnected with a therapist. My original counselor had moved away. I felt sad that Julie was no longer available - I felt very comfortable with her. I was happy to locate Heather, however. We talked about building the confidence I felt I needed to finally face my parents. And I wanted an established therapeutic relationship in case (as expected) things fell apart with them.

But October also brought even more difficulty in finding time to be Me. And by early November things grew worse. I'd planned, once again, to be Me and had to withdraw at the last minute. Frustrated with my lack of progress, devastated by the fact I could not express my true self yet again, I declared "Donna is Dead". I thought...and that should read thought...I could muster up the will to simply live as Ron, after all, I had done so for over 50 years.

The thoughts of suicide grew more frequent. I had been spending many a sleepless night "writing" my notes to my daughters - at least in my head. My wife would know, my parents had essentially abandoned me, it would be only my daughters to whom I needed to explain why I had left. With little resolve to live, the ability to cope with any negativity drained from me. So it was only a matter of time.

We had been tasked with baking the pumpkin pies for our family Thanksgiving that would held at my parents home. I still don't accurately remember what happened, but I stormed out of the kitchen, stomped down the stairs, went through the garage, grabbed a utility knife on the way out to the backyard....and tried. The knife was one that I had used a couple of years earlier to trim roofing tabs at my old house. The blade was coated with tar, dulled from slicing through the grit of the tiles. The lock was fouled as well and didn't always work. It was with this implement that I took to my wrist. It made a scratch, but little more. And I probably underestimated - or was subconsciously unwilling to use - the force needed to incur a serious wound.

My wife opened the back door and found me in my attempt. We struggled and there was no way I wanted to hurt her, so I hurled the knife somewhere into the back corner of our lot. And she dialed 9-1-1. With that the police arrived, three of them. I really didn't need that and was, frankly, rather combative and rude. I was taken outside the house (a common procedure for police who try to isolate the individual from any potential weapons that may be used against them or the person themselves) and I was asked to show my wrist. Yep, there's a scratch, I hurt it baking pies. The lead officer didn't buy that. He also said that, because of my wife's phone call - and the conversation another officer was having with her - they had a basis to tackle me to the ground and take me to a mental health facility for 72 hours. I became a little more cooperative.

The pies!!!! Oh, wait...we have to go back inside, I have pies in the oven. At first, the officer didn't seem too keen on that idea, but when I mentioned that we would need the fire department if we didn't remove them - and I promised, promised not to do anything. We got there just in time to remove them just as the timer went off. Whew! Four pies, all ready for tomorrow night's feast. But was I ready?

It was then explained to me that I had a choice: I could be hauled away now and placed on a 72 hour "hold"....or.....I could have a "voluntary" evaluation done by my HMO. I "wisely" chose the latter option. After nearly four hours, the therapist who performed the emergency room evaluation let me return home. She originally was going to order hospitalization, but changed her mind - thankfully - allowing me to cling to the few strands of self I had left. Oh...according to that HMO, there are nine symptoms of major depressive disorder. I scored positively on eight of them. Hospitalization is usually indicated if someone scores on only three.

I spent the next day at the family dinner vacillating between "I'm glad I'm not in the hospital" and "I should be in the hospital". As ordered, I saw my regular therapist the next week and through her guidance I would finally seek more in depth assistance. It was now that the signs began.

Part Two: Those Signs

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Prosecuting Fred Phelps

The Truth on Hate Crimes

I thought I might get your attention with that headline!

I recently had the honor of meeting Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, the Wyoming teen who was so brutally murdered on October 12th of 1998. Since her son's death, Judy has dedicated her life to the safety of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. Her foundation, named for Matthew, has been patiently - and persistently - seeking legislation for the inclusion of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity into federal hate crime statutes. Now is the best time since Matthew's murder for passage through Congress. Please visit the foundation website to sign the on-line petition.

The purpose of this commentary is to address the horrible, misleading statements that have arisen from opponents of the Matthew Shepard Act - outright lies in fact. And coming from voices of Faith!

So I ask you....can you name one minister, preacher or pastor who has been tried (nevermind convicted) for sermonizing about the "sins of homosexuality"? You can't. There hasn't been any. And yet that is the basis for the coordinated campaign to exclude LGBT inclusion into federal hate crime laws. You see...this is already the law in several states including my home state of Missouri, and not even the indefatigable (the most kind adjective I could summon) Fred Phelps has been prosecuted for his rantings.

According to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 11 states already include Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity into their state anti-bias laws. Another 21 states cover Sexual Orientation - but not Gender Identity. Georgia's hate crime laws do not specify any particular groups, just acknowledges that bias or hate can motivate a crime.

The Truth about Hate Crimes is that they are intended as an enhancement to the possible punishment for a crime that has been committed. Why is this necessary? Because hate crimes are intended to not only harm the victim, but intimidate all others who are like the victim. Last year Alabama experienced a rash of church burnings. There were legitimate fears that these were the results of Hate. Had they been torched because they were churches - or more specifically Baptist? It turns out, the arsonists were motivated by opportunity and stupidity than directed hatred. Thus, these were not hate crimes.

Many years ago, my grandmother's family had a cross burned on their property. This was not the Deep South. This was northeastern Oregon in the 1930's. The Ku Klux Klan was very active in my birth state at the time, and prior to the Civil Rights Movement, they turned their bile toward certain people of faith. My grandmother was Catholic. This was clearly a hate crime - motivated by bias - not a random act of vandalism.

Hate crime laws are aimed at the motivation of the crime, not creating a separate crime category. If I am assaulted, or my property damaged, because I am transgender, then that is a crime based on hate...and has the additional intimidating factor for other transwomen and transmen. Still, I can be robbed, assaulted, robbed, vandalized just like any other person if there is no biased impetus for the crime.

So why the lies? My belief is power and money. The groups that have organized these lies earned millions upon millions of dollars from the "faithful" for their continual assault on LGBT lives. I also wonder why they feel so guilty about their message!! Could it be they fully understand their message isn't about "sin", but Hate. And yet, the Matthew Shepard Act contains language that specifically delineates that free speech - and free expression of religion - is not compromised.

The Phelps group picketed Judy Shepard's appearance in Kansas City.
They were not prosecuted.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Making It Up

Genesis revised: "God made Man for Woman"

One of my joys is being a member of First Light, a Yahoo Group for LGBT people of Faith. It is expertly, and compassionately, moderated by a wonderful man in the Bay Area - former journalist and holder of a Master of Divinity. Through his ministry, I am kept well informed about developments within Faith and the issues of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders. If you are someone who seeks a resource for shared thought and information in a nurturing environment, then click on the hotlink above and join up!

Recently, a news story was forwarded to our list that caused me a severe case of Faith dyspepsia. The story was about the excruciating divisiveness within the worldwide Anglican Communion that has developed around LGBT inclusion/exclusion. In a nutshell, there are some rather conservative congregations extraordinarily upset with the invocation of V. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as Bishop of the New Hampshire Diocese of the Episcopal Church USA. Ordination of LGBT souls is a very common subject within nearly all the mainline Protestant denominations. As such, the fact the Anglican Communion is struggling isn't terribly remarkable.

What does appear different though, is that genuine steps toward real Schism (which may wind up being the eventual path for the other denominations as well) are clearly underway. The movement is led, in part, by Rev. Peter Akinola of Nigeria, but he is also joined by several other African prelates - including Rt. Rev. William Magambo of Uganda.

There are some American based Episcopal/Anglican denominations that are now renouncing their local bishoprics and, essentially, joining some of the African-based churches. (I'm definitely not authoritative about Anglican polity, so forgive any specific error - the message remains the same, however). And it was as 33 US based parishes moved their allegiance to the Church of Uganda in which Rt. Rev. William Magambo is quoted as saying "God made Man for Woman". Click on the hotlink for the entire news story.

Now you can label me ignorant, or at least not deeply well-versed, in the Scriptures. But here is someone, fully educated, fully ordained who says "God made Man for Woman". Please show me just where in the Bible it says that. Nevermind, it isn't there. The Right Reverend is Making It Up to suit his personal bias, to further fuel the flames of homophobia within his flock and within the world. If pastors are brought before their governing bodies for blessing same-sex commitments, should not their be trial or rebuke of those who promulgate such theological nonsense?

Rev. Magambo's rewriting of Genesis goes to the heart of the Lessons I've posted regarding Transgenderism and the Bible. People who find condemnation within the pages of Scripture of transgender souls are, in my opinion, Making It Up. If you have nothing in your heart but contempt for people like me, that is your choice. But don't lay your personal prejudice onto God. Accept your transphobia for what it is....Yours.

Let's quit Making It Up