Monday, November 26, 2007


Such a Simple Word, right?

All. One of the shortest words in the entire English language. And yet it seems we spend so much time and effort to determine just what it means? Merriam-Webster Online offers several definitions depending on grammatical usage - noun, adverb, pronoun, etc. - but it boils down to essentially this:

1 a: the whole amount, quantity, or extent of all the courage they had
b: as much as possible
: every member or individual component of
: the whole number or sum of
: every

With news that the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) will be introduced into the Senate, the issue of "all" will once again be raised. The House passed a version that was not "all" - it added Sexual Orientation to the job protections laws of the federal government, but not Gender Identity. Now, I will first firmly state why did we need to add Sexual Orientation in the first place? Don't our laws apply equally to "all"? Nope. We need to keep defining what "all" means, I guess. In fact, its a rather bizarre twist that the Fourteenth Amendment begins with the word "all"! But in the course of our societal and governmental development we have needed to add gender and race and marital status and religion and creed to the protections of "all" that are suggested in all our laws by this portion of the Constitution.

And the same thing happens within our Christian faiths. The oft-cited John 3:16 - essentially the invitation, the promise of becoming Christian - says:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (KJV).

"Whosoever" is just a longer version of the word "All". It doesn't hold any additional conditions, codicils, amendments or qualifications. Whosoever.

But there are so many people of faith who then spend so much of their ecclesiastical efforts defining just "who" of "Whosoever" they will allow to participate within their house. Some limit the participation of women. Some have a past of excluding people of color. Some prioritize which "sins" eliminate someone, and which apparently don't (aren't we all "sinners"????). And, of course, there a some who condemn and denounce people like me and those who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

The promise of God's salvation and grace is not based upon our being, or trying to be, perfect. It is offered knowing that we cannot be perfect.

All. Pretty simple word, if you only let it be what it truly means.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Rainbow Connection

A Daughter's Song, A Daughter's Love

Perhaps it was because we missed sharing our birth date by a mere four hours. But it was clear very quickly that my oldest daughter was closer to me than her mother. The youngest one identified more with Mom than me. There was at least balance in the house.

I recall one special night (gosh, with a child's life there are so many!) when she was barely more than a month old. We had moved from McMinnville to Eugene and my work hours had changed dramatically from the morning news shift (5am to 2pm) to the evening talk show (4pm to midnight). Somehow this tiny bundle sensed the change. She struggled mightily, according to her mother, to stay awake until I got home, but would be sound asleep by the time I got there.

Then, on about the fourth night she made it. Her mother, a bit frazzled, handed me the baby who would not sleep and once in my arms she looked up and started to laugh so hard and so loud! She'd stayed awake long enough....Dad was home! I never knew a baby that young could laugh. Some doctors will tell you that's not possible. After that night, I can tell you those doctors are wrong.

That would almost become her nickname....the Baby Who Would Not Sleep. Night after night, her mother and I would take turns rocking her in the rocking chair. And singing "Rainbow Connection" to her. We had seen "The Muppet Movie" a few months after she was born and simply adored the film and the music. Jeni would slip into some not asleep, not awake stupor. Just as we would stop, she'd awaken. And we'd rock and sing the song all over again. So many times each night, so many nights. Is it any wonder that before she could effectively put two sentences together after learning to talk, that she could sing the entire song, on key? She wasn't even two years old yet!

It was Thanksgiving weekend in 2001, that Saturday, that I told my daughters my truth. I wrote earlier that one was in puddles, the other bravely feigning wanting to learn but asking "who will walk me down the aisle." Jeni was the one in puddles. It was the scariest moment in my life. These two precious daughters - I'd spent hours with my therapists wondering if either, neither or both would keep with me. One week I was certain I would lose one but not the other. The next week it was that I would lose the other, keep the first. Both scenarios crushed my heart. The idea of losing both was something I just didn't want to contemplate. (Incidentally, knowledgeable therapists will counsel their trans clients that they will lose people from their lives - friends and family. It's only a matter of who and how many. I've been very, very fortunate).

I know that both my daughters had difficulty with the disclosure. In no way will I ever compare whether it was more difficult for one than the other...I know it was hard on both. And I may never know the depths of their challenges. I will forever remember the words Jeni shared in a television story that had chronicled my transition, "Dad, as Dad, is gone." It broke my heart to hear that, but I also understood it was her way of rationalizing the situation, her way of making sense of it all. I needed to give her, and her sister, their space to figure this out.

Now, back to that song. As everybody knows, the rainbow has become a sign of acceptance for and pride by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender peoples. The lyrics begin...

" Why are there so many songs about rainbows and what's on the other side? Rainbows are visions, but only illusions, and rainbows have nothing to hide."

The initial suggestion in these words from Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher suggest that there really isn't anything "over" the rainbow. And yet, each stanza of the song ends with the hope that perhaps, through some yet to be discovered Rainbow Connection, that we will, indeed find the other side...

"Someday we'll find it, the rainbow connection. The lovers, the dreamers and me."

My daughter attended the candlelight vigil for the 2007 Transgender Day of Remembrance at her university. They read the entire list of transgender murder victims...nearly 400 chronicled since TDoR began in 1999. On the morning of the fourth "anniversary" of the night I took a knife to my wrist, I awoke to this email titled simply "Love You" from her:

With cold nose and hands, candle wax dripping on my fingers, and names being read with faltering voices, I realized more and more how thankful I am that your name is not on that 17 page list. I am among the fortunate. I am among those who can still pick up the phone and say I love you.

And I do.

You have a strength inside you that most can't even touch. You have faced your friends, your family, and your community and said, "This is who I am." You put yourself out there to be mocked, loved, ridiculed, but above all, you've put
yourself out there. You stepped out of the shadows and have stood basking in the sun as your self--not the self so many others would have you be. I am thankful for you. You have taught me so much about my own life and my own strengths.

I see you now for who you truly are, and I love you so much for it. You are a strong and beautiful woman, and I am proud to have you as a parent.
Keep up the good fight. Hopefully one day it will no longer need fighting.

I love you.

Those years seemingly so long ago...and yet not so long ago...singing those words to the Baby Who Would Not Sleep, I think she has now found The Rainbow Connection. At least the connection between her and me, stronger now than that late night when I cradled in my arms the Baby Who Would Not Sleep and heard her laugh so heartily.

And if you think I didn't cry reading her note......I am truly blessed by my daughters.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Incredible Voices of Praise

Yes, we can Sing....and these brothers and sisters do just that!

Shortly after I joined my church, I learned there were some members who sang with the Heartland Mens Chorus here in Kansas City. I attended their Christmas concert in 2005 and was instantly hooked. They are an outstanding collection of over 120 voices who sing with talent, with joy and with pride.

And I remember one of them mentioning a transgender choir that had performed at the 2004 GALA choruses convention in Montreal. I was intrigued and went home to find them on the web.

The group is the Transcendence Gospel Choir, whose home is at City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco. Through their website I was able to listen to glimpses of their award winning CD “Whosoever Believes” and was deeply moved by their skill and by the messages of their songs. I don’t know why I didn’t order the CD right then and there. I have since purchase a copy and I highly recommend it.

Earlier this year, through one of my email groups, I saw a flyer for a movie called “The Believers” – an award winning documentary that chronicled the beginning three years of Transcendence. Once again, I hit the web pronto. I found out that Frameline in San Francisco was handling the distribution of the video. I contacted them and arranged for three screenings here in Kansas City. The last of which was just a few days ago.

At each showing, it was amazing to witness that nearly everyone stayed in their seats through the credits. Attend a movie in a theater and as soon as the credits roll, seats begin to empty, rapidly.

I would encourage you to see this wonderful documentary. It’s been on LOGO a couple of times, you can contact Frameline to arrange your own showing.

And while I’ve seen it several times, I still cry at the same moments each time. I won’t spoil the film…but there are four or five points when the tears begin to well. I will acknowledge two of their songs – “I Almost Let Go” and “Bless Me”. The lyrics of “I Almost Let Go” resonated deeply within my soul and my experience. Yes, I truly believe now that “I’m alive today, because God kept me”. “Bless Me” is remarkable not so much for the message, but for the amazing solo performance by one of the members named Prado. What a truly awesome voice he has! Bobbie Jean is also a talented voice as soloist on a couple of other songs.

The CD has a couple of selections not included in the movie and also has a couple of excerpted homilies from Bishop Yvette Flunder, the energetic and powerfully moving minister of City of Refuge. I can only imagine someday visiting San Francisco and attend worship with these lovely children of God.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Changed Heart

Just one is still one More

There is a group here in Kansas City called the Kansas City Coalition for Welcoming Ministries and I am blessed to take part, though I’m not as active in planning and leadership as I would like. KCCWM began just two years ago following a grassroots, LGBT Faith training weekend. The group’s vision is “That all faith communities in the metropolitan Kansas City area will respect and welcome all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” I came in contact with these wonderful people of faith as they organized their first event called “TRANSforming our Community”. And this was actually my very first transgender understanding presentation – which I have now offered dozens of times to various groups since then.

Recently, KCCWM organized another event called the Academy of Welcome. The plenary session was headed by Dr. Robert Minor, professor of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas and author, who is very active in talking about Scriptures and a more caring reading regarding LGBT peoples. The evening “Service of Healing” featured, among other things, a keynote from Harry Knox, the director for the Religion and Faith Program of the Human Rights Campaign. The four workshops offered were violence in the LGBT community, how to become more or officially “welcoming”, a “check-up” for those already declared as welcoming and understanding transgender. I got to reprise – although greatly revised (and hopefully improved, too!) – the presentation started nearly two years ago.

I was busy getting the projector and screen set up during most of Bob Minor’s talk, making sure the computer and everything was working properly. It’s an old occupational hazard from my years in radio broadcasting – I don’t like technical malfunctions that a little preparation can avoid. So I got set up more than an hour before my talk.

After the plenary – and I got to hear the last half hour or so – we broke for refreshments. I saw some good friends, chatted briefly, grabbed some water and cookies (incidentally…you can always feed me cookies!) and headed to my room at the end of the downstairs hallway. I wanted to be there as my guests arrived. To my surprise, a woman was already there!

We engaged in a little chit chat, this was not someone I recognized, and I asked which church she attended. She seemed rather ashamed. “I attend (a local Baptist congregation). Needless to say, I am here for myself and not for my church.” As others began to file into the room, I had time to simply thank her for her heart and left it at that.

After the workshops, we were able to share a wonderful meal and I would hear her then and as we began to gather for the evening service explain with some embarrassment “We’re not American Alliance or anything like that…we’re SBC”, she lamented. The Southern Baptist Convention is well known for its rigidity regarding LGBT acceptance.

At the Service of Healing, I was honored to read an essay from expatriate Vietnamese Buddhist pacifist Thich Nhat Hahn about a pebble sinking slowly, effortlessly to the bottom of the creek bed. The essay was intended as a meditation and relaxation. Pebbles or Stones were the theme of the service.

The evening now complete, I am face to face with my new friend in the aisle of the sanctuary. She has tears in her eyes and we shared a warm hug. Why she attended, I never asked. How she left, I will always treasure.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

We are not....

....who you think we are!

In recognition of transgender veterans.

I am honored to frequently lecture at colleges and universities, to social service providers and faith groups, about transgender understanding. As I do so, I ask that they remember, at the very least, just two things about us. One, that this is not about our sex lives. And two, that we are not who they may think we are. These are the two most prevalent myths and misconceptions about our existence. I’ve already written about the issue of sexual orientation, this essay is inspired by this time of the year when we honor our Veterans.

Eyebrows usually get raised when I talk about transgender women, in particular, who were wrestling champions and football linebackers, who were or still are police officers and firefighters. Most people have the impression that we were all shy little boys dangling off of mom’s apron strings, playing with flowers and dolls. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the larger support and advocacy groups in the transgender community is TAVA, the Transgender American Veterans Association. Yes, we have served our country in all the service branches, in all the battles and wars. (At this point, I’ll acknowledge that I was fortunate enough to not be forced into military service – the All Volunteer military was implemented the very year I became eligible for the draft. This was at a time when Vietnam was still very active. Given the choice of military service, I did not enroll.)

I once met a retired vice-admiral who spent the bulk of her career as a submariner. I was at the lounge when two friends found out that both had served not only in the same field, but also the same base in California – just a couple of years apart. At a dinner, I witnessed another conversation between two transgender women who had served in the Mediterranean during the tense days around Beirut, with one, serving in military intelligence, confirming the other’s inquiry about the missile that had been fired at her ship. Would you believe two transgenders who served in Vietnam, in Special Forces, who had been paired together for a time as a search and destroy unit – who later found each other as women? Despite the severe psychological stressing and deep profiling one must endure to become an Army Ranger, Green Beret or Navy Seal, there are many transgenders who have been a member of the Special Forces.

There are a myriad reasons and theories behind what I term “ultra masculinity” within the gender conflicted soul. One, we live in such mortal fear that someone will discover our “secret” – who then would ever dare to suggest that Rambo needs to wear a dress? It’s a good place to hide. For some, it is part of their own personal exploration. They’ve been given a male body, so they seek out very “male” activities. Of course, as each one doesn’t work to resolve the internal conflict, they move on to ever more dangerous, risky or “macho” endeavors. Which don’t work either. And, sadly, for some, there is a bit of a death wish. This not only would resolve their internal conflict – and that’s the number one cause of transgender suicide…resolving the conflict – but also forever keeps their secret.

I offer my thanks and admiration to my transgender sisters and brothers who have given themselves to military service. I wish the country that you served - perhaps are currently serving - treated you with more respect, understanding and support. And to all, please know now, that we are not who you may think we are!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

To what end(a)?

ENDA passes the House

Forgive me Mr. Thayer....

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout;
But there is no joy for Trannies, mighty Barney left us out.

After debate, discussion, periodic diatribe and drivel, a few
parliamentary pranks, the consideration of three amendments
(but votes on only two) that lasted nearly 5 1/2 hours, the
US House passed the "historic" Employment Non-Discrimination
Act today on a vote of 235-184.

Truly historic in that the bill's passage is the first and
only time that employment protections have been approved at
the Federal level for gays, lesbians and bisexuals.

Historic also in that the bill was approved without the support
of dozens upon dozens of LGB and T organizations. Historic
also in that a bill designed to achieve success in a minority
population has served to drive a deep wedge into that very

There is no companion bill being considered in the Senate
at this point. The best anyone can guess is that maybe...MAYBE...
the Senate might have something to consider in the spring or
summer. Fat chance. With Hillary and Barack as the main
Democratic candidates for the Presidency, there is no way
this will see the Senate floor prior to the election.

And even then, President Bush will veto it and today's vote
is a good 50 or so short of an override.

It was painful to watch Florida Congresswoman Kathy Campos (D),
who helped shepherd the early part of the process, persistently
use the word "all" when describing the bill's "inclusiveness".
Sadder still in that Ms. Campos's district is directly adjacent
to Largo, Florida, the city that summarily dismissed its
respected city manager, Susan (nee Steven) Stanton upon
her transition.

It was painful to watch Washington Congressman Doc Hastings (R)
disingenuously argue for holding a vote on the Baldwin Amendment
- the salve tossed to Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin who was most
insistent on transgender inclusion. In a piece of parliamentary
pablum, she was allowed to offer the amendment, then withdraw it,
with no vote ever taken. Ol' Doc, as perhaps he's known in
Kennewick or Yakima or Moses Lake, came to the floor pushing
for a vote on the amendment. Now, not even a politically
averse loon like me figured him as my Knight in Shining Armor.
Nah...Ol' Doc just wanted to cause the reportedly nervous-kneed
freshman Democrats in the house - those more concerned with
keeping their jobs than helping transgenders keep theirs -
dyspepsia by putting their votes to the public eye.

It was painful to watch Congressman Frank speak of the
political realities of including transgenders, when he must
know...he MUST know...the overall political reality of his
bill - inclusive or not - is Dead on Arrival. At least until
a supportive President is elected (and please don't dare ask
me who that might be!).

It was painful to watch so-called "Christian" members argue
FOR discrimination, argue FOR hate, argue FOR exclusion.
Where in the ministry of Jesus did they learn that?

I am overdrawn with Political Reality.