WELCOMING ME HOME

It was my pleasure to sit behind retired Methodist Pastor, Lyle Hamilton in the basement of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Helena, Montana for an All Church Conference to discuss a proposed Reconciling Congregation statement.  The Conference Superintendent led the meeting and asked the fifty or so assembled to speak what was on their heart.  And a few did.

UMC Logo

UMC Logo (Photo credit: RoyJr)

The meeting, however, was anti-climatic.  Their was a strong sense that the statement of inclusion and affirmation of groups of people who have formerly felt shunned and excluded was merely a reflection of the already imbedded character of St. Paul’s anyway.  In fact, a few people described how they had heard comments over the previous year of meetings, discussion and classes leading up to this moment to the effect of “duh-uh!  Don’t we have that already?”

Yet, there was also a sense of importance, of critical mass, of mission, purpose and rightness of call.  My friends, John and Vicky Wieda, had painstakingly spearheaded the effort in that vain with deliberateness.  So yes, when it came time to reach consensus as a congregation there was little to detract from an outcome which seemed certain.  St. Paul’s would become a Reconciling Congregation.

So, why do it?  I mean, why all the fuss if St Paul’s, with its open minds, hearts and doors, has already established inclusiveness as part of its character?  Isn’t it really much ado about nothing?

Pastor Lyle gives a clue about the answer in this post on his Facebook page:

Late yesterday afternoon, at an all church conference, St. Paul’s UMC in Helena officially became a Reconciling Ministries Congregation by a consensus vote. We have now publically declared ourselves to, in fact, be what the community of Helena and most of our congregation has long felt is both our calling and our reality: “All truly means all,” and everyone has a place in this community of faith.

Our incarnated statement, that is imbedded in our soul, is as follows: “St. Paul’s United Methodist Church welcomes all people of any age, gender, color, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, or disability into the full life and membership of this congregation.”

May God bless us, every one . . . as we move forward with grace and compassion toward all!

The oft repeated statement over the months of examining this issue that “All truly means all,”which, as Lyle says, is “imbedded in our soul,” is not just a statement.  It is in many ways transcendent, like a lighthouse beacon shining through the storms and rough seas of understanding and reconciliation between who we are and what we believe, between what we believe and the world around us, between the world around us and the one within where Jesus calls with open arms and his profound and unconditional offer of love.

To proclaim that “All are welcome here,” and mean it,  is to shine the light of Jesus’s love through all the violence and hateful rhetoric in the world around us for those, like me, who else would have no place to go for the communal understanding, practice and experience of that love.  I would have no congregation, no church.  For some, perhaps, it is possible to live as a Christian without church.  For me, from the day I walked into St. Paul’s almost seven years ago in my first week of gender transition on “Welcome Home Sunday” to this moment,  it is not.

Christianity is a communal practice.  God speaks to me in many ways, some far, far away from books and buildings.  But God also speaks to me through other people – through you.  And I can find few better places to hear God speak and feel God’s presence than in the company of other Christian believers – through congregation and communal worship.  Thus, as a Christian transwoman, it is vital for me to have a Christian community to call home.

Last night I was reminded, as I spoke what was on my heart, of the day I became a member of St. Paul’s.  It was my birthday and the whole congregation sang Happy Birthday.  I stood there, dumbfounded, with a tear in my eye and my flesh all goosey.  I knew then, as publicly affirmed by this Reconciling Statement that I have my congregation and my church.  Thank you St. Paul’s for welcoming me home.

Bozeman Area Community Foundation Searching For A Director

This map shows the incorporated and unincorpor...

 

A chance to do some good in the Bozeman Area:

 

A job description for the Foundation Manager is below. Those interested to apply should submit a cover letter, resume and three references to info@bozemanfoundation.org. Electronic submissions only. The Foundation will begin reviewing applications June 15th, and the position will remain open until filled.

 

Click here for more info: BACF_FdtnMgr_Position_FINAL

 

 

Banning Same-sex Marriage Has Psychological Toll

Fascinating stuff from Shankar Vadantam at NPR:

As the country awaits two important Supreme Court decisions involving state laws on same-sex marriage, a small but consistent body of research suggests that laws that ban gay marriage — or approve it — can affect the mental health of gay, lesbian and bisexual Americans. When several states passed laws to prohibit same-sex marriage, for example, the mental health of gay residents seemed to suffer, while stress-related disorders dropped in at least one state after gay marriage was legalized.

Here’s the research trail:

Beginning around 2004, several states banned gay marriage. Just before that series of bans, the National Institutes of Health happened to conduct a massive survey of 43,093 Americans. The questions elicited detailed information about respondents’ mental health. (To validate what people reported about themselves, psychiatrists also interviewed samples of the people in the survey, and their medical diagnoses closely matched the findings of the survey.)

Soon after the wave of state bans on gay marriage, in 2004 and 2005, the NIMH conducted a second round of interviews, managing to reach 34,653 of the original respondents. (That’s a high rate compared with most polls and surveys.)

Mark Hatzenbuehler, a psychologist at Columbia University who studies the health effects of social policies, analyzed the data gathered before and after the bans to determine how the mental health of people who identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual had changed in those states.

Hatzenbuehler and his colleagues Katie McLaughlin, Katherine Keyes and Deborah Hasin published their analysis in 2010 in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals who lived in the states that banned same-sex marriage experienced a significant increase in psychiatric disorders,” Hatzenbuehler says.

“There was a 37 percent increase in mood disorders,” he says, “a 42 percent increase in alcohol-use disorders, and — I think really strikingly — a 248 percent increase in generalized anxiety disorders.”

To put those numbers in perspective, although Hatzenbuehler did find more than a doubling in the rate of anxiety disorders in states that eventually banned gay marriage, in absolute numbers he found that anxiety disorders went from being reported among 2.7 percent to 9.4 percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

The million-dollar question is whether the laws, and the debates around them, were responsible for the change in mental health. To help answer that question, Hatzenbuehler and his colleagues looked at comparable groups and experiences.

“We showed the psychiatric disorders did not increase in lesbian, gay and bisexual populations in states that didn’t debate and vote on same-sex marriages,” Hatzenbuehler says. “There were also no increases — or much smaller increases — among heterosexuals living in the states that passed same-sex marriage bans.”

Hatzenbuehler has also found, in a study conducted in Massachusetts, that gay men experienced fewer stress-related disorders after that state permitted gay marriage.

In a study tracking the health of 1,211 gay men in Massachusetts, Hatzenbuehler found that the men visited doctors less often and had lower health treatment costs after Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage. When the researchers examined the diagnostic codes doctors were giving the men, they saw a decrease in disorders that have been linked to stress, such as hypertension, depression and adjustment disorders.

Hatzenbuehler says he thinks stress associated with gay-marriage debates was the “X factor.” He says the quantitative data is backed by what gays, lesbians and bisexuals told the surveyors. “They reported multiple stressors during that period,” Hatzenbuehler says. “They reported seeing negative media portrayals, anti-gay graffiti. They talked about experiencing a loss of safety and really feeling like these amendments and these policies were really treating them as second-class citizens.”

Today, about three-dozen states ban gay marriage and about a dozen have passed laws thatapprove it. Some states have laws that permit civil unions but ban gay marriage.

It’s unclear how or whether the upcoming Supreme Court decisions involving the constitutionality of same-sex marriage will affect the mental and physical health of gays and lesbians nationally.

It’s likely that many gay, lesbian and bisexual people would see an upholding of same-sex marriage bans as an example of prejudice. But it’s also possible the debate around the Supreme Court decisions could have different effects on gays than a local debate involving friends and neighbors.

Hatzenbuehler says his larger point is really that policymakers, judicial leaders and ordinary citizens need to remember that social policies are also health policies.

 

FYI: Vacation

Hey y’all!

I’ll be communing with nature (and some awesome friends) along the Smith until Tuesday, so there won’t be much action here until then.
(B I G  thanks to my house/dog sitters!)

Until then, be fabulous!

~G

We Are Born That Way

Hey, did ‘ya see the headlines?  “ABC News Editor Don ‘Dawn’ Ennis Comes Out As Transgender” Now generally, I do not appreciate it when the media is the news, but hey, this is really big news!   A career professional at a company known throughout the modern world is transgender, and is going to transition on the job!  Yea, that is big!

I applaud Dawn’s courage and decision to transition.  I hope she will continue to have a long and distinguished journalism career with one of the great news organizations.

However, I admit that I have been critical about the manner in which she couched her announcement. Her coming out statement included this: “Ennis said she suffers from an ‘unusual hormonal imbalance,’ and blames her mother, who fed her female hormones as a child to prolong a commercial acting career.”

“I have a rare medical condition — nothing deadly or infectious — but it has resulted in an unusual hormonal imbalance,” she explains. “One so profound that I don’t resemble the man you first met 10 years ago.”

My posts today have demonstrated my concerns.

“This is good, but to seize upon a “rare medical condition” as the result of a hormonal imbalance induced in childhood seems a wee tad disingenuous. It seems much more authentic to just claim our true selves unabashedly.”

I got a few tepid responses, including one from a transwoman who was the successful plaintiff in a now notorious federal circuit court discrimination case which established as a matter of law (at least in that circuit) that Gender Identification Dysphoria (GID) is a “serious medical condition.”  And so it is true.

I replied: “I could not agree with you more, but our “medical condition” is not the one which Dawn is asserting. Many of us feel & assert that we were born TG, not forced to become TG by some post womb atrocity purposely committed by our mothers. I don’t believe for a moment that you really accord the feeling of being born in the wrong body to mere eccentricity, but you seem to be asserting as much. I also do not agree that gender incongruence can be induced by merely ingesting hormones as a child. It seems like Dawn’s assertion is more of an attempt to legitimize her nature in the eyes of a misunderstanding and judgmental public by reference to some scurrilous outside influence, rather than just claiming her true self as many of us have had to do. Yes, it is disingenuous and a disservice. BTW, I have read, understood and applauded the legal argument “Gender Identity Disorder (GID), is a serious medical condition.” I do not see that Dawn’s assertions are analogous merely because of the “rare medical condition” language in which she has framed the legitimization of her transgender nature. So, there ‘ya have it.”

A friend wrote: “We must just continue to push through to make the world safe and accepting for all. Trans is. No need to legitimize it. It’s already legit. Takes a huge amount of personal courage to be who you are without apology or justification whether you are trans, intersex or uniquely average….”

Another friend wondered: “Can I attribute it to her being somewhat new at this, especially at being SO out?”  She is always the compassionate peacemaker, and I admire that quality in the few people I know who truly possess it.

My response: “Yes, of course. I admire your compassion. The difficulty is that, like a friend of mine says, when we make shit up, we come to believe it, and when we believe it we have to defend it. Thus, I came to believe the lies I told myself to justify my existence, while all the while no justification was ever necessary (Just as my friend so eloquently stated). I am what I am! I am a transexual! I celebrate me. And because it is so, because I am authentic, other people embrace, love and accept me too. Honesty really is the best policy.”

And that brings me to the point of this piece.  (For shame that it took so long, I know).

If you have ever had to disclose your transsexual identity to anyone important in your life, you realize immediately that most people have a great deal of difficulty wrapping their heads around the concept.   Many people simply do not understand.  And there is scant “medical science” to assist them.  They cannot run to the Physician’s Desk Reference, for instance, and read about the scientific, double blind, controlled study of the effect of too much exposure upon a fetus of what turns out to be opposite sex hormones while in utero.  But, that is the current, most widely accepted theory on the cause of GID.

Many would dispute such an unscientific theory as mere poppycock.  The simple truth is that even the best, most widely accepted theory does not help the larger world to understand and accept trans people.  Now here’s the rub.

A very important person in a high profile international news organization is suggesting an even more novel theory – not hormone over exposure in utero, but, hormone over exposure during childhood.  However, the science that we do know suggests that this is unlikely.  Gender identification is fixed by age three and is extremely difficult to change after that.  (Pamela J. Kalbfleisch, Michael J. Cody (1995). Gender, power, and communication in human relationships. Psychology Press. pp. 366 pages. ISBN 0805814043. Retrieved June 3, 2011; Ann M. Gallagher, James C. Kaufman, Gender differences in mathematics: an integrative psychological approach, Cambridge University Press, 2005; “gender identity.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 11 Mar. 2011).  So, unless Dawn’s commercial acting career was in full swing as an infant or toddler, the exposure to hormones would not likely have had the impact which she ascribes to them.  Personally, I am rather dubious if they would have that effect even earlier.

Don’t get me wrong.  The hormones would have an effect on her emotional state while she was taking them.  Just ask men who have been treated with Depo Prevara (Reduces sex drive, compulsive sexual fantasies, and capacity for sexual arousal. Some users show increases in body fat and reduced bone density. There may also be other “feminizing” effects such as gynecomastia (development of larger than normal mammary glands in males), reduced body hair, and loss of muscle mass).  Most of these effects are considered reversible when use is discontinued.

Likewise, introduction of anti-androgens and estrogen therapy is a treatment option for men with prostate cancer.  It produces some of the same side effects, including changes in sexual desire, including loss of libido, changes in facial or body hair growth, and mood changes including anxiety, frustration, anger, depression and emotional outbursts.  When my late father-in-law began hormone therapy for his prostrate cancer we teasingly suggested he would grow boobs and develop a new interst in picking flowers.  Unfontunately, cancer occurred throughout his body and took him before we could test that theory.

While some might quip about possible similarities to Pre-menstrual Stress, a uniquely feminine phenomena, with the exception of sympathetic reactions in some men, there is simply no medical evidence that the introduction of female hormones to men cause them to be confused about their gender; or, to believe that they are actually women, or, that they were born that way, that they can do nothing to change that, and that they are no longer able to live in this binary culture unless they are able to become the woman that they believe inside that they have always been.  I suspect the same would be true for a small boy.

So, as a person who has painfully experienced these things over the course of forty eight years in the wrong body, I do take exception.  Yes, it is a wee tad disingenuous to assert that post-utero forced use of opposite sex hormones causes GID.  It suggests that a transperson can be made that way instead of born that way.  And, if they can be made that way, they can choose not to.  That is not the experience of the trans people I have become associated with over the last several years (1500 or so).  We are born that way. We did not and cannot choose to be trans.  Who would?  And it is a profound disservice to their courage and integrity to suggest otherwise.

 

Diversity Series In Hamilton

This is big news for the Bitterroot- and I’m proud to be part of it. Click for larger version

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Review: The Miseducation Of Cameron Post

My friend Camille Griep recommended Emily Danforth‘s book, The Miseducation of Cameron Post to me recently. I really had very little idea what it was going to be about, other than something about a teenager. In Montana.

meMiseducation is ostensibly a story about a young teen exploring her sexuality in a conservative, evangelical community where homosexuality is viewed as a sin – and in the aftermath of her parents’ death. And that story is definitely in there. What I was not prepared for was the love letter to Montana. The language is beautiful and lyrical and I felt that landscape in a way I don’t think I ever have in a book. Here’s a taste from the first page:

Miles City had been cooking in the high nineties for days, and it was only the end of June, hot even for eastern Montana. It was the kind of heat where a breeze feels like someone’s venting a dryer out over the town, whipping dust and making the cottonseeds from the big cottonwoods float across a wide blue sky and collect in soft tufts on neighborhood lawns. Irene and I called it summer snow, and sometimes we’d squint into the dry glare and try to catch cotton on our tongues.

I am fascinated by the intersection of sexuality and religion, so it will come as no surprise that I ate up the portion of the book where Cameron gets sent off to a residential ex-gay program. I loved how she described the effect of the program, like dust and lint that just sticks to a gummy hand over time and how hard it is to wash it off.

The longer I stayed at Promise, the more all the stuff they were throwing at me, at us, started to stick, just like to those sticky hands, in little bits, at first, random pieces, no big deal. For instance, maybe I’d be in bed during lights out and I’d start to think about Coley and kissing Coley, and doing more with Coley, or Lindsey, or whomever, Michelle Pfeiffer. But then I might hear Lydia’s voice saying, “You have to fight these sinful impulses: fight, it’s not supposed to be easy to fight sin,” and I might totally ignore it, or even laugh to myself about what an idiot she was, but there it would be in her voice, in my head, where it hadn’t been before. And it was other stuff too, these bits and pieces of doctrine, of scripture, of life lessons here and there, until more and more of them were coated on, along for the ride, and I didn’t consistently question where they had come from, or why they were there, but I did start to feel kind of weighed down by them.

I hope you will be as taken with the landscape of Montana and the map that Cameron draws in her explorations as I was.

Jill Seidenstein is a queer femme writer, yogini, swimmer and traveler. You can’t read her scribblings yet, but you can get a taste of what she’s thinking about at www.slowbloom.com/blog.

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