Imagine There’s No (Literal) Bible

When John Lennon sang, “Imagine there’s no heaven . . . And no religion too,” I did not like it, having just been born again.  I had found God, and the English translation, New International Bible was my ticket to keep what I had found.  I loved the Bible, and read each page with fervor.  They told me every single word was literally true, and I believed it.

KJV Bible

KJV Bible (Photo credit: knowhimonline)

Never mind that many of those words were written by ancient Hebrew men for Hebrew men, and other of those words by citizens of ancient Rome; that they were written in equally archaic and foreign languages including Hebrew and Aramaic, and then translated into Greek and Latin; and, that they were written in the context of limited understanding and ancient customs for an audience of people with equally limited understanding and ancient customs; and, that they were later edited by the Catholic Church  during many great councils into what we know today; I believed that those words were actually God speaking to me in 1976, and many times since.  (Yes, I am that old).

I wanted to know who and what God is, and believed those words were the path of discovery.  As intellectual as I can be, I chased that knowledge for many years.  Yet for all that I prayed and read and asked for God’s will in all things, the spiritual life that had once begun so earnestly lay in ruin like a dry rotted old Montana homestead cabin.  Only the vestiges of livelihood remained.  At the end of the day, I was still drunk and demoralized.  I was spiritually dead, and cursed God for all the inherent contradictions in “God’s Word.”  How could I, a God-fearing, born-again, right-wing, Republican Christian be what I was beginning to realize was my true self – a transsexual? That was against the Bible.

But, what if the Bible was not a literal document?  What if it is a compendium of inspired writings about the nature of God, and God’s interaction with humanity and our world?  What if my experience of God was eqaully valied and important, as John Wesley suggested?    What if the bible is not a religious, quasi-legal code book securing the salvation of my soul, as much as it is inspiration feeding the life of my soul right here and right now? When I turned to God with these questions in the pit of my soul, God answered.  God said, “Bobbie, you are a beautiful daughter of God.”

When I was scared and confused about the truths I came to know about myself and who I am, God asked me dance, and smiled.  God reminded me of a simple, yet fundamental truth about God.  God is.  That is all.  It does not matter whether I know or understand who or what God is – just that I know that God is.  Once I cast all else aside, and became open to that single, vital truth I was free to experience God – I mean right here, right now.  God continued to dance with me and smile through every step of my gender transition.

It does not matter that others would say it ain’t so –that I have misinterpreted the will of God.  God speaks to me in my soul, not theirs.  Because I have experienced God there, I know that God is, and that God loves me for all that I am, and exactly  what I am.  Now, that is redemption!  Maybe that Lennon guy was on to something after all.

Gender Transition a Question of Ethics?

Transition (literary journal)

I read an article by an ethicist who answered a question in the New York Times about the morality of gender transition pitted against the harm it may cause a family.  It is a Hobson’s choice, really, as there is no good answer in the end.  But, I guess that’s why ethicists get paid the big bucks.

Gender transition is selfish. No doubt about it.  But,  so is just about any medical treatment, alcohol recovery for instance.  Gender dysphoria might just as surely kill you as alcoholism in my experience.  Yes, I had both, and after several years of living in the proper gender and in recovery with all of the attendant hardship, heartbreak and happiness, I am perhaps uniquely qualified to say that both are a means of survival.  I had to do both, or neither would have saved me from myself, so bad was my sense of demoralization and hopelessness.

Yet, behind me lies a trail of loss, separation and broken relationships.  My decision to transition hurt other people whether or not their reaction may be perceived as just or warranted.  Thus, I might be rightly asked whether it was the right thing to do.  Was it just?  Was it ethical?  Or was it merely necessary irrespective of the consequences?

In reverse order, my need to transition was more than manifest at the time, so frail was my grasp upon a life not hell bent on personal destruction. Some may rightly conclude that my transition should not matter to others if I was going to be dead anyway, even if by my own hand.  At the time, and for all the years since I have believed that I would not have made it, but for transition and recovery.  But what if . . . ?

What if I had found recovery and reserved transition for later in life, if at all?  Of course, I was already 48 when I began.  But, might I have learned a way through recovery to live a sober life as a man, and still kept my job, my friends, my family and my marriage?  Is that possible?  Of course it is?  But is it likely?  That is a much more germane question, given the level of dysfunction following nearly half a century of gender confusion, fear, guilt, shame, ambiguity, etc., which was merely masked and drown out through alcohol dependancy.

The answer, then, is that it is much more likely that as the masks of dependency were stripped away, the difficulty maintaining the duality of self would have only grown worse, not better, and continually threatened the chances of recovery taking hold.  But, even If I could have made it through reliance on God, a sponsor and a recovery group, what difference would it have made.

Would I have kept the relationships and people I lost in my transition – my children, friends, colleagues and acquaintances who have all turned away?  Probably, but I must believe that those relationships would be strained as ever, particularly because recovery involves rigorous honesty.  It is our secrets which often make us so sick.  At some point, I would have had to tell my truth to the people in my life.  I could not have continued to live vicariously through cross-dressing in private, for it would seem ever more the lie.  And what then?  What purpose does it serve to tell the truth and not live it – to be honest, but not authentic?  Forgive me for waxing apologetically.

I never meant to hurt the people in my life, but, I still believe to my core that I did the right thing.  Moreover, I could not foretell a person’s reaction, and, though I knew them well, predictions and expectations of how a person will take the news of gender dysphoria are pure and painful folly.

Therefore, I had to step out in faith, reveal the dysphoria and prescribed treatment and then deal with the reaction.  It does not work the other way around, as there is no way to sort of test the waters before jumping in.   People have no frame of reference, no experience to fall back on when a trans person reveals themself, and they can no more control their reaction than I can.  It is a gut level, sometimes gut rendering response that typically involves either rejection or openness, if not confusion.  If a person can be open and willing to accept the trans person, there is a chance at a continued relationship.  However, if the knee jerk reaction is rejection the door may be firmly closed.  And I have second guessed myself enough times to know that the process of revelation makes very little difference in the long run.  Either a person gets it, or they don’t.  And there is simply no way to know ahead of time which it shall be.

Thus, the trans person can take only one of two paths.  They can remain forever inside their secret gender box with all the dueling emotions and resulting pain and dysfunction that hiding brings for the sake of their family and friends and to avoid the risk of emotional harm to others.  Or, they can stumble blindly and uncertainly along the path to authenticity, assuming the risk that not all will choose to go along.

Gender transition is not a question of right or wrong, per ‘se, but rather it is one of possibility, necessity and risk.  Can the trans person live without transition, and are they willing to assume the risks inherent in either choice – a life forever locked in dysfunction and incongruence, or one without the ones they love who also lose someone dear.

Authenticity is The Best Policy

(click to see the book)

(click to see the book)

I was moved today by the story of a young (30) trans woman who wants be a mother.  Not surprisingly, she is plagued with fears of the unknown.  Her parents have disowned her because she had the courage to reveal her truth.  What if her child did the same?  Can she find a man who can embrace her and walk with her and a child as a family?  Though she has much love to give, she searches for someone to give it to.  It is a familiar story, tragically repeated amongst so many trans persons.

It is one that daily resonates with me.  (Only, it is my children who have disowned me.)  “Who will love me?”  I often wonder.  “Who can love me?” is the great trans lament.

“I realized that gender transition, even under the best of circumstances, is unequivocal and unforgiving.  It required of me everything I had, and then some.  I was still paying for it.  Yet, there was no compromise, no half measure.  I had to make my way in the world as a woman or not at all. I had been blessed and fortunate to have done so as quickly as I had and with relative ease.  Still, I was resigned to accept the fact that some pieces would never be complete.  I doubted that I would overcome gender identity discrimination in Montana, and it did not seem likely that I would find a man who could accept me and love me as the whole person that I am.  I had a whole heart, and I wanted the person who could take the hard part and love that too.  (The “Hard Part” by Dave Wilcox).  I wanted the person with whom I could share every secret so that secrets would be no more.  That person was not to be found.

I began to accept that too, as I mused about just who would want a trans woman for a partner.  In the ordinary course, a heterosexual male is looking for a heterosexual woman, not a heterosexual trans woman.  Guys, with few exceptions, think it’s just too freaky for them to accept.  A lesbian woman likewise does not want a lesbian trans woman, as we are sometimes perceived as something less than a real woman.  And I get that.  Even though I have this hunger to be known, I’m not like the girl next door.”

TransMontana, pp 281-82. (I try here to write for the entire trans community – not just me.)

So, I try to stop speculating about what might or might not be.  I have no control over what is yet to come, so must try to let go of fear.  My life is now – not some distant point in the future.  It is right here, right now.  I must live it, even though not as full or complete as I might like.  I have peace and joy in whom and what I am.  I may be a social enigma, but I know in my heart that I am whole as a woman, even though born as a man.  I believe in myself.  That gives me great comfort and strength.  Thus, I am able to interact with the rest of the world with honesty, authenticity and integrity.  And if I may find someone who can love me like that, well, it will have been worth the wait.

Limits on Understanding

An attempt at a discrimination graphic.

An attempt at a discrimination graphic. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It was 9:30 at the Helena City Council meeting when the mayor slightly rolled his eyes as he tapped his gavel, signaling the close of the public hearing portion on final passage of the LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance.

 

“What’s your pleasure,” he said to the council members.

 

The council took up four amendments proposed by the sponsor in a vain attempt to rescue her two years of campaigning and soulful work on this ordinance to make it as fair and inclusive as possible.  The other members of the commission were simply not having it, as she tried to persuade them to drop the trans phobic “locker room” amendment.

 

“It’s beyond the limits of my understanding,” the mayor proclaimed with exasperation, and a council member said the same a few minutes later.

 

And, then again, “This is beyond the limits of my understanding,” the mayor repeated, seemingly liking the sound of the phrase he had coined even more the second time around.

 

He just as well have said, “I don’t understand, and I don’t want to understand!” for that is what I heard with a sinking feeling that remains with me, now rooted in my psyche just as firmly as the amendment is now part of the ordinance, which to some now codifies the vilification of trans people, and legalizes a certain form of discrimination against them.

 

I had not considered these thoughts prior to the hearing, and I apologize to the trans community for failing you.  I had taken the amendment lightly, as if any self respecting pre-op trans woman would be caught dead showing off the wrong genitalia in the women’s locker room.  (I focus on trans women only because that was the sum and substance of the hysteria at the hearing, though I do not wish to belittle the safety risk to trans men in the men’s locker room.)  I know that I would not have dared reveal my pre-op attachment – I was way too afraid of being read.  I’m thinking a penis would have been a dead give away.  But, more than that, I am far too modest and respecting of the women around me to compromise them in such a way, for I take my solidarity with women as a sacred trust.  For it is to this sisterhood that I belong, and losing that sense of belonging, as a woman among women, would be a fate worse than death.  Indeed, it would be as akin to death or more, while yet breathing, as were the last years of living as a man, drunk, dispirited and demoralized.

 

Could I have made a difference by continuing to urge a more specific understanding, as I had in general terms in my testimony?   Some have suggested that the council member who proposed the amendment relied on his belief that I “was okay with it” in so doing.  Well, I wasn’t okay with it.  In fact, I had posted just last week (and sent the post to the council) a suggested compromise to the  amendment whereby a public accommodation would not be discriminating if they asked a person who displayed socially inconsistent genitalia in the locker room to leave.  Some would have trouble with even this compromise, although, given my statements above about fear, modesty and solidarity, I think it is entirely reasonable.  I stand by it.

 

Nonetheless, I did not talk about bathrooms in my testimony, so, council members evidently did not feel that the trans community objected.  I am just one person who testified, I realize, however, many have looked to me to represent their interest and I did not.  I let you down and I regret that.

 

As I ponder these matters, in the quiet half light of dusk, with a growing philosophical sense, I realize that I am not to blame.  No one is that powerful – to enlighten the minds of those with limits upon their own understanding.

 

 

THE ORDINANCE, II

Official seal of Helena, Montana

Official seal of Helena, Montana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The recitals of the proposed Helena, Montana LGBT non-discrimination ordinance state that “it is the intent of the City of Helena that no person shall be denied his or her civil rights or be discriminated against based upon his or her sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.”  It is a wonderful statement, really, one that even a few years ago would have been unimaginable, coming from any Montana governmental subdivision, state or local.  Yet, here it is.

And I have been dubious for so long, even though I know in my soul that equality is a social inevitability, rather than a mere possibility.  It is here, and it is now.  But, do we have the will, collectively, as a community to make it happen.  The Helena City Commission is out there, and though we have not always appreciated some of their steps or the way in which they took them, passing this ordinance will be a bold step forward.  I for one appreciate the resolve and energy it has taken to come even this far.  They have done their part.

The advocates too, the Montana Human Rights Network, the ACLU, other organizations, and many individuals who work, live, play and pray here have done their part too.  They have stepped up and spoken out on behalf of a marginalized group that for too long has lived in fear and been denied equality.  They are not asking for something more, or something special, but just the opportunity to live as the majority do – without fear or denial of security in employment, to participate in social and  recreational activities with their friends, family and neighbors, schoolmates and fellow churchgoers, etc., and to be able to access all accommodations for basic needs including food, health, shelter, etc..  We owe these dedicated, courageous volunteers a great debt of gratitude for their willingness to fight the good fight, regardless of the outcome.

There have been the nay sayers too.  They have stood up and said what they believe.  And though we may disagree, we do not judge or condemn.  In fact, we very much support their right to hold their beliefs and to practice them and voice them as they do.  These rights are fundamental and vital to the life of this democracy.  We propose.  We discuss and dissent.  We resolve and we move on – together.

Then, there are the rest of us, the citizens of the Helena valley, the community and the people.

We too have a stake in this.  We have the opportunity to shape a community which truly reflects our values, one that can shine as a beacon of humanity for all of Montana, as the capital city should.  We enjoy diversity, for otherwise life would be boring.  We embrace the idea of a free society, for it is our heritage.  We love justice, as even the prophets proclaimed that we should.  Most of all, we thrive on patience, tolerance, kindness and love.  And the greatest of these is love.  The great ones proclaimed it, as even the wise and the holy ones have lived it.  The singers sing about it, as the preachers preach about it.  And it is all true, in the end.  We must love one another even as we have been loved – not some frothy and emotional, sappy appeal, but the kind of action that elevates others need and dignity above our own.  It is the kind of action which tolerates differences in deference to commonality and our shared struggle.

And so I ask – do we have it?  We talk, preach and pray about notions like peace, justice, and fairness, and I believe that we intend them and desire them.  But, do we do them?  If I have evoked even a moment of pause to consider this question, we need not be too hard on ourselves.  For in this action now before us we have the opportunity to redeem our lack of fidelity to our best of intentions.  I am asking you, the people of this community to come out and join me in supporting the Helena Non-discrimination ordinance which will be coming on for final hearing and approval by the Helena City Commission at 6:00 on Monday, December 17th, not just because it is of vital importance to so many, or because it is the right thing to do, but because it says so much fundamentally about who we are as a community, as a society, about being the change we wish to see in the world.  It is not enough to have good intentions, to talk, preach and pray about the world that we want to live in, that we want for our children.  We have to get out and build it.

The State Of The Ordinance

“With liberty and justice for all,” the people said, with their hands upon their hearts.  They shuffled as they took their seats or remained standing in the crowded council chambers at city hall in Helena.  I wondered how many in attendance actually believed in those concepts they had just pledged their allegiance to.  Many seemed to believe that liberty and justice should be applied only to those they alone deemed worthy.

Rosa Parks' mugshot

Rosa Parks’ mugshot (Photo credit: rbanks)

The opponents had arrived early and assured that their ranks would take all the seats, leaving standing room only for the gays and lesbians, the Bi-s and transgender, and all their allies (friends, family and supporters).  Though seemingly greater in number they were mostly relegated to the hallway outside the chambers, or an overflow room set up for viewing the proceedings on a large screen.  It was filled to overflowing as well.

I had arrived early enough to take one of the last places for standing inside the chambers – in the aisle next to the last row of high-backed seats.  I thought of the pews in the Catholic church of my youth as I stood firmly, almost defiantly, and prayed for grace and tolerance.  Though transgender, I remain just old fashioned enough to have wondered if any of the good seated gentlemen would offer me their seat.  None did.

At that very moment I wondered if I had not begun to understand just a glimpse of what Rosa Parks felt as she resolved to take her seat at the front of the bus.  While the opponents wore stickers which implied that LGBT rights are “special rights,” they graphically displayed exactly why they are necessary.  The inequality of the seating arrangement was readily apparent and not lost on many of those standing outside, craning their necks to hear and see the proceedings inside.  Were they not marginalized by the very people who proclaim it is not so?

As the council progressed through its agenda the tension mounted to a palpable level no matter which side of the LGBT rights issue you stood on.  It could be felt collectively.  The mayor came to the matter he correctly surmised we had all come to hear.  The council made and discussed amendments to the pending LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance that proposed to protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodation.

The first was the “locker room” amendment proposed with ambivalence and stated with reluctance by one commissioner due to an email he received about a pre-op transwoman in Evergreen, CO who had apparently, yet inadvertently, dropped the towel which covered her genital area while in the sauna, offending another woman.  The amendment would not extend protections to such transwomen in bathrooms, locker rooms or public facilities in which people customarily are nude.

The second amendment was of greater consequence, though not immediately apparent.  It provided that persons who felt they were discriminated against due to their LGBT status would have to first file their claim with the state Human Rights Bureau, and could only file with the city if the state rejected their claim.

Both amendments were adopted, and now came the time for public comment.  As a proponent, I got to speak first.  Here is some of what I said:

I am a civil rights attorney here in Helena.  I am also Transgender, as many of you know. I am anatomically consistent with my appearance in all respects for whatever that is worth to others – I know and am very grateful for what it is worth to me.

I support the ordinance without the “swimming pool”amendment because I have experienced discrimination here in Helena on more than one occasion, although never in the locker room, or bathroom, or anywhere else of that nature – even during the year prior to surgery when I presented full time as a woman, though anatomically still male.

The irony of the position that I find myself in is not lost on me.  Other than undergoing a procedure to correct something that was wrong my entire life,- a procedure that some think is a bit radical, I am a pretty conservative woman – in presentation, dress, style and activities.  I go to church, work here in Helena, shop here, and pay taxes.  I do not drink, smoke or gamble and don’t go with the boys who do.  In fact, I don’t go with boys, but that is another matter.

I am also rather modest & find it difficult in public to talk about, of all places, the bath room, and I wonder what kind of mind conceives of the threat a person such as myself presents in the rest room.  What kind of mind conceives of prurient activities in bath room stalls?  The thought repulses me.  Nonetheless, I can assure you that I (and others I know in this area) have only one interest in the rest room or locker room – relieving myself or changing my clothes

Now I wonder if there is anyone in this room whom I offended when I went to the woman’s rest room or locker room.  No one has ever said a single word about it, nor even cast a cross glance at me.  In fact, in the beginning, I was more afraid of everyone else than they could ever be of me.  For a trans person, the greatest single fear we live with our entire life is being found out – getting “read” in trans parlance.  That fear is so strong, that some people kill themselves or hide in a self constructed box for decades because they are afraid that if people knew they were transsexuals they would be reviled, rejected, scorned and perhaps worse.  Trans people are assaulted every day, and in some cases murdered for trying to overcome their fears and be true to themselves.  That fear is based on actual events – it is real, it is rational and it is pervasive.

On the other hand, when was the last time you saw a man expose himself in a woman’s rest room?  When was the last time you saw an anatomically incorrect person in the locker room in all their glory?  I have not had that experience in the five+ years I have lived and worked in Helena.  I wonder if the sheriff and police chief could enlighten us with the number of calls they have fielded of this nature in the last ten years?

So, I ask you.  Is the fear of males in the woman’s locker room real?  Is it rational?  The reality is that trans people are so afraid of being read, that they are not “passing” in the gender of identity, that they would not dream of exposing themselves until they are anatomically consistent, and would sooner forfeit their life than take that chance.  There may be some men who would do that, but, I assure that their issues are not gender identification dysphoria and the laws are already in place to prosecute them.

I say it again – trans people have by far more to fear from society than any part of society has to fear from them.  It is a public safety issue – and it is the trans people would need protecting.People in Helena are already using the bathrooms and locker rooms where they feel safest and most comfortable.  If a transman or transwoman were to expose him or herself for some prurient interest, the circumstances are amenable to prosecution under the criminal code.  This ordinance does not change any criminal codes (like sexual assault or indecent exposure, i.e. exposure for sexual gratification).  If a crime were to take place, it should be investigated the same way that crimes are investigated currently, and similarly prosecuted.  We can work together as a community to prevent and address crimes, make our city safer, and more just.  We can do the education necessary to make sure that all members of our community feel safe and are able to fully participate. This ordinance is one step in making our community safer and stronger, and reflecting our values of liberty and justice for all.

St Helena Cathedral in Helena, Montana, USA; p...

St Helena Cathedral in Helena, Montana, USA; picture taken from Mount Helena. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that still.  However, the amendments now threaten to swallow the rule and dissolve any gains we might have made in the effort to end discrimination.  The “locker room” question is a tough issue, and as a former elected official, I have great empathy for the council.  No one should be forced into a position not of their own choosing where they are threatened and afraid; and this cuts both ways.  Imagine the shock a genetic woman might feel as she turns a corner, naked, only to see a pre-op transwoman in all her beautiful glory.  On the other hand, imagine the ridicule and risk to safety for a naked transman in the woman’s locker room, or the risk to safety for the transwoman, both pre and post op in the men’s locker room.  Thus, we have a dilemma.

It seems to me that when faced with such a dilemma that compromise is the only solution.  The compromise I propose is that the “locker room” amendment should be revised to preclude only those with socially inconsistent genitalia from revealing as much, from exposing such inconsistent genitalia.  To be clear, a pre-op transwoman cold be excluded from the female locker room if she exposes her penis, and similarly a transman if he reveals the lack thereof in the male locker room.  I make this suggestion knowing that many trans people will feel deprived from full participation in activities like showering at the gym, or sitting naked in the sauna in their true gender.  While true, I cannot see that it can be helped.  It is a comprise after all, and like any settlement, no one is completely happy.

The second amendment, which I refer to as the HRB amendment, is in fact of greater consequence and should be stricken.  First, the HRB operates under the auspices of the Montana Human Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.  The MHRA affords no LGBT protection and could not be relied upon in pursuing an HRB claim.  The Civil Rights Act provides only speculative relief for the LGBT folks, and a merely persuasive argument for trans folk in employment only in accord with Macy v. Holder, an administrative law opinion rendered by the EEOC which recognized, as a number of federal courts have, a “gender stereotyping” claim under Title VII of the act as a means of sex discrimination for trans people.  Moreover, if the HRB, the defacto discrimination expert accepts an LGBT claim under Title VII, than the city claim will not be necessary.  On the other hand, if the HRB rejects a claim it will not likely be possible because good lawyers would use it as evidence in a motion to dismiss the city claim.  When the HRB says that it could not find reasonable cause to believe that discrimination occurred, it is both compelling and persuasive.  I believe it would be dispositive in this circumstance, rendering the city ordinance a nullity.  Thus, this amendment must be defeated.

If Helena, as a community can iron out these difficulties and pass this ordinance than we will take one step closer to liberty and justice for all.  And I hope that we do because Everybody Matters.