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And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not. St. John 1:5

This was one of the worst Christmases I’ve ever lived through. I normally love Christmas, it’s one of my favorite holidays– I love decorating with lights and evergreens, the symbolism of life in the dead of winter, of light in the darkness always used to lend poignancy to my Advent preparations, a tactile stimulus that Lent is unable to compete against.

I was contacted last week by one of the people at our old church*; she wanted to talk about one of the events around which I opened this blog– being asked to resign my volunteer position as an altar server. The conversation hadn’t gone quite the way she hoped, she said: she had envisioned a much more affirmative and supportive discussion. She still disagrees with my choices (with my transition, in other words) but wanted to affirm her support for my presence in the parish. I gave her instructions about how to use a hammer on a pile of sand.

Well, not really I didn’t. I was just honest, explaining how her words and deeds hurt me, and how her claim of supporting me in the parish contradicted her opposition to my work as an altar server. Part of the reason I’ve singled her out for the purposes of this post is that we discussed things a little more thoroughly than is typical and I think I unambiguously understand her position. But she’s by no means the only person who feels the way she does, as I’ve heard and read similar comments from other parishioners.

I brought all this up to make the point that acceptance is a zero sum game for trans people– disagreeing with someone’s decision to transition is an attempt at separating the trans person from their gender identity. To us, it feels like a refusal to acknowledge who we are, who we say we are. Family members (and church parishioners) don’t usually tend to recognize that. For myself at least, that trans identity wasn’t separable from the rest of me. It’s one of the most fundamental aspects of how I see myself, more important than how old I am, where I went to school, or even what job I have. My gender identity as a female gives me something else that being a male or even being androgynous couldn’t– the sense that I belong with a group of people.

I don’t know how else to say it, but being male never fit me. I could describe how I didn’t like rough-and-tumble play, but lots of cis boys don’t (or didn’t). I was never interested in cars, I never liked sports. What I’m trying to say is that it wasn’t so much the things that boys did that didn’t fit with me– lots of girls are tomboys and lots of boys aren’t into stereotypically masculine pastimes. I’ve never really viewed behavior as a strictly gendered thing, which might be why my wife and I never had a typically gendered relationship– tasks got split up based on who was willing or capable of doing it, not which one of us was the woman.

With boys, it was more like who they were that didn’t feel right to me. I wanted to be a girl, and for a while I thought that it was just curiosity, that everyone must wonder what it’s like to be a member of the opposite sex. As I got older, I realized that wasn’t the case. I might be able to liken it to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, that feeling that you’re all alone in the world and everyone else is a pod person. Not feeling at home in one’s assigned gender is a largely intangible and unqualifiable feeling– I have always said that I don’t know how other women feel, so I can’t really say for sure that I feel like a woman. If you were to ask what didn’t fit me about being a man, I’m not sure that I could answer that question, either. I’m sitting here in front of my computer, my forehead wrinkled in thought, one of those looks on my face, and shrugging and thinking everything. The whole package. It’s my lived experiences as a woman, the way that I feel so much more at home as a woman, that everything just feels so much more right, that reinforce the things I’m saying. It’s the totality of it, not one single situation I can point to and say Ah-ha! That’s how I knew I was trans. It was a learning process, a coming out process that I had to go through myself. It’s a process that I continue to experience and participate in.

When I was transitioning socially, I was doing several things to ease the gender dysphoria, and it made life both better and more hellish. I dressed in women’s clothes pretty much the entire time, wore at least a little makeup, started facial hair removal, let my hair grow out, and got my ears pierced. While those are all just actions, ways of performing my gender, they had the effect of changing the way I saw myself, the way I looked at myself. I started seeing an increasingly feminine person, even though I wasn’t yet passing as female.

To be honest, during that phase I looked pretty androgynous. There was a period of about six months where I just couldn’t pass as either a guy or a girl. I got stared at everywhere I went. It was horrible and embarrassing. I got teased a few times, got called ‘it’, intentionally (and loudly) misgendered in public, that kind of thing. I know people who’ve had it much worse, and probably all trans people deal with at least a little of it. It’s what happens when you try to transition but your body isn’t quite there yet.

Some people are okay with that role, with occupying that genderless space. I wasn’t. When I was androgynous looking, I didn’t like being stared at and getting evil looks from parents in the shopping mall, and I didn’t like having to explain my gender presentation to people (including sales clerks). It was more than a little embarrassing. People weren’t glad when I showed up at a party, they were glad when I left.

Being androgynous wasn’t my identity, so having to live it really took a negative toll on me. In one sense, it wasn’t as bad as being a guy, but in another way the ambiguity made it worse. As some parts of my body started looking more like I felt they should, it put the remainder into starker contrast. I wanted to be female, was doing what I could to get there, and I was so afraid for a while that I was going to transition and when I was all done I was going to look like a man in a dress. So often, trans people are depicted that way in the media, but that’s really a mid-transition morph for a lot of trans people, not an endpoint. Knowing that doesn’t really make the androgynous phase any easier, but it does serve as a light at the end of that tunnel.

After going on hormones, I started passing a lot more easily. I let my hair continue to grow out, some of my features softened out. My voice is still too deep, and I still have some stubble from my beard that grows in, but I found out something else: people privilege distinctive secondary sex characteristics when there are conflicts in the overall gender presentation. That my voice was maybe too deep didn’t matter– I had breasts, real breasts, and you could see them (well, part of them anyway) if I was wearing a V-neck shirt. People saw my breasts, and just like that, I was a woman. There are women with deep voices after all, but no men with breasts, at least not in a strict gender binary.

But those experiences as a visible trans person underscored something for me: gender is really important to people. They’d stare and stare and stare and even go so far as to ask inappropriate questions or make rude comments if they couldn’t figure out what my identity was. I hinted at this in my post about Ron Gold and Ira Rosenstein– people’s cis genders are really important to them: men don’t want their penises replaced with vulvas, and vice-versa for women. Androgyny really fucks with people’s minds– it turns their ideas about gender, and as a result, everything they know about themselves and their world, upside down.

The point is that gender isn’t just a big issue for trans people. It’s a fundamental part of every cis person’s identity, too. Excepting trans genders from that just makes no sense– either trans genders are integral components of who we are or gender isn’t important for anyone. But the way people react to androgynous people should be proof enough that the latter just isn’t true. That’s the problem I have with people who say they love me and support me but don’t agree with my decision to transition– they’re trying to make an exception and separate me from my gender when they can’t and won’t and don’t do that to any other people in their lives.

Taking this further, agreeing to disagree (as some people have put it), carries with it the implication that I’m making the wrong choice (at least from their perspective). The subtext is that there’s a right choice, something that stands in stark contrast to my choices, something that they know about that I ought to be doing but haven’t even considered. But these people don’t have an alternative treatment in mind. Of course, part of the reason for that is that there are no alternative treatments, but that’s why it’s bullshit. Trans people either suffer under the weight of their GID and eventually suicide or they transition. Those are the choices. It bothers me when people think that others ought to choose to prolong suffering, as though it’s a nobler path. There’s nothing noble about suffering. It’s twisted and completely antithetical to the point of the development of modern medicine.

At midnight mass on Christmas Eve, I had all of this still swirling around in my head, thinking about how this would be my last Christmas in that church, the last time I’d be serving at the altar on a festival day. I won’t light the candelabras anymore. Of course, I won’t have to worry about kicking the magi over, either. I’ll be serving two more times before we leave for good, but I also won’t ever serve in that church with my wife again.

My first server that night was a teenage girl, someone I’ve known for years. I’m not sure I’d say that we’re friends, but we’re well acquainted. She’s capable, bright, funny, devoted to God, and sings like an angel. I’ve known her since she was about eight years old. During communion, we started singing Away in a Manger. I started crying as I sang the hymn, all I could think about was this young woman whose life I’ll miss out on, how much I’m going to miss her and her sister.

Earlier that day, Christine and I had gone to the family mass at St. George’s. The difference, poetically enough, was something like night and day. People recognized us from our previous visit and introduced us to their families: This is Christine and her partner, her wife, Jessica. I’d never been called Christine’s wife before, ever. It’s a small thing, and might sound silly, but hearing other people acknowledge our relationship and speak about it aloud in so positive a way almost made me cry, and not out of sadness, either.

I went to St. George’s for mass again yesterday, and the coffee hour afterward was hosted by the LGBT group. It’s such an amazing feeling to not be alone, to not be the only person of your kind, to not be stared at by strangers who know more of your personal business than they have any right to. I’ve expressed before my amazement over a church with an LGBT group that’s able to be active in the life of the parish– that is no small accomplishment.

It stands in stark contrast to what we’ve had to go through in our old parish: at St. George’s we were immediately accepted. I have no idea how many of the people I’ve met can tell that I’m trans, or how many just think that we’re lesbians, but we’re accepted as we are with no explanation or interrogation necessary. The sensation is disorienting, it’s almost like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, for things to go wrong and only then will I understand this place and these people.

Part of the reason for the distrust is that transitioning publicly has been hard. I feel like I’m always constantly excusing myself for making others uncomfortable. I feel like I’m the one to blame for it. I have internalized this attitude that surrounds me, a feeling that says I’m not worth very much. Ideas to the contrary don’t stand up– after all, volunteers aren’t asked to leave their positions because they do a job too well. Part of me knows that seeing things this way is wrong, but part of me fears that it’s not.

For us, these last few months have been very dark. There is a lot of shame that I’m trying to shed, and I’ve had only partial success at it. The darkness is stifling. My hope for the new year is that we’re going to be able to leave it behind. Maybe that’s overly ambitious, and unfair to put so great an expectation on a place and on a people that we don’t know, but I don’t think we’re entirely reliant on them: St. John was talking about something else that brings light to our lives, much to the consternation of the darkness that has permeated us.

* I’m already calling it the old church even though we’ll be going there a few more times in the new year. St. George’s is such a welcoming place that I don’t think we’d be willing to give it up for anything.


And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this [shall be] a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I can never get through this passage without crying. Part of it is because my heart aches for all the ill will that we display towards others, that ill will that I feel directed towards me at least some of the time by people that ought to be wishing me something better. It’s sad to see how some of us who seem most concerned about God’s business labor tirelessly against this most important of messages.

After all, the last words in that passage indicate that even God wishes for peace and good will among his people over all the earth; no matter who we are or what we believe, we are loved and it is no small comfort at this time of year to remember that there is someone up there who wishes us well, even if others don’t. That too makes me cry, but for a completely different reason: that verse from St. Luke’s gospel makes me feel as though all of us are included in the larger family of humanity even if we’re not welcome the rest of the year.

Tim Pawlenty, governor of MN, was recently interviewed by Newsweek, the content of the interview published online yesterday will be hitting newsstands on Jan 4 of next year. The reason I linked to the third page of the interview article was that I wanted to highlight the following:

That statute [the employment non-discrimination statute in Minnesota] is not worded the way it should be. I said I regretted the vote later because it included things like cross-dressing, and a variety of other people involved in behaviors that weren’t based on sexual orientation, just a preference for the way they dressed and behaved. So it was overly broad. So if you are a third-grade teacher and you are a man and you show up on Monday as Mr. Johnson and you show up on Tuesday as Mrs. Johnson, that is a little confusing to the kids. So I don’t like that.
Has the law been changed?
No. It should be, though.
So you want to protect kids against cross-dressing elementary-school teachers. Do you have any in Minnesota?
Probably. We’ve had a few instances, not exactly like that, but similar.

That “probably” is the most disturbing part of the whole thing. He doesn’t even know, but he’s ready to throw people he doesn’t know to the wolves he isn’t sure exist. What he’s doing is knocking down a transgender straw man (pardon me, straw woman), not addressing anything that remotely resembles reality.

To actually address Pawlenty’s real response, I’d point out that for trans people, the way we dress, the way we behave is not a preference, anymore than Pawlenty’s presentation as a man is fake, forced, affected, or otherwise artificial. If he’s going to privilege his cis gender over my trans gender, then he’s going to have to answer for that kind of entitlement. My preference is (I hope somewhat obviously) to be cisgender. But I’m not. So I have to do what I can with what I have.

Speaking for myself only, gender identity isn’t fluid—the subtext to Pawlenty’s response is that Mr. Johnson will be Mrs. Johnson on Tuesday, but then show up on Wednesday as Mr. Johnson again. That would be confusing. Hell, I’d be confused by people that did that. But trans people aren’t like that. We might not identify strongly with the gender binary, but we usually have a pretty fixed placed in the spectrum. I’m a woman. I’m not the most feminine woman ever, but I’m not the most masculine one either. I’ve always had that internal identity, even if I didn’t express it outwardly.

But, you might ask, what about people whose gender expressions are more fluid? I don’t have the knowledge or experience (or space) to speak to that question, but yes, people with more fluid gender identities do exist. Regardless of how you fear they might act, I think that if you want to be a dick to people, you have to have more than a general suspicion and a cheap straw man argument. I’ve never even heard of androgynous, gender fluid people acting the way that Pawlenty fears. But then again, that’s because I’m talking real, actual people, not scare-tactic-fear-inducing-straw-men.

But Pawlenty claims that they’ve had to deal with something similar to crossdressing teachers in Minnesota. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, but I did want to see just what it was he was protecting OMG teh childrhunz from. So I tried googling “crossdressing teacher Minnesota”. I didn’t find a lot on crossdressing teachers in that state (or any state for that matter), but I did find that it’s the crossdressers that are usually the ones who have it the hardest, not the straight kids or adults who make fun of them. Who’s protecting whom?

One other thing I did see was that a male to female transsexual librarian transitioned on the job in Minnesota. Her name is Debra Davis, and she has a website that nicely explains her position in her own words. As it happens, one of Ms. Davis’ colleagues, Carla Cruzan, sued the school district over allowing Davis to use the women’s restroom. Here’s a summary of the case from the Transgender Law Center, the info about Cruzan v. Special School District No. 1 is on the top of page 2. If you don’t want to read the link, Cruzan lost her case; the court found that the school district was not permeated with intimidation, ridicule and insult by allowing Ms. Davis to use the restroom that was consistent with her gender identity and presentation, and that such conditions hardly constituted a sexually hostile work environment.

Let me explain why allowing Ms. Davis to use the ladies’ restroom doesn’t create a hostile work environment: trans people don’t molest cis people in bathrooms. For all the states that have tried to pass Non-Discrimination Acts and been met with the charge of providing safe haven to child molesters and sexual predators, there has never ever been a single case of a trans person assaulting someone in a bathroom. There have been plenty of cases where straight people do it, though. The linked example here is the case of a CVS manager who was spying on his female customers with a camera phone, and was also circulating a petition outside his own store in protest of a non-discrimination ordinance that was being considered by the city council. In other words, he wanted to prevent trans people from using the restroom that was appropriate for their gender identity because he was afraid that trans people might assault cis people in the bathroom. It’s too bad I already wrote an article on hypocrisy.

The snippet from CitizenLink above is another example of the same disingenuous bullshit that Pawlenty spouts, and it seems like all these conservative news outlets and politicians just snowball this kind of crap back and forth. I’d like to remind you, that there is absolutely no evidence, no case that the paranoid conservatives can point to that supports their contention. If they had a real life example, it would be all over the god-damned place. But they can’t even find one. What they can find is Ms. Davis, a woman who just wants to go pee. As a result, they don’t have any proof, just a bunch of scare tactics that work off the use of the word “probably.”

Let’s say we have a hypothetical white male child molester. Let’s say he typically goes after little boys (I apologize if this is squicky, let’s just say that we’re on the jury of his criminal trial, and when we find him guilty, we’re going to lock him up for the rest of his life). So, his usual M.O. was to get little boys in the boys’ restroom, right? The presence or absence of the bathroom bill does nothing to prevent this from happening.

Now let’s assume that in a second charge of aggravated sexual assault on a minor, the child molester hid behind a non-discrimination statute to enter the girls’ restroom and molest a little girl. First, even if the child molester claimed to be transgender, and tried to pretend that he had every right to be in the girls’ room, that still DOESN’T GIVE ANYONE THE RIGHT TO MOLEST KIDS IN THE FUCKING BATHROOM. Second, even if the non-discrimination act wasn’t on the books, let’s suppose our child molester really wanted to hurt a little girl. Would the presence or absence of a bathroom bill stop him from doing that? Trying to use one’s status as a trans person makes sense if you want to *use* a bathroom, but not if you want to molest or harm other people while in that place. There just aren’t words for that kind of analogy fail.

Let me explain something about trans people and bathrooms: we understand that restrooms are safe places for people of the same gender. I think that trans people understand this better than most cis people give us credit for—believe me, we hate feeling uncomfortable in the bathroom. We don’t like to be uncomfortable, and we don’t like making others feel uncomfortable. That’s why we use the restroom that is most appropriate for our gender presentation.

Regardless of internal identity, you use the restroom that is consistent with your gender presentation, at least in public. If you look like a man, don’t go in the ladies’ room. Even if you identify as female, others will be uncomfortable, they might call security or the police, and you’re going to have to out yourself and explain the whole uncomfortable situation to a group of strangers who may be less than sympathetic. Likewise, if you look like a woman, it’s probably not a good idea to go somewhere other than the ladies’ room. If you don’t mind, go back and take a good look at that photo of me in the red dress I posted two days ago. Where do you think I would cause the most consternation: the men’s room or the ladies’? And that’s why the male child molester in the girls’ room is a straw man. No male bodied trans person is going to go in the girls’ room if she doesn’t pass.

And that’s why Cruzan’s case made no sense—she might have known that Ms. Davis was born male, but it seems like it’s pretty obvious that Ms. Davis didn’t identify that way, and I don’t think Ms. Cruzan should be unclear about that. So where is Ms. Davis supposed to go when she needs to use the restroom? The men’s room? Or is she supposed to be singled out and forced to use a unisex bathroom? I’ll tell you something from personal experience—having to do that is humiliating. It’s one of those ways in which cis people entitle their own genders above those of trans people. If I’m out at a restaurant for lunch and no one knows that I’m trans, no one in the ladies’ room gives me a second glance. But at work, I’m not even allowed in the ladies’ room to check my makeup. It’s like everyone’s worried that I’m going to see something that I’ve never seen before. That’s humiliating because it says to me that I’m not a real woman, that I’m fake or artificial, and my artifice will make others uncomfortable even though all I want to do is go pee.

Here’s the same story, but from Mission America. The note on the case makes a point of misgendering Ms. Davis, using her male name, and repeatedly using incorrect pronouns. They make it sound as though Ms. Cruzan was the only female faculty member willing to fight for the decency of *all* the female staff, and look at how she was rebuffed—in a fit of poetic justice she was told to use a unisex single restroom if she preferred.

That’s pretty harsh, maybe, but if you think so, then maybe you should think about how it feels to be in the shoes of a trans woman and be on the receiving end of that kind of treatment everywhere you go. Is that kind of treatment justified because a person chooses to transition? Should we force people to choose between being themselves or being accepted? I realize I asked a very similar question in relation to the episode from The Closer, but it seems like that dichotomy is the one that comes up most often. There is always some compromise involved, but it is unfair and discriminatory when it is never the cis people but always the trans ones who must compromise.

I want to ask why accepting trans people as they are is such a negative thing. Why is it so hard to believe that other people experience their gender in a way that is different from you? One thing I’ve learned from feminist writing is that no two women can even agree on what it means to be a woman. Everyone experiences their gender differently, and feeling like your gender and body are mismatched doesn’t seem impossible. It may be outside your experience, but that doesn’t make it wrong any more than being poor or black or atheist or not very athletic would.

I could ask other questions: why isn’t my life ever represented fairly in our culture? Why do the Christians get to have it all and still complain about being put upon? If I may:

For more than 30 years, homosexual activists have been demanding that our Judeo-Christian culture capitulate and embrace their view of human sexuality, marriage and family. If Americans ever accept these demands, they can expect to live in a culture that will be turned upside down — literally unhinged from the sane moorings instituted by the God of heaven.
Harvey’s prediction is of a grotesque culture that includes: “Lesbian bride dolls. Fourth grade ‘gay’ clubs. A king and king at the high school prom. Dating tips for same-sex teens.”

I want to ask why any of those things are seen as being negative. How much different, how much less depressing and horrible would life be for kids who learned to accept themselves instead of hating, hurting, cutting or killing themselves? What’s wrong with letting a person’s life be represented in our pop culture? What’s wrong with lesbian Barbie, other than the fact that people might actually buy them?

I suppose, as Governor Pawlenty might say, “we wouldn’t want to confuse the kids.” I guess it would be an absolutely horrible thing to confuse kids into thinking they can be themselves only to let them find out as adults that they’ll be treated like perverts and freaks.

So this news isn’t exactly great for proponents of marriage equality. The reason I say this isn’t great is because these kind of situations get blown way out of proportion– the anti-equality crowd will be using this to write their propaganda for the next 10 years.

The fact is that this did get all out of hand. A Christian registrar who refuses to do her job will get in trouble for it; I don’t think that comes as a huge shock. The justice of the peace in Louisiana didn’t get a break on his bigotry, and I don’t think Ladele should get one here. The thing is, it’s not up to county or city employees to make the call over who can and can’t get married. If it’s legal, then it’s legal. I would like to point out why I’m calling Ladele a bigot rather than giving her a pass on the religious exemption clause: she’s not clergy.

I should add a caveat– the case in question here with Ladele is in the U.K., not the U.S. The law there is probably different, and I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to expound upon the British legal system. I will try and tie it in to the fight for marriage equality here in the U.S. because that’s where I live and I expect I’ll be hearing about this particular case when the petitions to repeal prop 8 are being circulated. NOM and those of its ilk will be crying about how their religious liberty is threatened, and here’s an example from Britain, except they’ll de-emphasize the fact that it didn’t even occur in the U.S., it will simply be held up as an example of OMG, teh persecutionz, and how we need to fight teh ghey.

There’s a very interesting document by Chai Feldblum on moral conflict and liberty. It’s a very long, very footnoted document, but very worth reading, if you have about an hour or so to really go through it.

Feldblum analyzes potential conflicts between moral and religious liberty, and examines whether there are burdens placed on a person’s liberty when you regulate conduct. She also goes on to examine whether those burdens are justified. In other words, the state, as a morally neutral agent can burden beliefs by regulating conduct when there’s a compelling reason to do so.

So, when we look at the Ladele case in light of U.S. law, we have to ask a two-pronged question: was Ladele burdened by being asked to perform civil marriages, and if so, was there a compelling reason to so regulate her conduct? As Feldblum puts it:

In most situations, of course, conduct is not intended to convey expression. For that reason, one does not ordinarily feel that a requirement to engage in certain conduct (or not to engage in certain conduct) necessarily undermines one’s identity or beliefs. We engage in innumerable acts throughout the day. We might get on the subway in the morning, buy a newspaper, order lunch, give an exam or take an exam, fix a car, buy stock or feed a baby. We rarely experience ourselves as expressing a belief system when we engage in these forms of conduct. Beliefs may underlie our actions (for example, public transportation is good; newspapers should be supported; babies should be cared for), but it is rare that we experience our conduct (or our lack of engaging in certain conduct) as inherently intertwined with our beliefs and identities.

So, does Ladele view her conduct on the job as expressive of her religious beliefs? I think it’s a safe assumption to make that she most certainly does. After all, she claims that having to perform a same sex civil marriage unduly burdened her conscience. As Feldblum argues at one point, it’s better to err on the side of accepting the existence of the burden. If I can claim that my identity liberty is burdened when I am discriminated against, and Ladele must accept my statement as valid truth, then I must accept hers as well.

So, I think we can say that there is a burden on her beliefs by compelling her to perform same sex weddings. The second part of the analysis is more complicated: is that burden justified? Is there a compelling reason for the government to regulate Ladele’s actions such that her beliefs are burdened and she has no recourse?

If we look at Feldblum’s example of Boy Scouts of America v. Dale:

If that analysis had been done, and if the Court had taken seriously the adverse impact on the identity liberty of gay people when a government fails to protect them from private discrimination, I believe the Court would have appropriately determined that a group as large and as broad-based as the Boy Scouts should not have been granted an exemption from the state law.

In other words, in order to determine whether the burden on Ladele is justified, we must determine whether allowing the discrimination against LGBT people to stand serves a more wide-ranging interest (as the courts decided in the Boy Scouts case) and whether we are allowing everyone access to the same rights in a meaningful sense.

In the case of marriage rights, most states recognize the desire of LGBT people to start families with their partners (several states that don’t permit same sex marriage still have provisions for domestic partnerships or civil unions). One of the claims I heard during the Prop 8 debate was that gay people are free to marry someone of the opposite sex just like any other heterosexual person, so everyone was allowed access to the same right of marriage. The argument from the pro-equality side was that such allowances were not meaningful, and I think they had a very good point, as that disingenuous argument didn’t take into consideration the simple variable of object choice– not all men want to marry women. Requiring them to do so is not allowing everyone equal access in a meaningful sense.

If heterosexual couples have access to the rights and privileges of marriage, giving homosexual couples meaningful access to the same rights would include allowing them to get married and file their federal taxes jointly. And right about here is where we run headlong into the brick wall of Ladele’s conscience.

At this point, we must determine how to fairly distribute the burden of the conflict. We can make the case that Ladele should be free to decline to perform same sex marriages, and that one of her colleagues could fill in for her. Or we can make the case that Ladele should be forced to do her job or be fired. In the first case, I’d like to quote Feldblum again:

If individual business owners, service providers and employers could easily exempt themselves from such laws by making credible claims that their belief liberty is burdened by the law, LGBT people would remain constantly vulnerable to surprise discrimination. If I am denied a job, an apartment, a room at a hotel, a table at a restaurant or a procedure by a doctor because I am a lesbian, that is a deep, intense and tangible hurt. That hurt is not alleviated because I might be able to go down the street and get
a job, an apartment, a hotel room, a restaurant table or a medical procedure from someone else. The assault to my dignity and my sense of safety in the world occurs when the initial denial happens. That assault is not mitigated by the fact that others might not treat me in the same way.

Allowing Ladele to excuse herself from performing a marriage for some people on the basis of their sexual orientation is still surprise discrimination. In order to protect the belief liberty of one registrar, we are potentially exposing dozens (hundreds?) of couples to that kind of discrimination.

In the second case, in Ladele’s own words, she was forced to choose between her religion and her job. But there’s a problem here: she performs civil marriages. Presumably, her job might require her to marry differently religious couples, while her religion might approve of unions that exist only between two Christians. Also, her job might require her to marry a young man and his pregnant girlfriend, when her religion explicitly disapproves of such sexual conduct. Was Ladele performing spontaneous surveys of the religious beliefs of all the couples she married? Did she ensure that they were not engaging in sinful sexual practices prior to their wedding? Allowing equal access in a meaningful sense implies that Ladele would not be permitted to decline to marry any couple, same sex or otherwise. She was practicing discrimination under the guise of her religion, and that isn’t permitted under the law, her religious objection notwithstanding. Anti-discrimination laws do not favor one religion over another, and as such do not violate the anti-establishment clause of the first amendment. Rather, it’s not her objection so much as her discriminatory practices that were the issue.

I have few problems with Ladele’s claim that homosexuality conflicts with her religious beliefs. What I really have a problem with is the sickening application of the double standard, this bullshit of privileging homosexuality as the chief of all sins. A few weeks ago, I peeled the Christian fish decal off of my car (it’s been there for more than 10 years) because I no longer want to be associated with people who act and behave as though they have any place to impose their moral beliefs on others, as though they’re better than anyone else just because they’re straight.

While it appears that I’m imposing my moral beliefs on Ladele, I would disagree– I’m not keeping her from believing anything, though I am in support of regulating her conduct as it benefits a larger group of citizens. I would also argue that if it were my job, I wouldn’t decline to perform her marriage just because she’s a bigot. Civil marriage has evolved into a morally neutral institution, entirely separate from our religious notions that happen to have the same name.

I’ve had a busy weekend. Christine and I went to the Holiday Party for my work last night, we went to a new church this morning, and I’m working on this blog, thinking about an episode of The Closer* that had been recommended to me (it’s episode 14, called “Make Over”, in case the link takes you to a more recent episode).

It seems that lately, life has been a mixed bag of acceptance and trans-misogyny, gendering and misgendering, and that for every good thing, there are at least two bad ones, and this weekend hasn’t strayed from that formula, and neither did that episode of The Closer.

Today was the day we went to St. George’s. Mass was just like any other Rite II mass I’ve ever been to, and I got to meet the person who had contacted me by email last week. After mass, we were introduced around, Christine saw one of her old bosses from Starbucks (a good thing, apparently, not a bad one), and we got to meet several people out of the church’s gay community and ministries. The good news is that everyone was incredibly nice.

I find that when you hang out with people that are trans or gay just because they’re trans or gay, you find out that being trans or gay is about all you have in common with them. Part of the reason is that variance of gender identity or sexual orientation can potentially affect anyone; it transcends class, race, education, social standing and faith. Trans support groups are great if you want to talk about trans-specific issues, but not so much if you’re looking for an actual friend. Trans people are still rare enough that the odds of finding a girlfriend that actually has some similar tastes is difficult– the cis woman I met at the shoe store last weekend is more likely to be a permanent shopping partner than any of my trans friends.

The positive thing about being hooked up with the lgbt community at church is that you don’t expect religion to be a point of contention, and it wasn’t. The people we met were nice, conversation was interesting, coffee hour (that unofficial Episcopalian sacrament) was filled with people who were willing to come sit down at our table and chat with us about anything. No one flinched when I introduced Christine as my wife. It seems there are enough lgbt people at the church that no one even gave us a second thought. It was more than either of us were hoping for, being so well accepted without precondition.

The sermon this morning was about that very thing– accepting grace from and through other people without precondition, using commonalities to build bridges rather than putting up barriers. I am not ashamed to admit that I almost cried (though I confess I am due for a shot tomorrow**).

It’s a huge contrast, that acceptance, not just with our current church, but with so many places that we’re known. I don’t feel like a lot of the people I know are unaccepting so much as maybe unfamiliar and unsure about how to treat me and by extension, us. It’s as though the past that I have with some people as a man prevents them from being able to treat me as a woman, which I understand, but also to treat me as a human, which I don’t.

My parents (and other family), some of my colleagues, some people at our church, all fall into that trap. People who never knew me before can still find out that I’m trans and not treat me any differently, but my boss gave me the oddest look when we ran into each other in the ladies room last night, as though I’d possibly go somewhere else when I had to pee.

Something I told our priest was that I don’t think I’m being horribly mistreated, and that I don’t think I’m manufacturing a reason that makes it psychologically easier for me to break away from our church. I have no illusion about it– I’m leaving for my own selfish reasons, not because I’m being persecuted with torches and pitchforks. The chance to be myself and to define myself as a person other than the trans woman with a different group of people is worth the cost of relocating, even if it means losing some of our close church family. It’s not a good reason to go, but it’s enough for me, and I think that in the long run it’s going to be a much more positive experience vis-à-vis my personal growth.

A lot of trans people move away from their old lives, not so much to break with their past (at least not anymore) so much as to keep it from interfering with their futures. Being a trans woman isn’t really something I’ll grow out of, and it’s not like I need to figure out who I am or re-define myself. In truth, I’ve already done those things, and what I have now is an identity as a trans woman that I will grow into, not leave behind. I will never be the same person again, hopefully able to re-integrate into my church at some point once I figure out who I am– I’m already irreversibly changed.

If there’s one thing that recent episode of The Closer was able to demonstrate with the gender-based bait-and-switch, it was that. On the episode, Beau Bridges plays the role of Georgette Andrews, a retired detective. I think he plays the role as sensitively as he could, trying (and at least partially succeeding) to make it clear that being trans isn’t something you put on and take off like a dress (or a suit)***.

But I also think the show can’t get past its own trans-misogyny. The character of Lt. Provenza is the mouthpiece for most of it, and while I think the writers try to make him seem like an unreliable narrator, or at least to help the viewer question Provenza’s absolute morality, there’s a whole subtext that goes unaddressed. There is laughter in the squad room, plenty of gender entitlement (and misgendering), and a painful bit of trans-interrogation that warrants a “That is so inappropriate!” from the Deputy Chief, but not an actual stop to the behavior on the part of the officers.

Worse, the writers decide to actually have the trans character accede to answer the questions, explaining herself and her choices as though it were any of the officers’ (or our) business. I do not see it as my mission to educate people about the intricacies of GRS if they’re acting that hostilely toward me.

I think the show also perpetuates some inappropriate stereotypes about trans people, portraying us as “men in dresses” which despite his acting and nice hair, is all Beau Bridges really is. It’s true that for older transitioners, the effects of so many years of testosterone tend to reduce the efficacy of estrogen, the virilized features pretty well set in stone (or bone, as it were). But even amongst those older women I know, androgen blockers and estrogen can work wonders for a woman’s appearance: skin becomes lighter with more of a glow, body fat redistributes, and even if you’re stuck with the world’s worst caveman brow line, you’re going to look worlds different after hormones. The difference between the pre- and post- transition appearance of Bridges’ character would still be night and day– Provenza shouldn’t have even recognized her right away, wondering instead who the woman with her hands on his face was.

That a male was selected to play the role is what wrecked it for me. It seems like a very natural choice, to have a man play the role of man-who-became-a-woman, but I think Felicity Huffman pretty much demolished that paradigm about four years ago. Not that Transamerica was a perfect film, because it wasn’t, just that Huffman was able to do what Bridges was not– convince me that there was something real underneath. I realize Huffman had a full length feature in which to convince me, but everything about her was right, from the bright pink suit**** down to the voice that’s a little too deep: you’re not really sure if she’s a cis woman, and you’re hooked within the first 5 minutes. Admittedly, Huffman doesn’t deserve all the credit for Bree, but she deserves a lot.

For all the ups and downs over the last few weeks, and even the last few years, I think there’s a lot to being faithful to ourselves. Huffman and Bridges both did well getting that across with their characters. If I had to pick the one thing I think that episode of The Closer did right, it was to show that being true to yourself can cost you a lot, but that your happiness is usually worth the price. That is borne out in my own experiences, from family to church to work. The one thing I think that they missed in the TV show was the payoff to all the gambling and sacrifice– Detective Andrews went off alone at the end of the episode, presumably to be alone, with a weak and bitter smile on her face, as though we have the choice to be loved or to be ourselves but not both. Happily, I think I’ve got a photo around here that shows that’s just not the case.

* The “Dramatic Pause” button on the top right of their video viewer is worth checking out, even if you’re completely uninterested in watching the full episode. I’ll wait while you check it out… … … See? I’ve seen those kind of things before but this one popped up quickly and it was funny.

** I call the week before I’m due for an injection the trans equivalent of PMS. Whether it’s real or just a matter of perception isn’t something I’m certain about.

*** I should mention that I’m skeptical of the way trans people are frequently depicted in media of any kind. I usually keep Julia Serano’s list of cissexism nearby. As a slightly funnier aside, and as a service to those of you unfamiliar with it, there’s also the Trans Documentary Drinking Game. I provide the rules now in case you happen to see one and I don’t have time to forewarn (or forearm) you.

**** The pink suit is another one of those trans stereotypes, but I fear this one is grounded in some kind of reality. People who transition in their twenties or thirties have usually missed out on some of the socialization that occurs with cissexuals. So we go through something like a second puberty, not just with the body changes and the hormones, but with trying to figure out clothes, hair, and makeup, something you’d have done during that awkward teenage phase when you had braces and weren’t cool anyway. We don’t (I didn’t) have our parents or a lot of cisgender friends to help us along and some of us make disastrous fashion choices, as Bree did in Transamerica. I made a couple of disastrous decisions, too, but fortunately there is no photographic evidence of it.

In another of their head::desk inducing screeds, the transphobes over at Focus on the Family, have decided to target an Argentinian woman, 45 year old Marcela Romero, who was recently honored as a Distinguished Woman of 2009.

The author of the CitizenLink article demonstrates his ignorance on a wide array of issues including sexuality, gender identity, and genetics. It seems to me that every time authors at FotF or CL churn out their tripe, they must be required to do the following: mention how we mutilate ourselves through surgery, use the word transition (but only if it is first bracketed with “scare quotes”), and discuss how their extremely disrespectful bile is actually speaking the truth in Christian, Godly love.

To CitizenLink and Focus on the Family: Eat me. If that seems disrespectful to you, I might point out that more insulting things have been said about me in every single article that FotF publishes about trans people. In other words, they started it: they claim that I’m fooling people by passing myself off as a woman, that Dr. Paul McHugh knows the whole truth about trans women, and that I am radically redefining the vision of the sexes found in the Bible. Oh, and they said I have a mental disorder. Yeah, those are some nice people. In fact, I’ll say it again: they can eat me.

Apropos of nothing, the CitizenLink writer brought up sexual orientation in an article about gender identity– a questionable thing to do since the two are separate concepts. Why would they do such a thing? Because they’re trying to paint trans people as perverts– we can’t change our sexual orientation, but we can change our genders; see how easy it is? All you have to do is mutilate yourself. Epic Fail. Let me ask you something really personal: are you gay or straight or bi or something else? How fluid do you find your sexual expression to be? I’d ask all the the straight laced homophobes on FotF whether they might let us try to “pray away their straightness.” Puh-lease. Don’t bitch about my sexual orientation and how I can’t change it, especially if you can’t change yours at the drop of a hat, either. Hypocrites. And no, trotting out some ex-gays is not sufficient– those are people who choose to put themselves through an entirely different kind of hell so that they can avoid the social stigma of being gay in church*. Or being Episcopalian.

As for using sexuality as a segue into backhanding the notion of gender identity, I’ll segue myself: it’s been pretty well understood that aversion therapy, reparative therapy, and all those things we used to try to get people to stop being gay didn’t really work. Well, those things don’t really work when you want men to stop acting like women, either. I got teased and mocked all through school, called faggot, all that, and the bullying couldn’t socialize the girl out of me. You think a little electricity will do what all the rocks and taunts and jeers have failed to do for me and every one of my sisters?

The reason that trans people change their bodies is because you can’t change or remake a person’s mind to make them into what you want them to be or what you think they should be. There’s no such thing as a brain transplant, but I’d expect you to realize that if you’re intelligent enough to use the internet. Instead of branding people as deficient “others”, we used to respect a multiplicity of viewpoints. Cultures worldwide used to recognize trans people as individuals that understood both sides of gendered behavior. We were mystics, we were shamans, we were counselors. Now that we have these twisted notions of Christian Bible-based gender and complementarianism, trans people are regarded as mentally ill, but that’s a more recent invention, and it’s completely unsupported by centuries of cultural understanding.

I am not mentally ill. In fact, there’s a lot of really good research that gives every indication that being trans is just another part of human diversity– things happen during development and brain formation, and we end up with bodies that don’t match up to our internal identities. The thing that makes me resentful, the thing that drives all the profanity that I’ve had to go back and edit out of this article is that FotF and their writers would like to privilege their understanding of my sex and gender identities over my own experiences, and they’re trying to put their hate driven spew out there to distort and confuse the truth over what it really means to be trans.

I get that changing one’s sex is a pretty weird (read: uncommon, unfamiliar, intimidating, scary) thing, especially if you lead the kind of life where you’ve never met an actual trans person. But that doesn’t mean that your fear gets to drive the entire discussion or determine how I get treated by society. I’ve got news for FotF– the Holy Spirit doesn’t bring healing and transformation to the lives of trans people, at least none of the ones I know. I could point you to dozens of support forums online with trans people who are or were Christians. I would estimate that we have collectively spent millenia** praying and crying to be cured– I started praying to be cured when I was 13. By 15, I was cutting, too. I didn’t understand why God had never answered any of my prayers, why I hadn’t been cured, or why I was they way I was. I thought that if God would see that I really meant it, that if “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin”, then maybe God would hear me if I hurt myself for Him.

The Holy Spirit does something different for us: We get strength to persevere, the determination to be ourselves against all odds and injury, peace when we realize and understand who we really are, joy that we are loved by a God who sees us as we are without precondition. That’s what happens when you let God show you who He is and what He does. FotF is too focused on getting God to do exactly what they want him to do, projecting their own fear and resentment as though that were truly God’s will.

What FotF and the citizenlink blog author fail to understand is that what they are speaking isn’t a truth told in love. It’s transphobic hatred, and calling it love doesn’t make it love. What it is is an attempt to control people, to tell us how we can live our lives, to define us on their terms, and to refuse our identities as we understand them. That is not meeting people where they are with the Gospel of Christ– it’s expecting that people ought to be perfect, and Focus on the Family can’t even live up to their own expectations and definitions.


* They still get “the urge”, they’ll say, and they might “stumble” once in a while, but they love their wives, and they’re committed to making their marriage work being perceived as straight even if they’re not. See how easy it is to demonize other people with scare quotes?

** By my estimation, I prayed for 17 years before I gave up at the age of 30. Some of the trans women I know delayed their transition longer than I did, and consequently spent a lot more time praying, too. So, if each one of us has prayed for an average of 10 years, and there’s 3000 of us on one online forum, you do the math. You’d think one of us would have gotten lucky over time.

White. Educated. Middle class. Employed. Christian. American. Cisgender. Male. Heterosexual. Those are all privileges I’ve enjoyed at one point in my life or another. And there are privileges I never enjoyed– I was never very masculine so I did not receive cisgender and heterosexual privileges from my peers. Instead, I got teased for being a faggot. There are probably hundreds of blogs on the internet where people are bitching about their crappy childhoods, so I doubt that is particularly shocking, and besides, I don’t want you to think that I’m trying to say “oh, poor me,” because I’m not.

I bring that up because I think everyone wonders what life might be like if things had been different; among trans people, everyone always asks one another some variant of the following question: if you could take a magic pill and wake up tomorrow, and the GID would be gone, completely erased, and you never experienced it, and you could be a happy cisgender boy, would you do it? A lot of us—being trans as children, growing up and not knowing we could do anything about it, dealing with the depression and the misery—would love to erase large portions of our pasts, but when you really start thinking about what that would mean, the magic pill is really just another form of suicide, it’s another way of killing myself, but pretending that I’m doing something good instead.

When I think about how different my life (and as a result, I) might have been had I never had GID, I shudder to think about what an asshole I might be. If there was no check to my privilege, nothing I lacked, would I just walk all over everyone? How could that even remotely be a good thing? Now that I’ve spent some time in a transgender identity, I realize I’d rather be trans and be permanently regarded as less-than rather than take my place as the asshole I didn’t become.

I recently got involved in a discussion elsewhere about whether MtF trans people are recipients of male privilege. Most trans women used to benefit from male privilege, but they probably don’t anymore, assuming they have transitioned at least partway. I mean to say that if you have a woman’s name, and your driver’s license says that you’re female, and you sound like a female when you’re speaking on the phone, and people call you ma’am more than they call you sir, you probably don’t benefit from male privilege anymore.

A trans woman can still benefit from the effects of male privilege she received earlier in life: as a male she may have received additional help or encouragement in science and math while in school; been encouraged to be more athletic, which may have helped earn a college scholarship. On the job, she’d probably earn 20% more than her fellow cisgender female alumni , and she’d probably stay at least that far ahead every year until transition. In fact, even after transition, she’d probably still be ahead of their cisgender female colleagues.

Despite the accumulated benefits of male privilege that many of us enjoy, we do not receive that preferential treatment any longer—trans women are often treated as less than second class citizens. The fact that we used to be treated like human beings and now get treated like less than animals makes us very interested in fighting back, especially through women’s and gay rights groups. The unfortunate part is that cis women tend to forget they have very natural allies in us, forgetting that their struggle has becomes ours, as well. We will never have it as tough as they do because of the male privilege we’ve already accumulated, but we do understand something about the here and now. One of our strengths, if we want to call it that, is that we’ve experienced firsthand how people get treated on both sides of the gender divide, and we know that it’s bullshit. I do not, for example, consider myself to be a second class citizen. In that sense, I am a feminist: as a woman, I am not worth less than I was as a man, and I resent the implication that a person is somehow more or less valuable simply because of their sex.