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.