Hope on a Slippery Slope

Hope on a Slippery Slope

I was given an article from a conservative Christian magazine that spoke about a former evangelical that no longer believes in the existence of God. The author suggested that when the person rejected the inerrancy of scripture, he stepped onto the infamous “slippery slope.” The inference was that if the reader, too, steps onto the slippery slope, he or she can expect the same tragic result.

The person who sent the magazine article said he was concerned “for my mortal soul.” The truth is, I am concerned about the sender. I am afraid there is more than a little bit of projection going on. I know the young man, and he is too smart to be held captive by a tribe whose DNA is rooted in fear. I am afraid he will lose his faith.

I have found far more people who have lost their faith by staying too long within the evangelical camp, than those who lost their faith because they departed from it. My faith is the strongest it has ever been. The same is true for every progressive evangelical I know. For the first time in our lives, we are resting securely in the loving arms of Jesus. Our faith is not fear based; it is rooted in God’s unconditional love. It is truly good news, hence our reluctance to give up the term “evangelical.”

It was only over the last 500 years that Western man became fixated with rational thought and the notion of absolute truth. There was a false belief life could be logically understood and uncertainty could be made certain.

In that rational world, Christians made the Bible the capstone of absolute truth. Words on a page were to be trusted more than the messy machinations of churches of humans. It was difficult to tell whether they were worshipping Jesus or the Bible.

In a world in which propositional truth is seen as the ultimate ground of being, all it takes is a single chink in the armor to bring the entire metanarrative down. It was the reason the evangelical world insisted on the inerrancy of Scripture, a concept not birthed until the modern age. Inerrancy was the belief that the original autographs (copies) of Scripture were without error. Scripture claimed no such thing for itself. The fact that we did not have original copies of Scripture was not seen as relevant. It was the idea of inerrancy that was important.

Today we know better. We know we can get close to objective truth, but as long as humans are the ones doing the observing, we can never be truly objective. Knowing, of any kind, is a risky and non-exact business.  Therefore, those whose faith is rooted in inerrant original copies of scripture live in perilous territory.  Their faith demands a certainty that does not exist.  No wonder so many Millennials are leaving the church.

The truth is that life is a slippery slope, but it is not something to be feared. It is to be embraced. Certainty is a myth. Once we accept that all truth and knowledge is slippery, we can look for the ample handholds along the way.

Those handholds are not propositions; they are people. They are incarnate humans who love well, and pursue the ministry of reconciling the creation to the creator. They come in all colors, shapes and sizes. What they hold in common is a belief in the inherent goodness of man, and the important work of bringing about the kingdom of God here on earth. Some are even Christian.

I find great hope in these people who love well and never give up hope. They bring me through my dark days and hold space for my pain. They bring joy, often in the form of a shared tear or a reassuring hug. They love well.

This is an uncertain and capricious world, but there is hope. It is not in the idea of an inerrant book.  It is in the truth that God is busy reconciling all things to herself, and doing it through those who are created in God’s own image – fallible, flawed, marvelous and miraculous human beings.

And so it goes.

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#ChurchToo

#ChurchToo

The church has never dealt well with sexuality, and it has dealt particularly poorly with male sexuality. From Roman Catholicism to evangelicalism, we are now reaping the rewards of that failure.  #MeToo is a game changer.  Now, #ChurchToo is popping up across the Internet.

Recent events in Alabama form the awful backdrop of this narrative.  Nine women came forward to say Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore used his positional power to assault females.  Yet an article in the November 19  Washington Post noted that of the large Alabama evangelical churches it followed after the allegations against Moore, almost none of the pastors have mentioned Moore or sexual abuse in their sermons.  I am not surprised.  The evangelical church has been silent about sexual abuse for centuries.

Last year Sojourners magazine published a study entitled, “I Believe You:  Sexual Violence and the Church.”  The study found that 65 percent of pastors have spoken one or fewer times about sexual and domestic violence.  They just don’t see it as a problem worth addressing.  When was the last time you heard a sermon against sexual abuse?  Ask any therapist.  Sexual assault is rampant within the evangelical community, but churches want to keep their heads in the sand.

Dr. Benjamin Kees, with Regent University’s Center for Trauma Studies, said Christian marriages have a much greater frequency of domestic assault that what is seen in non-Christian homes.  He believes much of this is because of the traditional teaching that the man is the “head” of the household, a theological position that enables sexual abusers.

The problem of sexual abuse is not just within the church; it is also rampant in the halls of some of the most conservative Christian universities, including Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, Pensacola Christian College and Cedarville University.  All have been guilty of allowing sexual assault on campus.  In many cases the victim was blamed.

When I was a student, I was sexually assaulted by a Christian college professor.  It was a decade before I discovered I was not alone.  Many others had been assaulted by the same professor.  My abuser eventually lost his job.  But  because the school did not share their knowledge with others, he was able to get a teaching position at another Christian college.

Since I transitioned I have had former classmates tell me about other professors who assaulted them at the same institution.  I have no reason to question the accuracy of their stories.

That people question the credible stories of the nine women in Alabama tells you just how resistant the evangelical world is to the cancer in its midst.  These women are courageous and credible voices.  Yet for their honesty and integrity they have been mercilessly attacked by Alabama evangelicals.  Furthermore, just yesterday the Republican National Committee restored its support for Moore, and the president endorsed him.  This, from the party so warmly embraced by evangelicals.

No wonder victims are still reluctant to come forward when they live within the evangelical subculture.  They know there is a likelihood they will be blamed.  For them, the Roy Moore story remains a cautionary tale.  But the tide will turn, just as it did for the sexual abusers whose crimes have been brought to life since the Harvey Weinstein story broke.

The #MeToo phenomenon is acknowledging deep wounds in the soul of our nation.  In the same way, #ChurchToo will bring to light a dark chapter in the history of the evangelical church.  It is not coming a moment too soon.

And so it goes.

A Transgender Woman Looks at Male Sexuality

A Transgender Woman Looks at Male Sexuality

With lightning speed the #MeToo phenomenon has become a cultural turning point. Like all major tipping points, this change has been bubbling beneath the surface a long time. What makes #MeToo so unique is that sexual misconduct knows no racial or socioeconomic boundaries. It is a problem for rich and poor, black and white, liberal and conservative. The only common thread is gender. Sexual abuse is a male problem.

That males struggle with sexuality is not a new revelation. It wasn’t the quiet, holistic, heartfelt sexuality of Oedipus that caused him to murder his father and marry his mother.

When Jocasta, the mother of Oedipus, discovered what had happened, she hanged herself. When Oedipus realized what he had done, he took two pins from his mother’s dress and blinded himself. This is the complicated and difficult reality of male sexuality. There’s a reason we’re still talking about Oedipus millennia after the story was first told. As the myth of Oedipus shows, whether then or now, it is women who are destroyed.

A U.S. Department of Justice study showed 99 percent of sexual abusers are male and 91 percent of victims are female.  Male libido is a problem.  It has always been a problem and it will always be a problem.

When I lecture about my transition from male to female, there are more questions about the differences in how I experience my sexuality than any other topic. I am not surprised. It is not difficult answering the questions.  Of all the changes I have experienced, by far the most powerful have been the differences in sexual drive and desire.

As a male, from the time I was 15 my sexuality was all consuming. All day, every day, it demanded my attention. I never had an inappropriate relationship. I never touched a woman in a sexual way or made a crude remark. But that does not mean I did not struggle.

Male anatomy is all about thrusting and power. Males are constructed to function that way all day every day. Counselors know that many thoughtful males come to therapy concerned they might be sexually addicted. Most are not. But you don’t have to be sexually addicted to spend an inordinate amount of time focused on your sexual impulses. You just have to be male.

In my relationships with women I always had to work not to sexualize the relationship. My male libido was difficult to manage. It takes great internal energy and external consequences for a man to stay out of trouble.

Everything changed when l became Paula. Testosterone is a powerful substance. So is estrogen. To lose one and gain the other is no small matter. One of the main reasons transgender men (those born female) enter psychotherapy is because they are struggling with the effects of testosterone on their libido. Conversely, transgender women (those born male) are relieved beyond measure when testosterone departs and estrogen arrives.

I have a number of female relationships that would have been problematic when I was a male. I would have enjoyed the friendships, but I would have been working to keep male sexual power dynamics out of the relationship. As a female, that is far less of a struggle. My sexuality is more balanced.

As I said in my TEDxMileHigh talk, I now experience my sexuality as more holistic.  It is less of a body experience and more of a being experience. That is not to say my female sexuality is not powerful, because it is. Humans are sexual creatures, and desire is one of the great pleasures of our human experience. But my sexuality is not nearly as overpowering as it once was. It does not have dark undertones that demand external controls. It does not occupy my every waking moment. It is integrated into my being.

Of course, I am but one transgender person, with one unique perspective. Maybe others feel differently. I only know what I know.

What does all of this mean? It means the line between desire and action is a line that men struggle not to cross. It is a problem faced by all males, crossing educational, geographical, ethnic, racial and socioeconomic lines. To be certain, taking away testosterone and replacing it with estrogen would solve the problem , but I have a feeling the vast majority of men would not be crazy about that idea. 😉

So what must happen? Men must recognize male sexuality is all about power and pleasure, and cannot be trusted. Feeling shame about having crossed a line and apologizing for it is not a solution. Not crossing the line in the first place is the solution. And that will not happen until two things take place.

First, men must realize healthy sexuality will never occur in conditions in which men and women do not have equality and equity. Without a level playing field, nothing will change.

Second, men are going to have to admit they have a problem and do what they have never done before, talk with other men about it. When I was a male, knowing I would lose my job for straying, and having other well-known pastors as accountability partners, made life easier. Though we didn’t talk in any depth about the difficult nature of our sexual desires, our conversations provided more help than most men receive.

Unfortunately, I do not see any sign that either one of these solutions is imminent.  But at least a problem is being confronted and a conversation has begun.  For that, I am grateful.

And so it goes.

 

Another Story for the TEDxMileHigh File

Another Story for the TEDxMileHigh File

In my TEDXMileHigh talk I told two stories about men behaving badly. Since that time the number of women who have shared their own stories verifies what I now know well. A lot of men are misogynistic.

For my talk I had to choose two stories from among many I have experienced since transitioning. Each story I did not tell is as compelling as the two I told. Since I travel so often, many of the stories involve airlines and hotels. Last Saturday I added another story to the file.

You may or may not realize this, but many hotels do not really allow you to control the temperature in your room. There is a thermostat on the wall, and you can put it on a specific number, but unlike the thermostat at your house, that number does not mean much. The hotel thermostat is programmed to allow it to go a good bit higher and lower than set. Many hotels have a system that we frequent travelers have figured out how to override. It is the one pictured at the bottom of this post. After you have overridden the program, the screen reads VIP. Which means Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift, should they stay at your hotel, would not have the same experience you have.

Saturday night I was in a hotel near Denver that had a temperature control mechanism I have come to dread. I set the temperature to 70, but the heater did not kick off until 74. That much of a variation is rare, so I thought it might be a malfunctioning unit and I changed rooms. Nope. The same problem existed in the new room. I am not aware of an override for this type of system, so I called engineering and prepared myself for the misogyny I knew was likely to arrive.

A young man of about 25 knocked on the door.  I answered and said, “There is a problem with the heating unit and I would like for you to listen to me until I have explained the problem to you.”

The engineer did not listen.  He kept repeatedly interrupting until I said firmly, “Please stop talking and listen to me! I know what I am talking about! I am a Lifetime Platinum member and I have been staying in Marriott properties since before you were born!”

The engineer continued to mansplain until in exasperation I said, “Okay, let’s assume what you are telling me is true. Why don’t you come back in 30 minutes with your temperature gun and we’ll see what the temperature is.” He rolled his eyes and left.

Thirty minutes later Mr. Engineer returned with said temperature gun and aimed it at various points on the wall. He did not want to show me the reading, but finally admitted the temperature was four degrees higher than he had told me it would be. Of course, the temperature was exactly what I had told him it would be, 74 degrees!

Here is where the story varies from any past experience.  And I must admit, it was incredibly satisfying!  I opened up my computer and pulled up this picture from my TEDxMileHigh talk:

.

I asked, “Do you know what this is?” He said, “No.” I said, “This is a picture of me speaking to 5,000 people at Bellco Theater a week ago today about how women are not treated with respect in this culture. And yes, as you can see, I got a standing ovation. Do you know why I got a standing ovation? Because women are sick and tired of being treated as if we don’t know what we are talking about.”

I continued my lecture, “Now, here is what is going to happen. The next time I am speaking to 5,000 people I am going to tell them about you, and your hotel, which I will call by name. And I have a feeling your general manager is not going to be very happy about that!” It is also possible that somewhere during my little lecture I might have cursed a little.  Just sayin’.

Much to my surprise, the young engineer returned about a half hour later and sincerely apologized. I told him I respected the courage and character it took to admit his mistake. Truth be told, I felt kinda tender toward the guy. I had been pretty tough on him.

Being ignored and questioned is one of the most maddening aspects of being a female. The misogyny is routine and exasperating. I have stayed in Marriott hotels for four decades. I know what I know, dammit! Listen to me!

In his apology the young man said he had been raised by a single mom who taught him to treat women with respect. He acknowledged he had not treated me with respect. I told him he should listen to his mother.

The next afternoon I was reflecting on the experience. I would love it if I could say that in all the years I was a male, I was never guilty of mansplaining. Yep, I would love it if I could say that, but the truth is I cannot. So maybe some of these experiences are just the old adage coming true, “What goes around comes around.”

And so it goes.

 

Insight at the TEDxMileHigh After-Party

Insight at the TEDxMileHigh  After-Party

Speaking last Saturday at the TEDxMileHigh Wonder event was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I was overwhelmed by the response I received from the wonderfully warm and supportive audience.  I want to thank Jeremy, Helena, Nicole, Briar and all of the TEDxMileHigh staff for giving me such an amazing opportunity.

I spoke about the unique experience of having lived in both genders, and about the privilege I had, but did not fully appreciate, as a male. While the event was live streamed, the video will not be available for another month or so. I will let you know when it comes out.

On Saturday evening I attended the after-party and had the privilege of talking with a couple hundred people who heard my speech. I cannot count the number of women who came to me and said, “Thank you for validating my experience.” Many had tears in their eyes.  I felt such gratitude.

I spoke with mechanical engineers, educators, psychotherapists and software architects. I talked with full-time homemakers, mothers with young children, and retirees. I conversed with African-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and Whites. Whenever I had the chance, I asked the women to talk about their own experiences. While some shared lighthearted experiences that reflected the early part of my talk, the majority shared stories of a lifetime of treatment as second-class citizens.  Some told stories of abuse. Over a score talked of growing up in fundamentalist homes. The connection between religion, misogyny and abuse is clear, and appalling.

When I left the after-party I was overcome with emotion. Thankfully, my Lyft driver was silent as I cried on the ride back to my hotel. Women know too much pain, and have known too much pain since the dawn of time.

After several years as a female, I thought I was beginning to grasp the breadth and depth of the problem.  As I listened to these women, I realized how much I still have to learn.  I had too many years as a privileged alpha male to be able to fully understand what these women have been through.  It is humbling.

The last few weeks have been difficult, as I have watched most of the women I know share some kind of “Me Too” experience. I am most haunted by my friends who cannot bring themselves to speak or write the words, “Me Too,” because their wounds are still open. For some, these wounds have been open for decades.

I retired to my hotel room and thought about all of my years in the patriarchal world of the church.  By trying to bring about change from the inside, I thought I was doing my part.  It was not enough.  The abuse, misogyny and lack of equity demanded a much stronger response than what I offered.  I could have done more.

Five thousand people came to their feet on Saturday to show gratitude for my talk.   I am grateful I had a chance to shine a little bit of light on a very real problem, but the ones who deserve the ovation are the women who have endured a lifetime of mistreatment and are now rising up and powerfully crying out, “No more!” I was inspired by these women and the stories they told.  I will continue to do whatever is in my power to bring about change.

As a male, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I know now, more than ever, just how unjustly this world treats women, and I will not be silent!

 

Long Showers and the Like

Long Showers and the Like

When you transition from one gender to another, your entire life is turned upside down. Initially you are just trying to survive. A little later comes the post-traumatic stress. I barely remember the six months after I was let go by the various ministries I served. It was a good two years before I became confident about my ability to survive.

For all of those reasons, it’s only been recently that I have begun to reflect on the more subtle aspects of transitioning. I started making a list. I am not suggesting all of these shifts are directly related to transitioning, but I suspect most are. In no particular order, here are a few of my observations.

First, let’s talk about the temperature in the office building – any office building. I don’t remember offices being cold, but now I would never go to the office without a sweater. Why? Because it’s 58 degrees in there! You can tell who controls the thermostat – the guys with their jackets off and shirtsleeves rolled up.  Who put them in charge?

This is also true of the front of an airplane. (I did not lose my free upgrades and the accompanying perks. Thank God, the airline industry does not care if you are transgender.) There are blankets in every first class seat, and the women always have them draped over their bodies. The men never open theirs. The people in the cockpit control the cabin temperature. Yep, most are men.

When I was in college, my dorm had the world’s smallest hot water tank, but it didn’t matter because fast showers were the order of the day.  All I had to do was lather up, rinse off, and I was done. Now, I can stay in the shower for days. After mountain biking this afternoon I took a 35-minute shower. It’s a good thing we have two giant hot water tanks. My body wants the feel of all those droplets.

Since I have extremely curly hair, the amount of time devoted to my hair has grown exponentially. It is the main reason I kept it short through most of my adult life. Until I found the book, The Curly Girl, I went back and forth between frizzy and frighteningly frizzy. I am finally making peace with my hair, but I am still concerned about its borderline tendencies. It turns from friend to enemy on a dime.

Women do need a lot more clothes than men – a lot more. Which is frustrating because clothes are more expensive and of lesser quality. Men’s shirts are made of cotton that could be used to make mainsails. They are sturdy. Women’s cotton shirts are about as thick as two-ply toilet paper. And don’t dare take them to the dry cleaner, because you’ll pay twice as much to have them laundered.

I wonder, who was the first dry cleaner to figure out you could fleece women with impunity? He probably thought, “Hey, we can pay them less but charge them more. How cool is that!” There’ll be a special place in purgatory for that guy. He’ll have to spend millennia ironing linen pants.

My skin is thinner now, which is probably why I’m always cold. It’s also why I bruise twice as much as I used to. And of course that is obvious to everyone, because women’s clothes show a lot more skin than men’s clothes. Thinner skin is also why women get cellulite while men don’t. I also find it ironic that while women have thinner skin, in my experience men are more thin-skinned. You know what I mean.

The biggest differences come from the loss of testosterone and the arrival of estrogen. Testosterone is a powerful drug. The number one reason transgender men are in psychotherapy is because they are struggling to deal with the arrival of testosterone. Aggression is one result. (When was the last time you saw a woman starting a brawl at a football game?) And of course, the biggest impact of testosterone is how one experiences sexuality.

As a male, sex was a problem. I never crossed a line of any kind, but I’m telling you, it wasn’t easy. You constantly had to be on guard. I mean, think about it. There are no brothels for women, and according to a Pew Research study, 80 percent of people watching porn are male. Male sexuality is about perpetuating the species, so the male is pretty much always thinking, “I’ll have that, and that, and that.” Have you ever watched bull elk during the mating season? Yeah.

I now experience sexuality far more holistically. I’m not even sure what I mean when I say that, but I know it to be true. It’s more of a being experience and less of a body experience.

I could go on. In fact, it seems I always need more words to express what I’m thinking and feeling nowadays, but I’ll have to save that observation for another day.

And so it goes.

Reconciled to My Heritage

Reconciled to My Heritage

One of the most painful realities of my transition has been the loss of my tribe. I was always proud of the Restoration Movement, and particularly its structure, a collection of independent churches working together for a common cause. Unfortunately, at this point in my life I would not be welcome in almost any Christian Church/Church of Christ, and I definitely would not be allowed to preach. Which is why Sunday, October 22 was so special.

In 1879, First Christian Church of Portland came into being. In 1922 they finished a beautiful building in downtown Portland, Oregon. The building is now surrounded by apartment buildings and parking garages – literally. There is a large parking garage beneath the building and a luxury apartment building rises above it. The beautiful sanctuary and courtyard remain as they were decades ago.

High on the sanctuary walls are stained glass windows reflecting the work of pioneers of the Restoration Movement. There are windows devoted to Thomas and Alexander Campbell, J.W. McGarvey, Isaac Errett, Barton W. Stone and others. All are beautiful in their intricacy.

On Sunday morning, October 22, I preached at Christ’s Church Portland, a church affiliated with the Disciples of Christ sharing the building with First Christian. I stood in the sanctuary and preached the Gospel, bathed in light passing through those stained glass windows. I was overcome with emotion.

Beneath the window commemorating Isaac Errett, I preached from the Book of Acts. In 1866, Isaac Errett founded Christian Standard magazine. From 2003 to 2013, I was a weekly columnist and editor-at-large at CS. And there I was, Paula, boldly preaching the Gospel.

We have no idea with whom the early leaders of the Restoration Movement would align themselves if they were alive today. Maybe they would be partial to the Churches of Christ, the most conservative branch of the movement. Possibly they would find a home in my former branch, the independent Christian churches. Or they might be most comfortable in the Disciples of Christ, the current affiliation of First Christian Church and Christ’s Church Portland.

We have so much more knowledge than was known in the early 1800s. We can only guess how that accumulation of knowledge would have affected the theology of those early leaders. I know how much my increase in knowledge has changed my theology over the past 40 years.

I do know how it felt when, during my sermon, I pointed to Isaac Errett’s name and referred to my work with Christian Standard, and pointed to Barton W. Stone’s name, and noted my middle name, Stone, and my affiliation with the movement he started. It was grounding.  There is an entire branch of the Restoration Movement, made up of hundreds of thousands of members, that welcomes me with open arms.

Sunday, October 22 brought redemption. I am not an orphan. I do have a heritage, and I have been firmly embraced by people who look fondly on the names I have known since childhood.

What goes around, comes around, with reconciliation in its arms.

And so it goes.