They Took a Stand

They Took a Stand

Their choice made all the difference.  They did not have to take a stand that would prove unpopular in the world they inhabited, but they did.  They did not have to make a decision that would cause their churches to lose money and people, but they did.  They chose to boldly follow their hearts and minds, even if it affected their wallets.  To whom am I referring?  I’m talking about Christian leaders from the evangelical world who chose to become LGBTQ affirming.  They chose to do the right thing because they had become convinced it was the right thing.  There is a word for that – character.

I am talking about friends in the Open Network, like Mark Tidd, Rachael McClair, Ryan Gear, Doug Pagitt, Brian McLaren, Jen Fisher, Ben Grace, Travis Eades, Jonathan Williams, Ryan Phipps, Stan Mitchell, Colby Martin, Josh Scott, Fred Harrell, Charlie Dean, Laura Truax and many more who took the first stand, the one with all of the consequences, the stand that initiated a movement.

There are a lot of us who serve alongside those named above, but we didn’t really have a choice when we took our stand. Traditional evangelical churches rejected us just for being who we are.  If we wanted to serve in God’s Kingdom, we had to find churches willing to take us in.  Those named above, and a whole cloud of others, invited us into their churches, where we found acceptance, love and hope.

As you might sadly expect, I have been the recipient of a new wave of vitriol unleashed by those empowered by the candidacy and election of Donald Trump.  I can weather the attacks, though to be honest, I am appropriately frightened.  I knew I had detractors.  I did not know how many.  Now, more than ever, I am indebted to these courageous pioneers who come from a long line of those who followed Jesus and protected the oppressed, even if it meant following Jesus to the cross.

Of course, evangelicals opposed to LGBTQ rights also believe they are following Jesus to the cross.  I understand they have their theological convictions, but I might ask, “Who are the oppressed for whom you stand?”  Some would say they are the oppressed, the ones whose worldview has been challenged.  I don’t see how you can claim to be the oppressed when you hold the power.  Maybe they mistake being uncomfortable with being oppressed, I don’t know.  Again, I don’t begrudge them their convictions, just their claim to be standing up for the oppressed.

I do know my LGBTQ friends make evangelicals uncomfortable.  They do it through the integrity of their lives and the fruit they produce.  It is not supposed to be like that.  We are supposed to be devoid of character and lost in debased behavior.  But we are not.  Evangelicals opposed to the LGBTQ community (which by the way, does not include 51 percent of Millennial evangelicals) have a choice.  They can change their minds or they can dig in their heels.  As recent events illustrate, doubling down is what they will do.  They would rather die than change.  That is not following Jesus to the cross.

I stand in awe of those who have come alongside me in these times of trial.  I am humbled by their support and moved by their love.  Their love is not idle words.  It has arms that hold me, feet that walk with me, eyes that cry with me, and hearts that are unyielding.

Shortly after the election, two of my dear friends were greeted by a homophobic slur as they shopped at a Denver store.  Though they had experienced such treatment when they lived in the south, this was the first time it had happened in Colorado.  Upon hearing of their frightening experience, one of our friends, Eric Jepsen, took flowers to their home and penned a note of support.  His note even used a hidden acrostic to redeem the slur hurled at them.  Eric’s wife, Jen, has been one of my fiercest protectors.  She knew Paul, but she moved through her discomfort to embrace Paula, and I don’t know what I’d do without her.

Eric and Jen and that cloud of witnesses named above, these are the people who stand firm against the evangelical white tide of prejudice.  They just stand there and stand, defiant and strong.  And that, my friends, is what Jesus looks like.

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Gender Confusion – Give Me a Break!

Gender Confusion – Give Me a Break!

Gabe Lyons is the director of the Q conference, an evangelical gathering. Recently Lyons wrote this Tweet: “Christian leaders” who celebrate same-sex relationships and gender confusion aren’t leading the church. They’re following the culture.

I have been aware of Lyons increasingly inflammatory rhetoric about the LGBTQ community. To say I am disappointed is quite the understatement. I am appalled that someone seen as forward-thinking could be so horribly misinformed. I will confine my response to the transgender reference in his Tweet.

Lyons suggests transgender individuals have gender confusion. Over the last few months I have noticed this is the new language used by evangelicals who would prefer I not exist. The language is condescending, arrogant and dangerously misinformed. I do not have gender confusion. I am transgender.

I spent over twenty years with a therapist who initially believed it might be possible for someone to overcome gender dysphoria, the DSM V designation for being transgender. Over the decades we both came to understand this is not an issue of confusion, upbringing, the Oedipal complex, or any other psychological phenomena. It is an issue of biology. That has been confirmed by a plethora of peer-reviewed studies. It is also the conclusion of every major psychological and psychiatric body in the developed world.

Gender confusion is not the condition of an individual who is transgender. Gender Confusion is the condition of the person who uses the term!

Their confusion stems from not being willing to take the time to truly study the issue. As a Christian, who do you want to believe, a person of faith who has grappled with this issue since childhood and read every relevant piece of information that has ever been published on the subject, a psychiatric or psychological professional who has submitted his or her research for peer review, or an evangelical leader who is really uncomfortable with the topic and has therefore spent a few hours or even days studying it? You decide.  As for me, I’m listening to the first two.  They are the ones who do not begin with a conclusion already in mind.

As evidenced by this most recent presidential election, people believe what they want to believe. They will name their own “experts” and only read information that confirms the view they already hold. Too often their regard for the truth does not include intellectual rigor. It is based on maintaining the status quo.

I have never been afraid of the truth. I have always believed and will always believe the truth sets us free. It seems someone I hold in high regard said that a couple of millennia ago. And while I believe there is no such thing as objective truth, I do believe rigorous inter-subjective truth can lead us forward, whatever the discipline.  I find it ironic that those who say they believe in objective truth, and site the Bible as their example, are those who embrace such sloppy research.

So Gabe Lyons, and other evangelicals, I implore you, stop using the term gender confusion. The damage you will do to a vulnerable transgender child may bring about the end of his or her life, a tragedy for which you must accept responsibility. Reparative therapy for transgender children does not work, period. Show me one single peer-reviewed study that indicates any kind of desirable result from treating gender dysphoria as gender confusion. I’m sure you can find someone who will tell you such a study exists, and maybe even mention it on an alternative news site. But that does not make it so.  (Why do I feel more and more like I am in the middle of a Lewis Carroll book?)

This is a time for thanksgiving.  Be thankful God made us with the capacity to love first and judge later.  Be thankful the Lord of the Universe chose to make room for people who live on the fringes.  Be thankful Jesus came to love the discarded, disenchanted and marginalized.  Be thankful the Holy Spirit brightens our eyes to see a human where others see a diagnosis.  And Gabe, be thankful you are not transgender, because I can tell you with great certainty that the uninformed judgment, the blatant scapegoating, and the utter dismissal evidenced in a pejorative phrase like “gender confusion” are pretty tough to endure.

And so it goes.

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Moving On

Moving On

I have written so many posts this week. Parts of each might eventually find their way onto my blog, but none in its entirety. This is what remains.  It has not come easily. I had a dream the night before I first began therapy many years ago. I dreamed I was in a hospital bed, giving birth. There were a few faceless people around, but mostly I was alone. The pain was great. The dream has stayed with me for 30 years, more like a memory than a dream, really. Writing this post has felt like that dream.

Last week, after the election, I traveled to Newark to speak to the Gender East Conference, a gathering of transgender children, their families and caregivers. I spoke on Friday to physicians, therapists and clergy.  Saturday was for families.  On the way to my Saturday morning workshop I peeked through an open door into a large room of hundreds of children, playing with abandon. These were normal boys and girls who just happen to be transgender.

I entered the venue for my workshop and was greeted by the anxious parents of those love-drenched children. Their eyes were brimming with tears. Anxiety was etched on their White, African-American and Asian faces. I was in tears before I began. These caring parents had been blindsided by the gender identity of their children. Four days earlier they had been blindsided again by an electoral majority that made a decision that puts the lives of those same children at risk. The images of both rooms will be etched on my mind for the remainder of my days.

From Tuesday evening through Friday morning I was frightened for my own life. The rejection and prejudice I have experienced all came back to me.  But Saturday morning I got out of my box of self-pity and entered the world of the truly wounded, people without the resources available to me. Since then I cannot focus on any bigger picture. All I can see are those frightened parents and their precious children.  Of course, they are the bigger picture.

I am frightened for our nation. I do not understand the decision of the 81 percent of Evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump so they could protect the lives of unborn children, while ignoring the dreadfully real needs of children who have already been born.

How could this have happened? Was it the right-wing social media and its conspiracy theories? Was it the refusal of the left to see those rural White Americans who have been left behind? Was it the millions who didn’t care enough to vote? Was it the lack of charisma of a qualified candidate? I am sure all those were factors. The historians will some day sort it out, maybe as they write the epitaph for what was once a great nation. I hope that is not the case, but I am no longer confident about America’s future.

For me, the needs are more urgent. I am part of a vibrant congregation, Highlands Church, http://highlandschurchdenver.org and a dynamic network of churches http://theopennetworkus.org that are angry and potent. Today I cast the full force of my being behind those churches and the changes they will bring. I leave behind my evangelical life, because I cannot bear the weight of the irrational fears, hateful rhetoric and lack of compassion exhibited by many within the tribe.

I know many of you, my dear evangelical readers, have kept the door cracked open as you try to understand my transition. I am grateful for your efforts. But there is too much healing to be brought to the broken-hearted for me to stick around on the fringes of a world that, as time goes on, feels more and more foreign to me. There is too much love that needs to be spread over the lost and rejected, too much anger that must be channeled into the kind of change that will bring hope to the precious souls I met in New Jersey.

I wanted to stand in the gap between evangelicals and progressive evangelicals. I realize now that gap is too wide for even my long legs. I’ve tried, but I believe it is time to focus my energy elsewhere. There is work to be done. The coming night will be long, cold and dark. But I am confident we can move all the way through to dawn if we will trust love, pursue justice, act with mercy and walk humbly with God.

And so it goes.

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Shadows Remain

Shadows Remain

Over the last few weeks I have written with joy about my life. But it feels like time to speak about what lies in the shadows. An increasing number of my readers are transgender individuals who have not transitioned, and I want to be transparent about the ongoing difficulties of this transgender life.

As pleased as I am with the new opportunities in my church life, existential pain remains. Occasionally I can still be upended by stories about the denomination of which I was a part. A few dozen people have reached out to me in a positive way, and about 20 have actually met with me. But when I hear about the denomination, it can still trigger thoughts about the thousands of people who have remained silent. To those Evangelicals who are considering transitioning and afraid of losing almost all of your Christian friends, your fears are well founded.

I lost very few non-Evangelical friends. Their love and support has been unwavering. In countless ways these people who claim no special purchase with an evangelical God have been like Jesus to me. I have no explanation other than to know the Spirit dispenses her grace and kindness as she wills.

There has not been one single day in which I have regretted being Paula. It feels natural all day, every day, without exception. But for me, and I can only speak from my own experience, another shadow is that I exist and have my being somewhere in the liminal space between female and male.

Last month a University of Colorado student asked, “Do you feel 100 percent female?” I replied, “I feel 100 percent transgender female.” A few years ago a study was completed with transgender individuals who had not yet received hormone therapy. While processing various sensory stimuli, their brains were monitored by an MRI. The brains were found to function about halfway between those of the control population of cisgender males and females. That sounded about right to me. It seems I do function somewhere between male and female.  There is a loneliness in that liminal space.

All other shadows pale, however, in comparison to the impact of transitioning on my family. I’ve thought long and hard about this subject, and I can sum it up in one single paragraph:

It is devastating to finally be the person you truly are and to have the capacity to love your family in the way you always wanted, only to realize it is not this new person they need that kind of love from – it was their dad and husband they needed it from.  They accept and treasure the love from this new person, but to them it is, in fact, a new person.

No matter how loving and accepting your family might be, transitioning brings about a fundamental change in family dynamics that is permanent. What do you do with the memories you had with your husband or father? In what part of your heart do you store those memories?

I was called to be Paula. My life was at stake. All my friends and family will testify that I am happier, healthier, and more balanced. But I have paid a price, and my longsuffering family has paid a greater price. That is why I hope that one day researchers will find the cause of gender dysphoria and reverse the condition before it begins.

This is a broken world and through great joy and great sorrow we redeem it as best we can. Love makes the world go round, and that love keeps me on this journey, grateful for the family and friends who have dared to travel with me through the joy and the pain.

And this morning (Wednesday) I feel the need to speak about other shadows, the shadows of a nation divided.  I am as stunned by the election results as you, my readers.  And to be honest, I am frightened.  But I do believe the only ultimate reality is relationships, and the most powerful relationship is love.  Love makes the world go round, and we must have hope.

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Open at OPEN

Open at OPEN

Shortly after I came out as transgender, when I was hearing from a lot of angry people, I received a letter from a friend whose book group I had been a part of for 25 years. His letter arrived in a plain manila envelope and included a picture of a Hindu god with both male and female features.  My friend had seen the statue shortly after hearing about my transition.  He acknowledged that he understood little about gender dysphoria, but that nothing would stop him from supporting me. I cried the cleansing tears that come from knowing we are never alone in our suffering.

I recognized that embedded in my identity were responsibilities. I could not go quietly into my new life. I had to transition in a public way, offering insight to those with eyes to see, while providing an easy target for those who needed one.  I had no idea transgender issues would become the next cultural battleground, and I would spend a good bit of the next few years with a bullseye on my back.  I just knew I could not remain silent.

I found the courage to write and speak, target or no, because people found the courage to love me. They were willing to be uncomfortable enough for long enough to get through their discomfort and sow in me the strength that comes from knowing you are not alone.  These people included my family, my Deepen Group, the people at Highlands Church, old friends who stayed by my side, and new friends who rallied around me.

I am able to write and speak because of the love of these friends.  They are my heroes. Their lives were not made easier when they chose to reach out to me.  Their lives were not made easier because they chose to publicly support me. They chose to love me because their hearts told them it was the right thing to do.

These are people who are not strangers to suffering, often at the hands of the church. They have no interest in religious dogma that makes no sense in real life.   They know, along with the quantum physicists, that the only ultimate reality is relationships.  In the final analysis, it is love that makes the world go round, and they chose to love me.  It is no exaggeration to say I live because of their love.

Last month at the OPEN Conference in Indianapolis, my son and I spoke about the affect of my transition on our family.  A lot of people have watched the video on Facebook.  (http://facebook.com/theopennetworkus – click on “videos” on the left side of the page.)  The workshop is raw, open and honest.  But what the video does not show is how many people rallied around Jonathan and me when the workshop was over. Those in the room were not about to stand idly by.  These wounded healers quickly surrounded us, because they have known suffering.  They knew it was not easy for us to bare our souls.  One of my dearest friends sat with me as I cried, once again reminded of the pain my family faces every single day.

America’s “rugged individualism” is a tragic myth. Humans are made for communion. We experience the divine in the thin places that connect us, in the spaces between words, in the life sung between notes, in the sentiments that rest inside manila envelopes, and in two heads that touch when a friend holds another close as she drenches the ground with her tears.

A lot of people have been thanking me for my courage, saying, “You speak the words I would speak if I could find them.”  Those words, that courage – they are born out of the love that has been shown to me – it’s overwhelming really.  It is a love that bubbles up through the dark places and shouts from the mountaintops, “This, friends, is  the Kingdom of God!”

I have been greatly loved, and I will never be the same.

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