Flesh Touching Flesh

Flesh Touching Flesh

When the New York Times writes about you, there will be angry responses. Mine started arriving last Tuesday in the form of a phone call from someone in California at 3:45 AM. Emails and comments on this blog came the next day. I traced the source of most of them to a Christian Internet news site that had run a supportive article. About a dozen conservative Christian sites picked up the story and turned it to their purposes. Those articles became the source of much of the unwanted correspondence.

The people who wrote do not know me. We have had no personal encounters. Yet they fear me. They are frightened of being forced into close proximity with me. Of course, what they do not realize is that they are already in close proximity to transgender people. Since the article appeared, scores of closeted transgender fundamentalists have contacted me. Their stories leave me in tears. Several are pastors.

When humans organize in tribes, we behave in ways in which we would never behave as individuals. We can be goaded into seeing an entire people group as a threat.  It takes a tribe to create a cosmic malevolent force sufficient to deny the humanity of a fellow human.

Tribal behavior is maintained when left or right wing media keep their audiences isolated. The isolation is essential to their agenda. There were scores of comments on these right-wing sites, all of like mind, condemning the New York Times and condemning me.  There were no voices of dissension.  The arrival of the Internet has made the world smaller, but ironically, it has also made us more isolated from one another. When our only interaction is electronic, and limited to those we believe are like us, our humanity is diminished.

Prejudice dissipates when knowledge is disseminated, stories are told, and flesh touches flesh. That is the ministry of reconciliation to which we have been called. That is the responsibility we have as followers of Christ. The evangelical church has become a choir without a melody, repeating one single note – to save people from hell.

The hell people need saving from is not on the other side of death. It is here on earth, where tribes create enemies that do not exist and scapegoats whose only crime is to be different from those in power.

The ministry of reconciliation is about reconciling humans here and now. It is about putting people together, two at a time, who have no agenda other than to get to know one another. It is about laying aside our smartphones and eating a meal together. It is venturing beyond the boundaries of our own tribe to find the individual precious humans around us.

To all those who have written to express their anger that I exist, come and sit down with me. Do not bring your agenda and I will not bring mine. Maybe we can talk about our favorite teacher in elementary school. And maybe we will come to know the healing power of our mutual humanity.

And so it goes.

Surrendering a Secret

Surrendering a Secret

Our marriage therapist, Mike Solomon, had great wisdom. On his final day before retiring, we were Mike’s last clients. I think we might have contributed to his decision to retire.

In an earlier session, Cathy and I had talkedabout the decision to withhold information from our children about my gender dysphoria. When I was convinced I could get through my life without transitioning, it seemed the best course of action. Once I knew that was not possible, it felt like a foolish decision. It takes a very long time to prepare your children for the news their father is transgender – a lifetime maybe, or even longer.

Mike talked about the difference between a secret and what is private. Most people with good boundaries know the details of their sex lives are private. It is no one’s business what turns you on. What surgeries people have had is also private, which makes it fascinating that no one seems to have any difficulty asking me what gender confirmation surgeries I have had. (If it’s a male asking the question, I often ask if he has prostate trouble. If it is a female, I ask if she has her period. They usually get the point.)

Mike suggested what is private is just private. A secret, on the other hand, is information that if it becomes known, is likely to alter the course of one’s life. Some secrets hold moral implications; others hold societal implications. All are kept under wraps for a reason beyond mere privacy.

Jennifer Boylan, the author of She’s Not There, said the biggest change in the life of a transgender person is not their change of gender, but the surrender of their secret.

I thought of her words Sunday when the article about Jonathan (and by extension, me) was trending in the New York Times as the second most emailed article of the day. Both Jonathan and I have heard from people we hadn’t heard from in years. As the day came to a close, I thought, “Well, if there was anybody left who didn’t know about my transition, they surely know now.”

The surrender of a secret can be dangerous, even life threatening. It calls forth judgment and invites condemnation. Tribes have never tolerated members who speak unpleasant truths. They are commonly scapegoated and sometimes killed.

But a secret gnaws at your soul, even when you know there are no moral prohibitions against it. My secret was neither right nor wrong, but it was a great burden. I knew the friends who would depart if my secret became public. I was correct in my knowing. The rejection by the church was swift and almost universal.

I chose the terms of my surrender. I never placed myself in danger. Three people on earth knew of my dilemma. Two were therapists. The third was my spouse. I knew how to be self-protective. But holding the secret was on its way to killing me. It is not all right to deny who you are. I wrote a lot of poetry during that time.  Most of it will never see the light of day, but a few lines from one of the poems is illustrative of how I was feeling:

So what about this calling

When it seems anymore

That no road leads home and

Every path’s become a thicket


The soul with its voice barely heard

The heart whispering for its time

Soft and quiet yet strong to bear

Scant hope of ways unseen

Secrets obscure the path forward. Shedding a secret lifts the fog and throws some light. Is it worth it? Most days, yes. Some days, I’m not so sure. Secrets surrendered have tentacles that ensnare the people you love. You might be able to breathe again, but now your loved ones cannot catch their breath. It is excruciating to watch.

I will tell you a secret. Coming out is not for the faint of heart. It has been harder than I expected, and I expected it to be hard. The pain it engenders is staggering. But it is the truth, and if we deny the truth, what do we have, really? I mean, look at our current cultural dilemma, in which a president lies with impunity and venerable media outlets are accused of delivering fake news. No society can long sustain the denial of truth. Eventually life crumbles from within.

I am staking my life on the veracity of Jesus’s words that truth sets us free. I trust that the surrender of my secret will bring about more redemption than harm, more reconciliation than alienation, and more hope than despair, especially in the hearts of those I love the most.

And so it goes.


This Is Why I Speak

This Is Why I Speak

I was featured in an article in last Sunday’s Denver Post.  (There is a link at the end of this post.)  For the most part, I was pleased with the article.  The reporter captured the essence of our conversation.  But as with most newspaper articles, there were mistakes.  The reporter wrote “anthrobiologist” instead of “sociobiologist.”  She wrote that I had said change would come to the church on LGBTQ issues within two years.  I said 10 years.  Two years would be great, but it’s way too optimistic.  There were a couple other mistakes, but I’m not complaining.

As for the picture, that was a different story.  They probably took 50 pictures.   I remember when the photographer took that particular picture.  I thought, “Well that’s gonna show every pore.  Watch, that’s the picture they’ll use.”  Uh huh.

As the Post article was being read in coffee shops, I was preaching at Highlands Church in Denver, where a New York Times photographer was taking pictures for an article that will go to press later this month.  Why am I willing to be profiled in the Denver Post and the New York Times?  Why do I take every newspaper and television interview I am offered?  Why do I accept every invitation to speak at Christian universities, even though I pay my own expenses?  Why do I travel the country to speak at GCN, PFLAG and Pride events, often for remuneration that does not cover half of my expenses?

I have already spent decades building kingdoms and slaying dragons.  I am not building a brand.  I do not need attention.   I do not relish the emails, Facebook messages and newspaper comments that arrive every day from an assortment of naysayers.  Nor do I have a masochistic spirit that requires regular doses of sarcasm and vitriol.  So, why do I choose to live such a public life?

The reason is simple.  Lives are at stake.

I will never forget the transgender teen who talked with me after I spoke at my first public event, a PFLAG conference in Boulder.  The boy’s name was Nicholas, and we realized we had been in court on the same day, when our names were legally changed.  His parents were incredibly supportive, unlike the parents of Leelah Alcorn, who ended her life on the very same day Nicholas and I changed our names.  Leelah’s unsupportive parents attended a church that taught them not to accept their daughter’s gender.  It cost them their daughter.

Transgender teens with unsupportive parents have a suicide rate 13 times higher than their peers.  They are the most at risk group in the nation.  Most of those unsupportive parents are Evangelicals.

Nicholas and Leelah are why I live a public life.  Since transitioning I have spoken in 18 states.  I have been in personal contact with thousands of LGBTQ individuals and their families from seven countries on four continents. Almost without exception these souls are Christians who have been ostracized from their churches and/or families.  They always ask the same painful question, “What do I do now?”

I feel the weight of the responsibility.  In my previous work, I hoped to save people from spiritual suffering.  In my current work, I hope to save people from dying.

The pain experienced by these precious souls comes from a church more interested in abstract truth than in the incarnational truth before their eyes – embodied souls who have been driven to the edge of despair by people who use an abstract idea as a very real and dangerous sword.

The truth is, I do not care about their brand of orthodoxy.  I have no interest in debating it.  It is of little interest to me.  However, I do care about their orthopraxy, how they practice the Christian faith.  I find it lacking.  I find any religion lacking  that leads with judgment instead of leading with acceptance and love.

I do believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the hope of the world.  But it is a Gospel not based on exclusion and judgment. It is good news based on the earthly journey of a member of the Trinity.  It is based on the Jesus who came to assure us that God loves us, just as we are.  Did you read that?  I meant what I wrote.  God loves us just as we are.

This is why I speak.


Hope Rising

Hope Rising

On Sunday I spent three hours with a photographer from the New York Times. He came to take a zillion pictures, one or two of which will appear along with an article in the Times later this month. He was a delightful young man with loads of talent. He was also pleased the Times recently doubled its day rate for photographers.

The newspaper was able do so because people are reading newspapers again, particularly the New York Times and the Washington Post, two papers taking the lead in the investigative journalism necessary in these tumultuous times. Americans care. We are alarmed, and we want to know the truth. Hundreds of millions still believe the truth matters, and whether it is tomorrow or ten years from now, the truth will set us free. Signs of hope abound.

As of Monday, over 200 mayors, three governors, 80 university presidents and 100 corporations have pledged their allegiance to the Paris Agreement, with numbers increasing daily.

There have been protests on 43 different days since the inauguration, including the Women’s March on January 21, when over 3.5 million peaceful marchers conducted the largest protest in American history. Almost all of the protests have been born out of the desire for America to be more thoughtful, more egalitarian, more concerned for racial and socio-economic justice, more protective of the planet, and more devoted to a just and generous expression of democracy.  Most have been led by women.

For me, there was a watershed moment when I moved from despair toward hope.  It was when Sally Yates testified to the truth, showing the members of Congress what a woman without fear can do.  That is when I saw hope rising.

Passion for justice has been stirred. Women are taking their rightful place in leadership, knowing the men have had their chance and have blown it. They are working collaboratively, as women do, nurturing this fragile planet and all of its endangered residents. They fight as protectors of life and purveyors of hope. They know it is their time.

I stand, primarily as an outsider, watching the women around me rise as great fires burn within. They are people like my friend Jen Jepsen, whose birthday yesterday set me to writing this post.  I write in celebration of her great passion.  I also think of Cathy, Jael, Jana, Jubi, Christy, Jenny, Rachael, the women at the She Is Called conference in New York, and all the other strong women who give me such hope.

These are the women who are thinking of their children and grandchildren, and the children of their grandchildren. They know pain precedes life, and it does not frighten them. They will bear the pain and lead us to recover our humanity, to reconcile the races and heal the nations. They will teach us to nurture the planet, not exploit it. They will bring life, not take it.  I see it happening in real time.  It is like watching Sally Yate’s testimony all over again, and I want to break out in applause.

Women were taught to stay in their place, which is to say far from positions of power.  Today they are discarding those stale messages, empowering one another and taking the reins of leadership.  Yes, hallelujah, even in the church, the last remaining bastion of pure male privilege.

I have no doubt who holds the future.  It is the women, especially the mothers.  I see the fire in their eyes, the confidence in their groundedness and the fierceness in their determination.  Their leadership can and will take root.  These are the last days of narcissistic, egotistical, win/lose male domination.  What we see in the corridors of power are the last gasps of a spent ethic.

Through women rising, a world of fierce empowered love is emerging, and I for one, believe it is just in time.

And so it goes.