Cavafy Is Right

I’ve been living as Paula for nine years. When I transitioned, I lost all my jobs, my pension, and most of my friends. The kind of people I have in my life nowadays are astonished that such a thing could have happened. It is foreign to the world they inhabit. They understand little about the bubble in which evangelical Christians live.

I probably do not give enough weight to the emotional effect of having the world I inhabited for five decades turn its back on me. My friends are furious on my behalf. Maybe I let them carry the anger for me. If that is true, it is not fair to them. I’d like to forgive my evangelical friends, but there is such a thing as cheap forgiveness, forgiveness that comes too soon, before you realize the awfulness of a thing.

When my memoir was published, every interviewer asked about my friends in my old life. I usually acknowledged the awfulness without really acknowledging the awfulness. Instead, I steered the conversation to the many blessings I have experienced since my transition. Not many transgender people have the kind of post-transition blessings I enjoy.

My family has been wonderfully supportive and accepting. But I do still struggle with the pain they all experienced. The grandchildren adjusted without much difficulty. It has been much harder for my children and their spouses, and much harder still for Cathy. I love my family more than anything and I still find myself asking, “Was there another way?” It is always an open question. Sometimes I have to be reminded just how badly I was doing before I transitioned.

When I can get out of the way of my own tendency toward self-condemnation, its own kind of self-centeredness, I see the bigger picture. Rainer Maria Rilke has the right words for what I feel:

Sometimes a man stands up during supper

and walks outdoors, and keeps on walking,

because of a church that stands somewhere in the East.

And his children say blessings on him as if he were dead.

And another man, who remains inside his own house,

stays there, inside the dishes and in the glasses,

so that his children have to go far out into the world

toward that same church, which he forgot.

With everything in me, I hope Rilke is right. The Greek Poet Cavafy suggests that perhaps the goal of the journey is the journey itself. Ithaca was both the point of departure and the goal of return for Odysseus. Yet even when he returned to his home and his beloved Penelope, he was called onto yet another journey, this time inland, a metaphor for the truth that the most important journey is the journey into the deeper regions of one’s own soul. Cavafy writes:

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Without her you would never have taken the road.

But she has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you.

With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience,

You must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.

I love vacationing in Hawaii, and often peruse sales listings on the Internet after I get home. It is a wonderful escape. There is something appealing about the one spot on earth in which you are farther from land than any other place. A long journey over water clears the mind. Being surrounded by the ocean reminds me of the eternal toing and froing of the tides. I love it there. But you take yourself with yourself wherever you go, and eventually the limerence stage of young love, with a place or a person, yields to the always restless longings of the soul. The existential anxiety would return to me in Hawaii as surely as it does in the beauty of the Rocky Mountains.

I’ve given up on thinking of life as any destination, any Ithaca. The notion of heaven as the destination, or sustained bliss, or abiding peace, are notions from the past. I think the object of this one precious life is the pathways you take along the way, the energy you bring to those pathways, and the energies you leave behind.

James Hollis writes about this in The Middle Passage. He reminds us of Jung’s central question. “Are we related to something infinite or not?” If we are, then more than anything I want my journey to bring sustaining energy into the lives of those I love and beyond. Is that too much to hope for? This is not a rhetorical question.

Jung also said life is a luminous pause between two great mysteries. The luminosity is because there is something holy and sacred about each human life, and the authenticity with which we live it. Which reminds me of Mary Oliver’s Summer Day. But two poems is my quota for a single post, so you’ll have to look that one up yourself.

And so it goes.

Well, That Was Quite a Statement!

Michael Knowles, right wing commentator of the Daily Wire, said at CPAC this past Saturday, “There can be no middle way in dealing with transgenderism. It is all or nothing.” He went on to say, “Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely.” I don’t mean to alarm you or anything, but since “transgenderism” doesn’t exist without transgender people, what he is advocating sounds more than a little like genocide. In fact, historically this is exactly how hate speech ushers in genocide.

Knowles is not the only one making inflammatory statements. Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said gender affirming treatment is a “demonic assault on the innocence of our children.” Demonic? Seriously?

Texas has introduced over 100 bills in 2023 restricting transgender rights. By comparison, they introduced “only” 20 in 2018. Last year Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that classified age-appropriate gender affirming care for transgender youth as child abuse. He was in effect saying to parents, “We will take your child out of class and build a case that you’ve accessed gender affirming care for that child, and then we will remove your child from your home and charge you with a felony.” Note nowhere in that investigation is any concern about whether or not your child is actually transgender.

By classifying gender affirming care as child abuse, you also make individuals in a plethora of professions mandatory reporters, likely to lose their jobs, licenses, and freedom if they do not report such “abuse.”

Fifty-six percent of transgender youth have experienced suicidal ideation, compared to 20 percent of their cisgender peers, an alarming number in itself. Thirty-one percent of transgender teens have attempted suicide, compared to 11 percent of their cis peers.

It’s not just children’s rights that are being threatened. Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, told the New York Times that their goal is to ban transgender care for anyone of any age.

The fight against trans rights isn’t so much about Republicans as it is about evangelicals. Over 60 percent of Republicans believe transgender people should have the same civil rights as anyone else. But 84 percent of evangelicals believe gender is immutably determined at birth and over 60 percent believe we already give transgender people too many rights.

We’ve come a long way since I led a conversation with a group of megachurch pastors about ten years ago in which the pastors talked about making room within their congregations for transgender people. Their reasoning was simple, if inaccurate. They said, “The Bible speaks against homosexual behavior. It says nothing about being transgender.” But that was then.

Since 2016 gender dysphoria has become the leading flashpoint for the far right. Why? First, those seeking to retain waning power have always focused on the most vulnerable people, minorities who are powerless. Transgender people make up only .58 percent of the population. As a group, we hold very little power or influence. According to a Pew Research Study, only 42 percent of Americans know someone who is out as a transgender person. There are fewer than 100 of us holding elected positions at any level of US government. (It is an honor to be among that 100.)

Another problem is that social pendulums perpetually swing from one extreme to the other. There are many, particularly in the academic world, who believe gender is purely a social construct. They say there is no predisposition before experience toward gendered behavior. Gender is only learned environmentally. It is my opinion that for the majority of the population there is a predisposition before experience to behavior identified with one gender or the other.

I do not believe gender is a social construct any more than I believe gender is immutably determined by medical personnel at birth. Both are distortions of a complex reality. Gender identity, like sexual identity, is on a spectrum, and it is rarely apparent early in life. At its earliest, gender identity awareness exists by three or four years of age, and sexual identity awareness by nine or ten.

While I thoroughly endorse children being able to explore their gender identity, when the day is over there will still be about .58 percent of people who are transgender. In some environments, six times that many adolescents currently identify as transgender. I believe the majority of those young people will eventually decide they are not transgender. Therefore, we do need to be cautious when prescribing estrogen, testosterone, or anti-androgens. Some effects are not reversible. While caution is appropriate, parents and medical professionals should make those determinations, not legislatures.

The greatest concerns I have are not about hormonal treatment. They are far more basic. They are about the overt hatred and vilification of the transgender community. Forty-one percent of transgender people will attempt suicide at some point in their lives.

Even those who have transitioned have higher than average suicidal ideation. Why? For 99 percent of them, it is not because they are not happy in their new gender. It is because of our society’s rejection of them, which results in internalized transphobia. Forbidding transitioning will not solve that problem. Stopping ridicule, bullying, and hate speech will solve that problem. Stopping anti-trans laws from being signed into law will solve that problem. Helping this minority ┬áthrive will solve that problem.

Comments like that of Michael Knowles, Tom Fitton, and Terry Schilling (Hmm, interesting, all are white males) should alarm all Americans. Language that encourages radicals to pursue genocide cannot be tolerated. It is hate speech at its worst. It is time for trans allies, accomplices, and apprentices to speak up on our behalf. Enough is enough.