Time to Do Another Talk?

I’ve been contemplating what my next TED talk should be about. I don’t have one scheduled, but I have started thinking about what the subject should be. It’s been on my mind because I have the pleasure of coaching TEDxMileHigh speakers and I am always amazed at the breadth and depth of their talks. It is a joy to help the speakers bring them to life.

I am emceeing the June 24 event, which is always fun. We just had our first meeting with the speakers, and I can’t wait to start working with them. I told them they’d be sick of me by the time we get to June 24. The wife of one of the November speakers said, “My husband was equal parts terrified of you and grateful for you.” I said, “Yeah, that’s about right.” Helping speakers be at their best on the day of the event brings me immeasurable joy. To be alongside them at what has the potential to be one of the most important times of their lives is a great honor.

After working with 24 speakers last year, I keep thinking more and more about the subject of my next talk. An obvious choice would be America’s current fixation with transgender people. Having lost the war against gay marriage, the far right started looking for another enemy. Who knew they would choose transgender people? Though I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised. Zealots have been creating enemies since the beginning of time, and they always choose enemies that are powerless minorities.

At .58 percent of the population, we trans folks are definitely a minority. We have no lobby in congress, and no large contingent of supporters to whip up sentiment among the masses. We were the perfect foil for the right wing Republicans who now have 196 anti-transgender bills pending in state legislatures. If you want to think about the true absurdity of that, just consider that those same state legislatures do not have a single gun violence bill pending. Because, you know, I’m clearly a bigger threat to America than guns.

If I do a talk on being transgender, I think I’ll throw in a good bit of humor. Maybe it’ll be a nice little reminder that y’all shouldn’t kills us because we make you laugh and all. Of course a TED Talk on transgender issues would not have any traction outside of the United States. In most Western nations, the subject brings a big yawn. Only the United States has gone to seed on it.

I’ve also thought about doing a talk on staying young while growing older. Nobody ever thinks I’m the age I am. They usually think I’m at least ten years younger. That pleases me greatly. But if I do that talk, then the whole world will know how old I am, and if you haven’t noticed, age discrimination is real.

I might do a talk on resilience. I just did a speech on resilience last week. I’ve been working on the talk for months. It seemed to go well, though you can never tell when you’re sitting in your living room talking on Zoom and viewers are scattered all over the planet. I like to mix humor with pathos, and I couldn’t find much humor in the actions that forced the development of my resilience. I mean, getting fired by evangelicals after 35 years of good work isn’t very funny. Neither is losing your entire pension, or having hundreds of friends abandon you because you are no longer useful to them. Nope, nothing funny there. “Hey, did you hear the one about the friend of 40 years who never spoke to me again because of an issue that isn’t even in the Bible?” Yeah, not funny.

I could do another talk on more stuff I’ve learned about gender inequity. You might be surprised to hear this, but my list of examples of being treated misogynistically grows exponentially. I have entire new categories of having been dismissed that I did not have when I did my first talk in 2017.

That 2017 talk was lightning in a bottle. Between TEDxMileHigh and TED it has had over six million views. I’ve heard from women from all seven continents thanking me for validating their experience. Back in the late summer I got my second email from Antarctica. I guess they don’t have much to do there during the Antarctic winter. I know I probably won’t catch lightning in a bottle again, but I think I can come up with a compelling talk. Though I must admit, it is definitely easier coaching TED speakers than being one.

My five granddaughters think I should do a talk about them – you know – like how extraordinary and brilliant they are and how remarkable that is, you know, ¬†given the fact that they carry my genetic material and all. Or maybe I give up the idea of doing a talk altogether and my granddaughters collectively give one on how they’ve been ruined by having a grandparent who is transgender. I mean, that’d guarantee the right wing viewers. But wait a minute, right wing folks don’t watch TED talks. Scratch that idea.

I’m going to put off thinking about my next talk until after the June 24 event. I already know what those talks are going to be about. Trust me, you don’t wanna miss them.

It Won’t Stop

I check my junk file every week and notice I sometimes receive emails from a watchdog group riding herd over evangelical ministries. Every now and again, I check out their latest news.

Recently there has been a lot of controversy regarding Acts 29, a large church planting ministry similar to the one I directed for a quarter of a century. They’ve grown rapidly, have a huge position in the market, and have managed to get themselves into a fair amount of trouble over the last few years.

Some of the complaints about the ministry come from pastors who started churches with them. They are upset over Acts 29’s lack of transparency over whether or not they still believe in a complementarian view of women. For those not schooled in evangelical language, that is the view that women are not to preach or serve as elders, and that the husband is the head of the family. It is a view held in opposition to the egalitarian view, which teaches gender equality.

I forget there is still a world in which intelligent people believe men are supposed to be in charge of their families and churches and pretty much everything else. It is so foreign to anything I have known over the last ten years that it leaves me dumbfounded when people say with a straight face that God expects wives to submit to their husbands.

Conflict over women’s roles in the family and the church is just one example of the fantasy bubble of evangelicalism. The evangelical bubble makes me chuckle until I realize how much damage is being done to our nation because of evangelical perspectives on gender. It is not as bad as the horrible misogyny of fundamentalist Muslims in Afghanistan, nor as bad as a fictional America in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, but it’s bad enough.

Currently there are more than 900 anti LGBTQ+ bills pending in legislative bodies across the United States, 407 of them in state legislatures, and 196 of them trans specific. Pretty much all of those laws are driven by evangelical Christian men. As long as evangelical skirmishes remained contained within their own ranks, I viewed them as a tempest in a teapot. I could shake my head and dismiss them as a dying breed. Not anymore.

It all started in the 1980s with the Moral Majority. Grassroots organizers encouraged evangelicals to run for school boards, local governments, and state legislatures. It turns out evangelicals are as good at organizing as they are bad at biblical interpretation. Because of the abilities of state legislatures to gerrymander districts, and because of our forefathers accommodation to rural states giving them outsize power in the US Senate and Electoral College, we now have a nation of minority rule. That minority is made up of white, evangelical Christians, and they believe it is their God-given responsibility to enforce their moral code on the entire nation.

Now that the Dobbs decision has been handed down, we see America waking up to the outsize power these groups wield. We can see the direct line from complementarian thinking to anti-abortion legislation. Women should not be given agency over their own bodies. God says so. Except of course, God never said so. Their doctrinal positions are based on a very narrow type of hermeneutics and exegesis best described as literalism or originalism. Within the world of most scripture scholars, this type of biblical interpretation was dismissed more than a century ago. Unfortunately, no one told fundamentalists and evangelicals that, and through shrewd manipulation, they now hold great political power.

Evangelical men have mounted a campaign to take away my civil rights and declare me a non-person. They want to eradicate me from the face of the earth. As I wrote a few weeks ago, one of the leading organizations rallying people against trans rights is the American Principles Project. Terry Schilling, president of the organization, was asked if their opposition will stop with bans on medical care for adolescents. He answered, “I want transition care to be thought of as horrific medical practices that happened in the past.” The end game is clear. These Christians will fight tooth and nail to eradicate all transgender rights. Barring trans kids from scholastic sports is just the beginning.

I know that once Millennials and Gen Z become the majority of the electorate things will change. They are far more socially liberal than their parents, and they already make up 42 percent of voters. By 2036 they will be 62 percent of the electorate. Once my generation dies off, there will be few left to fight against LGBTQ+ rights and women’s equality. But last I checked, my generation isn’t dying off all that quickly. Until then, trans folks ¬†and women are in trouble.

We need allies and apprentices on deck. Allies work from their own perspective to speak up on our behalf. Apprentices work at our direction to do the work. We need both groups. These attacks are not going away without a strong and vibrant resistance. I am grateful for those who are willing to speak up. There is no room for passive citizenship. Our nation’s future depends on active citizens willing to fight for equality for all Americans.

And so it goes.

Seriously?

Four Christian schools in Northern Colorado, including Longmont Christian School, not far from the church I serve, closed on March 31st because a large group of transgender people were headed up I-25 planning to destroy Christian churches and schools along the way. Yep. Awful, right? A Denver television channel showed a video of the principal of one of the schools in which he detailed the supposed threat. I sat on my couch and laughed at the absurdity of the accusation.

I think about the transgender people who now attend or have attended Envision Community Church (formerly Left Hand Church) in Longmont. We are people who have a hard time destroying dandelions in our front lawns, because you know, they are dandelions. We take spiders outside and wish them well on their journey. We rush injured birds to the local wildlife center. We cry at garage sales. The idea that we would be on a rampage to destroy property is beyond absurd. Have any of these people actually ever met a transgender person?

Yep, that’s the problem. They have not. Over 60 percent of evangelicals believe transgender people already have too many civil rights, yet only 25 percent have actually met someone who is out as a transgender person.

I used to preach regularly at LifeBridge Christian Church in Longmont, a megachurch of a few thousand people. Do you know how many of those people have had conversations with me since I transitioned? It’s not hard counting them. It’s fewer than a dozen, and three of them didn’t realize they were talking with the person who used to preach for them. I’ve met with everyone who has asked to meet with me, but that is exactly three people.

Now you see the problem. It takes hearing people’s stories and being in close proximity to one another to narrow the political divide. And today that simply doesn’t happen. So, some Christian School principal in Loveland, Colorado, earnestly warned his student’s parents about a “threat” that was so absurd it actually made me laugh. After all of the laws and rhetoric of the last few months, it’s pretty hard to make me laugh about this subject. Most of the time I’m sad, and often I am considerably frightened.

The board members of the town in which I live were all encouraging one another to run for office again next year. We enjoy working together and share similar concerns about the priorities of our beautiful town. I had to remind them that as the anti-trans rhetoric increases, my chances of reelection dwindle. It is just a fact.

Sometimes the media adds to the problem. March 31 was International Transgender Day of Visibility, but our local paper had no article about this important celebration, only a front page article about the four Christian schools that closed because they were afraid of transgender people. Thanks Longmont Times-Call. That certainly helps trans people. In the newspaper’s defense, the article did focus on the fact that the threats were completely unsubstantiated. Nevertheless, frightened evangelicals got news coverage, while anything positive about transgender people was absent from the pages of the paper.

I keep thinking about all of the trans people who now attend or have ever attended our church. I keep thinking of the threat we are to society. Getting to know us is a threat to maintaining bigotry and hatred toward transgender people. Spending time with us is a threat to maintaining the fantasy that we are anything other than ordinary humans, roughly as healthy or unhealthy as everybody else. Attending our church is a threat to being able to back up your principal’s harried call to close the school doors because we are headed en masse to destroy every Christian thing in our path. I mean, among other things, that would include destroying my own church.

Reading my memoir would be a threat to continuing your chosen ignorance about the pain transgender people experience from a very young age. Reading my son’s book would be a threat to your conviction that transgender people destroy their families. Meeting my co-pastors would be a threat your conviction that people who support trans people are evil, or at the very least, misguided.

I have a friend from New Zealand who said on a call last week, “What is wrong with America? You are a sick society?” I said, “Yes, we are. And all of this has happened in less than a decade.” If we can fall this far this fast, I am truly frightened about what might come next.