Shattered and Whole

Shattered and Whole

Last month my blue Cath Kidston mug broke. Cath Kidston discontinued the style and none remained in stock. However, several of my readers found the mug online at another British company. Unfortunately, it was four times more expensive than the original piece. Nevertheless, someone decided to have the mug sent to me, which was so very thoughtful. I am drinking my morning tea from the mug as I type.

In a meeting last week in which the pastors of our new church were telling our Leadership Council how we were doing, I said, “I’m not going to lie. My life is really difficult. It is hard to be hated by so many people.” In the previous seven days I had been mentioned negatively in scores of alt-right and fundamentalist Christian publications and web sites. When I was speaking with Bishop Gene Robinson last year, he said, “The toll of being attacked is cumulative. You think you can dismiss the ignorance, but it finds it way past your defenses.” Uh, huh.

But life has these wonderful compensators. The attacks against me have been matched by a phenomenal outpouring of generosity. Since my TEDx talk became popular, people from Australia to Sweden have written to express their appreciation for my openness, authenticity and spirit. One writer mentioned she had never seen a YouTube video with as many “likes” per views as mine. I took a look on the Internet and sure enough, a lot of people have liked my video.

Then the mug arrived. I was with my fellow pastors when we saw the box. Given the threatening responses I received from the alt-right, I was afraid to open the package. Jen’s husband Eric opened it for me. We were all a little nervous. But when the opened box revealed a beautiful blue mug, I was more than relieved. I was elated. And I was reminded, “Yes, love wins.”

I am keeping the broken mug. The new one has a spot on the bookshelf where the old mug used to be displayed. The broken mug is on my grandmother’s dry sink in my office, all of its pieces gathered on a gold dinner plate. I see it all day long, just to the left of the Rocky Mountain view outside my south-facing window.

This is my life, shattered and whole, hated and loved, torn apart and put together. I will keep both mugs close. I love the broken mug. I identify with its jagged edges, the handle clutching the memory of a space, and the tiny specks that cannot be reassembled. I love the new mug, a sign of so many that love me so well.

As a white male from the privileged side of the tracks, I had no idea just how difficult life is.  I thought it was hard fighting gender dysphoria.  What I faced back then was nothing compared to what I face now.

Not long ago a female client of color said, “There is nothing I am facing that my pastor has not faced and he seems to find the strength of the Holy Spirit to take him through his dark days.  Why can’t I?”  She attends a megachurch.  I thought long and hard before I responded.   “Your journeys are very different,” I said.  “You might find more help from the words of Jesus than from the words of a successful white male pastor.”

I am not diminishing the experience of her pastor, a man I know.  But his experience has little in common with hers.  Sometimes I want to go back and re-preach every sermon I ever preached as a male.  Instead, I must show myself grace.  As I said multiple times in my TEDXMileHigh talk, “I just didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

As a public figure, generous gifts have always come my way.  I have also always had my share of detractors.  But there are so many more detractors now, which makes the gifts mean so much more than they ever did before.

What I did not mention at the outset of this post is that I have received two identical blue Cath Kidston mugs within the past two weeks.  A note in the second mug had the name of the gift giver, but it was not legible.  So, whoever you both are, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.  I am blessed beyond measure, far more than two cups worth.

That Day My TEDxMileHigh Talk Was Mentioned on Fox News

That Day My TEDxMileHigh Talk Was Mentioned on Fox News

Last week was interesting. I received an email from a professor at Indiana University of Pennsylvania saying my TEDxMileHigh video had been used in her class, resulting in disciplinary action against a student. Because the case had not yet been adjudicated by the university, the professor could not speak publicly about the incident.

By the time I did a Google search, the incident was on Fox News, The London Daily Mail, Breitbart News, and a host of alt-right and Christian sites, including CBN, Christian Post, and Franklin Graham. None of those outlets sought comment from me. It is also important to note that none of them waited until the completion of due process at the University, when the professor and the university would be able to speak.

Several of the outlets made accusations about the TEDx talk that showed no one at the media outlet had actually watched the talk, or if they had watched it, had blatantly misrepresented its content.

The only media outlet that asked me to comment was the local newspaper, the Indiana Gazette. Their reporter watched the video, accurately quoted from it, and accurately quoted my words from his conversation with me.

The Fox News article devoted exactly 23 words to me. Five of the words, or 21 percent, were inaccurate. To put that in context, when the New York Times published its article about my son and me, Faith and Family in Transition , in June of 2017, that 4,000 word article had not one single error. Had the New York Times article contained as many errors, per word, as the Fox News article, the Times article would have had 840 errors.

When Franklin Graham tweeted about the story, he asked for prayers for the student, speaking as though the student had been a victim. The truth is that until the university issues its report, we have no idea whether or not the student is giving an accurate depiction of the event.

Truth matters. Jesus taught that it sets us free. That Christian leaders and multiple media outlets would publish information without adequate regard to its truth is frightening. It is non-Christian; it is malevolent. It shows no regard for the professor, the university, the other members of the class, or me. It endorses the single perspective of one young male student, while leaving all other voices silent.

A study posted this past week by three MIT scholars showed that false information travels more quickly on Twitter than true information. Last week the inbox of this blog was flooded with accusations and threats, which caused me to have to shut down all comments and remove contact information from the blog. The negative comments on the TEDx talk bloomed like a mushroom cloud. (It should be noted that the overall response to the TEDx talk, which now stands at over 300,000 views, remains 93 percent positive.)

In posting this blog, I have a fear. I fear I will have to delete comments from the left that are as inflammatory as the comments I have had to delete from the right. Last week I posted a very short piece on Franklin Graham’s decision to tweet about the incident. The number of Facebook friends who wrote pejorative comments about Graham alarmed me enough to pull the post.

Attacking those on the right is not the answer. Advocating for truth is the answer. It takes rigorous inter-subjective work to discern the truth. Major media outlets do not publish a story until they have multiple sources. Even if you do not agree with their editorial leanings, you can trust that they will go to great lengths to discover the truth, and will publish a correction if they make an error.

The deconstructionism we see in postmodernity is partly to blame. It begins with the notion that all truth is constructed truth. But through rigorous inter-subjective discipline it is possible to get very close to objective truth.  And it is essential that we try.

I am very concerned about the current disregard for truth we find in America’s highest office, and the trickle-down effect it is having on the rest of American culture. I know the truth of my current status in life. It is on the bio of my blog and the TEDxMileHigh site. I know what was in my video. I was the speaker. TEDxMileHigh did not edit out a single word, breath or step. And the media outlets could have known what was on the video too.  All they had to do was watch.

Shame on those who put their own agenda above the truth.  Shame on those who were not willing to take 15 minutes to learn the truth about my talk, or wait five days to hear the other side of the story.

Lies destroy.  Truth sets us free.

Knowing What You Know

Knowing What You Know

Far too often the American conservative church has not been very helpful when it comes to teaching people how to be adults. Let me explain.

When you are a child you do not have an internal locus of control. Your primary caretaker, most often your mother, is God, and is in control of your entire universe. Her face reflects what it means to be human. Her touch brings safety and assurance. Eventually she brings self-assurance to you, as you begin to discern you are a separate being. That self-assurance is tenuous without three basic elements in place.

First, your parents must be able to set aside their own needs to focus on yours. Second, they must make sure you feel safe. Third, they must provide you with a sense of self-worth. These are the basic building blocks of a healthy ego. But note that the locus of control remains external. Someone else is in charge of your life.

One of the main jobs of parents is to lead their children to mature adulthood. That means teaching them to accept responsibility for their own actions. It means teaching them the necessity of honesty in interactions with themselves and others. It is helping them learn to delay gratification. And good parenting demands that we help our children differentiate from us and create their own maps with which to navigate through life.

That last job means we must help our children transfer from an external locus of control (mom and dad) to an internal locus of control (the maturing child.) It is the most frightening part of parenting, because it is a process fraught with peril. In fact it is so frightening that many parents abdicate their responsibility and encourage their children to continue with an external locus of control.

In extremely unhealthy families, this means parents who try to remain the primary figure in the lives of their children. (Think the mother in Everybody Love’s Raymond.) But far more frequently it means transferring the locus of control from one external source (mom and dad) to another external source, the tribe. Often that tribe is a religion. Sometimes it is a cult. And sometimes telling the difference is difficult.

The problem is in the transfer from one external locus of control to another. The parental job is not to replace biological parents with tribal parents. It is to replace biological parents with a fully differentiated, individuated person. It is to help the child transfer from an external locus of control to an internal locus of control.

An internal locus of control does not negate the desire for a tribe. We are a tribal species. It is baked into our DNA to want to be a part of something larger than ourselves. But when we begin to violate a healthy conscience by adherence to the strictures of an external locus of control, it is not a sign of health.

Let me use an example that is not uncommon in our current environment. Suppose you have friends or family who are gay, and in your everyday interaction it is fairly clear that these are normal humans, roughly as healthy as you. With a healthy internal locus of control, you are empowered to decide that this is a safe person.  You have within yourself the capacity to make these determinations. An internal locus of control means you have learned to trust your instincts, and your internal common sense.

If, on the other hand, you have an external locus of control that tells you homosexuality is an abomination to God, you reject your instincts and internal common sense. Even though you do not find any other reason to reject this person, you nevertheless reject them because you have given away the power to make those determinations. You have maintained an external locus of control, in this case, a religious body.

There was a time when I believed women should not preach, nor should Christians be in gay relationships. Nothing in my personal experience said these were bad things. In fact, to the contrary, I found women preached with a perspective not available to men. And I had gay friends who were extraordinary humans, far more Christ-like than I was. But my adherence to an external locus of control caused me to reject what my heart, mind and soul was telling me.

I have since realized when my understanding of Scripture causes me to reject what my heart, mind and soul are telling me, the problem is not with my heart, mind and soul. It is with my understanding of Scripture.  The problem is that I have made my heart, mind and soul subservient to my tribe.  When your tribe’s interpretation of Scripture violates your own conscience, the question you should ask yourself is why you have opted for an external locus of control.

For religious people, the answer is often that we have been taught that our bodies are evil and not to be trusted. Our sin causes us to deceive ourselves. Since we cannot trust ourselves, we must submit to an external power. Of course, this is great news for the tribe. It guarantees its ongoing existence. If the tribe can make us afraid of our own conscience and common sense, it can maintain the control necessary to remain in power.

It is interesting that when people talk about our sinful proclivities, they often quote the writings of the Apostle Paul. But when I look at the writings of Paul, particularly in his letter to the church at Rome, I find Paul more concerned about the sin that encompasses us when tribal rule takes over than the sin zipped up inside our own beings.

It seems to me that the greatest evil done in the world is done when we are confidently acting within our tribe. Only then do we throw away personal conscience and common sense. That is how we got the Holocaust, or for that matter, Charlottesville. That is what happens when one maintains an external, instead of an internal, locus of control.

It is frightening to have to trust your own soul. It means you are free, and freedom is terrifying. But here is the thing.  We are made in the image of God.  We can trust our basic construction. We all need the guidance of a tribe from time to time, but when you are constructed in God’s image, your internal locus of control, if you are willing to trust it, will reliably lead you in the direction of the truth.  The question is whether or not you will trust it.


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.