Friday, March 30, 2007

The age old question: Who Am I?

This is my first post here at our blog, and so, before I begin in earnest, I would like to welcome our many varied readers. I would also like to take a quick moment to give major kudos and kewpie dolls to Shel, who has done (singlehandedly) a wonderful job with the creation of this blog.

Onto business...

We within TransEpiscopal have discussed privately the thought that perhaps we should share some of our stories. The Accidental Eremite has recently done something of the sort by discussing religious vocations within the church, while dealing with being transgendered. Since the time seems ripe, I shall relay some of my thoughts.

Who Am I?

The vast majority of the human race never question their gender. The thought of questioning whether one is male or female is as foreign to the general populace as seeing someone with polyploidy (having a sixth finger or toe). In my experience, the responses I have received from telling someone I am trans usually involve a display of disbelief bordering on the obscene. I might as well grow a third eye, or perhaps a tail, which sadly might be met with more understanding. It leaves me with the thought that the public is in dire need of education: What is this, being 'transgendered'?

I can not answer that question for anyone else, only me. There are thousands of differing definitions for transgender. As with all biological entities, I am unique, and thus my definition, the one that describes me, is likewise unique. Sure, much of what I have experienced is paralleled by many others, and I can point you in the direction of two different books that may shed light on those experiences: a memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan entitled "She's Not There" or the more clinical text by Brown and Rounsley, "True Selves". Boylan's stories of her life pre-transition ring especially accurate to my ears. I cried through out that text, and felt as though she was telling my story. You see, I am a MtF (male-to-female) transgendered person, but I have not transitioned. Yet. Perhaps I won't, though I believe it to be more a 'when' than an 'if'.

So when did I know? I knew I was different in kindergarten. I wanted to be a woman, to grow up and have babies. Small problem: I am biologically male. I didn't admit that I might be trans though until December 28, 2005, when after a long heart to heart with my beloved wife, I admitted that I had issues with who I was gender-wise.

I began crossdressing, wearing my mother's clothes, in kindergarten. I have been doing it ever since. Like most of my trans-sisters, I tried to hide this aspect of myself out of shame and guilt. I went through periods of accumulation, where I horded women's clothing like a raccoon with shiny objects. Then after a short time, I would convince myself I was crazy, that 'normal' people don't do this sort of thing, that I am a male and I should just admit it, accept it and live it, and throw out (we call it purge) all of my accumulated clothes. During these times I subscribed to the "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy. This cycle continued through high school and college, extending into my marriage.

This inability to accept myself led me down a very dark path. A spiraling depression, one that left me near suicidal for years. I hated myself. I knew I wasn't truly male, yet every time I looked in the mirror, a relatively handsome young man gazed back. I developed survival mechanisms, the most successful of which was diving into work. I am a work-a-holic, and have always been so. Another tactic was to merely act - I developed an outward personality I could 'turn on' that lived up to societal expectations, based on the outward appearance observed by society, i.e., people saw a young man, so I acted like a young man. This did not always work however, but for the most part it allowed me to be left alone by the rest of the world.

NOTE: I am happy to say that once I began to truly accept who I was, the depression has more or less been alleviated. Still, I have my days when my GID (clinical term: Gender Identity Dysphoria) overloads me, blinds me, causing me to do little else but try to maintain an outward image of calm. Back to the story...

Like many of my trans brothers and sisters, I felt that if I assimilated into society, fulfilling the norms expected of someone with my outward personality and gender, I could just fit in and live a 'normal' life. I also believed, romantically, that love conquered all. Not merely all, but me. My GID. I truly believed that by falling in love, and marrying the love of my life, I would be cured. Boy was I wrong. But I married a wonderful woman. We have two beautiful children. From the outside looking in, we might be the perfect family. Just don't look in too closely as you might wonder who is wearing the pants (I'll give you a hint...) From the inside, during the first 6 years of our marriage I felt I was living a lie: ashamed and guilty I was hiding from my wife my accumulation and purge cycles; worried that if I were to get caught, we would lose our idyllic life, and that my being a freak was the cause of it all.

Once I came out to her, that dark December night, I was still in denial. I thought perhaps I was just a crossdresser... I wanted the easy out, the path that would cause the least disruption to our life. But I knew even then there was more to it. It took another 3 months before I admitted I was trans, that I wanted to transition. The admission was the first of many steps toward self acceptance. My wife and I have grown more in the last year than we have in the previous 6 years, both as a couple and as individuals.

I could continue, but this is feeling like a novella. More to come. Instead I leave you with an excerpt from "She's Not There":

I did not know the word transsexual back then, and the word transgendered had not yet been invented. I had heard the word transvestite, of course, but it didn’t seem to apply to me. It sounded kind of creepy, like some kind of centipede or grub. In my mind I sometimes confused it with the words that described cave formations: What was it again--transves-tites grew down from the top of the cave; transves-mites grew up from the bottom?

But even if I had known the right definitions for these words, I am not sure it would have made much difference to me. Even now, a discussion of transgendered people frequently resembles nothing so much as a conversation about aliens. Do you think there really are transgendered people? Has the government known about them for years, and is keeping the whole business secret? Where do they come from, and what do they want? Have they been secretly living among us for years?

Although my understanding of the difference between men and women evolved as I grew older, as I child I knew enough about my condition to know it was something I’d better keep private. This conviction had nothing to do with a desire to be feminine; but it had everything to do with being female. Which is an odd belief, for a person born male. It certainly had nothing to do with whether I was attracted to girls or boys. This last point was the one that, years later, would most frequently elude people. But being gay or lesbian is about sexual orientation. Being transgendered is about identity.

What it’s also emphatically not, is a “lifestyle,” any more than being male or female is a lifestyle. When I imagine a person with a lifestyle, I see a millionaire playboy named Chip who likes to race yachts to Bimini, or an accountant, perhaps, who dresses up in a suit of armor on the weekends.

Being transgendered isn’t like that. Gender is many things, but one thing it is surely not is a hobby. Being female is not something you do because it’s clever, or postmodern, or because you’re a deluded, deranged narcissist.

In the end, what is, more than anything else, is a fact. It is the dilemma of the transsexual, though, that it is a fact that cannot possibly be understood without imagination.

After I grew up and became female, people would often ask me—how did you know, when you were a child? How is it possible that you could believe, with such heartbroken conviction, something which, on the surface of it, seems so stupid? This question always baffled me, as I could hardly imagine what it was like not to know what your gender was. It seemed obvious to me that this was something you understood intuitively, not on the basis of what was between your legs, but because of what you felt in your heart. Remember when you woke up this morning--I’d say to my female friends—and you knew you were female? That’s how I felt. That’s how I knew.

Of course knowing with such absolute certainty something that appeared to be both absurd and untrue made me, as we said in Pennsylvania, kind of mental. It was an absurdity I carried everywhere, a crushing burden, which was, simultaneously, invisible. Trying to make the best of things, trying to snap out of it, didn’t help either. As time went on, that burden only grew heavier, and heavier, and heavier.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Religious Vocations in the EC

What do you think when you consider vocations in the church? About priests, monks and nuns? Many people, when asked this question, will describe a person who is inhumanly pious, clean of all sin, and the ideal of perfect in every way, like someone straight out of a Roman Catholic "Lives of the Saints" collection.

It is rather surprising to most people when they find out that the image of saints gliding around grand cloister hallways in their strange-looking robes, at peace with everything and everyone could not be further from the truth. On the contrary, the monastic vocation emphasizes the humanness of each person, rather than their piety.

The word "vocation" comes from the Latin word, meaning "call". For those pursuing a religious vocation, there has been a call from God, and most times, this call catches the most unsuspecting people. Ask any priest about their discernment process leading up to the priesthood, and they might illustrate to you a long and grueling process in which they had many arguments with God.

Over the years, I have spoken with about 100 monks and nuns, and have heard countless times the phrase "Why God picked me, I will never know." Weather they are rich, poor, educated or not, straight or gay, each one of them gave a similar comment concerning their vocation. It seems that God chooses the most unlikely people in order to keep us on our toes.

One of my biggest fears when I felt the call to monastic life was that I would never find a community that would "let me in". I was sure that I would be doomed to wander outside the circle of those who were blessed with an outlet to pursue their desire to make prayer their full-time profession. In fact, just the opposite has happened. I often asked myself "Why did God have to pick me?"

It was surprising to me to find out that about 75% of all vowed religious I have spoken with (that's not to say that the ratio is accurate for all vowed religious) are self-identified as gay or lesbian. Many monastics have commented to me that Religious Orders have been safe-havens for LGBT people through the ages, despite what the public thinks.

I have also noticed that monastic houses are safe places for people who don't otherwise fit into the rigid categories of gender found in secular society. This shows both in the taking of religious names (For instance, Br. Christopher-Mary, or Sr. Barbara-John) and in the treatment of monks who are effeminate and nuns who are masculine. Often times these characteristics are never made fun of, and often encouraged, many times being seen as one of many forms of personal integration.

One of the principles of a monastic vocation is self-knowledge. This leads to a better understanding of our relationships with others and with God, and allows us to grow continually into the person that God had in mind when each of us were created. (This principle is often applied in therapeutic relationships as well.)

Being someone who is transgendered, this process is all to familiar. The feeling of personal integration has been a very healing, spiritual thing, although the process leading up to it can be quite treacherous. That being said, both the process of transition and the process of continual conversion have been great instruments in deepening my relationship with God and with others, and who can find fault in that?

I don't think that we will ever know an accurate set of statistics concerning gender-variant or gay and lesbian people who have pursued some kind of vocation within the church. From an "inside perspective", I'm not sure such a statistic is really relevant, considering most monks and nuns actively choose a life of celibate chastity and thereby make gender mostly a non-issue.

In closing, it is an important fact that people's perceptions and reality are very different from each other. Almost every one of us can identify with that, weather we are secular or monastic, ordained or lay.

So, next time you consider yourself outside the sphere of God's love, or unwanted by the church, remember that much of the glue that holds the church together is made out of people who may be in your very same position.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Vigil Against Violence

About two hours ago, mourners gathered in San
Francisco in memory of Ruby Rodriguez, a transgender
Latina woman who was found murdered in the city's
Mission District. Ruby died one week ago today, one
of at least three transgender women of color to be
murdered in the Bay Area over the past six months.
And this is the Bay Area, one of the most—if not the
most—open, supportive places in this country to live
if one is transgender. A press release from Community
United Against Violence asks, "Let us not forget Ruby.
She was an exceptional woman who was intent on
improving her life. Ruby participated in various
support groups and language classes, and idolized
Chicana singer Selena." You can read more of the
press release at
http://americansexuality.blogspot.com/.

This news takes me back to the death of Gwen Araujo in
2002. As it so happened, that year my partner and I
were living in the Bay Area. It also happened to be
the year I was transitioning. The murder hit me
pretty hard. The day of Gwen's funeral I drove over
and participated in a vigil outside the church. I'd
heard that Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church
had threatened to come and protest outside the
funeral, and I wanted to be there in support of Gwen's
family and friends. The crowd was a mix of students
from Gwen's school (Newark Memorial High), neighbors,
and transgender community members. As it turned out,
the Newark high school drama crew was putting on a
production of the Laramie Project, a play by Moisés
Kaufman about the aftermath of the murder of Matthew
Shepherd, a young gay man killed in Laramie Wyoming in
1998. One of the most moving scenes in the Laramie
Project occurs when mourners shield Shepherd's family
from members of Phelps's Church. They achieve their
shield by wearing angel costumes with huge wings:
standing side by side, the wings block the protesters
from view. That day at Gwen Araujo's funeral in
Newark, California, I was stunned to see the high
school's angel cast members in full winged regalia,
ready to shield the family from any foes. Thankfully,
none showed up.

I pray that the memorial vigil earlier tonight also
took place in peace.

As Chris Daly of the Transgender Law Center in San
Francisco has said, it isn't clear if the number of
hate crimes against trans people has increased or
whether we're simply able to identify better them now
(http://www.ebar.com/news/article.php?sec=news&article=1656
). I pray for all impacted by these murders, and for
an end to the practice of violently writing our
dominant culture's norms of gender, race, immigration
status, sexuality and class on the bodies of those who
transgress them.

Rev. Cameron Partridge


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Toward Comprehensive Vision

From Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's
Sermon at the Close of the House of Bishops Meeting,
3/21/07:

"That divine vision sees beneath the surface, beyond
what the world sees as loss or death or rejection.
That vision of blessing sees the fundamentally
gracious nature of reality, it sees the ground of
loving being that continues to arc toward justice in
spite of the emptiness or
evil of the world's current reality. To envision
poverty as blessedness
sees potential, sees the fulfillment - the filling
full of empty bellies and sightless eyes - that God
expects and hopes for and encourages this world to
make real. Seeing the blessing comes from the ability
to see both lack and possibility in a kind of
multilayered reality.
That multiple reality is present - the kingdom of God
is all around you - but it takes eyes that can see at
multiple focal lengths."

As I read Bishop Katharine's words, and in the wake of
the statements released by the House of Bishops over
the past two days, I am inspired, once again, to be an
Episcopalian and an Anglican (I'm a 'cradle
Episcopalian', but in recent years it's been tough--
as it has been for so many-- to watch my beloved
church go through so much turmoil and at times to feel
judged by it.). As someone married to a scientist, I
also appreciate the way our Presiding Bishop weaves
together a variety of ways of viewing the world. The
world is such an incredibly rich place. And the world
is also a place filled with poverty, racism,
zenophobia, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia-- forms
of oppression tragically too numerous to name
exhaustively. Bishop Katharine's call to learn how
better to adjust our eyesight, to see with a
multifocality that enables us to participate in and
realize God's reign-- God's *dream*, as Verna Dozier
called it-- hits home for me.

As a transgender person who took years to figure out
that I needed to transition from female to male, I am
very familiar with the notion of vision being, and
needing to be, multi-faceted. If I need a "generous
vision" just to look back upon my own history--
growing up as a girl, then a young woman and for nine
years a lesbian, and now as a man married to a woman--
how much more do I need such vision to continue to
make my way in this world and church?

I pray for our church, that it would embrace once
again the Anglican tradition of perceiving all of
God's Creation with a generous breadth, and that we
would aim to embrace Anglican "comprehensiveness for
the sake of truth", as is wonderfully articulated in
the collect for Richard Hooker:

O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant
Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to
defend with sound reasoning and great charity the
catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may
maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the
sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of
truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.



Posted by The Rev. Cameron Partridge

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A Statement of Purpose for TransEpiscopal

TransEpiscopal is a group of transgender Episcopalians and our significant others, families, friends and allies dedicated to enriching our spiritual lives and to making the Episcopal Church a welcoming and empowering place that all of us truly can call our spiritual home. Our group was started in January of 2005 and initially served as an online, nationwide community of support. After several informal gatherings in various parts of the country, we held our first Advent retreat in 2005 in New Jersey, sponsored by the Oasis Commission of the Diocese of Newark. In January 2007, several of us attended the first Summit for Transgender Religious Leaders co-sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California. Having met with leaders, lay and ordained, from various denominations and religious traditions, we are inspired and galvanized to support a new chapter in transgender advocacy that is spreading across the country this year; a window is now opening in which transgender people have an opportunity to secure civil rights protections that long have eluded us, and to win an increasing degree of acceptance and welcome in this country’s religious denominations.
As Episcopalians we are proud of those times in our denomination’s history when the Church has supported and empowered those who historically have been marginalized or “othered” within and outside the life of the Church. We are grateful for the gains made by the groups that have entered the wider Church conversation before us, and we look forward to helping to sustain and to build upon those gains. Because we also recognize that this is a time of continued conflict in our denomination’s life, and knowing that our voices may intensify and add complexity to an already challenging debate about human sexuality and gender, we seek to enter that wider conversation with awareness and respect even as we look forward to more change. Knowing that none of us is nearly as strong singly as we are in concert, and recognizing that many of us embody multiple identities represented by different groups within the Church, we seek to collaborate with other progressive groups, that together we may ever more clearly embody God’s transformative love for all people.
As a group of transgender and allied Christians, we represent a range of gender identities and expressions. “Transgender” is an umbrella term referring to people who transgress the sex/gender they were designated at birth. Some of us physically and medically transition from one gender to another (a complex, multi-staged process that various individuals define in different ways, but which traditionally has been called transsexualism). Others of us believe that our bodies need not take on any particular characteristics in order to identify as male or female. Still others of us do not identify with traditional gender categories. All of us ultimately see gender as a spectrum of multiple lived possibilities. Trans people and our partners also do not necessarily identify as heterosexual. Some of us who identify as male, for instance, are partnered with other men. Others of us who are now female are partnered with other women. And while several of us have found that our previous relationships weren't able to survive our emerging identities as trans, others of us remain with the partners we had prior to transition. One couple in our group has been married for 30 years. Indeed, those of us who are married can witness to a denomination already struggling with marriage, showing that we are already living into its new forms and expanding its dimensions. Many of us are single, and several of us have children and grandchildren. Indeed, some of us are raising children as single parents. We live out our vocations in various ways within and outside of the Church, some of us as clergy, some of us partnered with clergy, some of us as laypeople quite involved in our diocesan or parish governance. Others of us limit our Church involvement to Sunday morning, and some of us are searching for the right community. All of us want to be able to count on the Church to support us and lift us up just as they would other individuals and communities.
Coming out as trans is a time when, for many of us, our faith becomes even more important to us than ever before. As we have come out, some of us have experienced profound difficulty with Church leaders who view us negatively or in condemnatory ways. Others of us have discovered that we are seen as potential sources of controversy. Still others have found an inspiring and at times surprising support, given the widespread lack of information in the Church regarding transgender people. In order to increase that support throughout our denomination and beyond, we encourage the Church to commit itself to learn about transgender lives, not simply as social, medical or psychological phenomena, but most importantly as people on powerful spiritual journeys that uniquely embody a lifelong human path of transformation and authenticity before God.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Transgender Episcopalians Form Organization

Transgender Episcopalians Form Organization
And Seek to Ally With Progressive Groups in ECUSA


Transgender Episcopalians and their significant others, families, friends and allies have announced the launch of TransEpiscopal, an informal organization dedicated to “making the Episcopal Church a welcoming and empowering place that all of us truly can call our spiritual home,” according to its statement of purpose.
The group, which began as an Internet listserve in January 2005, now has dozens of members, including both lay and ordained people. TransEpiscopal has just been accepted into the Consultation, the collaborative organization of progressive organizations within the national Episcopal Church.
The formation of TransEpiscopal represents a deepening and formalization of work on transgender issues that has been under way in the Episcopal Church for several years. A number of dioceses, including Michigan, Newark and California, have done significant educational work about transgender people. In December 2005, the Oasis Commission of the Diocese of Newark sponsored a weekend retreat for transgender people and their friends and allies, the first of its kind.
Since 2004, six dioceses (Newark, Michigan, New York, Maryland, California and New Hampshire) have passed resolutions at their annual conventions expressing support for the ministry and civil rights of transgender people and their supporters.
“Inclusion and equality are the common denominators in all of the parables of Jesus about the Household of God,” said Jim Toy, a TransEpiscopal member who was the first gay Episcopalian to come out in the Diocese of Michigan more than 30 years ago. “We are called to reaffirm and expand the scope of our commitment to inclusion, equality and nondiscrimination for all individuals and groups who are devalued and disempowered. To oppose discrimination and prejudice and to support equal opportunity and protection is moral, Christian and just.”
“There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God,” said the Rev. Michelle Hansen, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Connecticut who transitioned from male to female four years ago. “Transgender people are equally loved of God. It is time the institutional Church comes to terms with God’s people of all sorts and conditions.”
For additional information contact the Rev. Gari Greene at ggreenjay@aol.com, or the Rev. Michelle Hansen at hansen_michelle@sbcglobal.net.