Last week, as part of our “Ask a...” interview series, I introduced you to Lisa Salazar, a Christian who is transgender.
Lisa was born in Colombia, grew up in California and moved to Vancouver, BC in the early 1970s to start a successful career as a graphic designer and photographer. After living for 25 years as a devoted husband and father, Lisa was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. She says this diagnosis was both a blessing and a curse. Though it offered an explanation for her years of struggle, confusion, and guilt, it did not offer any simple solutions. It would take another ten years before she could come to terms with the diagnosis. Lisa has written her autobiography, Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life, which is available on Amazon. She has given sensitivity workshops at Gay Christian Network, companies, high schools, and churches and hopes to do more in the future.
Lisa responded to your questions with thoughtfulness and honesty. I hope you learn as much as I did:
From Lisa: I would like to first thank all of you for the interest you have shown and the sensitivity with which you asked questions and made comments in Rachel's initial post. I must add that every trans person's experience and narrative is uniquely their own. The things each of us have gone through since childhood—the struggles and the challenges we have faced—will be different in many ways, yet I'm sure, many things will resonate loudly as well. I should also point out that I am not an expert on this very complicated and emotionally- charged topic from either a medical or theological perspective; the only thing I can claim to be an expert on is my life. To pretend to speak on behalf of all trans persons would be presumptuous. Having said that, some of my answers will be infused with anecdotal insights gleaned from the many conversations I have had with other trans persons in recent years. As we have shared and compared our journeys, one can only conclude that one size does not fit all.
From Elizabeth: Can you tell us a little bit more about your whole story and especially how your wife and kids reacted? What is your relationship with them today? And from Rachel: Since you do not simply identify as a transgender person, but also as a Christian, I am wondering if you could share a bit of how you first came to faith in Christ, what you believe your calling is, and how you daily live it out.
Hi Elizabeth and Rachel. I am combining your questions because the answers are related.
You already know that I was born in Colombia, grew up in California and now live in Canada. This serves as a good parallel to my journey as a trans person. I did not know a stitch of English when we immigrated to the United States, and I had to learn a whole new language. You could say the same thing about my coming to terms with my sexuality: I didn't have the language for it.
Ever since I can remember, I experienced a disconnection with my body. This sense of disconnection at times bordered on revulsion on one hand, and sadness on the other. From my earliest memory, I felt something was amiss. I did not like to see my private parts and avoided looking down when I was naked. I distinctly remember sitting in the bathtub in three inches of water and carefully laying a washcloth over my genitals to hide them from my eyes as I played with my bath toys. I surmise I could not have been more that three years old at the time.
This feeling that something was not right was not based on me having seen a girl's body and deciding I had extra parts. I was probably ten years old before I ever saw an image in a textbook of what a girl's body looked like. By the time I understood what some of the anatomical differences were, I was already estranged from my body. So where did this disconnection come from and what did it mean?
The few times I tried getting answers, I failed at asking the questions. Like I said, I didn't have the language for it. These unutterable and therefore unanswered questions piled up inside and my conclusion and resulting tactic was to keep my mouth shut.
Teenage years were hell, especially entering junior high where changing in a locker room and taking group showers was part of P.E. I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me whole every time I had P.E. class. I was insecure and confused as hell, all while wanting and needing to fit in and be "normal."
Thankfully, I had an older brother, three years my senior. He was a happy-go-lucky kind of a guy who did not appear to be perplexed by the stuff I struggled with. I became his shadow and I liked what he liked, disliked what he disliked, and acted like he acted. He hated onions, so I felt obliged to hate onions too, even though I really liked them. My brother and I shared the same bedroom until he was sixteen. I got to see his body mature before my eyes, growing facial and body hair, and this was perplexing—if not revolting to me. But since he didn't seem to be bothered by it, I knew this was a feeling I was just going to have to repress and suppress with all my power when it happened to me.
Sex education in high school provided new information, but by then I was already resigned to the fact I was different somehow. My childhood prayers to wake up as a girl had been abandoned by then, and new fears began to take root. I feared most of all that someone might find out how messed up I felt inside. I was careful not to say anything or ask any questions that could betray my secret struggle. I even worried when I had sleepovers with friends that I might talk in my sleep and say something explosive and my life would be over.
Adding to the confusion, I was not attracted to boys. Logic said that if I was a girl, I should be attracted to boys. So if I was not attracted to boys, then I must not be a girl, and if I was not a girl and I didn’t feel like a boy, then what was I?
This internal chaos, as well as having been sexually interfered with at the age of eleven and being raped at the age of fifteen combined to give me the urgent need to figure what life was about. I grew up in a very devout Catholic family and had learned that suicide was a sin; I wanted to die, but I did not want to go to hell.
During the Vietnam War, God drew me to Himself. It was the beginning of the Fall semester, my Junior year at San Jose State, when I decided to apply for a Conscientious Objector (CO) deferment. The first question on the CO application form simply asked: "What is the basis for your belief that war is wrong?" and then allowed about four lines in which to answer the question.
I will never forget that night in September, 1971 when I realized I could not answer that question based on any creed I might have held and would be unable to defend my answer before a panel at the Draft Board. I had stopped going to church when I was seventeen and had been on a kind of pilgrimage of my own making—a pseudo Eastern-hippy-thing—hardly an ironclad or defendable. The honest answer would have been I was opposed to war because I didn't want to die.
I was exposed to Jesus freaks around the campus and by divine intervention, I'm sure, I found myself sharing a house with five guys, one of whom was a bone-fide Bible thumper. Though I was dismissive of him and all the other Jesus freaks, I heard Jesus' words through them once again, "Come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest…"
As I sat by myself in the quietness of my bedroom that night, unable to answer a most basic question with any conviction, I admitted to God I did not know Jesus the way housemate, Dennis, did. I said that if he had anything to do with the peace and loving nature that exuded from Dennis, I wanted that for myself too. I also hoped this was going to be the silver bullet that would once an for all put an end to my gender confusion, which was the “heavy burden” that had made we “weary” of life.
It was not a dramatic instant conversion. In fact, as I thought the words, which became my prayer, there was a lot of self-mocking going on inside me. “Man, you’ve really lost it’ here you are praying to a god you don’t even know is there!”
In the few weeks that followed, I saw changes in me that I could not attribute to my own strength or self-determination; they took me by surprise. Ironically, it did not help that one of my classes that term was abnormal psychology; I found myself psychoanalyzing these changes and wondered if maybe I was going insane. I saw two completely different personalities at work in me, the old insecure and self-conscious one, and a new more at peace and freer one.
About four weeks into this “old man” vs. “new man” existence (or was I really going nuts), I worked up the courage to speak to Dennis and tell him what had been going on inside me, leaving out my gender confusion, of course. Dennis opened his big, black King James Bible and read from II Corinthians 5:17… “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
That passage convinced me Jesus was real and that it was Jesus who was at work in my life. Dennis encouraged me to acknowledge Jesus and make it official, which I gladly did. In my zeal and fervor I also believed I was going to be “normal” and that I was going to be free of my gender confusion forever.
You can read all about this in my book, and the events that led to me meeting my wife through a Bible Study that December. To help you understand my mindset, during the months and years that followed, I spiritualized my struggle in the following ways:
1. this was an attack on my person from Satan
2. this was my thorn in the flesh
3. this was a spiritual battle and I needed to put on the armor of God
4. I needed to retrain my mind
5. I needed to die to myself daily, moment by moment
6. I had to plead the blood of Christ
7. I needed to lay my struggles at the foot of the Cross
8. I needed to memorize Scripture
9. I needed to have faith
10. I needed to pray without ceasing
Pretty admirable attempts, wouldn’t you agree? The problem was the secret struggle never went away. The tension was always there and I simply felt like a hypocrite, a failure, and completely defeated. In retrospect, the way I dealt with it was by learning to act “normal.” I walked the walk and talked the talk and learned to role-play “Biblical Manhood.” This paid off dividends, I was a good husband and father, a good son, a good brother, neighbor, fellow Christian and all around-nice guy and highly respected. I will admit my life was very rewarding, and I thank God for how He blessed our family and how he blessed me. My life has not been a tragedy.
But why wasn’t God answering my prayers? Why did my mind always go to that forbidden place? Five years into our marriage, I concluded the reason my prayers were not going higher than the ceiling over my head was because I had kept this secret from my wife. I wrote a letter which I read to her and confessed that I felt inadequate as a man, that I felt feminine inside, that I knew this was wrong, that I should have told her but feared she would reject me if I had, that I wanted to be the best husband I could be for her and the best dad I could be for our two sons (our third came two years later), and that I needed her to stand by me to fight this battle. She forgave me and during the next eight years, she graciously and generously loved me and did everything she could to build me up and fight the battle with me.
There were plenty of books from places like Focus on the Family that we tried to get insights from, but at the end of the day, there was a pathetic lack of information available in those days. I was guilt-ridden whenever I strayed from Christian literature and looked at secular content. I was pretty harsh with myself and feared I was going to jinx any healing I may one day receive from God. For years, the word “transvestite” was the only starting place for any research I did. I hated that word and its definition probably because it never seemed to describe what I felt—yet, this was the only label that was out there and the recommended therapy included things like electro-shock treatment.
The word “transgender” was coined about that time. Like me, those who started using it did not identify as transvestites (men who dress in women’s clothing for sexual gratification). I don’t remember where I encountered transgender for the first time, but it made more connection with me than anything I had read before.
Cross-dressing for me had always produced an incredible amount of guilt, which as a Christian, I also labeled as “conviction.” I told you, I spiritualized this completely. My wife was willing to make a few allowances as long as…(here you can add your own list of one-hundred conditions, I’m sure you will come close to the list we came up with). There was no joy for either of us in this accommodating period of our life. Though I felt a tranquility when I slept in a pair of panties, for example, I felt horrible that I had “forced” this on my wife. The sense of hypocrisy and the pervasive guilt it produced made it not worthwhile. Waking up in the morning and reverting to full male mode was also painful, like ripping your skin off.
A few weeks shy of my fortieth birthday, I had my first session with a psychiatrist. I had three sessions with him in total and at the end of the third session he offered to refer me to the gender clinic that had opened up at Vancouver General Hospital. “Get behind me Satan!” — that was my thought. How could I possibly even consider such a thing, I just wanted to be normal. Look how low you are stooping, I told myself, “Doesn’t the Bible say God created us male and female? Get this crazy notion out of your mind, this is your cross, learn to carry it.”
Fast-forward nine years. Nothing had changed, the daily struggle had continued and the problem was I was thinking about death all the time. On the outside, white-washed and gleaming, on the inside, falling apart. My hope was that perhaps the folks at the clinic had a solution now. After all, from what I read, there was more research being done and a growing understanding of gender issues. So I got a referral to the clinic and for the next six months underwent a psychological evaluation. My diagnosis and the suggested course of action was not what I wanted to hear. “Isn’t there a therapy now that can numb this? I asked.
And my question to God at the time was: “If this diagnosis and proposed treatment is a gift from you, how is it possible that the solution to my very private and secret struggle is to make very outward and public changes?”
Fast-forward another eight years. In November of 2007 I went back to the clinic; I needed help. By this time I had reconciled my faith in Jesus to the diagnosis and now feared a complete mental collapse more than the prospect of transitioning.
The price has been steep. I miss my wife immensely, but I respect the fact that after, what turned out for her to be a thirty-two year sentence of being married to a transgender person she never expected, she had given enough. I am so grateful for the life we had, flawed as it was because of me. We are now divorced.
From Brenda: Do you feel that it was God's mistake that you felt you were in the wrong body? How did you reconcile an omnipotent God with deciding to change your gender?
I was in dire straights in 2006. Something told me that I needed to unpack Matthew 19, and to tell you the truth, I had always used it as a sledge hammer in my vain attempt to “retrain my mind.” Our pastor had given a sermon that really spoken to me. He warned that it was dangerous to base a doctrine on only one verse in the Bible, especially any verse that dealt with the human condition, because, he said, the Bible is at times silent, at times ambiguous and at times seemingly contradictory on some subjects. Understanding the context, he said, was sometimes as important as the text in order to understand the pretext
The commentaries were pretty much in agreement that in Matthew 19 Jesus was simply reiterating the Genesis account with respect to human sexuality and marriage and added that for this reason divorce was not part of God’s plan. The commentaries also agree that the teaching about eunuchs is simply an extension of this discussion by saying not all will marry for these reasons, all of which are under the discussion of celibacy. This is what Jesus said about eunuchs:
1. some are born this way from their mother’s womb
2. some are made this way by men
3. some choose to become this way for religious reasons
For several weeks I looked at this passage and kept getting drawn to the proviso uttered by Jesus as encapsulating statements. Again, paraphrasing: “Not everyone will be able to wrap their brain around this” and “If you get it, then believe it” It occurred to be that I didn’t get it and could not wrap my brain around it.
One day I reasoned that Jesus was not declaring that this thing he was going to say about eunuchs was special, elite and reserved knowledge for only a few. I believe this proviso was a challenge to his listeners, especially his disciples, to expand their horizon when it came to human sexuality. It was a teaching tactic like others He used elsewhere, “Let him who has ears hear, and Him who has eyes, see.” He challenged his disciples often in these ways. Lord, I want to understand this, help me make sense of it, I prayed.
If we believe the God of the Bible and we believe that Jesus is God, then here in Matthew 19 we have God himself declaring a pretty significant bit of truth. The omnipotent God declares that though “in the beginning” he created us male and female,” He now concedes it doesn’t always work that way anymore—some are born neither male nor female from their mother’s womb, but somewhere in between!
Let me interject here that the research being done about inter-sex children, those who are born “eunuchs” from their mother’s womb, is shedding new light into this whole issue of gender identity and sexual attraction. The research shows that the medical practice of doctors and parents making arbitrary decisions to make invasive and irreversible surgical changes to an inter-sex child’s body and to raise the child as a boy or a girl to match the surgical adjustments has failed in fifty percent of the cases. Assigning gender identity on the basis of biological markers alone has not worked. Today, doctors are telling parents to allow the child to grow older and let him/her tell them what gender they identify as, which usually happens about the time the child becomes self aware. But in a society and culture where gender and sex norms are clearly divided, it is a delicate balance between the rights of the child and the parental obligation to do what is best for the child.
If this dilemma is true for those children who are born with ambiguous genitalia, whose gender identity is fluid and cannot be ascertained based only on the plumbing, then who is to say gender identity isn’t also fluid among those who seem to have all the plumbing for male or female?
The significance of Jesus’ declaration began to make sense to me, but in the context of the discussion there is more to consider. The pretext is that the marriage ideal—the covenant based on fidelity—is of supreme importance to God, but so are those who have been culturally excluded in this tradition.
If there was one place in all of Jesus‘ teachings where He could have set the record straight, once and for all on sexual orientation and gender identity, it was here. His silence, theologians will argue, cannot be used as an argument to prove a point. Why then are we told that Jesus went quietly as a lamb to the slaughter if it is not to prove a point?
Nowhere in this passage do we hear Jesus judging, restricting, disqualifying or in anyway marginalizing eunuchs. Could He have intended for his disciples to be open minded in ways that up to now had been socially and “religiously” unacceptable? Jesus also does not say that all who are somehow sexually not one hundred percent male or female are therefore expected to live a life of abstinence. With respect to marriage, why not allow a eunuch to marry? Oh, and by the way, who should a eunuch be allowed to marry, another eunuch? Hum, could that be a same sex marriage? Who is it say one way or another? Jesus didn’t. If you say a “female eunuch” (more female than male) can only marry a male, and a “male eunuch” (more male than female) can only marry a female, at what point on this spectrum of possibilities do you place demarcations as to what is acceptable? Again, if this type of categorization was not important enough for Jesus to have bothered with, then why do we?
Thus went my thoughts over a period of several weeks. But being the paranoid fundamentalist that I had become, was I now deluding myself with apostate doctrines? Was I wanting to have my ears tickled and thereby help fulfill Paul’s warning for the last days? Lord, is there anything that corroborates these ideas, I prayed?
It happened the pastors at my church were doing a very insightful series into conversion and the sermons over several weeks were illustrating how conversion was an ongoing process. Peter, for example underwent several conversions, when he first believed, when he denied knowing Jesus, when he saw the empty tomb, when he preached to and baptized Cornelius after he was told not to call anything unclean which God had made clean.
The sermon that became a pivotal point for me had to do with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Do you ever wonder why Luke, inspired by the Holy Spirit—I’m sure—would include the detail that this Ethiopian official was a eunuch? Why not simply state that the treasurer from a foreign land had travelled hundreds of miles to Jerusalem to attend the Passover. Why mention his sexuality at all? Isn’t the story astonishing enough without this detail? I mean, Philip is the first man in history to be teletransported!
But I digress. Philip had obviously undergone another conversion—he did not shy away from approaching someone whom he previously might have avoided. As a eunuch, this person was ceremonially unclean. No amount of washing or sacrifices would be able to remove this stigma. Yet, he risks his life and travels an incredible distance out of his conviction to be in Jerusalem for the Passover, even if he is not allowed to enter the temple grounds and participate fully. It didn’t matter—he wanted to be as close to the Holy of Holies and was willing to stand behind the fence to do so.
The Holy Spirit included this not so small detail because it is what gives this story its object lesson for the church and it explains the significance of the question the eunuch asks Philip, “What prevents me from being baptized?”
This question melted me when I read it that Sunday. The question was pregnant with all kinds of meaning, as if to say: “Though I have been a Jew and have done everything required of me and have kept the commandments, I am not a full participant, I am not an equal. Will it be the same with Jesus, or can I participate fully? Philip’s answer was just as profound—as if to say, “Nothing prevents you and nothing prevents me, we are equals in Jesus!”
From Paula: What was your relationship with your body before your transition--did you see yourself, your embodied person as beloved and created in God's image or were their challenges to loving the body you didn't feel at home in? How do you view your body now that you have transitioned? What does it mean to be created in God's image as an embodied person--before and after you transitioned?
Hi Paula. Good question, painful to answer. I loathed my body and, as I shared above, the fundamentalist, conservative Christian exterior I clothed myself with produced a great deal of guilt. I did not want to insult God and tell Him he had made a mistake; I couldn’t. Satan was to blame for all of this and this concept also proved to produce incredible guilt whenever I allowed myself to do “research.” It was as if I was playing with forbidden fruit.
Having gone through the transition and being on this side of the “gender divide,” I cannot remember how horrible it was to have acute gender dysphoria. I have not experienced it since I transitioned. I imagine this is how mothers may relate to the pain of childbirth, which is forgotten after the baby is born.
With respect to God’s image and what that means, I am convinced this has nothing to do with our physicality or flesh, rather, it has to do with our character. He has given us His divine nature, Peter declares and has made us joint heirs with Christ. These are all qualities that do not change, even if our bodies do.
Your question reminds me of the conversation I had with my dad. He asked why I couldn’t say to myself that I had endured my condition for fifty-eight years so I might as well stay unchanged for however many years I may have left to live and return to being Jim (my Anglicized former name) for my wife. “Yeah, right! If it was only that easy.” I thought to myself. I asked him if he would say the same thing to me if what I had was another “congenital” or lifelong medical condition for which there was now a procedure that could improve the quality of my life. Should I not have such a procedure performed on me, or should I say to myself that I’ve lived with it this long and I might as well take it with me to the grave.
“That’s different,” he said.
“How so?” I asked.
My decision has impacted my wife’s self-image in a fundamental way. How I wish I could have been strong, to stay the course and remain as Jim for her.
From Carrie: As someone who isn't convinced that there are innate gender characteristics (although I do, of course, recognize biological differences and see how those might affect identity), I have trouble distinguishing how a transgender person conceives of her gender identity. Is it the case that you do think there are innate gender/sex differences and those are what don't feel like they fit, or is it more the case that, due to social constructions of gender, you don't feel as though you fit what a man is supposed to be and/or you feel more comfortable with female gender characteristics (and, of course, it may be some combination of both)? If it is the former, at least partially, what are those innate gender/sex characteristics that don't feel right? And, if there are those essential, innate differences, what role do those differences have in theology?
Hi Carrie, it’s confusing, isn’t it? Imagine not being able to figure it out as a child, when it could be said you are still innocent and intellectual reasoning is in its early stages. Superimpose on that all the layers that are influenced by culture and society, the expectations and prejudices having to do with gender roles and gender expression, and try to separate those from gender identity. If gender identity is not innate, then why is it that so many people are burdened by this issue?
As per the discussion about children born with ambiguous genitalia, the evidence seems to suggest that human sexuality—one’s sex, identity, and orientation—need to be understood as three separate spectrums and not as rigid one-or-the-other binary realities. The conclusion is we do not choose our sex (biological plumbing), our gender identity (the brain wiring), nor or orientation (who we are attracted to). These are pre-determined for us before birth...sort of how Jesus explained it. What we do get to choose is more trivial. We get to choose our roles and how we express ourselves. Theologically, I have come to believe God is not hung up with what is under our clothes or with what we wear. He cares about the heart and how be behave towards one another.
From Katherine: In your opinion, How much of gender is a social construct and how much is innate? What does it mean to you to be a woman as opposed to a man?
Katherine, good topic for a gender studies class. There are straight women that are masculine and straight men who are effeminate. Then there are gay men who are masculine and gay men who are effeminate, and lesbian women who are also either masculine or feminine. And then there are trans people who are all over the map. Isn’t diversity wonderful?
But at the end of the day, as you ready yourself for bed, in those private moments when you are left with only yourself to talk to, who are you? Is your identity based solely on what clothes you just took off? That would be foolish, wouldn’t it? The issue of what you are is on a completely different level.
For ninety-nine percent of the population who have never questioned if they are male or female because their gender identity aligns with their biological sex, I challenge you in the same way Jesus challenged his disciples—try to wrap your brain around the fact that not everyone is wired as you are; you are in the fortunate majority that somehow beat the odds in the crap-shoot of gender identity. There is a new word for that: “cisgender.” In other words, if you are not transgender and have never doubted your sex matches your gender, you are—tah-dah—cisgender!
One aspect that has been left out of the discussion so far is function. There are spiritual and social functions—different from roles, yet similar in that they are gender neutral. But to answer the question of what it means to be a woman as opposed to a man, most people are still focused on the biological functions of each. As a transsexual woman, I cannot get pregnant, and for this reason, some have argued, transsexual women are not real women. And conversely, transsexual men are not real men because they cannot inseminate. These arguments loose some of their validity when you consider that not all women are childbearing and not all men are fertile. So are we then reduced to only consider potentiality as the litmus test?
The issue at the end of the day is, are you a loving person?—whether male or female, or in between.
From Lee: In the Christian community, what differences have you noticed in the way people treat you as a woman, as opposed to a man? and as a transgender person?
I am not one to push myself or prone to foisting my agenda on anyone. Truth be told, I think I know when I will run the risk of being the elephant in the room, and who likes to be that? The only churches I have gone to are Catholic churches with members of my family. There is a sense of mutual respect for each other’s privacy and you can leave quietly at the end of the Mass without being pounced on by a member of the welcoming/membership committee.
I have also visited the Baptist congregation where I was a member when I began to disclose my plans for transition. I was very loved and supported by friends there but decided to stop attending when I began my transition. Our middle son is a member of the Council, a worship leader and a Sunday school teacher, and out of respect for his need for space and because I knew there were a few people in the congregation for whom my transition would be a problem, I have stayed away. I have returned for one memorial service after the family’s wishes that I be present trumped any reservations I may have had about offending anyone, and also for two other Sunday services when my son said it would be okay with him. I have gone to several other churches at different times and since I am fortunate enough to fly under the radar, there has never been an issue.
I have not had the need or the occasion to be part of a church where, for example, there are women’s Bible studies or women only events. But if I attend Gay Christian Network 2013, there is going to be a women’s retreat the day before the conference starts. There is always a first time for everything!
From Abi: How would you recommend teaching kids about transgender issues? I want to raise my children to be sensitive to others and aware of others' differences, but I don't personally know any trans* people and there really isn't a template for talking about things like this (or homosexuality, or a lot of other things) in an affirming way within my church community. Are there resources you shared with your sons? Things you wish you had taught them at a younger age? Things you wish you had known as a child? Thank you so much for your transparency with us, Lisa, and for bravely sharing your story. Eshet chayil (woman of valor)!
Thank you Abi for your questions and your comments.
I don’t mean to be flippant in my answer about teaching children about transgender issues, but it occurs to me that it might be similar to the approach you take in teaching your children about down’s syndrome or even autism spectrum. Teach your children to love the person inside and not allow physical differences keep them from seeing the person. PLAG has done a great job at producing materials that help friends and family understand transgender issues and they have wonderful age appropriate titles.
Our sons were young adults when I came out to them. I am grateful how my prayers were answered in that all three of them have allowed me into their lives as Lisa. Transitioning involves everyone in one’s life and I feared, more than anything, that I would make others feel uncomfortable—especially when going out with them in public.
Are there things I wish I could have done or said when they were younger? I don’t think so. For me, even though I transitioned late in life— (I will be sixty-two in November)—the timing was in God’s hands. People have asked if I wish I could have transitioned sooner, when it would not have taken as much work to reverse the secondary sexual characteristics, such as the three-hundred hours of electrolysis it took to remove my Latin American beard, so I could have enjoyed being Lisa longer. The adamant answer is no. I would not trade our three sons or our two grand-daughters, and not the thirty-seven years my wife allowed me to be known as her husband, for having been able to transition sooner.
I’ll share an answer to prayer I had a few years ago: I have never heard God’s voice with my ears, but I heard His answer in my mind one day after he had opened my understanding of Matthew 19 to me. I asked, “Lord, why didn’t you allow me to see this sooner, it would have made it so mush easier?” He answered, “Because I was also listening to your wife’s prayer to let her have a husband as long as possible.”
From Elly: How have you been helped or hurt by your church (or churches)? How can churches be more supportive and welcoming?
Hi Elly. Up to now, I have not been high-profile. I only attend one church on a regular basis, Lighthouse of Hope Christian Fellowship in Vancouver, an amazing little Pentecostal congregation where the motto is “everyone is welcome…and we mean it.” And they do. I don’t know of any other church in our city were you will see three trans women leading worship on a Sunday.
But I know there are plenty of uber-conservative churches in Vancouver, perhaps not as homophobic and transphobic as some of the churches in the Deep South, but probably not places were I can expect to be invited to speak any time soon.
What does break my heart is how many trans people I have met, and who write me, who share gut-wrenching stories of how they have been judged and told not to return to the churches they attended. I also know of two young trans persons in Vancouver who have taken their own lives after their Christian parents rejected them. This is very, very sad.
To answer the second part of your question about how churches can be more supportive, let me share with you about a church in Toronto, Ontario, where the leadership met after learning one of their members was going to transition. They met with the person and offered to support her emotionally, socially, spiritually and financially. At the time, the Province of Ontario had a moratorium on funding sex-change surgeries, so the church held numerous fund-raising events and paid for this person to travel to Thailand and undergo surgery. In the United States, where many people are unable to access medical help due to lack of money, wouldn’t this example be amazing to follow?
And to unabashedly blow the horn for my church, two of the deacons are trans women, and I am one of the worship leaders. We are full participants, all equals.
From Rachel: What's something you wish more people knew about you?
Rachel, your question strikes me as funny. My friend Kathy Baldock of Canyonwalker Connections has kidded me ever since I told her remorsefully that I had this notion that after my surgery I had hoped to live a very private life and simply blend into the woodwork; no one except close friends and family would know about my past. But that was not how things have turned out! I accepted an invitation to speak at a conference in Vancouver six months after my surgery, published a book about my life, and debated Michael Brown—how is that keeping quite about your past and being a private person? She likes to point this out to me and calls me “Quiet Lisa.”
But is there anything else I want people to know about me? Yes, and it goes like this:
Last year, when I engaged Michael Brown in an on-line public exchange in the days prior to the Charlotte Pride Event, I was learning how to use my new iPhone. I was checking my emails and noticed Dr. Brown had rebutted back and what he said made me very angry. He was challenging my interpretation of Matthew 19 and asserted that if he was wrong and I was right, he would be forced to confess his error to God and to men, but that if he was right and I was wrong, I would not only have to confess my error to God and men, I would also have to revert to living as a man because, he argued, this verse defined me. I started to type that there were other more important verses that defined me, and at this point I mistakenly pressed “send.”
“Shit!” That’s what I said, and started a new message. I was going to continue by listing the verses that popped into my mind but then stopped. No, that is all I have to say, I thought to myself. Why cast my pearls before swine? (Sorry Dr. Brown, just quoting scripture.) The first verse on my tongue was “I am my Beloveds and He is mine…” Song of Solomon 6:3.
Kathy Baldock and I attended the Pride Event and she told me to get prayed over at my church the Sunday before we went. In the prayer room after the service, I was with one of the pastors and one of the deacons who were going to pray for me. All I asked was for them to pray for Kathy and me and for the Lord to give us opportunities to share the love of Jesus with folks. As Pastor Brandon prayed, I had my eyes half open as I bowed my head and I recognized the sandaled feet of a man who has a gift of prophecy as he approach our little circle. He had no idea what I had asked the other two to pray for and when he spoke up, he basically answered my request almost word for word. That was very moving. But then Pastor Brandon leaned into me and whispered in my ear, “I just heard the Lord say, “You are my beloved” three times!” I had not said anything to Brandon or anyone else about my foiled attempt to respond to Dr. Brown and the verse that was on the tipoff my tongue.
Silly me, I’m sitting here crying my eyes out just like I did that night. Jesus affirmed what was in my heart and I knew I was loved by Him. That is what I want others to know… I am loved by Jesus.
I will close with this. I know there are many Christians who will discount everything I have said and done as heretical and completely unscriptural. But I warn them to be careful. I have the witness of the Holy Spirit in my life and in the same way I cannot judge anyone’s standing in the Lord, no one except the Lord can judge my standing in Him. To attribute what I have experienced and how God has worked in my life to the works of Satan is to run the risk of attributing the works of the Holy Spirit in my life to Satan. In this regard, you can add all gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer and transgender Christians’ experience of God in their lives. Do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit by declaring their experiences as counterfeits and invalid. As was the case for the early church, when the Holy Spirit was poured out among the uncircumcised gentile believers and the church had to change its theology to accommodate this new God experience, we need to be careful today that our theology is not so inflexible that we run the risk of putting God, the Holy Spirit in a box of our own design.
God Bless you all.
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