Auld Lang Syne, College Football, Dick Clark, gatekeeper, gender conflict, gender counselor, Guy Lombardo, informed consent, January, Janus, Jeremiah 17:9, mind of Christ, New Year, New Year's Day, New Year's Eve, Rose Bowl, support group, Tournament of Roses Parade, Transgender, Transition
Happy New Year to all of you who have come this way!
I don’t put much stock or emphasis in New Year’s. I cannot remember the last time I made New Year’s resolutions. To my way of thinking, if you often monitor your life and especially if you are in prayer and God’s Word on a daily basis, you will know when something needs to be changed in your life. You do not need to wait until a particular day of the year. You can start on whatever day the realization comes to you.
I don’t have many special memories of New Year’s. I do remember the first time I was allowed to stay up until midnight. My parents were going somewhere with a couple who lived across the street and another couple they knew. To make it happen, my brother was engaged to baby sit the young children of that other couple. I was allowed to tag along to “help”, but probably just as much so my brother could keep an eye on me, too. I think I was 11 and he was 16. As I recall, I fell asleep before midnight and groggily got to my feet when my parents arrived to take us home.
Last Sunday, two women in my church (both old enough to have teenage children), were talking after the Sunday service about what they usually did on New Year’s Eve. One of the women said that she didn’t like watching it on television anymore because of the entertainers they featured. She said she missed the days when Dick Clark hosted it, because he was more traditional and respectful in whom he brought on the program.
I responded that I am old enough to remember Guy Lombardo and both of the woman looked at me like I had six heads. For those of you who also don’t know the name, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians were broadcast or telecast from a ballroom in New York playing Auld Lang Syne at the stroke of midnight from 1929 until he died in November 1977. A recording of his band playing Auld Lang Syne is still the first song played after the ball at Times Square reaches the bottom of its descent.
I didn’t have the heart to tell the ladies that, for my parents, Dick Clark was the dreadful break with tradition. He conceived of his version in the early seventies specifically to compete with Lombardo. With the Baby Boomers becoming adults, he correctly saw that they were not interested in watching older people in formal wear and party hats while ballroom dancing. He deliberately added the word “Rockin’” to the title of the program to let younger viewers know that this was not their parents’ New Year’s Eve program. It worked. It attracted the younger audience while turning off people like my parents for whom the very idea of rock music was anathema.
Most of my early memories involve New Year’s Day itself, not the night before. It would start with the Tournament of Roses Parade. My Aunt Betty and her family lived in a neighborhood of Los Angeles near Pasadena. I think she even participated in a parade or two when she was younger and then some of her children did. So we watched, with the unrealistic hope that we might see one of them.
Then it was time for the football games. My mom hated football, but she knew it was a losing battle to keep it off of the television.
In those days, the New Year’s Day bowl games really meant something. They were the climax of the college football season. When I started following college football in the late fifties, there was only one other major bowl game at the end of the season: the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida. The Sun Bowl was played in those days, but the teams they invited were not considered major teams at that time. New Year’s Day brought the big four games: Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl and Rose Bowl. Back then, all of them were played during the daytime.
With today’s plethora of bowl games, many of which feature teams who were only able to break even during the regular season, I barely pay attention any more. Most of the major bowl games aren’t even played on New Year’s Day now and their importance is reduced even further with a separate BCS National Championship Game matching the two top ranked teams in the country.
So what does all this have to do with gatekeepers? A few things. First of all, Guy Lombardo and Dick Clark, entertainment icons of their day, served as familiar faces to usher in the New Year. In a way, that made them gatekeepers from the past to the future every December 31, heralding the end of an old year and beginning of the new.
Second, January is named for the Roman mythological god, Janus. In Roman mythology and religious practice, he was the god of beginnings and transitions, and therefore also gates, doors, passages, endings and time. He is traditionally depicted as having two faces looking in opposite directions, one to the past and one to the future.
Transitions and gatekeepers are both very important in the life of the transsexual who has reached the point in life when the target gender becomes actively pursued as one’s future, and the gender assigned at birth is hopefully left in the past. While all life is a transition from one stage to another, this period of progression toward the target gender is highlighted with the term because there are very few processes in anyone’s life experience that could be compared to what is involved.
Gatekeepers are a significant part of the transition process for the transsexual. My understanding is that many transsexuals object to the existence of gatekeepers who get involved beyond a minimal level. This minimal level is sometimes referred to as an “informed consent” gatekeeper system. Under it, the choice to transition is strictly personal and the gatekeeper’s sole function is to inform the client of the possible risk and consequences of the various elements of transition (hormones, surgery and perhaps some of what might be expected when coming out to family, friends, an employer and so on).
I count myself as one who believes that it is preferable for a gatekeeper to serve a more extensive mental health and counseling role. I will state up front that I had a very good experience with my gender counselor. I believe there are many reasons for that.
First of all, I did my homework before starting the process. One of my reasons for finding and joining a support group was to gather as much information as possible about resources and steps in the transition process. This included getting names of individuals and organizations in my local area that provided gender counseling.
I interviewed three of the four counselors whose names I had received. (The fourth person was honest enough to disqualify himself.) It was not an easy choice, because all three were well-recommended and I believe I could have had a successful outcome with any of them.
Some critics object to an extensive gatekeeper system on grounds that it is in the vested interest of such a gatekeeper to stretch out the process. More sessions means more fees. I am satisfied that this did not happen to me. From what I have gathered from other transsexuals, my counseling progress was relatively rapid in terms of the number of sessions before I received my carry letter, my diagnosis and referrals for hormone replacement. Around that time, the frequency of our sessions was reduced and I am now on what I would term a PRN basis (using the Latin abbreviation for “as needed” in regard to a prescription medication and applying it to counseling).
I believe that my attitude toward the process was also a significant part of its success and speed, which, in turn, are related to my positive view of a larger gatekeeper role. I determined early on that the mental health professional I chose is my gender counselor, not my therapist. Therapist implies that there was something wrong with me that needed to be healed. Counselor implies a desired goal that is first given an initial evaluation for validity and feasibility. If the answers to both of those are “yes”, then we become a team with a mission to make that goal a reality. The counselor serves as team leader, but I retain certain autonomy.
Another area that was very important to the success of the process was my preparation prior to the session and my participation during the session. My counselor actively participated with probing, guidance and suggestions. But probably the one thing she said most often was, “Hold on, let me catch up,” as she tried to write down what I had to say. I am blessed with an excellent memory. Also, I am comfortable with my childhood and have no sense that there are any repressed memories floating around.
As a Christian, I had additional reasons to favor greater involvement by a counselor. First is a phrase that appears in two separate Proverbs (11:14 and 24:6): “in multitude of counsellors there is safety.” While my group of counselors did not work in concert, I assembled a team of them. In addition to my gender counselor, there was my pastor, my questions to various people in the transgender community who had an extensive body of knowledge on trans issues, and attending support group meetings. Once I started on hormones, my doctor was added to the team. Last and most important to me as a Christian, there was and continues to be my daily communion with God through His Word and prayer.
The second verse was a strong caution to me and I took it very seriously. The verse is Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” While this verse is from the Old Testament and Christians can rely on the knowledge that we have “the mind of Christ”, we still have to be aware that there exists in us the potential for battles between the flesh and the Spirit of God that dwells in us.
One of the things I appreciated about the counselor I chose was that at the end of the intake she asked me why I was there. But she asked in a way that I knew she meant more than the general reason that I had already discussed during the intake session (i.e., my gender conflict). Why was I there now? Why had I come at this time in my life? It gave me the opportunity to share the concern on my heart raised by Jeremiah 17:9. I told her, “I want to know the truth and I don’t want to make a mistake.” In response that day and thereafter from time to time, she let me know the following: a successful outcome was her priority; she was experienced in being able to tell who was genuine and who was lying (whether to the counselor or to themselves); she knew the consequences of a wrong choice would put me in an even worse state then I was in, and she would do what she could to prevent that.
“Let all things be done decently and in order.” – 1st Corinthians 14:40