In November 1991, a dear brother in Christ introduced me to the worldwide ministry that I have been associated with for most of my life since then. Ken is still alive in his late 80’s and to my surprise and delight, remains in my corner to this day. I visit him and his wife as often as I can and we either go out to eat together or share a meal at their table. Early on, Ken and Dolores became my spiritual parents, seeing that I was a relatively new believer at the time.
As Ken got older, I became aware of a standard greeting he would have. Whether it was me or someone else, we would often say hello with a familiar “It’s good to see you, Ken.” Invariably, his reply would be, “It’s good to be seen.” With advancing age, you grow in appreciation of each day the Lord has given you.
Having recently watched Joy Ladin’s TED talk based on Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman” speech, and mindful that it was Joy who suggested I start this blog, it brought to mind that when you are part of a marginalized group, it is also good to be heard. Joy provided a major encouragement to come out of my planned stealth mode after I took the bold step of transitioning to live full-time as a woman in November 2012. Here was a person whose memoirs had been published, who was giving interviews on NPR and had overcome barriers at an ultra-conservative bastion of gender norms: an Orthodox Jewish institution, Yeshiva University. And she felt I had ideas and perspectives worthy of sharing with the world.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0K2YvvQyEw (Link to Joy Ladin’s TED talk)
Since I started my blog, I have grown in confidence to share my views on LinkedIn, participate in a monthly meeting in my county that introduces and discusses transgender issues with cisgender professionals, speak to classes at two different colleges, and in November 2015 (there’s that month again!) speak at a TDOR observance (and post it on You Tube). Aware that this has a double meaning for many of us in the transgender community, it is good to be read. And it is good for my message to be heard.
Now there are many voices in the world, and in this Internet Age of You Tube, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a multitude of sites on which to hear them. Never before has most of the world had such access to those voices. Let’s face it: many of those voices are not supportive of transgender people. If that was not the case, Joy could concentrate on doing the things she loves: teaching, writing poetry and spending time with people near and dear to her. It is the need to speak out against opposition and oppression that motivates Joy and others in the transgender community to divert precious time away from the things we love.
In her TED talk, Joy mentioned a couple of people who have spoken in opposition to her testimony of having a female gender identity. As much as it saddens me, I have come to expect it from the extreme religious right-wing (even though I have not given up on changing hearts and opinions over time). But it also hurts when other women (in particular, a portion of the feminist community) do not accept my identity as real and valid.
In part, Joy’s TED talk was in response to Elinor Burkett’s article in the Opinion section of the NY Times Sunday Review, titled “What Makes a Woman?” Joy mentioned a woman with views representative of what has become known as Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists (TERF). Those of us who are MTF are told by this group that we have no right to define the meaning of “woman” because we have not endured periods, childbirth, or female socialization, while also having enjoyed male privilege for much of our life. While being accused by the right-wing religionists of being effeminate sexual deviants, the radical feminists accuse us of male arrogance to think we can define who women are, be better women than “real” women, and invade women only spaces.
Joy points out that like most of us who are MTF, we have paid a tremendous price to do what we are accused of by the TERF community. We have given up any male privilege we might have had (and not all of us had it or wanted it), lost jobs, been rejected by immediate family and our places of worship, risked our health, depleted our savings and more. And we did these things long before getting members of our community on the cover of Time and Vanity Fair, or receiving top modeling assignments. We did it at a time of experimental surgeries (e.g. Lili Elbe), complete disassociation with our former life for most of us, mockery, denunciation, and worse. Even today, we still face a disproportionate amount of murder, violence and harassment. Quite a price to pay for so-called male arrogance (which, if we are truly female in spirit, we don’t possess in the first place), no?
Those of us who transitioned in adult life have finally gained authenticity, but we lost so much to get there. Playing an assigned role, we lost our own selves, the life we would have led, and even experiencing periods and childbirth. Just as the transgender community has a right to be heard, so does the TERF community. But it grieves me that they don’t understand that MTF’s have lost far more than we may have gained by living a portion of our adult life as male. For every MTF who has been successful in transition, dozens more are underemployed, bullied into suicide or murdered. But even with those who have been successful, what price can be put on giving up being oneself for so long?
Here are two personal stories that happened to me recently that show what I lost and can never get back because I was assigned with a male gender at birth. The first is serendipitous.
My hair stylist retired back in October. She recommended the husband and wife team that she uses. Through an amazing sequence of events, I found out that the wife was my classmate for three years in grammar school over 50 years ago. After being grateful that I was accepted, not kicked out of the salon, I realized how little I knew about her and most of my female classmates at that age. I remembered the names, but that was just about it, while I remember many details about the boys in my class. I also remembered the scorn heaped by both boys and girls on the boys who tried to cross the gender line in any way. To my loss, I learned quickly and stayed on the side assigned to me.
The second story is associated with my church. During one of the Sundays in Advent, we had a service featuring the precious young children showing various things they had learned that year. But what really caught my eye were the little girls (about age 6-8) doing timbrels. They looked like they were having so much fun. I remarked as such to the woman sitting next to me that day, a good friend who knows about my past. She replied that it is a lot of fun, sort of like cheerleading with musical instruments.
My mind flashed back to June. I was watching the graduation ceremony for new Salvation Army officers. At one point, girls were doing timbrels. Suddenly, some of the high-ranking women officers got up and started doing timbrels, too. They all had such joy on their faces. That day in December, I suddenly realized why. They were remembering back to their girlhood and all the wonderful experiences they had. I never can have those experiences. But some people see people like me as being selfish and arrogant. They don’t understand that what we have lost in life is irreplaceable: not what I define as female experience but what women and girls choose as female experience.
If trans women are guilty of male arrogance, how do you explain trans men? Are they arrogant women claiming to be better men than cisgender males? Are they redefining male identity? Or are they, like anyone who is truly transgender, simply saying that this is who I am? And who I am came before surgery, hormones or change in presentation.
As I was writing this, it occurred to me that there is another group that TERF’s cannot explain by their anti-transgender judgments: the young transgender children who have come forward to assert their true gender identity. How much male privilege has a pre-school child experienced? How are they demonstrating a motive to redefine female? Would you go so far as to accuse these precious little ones of invading female only spaces? And how do you explain the young trans masculine children?
One of the things that comforts me is knowing that Jesus also endured false accusations. Here is one that is particularly relevant.
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. – Matthew 12:24-27
The irony is that part of the feminist movement was a reaction to the stereotyping of women. TERF’s do not see that they are just as guilty in stereotyping trans women. Although trans women comprise a tiny percentage of the population, we are remarkably diverse in viewpoints, interests, gender roles and gender expression. Like any group, we have honorable representatives and dishonorable ones.
Ultimately, I can only speak for myself. There are only two who truly know my heart: me and God. No one else knows the shame I once felt. No one else knows the cost of the oil in my alabaster box.
And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on. There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most? Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged. And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment. Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little. And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven. And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also? And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. – Luke 7:37-50