Recently the New York Times asked for transgender people to introduce themselves to the wider world. Here are their stories…
…and I was humbled that they would accept my own contribution.
“Beautiful” was written about and for me on my 49th birthday by my very dear friend Janet von Berky and her daughter Caitlin. Janet wrote the lyrics, then she and Caitlin wrote the music which Caitlin performed.
It’s about my struggle to accept the beauty that God has sown into my soul, and how I long to be the kind of person God finds lovely. And His promise to increase what He has already done both in my inner and outer self, now and in eternity. In our dance together, beauty is not merely for me, but mostly to be lavished to others as God loves them through me.
It was given at a very difficult time with God: we were working through the “appointment” about my gender issues that I had demanded of Him a decade previously, a “meeting” which I thought I would never have on this side of eternity. I was only beginning to understand that in the midst of our deeply intimate, often painful interactions, that He was fulfilling His promise to do a “New Thing.” To my wonder, I was being healed through my gender affirmation!
Beloved hid her face from me
And cried she wasn’t beautiful,
And would I make her beautiful
When I took her home?
I turned Beloved’s face to mine
And told her she was beautiful
And yes, I’d make her far more so
When I took her home.
Oh, Beloved, you are cherished,
You are beautiful!
And when you stand before me
With my radiance you’ll shine!
Oh, all my love for you is wild and it’s extravagant
Of all the good things granted you
The best is that you’re mine.
Beloved turned her face to mine
And let me hold her close to me,
The dance we danced was Beautiful
For all the world to see.
I cannot express the depth of gratitude I have for my Dearest Big Twin Sister Janet, a cisgender woman, whom God has used to help me work through these things, keep me focused on Him, and mentor me much as a sister and mother would help another woman.
In 1999, I began to understand why I was always so different: from the beginning, I knew I was not a boy, and in therapy for clinical depression, as things became *safe* to deal with, it became obvious that I am transgender: transsexual, maybe intersex. In this year of intensive work on myself in therapy, I started to transition without even realizing it, and toward the end, I self-medicated with female hormones as a way to confirm my gender. God and I were working together with this, and while I came to be convinced that God had no problem with transgender people, or for them making whatever changes they need to make: God gently impressed on me that my wife would not be able to manage sex change surgery. In my deep frustration, hurt and (yes) anger and tears, I believed that I would never be able to transition in any way. I gave-up my “right” to surgery, and even more difficult my “right” to hormones (I poignantly and urgently knew female hormones were right for me by this time). AND so, I demanded an “appointment,” with God, as-if He was a doctor. I wanted to know why I am transsexual, and why this hurt so much, and why I could not fix the problem. (He didn’t seem to be fixing it!). I assumed that I would have to die first, before I would have this appointment. Then I threw myself back into repression, only this time, I knew what I was repressing. Most days I wanted to die.
You could hear the wind and rain beating on the windows of the tiny classroom, cold, but for the warmth of sixty some-odd students and teachers crowded together. It seemed like we would have an intimate chat with those in the front row. They were quiet; this had been postponed for weather twice already; it was imposing.
It was their first time, Judi and our son Josh, to speak about their experiences of having a transgender loved-one in their life. They were invited specifically because people had heard of us. Three trans folk: a young adult trans man, a thirty-something trans woman and me – such a small group for such a large trans population as Asheville has…
…It was a little scary; I have shared on lots of panels over the years (even one a few days earlier), but never with them: Judi is just becoming comfortable with sharing our story with others, and naturally, it is from her perspective. Josh has never shared his in public, nor even with me…
…I said to them “just say what is on your heart and mind – pretend I am not here. They want your stories, because they are important and worth hearing.” I did not know what they might say – we do have some “dirty laundry” in all this process, but I was prepared for others to hear it if that would help them understand a trans-family…
…For my part, I am not used to sharing about my gender journey in Judi’s presence. I know she has a limited capacity to hear about it at any one sitting, and there are things that I can say among trans people and cis strangers that I was not sure I would feel comfortable saying around her. Just the fact that I am overjoyed that I can be the woman I am is the sort of thing that stings her because she loves the man she married. There is still grief there; there are still on-going negotiations, still challenges. So, I was afraid I would “hold back,” hesitate, and that even my voice would betray these butterflies in my stomach.
The other two people on the panel shared wonderfully, and I loved hearing more of their stories. We all shared vividly, with tenderness, with pain, with joy and humor: “Um…I had a doozy of a mid-life crisis: I was the other woman!”
Judi “came-out” to them, confiding that doctors revealed to her that the brain-mapping studies performed on her in early adulthood had indicated a male “structured and performing” brain (no surprise to her), and how she had worked through the possibility of transition herself, and how she lives as a woman who is bi-gender. She shared how my transition has changed her life and outlook, and how I “came-out” to her (I had forgotten how I did this!)…
We all shared as a family, how the way we are meeting our challenges with love and integrity seems to be blessing others who encounter us: because we are dealing with our “impossibilities,” others feel like they may be able to overcome theirs.
…And I shared how it seems that I am forever “outing” myself because of Judi medical circumstances (she came using a walker and oxygen). And really scary: I explained how hormones were slowing changing the way I look at people and that I am feeling twinges of attraction to men and women though I have been assexual/demisexual all my life (I’d never shared this with Judi because I thought she would be threatened). We were all very honest, open and transparent!
Josh, really connected with the middle-school aged kids, explaining how he has come to see me as a woman, who is also his dad, and how that has affected his life, and how he explains this to his friends (because it comes-up). He did it with engaging, self-deprecating humor, with a panache that communicated: this is life; it’s complicated; but love makes it possible. I am betting these kids were thinking: “what would I do if my dad or mom came-out as trans and transitioned??” And Josh showed them what is possible.
We fielded lots of questions, and people seemed thrilled with each of us.
At the end, the organizer projected pictures of each of the three of us from “before.” And the results were really quite shocking – each of us spoke a bit about our pictures, about who we were at that time and what those pictures mean to us now.
While I have said almost nothing of the other trans panelists, please know that their contributions were brilliant, rich, heart-rending, beautiful, joyful even as they face on-going challenges also.
Another thing that was special about all this is that we were all so “normal” as people (albeit queer and “Asheville-Quirky”). For example, the other trans gal (petite & attractive) and I looked so normal as women, that it was really mind-bending to realize that she had been a hulking, Special Forces, soldier, and I looked like an “ordinary” dad and husband – those people in the pictures were us, dealing with our gender issues as best we could at the time. Each of us were revealed now to be very comfortable with ourselves, as our most accurate selves.
I think that the panel’s presence and contributions really highlighted to the kids that being trans does not make you an alien, sorta-human-freak person, and having a trans family member is not the catastrophe it might seem to be. On the contrary, we were all very real people, not terribly different than anyone else in that room.
It was such a privilege to share our lives with these young people!
Judi and I cannot express how proud we are of our son!
Oh, and my voice held-up perfectly, and it was effortless! I know I will never be a beautiful woman, but I very much want a beautiful voice, and that is in my reach. The organizer shared that one student said to her when she left: “I felt bad I was feeling sleepy every time Renee spoke – it wasn’t because she was boring – she was so interesting…she just had such a soothing voice. She should make relaxation recordings!” Judi and Josh both said to me, as we were chatting with some students, that my voice was in a sweet place now, where it is very natural and fits who I am as a woman – that’s a major thing because they had had a rough time with my voice transition.
Here is a moving documentary about Josie’s journey to become herself. I think it is worth a few minutes to view.