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When Does She Become He?

LGBT PERSPECTIVES, with Jillian Page and guests

By Brettany Renée Blatchley
LGBT Perspectives

ASHEVILLE, North Carolina — What makes a woman and what makes a man; what is male and what is female? What was once a very taboo subject in our culture, only seriously (and quietly) contemplated by doctors and researchers, is becoming dinner-table-talk with the new, greater visibility of transgender and intersex people. Perhaps a little thought experiment can add to this conversation?

Say that Sarah is an ordinary woman in respects visible and invisible. Where would she stop being a woman, a female, and what would it take to make her a male and man? Consider:

DNA: Let’s exchange one of Sarah’s X chromosomes for a Y. Would this make her a male, a man? Not necessarily. Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome is an intersex condition where a person’s body is unable to respond to testosterone. So their body does not masculinize from the default female-form…

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Sunday Outing

My hand

“Yes, these women’s hands” she said…

A cisgender woman I befriended at church a few months ago noticed I am unusual, but assumed that I was simply a tall woman of Scandinavian stock (which is largely true).

Sunday, I was driving her home from worship, and she made a comment in broken English saying “Renee, you did [such-and-such] as little girl?” I looked at her tenderly, shook my head as I gently said “Olga, I was never a little girl.” Her eyes widened: “What?! You boy then?!” With conviction, I spoke: “Not exactly Olga.” We were close to her house and as we turned the corner, I said “remember when I told you about my spouse and said you can ask me anything? Would you like to know more about who I am?”

Olga is a new US citizen, in her mid sixties and from Romania; she is kind-hearted, weather-beaten, deeply spiritual, and does not speak English well.

We stopped in her driveway, and I gently tried to explain, and then said, please let me show you, and I showed her my transitional video on my phone. She had difficulty understanding how this could be. As the different pictures of me changing drew closer to the present, she kept asking “is that you? Is that you?” and then about two-thirds through she would exclaim “that’s you! That’s you – I know your smile!”

…Then she took my hands saying…”don’t cry, don’t cry…”

She said “Renee! You are woman! If God not want you that way, you would not be. You still my sister! But don’t tell others, they no understand, no accept you. I will never say, this is your private life.”

It was a mind and heart changing experience for her. She never imagined that someone could change their sex, and she was grateful (and deeply impressed) that I was honest with her when she asked about my “girlhood.” (When she asked about my husband a month ago, I gently told her that I didn’t have a husband: my spouse is a woman, so she knew I was odd…and honest.) She then said that she had always had trouble understanding and sympathizing with gay and lesbian people, but now that she realizes she has a good friend who was a man and is now a woman, she believes God can do anything and it’s okay. She feels better about queer people now that she knows one personally.

Foreboding had held me as I anticipated the moment when it would be “time” to explain this part of myself to Olga. She had so much accepted me as as a sister, as any other woman (and it felt so wonderful to be accepted for myself). Would she reject me when I inevitably revealed myself more deeply to her? Blessedly it was another instance of love and mutual vulnerability sustaining a relationship.

Laughing she said “Renee! You got good boobies! You keep changing – get bigger hips and get shorter – then nobody even think anything odd about you woman.”

And still we giggle and touch as women do when we share things, and she is teaching me to care for a garden as I help her with English. She has already taught me of her compassionate soul, and we have grown together in faith.


I live “simply open,” which for me means that in casual encounters I am “just” a tall, boyish woman – but when people get to know me more intimately, the fact that I am a transgender woman becomes apparent in relaxed, natural, even winsome ways. Who I was is not dead, but has blossomed into who I am today: my past is my unique past; my present is here, and my future to come: I am a woman, a woman of transgender experience.

Audio
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Beautiful

“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!

BEAUTIFUL

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 turned Beloved’s face to smile
On many other dancers there
Together we will learn this dance
Until I take you home.


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.

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“Other” in the Spirit

Brettany Renee Blatchley (aka Hippie-Girl) 2014-08-27

This will be a long, difficult road for many of us: queer and straight…

When the “other” kind of person turns-out to be someone who is respected, liked, loved, then who that person is will collide with who that person is assumed to be. This is a God-moment when the seeds of reconciliation or more vehement rejection are sown.

…God has been leading me to connect with various Christian congregations in my area, growing and developing a godly, sisterly relationship with them. Because I live “simply open” about who and what I am, at some point when our relationship deepens, the fact that I am a married Christian woman of transgender experience will become apparent in natural, relaxed even winsome ways – in God’s time…

…Last Wednesday, at an “agape” potluck and Bible study, it was “time” – my status and authority as a transgender person became very relevant to the discussion and I gently made my disclosure, acting in great vulnerability from a position of spiritual strength…

This Sunday was a good time of worship. Much was preached, sang and prayed about how THIS church, this part of Christ’s Body was especially attuned and welcoming to people on the margins (people “other churches” reject) – we were admonished. “They will come here for Jesus’ love: be prepared!” They did not realize that I had already been among them as an “unpresentable” part of The Body. I was cautiously optimistic!

…Last evening, I again joined the “Agape” group with my spouse. We ate and socialized, when ask how my spouse and I were related, I replied in joyful truth. Moments later, I was called into the pastor’s office along with the Bible study leader in whose group I had “come-out…”

I learned that I had caused a stirring in the entire leadership for most of the week.

…It was a long and good discussion where I was very much “on trial,” my relationship with Jesus, my relationship with sin, my understanding of the Bible and its authority, my transgender nature and transition: but in the end, I was essentially excommunicated – told (without Biblical support) that being transgender was illegitimate and living (as myself) a woman was in their eyes: “sexual immorality.” I gently pointed-out the arrogance of assuming absolute correctness on the issues yet being unwilling to go to God about the possibility that they could be wrong. I also gently point-out the hypocrisy of treating my “sin” as in need of special attention, including the breaking of fellowship.

I commended the pastor on at least speaking civilly with me about this (some won’t); he commended me for my reputation there as being a very well-spoken, intelligent, honest and kind person with a gentle servant heart. His prescription for me was to “repent.” Specifically, “repent” meant for me to renounce my (God given) gender identity, live as a man, and “embrace my masculinity.” Of course to “live as a man” would require me to have a sex change, and I assured them that unless God made this demand crystal clear by the conviction of His Spirit, I would make no-such recantation…

…So we parted – I suggested that we pray together and embrace as we concluded. I led this prayer, and we left with hugs: fellow believers who nonetheless could not be reconciled at this time, maybe not on this side of eternity?

It was hard for me, building a relationship with a congregation, coming to know people and *be known*, offering myself to potentially be hurt…for them to see Jesus in me, requires significant time, sacrifice and connection. But that connection made, makes the sundering of the relationship – the relationshipS – all the more painful. That was my pain last night.

God has led me to be one of His agents of change, agents of love, as one of His “scandalous” people – His daughter, a “woman with a past” and a present.

AND there are other congregations and relationships, and more faith to grow…Dearest Lord, my Love, please give me strength – glorify Yourself in me.

Blessings & Joy!!

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Reveal

Artist Unknown

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.

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Dear Neighbors

Brettany Renee Blatchley 2014-10-15 (bw)

America is my home. I love it for its landscape, its history, and especially its people. I grew-up here; I work here; I shop here; I go to church here; I raised a family here; I laugh, cry, live and likely I will die here.

May I please share something intimate and important, something most people do not guess about my medical history? You see, I am a female person who has become a woman through her transgender nature and experience. My doctors and I have worked for years to help my body match the way my brain is wired. There are complicated reasons for this, and (for my case) the science is pointing to how I was formed in my mother’s womb.

Goodness! Why is this relevant to anything???

Well, it is important because I also use public bathrooms and change-areas. Yes, I know that’s “personal information,” and it should be…really, it should be. But what once was private for me, sadly may no longer be the case…

…Some among us, mostly well-meaning people, grossly misunderstand people like me, and consider us to be a threat, even evil, for just existing as our authentic selves. Many assume God feels this way about us too…

…That is difficult enough, but they also want it to be illegal for me to use the same bathroom and changing facilities that other women use, facilities I have used for years without incident…

…In their eyes, nothing my doctors say, nothing science says, nothing I say, not my legal status, nothing that has or ever could be done to my body can ever amend the opinion of the doctor at my birth when I was assigned “male.”

Do you realize, I could be criminalized for life, for simply using the “wrong” public facilities? Even a minor brush with the law endangers my livelihood, my family, my special position of trust within the Department of Defense, my employability, even my very life.

Some will say: “so just use the men’s room.” Well, only if you want people to be really shocked! Seriously: only if I want to put my life in danger. Ironically, I could easily subject myself to arrest for being in the “wrong” bathroom, because I am legally as well as socially and visibly female.

Neighbors, I am not a threat to anyone, much less my sisters in gender-segregated-areas.

When asked, police departments around the country have confirmed that transgender people are nether predators nor “perverts” in these spaces – on the contrary, there are numerous documented cases of us being hurt by “normal” people. Our fears are backed by tragic experience; the fears of some of you are backed by: nothing.

Dear People, decades of reasoned debate in the medical community is over: we transgender people are not “disturbed” nor “disordered;” we are not “perverts.” We are simply different from most people, in that parts of our biological sex do not align with our gender identity to varying degrees. Each of us find our own way to live with this. Some of us are invisible to you, while many others of us are not. We are no less human beings than any of you; we are no less decent because we are transgender. There is no shame in being transgender.

Whatever your religious, political or personal view is about us: compassion is the appropriate response to people in our community – being transgender is not about sex; it is about who we are as people.

Please remember these things when you think of us, vote, and pray for (or against) us.

Blessings & Joy!!


I sent this letter to a number of newspapers in response to the recent spate of bills in several states that are attempting to criminalize attempts by transgender people to use bathrooms and change-rooms matching their gender identity and presentation. These laws would apply equally to trans people who “pass” poorly and people who blend-in “perfectly.” It will also criminalize the entire population of intersex people, who cannot be seen as anything but innocent in this part of the culture war. To add insult to injury, some bills even criminalize non-trans people who would try to accommodate our needs. Such laws are antithetical to American principals, oppose the highest ideals of the Great Religions, and violate simple, common human decency. They must not be allowed to take effect, as they (and the oppression of all weaker peoples) are a poisonous stain upon our collective souls. [This letter has been edited in minor ways.]