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You’re In a Safe Place Here…

patientcareI had changed, was snuggled under the threadbare hospital blanket on a gurney in a frigid staging room. The nurse had been sweet as she took my hand in greeting, then started a saline IV; I thanked her and she left me. Then the doctor came in, another gentle hand; he asked me questions he already knew the answers to, and at last I added: “you know that I am a transgender woman, with mixed anatomy? I don’t want anyone to be surprised.” He smiled reassuringly and replied, “yes, I knew from the notes. There’s no problem; we see all kinds of bodies here;” I thanked him and then he left…

…It was time, and the anesthesiologist came, introduced herself and wheeled me into the dim procedure room nearby. Once inside she introduced me to the other members of the team, and they all smiled and greeted me, touching my hand warmly. I thanked them and gently, pensively said “just so there are no unpleasant surprises, I am a transgender woman and my anatomy is mixed.” The anesthesiologist must have seen the concern on my face, and as-if she was giving me a warm hug, she thanked me and said “you’re in a *safe* place here…”

…Amidst friendly chatter about the place I most wanted to visit (Australia), I quickly felt myself…enter…oblivion……seemingly moments later we resumed our conversation, this time everyone was talking about their favorite local craft beers. Procedure done, I asked them if I had been a good patient while I had been “under,” and they reassured me that I had done perfectly and that there appeared to be no cancer. Once again, I thanked them.

“You’re in a *safe* place here,” her words reassured me throughout the rest of the day.

This is how I spent my Transgender Day of Visibility.

Love, Blessings & Joy Dear Friends!!

#tdov

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Stepping Into Vulnerability

Drawings capture the person -- Cameras capture the image

“Class, this is Renée, our model for today. She is a transgender woman whose body is in transition.”

The month of waiting was over in a hurried drive to a local college campus set into the mountainside.

Privately exchanging my loose outer clothes for a lovely woven wrap, I was pleased to see no marks of the inner garments I had chosen not to wear, so my skin would be smooth for this session.

Electric with excitement, I padded into the warm studio and waited for my time — the students were there to see me, and to draw what they saw.

Nakedness implies humiliation, loss, deprivation, ignobility.
Nudity, in contrast, seems often to be the clothing of an enlarged soul, with vulnerability-as-strength, enriched and noble.

Moments later, I ascended the quilted, brightly lit dais in the center of the room.

Heartbeats later, I gracefully undraped myself, neatly laying aside my wrap.

Exposed fully, artists around me, charcoal and paper ready: I slowly danced into a series of 30-second gesture-poses to help them warm-up…Lithe as a willow, then still as a stone, silently counting the seconds, to the feverish squeaks and scratches of drawing and rustling newsprint: I planned the next position my body would smoothly rotate into.

Poses at this stage are intended to be expansive, often counterpoised, stop-action, the sorts of state that can only be held for a few tens of seconds.

My muscles quivered visibly from adrenaline as much as from being cold in the slightly-too-warm-for-clothed-bodies studio.

My degree of vulnerability took a quantum leap upward as I felt my tuck slipping.

Gestures completed, we moved into a pair of ten minute poses.

Now the artists could focus on details.

Now the model would shift into more sustainable, balanced poses, exchanging spontaneity for the much more intense focus endurance requires.

My heart settled down, and my body adjusted to the temperature.

My soul quivered into a new normal where the rest of the world seemed unexposed, oblivious, in slow motion, while I was lifted above into a keen sense of aliveness, purposefully exposed so every detail could be scrutinized, interpreted and recorded.

My sight severely restricted, my hearing, touch and kinesthetic-sense filled the resulting vacuum. At once intensely concentrating while quietly meditating, expending enormous energy to remain…perfectly……motionless……

A gentle chime: the first break. I held for a few more moments, and broke-pose when paper fell silent. The spell changed rhythm, as with practiced grace, I stood and delicately — reluctantly — re-draped my body.

To be unclothed was normal, comfortable, reassuring.
To be covered, I felt…exposed.

I walked among the artists admiring their work and chatting with them. I felt privileged to offer my myself to them, and expressed my awe and gratitude. They had known a trans woman would be among them today, and they seemed eager to hear my story.

How often do you see the spirit of another grow before your eyes?

It was a profoundly sacred time for me…now recognizing this, it seemed the session became sacred to the artists also. They knew why I was here, an exercise in personal growth, increasing my spiritual being through the paradox of extreme vulnerability, and the down-to-earth coping of my body with its flaws in all its queer glory: I am seen and now it is safe to open my own eyes to look, to appreciate, to accept what I can change and what I cannot.

Upon the dais once more, I easily undraped back into normalcy: I was nude; but everyone else seemed unclothed.

It was time for the single, hour-long pose, and knowing the needs of the class, I flowed into a form that had suddenly come to me, and together we made adjustments to light and shadow, skin and sinews.

And gentle music quietly played.

Wordlessly we began on some invisible cue we all somehow understood:

My facial expression as fixed as the rest of my body, my eyes focused on a certain point in the room, my breathing was barely perceptible.

One minute, five, ten, fifteen minutes: my vision dimmed for lack of eye motion, muscles held taut; muscles actively relaxed.

And growing pain.

My body and mind so under control that my usual responses were suspended:

SLAP!!! Something fell unseen, yet I did not startle; I was preconscious to the wave of surprise that invisibly rippled through my being.

An itch bore into me, but was swallowed by the intensity of my kinesthetic-overload.

And the quiet chime sounded at twenty minutes in the thunderous silence.

When charcoal rested, I gently asked the instructor to chalk the position of my body where it and its shadow touched the dais surface, then like a mannequin come-alive, I smoothly broke my pose as-if I had never been still.

Another short break, I stretched, re-draped and toured the studio. Marveling at the developing images, I resumed my chats with the artists; and as they learned about transgender people, they seemed to marvel at me.

The instructor remarked at how I had developed in the two years since my first modeling experience with her. She saw me as a nascent woman then; now the curves of my body, fullness of my breasts, my delicate face and soft feminine voice, en-fleshed the female soul she had met previously.

Before, some imagination was required to see me as a woman.
Now the dots were mostly connected.

Again upon the dais; again nude without thought nor qualm, I settled back into the pose I left scant time earlier. Using the marks I positioned myself, refined as my body remembered where it was, what-touched-what. My new friend, Pain, told me when I had found all the right places. With final minor adjustments from the artists, I de-animated as on-cue, their dance resumed.

I marked the time in songs, embracing the growing muscular-discomfort, I felt the thrill of a special sort of ecstasy that transcended mere pain. And warm air weighed reassuringly on my breasts, my thighs, shoulders and back: it was deliciously sensual. My delirious euphoria grew, though living stone from the outside, I seemed. I exalted in the active stillness of the pose, feeling I could go another hour at least! like twenty days into my thirty-six day fast! like the eerie calm underwater when breathless-panic subsided: I did not want it to end!

With the chime, the spell changed rhythm and transported me back.

In the final twenty minutes I felt such overwhelming gratitude to have experienced all this. I could feel myself growing. I felt like I was deep in a spiritual retreat. I felt like I was absorbing new volumes of self-awareness and self-understanding…I FELT!

Then, with the slightest sensation, my carefully pre-positioned hair fell out of place. I knew one artist at least was focusing on my face. Moving only enough to speak, I quietly asked if someone could re-position it. Immediately this simple request moved us all into an exquisite place of intimacy and vulnerability:

In formal settings, a model deep in-pose almost never speaks, and is seldom spoken to, and in a class, only by the instructor. Moreover, the model’s personal space is respected to the utmost, and nobody touches nor even approaches the model without their explicit permission.

…Unseen, I could nevertheless feel the attention of the entire room of people focus even more intently on me.

The artist closest to me, with the best view of my draped hair, reverently entered my peripheral vision, stopped-short and as-if asking for absolution, she spoke to me softly, yet clearly enough for all to hear: “may I re-position your hair please?” As my heightened sense of touch braced itself for a shock, I replied in kind: “yes, please do.” Permission granted, she delicately touched my body, gently replacing my ponytail back upon my right shoulder.

The spell changed rhythm again.

Another song…suddenly an artist whose body and equipment had been my visual point-of-reference, abruptly but quietly packed-up to leave, and in his haste I watched as he exited by a very large door, fully exposing me to the people passing by!

I was “tested” and found complete, for I experienced no discomfort, not a quiver in my pose, at this serious breach of protocol.

During some point in this growth, I had regained my lost sense of body innocence

Fourth song and probably the last, and I knew it was nearly time to come down from this special place, and with bitter-sweetness I prepared myself.

Chime!

In lissome haste, I minimally covered my body, while I asked the artists if they would permit me to photograph their work as a keepsake. Without exception, without hesitation, they agreed, and I padded from easel to easel snapping pictures with my phone as I expressed my gratitude with a giddy childlike joy.

And the rhythm changed and the spell was completed.

Whence in private, I dressed — this time with all my clothing.

And I returned to the studio to debrief.

Filling-out paperwork, I told the instructor of my intent to donate the modeling-fee to a transgender suicide prevention group, which turned our talk to what the recent election might mean for people like me.

She was thrilled with how I had developed as a woman and also a transgender ambassador, and she seemed to be pleased over the ease with which I moved through the whole modeling experience, touched by its special significance to me…

bette-for-renee-small

…With some trepidation, I asked her if I had done okay; smiling she said I performed perfectly, then asked if I could model again in a few days.

I smiled!


Tucking refers to various techniques employed by transgender women, who have not had complete gender confirming surgery, to alter the appearance of their originally configured genitalia so as to present a feminine pudendal cleft.

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Growing Up

Jean-Marc Nattier: Portrait of a Young Woman Painter

Portrait of a Young Woman Painter – Jean-Marc Nattier

Q: What’s more public & awkward than adolescence?
A: A transgender person’s second adolescence.

I failed my first adolescence as a teen, and a lot of people in my life have been forced to experience me as I’ve been going through my second one.

For most people this awkward time of change happens when expected, and there are allowances for the learning, the changes, and the mistakes. When a trans person is forced into “remedial” adolescence, it’s often at a time in life when they are already (reasonably) mature and functioning adults…

…So, what’s it like to be a 54 year old adult trying to move through a kind of accelerated “girlhood” into womanhood? It’s difficult, it’s amazing, parts are fun, it’s exhausting, it’s insecure, it’s bothersome to others, it’s often embarrassing. Suddenly, I am after decades as an adult, *not* “acting my age,” because I am trying to re-process what did not go right the first time. It’s a “phase,” exacerbated by a second-hormonal-puberty, and I’m growing out of it.

What prompted me to write this is some uncomfortable indirect feedback I recently received. It was difficult in that it revealed that there are ways I’ve wearied people with “girliness” that is unbecoming of my age. Ouch…BUT it’s a *good* discomfort, because it shows that I am past the point where I need to assert my femininity, and I can just “get on with life” as a woman – I’m past the point of needing to prove this to anyone…

And I *truly apologize* to those I’ve so wearied, and *appreciate* everyone’s patience with me!

…There is a sense in which I’ve suspected this for a while, but sometimes it helps to see it in “black & white,” for someone to put a “fine-point” on the issue.

In another way, the feedback was *very validating* to me: it is a way of saying “I graduate” *IF* I’m willing to “step-off the stage with my diploma.” This work is done; the walk-beyond into “post-graduate” life is what remains.

This step isn’t so-much eliminating distracting behaviors as it’s recognizing that I’ve outgrown them. As with many trans people, my transition has been an exercise in extreme vulnerability, and for me, it is a phase that is ending. I’ve no need any longer to compensate for such vulnerability: my new wings have cured enough to fly upon…

The events of the last month or so have been pushing me through a period of rapid “tying-up-loose-ends” growth in more ways than simply the way I express myself to others. What has been revealed to me here is symbolic of what has been happening in “still waters” beneath, what is happening by God’s impetus and with God’s grace.

…The people who have given me this feedback have done me an *invaluable service*, for which I am *grateful*: they didn’t just tell me to “stop being a silly girl,” they reminded me that I can safely leave my girlish-phase behind because I’ve outgrown it as woman I have already become. I am *so blessed*, so blessed!!

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Becoming Beautiful

Bathing female, sketch - Edgar Degas

Bathing female, sketch – Edgar Degas

There must be something in the water, but no, I know it’s not the water. Still when I stood before the mirror unclothed after my swim, I saw them, or rather I didn’: it’s those “lines” that run up and down the sides of some of our abdomens, demarking that layer of visceral fat that is part of everyone’s body…

…I’ve been noticing that I have been slimming over the last few months of exercising and more careful eating, but something very different has happened: the lines…are…gone. They’ve been there for so many years, I don’t remember when they weren’t there, but I noticed they were gone, because what I saw instead was a smooth gentle, continuous curve across my belly from hip to hip. In the two dimensional mirror image, it looks flat, but I know it’s not. I had been so aware of the curving line separating my tummy from my pubic triangle, that I hadn’t been paying attention to the other dimension. But there I am, in a skin-tight jumper, and it looks…right…it finally looks right…

…But there’s something else: I am beginning to become beautiful…yes, I *know* that’s a shocking thing to say … it’s more shocking for me to believe of myself because I had since childhood seen myself as ugly, but I’ve always longed to be beautiful. Now as a woman I have something of an opportunity, at least I have permission, and I’m old enough that it is not expected of me. What I have suddenly noticed with all my body’s changes is that NOW what remains of my masculine features are *WORKING FOR ME* instead of against me!! I never thought that would ever happen, nor that I would even think to say this. As my body has trimmed, I have become lithe, Tolkien-elf-like, but the curves are in the *right* places, and my height is working for me and not against me, and the angularity is working for me now…

…I am becoming beautiful in my own unique way, a way that is not strictly feminine nor masculine, but some blend of the best of both, and I am the last person on earth who could ever have seen this in me. I feel like I don’t deserve this, something *this nice* to be happening to me, for me; I am so humbled…so humbled…but in a lovely, healing, holy way…

…When you place a seed in the ground, it looks like nothing special, no more special than an ordinary pebble, and yet with time and water, it “dies” to reveal new life within, and the green shoot pushes against the heavy soil, inexorably forcing its way upward. Innately, this young plant *knows* which way to go, yet has no idea how its form will appear. And it reaches the sunlight, *so different* than the seed that once held its embryo. And tall and slender it springs upward, verdant green, nourished by the dirt of the world, but with clean water. And it grows and grows and branches and blossoms, never at any stage knowing exactly how it would be in the next. And after, because of the bloom, there comes the fruit, and the fruit is for others to enjoy, and for the amazing circle of life to continue. This is what my gender affirmation is like, and I am *so blessed*, so blessed, so blessed to *be*…


First published in LGBT Perspectives.

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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.

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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!!