Saturday, May 6, 2017

My "Transition"

Covering the story in chronological order, which means that current/recent events don't come in until 2/3rds of the way through the blog post... skip ahead if that's the only part you care about.

See this previous blog (written mid-2012) for my childhood and early adult experiences with hormones and gender roles.

Estrogen-based hormone treatment (birth control) was the only option the doctors gave me back when I first realized that PMS was the cause of my apparently random mood swings. I accepted that treatment plan without realizing that this would come with an appearance-feminizing side effect... by the time I found out that detail, it was too late to do much of anything about it; the primary complaint (mental health issues driven by menstrual cycle) was under control and bigger boobs is something every woman wants, right? [yeah, right. I'm up in the range where even cis-women have reductions. Doctors somehow don't acknowledge that detail though.] I'd queried the possibility of a testosterone-based treatment plan a few times in the subsequent years, but never got taken seriously with my requests.

Right around my 30th birthday, chemical sensitivity kicked in. There'd been a few random things (like plug-in-to-the-wall air fresheners) that I'd had atypical reactions to earlier in my life, but now the number of things to be avoided at all costs more than doubled in a period of only 6 months. Reading everything I could find on this poorly documented condition, the main takeaways were that
1) it primarily shows up in aged 30-something females, and usually gets better after menopause [i.e. probably hormone related]
2) aside from small improvements that can be achieved in limited circumstances, it's generally a degenerative disease... repetitive exposures are not just miserable, they do permanent and irreversible damage to the immune system
So I got good at avoiding the growing list of chemicals that I have extreme adverse reactions to, managing to live a not-terribly-inconvenient life with that limitation.

In December 2013, I moved to the Portland area to start a new job, which of course meant switching to a different employer-provided health insurance plan. The new insurance put me on a different brand of birth control pills, which might technically not have had anything to do with the following adventures but the timing is certainly suspicious. Disabling endometriosis flareups started happening again, as did psychiatric episodes similar to the ones I'd previously had before starting hormone treatment. Again I asked for a testosterone based option, was only offered varying dosages of the estrogen version... experimentation with these in Fall of 2014 verified what had previously been concluded... hormone regulation is necessary to keep the psychiatric symptoms under control, while the estrogen treatment contributes significantly to chemical sensitivity. I was about ready to self-impose weekend isolation on myself (doing ANYTHING outside of my normal routine resulted in 24+ hour migraines) when one of my husband's friends suggested paying attention to what I eat... that experiment added artificial colors and flavors to my avoid-at-all costs list (rainbow jello + single dose of high-strength birth control = 3 day migraine!). Eventually I settled on a balance of low-dose birth control and being super careful of what I eat (in addition to avoiding artificial ingredients, even a minor digestive upset from eating slightly old leftovers would interfere with medication absorption enough to cause several days of misery)... but also started to seriously wish for a non-estrogen treatment option.

Mid-2014, I heard through the grapevine that Kaiser Permanente has a "Gender Pathways" clinic for connecting transgender patients with doctors who have the training/background for providing the associated health care as well that the current WPATH standard of care allows for less-restrictive access to treatment than previous versions had allowed. I saw one of the doctors in that facility in August, which was a disaster. She flat refused to treat me, after her line of questioning found me to not meet the definition of transsexual, and put an assessment of "not transgender" in my medical file. Now it's normal for the general public to get those two terms mixed... but you'd think that a health care provider who is supposedly following a standard of care with the title of "Health of Transsexual, Transgender, and Gender Nonconforming People" and an included glossary that distinguishes between those categories would know the difference!

For the record, WPATH7 allows for prescription of identity-conforming hormones and access to surgery for all three of the identities listed in the document's title, not just the first category. Also, unofficial surveys of other trans-identified people who have had experience with this particular doctor indicates that she treats conventionally MtF or FtM people great, while giving all non-binary identified people the same refusal-to-treat. I reported her to Kaiser's administration over this... twice. No action taken, as far as I know.

That left me grudgingly stuck with the estrogen-based treatment plan for another two years, until I got the names of two other doctors in Kaiser's system that also treat trans patients. Not wanting to go through a repeat of the round 1 drama, I pre-screened both for willingness to treat non-binary patients. The nurse assistant for one indicated that she was non-binary friendly, then the nurse assistant for the doc that refused to treat me somehow got ahold of my file/case and said I wasn't allowed to schedule appointments without her authorization. The other doctor, I was able to schedule an appointment with. He bounced me over to an outside counselor for formal assessment/diagnosis of gender dysphoria, but happily proceeded with pre-treatment health screening for possible complications and prescription of testosterone once that paperwork was filed.

I got my first testosterone injection in October 2016, and am very much enjoying the improved treatment outcome. I still have chemical sensitivity, but not anywhere as near as severe as when I was on estrogen. I can sleep in on weekends instead of needing to get up at the same time to take my medications. I can eat small amounts of artificial colors and flavors, and the unavoidable environmental contaminations (brief exposures to cigarette smoke or vaping, contractor using spray paint on a construction site, etc) no longer give me instant migraines. When my hormone dose gets delayed by a day or two (or even a week), I don't suffer any significant mental or physical ill effects. Massive improvement over constantly having to choose between mental or physical health!

I sent out an announcement email to my coworkers when my voice started changing (late December) letting them know what's going on there (I'm fine with using the cleaner restroom, going to continue wearing a mix of men's and women's clothes indefinitely, am not going to police pronouns, etc). All of the responses I got were incredibly supportive. I rarely talk to my family, so haven't told most of them yet.

At my annual employee review in January, I was asked what my transition goals are, which was a nice opportunity to formally state the priorities I've been operating under all along:
#1: my head needs to function (minimize psychiatric symptoms and migraines)
#2: physical health (ability to move freely, avoid unnecessary onset of osteoperosis)
#3: appearance compatible with my non-binary identity
The estrogen treatment plan was only marginally successful (if that) at the first two priorities, and was directly counter to the third. Testosterone is giving me superior results on all three. Even if you hold beliefs that deny validity of that third item, the first two are health standards that any sane person should be fully supportive of... and this is the best option available for my situation.

That being said, I'm also excited to see the decade of unwanted feminization being reversed, and masculine aspects starting to show in my appearance. My gender identity is neuter... while I doubt that I'll ever really be able to present in a way that would consistently get interpreted as such, the possibility of being able to present myself as not-female is a welcome relief. My bone structure is stuck in the "female" pattern, it'd be nice to have some male features to balance that out. There's a photo of my dad from back when he was about the age I am now that is reasonably close to how I'd like to eventually appear (blonde hair the same length as mine is now, plus full beard)... I need to track down a copy of that to post for illustration.

I don't currently have the option of pursuing any surgeries through the Gender Pathways route because Ms. nonbinary-isn't-trans is the head of that department and so gets to act as gatekeeper to surgery access. I'm pretty sure I don't want bottom surgery (what I have is nicely functional; don't see any benefit to tampering with it), undecided on whether or not I want to pursue top surgery... that's probably going to depend on how androgynous-balanced I look after the testosterone-driven appearance changes have stabilized. Even if I did opt for top surgery, it'd probably be more of a reduction (which cis-women are allowed to have, so don't you dare be applying a different standard to me) than a "sex change" operation... not that my surgery plans are any of your business, of course.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Results of Letter to Area Authority

Footnotes chronicling what has happened since I reported a stake president's abuse of power in early 2015 have now exceeded the length of the original post, so I'm splitting them out to a separate blog entry.

That letter to Richard J. Maynes (with an attached copy of my previous letter to church leadership, as documentation that I had unsuccessfully attempted local resolution) did find its way to Elder Maynes' office, despite the lack of proper addressing. He handed it down to Richard Hansen, who forwarded it down another level to Daniel Johnson sometime around early April. That much, I'm fully in support of... if I'd had Elder Johnson's name and contact information I would have sent it directly to him in the first place.

Two months later, with that projected move to Tualatin still pending, I got a meeting request from the Beaverton Stake President. He said that Elder Johnson had forwarded my letter down to him for resolution at the local level, with no direction on how to handle the situation being provided. I of course immediately asked what his authority over the other Stake President was, and got the expected answer of "none". That 90 minute meeting was mostly spent running verbal circles about the same topic that I'd walked out of my previous meeting with him THE PRECEDING YEAR over, with a few encouraging forward steps in understanding. Towards the end of our meeting, I got to remind him yet again that there's still this issue with the Tualatin Stake President left to be addressed, at which point he made a less than enthusiastic offer to set up a meeting with the three of us.

The idea of meeting with two stake presidents simultaneously, one of whom has given indication of being outright hostile to me and one whom is lukewarm at best, and neither of whom seem to think there's any actual problem needing resolution doesn't exactly strike me as likely to result in timely resolution.... so I called Elder Johnson's office the next morning to advise him that I really don't think the Beaverton Stake President is the right person to be handling this. I was expecting to be told to write an email or another letter, was pleasantly surprised to be permitted to speak to him directly. Despite Elder Johnson's claim to be "very familiar" with my letter, he somehow managed to have my gender identity wrong (I am not a transman!) and was oblivious to there being an issue with the Tualatin Stake President. After spelling the situation out for him (including WHY this situation is so distressing to me, which I've been withholding from local leaders in order to ensure that Mr. treat-the-trans-person-as-a-child-molester doesn't have an opportunity to do even more harm) and asserting that yes the Tualatin Stake President really did give that direction to the Hedges Creek Ward bishop in response to his skepticism that any stake president would ever do such a thing, he agreed that such a restriction is not in line with church policy and said he'd make a phone call to the TSP.

End of July rolls around, and I haven't heard from either stake president, so I make another trip over to Hedges Creek Ward to ask that set of leaders whether or not they've been given addition direction from Daniel Johnson. The Stake President happened to be presiding over the meeting that day, which gave me an opportunity to query him directly instead of the bishop. According to him, DJ did call, accepted SP's side of the story and agreed that the situation had been handled properly... oh, and I'm in trouble for making a "false accusation". When I asked what that false accusation was, he refused to answer. He denied the comparison to child molester handling is but declined to elaborate on the difference. And his response to a direct query on my permissions to work with children: "Not as long as I'm Stake President". I reported that latest development to my own bishop, expecting to get the usual blind acceptance of "I sustain local leaders" and was pleasantly surprised that he considered the situation worthy of reporting again. So we're sending that back up through the chain of command again, with me being extremely skeptical that anything will come of it but desperate enough to try.

By November 2015, I hadn't heard a darn thing back from my current Stake President or Bishop. I'd been generally been going to Sacrament meeting only and then going home instead of attending the second two hours of church.... but even with that restricted exposure to church people, I was finding myself having 36-hour anxiety attacks every weekend, Saturday afternoon through all day Sunday. And of course the church's update to policy on gay members killed any hope I had of church authorities issuing positive clarification. I had one last meeting with my current bishop spelling out to him exactly how unwelcome I'd been made to feel in his ward, and revealing the detail I'd been keeping secret in order to limit hostile leadership's opportunity to abuse their power further... that spouse and I were deliberately buying a big house so that we'll have space for foster children. Foster children that I will not allow church folks to mistreat as badly as they've mistreated me, so if there's no move to improve the situation then I'm gone.

Bishop once again assured me that he would try to improve the situation, but I know better than to believe that... I'll come back when I see it happening, not before. I never looked back, and have had only minimal contact from my few allies in the ward. What I thought was going to be a "vacation" of just a few weeks has turned into months and still counting. Spouse and I moved to our new house (not the one in Hedges Creek Ward, that sale ended up not going through) and I decided not to tell any church officials where I'm at. I let my Ensign membership lapse, most of my church-related possessions are hidden away in a box in the attic, and I won't be giving the USPS a forwarding address in order to make myself harder to track down... which seems a bit overkill, given that they seem to not even want me back. Mormons have a reputation for tracking down and continuously harassing inactive members; I guess that shows how much they really didn't want me there in the first place.

Griffith Park Ward tried to assign me a home teacher in October 2016. I laughed at him, told him I hadn't been in his ward for more than six months and that no, I'm not interested in having church visitors at my new home. Agreed to send him a link to the blog explaining why I have that policy, did so, never heard back.

January 2017, the bishop of Meridian Park Ward (Tualatin Stake) sent me a "welcome to our ward" email. Apparently somebody finally figured out that I wasn't in Griffith Park Ward anymore (RTS from the postal service on a Christmas card? Tithing settlement prompted a review of ward records?) and the only other address they had from me was that now-abandoned P.O. Box in Tualatin. Again, I had a good laugh at the conditional interest ("If you live within the Meridian Park Ward boundaries"...), shared a link to my Letter to Area Authority blog post, re-iterated that I'm not interested in giving out my address for more of the same runaround, and suggested unloading my membership record back to Springfield since that's the last ward that seemed to actually want me. I was fully expecting that to result in another round of getting ignored... classic "not my problem" Mormon logic says that since I'm not living in their ward boundaries, they're not expected to do anything other than continue playing hot potato with my membership.

Well, that bishop actually seemed have a backbone (as opposed to the previous two that I'd interacted with)... he made it clear that I would be welcome to attend his ward, even without actually living in their boundaries, and got an ok from the Tualatin stake president to give me a calling if I want one in that church unit. Not that I really trust anything TSP says, but it's a nice gesture. I had a few more phone & email exchanges with the Meridian Park bishop discussing what the long-term logistics of having me attending a ward whose boundaries I don't live in would be, which led to an offer for him to contact the bishop of the ward where I actually do live without expectation of sharing my address or other contact information until I explicitly give permission to do so.

And so that's how I ended up meeting with the bishop of Lake Forest ward in February, nervously dreading what the next blindsiding rejection would be. It hasn't happened yet. I've got permission to attend the men's 3rd hour Sunday meeting, and have even been told that they "appreciate" the few comments I've been brave enough to make there. After my church record transferred, a calling was promptly extended: Primary Presidency Secretary!

So it's looking like I'm resuming the appearance of "activity"... although I turned in my temple recommend as soon as the record transfer went through, over protests from the bishop. I haven't felt like going to the temple in the entire time I've lived in the Portland area, and only renewed it two years ago because I (incorrectly, apparently) believed that having evidence of my worthiness would help with navigating the Tualatin mess. Despite the recent positive connections, I'm still completely disgusted with the leadership roulette mechanism (how can I be banned from working with children in one stake and then assigned to the Primary Presidency in another?!?) and have no interest in buying my way into "salvation".

I've been open with everyone who's approached me for anything beyond superficial conversation, but get the impression that most of the ward still doesn't know I'm trans... and on testosterone. It'll be interesting to see what happens when I start looking and/or sounding not-female.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Denmark 1943

Bulk of this blog was written in July 2015, concluding remarks completed January 2016.

Too many research citations in this one to do them in-text... I'll be using citation numbers to reference:

1) "Denmark 1943" is a song by Fred Small, on his "I Will Stand Fast" album.

2) General historical context from The Holocaust Wikipedia article.

3) Details of the historical event tributed in Fred Small's song from the Wikipedia article on Rescue of the Danish Jews.

Fred Small's song "Denmark 1943" has been running through my head a lot lately... and not just because it's a great song, and great tribute to historical persons and their actions. Elements of that historical event and Small's dramatization of it are striking parallels (and even more troublesome, stark contrasts) with what I see going on around me on a daily basis.

First, a mini history lesson:
The mass execution of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally and physically handicapped, and anyone else that Nazi authorities deemed "unfit" was covered by our childhood schooling (or by the media, for those who were past schooling age when that information became public). Jews constituted roughly half of the 11 million total killed in German eugenics-goaled programs, and only 20-30% of Jews who had the misfortune to find themselves in occupied territory survived the extermination attempt [2].
What didn't get covered (at least in my schooling), is the regional variations in death rates to Nazi death squads/camps, and the reasons behind those regional differences. Jewish mortality was ~90% in Germany, Austria, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania. The survival rate was somewhat higher in Czechoslovakia, Greece, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Romaia, Belgium, and Hungary but still less than half in each of these countries. [2]
The killing was so widespread that few safe-havens were found: "Albania was the only country occupied by Germany that had a significantly larger Jewish population in 1945 than in 1939. About two hundred native Jews and over a thousand refugees were provided with false documents, hidden when necessary, and generally treated as honored guests in a country whose population was roughly 60% Muslim. [2]" I'm sure there's some great stories from there, but I don't have a song or a Wikipedia article educating me about Albania like I do for Denmark's massive short-notice rescue that occurred in the fall of 1943.

What's so special about Denmark?
A sympathetic German diplomat leaked warning of a plan to round up Danish Jews and deport them to the death camps to a Danish political activist on September 28th. By the following day, the news had been relayed through Danish Resistance members to leaders of the Jewish community. Jewish families were warned, concealed, and ultimately transported to safety in Sweden by their non-Jewish compatriots. When the German raid commenced on the evening of October 1st, only one Jewish family was found to be still occupying their previous address. [3]

Christian policemen, shopkeepers, and teachers
Tell their friends of the quickening storm
While students on bicycles race through the streets
Searching for Jews to be warned
Seven thousands of Jews smuggled over to Sweden
By fishermen, nurses, and priests
Hitler sends Eichmann to hunt them down
But his quarry have vanished like mist [1]
Including interceptions during the following weeks, the occupying Germans managed to capture only 580 of the total ~7,800 Jewish Danes. Most of those captured were sent to the Theresienstadt concentration camp (not an extermination camp) where they received packages of food and medication from their Danish sponsors. Only 51 Jewish Danes died at Theresienstadt, with 425 survivors (some of them born in captivity) being liberated in 1945. Death rate for Denmark's Jews: less than 1%! [3]

But there's more to the history lesson than how many and by what means the Danes rescued their Jewish neighbors. WHY was Denmark so different from so many other countries that allowed (or even encouraged) the slaughter of their Jewish citizens? The reason is amazingly simple:

"Although the Danish authorities cooperated with the German occupation forces, they and most Danes strongly opposed the isolation of any group within the population, especially the well-integrated Jewish community. The German action to deport Danish Jews prompted the Danish state church and all [but one of the Danish] political parties ... to denounce the action and to pledge solidarity with the Jewish fellow citizens. For the first time, they openly opposed the occupation." [3]

Or, as Fred Small poeticized it:
"We're not heroes or martyrs," so say the Danes
"We were just looking after our own" [1]
The difference between the Danes and the majority of other Europeans was that in Denmark, Jews had been socially integrated into the general population such that when German invaders aimed their deadly sights at this minority group their neighbors took action to defend those they considered to be their own kind of people.

What does that have to do with events here and now? There's a lot of value judgements still happening based on ancestry, (dis)ability, religion, sexual orientation, and gender expression... and even though we're not facing armed invaders intent on shipping our neighbors off to the gas chambers, there's still an awful lot of social, political, economical, and even physical harm that gets willfully targeted towards those who have the misfortune to find themselves labeled as an unwanted minority.

For far too many, those persecutions still are a matter of life or death. The transgender community holds vigil on November 20th every year to remember those of us who have been murdered solely for being trans within the last year, and to pray that these killings will someday end. LGBT people of all ages face bullying, harassment, unstable employment and housing, and physical violence... sometimes from the very people who are legally responsible for their well-being. [Remember that news story about the mother who beat her toddler to death, thinking that if she smacked him around enough he'd stop "acting gay"? Do you have any idea how many other cases of similar abuse are happening right now, and will probably never be reported or investigated because all of the family members involved think this treatment is normal?] This constant inhumane treatment and lack of security is directly responsible for the high incidence of depression that LGBT people experience. Even when we're not facing threats of physical harm from those around us, suicide and other self-harming behaviors occur at frequencies significantly higher than those of the general population.

They're not your friends or family, what does it matter to you if those dirty queers live and die miserable lives? Or maybe that suffering individual is someone you know, but you think that a brief mention of them in your prayers is all that's expected of you; faith heals all wounds, leave it all in God's hands. And you call yourself a Christian?!?! I'll skip the scriptural quotes, I'm sure you can come up with several on your own.

So what does claiming that alphabet soup of fellow Children of God as our own look like? Jerilyn "Momma" Pool sure is making an impressive effort at it! She also discovered that the need for compassion is much more than she can provide alone, so is soliciting assistance in following through on all those care packages; if you're completely clueless, look through her suggestions for some things you could possibly do to help.

Of course, that's the detached and disconnected type of support... if you want to take up a notch, do something for somebody you know in person. Offer a hug. Invite that person or couple that your ward has rejected over for dinner. Write a note of appreciation for that person's unique strengths and talents. Share their joys and sorrows. Trade skills or knowledge. Let them play with your children. Acknowledge their relationships. Use preferred names and pronouns. Treat all of God's children with compassion and respect. Speak up when you see/hear someone else claiming divine right to persecute. Start in your own family, then expand to your neighborhood and ward.

The difference between heaven or hell on earth is how we treat each other. Which do you want to live in?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Letter to Area Authority

Shit hit the fan, bad enough that I've now progressed from feeling merely ignored by my local leaders to outright fear of how much punishment they're going to dish out for my violations of non-doctrinal cultural norms... and if that vengeance might extend outside the ecclesiastical realm. This letter to the area authority is my last-ditch effort to get some sanity re-asserted on the situation before I go into hiding for my own safety and that of my family.

March 8, 2015

Elder Richard J. Maynes
North America Northwest Area Authority

I am writing this letter in order to make you aware of a situation that the local leaders are handling very poorly, in hopes that you will be concerned enough to provide (or seek, if you are unqualified to provide personally) some much-needed direction on what the official policy is for this situation.

I describe myself as transgender, with an identity that is not male or female. The only surgeries I would be interested in having are ones that cisgendered women have also: mastectomy and hysterectomy. I have never made any claim as to the gender of my spirit, but have been blessed with a set of skills and talents that do not align with the conventional binary... and which I believe God intended to be fully exercised.

Local leadership has repeatedly stated that my welcome at church is conditional on my conformance to the culturally-define role of "woman" that they have assigned to me. Every time I try to initiate a discussion about where doctrine (the direction given by God, which I fully support and sustain) stops and culture (which was created by Man, and is as fallible as those who created it) begins, I receive a thoughtless recitation of the Proclamation on the Family followed by a series of pointed questions aimed at uncovering in what way(s) I am violating the commandments. Finding no violation whatsoever, they then proceed to issue a gag order forbidding me from discussing my non-binary gender experience. This routine has now been repeated with three bishops and three stake presidents presiding over three different wards over the course of the last two and a half years.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of faithful members who have been allowed to express their faith along with "I'm gay" statements on Not a single "I'm transgender" profile... and that's not for lack of submissions. My profile has been in administrative limbo for two years, with no indication of who is sitting on the decision of whether or not to approve, not even an acknowledgement that the "your submission... will be reviewed in the next few days" flag has been there far in excess of that duration or a hint of if it will ever be addressed. The strategy seems to be that denying acknowledgement of trans folk's existence will make them go away so that the awkward questions about how to integrate them can be avoided... and I know more than I want to count who have taken the hint and left the church.

I know this isn't "the way it's always been, and the way it will always be." I was at the special event hosted by Washington Park ward in Seattle on October 19th. A trans friend and I drove from Portland to Seattle that day just to be there. It was so wonderful to be able to speak openly about our experiences, to be with others who are also marginalized and excluded by the predominant Church culture! The bishop didn't even feel a need to ask why I wanted to go to the men's 3rd-hour gathering or impose warnings of what is and isn't allowed, went straight to "Sure, anyone is welcome in Priesthood." No hostile suspicions, no intimidation tactics, just plain simple welcome and gospel discussion.

It was a wonderful experience, but also an eye-opening experience as to HOW BAD my local reception is back home in Oregon. I haven't been able to stomach church attendance beyond the weekly sacrament meeting since then, and stopped going completely a month and a half ago when I realized that being surrounded by silent rejection was killing my testimony of the Gospel faster than waiting from a distance for that wonderful welcome I felt in Seattle to creep its way down to Portland. I told my bishop about the new development, and his only response was to commit to pray for me. Watch somebody drown while praying for them when you could be throwing a liferaft or attempting some other intervention... I appreciate the thought, while being astounded at the lack of accountability being displayed.

Yes, I'm well aware of what the doctrine has to say on my situation: absolutely nothing.
The Handbooks provide some direction on how to address members and potential members who have had or are contemplating sex reassignment surgery, although even that is in impressively vague and non-specific language. The issue of non-op transgender persons is completely omitted, which leaves local leaders free to make up rules based on their own personal biases and pass these rulings off as "doctrine". Swapping stories with other transgender members, the range encountered is frightening: everything from swift exile to quiet welcome, with the same member typically getting vastly different treatment depending on the ward/bishop. The Proclamation on the Family is selectively cited, while conveniently overlooking the acknowledgement of varying human situations that are specifically referenced elsewhere in the same document.

My own latest round of this adventure resulted in a declaration from the Tualatin stake president that I will not be permitted to have any role that involves working with youth or children in the ward, and a very thinly veiled threat of formal church discipline if I continue to speak of my non-binary-gender identity/experience. I had Primary callings up until I moved to Beaverton and to the best of my knowledge, there has never been a single complaint about my conduct in church classes, callings, or interactions with children and youth... and yet, the mere hint that I might present a sample of faithful life which doesn't conform to "Molly Mormon" standards is grounds for punitive action. I am now terrified that these local leaders might take it a step further and "righteously" attempt to block me from working with children in non-church settings also, and wondering if it would be best for my family to not tell Church leaders what our new address is going to be after our upcoming move.

I want to build genuine friendships with other church members.
I want to be allowed to serve in the Church, wherever my skills/talents/abilities/knowledge/and-every-other-blessing-that-I-have-to-give are needed.
I want to have open, honest discussions about what aspects of Church doctrine have been revealed and which aspects we get to wait for further revelation on.
I want to show my friends and family that the Church of Jesus Christ follows God's teachings in welcoming and nourishing all of His children in their development as unique individuals.
I want my children to be safe at Church, to know that they won't be subjected to the same chronic rejection that I have.
I want to be respected and supported as a unique individual who has accepted a life path that many others would find disappointment in, without criticism for my "choice" to not pursue a traditional family. [It wasn't my choice, but that's a story for another day.]

Unless I'm grossly mistaken in my understanding of the Gospel, these are all righteous desires... that my local church leaders are actively blocking. My efforts to address their cultural biases have somehow managed to get me labeled as a dangerous troublemaker, a potential enemy of the church that needs to be closely monitored and restrained. I honestly don't know what else I can do to break through the heap of misunderstandings involved, and hope that you will find it worthy of your time and status to provide/seek direction that will get this mess out of its current downward spiral and back on a path to resolution.

Sam(antha) Corbin
currently living in (but not attending) Griffith Park Ward, Beaverton Oregon Stake
home purchase pending in Hedges Creek Ward, Tualatin Oregon Stake

PS: I get to mail this letter to a generic address because my bishop refused to facilitate getting a proper address on it.

March 16th footnote:
Additional thought on the overall subject, arrived at after mulling over what response I can/should give to the question I've gotten from so many church leaders on what I want them to do...
What I want doesn't matter. I could make the most logically reasonable request possible, and you'd still refuse to comply on General Fucking Principle. In fact, me making a request, no matter how simple and reasonable, probably does more towards hardening your own heart than it does towards making any positive changes. So I'm done making requests for myself.
Ask God what He thinks you should do. I still have enough faith in continuing revelation to commit to my own willingness to comply with what you ask me to do AFTER you've asked the true head of your church. Until then, you and I are just wasting breath arguing our theories about how things should be done.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

What NOT to say...

I feel the need to put together a list of the most common hurtful words that trans folk encounter (from people who are at least halfway trying to be nice; the intentionally hostile comments aren't worth discussing) and explanations of why these phrases are hurtful so that the well-intentioned reader can have an opportunity to correct their language.
Since the vast majority of these lines are disrespectful to other demographics in addition to the trans population, I'll also attempt to summarize the broader categories of folk who are likely to be insulted by the same wording in order to emphasize that it really would be more intelligent to avoid these lines completely rather than just being careful who you say them to.

"Don't worry, I'm sure it's a phase you'll grow out of."
How long do you suppose this 'phase' takes to grow out of? After how much waiting is it reasonable to conclude that it wasn't 'just a phase' and that the permanent reality now needs to be acknowledged? That's a line that is somewhat reasonable to use with a child, but utterly insulting to use on an adult. Telling an adult that you expect them to 'grow out of' a transitional 'phase' is essentially saying that they're immature and that you know them better than they know themselves. Again, that might be true with a child, but is a ridiculous claim to make with a mentally competent adult.

Even worse, this line is typically used in complete disregard to just-expressed long-term duration of the situation... which demonstrates that you weren't listening at all to what you were just told. If you're dishing out illogical advice that clearly contradicts the information you were just given, do you really expect anyone to take you seriously? That's not the way it works, so please please please don't expect us to be respectful of your opinion when you're obviously talking nonsense.

Even if the subject of your commentary is a child, the wording above is still far from helpful. Children certainly do go through phases... but to assume that every characteristic they display will later disappear would be crazy. Children begin to show hints of their long-term personality at a very early age, long before they develop effective communication skills, so by the time a kid is old enough to articulate to you that they feel like they've got a brain-body mismatch it's not particularly likely that the condition is one they're going to outgrow. A misunderstanding/development that IS worth considering would be that a child or young adult may not yet have an adequate vocabulary to describe their experience... an example of this would be the fairly common scenario where a trans person who is sexually attracted to individuals of the same birth sex initially identifies themselves as homosexual because they're familiar with that term but not the terms transgender or transsexual, and later on in life after having been introduced to the additional categories realizes that trans is a more accurate category for them. When the person you're addressing is young (and/or has had limited communication with those of the same identity) enough that lack of established vocabulary could potentially be limiting their ability to fully express their identity, more reasonable and helpful alternative responses include "Ok, let's wait [specific duration of time] to see how your understanding of this develops" and/or "Let's do some research on people who are [title of identity in question] to see how your experiences compare with theirs."

Who else would find this comment offensive? Pretty much everybody that it gets use on, including those who experience non-heterosexual attractions, and those who are pursuing any other type of alternative lifestyle (from communal living to veganism/vegetarianism to childlessness-by-choice). This line is essentially a generic one-size-fits-all "I consider what you're doing/thinking to be selfish and immature, but I'm to polite to say that out loud."

 "I don't think there's anything unusual about you at all. There's lots of..."
... men who like to cook.
... women who like sports.
... boys that play with dolls.
... girls that hate pink.
[... or any other trivial example of people stepping outside the established bounds of their assigned gender.]

Being trans isn't about having interests that are outside the arbitrary boundaries that our culture has drawn based on gender stereotypes; it's about one's core identity, who we are on the inside. This identity certainly gets expressed in various ways that might or might not tend towards the behaviors and interests that are typical of those with the cis-gendered version of our identity, but healthy well-rounded human beings do not define themselves (or others) based on a checklist of stereotypical behaviors or social roles. While it is appreciated that you're open-minded enough to not initiate derogatory name calling at the first sign of cross-gender behavior, denial of another individual's expressed identity really isn't all that much better. If you find one example of cross-gender interest/experience to be unconvincing (which is fine, variability in at least a few aspects is normal), try asking for more examples... and accept the overwhelming list that's likely to follow.

But don't let yourself get caught up in tallying up a list of cross-gender vs gender-conforming characteristics, because identity isn't about whether one's outward behavior and interests is closer to the male norm or the female one. It's about being (or not) comfortable living in a body that has a particular set of anatomy, and having permission (or not) to interact with other human beings in a manner that's consistent with one's inner identity. It's about looking in the mirror and seeing (or not) a reflected image that one recognizes as "me". No amount of tallying external expressions can quantify that internal experience of oneself.

The problem with these statements which recognize and validate deviation from the accepted behavioral binary, is that they are simultaneously reinforcing the stereotype that you are noting an acceptable deviation from; listing variations that are acceptable implies that there are other variations which are not so. If one has the attitude that a particular action or interest is genuinely a valid pursuit for all persons of any/all gender(s), one doesn't give stereotypes on that matter recognition at all. If cooking is a good skill for anyone to have, the commentary on a cook's gender/sex is unnecessarily drawing attention to an aspect of that person that is completely and impolitely irrelevant.

Case study example from my own life: I am a licensed engineer who happens to also have a female body, in a field of engineering that has an approximately 9:1 male-to-female ratio. My female presentation gets commented on A LOT... and while nobody has ever said anything blatantly derogatory about my role as a female engineer, I wince at every single one of those claim of admiration for my being a female engineer. Why? Because my sexual anatomy is not something that should be getting openly discussed with near-strangers that I happen to be encounter in a professional setting... and yet, all commentary on my apparent femaleness is a thinly veiled version of exactly that, a type of sexual harassment that is widely tolerated only because it isn't dished out with deliberate hostility. And while I'm probably more sensitive to commentary on my status as a female engineer than others with the same role due to my trans identity, I'm seriously doubt that cis-female engineers appreciate constant reminders of their minority status either.

Who else is harmed by this confusion of external expressions of cross-gender behavior/interests with gender identity? Everyone who has interests and/or skills that happen to fall outside their gender's box (which is normal... so essentially everyone). When score-keeping is happening on who is following the expected list of stereotypical behaviors to what degree (even if it's on a subconscious level), there's a strong incentive to adjust the frequency or publicity of the behaviors being tallied accordingly. Some people will express their displeasure with the system by deliberately breaking the social "rules", while most will quietly suppress and/or conceal aspects of themselves that are counting against them on that virtual scorecard. Both of these approaches deny the individual (and the community) the benefit of all God-given talents being fully developed and put to good use. The only way you're going to be able to really see someone as they are is to stop comparing them to the default set of stereotypes and start seeing them as a unique individual.

"So.. you're gay?"
"You're not trans, you're just gay."
Two unfortunately common expressions of the same fundamental misunderstanding, confusing sexual orientation/attraction with sexual identity. These are separate characteristics of individual human beings that would be recognized as completely independent of each other if we weren't so stuck on defining sexual attraction as relative to one's own sex. Our hetero-normative culture has defined "heterosexual" as "attraction to the opposite sex" and "homosexual" as "attraction to the same sex" (with use of the terms "sex" and "gender" interchangeably)... which works just fine until you start trying to apply these labels to someone whose gender identity doesn't match their sex (or used to not match, but does now thanks to having received gender-conforming surgery).

Is a male-identified person with a female body who is attracted to female-bodied people a lesbian or a straight man? Obviously that's primarily a function of whether you recognize this person as a man or a woman, since there's no question of what category of people they find themselves attracted to. And the matter gets even more mucky if said individual sometimes presents themselves as male and sometimes presents themselves as female. Again, I want to emphasize that who this individual is attracted to is clear, but with the baseline reference that's necessary for the accepted terms for describing physical attraction ("heterosexual" and "homosexual") being somewhat ambiguous, both of those terms become not very helpful in communicating what they were intended to convey.

A good general rule for these situations would be to just avoid using hetero-normative terms (heterosexual, homosexual, gay, straight) completely... in addition to avoiding attempts to discuss aspects of someone else's private life that are really none of your business in the first place. Where references to a trans individual's sexuality are warranted (such as informing a mutual acquaintance why trying to set them up for a date with a particular other individual would/wouldn't be worth doing), wording such as "not attracted to men" gets the point across just fine without getting into the unnecessary private details. This wording also works well for truthful-but-not-outing references to non-binary sexual identities (bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc).

If the trans individual initiates use of hetero-normative language sexuality terms in reference to themselves, it's fine to follow their example in application of those terms... but don't go trying to assign sexuality labels to them; if you're guessing, there's a high chance that you've got it offensively wrong.

"You are a daughter/son of God."
That statement is just fine when selected in agreement with the target's gender identity; when used in direct conflict with their identity, it's a blatant denial of that identity. You may have intended it as a reinforcement of belief in divine love for the individual, but when you use the wrong gender term with regards to a trans individual it conveys your belief (and a false claim that all other members agree with you) that one's birth sex is the end-all determinant of spirit gender.

Unless you've been given the Gift of Spiritual Gender Discernment, you have no business making claims that you know the true gender of any individual other than yourself. Nor do you have any business quoting "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" or any other extant Church scripture or statement in support of such a claim, because while those sources do establish that male and female spirits exist, there is no official doctrine on how to define the gender of each unique individual. Cases of spirit gender opposite one's sex assigned at birth have been recognized by the First Presidency for a few individuals, so the common claim that no such recognitions will ever happen has already been proven false.

That being said, you don't need to accept that any particular individual has a spirit gender contrary to their birth sex in order to maintain civility. It's fine to acknowledge that such information is not verifiable at this time, with faith that it will be made clear at some point in the future... and while gender neutral pronouns can be awkward for everyday language, this particular statement has a gender-neutral version already in circulation: "You are a child of God." With a simple substitution of just one word, all of the positive connotations you intended are retained while all of the negative connotations are discarded!

"Just keep the commandments."
There are two huge problems with this piece of advice:

1) The direction to "keep the commandments" implies that your target audience is not currently doing so. This is insulting to those who actually are, particularly when accompanied by other statements that imply suspicion of specific commandment violations (the Law of Chastity is the one I most often hear mentioned in the same breath). Opening up to discussion of something as misunderstood as the trans experience is difficult enough already, don't make it worse by tossing in false accusations!

2) The suggestion to "just keep the commandments" puts responsibility (i.e. blame) on the individual receiving said advice. Any improvement in the situation is assumed to be the result of the individuals faithful devotions, and lack thereof is assumed to be simply said individual not trying hard enough. This emphasis on spiritual responsibilities actively discourages the individual from seeking help and support (such as from professionals with applicable credentials or peers with similar experiences) or more understanding in relationships with those who have been making hurtful statements/claims (such as family members and local Church leaders).

While keeping the commandments is certainly an exercise worthy of more attention from all of us imperfect mortals, it's not a particularly good blanket-fix for problems that are largely outside the individual's scope of control. Would you give this advice to a woman needing safety from an abusive husband? A father struggling to find employment adequate for support of his family? A young single adult fighting crippling depression? Not preceded by a "just..."! Like any other complex situation, supporting a trans individual requires asking enough questions to gain some basic understanding of what the problems being faced are and then referring to appropriate resources. Doing that first, and then following it with "and continue striving to keep the commandments" would be much more appropriate!

"Don't you want children?"
or the less-often-heard versions that the above question is the "polite" edit of:
"But I want grandchildren!"
"You're not going to reproduce? Don't you see how happy I am centering my life around my children? How selfish of you!"
First off, let's review what Church policy on child production is:
The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter. (Handbook 2, 21.4.4)
Yep, that "more is always better" stereotype and the labeling of those who don't pop out a minivan full as "selfish" are cultural relics that are in direct conflict with current direction from those we sustain as prophets, seers, and revelators.

Second, let's look at what the motivations behind these statements are...
The would-be-grandparent is more concerned for their own comfort and enjoyment than that of their offspring, the target of their complaint. They have set an expectation that somebody else will take on the struggles and responsibilities necessary for them to enjoy what they have defined to be the proper retirement life, rather than taking action on their own to ensure that goal is met.
The similarly aged parent is projecting their own experience and motivations, assuming that the target of their remarks has the same level of opportunity (both in partnership and ability to tolerate the process of creating children) as they do. They see their own approach to family life as the only one worthy of consideration, and are reinforcing this belief by looking down their nose at all others.
Neither of these commentators has paused to consider what reasons the target of their criticisms might have for not reproducing; it is assumed that child-production is a relatively simple matter for all, and that every parent will find the process to be enjoyable far in excess of the pain and challenges involved. They have leveled an accusation of selfishness at the target without bothering to check whether or not the facts of the case would support such a conclusion, and in their own motivations for doing so they are guilty of the very sin they seek to convict the other of.

Third, it important to note that reproduction is not the same as parenthood. There are individuals who produce children who will be parented by someone else, either by conscious planning or by contested removal of children from an unhealthy home situation. There are parents who devote themselves to children they had no part in the production of, by accepting a step-child as their own or by adopting/fostering children from unconnected families. While there are certainly people who choose to not reproduce because they do not want to be parents, to assume that this is the only reason one would not personally reproduce is a gross insult to those who do not have an opportunity to produce natural offspring (whether it be due to lack of a suitable partner, fertility challenges, or other health issues) as well as every member of families that were created by other means.

How much irreversible body change from natal hormones is a worthwhile price to trade for the privilege of natural reproduction? How much time is it worth spending in the local psych ward (as opposed to being just fine while on gender-congruent hormones)? How high of a death-by-suicide risk is reasonable? Those are the factors we get to evaluate, on top of the “normal” pregnancy and newborn-baby discomforts. We're happy that your choice to reproduce was right for you, but that assumption that the benefits always outweigh the costs really needs to stop.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Links and Other Recommended Reading

This one's probably going to be posted in incomplete state multiple times before I finally have time to finish it up (assuming that it doesn't continue to evolve forever)... for starters, I'm focusing on getting a lot of info IN the blog, and will attempt to organize and properly introduce each segment later.

General Internet:

Gender Tree is a website maintained by a member of one of the email lists I'm on, which pays special attention to debunking of "the bible says" gender and sex binary myths. I remember thinking it was darn cool back when I first was given the link, although that was so many years ago that I don't remember any details worth highlighting.

Two-Spirits Map is a global inventory of human cultures which recognize genders outside the male-female binary. There's a number of other lists of this type out there, but this is the most comprehensive one I've encountered by far!

Genderbread Person versions 1.0 and 2.0 are cute illustrations explaining the difference between gender identity, sexual orientation, physical sex, and gender expression. The first version is simpler but less accurate, the second version is more accurate but also more complicated; tackle whichever level of complexity you feel ready for.

The Huffington Post provides this brief list of the scientific studies which have documented evidence that gender identity has a biological (rather than psychiatric) basis... and if that list isn't convincing enough for you, scroll down to the bottom of it for a link to more.

Leading LDS produced a podcast with tips for local LDS leaders on how to welcome and respect transgender people in their wards and branches.

Other Blogs:

Trans-Fusion and Intersex Roadshow are blogs by Cary Gabriel Costello, focusing on trans issues and intersex issues respectively. Costello's writings put a "real" face on both the trans and intersex experiences, and do an excellent job of covering the technical information and philosophical questions involved in a concise and easy-to-read manner. I haven't read the full history of either blog, but would specifically like to call attention to a few of the entries that I have read:
On Teaching (Trans) Gender delves into the realm of institutionalized and accepted sexism by contrasting how students interact with an instructor who is perceived to be male vs an instructor who is perceived to be female (which Costello has the unusual experience of being able to directly contrast due to having experienced both).
How Common is Intersex Status? spells out the math behind 1 in 150 being a conservative estimate for how many modern humans are intersex... and that's just based on the number of individuals with one of two specific conditions who are assigned male at birth. Add in the individuals who are assigned female and other conditions for which numbers aren't readily available and the real frequency can reasonably be inferred to be significantly higher.
The Phalloclitoris: Anatomy and Ideology critiques modern Western medicine's technical illustrations of "normal" genitals as deliberately inaccurate and "we must fix it!" attitude towards intersex genitals as recklessly destructive.
Does It Get Better? includes heart-wrenching details of the ongoing harassment that Costello's wife (an individual who is also both trans and intersex) is subjected to on an ordinary, every-day basis thanks to the after-effects of childhood medical treatments that were inflicted in an attempt to override her expressed identity.

LDS Gender is a blog maintained by someone that I'm acquainted with through two different email lists that are specifically for people who are both LDS and trans/intersex. The blog is specifically aimed at an LDS audience, presenting information on trans and intersex issues within the context of LDS beliefs.

Countering the general understanding that all Mormons are idiotically conservative (or at least forced to keep quiet on their liberal views), Feminist Mormon Housewives covers more material than even I would ever attempt to keep up with. Unfortunately the site also attracts a lot of REALLY nasty trolls, so I don't recommend reading the comments that get posted; just read the blog entries themselves, and skip the garbage below. One FMH entry in particular that I did find expressing my own thoughts & feelings quite well was When you ask for bread and receive a stone. Forgiving Our Leaders and Finding Ourselves.

I haven't read any of A Purple Picket Fence, although that's on my to-do list... if I ever get around to it, I'll come back and provide commentary on that one too.


Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano - Written by a transwoman about her experiences with both the transition process and the prejudices that she encountered at all stages along the way. Although written from the perspective of a transwoman, I found it to contain a lot of great insights into American society's expectations of female-appearing persons in general (which is applicable to the lives of ciswomen, post-transition transwomen, pre-transition transmen, and persons like myself with a female body and non-binary identity).

Evolution's Rainbow, by Joan Roughgarden - Roughgarden, a biologist, was invited by Oregon State University's zoology department to give a presentation on campus back when I was attending the school, which was how I encountered her and her first book. Evolution's Rainbow thoroughly explores the full  spectrum of sexual reproduction modes within the animal kingdoms (including a number of species that have more than two sexes or that can change sex as needed), and human cultures from across the globe that recognize more than two genders, thoroughly debunking the myth of a universal male-female binary.
Roughgarden has since published a second book addressing how she reconciles the realities of biological diversity with her Christian faith, which I want to but have not yet had occasion to purchase and read.

[I own copies of both Whipping Girl and the 2004 edition of Evolution's Rainbow, which are available for local borrowing.]

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What it feels like to have the wrong hormones

Here's a re-post of a message I typed up for the Transgendered & Intersex Mormons email list illustrating what hormones-gone-wrong looks like, for the purposes of explaining why one might benefit from taking the hormones without transitioning. My story is unusual only in the availability of gory details... for reasons we don't understand, the typical trans experience with naturally produced hormones is similarly miserable although more difficult to quantify and communicate.

Starting with PMS... I've never experienced something I would classify as "shark week" where the misery is conveniently inflicted on bystanders; I get to deal with all of it inside the isolation of my own head. One evening I'll just be completely unable to concentrate, wandering around the house trying to find some task that I can attach myself to (I'm a task-oriented person, so having something to focus on is essential to my mental comfort) and being completely unable to do so. Two days later, I'll spend an evening in an anxiety attack that doesn't even have a specific "problem" that I can try to distance myself from... it's completely generalized and detached from the logical portions of my brain. Two days after that, I'll spend an evening feeling suicidal; again, there's no trigger involved, it's completely independent of what's going on around me. I lived with that monthly cycle for close to a decade before I finally figured out what was causing the seemingly random mood swings and got my psychiatrist to prescribe birth control pills which finally put a stop to it.

Endometriosis... Ever had a bad flu bug that flushed your digestive system out in BOTH DIRECTIONS simultaneously? How'd you like to experience that every month? I have. Oh, and on top of that the typical experience included pain so intense that I was too weak to walk for the worst half hour or so of it (gradually tapering up to and down from that before and after). I've got a handful of memorable stories from that, with the rest having been similarly bad but not unique enough to be worth retelling. For a few months, I attempted to not have anything in my stomach by not eating anything after my period started... I'd still end up vomiting the still-identifiable contents of the previous day's lunch. There was the time at my dad's house (I was living in his garage at the time) that I made it into the bathroom to do my puking, got about half of it in the toilet and the other half smeared all over the toilet and surrounding floor, and afterwards managed to muster just enough energy to literally CRAWL to _Dad's_ bed (only one room away, no way in hell I was going to try for my own) and then it took me THREE TRIES to raise my voice loud enough to get Dad's attention (another one room away) so he knew to go clean up the mess I'd made. And the time where it hit at school, during surveying class... I made an exit from class to the restroom in the middle of the instructor's direction on what we were to do for our lab assignment, sat in the restroom by myself for a while feeling progressively worse, finally texted my BF (also an engineering student at the same school) a request to have the department secretary come check on me... well, he was concerned enough that he came in himself; a bit later when I was feeling good enough to stand up, he walked back to the classroom with me (just to get my stuff, my condition was still nowhere near good enough to go practice field surveying) and then gave me a ride to his place so I could rest there.

Something else beyond that which has evaded medical definition... So that monthly puking my guts up stopped when I got on birth control. For a few years. Then it gradually came back, during the placebo week of the birth control pills, despite not having ANY associated bleeding. My wonderful (LDS bishop, but not mine) gynecologist commented "wow, your body really doesn't like its own estrogen" and directed me to switch to taking the birth control continuously (skip the placebo week and just start on the next pack in order to completely eliminate the hormone cycle).

The hormones still escape their bounds... last fall I had an incident where due to my health insurance getting cranky over the non-freshness of my prescriptions at the same time that my gynecologist was on vacation, I was without the birth control for a day and a half. In the aftermath of that, I was having frequent mood swings for a week which took about a month to completely go away again, and it was MONTHS before my body stopped producing menstrual fluid and cramping at times when it wasn't supposed to. And I still have occasional rounds of the pain that I've been told is endometriosis, typically as penance for having slept in and therefor having taken my meds a few hours later than usual the day before.

And on top of all of that, realize that my identity is neuter... not surprisingly, I'm not at all thrilled with the extra curves that being on birth control for such a long time has created. If I'd known about that side effect back at the beginning, I just might have tried testosterone instead of synthetic estrogen... and as it is, I'm seriously considering testing out that switch.

So have I sufficiently illustrated one example of why somebody might want to take hormones without wanting to transition?