Freedom to Be Who You Want to Be (or Alice steps out of the looking glass)

(My riff as a transwoman in recovery on the PurposeFairy series 9 Reasons Why You Should No Longer Care About People’s Approval; all creative credit belongs to to that author.)

I’ve never had an easy time explaining gender dysphoria to people.  The experience of being male or female is so much what it means to be human that folks have a hard time wrapping their heads around the thought that experience just doesn’t make sense to some people, including me.

I’ve had the most success describing the first time that I knew I was different.  I gazed into a mirror and the person looking back was not whom I expected to see.  I expected to see a girl with shoulder-length hair, blue eyes and a bright smile.  Obviously that wasn’t the image.  And this is gender dysphoria.

What did I do about it?  Absolutely nothing, nothing but destructive behaviors, that is.  I knew I was different sometime in the mid 60’s.  I needed approval as an adolescent.  I could not have withstood the disapproval of society and family in those years.  The great paradox is that in the middle of this internal struggle and the need for approval, I rejected approval entirely.

We have indeed come a long way in the last fifty years.  We talk more openly about such matters as gender identity and we are better (not perfect) about encouraging a sense of worth not based upon an unhealthy need for approval.  As a people we still struggle towards a better vision, but we are on the journey.  We are braver these days about moving past that need for approval which usually doesn’t materialize anyway.

My family, church and community are important to me, but they all no longer get to call the shots.  I’m free to be who I am because that girl decided to step out of the mirror.
Love, Denise


Living on the Bare Minimum

I was a lot younger when I worked for minimum wage. Having any money at all that I had earned was an important rite of adolescence. I worked hard at the drive-in for that $1.70/hour, but I also made more money than any of my friends. Of course, gas when I first learned to drive was $.28 per gallon!

Living on the bare minimum requires courage and determination. I dispute any notion that the working poor are somehow deficient in work ethic and I believe they deserve better. Difficult as it is to live on the financial minimum, it remains difficult to live on the respect minimum as well.

A certain notion floats around this world (which often includes the LGB community as well) that transgender people should be satisfied with toleration. We should feel lucky to be accepted by even that much. Sometimes this thought is manifested in the argument about public accommodations – trying to assert rights to use gender-appropriate restrooms is pushing the envelope too fast.

I’ve lived, sort of, on the bare minimum of respect my entire life. I dreamed countless nights of at least being tolerated for who I am as a gender-variant person. But with increasing time in recovery and a new spiritual awareness of being created in the image of God, I’ve come to a new understanding.

Toleration is no longer enough to sustain life. My time has arrived. And so has the time of other gender-variant people around me. We’ve paid our dues. The larger community around us needs to celebrate our lives. We are entitled as productive citizens to a respectful attempt to understand us. It is time to move beyond toleration.


Beyond Tolerance – Gustav Niebuhr

Someone in My Corner

I remember the first time I ever went to lunch as Denise with some of my cis-gendered girl friends.  We’d gotten to know each other in a whole entirely different kind of group and unlike the majority of people today, they knew me both before and after I’d come out as a transwoman.

I really didn’t want to go.  I was certain everybody in the crowded place was staring at me.  And when they caught on that one man was staring and snickering, I thought they were all going to march over to his table and rearrange his nose.

Even if the statistics are better than 1 in 10,000 for MtF and 1 in 30,000 for FtM folks, we all just aren’t enough to impact society at large in matters of health and justice.  Sure, get us all together in one place and include all the gender-variant people, not just transsexuals, it’s pretty amazing.  But separately and outside a metro area, transitioning can be a lonely business.

I had visions of restaurant management calling the police to break up a melee.  Thankfully the yahoo in question wilted in the stares of a handful of angry women directed right back at him.  But I need to know other people have my back.  Every trans person (and for that matter, all LGBTQI folks) need neighbors like ours next door.  I walked past the end of their driveway last night at dusk.  M. and P. stopped searching for where they stashed their reusable shopping bags long enough to shoot the breeze with me.  They only call me Denise, they refer to me with correct pronouns and they are pulling for me to find work.  Wonderful neighbors.

I’ve given up on family in my corner in large part.  I’m luckier than some in that I even have a family left.  But into the emptiness comes a terrific variety of people who often don’t understand all this transgender business and aren’t overly concerned.  They actually like Denise.  They like this sober Denise.  When I talk to them about jobs, discrimination, access to public facilities, they listen.  Nobody recoils in horror at the thought I really do need to use female restrooms.  And I believe they speak up even when I’m not around.

I wouldn’t be half as brave as I am without somebody in my corner.

Love, Denise

PS: I believe this is also true of the entire LGBTQI community.  I need and expect LGB people to stick up for me and I stick up for them.  Enough division already.  And we all have allies who support us.  That’s the only way we’ll win the marriage equality battle in Minnesota.


Transition & Divorce

It’s not just gay men who marry and help raise a family with the notion that somehow marriage will make all the other stuff go away.  Lesbian women and bisexual and transgender people do it too.

The Serenity Prayer is crucial to my life because I can’t go back and correct the multiple marriage track I’ve been on (amongst other reasons).  I can’t change that history and the beginning of wisdom is knowing the difference between things I can change and things I can’t.  Past marriages qualify as things I can’t change.  Yet experience has taught me there are things I can change.

Some changes I’ve made already.  I no longer look in the mirror and pretend that who I see and how it makes me feel will pass.  I can’t bury it,  I can’t kill it, and I can’t drink it away.  I wish I had come to that conclusion a long time ago; I would have caused a lot less pain for me and the people I’ve loved.  The fact is I didn’t.  I didn’t dare.  I didn’t have the courage.  But I have the courage now and that is the key to a future.  I don’t have to drag another person through my personal hell because 1. I no longer live in that personal hell and 2. I can tell him or her the unembellished truth from the first.

Divorce is visible on the horizon now.  I can see it.  I don’t like it.  I don’t want it.  But I won’t try to stop it.  The other person in my life deserves a better chance to recover, a better chance to discover her own serenity.

I admire couples who are able to find a hidden path through the brambles.  I stand and stare at the bramble patch and no path mysteriously appears for me.  But I can change this: I don’t have to be stymied in my life.  I don’t feel compelled to wound myself flailing against the thorns. I can let it go and I can walk around the patch.  Life will have other struggles soon enough.

Love, Denise

Mixed Orientation Marriage

Straight Wives


History Repeating Itself?

Religious Melancholy – also known as Scrupulosity and related to Perfectionism and hyper-Calvinism, the obsessive belief that no matter how hard you struggle, you will never measure up to what God says and so sink into despair. One sufferer was George Beecher, the minister brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe.  A pastor in Rochester, NY at the heart of the Burned Over district, scene of repeated religious revivals, in 1843 he walked into his garden to shoot some birds and was found dead of a gunshot wound.  The Beechers insisted it to be an accident.  Not so Julius Rubin – Religious Melancholy and Protestant Experience in America.  He calls it suicide.

All of which makes me stop and ponder the current state of the human spirit around me…LGBT, addicted…anybody different.  In the current epidemic of young LGBT suicide, in particular trans youth,  are we repeating history?  Rushing headlong back into a new Burned Over district, a new Perfectionism which sees no evidence of God’s inclusive grace?  Is this what the TX Board of Education is aiming for with the replacement of Jefferson with John Calvin in school curriculum?  How many hundreds of years does it take for western civilization, Christian or otherwise, to move past the personal destruction created by divine standards imposed by mistaken people on others which are impossible to attain?

Why Marriage Equality Makes a Difference to Me

When the question to amend the Minnesota Constitution to limit marriage to one man and one woman appears on the ballot in November, there are a number of sound logical arguments why Minnesotans should vote no.  We could talk about why a constitution should ever be amended and whether this question qualifies.  We could talk about the support for marriage equality from large corporations who want to access a highly-educated work force as well as reap gay dollars.  But as Farhad Manjoo of True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society says –

…sometimes getting more information about a controversy doesn’t produce a better foothold on the facts—sometimes, strangely, more information actually pushes us deeper into the cocoon of our long-held views.

So I’m not going to make those arguments unless somebody asks.  Instead I want to tell you what difference marriage equality makes to me, a transwoman.

I’m not crazy to ever get married again.  I now realize that a big reason why I ever got married (more than once) was all about convincing myself and then others how masculine I really was and ignoring my personal truth about my real identity.  A lot of people got hurt in the process.

Unlike most people, I’ve performed numerous marriages as a pastor.  I learned from counseling sessions and wedding preparations that more people than not viewed what we were doing as a cultural right with little attention to the religious significance.  I performed weddings that, looking back, I should not have.  I did the service out of lack of courage in the face of church and/or community pressure and I know the marriage failed.

I’m a real person many of you know personally who is as apt to be attracted to a man as a woman.  (Sexual orientation has no correlation with being a transsexual and I may understand it differently than you.  But in my life it is as real as your orientation is to you).  If I ever fall in love again, if lightning should strike and I find another to grow old with, I want to be able to do it.  I want to have the same rights and status as other people, no matter who it is.  I want that person to be there to hold my hand as I pass into whatever waits beyond.  In short, like every other human being, I need to be loved. It’s…personal.

So when you fill out that ballot, whether it’s marriage equality, gender non-discrimination or public access for trans people, think of me.  I’m a real person and I count.

The Power of Violence

Ultimately, no, but I believe it’s a mistake to underestimate the power of violence.  A year later the tell-tale neon signs of the power of violence are more than obvious in the life of Chrissy Polis, forever to be known as the transwoman severely beaten in that Maryland McDonald’s.  What is not so obvious is the power of that same outrageous and gratuitous act of violence in my life.

I’ve been living as Denise now for almost a year.  Nobody outside the parts of family that still can’t comprehend me as a woman ever refers to me as anything other than the woman Denise.  This last Sunday morning marked my return to the pulpit and public speaking after being gone about 13 years and as Denise.  I was at a middle school choir concert last night with hundreds of other parents as Denise.  Another parent a few chairs down called out, “Hey, Denise!”  I waved back.  Nobody else paid any attention.

And yet every time I consider using gender specific restrooms in a fast food restaurant, I consider, if only for a moment, whether it’s safe, whether I can get by with waiting.  I’ve never been assaulted verbally or physically. I’ve never been accosted by security or management. I seldom get any dirty looks.  But the power of violent hate is so great that even when I’m not the target of that kind of violence, the thought still occurs – is this something I really need to do?

I’m not going to stop using female restrooms.  I’m there for the same reason as every other woman.  When you got to go, you got to go.  And sometimes I need a mirror; there’s no such thing as lipstick that stands up to a cup of black coffee that I have ever seen!  But I’d like others to know that violent acts of hate based on gender identity, sexual orientation or gender itself (as in rape) echo around in minds and spirits for a very long time and they are intended to do that.

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