Stories have the power to change the world … they inspire us, teach us, connect us. This is the twentieth installment in the “Stories That Change The World” series.
I have a private Facebook group for moms of lgbt kids. The group is Serendipitydodah for Moms and presently has more than 1,100 moms in the group. It’s a wonderful community of moms who are trying to be the best moms they can be and who love their kids fiercely. The group is a place where we share a lot of support, encouragement and wisdom.
The following story is from Laura Beth, one of the members of Serendipitydodah for Moms.
Laura Beth is not only the mom of two lgbt kids but is, herself, a transgender person.
For more info on the private Facebook group for moms of lgbt kids email firstname.lastname@example.org and use “Mom’s Facebook Group” as the subject.
For more from Laura Beth visit her blog Sohpia Sojourn.
As the battles over bathroom lines have been drawn and everyone with a Twitter or Facebook account has suddenly become an expert on all things gendered, I thought it would be good to clear some things up by sharing from my own story. Most specifically this: gender identity is more complicated that a simple feeling.
Hiding in the Church
Allow me to give this some context. Since graduating from High School in 1990, I have been immersed in conservative Christian culture. I studied for two and half years at Moody Bible Institute before moving to Nashville, TN. While there I worked with Christian musicians on the road and in the studio. I eventually finished my degree in communication and Christian Ministry at Dallas Baptist University. Up until 2014, I had been persistently involved both professionally and personally in various ministry roles. All the while, I was wrestling with my physical health, mental and emotional stability and gender identity.
The only ones that would have known it were my wife, the doctors and various therapists I worked with over the years. We poked, prodded, scanned and tested my body trying to figure out why some things didn’t work like they were supposed to and why certain pain persisted. We dug into scripture and prayed for peace as I wrestled with what I felt was more “feminine” understanding of myself. The resounding belief among the Christians I confided in was that this was something in my head; some sort of cognitive echo in my brain in response to childhood bullying, sexual abuse and environmental influences. It was suggested that dad didn’t talk to me enough, that mom didn’t hug me enough, or that she hugged me too much. One person blamed the lack of breastfeeding and yet another the fact that I was essentially raised by three women (my mother, my older sister and my grandmother).
As unexplained health issues continued to pile up, my depression and anxiety swelled to a fevered pitch. Tension in my marriage boiled over. I was tired of being told I was mentally flawed, having no hope for pain relief, no promise of change in my marriage, and praying prayers for healing of my identity that I was increasingly convinced God had no intention of answering. As soon as I was ready to throw in the towel and take my own life, the answers began to come from unexpected places.
Instead of my life getting more defined, God got bigger and more mysterious. Instead of insisting on answers, I allowed myself to be content in the questions. In instead of running from who I was, I affirmed and embraced it.
Instead of constantly wearing masks in order to appease everyone else’s expectations of who I ought to be, I unapologetically tossed them aside and started to discover what was really underneath the façade.
Over the months that followed we took new turns in my healthcare management. We uncovered the causes of hormonal imbalances, found cysts and herniated tissue. Treating my body as a woman led to diagnoses that had eluded us for two decades. I went from 8 medications down to two in a matter of a couple of months. I not only felt physically better; I had hope.
Myths of Mental Care
It’s also been thrown around that transgender people “just need to get the mental healthcare then need to fix them.” While it is already part of the World Professional Association for Transgender Care (WPATH) “standards of care” that we be under the care of mental health professionals during our transition, this should not be taken to mean that our gender identity can be “reset” with medication or counseling. This would fall into the same category as the now widely defunct “conversion therapy” once thought to be able to reset ones sexual orientation.
Feelings can be dealt with in a therapist’s office. (Perhaps that would be a more appropriate place to deal with your fears than a picket line or a Twitter feed). Physical conditions require other areas of expertise.
The Miracles In Us
What I have learned on this journey is how complex the idea of physical gender actually is. Multiple organs, chemicals and processes work together with varying degrees of intensities to create what we culturally define as either “masculine” or “feminine” expressions. When any of these individual pieces and parts produces different results in terms of directing the body in being “male” or “female,” the conflict could result in an intersex condition. There are around 35 diagnosable intersex conditions and counting.
The bottom line: what I always thought I knew about the way God created gender was limiting my concept of God’s creative power and capability. Once upon a time a generations of Christians had to open their mind to the idea that God was powerful enough and creative enough to have as living on a sphere rather than a pancake. So it is with gender; what we have accepted as simple is beautifully complex. Being created in God’s image means we ourselves are greater miracles than most of us would dare to imagine. Yet, in an effort to explain ourselves and explain God as we move forward on this journey, we create boxes. Boxes that we try and cram our existence into. Boxes we use to limit the possibilities of all God might be.
My life turned around not because I had a “feeling” that I was a woman. I had been dealing with that feeling for decades and was literally dying a slow painful death as a result. My life turned around because I came to terms with a physical reality that I had differences that needed to be addressed; starting with the gender I identity and treat as myself.
While not all transgender people have the luxury of knowing as much about their bodies as I have had, the reality is that neither do we. When we see a person that identifies as transgender, we have no idea what they do or do not know about themselves. But is that reason to doubt of fear them? Not remotely.
Awareness, Not Fear
I wish I could guarantee that no transgender person will ever hurt another person in a bathroom or locker room. I also wish I could guarantee priests, pastors, professors and medical professionals would always be safe and trustworthy. I wish I could make a promise that people won’t lie to you, that those with power will never abuse it and those we follow will always lead us where we really need to go.
If we are learning anything as a culture this election cycle, I hope it is this: there is no “right” answer, we are all flawed. We all need to be careful. We all need to be aware. We need to look out for our children, our neighbors and ourselves. Heaping fear upon found-less fear into the messages we hear from political and spiritual leaders does nothing to actually create a stronger community, a stronger nation.
The only thing that will make this nation stronger and our communities safer is a greater degree of confidence, compassion, and basic humanity lived out in the lives of every one than draws breath on our shores. That confidence is found in the dignity afforded to us by the basic guiding principals of our society and, as followers of Christ, in obedience to his directive that we love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors as ourselves.
What that means in terms of the way you treat me, or anyone else different than you or whom you may not understand, is of course completely up to you. In the meantime I will not take it lightly that I continue to live; with more than a feeling but a beautiful reality given to me as a gift from an amazing God.
For more of my story, please visit my blog at www.sophiasojourn.com. You can also make a contribution to help get my book, Shattering Masks, in to circulation at www.gofundme.com/laurabethtaylor. Your contribution will not only help get the book out, but will help move forward my vision of how our stories and the truths they reveal can change our churches, our culture and our world for the better.