Transition & God II

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This post is the second part of Transition & God I, where I discuss transitioning (and being transgender) within the context of faith. I described how identity is a big aspect of our relationship with God, and how to some people, transgender confusion about identity could indicate a lack of such relationship.

We all raised in a context that shapes our identity, whether we like it or not. We adapt to values, expectations, learn behaviors and unlearn others. Through this process, we often learn who we are. I talked about that with a friend recently. For transgenders, I daresay that this process is the opposite.

Our experiences with the identity that we are given, teach us who we are not. For example, whenever I tried to adapt to the idea of being a daughter, granddaughter, or niece, I would feel excruciatingly uncomfortable. I never felt genuine, and in fact, I felt like I was lying to the world, fooling everyone.

Twenty-five years passed before I realized that all that time, I had been feeling like I was just playing a role. I put on my female identity like a mask, and pretended that it was me. Putting on a mask and feeling like you have to hide yourself isn´t exclusionary to transgender identity.

Every one of us experiences a point in life where they are acutely aware that something is wrong. Sometimes we feel this through a midlife crisis, or through a depression. However, it always results in change and always brings us closer to our true selves. For transgender people, this feeling is constant.

Imagine living your entire life in crisis because you know who you are, but your assigned identity does not seem to match. And that is the moral of this story. Sure, there is confusion about identity that was assigned at birth, and societal expectations thereafter. Self-discovery dissolves this confusion.

Read the last part of  this post in part III.

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Transition & God I

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One of the blogs I follow is Guerrilla Theologian. On his blog, Theo writes about difficult topics in the context of Christian faith, and is not afraid to invoke questions and different perspectives. Yesterday, he wrote about a friend who is trans, and his wife, who has different beliefs than he on the subject.

In this post I´d like to respond to his point of view, and offer my own – from the perspective of a transman who dabbles in religion. I say dabbles, because I do not own and have not read the entirety of the Bible, nor am I an ardent church-goer (although I have been exploring my options, see Going to Church).

The first thing Theo mentions when talking about transgender individuals is identity. To me, it makes sense to approach things from this angle. As I wrote in the post Consciousness, self-discovery may very well be the same thing as re-discovering your relationship with God.

However – the way we define identity is relative to our understanding of the soul. If we are indeed the children of God, and God sees who we are in our hearts – then there was never any crisis of identity to begin with. Transgender men and women are just that – men and women.

The argument that people make, Theo says, is that transgender individuals are confused about their identity. My answer to this is that this is both true and untrue. Very often, transgender men and women struggle to internalize an identity that was assigned to them.

Assigned identity is based on their physical characteristics at birth, but goes beyond that in reality. A gender marker (F or M) is so decisive that it influences the way we are raised, the way we are perceived, the ways in which we behave. At a certain point, this identity becomes pretty “solid”.

Continue reading this post in Part II.

People are Strange

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I´m not sure how to deal with people. Most often I have few people in my life that are very important to me, and outside of that, I frequently think of people as a horde, one and the same, all in a hurry to get somewhere. I forget faces, and names, faster than I forget where I put my keys.

Now and then, I notice someone who stands out; who does something out of the ordinary. People who go walking for no reason. Strangers in the copy shop who offer to pay your prints so you can skip line. This one guy I saw the other night, who got off his bike just to smoke a cigar and watch the stars.

And old people, because it fascinates me how old people have no history. Not in this world, where youth is generally regarded as the best thing that ever happened. Generally (with some exception), these are not people who are trying really hard to be somebody. They live a quiet life and are full of surprises.

I was thinking about my grandparents, and how they were so quiet. They did not think of themselves as very important at all. Sometimes they even forget themselves in the process. But nowadays, people want to be a big deal. That´s the impression that I´m getting.

Rather than self-discipline and introspection, which was the attitude our grandparents´ generation was raised with (respect your elders, be humble, be virtuous), we are raised in the great age of communication. We are taught to talk about everything. Express ourselves.

The message seems to have shifted from the idea that as individuals, we are not important – to the idea that as individuals, we are extremely important. Neither approach seems healthy to me. It´s not up to society to decide who you can or cannot be – the biggest people exist in the smallest of ways.

Be Who You Are (III)

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In the years since my coming out and living as Rowan, I´ve begun to detest things that are not genuine. During the commemorative service in church (see part II of this post), the pastor described this as “chattering”. And chattering is everywhere. There is chattering on Twitter, but also on WhatsApp, Facebook…

There isn´t just chattering on our computers and phones, but also in our minds, constantly. Thinking about what picture we´ll post on social media, reading some comments on a YouTube video, or venting our opinion about the opinion of someone else. We are just… never in “The Moment”.

I am not saying that social technology is wrong. Sometimes, it helps us connect with other people. We read each other´s blogs and stories. We see each other´s (cat) pictures. We are always engaged – and by doing so, we are disengaged from presence and from the true power in ourselves.

The paradox here is that we hide from the things we seek. We seek to be someone, we seek communication, we seek to be seen and to be heard. And yet we seldom really experience these things. And yet the first step in doing so, is to start being yourself. To feel your heart beat. To notice your own presence.

From the moment I´ve started living as Rowan, to this past week, I had felt a gnawing emptiness and growing anger towards the chattering of the world. I wanted to stand still randomly in the street, to gaze at the sky. To bend over and smell the scent of perfume on some rosebushes. To stare in wonder at the world.

But I was scared. Because people don´t randomly stop in the middle of the street. They don´t stare skywards for ten minutes. They don´t do relaxation and breathing exercises in the middle of a busy shopping center. Those things are generally reserved for special areas: meditation retreats, spa´s.

But why? Is awareness a hobby, that it should be constricted to a “spiritual” place? Is being yourself something only new-age weirdos practice? Is it just fashionable, and trendy, to be present? Bull-shit. Fear of other people stops when you accept and allow your true self in this world.

Grieve like a Man

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I´m in the middle of it, so I might as well talk about it. I´ve been given an opportunity to find out that men experience grief (very) differently from women. For one, I used to think the world was ending, when I lost someone. There would be intense despair, a devastating feeling of loss, and a lot of tears.

More often than not, these feelings spiraled so high that they would be cathartic; they would tear my soul apart and heal me in the process. But I experience none of that anymore. Today, as I sat on a meadow while my grandmother received euthanasia, I felt disappointed most of all.

I felt disappointed that I experienced none of those soaring emotions. I wanted to connect with something and couldn´t. I wanted to fix the problem, and I couldn´t. I wanted to be there for someone else, but there was nobody else I could support at that time. The whole experience was an exercise in frustration.

When talking about male emotions, you´ll always have the societal stigma. A quick search for grieving men produced more than a few articles indulging in the idea that men cannot understand (or express) these emotions because they are not taught to be vulnerable from a young age. And maybe there is some truth there.

However – if the whole experience of male emotions could be reduced to upbringing – then we´d have a whole bunch of wholesome guys having no problem grieving at all. There is plenty of good parents around nowadays – and you can´t convince me that they are all sexist snobs.

The emotional struggle I am experiencing at the moment has nothing to do with societal expectations and/or stigma. It merely comes down to hormones, and the ways in which hormones shape your brain. As to how guys can be taught to handle grief better – I have no idea. Give me a month or two. Perhaps I´ll figure it out.

Sex Trafficking I

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Today, I want to discuss a topic with you that is awful beyond comprehension. I´ve seriously questioned whether or not I should write about this at all. After all, my blog is mostly about transitioning, it´s personal, and does not touch on broader political issues. The topic is not popular, and I may actually risk alienating some of you.

That´s why I need you to understand, that for me sex trafficking (in particular where it concerns children) is an issue that hits close to home. In dealing with my own history, I have encountered people who actually have been involved in child trafficking rings and have openly shared their story and the very harsh mental challenges they face.

So, if you do not want to read about this topic – for any reason at all – you might want to skip this one and restrict your reading to topics that are less controversial and less shocking. However, if you are willing to consider, at least, that child sex trafficking takes place in our world, then I would ask you to keep reading and bear with me.

Controversial as it is, this topic has actually received some attention lately. Namely, a victim of child trafficking spoke out on the show Dr. Phil (link to a summary of the episode on the Dr. Phil website). Also, lesser known people have been talking about this subject (Sargon of Akkad, The Reality of Child Trafficking Rings)

The one major problem with this topic is that most of all, it´s so horrendous in its nature that most of us would rather not believe it. Second, theories about child trafficking often land in the hands of conspiracy theorists, some of whom honestly seem bat-shit crazy, like Alex Jones. Another person who has spoken out is Ashton Kutcher.

Let it be said that I do not, in any situation, support either Alex Jones or similar caricatures. I do believe that the horror of this problem calls for rational, composed people to think about this, discuss it, and consider its reality. If we do not consider this reality, the problem is allowed to continue for decades hereafter.

More on this topic in the second part.

Transgender Shame

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In accepting a nomination for the Liebster Award, I answered ten random questions from a fellow blogger (read the questions and my answers here). Several of those questions made me contemplate my own emotions in relation to my transition, and how transitioning has affected my perception of myself.

When asked what I thought about forgiveness, I said that forgiveness is a good strategy to have when we expect too much of ourselves. I also said that this applies to transgender people in the sense of forgiving themselves for being transgender. This is an interesting discussion to have, because being trans is not a bad thing.

And yet, I often feel (and I don´t think I am alone in this) that being trans is somehow deplorable. When this is discussed in different forums around the web, people tend to frame this as “internalized trans phobia”. I think this is a bit rough. If transgender people were inherently trans-phobic, they would not transition. Ever.

And yet I know a lot of people who transition and feel shame. Which kind of makes sense. I mean, our society revolves around discussions about which bathrooms we are “allowed” to use, which is inherently humiliating and dehumanizing. We are growing up in an environment that regards us with suspicion and mistrust.

As a child who grew up in this type of environment, I think I can safely argue that if your value in society is constantly questioned, you are bound to start thinking that you indeed must be rather despicable. While not trans-phobic (in my honest opinion), we do internalize the fears and negative bias that society holds towards us.

This brings up an important question: how do we get over feelings of shame? How do we let go of judgement, and stop beating ourselves – figuratively, and in some cases, even literally. The first step towards a changed perception is probably the realization that they are wrong. Period. In devaluing ourselves, we contribute to their erred perception.

More on this in a later post.