intervention and gender

On one episode of the Tyra Banks show they discussed public intervention in situations of need. One section of the show dealt with the different attitudes shown towards couples of various gender combinations. Couples (male and female here refer to their presentation) – one male/female, one male/male and one female/female – staged an argument where one partner was clearly more powerful and more threatening than the other.  The results indicated that:

The male/male couple were largely left alone. The conclusion many came to was that a guy can look after himself and that a domestic violence situation between them was basically a victimless crime. This was in spite of the fact that one man was significantly more burly and threatening than the other. No-one intervened.

The female/female couple was treated like a sideshow and many passersby found the angry and violent exchange (threats/pushing) funny.  The conclusion reached after the comments were analysed was that this reaction had something to do with lesbian couples being sexually objectified and therefore seen as less a real couple. It also may have had to do a with a perception that a woman would not really harm another woman (something that statistics show to be untrue). Again, no-one intervened.

The male/female couple attracted the most attention from passersby. This was the only scenario where someone (a NYC firefighter) stopped and clearly told the male that he had to stop what he was doing immediately. However, when a few police cars arrived on the scene it became clear that others had called 911 after seeing the exchange.

I’m curious to know the opinion of transgender people on this issue. You may have had the opportunity to see both sides of this scenario, particularly in terms of the expectations of other people on you, depending on whether you were presenting as male or female. Did (or do) you see a shift in how you are perceived in terms of your power and whether or not you need to be defended or aided? Did your expectation of assistance or support from others (particularly in situations of conflict) change when you transitioned?

Gender Bias in the Workplace

I came across this interesting article in the New York Times: Before That Sex Change, Think About Your Next Paycheck.

You might expect that anybody who has had a sex change, or even just cross-dresses on occasion, would suffer a wage cut because of social stigmatization. Wrong, or at least partly wrong. Turns out it depends on the direction of the change: the study found that earnings for male-to-female transgender workers fell by nearly one-third after their gender transitions, but earnings for female-to-male transgender workers increased slightly.

As a cisgendered female who has always worked in traditionally male jobs, I find this interesting, but not surprising.

I was also amused (but not surprised) by the last two paragraphs:

Ben Barres, a female-to-male transgender neuroscientist at Stanford, found that his work was more highly valued after his gender transition. “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today,” a colleague of his reportedly said, “but then his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Dr. Barres, of course, doesn’t have a sister in academia.

The Few Who Shine

What’s with some people?

There are the kinds of people who can only handle a limited amount of pressure in their lives and then crumble and fall under the heavy weight. They are the ones who, even when the little black cloud that once hovered and rained over their every deed, refused to turn their face to the clear blue sky and become encouraged by the sun’s warmth.

These are the people who, in an auto accident, completely freeze and though may remain uninjured, are worthless in coming to their feet to help out others who are in worse shape. They end up becoming an added burden to the problem instead of rising up to shine over others. If they are witness to the accident, they may pull over but only stare in awe and amazement while others risk their lives to pull the injured to safety.

Why do some people’s fatalism make them indifferent in pursuing a path toward happiness?

Then there are others who, no matter what life throws their way and regardless of their economic status, their positive spirit rarely fades. Though they have their share of adversity, nothing except death eventually befalls their enduring spirit.

Their spirits illuminate the darkness that surrounds them.

Take for example, a recent visit I had to my state’s Department of Economic Security. I had an appointment with the state acting on behalf of a less fortunate relative who needs the state’s help in receiving healthcare and monetary assistance. The building is typical for a large government facility, its massive brown rectangular shape outside opening to reveal dozens of cubicles on the inside for its employees. Upon entering, I had to take a number and wait my turn among the many downtrodden and disadvantaged people.

The playfulness on the children’s faces was a sharp contrast to the sullen droopy faces on the adults who nervously awaited their turn. Oh to be a child without worry again!

After several minutes of waiting, I was finally called by an employee to follow her back to her tiny square with desk and chair inside the bright fluorescent monolithic room. As I sat down, Maria greeted me with a warm round smile. I explained to her that I was not the person on the application but was present and acting on her behalf because she could not be present for the meeting.

While answering question after question, I began to take notice of Maria’s cubicle. Its 7′ x 7′ space was full of bins and folders full of applications requesting state aid, but it was surprisingly clean and tidy, and there were awards posted in frames all along the inside walls. Yet the awards were given to her by her employer for “Most Organized Employee” and “In Recognition to Your Years of Service to the State.” Also on the walls were hand written certificates drawn by her three daughters in crayon like “Best Mommy in the World” and “Mom is #1.” One would think she had not accomplished anything substantial, but I began to see differently.

Throughout the meeting, I would ask her questions about her working with a state agency for eleven years and about her children. All the while she maintained a posture of grace and had an amazing bright smile despite her having to deal with the less fortunate on a daily basis.

“Doesn’t it get to you? I mean, working for the government like this, and having to deal with so much despair and people demanding assistance?” I asked her politely.

“No, it doesn’t. Management sometimes gets to me,” she joked. “But I love living in this community. I love taking care of my daughters, and I love helping people. I even love my job and I take pride in my area here. My coworkers always laugh at me because I’m so tidy.”

Just then, the phone rang and she answered what seemed like very direct questions with a stern “yes” and “no.” Then she told the person on the other line who I was and gave them the case number. She promptly hung up and looked over at me with a sigh.

“Who was that?”

She sighed again. “It was someone from the state at their headquarters in a different city calling us at random to find out what we’re doing and making sure we’re staying busy.”

I was bothered by that. I thought she would be too. But she seemed to shrug off the inanity of a micromanaging agency and completed the paperwork cheerfully. As I got up to walk out, I thanked her for her kindness and encouraged her to never let anyone or anything take that away from her. I told her that I knew her simple smile and gentle spirit would be a tremendous source of comfort to those who sat in my chair. My words seemed to impact her with an affirmation she wasn’t used to hearing.

There was clearly something different about Maria that blew me away. Her teflon-coated optimistic spirit really made me think about my own personal difficulties, and I wondered what I could do to walk with the same light she had in her life.

Maria, and those with kindred spirits like hers, give me purpose in my circumstances.

I may struggle with transition. My circumstances may create chaos in my life. No one ever said being true to myself would be easy. No doubt there will be days where I’m tempted to give in to sit on the curb and watch the accidents surrounding my life injure and terrorize my family, my friends, and me. But I am alive, I’m still breathing, and I need to find that same illiminous spirit that has lurked in the shadows of my heart for too long.

It’s time to be like Maria.

It’s time to get off the curb.

It’s time to shine.

“Being Male”

This is something I wrote in my personal blog, and I just thought I would share it here as well. It is a reflection on how I felt about my life as a “male” and how I experienced that life.

The concept of life as a male, that life before transition and even during transition, has been on my mind lately. I have been considering what it must be like to actually fully experience ones gender, rather than to exist within in the social construct of one’s gender in order to survive.  I think back to my childhood and my young adult years, and I realize that there was so much of life that I was never fully able to enjoy and experience.

There were periods of time, some of them fairly long, where I was able to suppress my dysphoria, but even in those times, I still never fully experienced life as a male. Instead I lived with a constant uncomfortable feeling about what I was expected to do, the things that were going on around me, and even the things that I was doing. I went through the motions, living life the way others wanted me to live it. Never really fully engaging myself in life, unable to fully engage. Instead I was left to look at what was going on around me with the constant feeling that I was an unwilling participant, looking from the outside in, looking in at a life that was not mine, one that I did not fully understand.

Yet, I was able to build a successful life, but the joys of my successes were often shrouded by that constant uncomfortable feeling. The feeling that something was not right. There were periods of time where I acknowledged what it was, I acknowledged my feminine self, but hid it away. Afraid to express my true inner feelings, I hid inside this “male shell” and continued to play by the rules that were set for me, the rules that were set by the gender I was assigned at birth because of the physical appearance of my body. Rules that ignored the relevance of my mind, my spirit, my true self. Even though awareness came around the age of 5, I am sure that it was not something that arose only at that age. Memories before that time are few. I think in many regards I attribute not knowing before this time to not remembering a lot of life before that age.

How does one experience life when they feel so disconnected from it? That is the question that has been on my mind so much. How did I experience life when I was young, fighting the knowledge that my body did not match my mind, fighting the urge to express my desire to break out of the mold that I was expected to fit into. I think about it now more than ever, the desire to break the mold, and all the while the fear that arises with the idea of being found out. I continue to laugh at the male jokes and partially entertain the “male” conversations, all the while thinking that I would not be a part of these conversations if I were presenting as a women. I stand there thinking that, then, I would be spared the low brow humor, the constant testosterone driven conversations, the things that men talk about when they think there are no women around. Sometimes it makes me feel like a spy, like I am a woman disguised as a male infiltrating male culture and observing male rituals.

The reality of it is that I am a woman masquerading as a male, only this is not by choice. I was born with the body, and until my transition is complete I must live with it. I will continue to be the spy, observing, and not totally understanding. If anything, that lack of understanding is what often made life difficult. I never understood why guys do the things that they do, why they behave the way that they do, why they say the things that they say. If someone were to ask me what it is like to be a guy, I would honestly say that after 34 years of living in the male world, I don’t know and I don’t really understand it.

What I do understand is what it is like to feel trapped within a social construct that does not fit with who you truly are in the inside. I look forward to the day when I can live fully as myself, and interact with the world as the woman that I am. I look forward to the day when I no longer have to feel like I am putting on my disguise and venturing out into the male world for more field observations. I can then get out of the spy business, and get on with the business of being me.

There are times when I wonder what it is like to experience life with without feeling this disconnect. I look at men walking down the street, in the store, or out at the park, and I wonder what it is like for them to interact with the world feeling like a man on the inside and being one on the outside. I look at women, and wonder what it is like to have your outside match your inside, to not just be a woman in your mind and soul, but in your body as well. I guess you could say that at times I feel envy for those living in the cisgender world, those who have never had to question their gender, those who have always been able to pursue their passions knowing who they are.

This journey, for me, is not just about aligning my physical body with my mind and soul, but about being able to not have to pretend any more. To be able to finally live life and interact with the world as the woman that I am. I know that transition is not a cure all, and I will, more likely than not, be out about my being trans and probably be an activist, but at least I will finally experience what it is like to look in the mirror and see the woman I am reflected back to me.

The Courage to be Me

Here is something I wrote on my personal blog. I thought I would share it here as well, a few of my thoughts on transition and courage. I believe, as a community, we display unparalleled courage and conviction. It is part of what carries us through, and it is this community that helps prop us up when we feel our courage falter.

The idea of courage was one that haunted me for many years. For years and years, I longed to transition, but always felt that I did not have the courage to go through with it. When I heard of or saw post transition trans-women, I would think to my self that I wished I had they courage that they did. I fretted about courage while navigating a pretty successful career in law enforcement. One moment, I was chasing down known violent criminals, putting my life at the risk, and that night I would fall asleep ashamed for not having the courage to be me. I spent many years trying to reconcile these two seemingly opposing expressions of courage.

When the time came to transition, when I reached the point where I had to make a decision, I realized that it was not a lack of courage that kept me from transitioning. I had the courage to do it, to make the change, and yet I was still afraid. It was not society that I was afraid of, not my employer, but rather I was afraid of losing those close to me. I was concerned about what they would think. All my life, I had repeated a cycle of living up to the expectations of others, all the while failing to live up to my own expectation. It was not courage that I lacked, but rather I denied my own ability to stand up for myself, to put my needs before the expectations of others.

This was not an easy leap to make. While I appeared outwardly self confident, inside I was constantly worried about what others thought about me. Not only wondering if what I was doing was good enough, but fearful that someone would see through me, see that I was not what I presented as, see that I was trans. I was worried about passing as male, even during the years when I had all the physical and social attributes that made passing seem easy. It was the inability to reconcile my outward appearance with my inner identity that forced me to try and live up the the expectations that my outer shell created for me in society. Family, social, and career pressures. The kind of pressures that pushed me into a career in law enforcement.

Eventually, I left law enforcement. This was the first real move that brought me one step closer to transition. This was a kind of watershed moment for me. No other time in my life had I stood up for my self so fervently. I faced a lot of questioning and second guessing about my decision to leave law enforcement. But, this was the first decision that I truly owned. It was my choice. No one else made it for me, in fact, it went against the expectations I spent so many years living up to. It was a display of courage, a moment of self acceptance, a moment where I put myself before the outside pressures. I stood up to people I have never stood up to, in ways that shocked and surprised people. This change was not unlike the transition I am now going through, it strained relationships, some relationships that took a year or two to rebuild, relationships that I am still rebuilding. In many ways, transition in and of itself may set this rebuilding process back a few years, or it may help others to understand more clearly the decisions I made in the past. I believe it will shed light on who I am, why I did what I did, why I was the person that I was, it will explain me more fully to those I know. For almost everyone I know, it was really be the first time that I am truly able to be me. 

Does it take courage to make this step, to begin the journey of transition, to see it through to the point where one is living a life that is more true and genuine that they lived before. You bet it takes courage. The courage, though, is not necessarily the courage to face the world in a new gender role, though that is difficult, the courage is the ability to look deep inside yourself and be one-hundred percent true to yourself. The courage to cast aside the real and perceived expectations of those around you, and put your needs before the needs of their expectations. Going out in the world in a new gender role is certainly a process that creates fear and apprehension, but at this point, I am more afraid of living the rest of my life in my assigned gender role. Now, I can fall asleep happy that I am being true to myself, I no longer have to fret about my perceived lack of courage. I found my courage. We all have it in us. Have you found yours?

Writer’s Block: Gender Bender

Livejournal has a feature which I’ve never used – a daily question with which to inspire posts in those who lack anything else to write about. It’s a bit hokey, but today’s question caught my eye:

Do you ever want to be of the opposite sex? If so, what attracts you to the idea? If not, what repels you?

Read the responses here – it’s interesting what aspects are the most important in the minds of those who have never considered the question before.

Soulforce, Willow Creek, and Me – by Julie Nemecek

Evangelical Christians have to be one of the mainline groups in America who frequently show their disapproval of any lifestyle or marriage other than that of being between one man and one woman.  I happened to read an article yesterday about a group of Gay and Trans Christians who are trying to build bridges into the Evangelical Christian community.  Perhaps reaching BACK and extending the hand of love towards Christians is a good idea.  I guess you won’t know until you try.  As long as they don’t break out with the stakes and gasoline.

The following commentary was reprinted with permission by Julie Nemecek, the founder of Julie Nemecek Consulting, a full-service consulting firm specializing in diversity consulting, training, and advocacy.     You can learn more about her from her main blog at http://julienemecek.blogspot.com/ and her web site at http://julienemecek.com .

Soulforce, Willow Creek, and Me

(or why I drove 500 miles this weekend)

This weekend Joanne and I were in Chicago as part of a Soulforce action group. The American Family Outing (see http://soulforce.org/ ) was conceived as the beginnings of a movement to increase the understanding and dialogue between lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Christians and the evangelical church. Six key churches were selected for visits between Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. Once the date for the visit was set letters and phone calls went out in an effort to get a face-to-face meeting with the Soulforce group and the senior pastor and as many staff members as possible. The church that our Soulforce group visited was Willow Creek Church near Chicago.

Willow Creek is a 38-year old mega church with an average weekly attendance of over 22,000. The784,490 square foot building is beautifully sited on a 155 acre site, including a 5-acre lake that is used for some baptisms. (Winter baptisms happen in a large, glass, hover-craft baptismal platform that floats on air as it is moved out to the platform.) The church has 350 full-time employees, 150 part-time staffers, and 12,500 regularly serving volunteers. Their weekly budget is $550,000.

On Saturday our group met at a community center in the Boystown area of Chicago (just north of Wrigley Field). Our 29 members included two sets of parents with their adult gay sons and one set of parents who lost their daughter to suicide (as told in the award-winning documentary For the Bible Tells Me So). There was a gay couple with their three kids, a lesbian couple with their son, and a lesbian couple with their service dog, Riley. There was a straight ally (the son of evangelists Jim and Tammy Baker), a number of gay or lesbian couples and us . . . the transgender couple. There were five ordained ministers in the group, 2 PhDs and a mix of ages and sexes. Two couples have June 17th weddings planned!

We reviewed the non- violent, reconciliation principles of Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, Jr, that define Soulforce’s approach. We shared our own stories and heard from former members of Willow Creek Church. We watched a 2006 teaching session by one of Willow Creek’s pastors. The Willow Creek teaching session was filled with much misinformation and false teaching. It helped us focus on our goals for the next day.

There was a gentle, wounded, but positive spirit among this group of Christians that came from all over the country to be together for this weekend. We clearly sensed the presence of Christ in our midst as we prayed together and heard more about each others’ faith journeys. Our four hours together helped make this diverse group a people a cohesive Body of Christ.

On Sunday we arrived at Willow Creek at 10 AM for a tour (at Willow Creek’s invitation). There were some non-Willow Creek protestors near the campus entrance proclaiming their “Christian” certainty of our destination in hell. Most of the group had a white top and we all wore name tags indentifying us as part of the American Family Outing. With the white shirts; nametags; presence of our mascot, Riley; and loving couples holding hands as we walked, we turned a few heads as we toured the massive, high-tech, church village.

At 11:15 AM we were ushered to reserved seats near the center front of the mezzanine section. The rock-star like stage had a 17-member worship team that led us into a meaningful time of worship. They had a VERY adequate sound system. The speaker for the day was a guest mega church pastor from Cincinnati. He had a powerful message about the importance of serving others as a way of expressing Jesus’ love. We wondered if this including LGBT “others” as well. The guest pastor referred to Willow Creek as “the most influential church in America” in part because of their regional churches and the many churches that are part of the Willow Creek Association.

After the service we were led to a private meeting room where we ate together (wonderful boxed lunches provided by the church) and talked casually around tables arranged in one large, open-in-the-middle, rectangle. There were 29 of us allowed at that meeting and 5 people from Willow Creek including their founding (and current) pastor, Bill Hybels.

Both sides shared their issues and concerns in a very gracious dialogue. The Willow Creek staff seemed genuinely taken back that our emphasis was on committed, monogamous, loving relationships and families . . . not sex. One of our group members said, “We’re just like everyone else; too busy with our lives to have much time for sex!” Pastor Hybels also responded in disbelief on hearing that many gay and lesbian Christians are being told to marry heterosexually if they expect to be part of a church. One of team members is a survivor of “ex-gay” therapy. He went through $35,000 of therapy – including electroshock treatments – before he came to reject this hateful treatment and accept the truth at God made him as he is and the problems people had with this were their problems and not his. He now works with thousands of others who suffered ineffective – often harmful – indignations because they wanted to be welcome in unwelcoming churches.

For our part, we were surprised and pleased that Willow Creek’s own 30-year study of homosexuality has led them to conclude that: (1) Sexual orientation is unchangeable. and (2) Sexual orientation should not keep someone from being received into their church. They acknowledged that 6 of the 7 verses used to condemn homosexuality are irrelevant; really referring to other things. Unfortunately, they still felt that one Genesis text supported their position that gay and lesbian members must commit to celibacy to become members. We told them how this perspective has caused many in their congregation, because of their love for Willow Creek, to live lives of deception and secrecy in order to be accepted and still enjoy sexual expression in their committed relationships.

As we looked for action steps at the end of over 2-hour meeting, we agreed to continue the dialogue. Bill Hybels also indicated that their church will continue to study to subject and that he would begin to speak out against the misinformation that some Christian groups publish. We then, stood, held hands, and prayed together.

Please pray that God will use these visits for His glory and the healing of the Body of Christ.

Blessings,
Julie