Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

Archive for Spirituality

The Transsexual Cure

I’m going to start this by saying that I believe in souls. I don’t know what they are, but I believe in them. Perhaps they’re the emergent property of the culmination of all the organisms, both macro and micro, that share the same physical space that make “us” into the person we think of as “us.” Perhaps the soul is a gift from God. Perhaps we are eternal beings that have been exploring the universe since the dawn of time. My favorite way of explaining it nowadays, is that the soul is the means by which the universe experiences itself. But I still can’t explain anything about the soul; I just believe we all have one. For me, the soul is that deepest, strongest, truest sense of self that a person has.

My soul is a girl. My soul was always a girl. My soul will always be a girl because my soul is me and I’m a girl. [I could just as easily use “woman” in the previous sentence, I guess using “girl” instead is an acknowledgment that my soul is also young at heart.]

It took a long time for me to accept that fact. But it is the only thing that makes sense. I was totally willing to accept the possibility that I was crazy. I have always been what I call a rationalist about this stuff. I remember sitting in 8th grade Algebra 2, thinking that I thought I was a girl. My brain’s answer so often was, “Um, have you looked in your crotch?” And that circle played itself forever. Of course, I also remember when I was six years old trying to essentially rip the damn thing off (over and over again), so I think my brain always knew the solution to the problem, it just took a very long time to get to it.

This preamble is all to clarify why I see myself as cured. I’ve lived these four decades plus, and I’ve examined myself more than most people ever will. I was completely willing to accept another explanation for what was going on, for what I was feeling. But nothing else made sense. I’ve read all the folks who think transsexualism is a mental disorder, and I always found their evidence lacking. I understand that it can be sort of intuitive to think that a person with one apparent body would claim to be the opposite [I know “opposite” is the terrible word here, but I think I need it for context] sex. But it seems like every new study finds more and more clues about what transsexualism is and where it comes from, and, to extremely over-simplify the case, the evidence gradually seems to suggest that what happened with me was: girl brain/boy body.

Given that, for lack of a better word, diagnosis, fixing my body seemed the thing to do. The bulk of medical science agrees with me. And my soul is a girl. ~I~ am a girl. One of the weird things about transsexualism is that it is almost wholly self-diagnosed. When people say they’re transsexual there’s little to do but believe them, there’s really no way to categorically say that they are wrong. It’s why I’m a fan of counseling for transsexual patients; this can be a confusing question to answer, and expert guidance can be helpful. I remember a silly “diagnostic question” that I found somewhere many years before my self-acceptance. The question was: If a pill existed to take this away, would you take it? Well, wait, that’s not right, there were two different questions. The most common was: If there were a pill that could make you a normal man, would you take it? I always knew that the answer to that question was “no.” [This is actually one of the main reasons why I don’t think that I was suffering from a mental disorder – if it was just a mental disorder, a pill would have been a Godsend.] The other question was: If there was a way to back in time and make it so you were born normal [the dreaded “n-word], would you take it? I always knew the answer was “yes; I would be born as a normal girl.” This set of questions was actually very helpful getting me to my last point of acceptance. Everything just started clicking after these questions and answers (among lots of other things, of course).

So, given all that, I came to the conclusion that I was suffering from transsexualism. This diagnosis was supported by every medical professional I spoke with. Every step made more and more sense, and diagnosis (I really prefer that over “acceptance”) made a profound difference in my reality. People around me insisted that my facial features were changing before I even began taking hormones. The way I described the way the hormones made me feel is that I felt more “like me” (whatever the heck that means). The hormones lessened some of that pain in my head, some of that dysphoric feeling receded. My social transition, during which I changed my gender presentation, helped to be sure, but once I began making physical changes, the healing was profound. I remember when I went to Colorado to have my genital reconstruction surgery, and how lovely everyone in the hospital was. It was so clear that they all understood what was going on: the woman at check-in; the cute young phlebotomist; the nurses (who were ~amazing~). The attitude I got from these people was: you poor dear, let us help fix you up and make you well.

Make you “well.”

That word is mine, not theirs, but that was very much the attitude I got from the folks in the hospital. But it jibes with my experience. They were going to cure me; or, maybe, they were going to be the final step of my treatment that would leave me cured.

I remember waking up in the hospital, and I can’t say that the word “complete” came to mind, which I’ve heard other women like me use. What came to mind was the realization that I was done. There was healing left to be done, to be sure, but my body felt like it fit for the first time in my life. Recovery took me over a year, but I was recovering physically as a female.

So, using the language from my last post about language: When I was born, my gender identity (which I believe is non-malleable) was girl/woman, my gender presentation was ever so slightly ambiguous but mainly boy/man, and my gender perception was boy/man. Likewise, at my birth my sex identity (which, again, I believe is non-malleable) was female, my sex presentation was ever so slightly ambiguous but mainly male, and my sex perception was male. After my surgery all of them were in alignment; the gender pieces were all “woman,” and sex pieces were all “female.” And it felt good.

I know that the concept of a “cure” for transsexualism bothers some people. I don’t know what to say about that. Are there folks who choose not to have surgery? Sure. Are there folks who are unable to have surgery but otherwise desire it? Absolutely. Does my paradigm leave some people stuck in a perpetual “uncured” state? Perhaps. I guess that’s for them to say. I even believe that some folks who have surgery don’t see it as a “cure.” I try to be incredibly sensitive to the ways in which other folks tell their story, but I have to tell mine honestly, or else there’s no point at all.

And make no mistake: My soul and my body match, and I am cured.

So, if any part of my story resonates with you and you’re wishing you could be cured, you can. If anyone tells you that there is no such thing as a cure for transsexualism, they are lying [a kinder way to say it would be that they are mistaken]. If anyone tells you that transition goes on forever, and you will never be done, they are wrong. There is a cure, and transition can end.

An Easter Vigil Reception

So, last night was the Easter Vigil at church. I was received into The Episcopal Church, and I preached the sermon. It was a pretty amazing evening. The Darling Boyfriend and my mom and several of my dear friends were there to witness the night’s important moments.

Before I detail the service, I want to say that I took the step to formally rejoin a Christian church very deliberately (I was raised Lutheran, but haven’t considered myself a member of a church in twenty years). I have always turned to the teachings of Jesus when I’ve felt most challenged in my life. So, I guess in some ways I’ve been a Christian all along. But there is something about the Episcopal Church (and yes, clearly, The Crossing, ~my~ church is incredibly special) that has called me to join a community. For the last several weeks I took part in a catechesis study small group, and the more I learned about the Episcopal Church, the more sure I was that this was the right step for me to take. I don’t want to turn this into a history and explanation of the Episcopal Church, let’s just say the the Episcopal Church feels like a very good place for me to call “home.”

On to the Vigil…

We began in the bowels of the church in darkness. Liturgically we were still sitting with the fallen Christ, while Jesus was lost in Hell. The service started with a lighting of candles (“The Light of Christ”) and an amazing Blues version of the Exultant – I was already weepy. There was a light-hearted and fun spoken-word telling of the Creation story, a beautiful Psalm (with Crossing-style chanting), and an enactment of the story of the valley of the dry bones.

After the readings we moved to the group that was to be baptized or confirmed or received or to renew their baptism. There were several of us joining the church in one way or other, from one place or other. There was a woman who had been Muslim who was baptized in a full-immersion ceremony (~way~ cool!), a toddler who was baptized, and then a bunch of people that found the Episcopal Church from diverse paths (or grew up in it) who were deciding to make their commitments public. It was sort of interesting, in that I guess I’ve sort of been Episcopalian for a while now, in that I’ve believed and belonged for quite some time. My reception was merely a public acknowledgement of the connection that God and I already share.

After the baptism/confirmation/reception ceremony, the service progressed upstairs into the Sanctuary. The next thing I knew, the Gospel was done and I was up to deliver the sermon (I’ll include the text of my sermon at the end of this post). My sermon was very personal. I spoke about my journey, and how strongly I feel a connection to Jesus suffering and resurrection and triumph over death. I almost broke down a couple times, but I felt better about fighting the tears back than letting it go full throttle. I’m amazed by how comfortable I am with public speaking nowadays. I was sharing my deepest truths, showing people my heart, and I felt good and strong. I found it easy to make eye contact with folks in the congregation and I just generally felt pretty calm. Honestly, preaching the sermon is a bit of a blur, which always makes me feel like I was in the zone (to use a performance concept). I am so glad I did that, and I feel energized and empowered by the experience.

During the Eucharist the new members of the church distributed the bread and wine to the congregation. It was incredibly powerful to offer the body to people and say, “The Body of Christ.” The Eucharist is something I have grown to really love. There is something really powerful about sharing a meal together, and this meal is special for all sorts of reasons.

After that there was the sending (which I did also), and there were plenty of Hallelujahs and then we partied like God herself had come to party with us. 🙂

I was touched by how many folks sought me out to tell me how much they appreciated my sermon. I’m still slightly bemused by how much I seem to connect with people. I really sometimes don’t feel like I’m doing anything all that special. I’m just telling my truth. But, for whatever reason it often seems to have a powerful effect on people, and I admit that makes me very happy.

We partied and drank champagne and chatted and just had a wonderful time.

Then today my folks came over and we had a Easter feast!

It was a weekend I will never forget.

And now I am an Episcopalian. Yay!   🙂

Let the people say, “Amen!”

AMEN!

[here’s my sermon:]

Good Evening.

Happy Easter!

This is a little overwhelming. Here I am, just received into The Episcopal Church, taking my first real steps back into Christianity and I’m preaching at the Eater Vigil. Why? What did I feel called to tell you all tonight?

Just about a year ago I was in a catacomb similar to the one we just emerged from. For me it was the culmination of a several-year process in which I finally had the facts of my life brought into congruence.

But I should back up a little first. When I was very little I knew that something was different about me; in the fullness of time it became clear that the difference was that I was born with the wrong body. To put it simply: I was born with a female brain inside a male body. It took me three and a half decades to find the strength, courage, and wisdom to undertake the process of putting that right.

I walked through some very dark places on my journey. I battled depression and anxiety that required medication and hospitalization. I was afraid to venture out into the world. Jesus sat alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I sat alone in my room.

I wish I could say that I consciously decided to give in to God’s plan for me when I decided to fix my body and my life, but the truth is that I just gave up – I couldn’t fight anymore.

On September 5th, 2006, I finally began living my life as it should have been all along, as a woman. Ironically, it was also in the fall of 2006 that I found myself attending church for the first time in many years. Though at the time I thought I was in church just to drum, it quickly became clear that it was beyond mere coincidence.

When I met Jesus again nearly four years ago I was raw and weak, but I was open to the truth. I had been hurt by all the anger and misunderstanding that others had thrown at me – and that I had thrown at myself – because I was different. Jesus’ suffering at the hands of the ones who would crucify him hits me very hard, though I have never been tortured by others, I have tortured myself.

What does Jesus suffering, death, and renewal mean? What’s so important about Jesus claiming victory over death? What does it mean to a mere transsexual woman that Jesus rose from the dead and cast off his tomb? It’s a great story, and a glorious way for God to make a point, but what does it mean now? Today? For me?

Christ’s victory over the ultimate death is magnificent, and promises us paradise. But what about life? When I was suffering through the worst of my days, either harming myself, or contemplating suicide, or purposefully isolating myself from the world because I thought that no one could ever accept this very unique girl – least of all God, I felt like I was dead already. I despaired. I understand how the women felt as they walked to the tomb that morning. They had just watched their friend die. We all know death; it’s a truism that by being living creatures we also know death – sometimes we use a softer word: loss. The desolation that those women must have felt that morning, walking to the tomb is an experience that is universal.

I also know their shock upon finding the tomb empty and Jesus’ body missing and getting the news from the angels. I remember getting the news that everything was all set for the surgery that would finally bring my body into line with my being. I was sitting right over there, drumming during a service of The Crossing. And I got an email from my surgeon’s office. I couldn’t believe it. I sat there for a second. I knew the news was coming, and yet I felt unprepared for it. I’ll bet that Peter didn’t run back to the tomb any faster than I did when I ran out into the stairwell and literally jumped with glee. I overflowed so much that a member of The Crossing noticed that even my drumming sounded especially joyous.

And that’s the wonder of Jesus triumph over death. It’s said in a nuanced way in Luke, but in Revelation he says it directly: “I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.” This is very difficult to believe. I get it. Indeed, even though Jesus had told everyone that he would be delivered to sinful men and killed and then rise three days later, the news was hard to believe. Even as the women were telling the others about the angels’ message their reaction was to scoff and call it nonsense. I remember being afraid that something was going to mess up my plans for surgery and speaking with therapist about it, and she said, “Penny, nothing is going to keep you from this victory.” And I started crying with the truth of the moment.

This night is when we honor the ultimate victory, not only because it was a victory for our friend Jesus, but because he shares the victory with each and every one of us. Every time there we suffer a loss, Christ has offered to turn it into a victory. It is pretty shocking. It takes some getting used to. And it’s easy to think it’s nonsense. Which is why it’s good that God is patient, even if it takes 35 years to get it, the promise of life is there.

When I emerged from that catacomb a year ago, the Department of Records at Boston’s City Hall, I had a corrected birth certificate that listed “Name of Child: Penelope Jane Larson” and “Sex: Female.” I had triumphed, and I am certain that God celebrated along with me.

Shortly after I got home from having surgery my family and friends threw me a party with a very special message: “It’s a girl!”

Tonight we throw a party to celebrate the most wondrous message of all: “He is Risen!”

And so are We All!

Hallelujah!

Gender Non-Conforming Bible

Last I went to see Peterson Toscano‘s one person play Transfigurations: Transgressing Gender in the Bible. Here’s a video blurb:

It was fascinating. I am so buoyed by learning about the history of people who stepped out of the gender expectations of their societies; I’m especially interested in hearing about Biblical examples of this. I spent so long thinking that being born with the wrong body was something that couldn’t be reconciled with a Christian faith, to learn that that isn’t the case is simply wonderful. As I’ve said in the past, when I finally decided to transition I saw it as finally surrendering and giving up to what I had been fighting for so long. God’s plan was for me to transition – I joke that God was waving pom-poms when I finally figured it out and transitioned saying: “Wow, she ~finally~ got it” and chanting: “Go Penny; Go Penny!” I know down in the deepest parts of me that God and I are good, and it’s lovely to have some Biblical examples to help spread the word. It’s one thing for me to be able to say, “I know this to be true.” It’s another thing entirely to be able to say, “Here are some interesting things the Bible says about gender non-conforming folks.”

From talk of eunuchs to female-bodied warriors, the Bible makes space for, and sometimes even honors above and beyond, those folks who fall outside their typical roles. To mis-quote an aphorism: “Well-behaved trans folk seldom make history.”  🙂

The funny thing, of course, is that I’m almost excessively gender-conforming nowadays, which is another subject I suppose. But it’s still very important for me to show that there is a place for everyone at God’s Table.

So yea, it was an amazing play, and if you get the chance you should go see it. And Peterson is just lovely!

Wearing The Cross

My mom and I went through some of my Gram’s jewelry a few weeks ago.

I could probably get more in-depth with this subject, and maybe I will at some point, but for today just the observation seemed interesting. Anyway, I picked out all the crosses from Gram’s jewelry, and I’ve been wearing a cross since then.

It’s been another way that I’ve felt connected to my Gram. Not a day goes by when I don’t think of her. I miss her very much, and her presence is always with me. (I’ve worn her engagement ring since she died, and I always feel she’s with me.)

And something interesting has happened; people see the cross and they make assumptions about me. I know that wearing a cross is a visible statement that I am a Christian. And I know that many people have suffered at people doing bad things and claiming to hide under the guise of being Christian. But it’s still been interesting to me the reactions that I’ve gotten from people since I started wearing the cross. I won’t lie, it’s not like the entire world has turned to stare at me, but there has been a noticeable difference. I guess I’m wearing something in a prominent way that expresses a belief; people learn something about the way I feel just by looking at me in a way that wasn’t true before I began wearing the cross.

It’s weird. And lovely, actually. I know I’m a sort of unorthodox Christian, but I claim the label proudly. When I was in my religion class in my Catholic High School and we were asked what person from history we’d most like to have lunch with and I said Jesus, the other kids called me a suck-up, but I meant it. I find Jesus the most fascinating and special person ever. He is my most important spiritual teacher.

Being a Christian is complicated, and there are many right ways to be a Christian. There are also ways in which and times when the teachings of Jesus have been used to harmful ends. Though I refuse to blame Jesus for the errors of people claiming to act in his name. I can’t throw out the baby with the bath-water like that.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to turn this into a spiritual thing. I just wanted to say that it’s been interesting to witness how the world has started to change its vision of me since I started wearing the cross. I didn’t expect it, though I guess it’s not very surprising.

The Crossing marches in NETU Pride

I can’t start to write this without mentioning how completely exhausted I am. I may be blurry, but I’d really like to write this before I go to sleep and lose my initial impressions.

So, today was the New England Trans United Pride Parade in Northampton. I marched in the parade. Not only did I march, I brought some folks from my church (including my amazing priest) to march as well. It was pretty awesome. It was raining, and cold, and a lot smaller than the Pride parade in Boston (d’uh), but it was lovely and powerful.

I had to get to up at OhMyGod O’clock this morning to see Darling Boyfriend (I need a new nickname for him) off to work. I tried to go back to sleep, but I was much too wired. Last night I made myself a shirt to wear in the parade; it says: “I’m a Transsexual and Jesus Loves Me.”

It was really nasty this morning when I got to the church to rendezvous with the group, but our spirits weren’t troubled. Heck, I was super-excited for today. So, once the four of us were assembled, we headed off on the two-hour trek to Northampton.

When we got into town we took a few minutes to stop off and water-proof our banners. I was a little stressing because we were pushing the time a little bit, but we managed to get our business taken care of and get to the start of the parade with a little bit of time to spare.

Marching in the parade was neat. Northampton is just such an awesome place; it’s one of the most welcoming and friendly cities I’ve ever visited. There weren’t tons of people along the parade route, probably due to the lousy weather, but the people that were there were super-supportive and positive. We carried separate banners that said “God” “is” “Love”. I carried the banner that said “Love.” I just had the biggest smile on my face for the whole parade while my priest was yelling “Blessings” to folks along the route. It was another in what seems to be a string of very powerful experiences for me. The world is a wondrous place, and people are warm and loving. Yay.

Darling Boyfriend expressed interest in coming, but he had to work. It was really sweet, because he said that it was the type of thing that he could see going one of two ways, and if it was a positive and fun time he wished he could share that with me, and if it turned ugly with haters he wanted to be there to support me. He is just totally out-of-this world awesome. ~*swoon*~

When we got to the end of the parade there was a rally planned. We stayed for a little bit and chatted. Rev Steph chatted with Gunner Scott, the head of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, where I’ve been volunteering lately. It was very cool to have the two of them connect. I also ran around and said hi to a few of my “Facebook friends,” which was really cool. It’s always great to attach an actual person to an online identity.

I’ve made a pretty conscious decision to be pretty actively supportive of Transgender civil rights. It’s true that I’m still struggling a little bit with seeing myself as part of the “Transgender Umbrella,” and I even have some problems with what I wrote on my own shirt (“I’m a Transsexual”), but that has nothing to do with whether I believe that civil rights for marginalized folks is important. If gender variance, in ~all~ its forms, was better understood and more tolerated in this world, I bet SRS would be covered by insurance companies, I bet young trans kids would be diagnosed a lot earlier in life, I bet fewer repressed trans folk would marry only to divorce due to transition. In short, I think society understanding trans folks (of every type) better would make the world a better place. I certainly think it would make things easier for those that come after me, and my hope is that fewer people have to go through the emotional turmoil I did.

After we left the rally, my church friends and I went to a Tibetan place for lunch, where I had yak stew (~yes~, I said YAK!). It was wicked yummy. There were also veggie dumplings that we shared. It was just a great meal.

After lunch we headed off to the mall. Rev Steph and another woman from church who came with today thought I could use some new clothes. I had tons of fun shopping with them – it was like being with my sisters. I bought more than I should have, but I found some really nice stuff so it’s hard to feel all that terrible.

Finally we headed home and I am now going to crawl into bed around 9:00 PM and hope that my Honey comes over soon to crawl into bed with me.

It truly was an awesome day.

God.is.Love.

Yo.

Pass it on…

What am I doing here?

So, I did my first sort-of actual outreach this evening. And, it’s funny, because the outreach that I did was as a Christian. Life is weird. I’ve expected for the last few years to be doing outreach to straight and vanilla folks about Trans stuff. Now I find that I ~am~ straight and vanilla and I’m doing Christian outreach to queer folks. It makes my head spin.

I’m glad my first Christian outreach is over – I haven’t been that anxious in probably three years. I couldn’t breathe before I spoke, and I spoke very briefly. I think it was pretty obvious that I was terrified, but at least it’s over. It gets easier now.

Someone asked why I’m still hanging around in queer spaces and why I’m volunteering at MTPC. I’m vanilla and straight, right? I just said so. And I don’t identify as “trans” – anything anymore. So, what gives?

Well, the easy answer is that I’m an ally to the GLBT/T community.

But I’m an ally with a unique history, right? I’ve never been one to not talk about my history of transsexualism. I sort of have a unique credibility that the average straight vanilla woman doesn’t have. I’ve lived this. I don’t define myself around my medical issues, and my identity is pretty much “typical straight woman.” But I have lived a life that most 39 year-old women have not lived.

Sometimes I worry about my credibility in queer space. I picture folks wondering what I’m doing there. Seriously, what does this boring little old lady have to do hanging out in queer space? The truth is that I’m not sure I have a great answer for that other than: “because it feels ~damn~ important for me to be there.”

I’m amazed how many parallels there are in my world. When I first started therapy, the woman at the clinic doing my intake said that they “find people where they are” and give them the treatment that they need. When I first attended my church, one of the first people I spoke to (a gay man in a kilt) said almost the exact same thing, and every week Rev. Steph makes it clear that The Crossing is a safe and welcome place for everyone, no matter where someone is on their spiritual journey (and I guess it goes without saying no matter whether someone is any sort of queer – or not). That’s the kind of person I want to be; that’s the kind of outreach I want to provide, both in the Christian sense and the Trans sense. I want to go and find people where they are, and provide the outreach/help that is needed.

So I guess the fuller answer as to why it’s important to me to engage in outreach in queer spaces is that I feel very connected to that community. I have lived a transsexual experience. I have had sex with men and women. I have dabbled with polyamory. I had a wife. I was almost the “other woman.” I fooled around with a trans woman friend. I dated a man who crossdresses.  There’s lots more, but I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though I now feel pretty definitively straight and boring and normal, I hardly see any of those things as superior to gay or bi or poly or trans or queer – they’re just different. I was quite surprised myself by my boringness. I don’t believe it needs to affect my credibility in queer spaces.

I believe the world still has a long way to go in its acceptance and understanding of queer and GLBT/T issues. I want to help the world grow in that way.

I also believe that people have tried to steal Jesus from queer folk. I want to help people know that Jesus is love. If anyone tells you that Jesus doesn’t love you, they’re doing their Christianity wrong.

And that’s why I’m still here. I’ve been exceedingly blessed. My family loves me; my friends love me; my church is out of this world; I have the best job in the world; I find love around many corners; I even have an amazing cat. I want to give back. I want the world to be better for the next generation, whether that generation is younger or older than me. I want to be a part of the world’s positive growth. It doesn’t matter what label I call myself, or what label anyone else calls me. Call me an ally, a tranny, a queer, a freak, a woman, a Bible-thumper, a Christian, a breeder, a whatever. ~I~ am here, and I want to help.

Favorite Google Search for Me

So, I can see the search terms that people use to find my blog. Sometimes they’re kind of wacky, sometimes they’re fairly disturbing, but sometimes they just make me smile. Sometimes it seems like the person searching was looking specifically for me, and then sometimes they were looking for something that made sense for them to find my blog, and then sometimes I’m pretty certain that I was ~not~ what they expected. 🙂 Yesterday I saw my favorite phrase that has lead anyone to my blog:

“I am God’s Penny.”

And that just made me smile all different colors of happy, because I am.

🙂

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