Crossing the T

Life at the intersection of Church and Trans with Rev. Allyson Robinson

Archive for Family

Finding freedom from fear

finding_rin_tin_tin

For our weekly Family Popcorn & Movie Night last night we watched a cute little movie called Finding Rin Tin Tin.  It’s a children’s version of the story of the famous German Shepherd who was adopted by an American soldier during World War I and went on to become a beloved screen star in the 20’s and 30’s.  It was a cute little film–the rare live action kiddie tale that can keep the interest of our whole family, from our four-year-old right up through Mom and Daddy.

This telling of the story has a sub-plot that centers on a French orphan boy, Jacques, who becomes separated from his parents when Paris is bombed.  Rendered mute by the trauma, Jacques is placed under the care of the ruthless camp cook, who abuses him and even tries to sell him into slavery before the plot is uncovered by Rin Tin Tin.  In the film’s final scene, Jacques is reunited with his parents as Rin Tin Tin prepares to leave France with the victorious American forces.

As my wife and I were laughing about the unabashed sappiness of that scene, my seven-year-old daughter, who was watching from a pile of pillows on the floor, turned around and started to climb into our laps.  That’s when I noticed that she was crying.  In fact, she was wracked with sobs–so much so that I assumed one of our boys, sitting on the couch behind her, had kicked her in the head and hurt her.  (These things occasionally happen in our house.)

“What’s wrong, honey,” I asked.  She was crying so hard it took her a few seconds to respond.

“Tears of joy, Daddy,” she sobbed–at which point all our cynicism about sappy movie endings dissolved and my wife and I joined in.  Before the credits had finished rolling, the whole family was weeping tears of joy together, cuddled on the couch, relieved that after all he’d suffered, the probably fictional Jacques would have a chance to live happily ever after with his family.

I’ve taken pride in the past that my wife and I are raising children who are so in touch with their feelings and so unashamed to let them show.  But when I shared my daughter’s story with a colleague this morning, she helped me see it in a way I hadn’t before.  “I was just thinking about all that time you spent separated from your wife and kids while you were job hunting,” she said.  “I wonder if she was remembering that.”

It hadn’t even occured to me to make that connection, but as I’ve thought about my friend’s observation, it makes perfect sense.  Longtime readers may remember that our family was separated for almost ten months while I searched for a job after finishing grad school and transitioning.  In order to minimize expenses, my wife and kids lived with her parents in Montana; because they did not approve of my transition and would not allow me to live with them, I stayed in Arizona with my mom.  Though we did all we could to stay connected while we were apart (we spoke on the phone daily and I wrote letters to the children almost as regularly), it was still incredibly hard on us all.  As my daughter’s sobs seem to show, the anxiety it created in my children lingers, almost a year later.  I wonder how long it will last?

I know we’re not the only family that’s had to endure a long separation–families do it every day, and it has nothing to do with being trans.   And yet I can’t help but think that it was avoidable in our case.  If only my in-laws were more accepting, if only their church would speak from a place of compassion for trans people and not one of domination and oppression, if only it weren’t so hard for trans people to find meaningful work through which we can support not only ourselves but our loved ones as well…if only.

It has been said that all politics is personal.  I think it’s truer still that all activism is personal.  My reasons for doing the work I do are very, very personal.  My daughter shouldn’t have to worry that our family will have to endure long-term separation again just because her daddy is transgender.  Nobody’s child should.  Nobody’s wife or husband should have to worry about the social cost of supporting a transitioning spouse.  Nobody’s parents should have to be afraid of violence against a transitioning child.  No trans person should have to be anxious about finding a job or a place to live or walking into a public rest room.

These anxieties have a very real psychological impact on a person and, I would argue, a spiritual impact that is just as real.  They can cripple you, hold you back, hold you down, hinder you from fulfilling your beautiful, awesome, awe-inspiring potential.  For me, turning my anxiety into action has helped mitigate those negative effects.  By making my own small contribution to healing this hurting world, I heal myself.  Not only that, but I help make it possible for my kids to grow up in a world that is a little less scary.

“I love you as much today as I did the day you were born.”

My Dad was the last to know.

I knew it would be hard for him. The most important responsibility our culture assigns its fathers is the transmission of masculinity to their sons, and so I worried that he would blame himself for my choice to drop the masculine mask I wore for so long. I worried that he would agonize over all the ways my transition might affect me adversely and wouldn’t be able to see how healthy and happy I was finally becoming. I worried that he would feel like he was losing a friend, and that he might never recover from his grief enough to give our new friendship a chance to begin.

I never worried, though, that my father would reject me. It’s hard to put my finger on precisely why. He just wasn’t that kind of person. Maybe my intuition was based in my experience of his love as absolutely without conditions. Maybe it grew from the value I knew he placed on loyalty. I think sometimes you just know who you can count on in this world, and I knew I could count on my Dad.

I wanted to tell him in person, face to face. I hoped to sit down with him and Say the Words. In the end, though, it didn’t turn out that way. He knew something was wrong, and he was really worried, and he was losing sleep, and it was time for him to know the truth. But distance and circumstances conspired to prevent me from being able to go and tell it to him, so instead, I wrote him a letter.

Before I sent the letter, my Dad and I would speak by phone several times a week and exchange email about as often. After I sent the letter, it was over three weeks before I heard from him. The silence wasn’t unexpected; I knew he would need some time to absorb the truth, figure out how he should respond, and find the strength to do it. I was genuinely relieved, though, when he called me one day during my afternoon commute.

“Let’s talk about your letter,” he said after pleasantries.

“Okay.”

“Your news really surprised me, but I want you to know right now that I love you as much today as I did the day you were born.”

My Dad is a person who chooses his words carefully, and as a father myself, I understood exactly what those words meant. I know how it feels to hold your newborn child for the very first time. I know what that kind of love is like.

But I knew it would be hard, and to be honest, it has been for both of us. My Dad and I have struggled to reestablish our relationship. He has found it supremely difficult to talk about my trans-ness with me or even to call me by my new name, and I have wrestled with anger, impatience, and frustration. He has yet to see me in person as I am today, a logical “next step” that I fear circumstances are going to force on him before he feels ready for it. I’m ashamed to confess that I have occasionally questioned the character of his love for me. “He says he loves me,” I’ve said to myself, “but love is as love does.”

And then today, he called me–on the anniversary of the day I was born. Just to tell me he loves me, and to wish me a happy birthday.

Thanks for the call, Dad. It means more than you know.

Speaking of Faith seeks input for future show on marriage equality

Kate Moos, the managing producer of my favorite public radio program, Speaking of Faith, posted the following at the show’s blog today:

It’s been quite a while since we’ve done a program examining the gay marriage issue. Our last treatment included the voices of 2 self-described evangelicals—Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, and Virginia Mollencott, a  Professor Emeritus  at William Patterson University. We wanted to frame the conversation in the terms most often used in our culture to discuss it, so we chose two evangelicals. But we also wanted to go beyond the yelling and meanness of the debate, which may have reached a peak about the time we did the show. I think we succeeded.

But along with a good amount of positive feedback, and despite our deliberately conciliatory approach, we heard from people form all “sides” that we had hurt them, or offended them, or otherwise inflamed them.  I mention this not to say I think we did it wrong, but because to me it’s a measure of how much pain people are in on this topic.

With the California ruling recently, the door is open to that state beginning to marry gays and lesbians as early as next week, and we have asked ourselves what our next forway into the subject might be. It seems clear there has been a great deal of movement in the last couple of years. Witness, for example, a press release that crossed my desk this morning about GLBT families, led by Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye) attending services on Father’s Day at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren’s church) and then meeting with its leaders.  That perhaps would not have happened a few years ago.

What are your thoughts about how to cover this issue? Share your thoughts here if you have some.

The Father’s Day visit Kate mentions is the American Family Outing, a series of events being held this spring by Soulforce in order to establish dialogue between LGBT families and six of the country’s largest Evangelical churches and their leaders.  The previous five visits have been incredibly successful, and many have ended with pledges to continue the conversation and build on the relationships that were formed.

I’ve got an idea, Kate.  Perhaps Speaking of Faith could bring together members of the American Family Outing and leaders from the churches they visited at some point, say six months down the road, in a forum that encourages continuation of this dialogue?  That’s a program I’d really like to hear.  (Of course, I’m such a fan that you know I’ll be listening regardless!)

Recent and Readworthy: New Resources edition

COLAGE, Children Of Lesbians And Gays Everywhere, has put together a veritable motherlode of resources for families with a transgender parent.  It includes print publications, internet resources, email support groups, and much more.  COLAGE is a spectacular organization and this is a much-needed list.  Thanks so much!

The ACLU‘s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project has launched Get Busy, Get Equal, an online toolkit to empower grassroots organizing for change.  Their page on transgender resources is particularly good.  They also have a blog, newsfeed, and podcast.  Definitely worth a look. 

Daughter of Christian singer Steven Curtis Chapman killed in accident

I’ve been weeping since I read the news at CNN

The 5-year-old daughter of Grammy-winning Christian music star Steven Curtis Chapman was struck and killed Wednesday by a sport utility vehicle driven by her brother, authorities said.

The girl, Maria Sue, was hit in the driveway of the family’s home Wednesday afternoon by a Toyota Land Cruiser driven by her teenage brother, said Laura McPherson, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

On a blog set up for the public to leave messages of support, Chapman’s manager wrote,

Your prayers are needed for all in the Chapman family. This is a family who has so generously loved and given to so many. Just hours before this close knit family was celebrating the engagement of the oldest daughter Emily Chapman, and were just hours away from a graduation party marking Caleb Chapman’s completion of high school. Now, they are preparing to bury a child who blew out 5 candles on a birthday cake less than 10 days ago. These words are unthinkable to type.

I can barely type through the tears.  Steven’s music has meant so much to me over the years, and his commitment to his wife and family have been a great inspiration to me.  During my last year at Truett Seminary he led our chapel services once and I was so blessed to share that with him.  Teary-eyed from the service, I approached him to shake his hand, and he reached out and gave me a big hug. 

Steven, Mary Beth, and family–you are in my prayers today and into the future.  You are so deeply loved.

Ex-gay torture chambers in Ecuador and spiritual abuse

Please read Jim Burroway’s post at Box Turtle Bulletin about LGBT Ecuadorians being committed against their will to “treatment centers” that can only be described as torture chambers. (Translations of the series of articles Jim cites can be found here.) Here’s an excerpt from a 22-year-old transgender woman who experienced their treatment:

“My father paid $1,000 [approx. $350 dollars] to have them lock me up in a clinic because he wanted me to change. Four men practically kidnapped me on the street. I wore my hair long and, since I had already taken hormones, my breasts had grown. They clipped my hair. Me and another three homosexuals. They would lock us up in rooms of less than a meter wide. So small that we had to stand on our feet, in the dark, with flies.”

The place where she was taken was God’s Paradise, a drug and alcohol rehab center, led by Jorge Flor who some residents call “My Pastor.”

“When I tried to escape,” says Chiqui, “they hit me until they broke my nose. They’d ask if I was a man or a woman, they’d take our pants down, they’d throw water between our legs and would put live cables to shock us with electricity.

How in the world can such atrocities be committed in the name of Jesus?

I’m reminded of a story from the life of St. Joan of Arc.  Before she revealed to her family that she had received messages from God calling her to lead the armies of France, her father had a recurring dream. In his dream he saw Joan leaving their home town of Domrémy in the company of soldiers, which he interpreted as a premonition that she would become a camp-follower and prostitute.  He swore to his wife and sons, Joan’s mother and brothers, that if such a thing seemed about to occur he would drown his daughter, and made his sons promise to do the same if he could not.

Such a thing flies in the face of our modern understanding of basic human rights–and yet such things take place every day in our world, and in Jesus’ name.  And they don’t just take place far away.  Spiritual abuse happens in the church next door and the synagogue down the street and the mosque across town any time families are taught or counseled to mistreat their LGBT loved ones in God’s name.

What would have become of France had Joan been murdered by her family as she was departing in men’s clothes to meet with the Dauphin?  What beautiful destiny does the church unwittingly destroy when it abuses its LGBT members and their families?

Can I Quote You? Chief Justice Ron George on marriage and the state

Under these circumstances, we cannot find that retention of the traditional definition of marriage constitutes a compelling state interest.

California State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron George, writing for the majority in today’s ruling in favor of marriage equality.

And a comment from me: Thank you, Lord. Let justice roll.