Note: Please see my website devoted solely to serving transgender people:
What an incredibly lonely journey this can be if you go it alone.
Some people know by early childhood they don’t “match” their body, some, by puberty, and others, when they first see it on the Internet or Oprah at age 60. Most transgender people have always known it at least in the background.
About 75% of my practice is devoted to transpeople. I have worked with over 450 gender-variant clients so far. Having a loved one who transitioned made me aware of how normal people can suffer emotionally from gender dysphoria. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, clergy, parents, soldiers, truck drivers, factory workers…all walks of life have come to my office. Most ages, too. Some need to make a medical and social transition, some live “one day at a time” due to personal circumstances or lack of access to expensive medical care. All transgender people are to be honored for inner fortitude, patience, and faith that they are truly “two-spirited” and living at a complex level of awareness of both genders, and the range in between.
I often get the opportunity to make a short “public service announcement” that corrects general misinformation. On an airplane, for example, after I give my one-minute introduction about my work, people ask, “Don’t they all cross-dress for sexual reasons?” or “Aren’t they a threat to children?” or “Don’t they come from horrible families?” The answer to all three questions is of course: “No.”
Researcher-members of WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health(www.WPATH.org), try to understand what process in fetal development leads to a state in which the brain (the “personality”) feels like one gender, while the body is like another. This “gender variance” is also found in the natural world, in some species of fish, for example. Individual and social/cultural factors determine whether a gender variant person will also feel dysphoria. For example, anthropological studies of some Native American and (East) Indian cultures, found that “two spirits” and “hijras,” respectively, held honored roles in their communities. As westernization and modernity encroached on traditional ways, these roles are lost. For example, today hijras, once able to earn a living as bestowers of blessings on newborn children in India, are reduced to sex work or poverty as families now hold secular, private birth celebrations closed to strangers. Our American, primarily Western European-based society (and most other westernized societies) does not tolerate people who express androgynous or ambiguous gender identity in clothing and behavior. What we do not understand, we fear, and what we fear, we hate, unless we have schooled ourselves in the capacity to live in openness to mystery and grace.
Gender dysphoria persists (or returns) despite psychological approaches like behavior modification and “reparative therapy.” A truly pastoral theology, grounded in sound psychology, biology, sociology and human sexuality, knows better. All of creation is an expression of God’s intention and love, says the Judeo-Christian religious mythos. My task as a lay pastoral theologian and spiritually-integrative pastoral therapist, is to act in trust that this is so. Clients who work with me come to trust their intuition and experience their lives as sacred. See my page on spiritual direction
Clients come to me from many points on their journey toward an authentic and healthy self-identity: older adolescents and young people well past their first childhood glimmers and experimentation, mid-life adults who can no longer suppress coming out to themselves, despite fear and loss, and elders who silently endured their gender incongruence and never knew it had a name much less a solution, until the Internet came along. Most begin a social and medical transition with hormone therapy and many, if they can afford it, eventually undergo surgery. Some maintain without transition for various reasons, usually due to lack of financial and social resources. Some feel they will hold it together as long as they can for the sake of their families or financial survival.
Many of my clients are religious or spiritually-oriented and prayed throughout childhood to wake up in the right body. Organizations serving them and Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual people of faith include Trans Faith Network (www.transfaithnetwork.org), Keshet (www.Keshet.org ) for the inclusion of LGBT Jews in Jewish life, and Dignity (www.Dignity.org ) for Catholics. Mormons, Evangelical Christians, Muslims and other people of faith have sought to know what the Holy has in mind for them. Even when shunned by some churches, mosques and synagogues, they are welcomed by inclusive pastoral theology (my specialty as a lay theologian). See my Nature & Grace Journal page on this site for essays on Transgender and Spiritual Life, among others of general interest.
Books on faith and being transgender/transsexual/gender dysphoric:
Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community, ed. N. Dzmura
Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible, eds. Drinkwater, Lesser and Shneer
By the Grace of God: Lee Frances Heller and Friends: Writings for Families, Friends and Clergy, ed. J A Johnson
Spiritually speaking, there are accepting denominations or subgroups within the three mainstream religions dominant in America: Christianity, Judaism and Islam. New books and articles come out all the time on theology and tradespeople. I wrote an article for the December 2013 spiritual directors’ journal Presence called Living in the Image of God: Transgender People in Spiritual Direction. I am excerpting sections from it on my blog, see below.
As a Spiritual Director to Jews and Catholics and Protestants, I regard as sacred the journey to the depth of soul that transpeople make. (See my page on spiritual direction.) The Bible says, we are all made in God’s image, male and female. It does not say, “male OR female.” Institutions will always lag behind revelation, and we need to be careful not to practice the idolatry of trying to keep God “too small.” (see blog article Children of Gay parents)
The Gender Identity Center of Colorado (click www.gicofcolo.org) offers local support groups and resources. The University of Denver has group therapy for MTF and FTM adults, facilitated by supervised graduate students in the Clinical Psychology program. I recently brought together a “co-ed” group of transgender older teens for biweekly group therapy. Their parents –twelve parents and a grandmother—met in my living room one sunny Sunday, to support each other as they try to protect and advocate for their children’s medical and social transitions. My “20-Something” MTF group has met biweekly since Autumn of 2011.
Families: Frequently, relationships either end or change because others cannot tolerate the idea of transgender, or because spouses cannot incorporate the new reality into their personal sexual boundaries. Ideally, if a marriage must end, the two may stay dear to each other as friends, for there are many kinds of love. Children respond to a newly-out parent in different ways depending somewhat on the developmental stage of the child. A wonderful short documentary on children’s adjustment is No Dumb Questions; click www.nodumbquestions.com. Another new film, “Trans,” is available for sale from the Gender Identity Center while supplies last, or I have some to sell or lend to clients at the time of your appointment, at $20 rent or buy. This 93-minute film traces 6 transgender lives, including the Catholic family of a transgender child at church (nice priest!), a SRS surgeon, and others.
Children and teens now have more options for a better future too, because “watchful waiting” by supportive parents can lead to proper social and medical interventions at the right time for their child. Locally, Trans Youth Education & Support of Colorado serves families well. Find them at www.tyes-colorado.org. While I see older (16 +) adolescents and their families, I refer younger children to therapists with strong child development backgrounds. They can be found through the www.WPATH.org site (link above)
Books for Families: New Titles:
Trans-Kin: A Guide for Family & Friends of Transgender People, ed. by Eleanor A. Hubbard and Cameron T. Whitley
My Daughter, My Son: An Adolescent’s Gender Transition Experienced by Mother and Child, Harvie and Harvie
Career Wise: Transition has typically brought loss of careers due to public fear and bigotry. New laws, such as exist in Colorado and 15 other states (as of 2013) protect employees from harassment and job loss due to transition. Forward-looking employers don’t play games such as telling their employee “anytime you are ready” while meaning, “when your presentation does not upset our customers or co-workers.” But unscrupulous employers find ways around the law, and coming out at work is fraught with risks. The GLBT Center of Colorado, at www.glbtcolorado.org, offers legal services and guidelines for transpeople and employers. The Gender Identity Center and GLBT Center’s Transgender Services staff can provide assistance to human resources staff. The Center offers an annual Career Fair represented by inclusive employers. See the new book, Sharing the Good News: A Positive Model for Coming Out as Transgender, Scarpella and Mottler, illus. by J. Wieleba
For either psychotherapy, assessment for letters to doctors, or spiritual care and counseling, contact me. I have clients in several states and look forward to being part of your spiritual and psychological journey toward authentic living.
See link to my recently published article, Living in the Image of God: Transgender People in Spiritual Direction. Living in the Image of God: Transgender People in Spiritual Direction
I see adults and teens over age 16 with supportive parents, offer as-needed parents’ meetings, and therapy groups for young adults and older. Please complete the Gender History Questionaire at my Forms page above, and email to me with your inquiry. (Children and younger teens are served by experienced therapists found on the Gender Identity Center website’s Resources tab.)
Many blessings and good health in your journey!