If I had to name the god of when I was ripping in half, I would name it Truth.
Forget the Rules
The best resource I found in my Binging of the word Transgender (I had a Windows Phone so I didn’t Google things) was an AOL TV series featuring Laura Jane Grace. She was famous for being the first openly Transgender person in a rock band. With every episode of True Trans, I heard Transwoman after Transwoman telling my story.
Every week I went to the local library to blog for TIK. (Cox & AT&T quoted Carrie and me $7,000 for a line to be run to our house for internet. Fuck. That. The library had free WiFi so I spent lots of time there.) After scheduling my blog post for the week, I would open a new tab in my browser and devour the next episode in the queue.
I remember one woman (Our Lady J?) talking about sitting in her therapist’s office. In that safe space, her therapist asked:
“Forget the judgement.
“Forget the rules.
“Forget the expectations.
“If you could be anything. What would you be?”
The transwoman got emotional as she recalled her answer:
“That’s when I knew.
“I knew that I wanted to be a woman.”
In the Reading Room of the North Lafayette Public Library, at the table in the corner, with earphones in my ears and a beard on my face, I had the deepest moment of self-discovery I’ve ever experienced. I held back my own tears in that moment, reflecting the face of the transwoman on my screen.
It had never occurred to me that I had a choice. I had been plowing through life with my face to the ground, working as hard as I could with the cards I had been dealt. I had been so focused on repressing whatever it was inside of me that I had never stopped to listen to what it was trying to tell me.
It was screaming that my soul was feminine, fierce, and fluorescent.
I had spent 38 years trying to cover up the light at my center instead of celebrating and honoring it.
An Act of Proclamation
I shaved my beard off and walked into the building for my shift at Great Harvest. I had worn that beard for months. An act as simple as shaving my face was an act of proclamation for me. I felt absolutely naked as my coworkers stopped what they were doing and regarded my bare cheeks, lips, and chin. I felt like they could see all the way inside to where my Gender Identity was still hiding, even though I had begun making peace with it.
I started growing my beard back because of how exposed I felt that day. My body hair and full beard became armor for me. I hid behind them.
The God Without Gender
You might think that my work doing Spiritual Guidance with men would suffer as a result of admitting to myself that I was Transgender. The opposite was true. I gave myself permission to nurture the wounds of these warriors instead of pushing away from that feminine aspect of caregiving. I let myself feel their pain more deeply, dialing in to the subtleties of their emotions. I found the desire to reach out with compassion and touch a shoulder or express an affirmation come to the forefront.
Put simply, when I took down my self-built walls separating gender roles and expectations, blue and red turned purple within me. I sat across from men with one foot in the role of sister who could birth newness and the other foot in the role of brother who could shield against danger. That canopy allowed all of the god without gender (God is a spirit, right?) to flow through me.
It Cried Out
There was really only one problem I encountered as I came to grips with how I was made: The Secret. It eroded the ground beneath me. It met me in the gaze that looked back in the mirror. It dunked me in cold water every time a chauvinistic man questioned my manhood in that typical asshole-yet-friendly way North American men talk to each other. It cried out to be acknowledged every time I talked to my LGBT brothers and sisters.
I kept applying my typical balm of alcohol to The Secret. It worked less and less, so I prescribed an increased dosage. Beer went out of the window because of its low alcohol content. It was wine and spirits from that point forward. I no longer drank to have fun. I drank to change how I felt. If that took two drinks a day instead of one, so be it.
A Heaviness in My Gut
One of the things that deeply impacted and angered me was the conclusive research on Conversion Therapy. I felt a heaviness in my gut when I saw the statistical success rate for Christianity’s attempts at changing the LGBT community: 0%.
I had been told by well-intentioned people to resist what was inside of me. I had been told that if I just prayed hard enough, Jesus was going to heal me. I had been brought to a line of thinking that implied that I was a really fucked up Christian because Jesus wasn’t making me un-Trans. Once I was willing to take an honest look, I discovered that I had been lied to, that I had lied to others, and that I had lied to myself.
(I’m not angry at those of you that held to/hold to this. People that are different than us can be scary and I was just as scared of what was inside of myself as you were/are. Can we just start by admitting we’re scared and maybe intimidated?
While I’m not angry, I do hold you to account today. You have three(ish) bible verses on homosexuality and one bible verse on gender expression. How many bible verses do you ignore on forgiveness, acceptance, and love in order to throw those four verses at people like me? That shit hurts and has real life consequences. People kill themselves over the shame and rejection the church recklessly throws around.)
A woman Carrie took a class with had come out to her. I was so proud of the way Carrie handled that situation. Honestly, she handled it better than I would have. For me, that conversation between Carrie and her friend was a green light.
I started researching how to tell my spouse that I was Transgender.
Just Need One Win
Not everything in my life was Winning-A-New-Car-On-The-Price-Is-Right. My financial model for The Inner Kingdom (based on Faith & Generosity) wasn’t working. Carrie and I were broke as fuck. The data on the backend of TIK’s website was showing a slow uptick in readership but it wasn’t happening fast enough. All of the donations were coming from people I knew, not strangers as I had hoped. My product was “a changed life” but it was dawning on me that life doesn’t often change overnight. It usually changes in slow, incremental steps.
My Fourth Quarter Meeting for 2014 was dark. I was crumbling on the inside, my financial model for my ministry was sputtering right after passing the Starting Line, and my message wasn’t clicking. One of the Board Members spoke with compassion when he told me, “I feel like you just need one win. If you just get one, you’ll turn this corner.”
I felt the same way. I just needed one softball pitch from God. I knew I would hit it out of the park if it was thrown to me.
She Started Crying
The websites I visited told me that a marriage in which a partner comes out as Trans can work if the relationship is already healthy and stable. If Carrie and I were anything, we were stable. I thought we were doing pretty damn well considering the chaos we had voluntarily thrown ourselves into and I was growing increasingly desperate, so, I rolled the dice.
I sat down across from Carrie at our dining room table, which our oldest son had named Study Land. As usual, the table was covered with Carrie’s notebooks and textbooks… hence the name. Carrie spent almost every night in Study Land. I had taken over cooking and cleaning and the kids’ homework to give Carrie the time she needed to get her homework done. It’s not easy to learn the entire human body, every medicine, and every surgical procedure.
I looked at Carrie as I sat and said “we need to talk.”
She put her book down and let out a small yelp. She could tell from my tone of voice and shaking hands that it wasn’t going to be an easy talk.
I don’t remember everything I told her that night. There was way too much adrenaline, verbal diarrhea, and fear. I remember clearly that I only told her half the truth. I was still too scared to own my identity.
I told her that I had never really felt like a man in whole my life. I told her that I was non-binary because I figured that was a softer blow than telling her that I was a transwoman. I told her that I didn’t think that expressing my gender in feminine ways was a sin and that empirical evidence showed that Jesus wasn’t going to heal me.
I explained to her that Gender Identity & Sexual Orientation are separate… that I was still attracted to women. I told her that I loved her and that I couldn’t keep the secret from her any more. I told her I loved her so much that I was willing to spend the rest of my life in the closet. I told her that I could feel an emotional distance between us… she agreed that she could feel it, too.
I told her that, no matter what she wanted to do, we needed to get her through Nursing School. I told her that I didn’t want her to keep this secret and that I thought her lesbian friend could handle it and be a safe person for her. I told her that I knew that she wanted a knight in shining armor and that she got a knight in a sequined dress but I was going to love her and fight for her until one of us died.
She started crying.
For the third time in our marriage I had run a knife through her heart.
She laid down a couple of ground rules for my gender expression. The first was that she didn’t want me to buy my own clothing. She said that would be too weird. The second was that our marriage was over if anyone ever saw me dressed as a woman. I didn’t like the first rule but this was our marriage we were talking about, so I was willing to compromise. The second rule turned our home into a prison for me, in which I was free to be myself when I was alone. Its walls became the bars I saw the world through.
A few days later we went to a friends’ home for a party. Our sons all played together and we laughed and told stories over a bottle of wine. The next morning, as we sat on our porch, watching the cows and horses eat in the pastures in front of us, Carrie told me, “We’ve built a beautiful life together. Let’s try to make it work.”
I would occasionally do things like shave my legs or chest. It felt great and Carrie never remarked about it. I figured she didn’t want to know any more than she already did, so I kept how amazing it felt to shave my legs to myself. I also did my best to keep my gender expression to myself.
I had gotten rid of the secret… but not really. I had let Carrie in but it seemed like she wanted to just not talk about it.
The Next. Fucking. Day.
A few months later, I think in January of 2015, I took a one day retreat in my mother-in-law’s cabin. I cried as I wrote a Lament, a prayer in which you are showing God your pain and leaving it in his hands. I was giving up my dreams of ever being hired by a church. I was giving up any hope of ever having a seat at the table. I told God about the deep pain I felt being an outsider.
I asked God to help me serve him. I was willing. I just needed an opportunity.
The next day –I kid you not. Thenext. fucking. day.– I got a phone call from an acquaintance named Jeff, one of the dudes in Ohio who worked for the ministry that I had sought training from. The same Jeff that sat with me a few years before when I confessed that I was sinning by taking a job in Wine Sales because I didn’t believe God would take care of me.
Jeff was putting together a cohort of Interns for Healing Care Ministries, International. It was going to be a younger generation of people -almost all around 40- and he wanted me to be a part of it. Jeff explained to me that we would have required reading of one book/month for a year, three or four video classes/month, and we would have to put on a Seminar in our hometown for HCM, International. Jeff explained that this was less about promoting HCMI (Evangelical Acronym Alert!) and more about developing people like me.
I told him that, as honored as I was to be considered for this, I couldn’t afford to be a part of the cohort.
Jeff offered me a scholarship.
March 1st of 2015 I began my internship with HCMI.
Spoken in My Stead
I sat through sermons in which my pastor called homosexuality a sin. I tried not to physically flinch at the unspoken blow thrown at my Gender Identity, too. I did what I had done since High School: smile and die inside. As my heart wilted, I internally shook my head in disbelief. These were intelligent men and women. How could they keep saying something that science not only didn’t support but refuted?
I had played an active part in kicking my friends out of my church in Houston for openly saying that they didn’t think homosexuality was a sin and now, a decade later, I was silently sitting in agreement with them, grateful that they went down defending LGBTQ people like me. I knew I would get the boot if I told the truth about who I was and that I believed God’s canopy was big enough for “The Gays”.
Belonging was more important to me than speaking my truth, so I drank, hid, and lied. But I was grateful for my friends in Houston that had spoken in my stead.
People’s Reaction Against Her
Caitlyn Jenner was the best and worst thing that had ever happened to me. She tore down everyone’s myth that girly-men are transgendered. Alpha Males with Olympic Medals are trans, too. She spoke her truth in front of everyone. That’s some Wonder Woman/Sasha Fierce shit. However, me and countless others that remained in the closet bore the brunt of people’s reaction against her.
I had left Great Harvest by the time Caitlyn had famously appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair. One of my coworkers saw my shaved legs and, somehow, deduced correctly that I was Trans. At first I laughed at his jokes, like it was normal American Dude Ribbing. After a few days of this guy giving me shitt, I started looking for work somewhere else. An acquaintance hired me at his coffee shop… The Lab.
The morning after the Caitlyn Jenner cover photo, I was working with Thomas (the owner of the coffee shop), Emily (A woman who is almost identical to me personality wise. Seriously, it’s kinda freaky.), and a guy named Joseph (My trainer that was almost 20 years my junior. Tough gig for him.). Two of the regulars were throwing out some of the most hateful stuff about transgendered people that I’d ever heard in my life. Each thing they said was a bullet through my heart. Each laugh at Caitlyn’s expense was a slap across my face.
Joseph went to the back and joined Emily in the dish room. I fled from the regulars and left Thomas alone with them… sorry, dude, but I was just trying to make it through that moment without breaking down.
When I got in the back, Emily and Joseph were talking and I heard one of the most beautiful sentences I’d ever heard leave Joseph’s mouth: “I just can’t stand when people are transphobic. I get so angry when I hear that much ignorance and hate.”
And I thought I was holding in the tears before that moment.
It took everything in me not to weep with relief as Joseph defended me without even knowing he was doing it.
God’s Kingdom in My Home
I turned 40 in 2015. When Carrie asked me what I wanted to do, I told her I wanted to cook for my friends on our firepit. My dad had made a 4 x 4 grill so it would be easy to cook a bunch of meat while we all stood around and drank.
As people began showing up and we started to gather in my back yard,the welding job on the tripod that held the grill failed. The steel tripod fell apart and almost hit a woman. I laughed in disbelief and then fired up my small gas grill. Cooking was no longer a laid back affair. I was in some serious weeds.
I barely ate anything that night because I was always in front of the grill. To add to the chaos, people kept handing me drinks and, being well acquainted with alcohol as my primary medication, I just kept throwing them back.
At some point in the haze of the night, my kids dragged me into the dining room so everybody could sing happy birthday to me. I looked around the room and took in the beauty of the moment. My dining room/kitchen was full of family, coworkers, and friends. There were straight evangelicals, gay atheists, and everything else you could imagine. My heart was big enough for each and every of them. It felt like God’s kingdom was in my home on that night.
It’s Actually Working
At the end of 2015 the money just wasn’t there. On December 29th I wrote a blog post announcing that I was going to have to start charging for my services with The Inner Kingdom. The experiment of faith-based living was coming to an end.
The next day, I got a $5,000 donation.
I deleted the blog post with a huge smile on my face. Carrie looked at me and said in amazement, “It’s actually working.”
It was working. Referrals began to come in because of the seminars I had helped put on for HCMI and because I had kept at Spiritual Guidance long enough that my clients had actually begun to experience enough life change that people noticed.
The next Sunday, the first Sunday of the year, I spoke at my church. It was an act of love and trust by my pastor. I’m still deeply honored that he extended that privilege to me. I had finally honed my message for The Inner Kingdom down to a fine point. I had finally made peace with using sports metaphors to communicate spiritual truths to men. I used teaching methods that I had learned in Ohio and refined my talk so that I could give it in as short as three minutes yet expand the same talk to 45 minutes. It was a story I took from two runners in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and it all hung on one bible verse: Cursed is the man who thinks he can go it alone.
Feel free to give it a listen, if you want to.
I Hit My Deductible
I was in the Emergency Room two weeks later. It felt like someone was searing a steak inside my body underneath my left ribs.
I had taken my kids and my friends’ kids to church for Youth Group. As I drove, I started hunching lower and lower in the car, trying to find a position that minimized the pain that I was feeling. They admitted me to the hospital for an overnight observation a couple of hours later and I hit my deductible for the year. Over the next month I had test after test as they tried to find out what was happening inside of me.
In March, I had to cancel a flight to Ohio for a class because I couldn’t take the pain any more. Doctors had finally determined that my pain was being caused by a duct that runs through the pancreas but originates in the Gall Bladder. The sphincter muscle at the end of that duct was stuck closed. Pressure from bile that my gall bladder would squeeze into the duct built up, aggravating my pancreas, which was the source of the pain.
As I drove home with Carrie after my semi-emergency surgery, I told her that one of my classes had talked about the Journey of Reclamation. I explained to her that I had never tried to reclaim the part of my heart that was transgender. She looked at me and asked me why I hadn’t. I told her that I had always hated that piece of myself… that it had brought me nothing but pain. The conversation ended there, which was fine, because I was kind of freaked out that I had a hole in my belly held closed by glue.
Three weeks later, on Easter Sunday, I texted my bosses at The Lab, telling them I couldn’t make it in to work because I was having another surgery.
My appendix was about to rupture.
As Carrie helped me scrub down my body to prep for surgery, I was shaking both because of how cold I was and how scared I was. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I was literally falling apart.
The Muscle Mass
By the time April rolled around, I had lost all momentum in life. At one point, I was racked with so much pain inside my body that I involuntarily doubled over and grimaced in pain. My boss asked me if I was ok (she knew I wasn’t). I told her I was fine and did my best to get back to work with a smile on my face.
I was physically and emotionally weak. I remember telling one of my female coworkers to open a bag of coffee for me. I told her that I didn’t have the muscle mass in my arms to perform that simple task.
I found it harder to hear God’s voice, too. He seemed more distant. Everything was growing weaker in me.
I Kept Driving
One day, as my wife and I were driving to a birthday party for one of our friends, I told her that I couldn’t wait for her to graduate so that we would have time together again. I missed her so much.
She kind of shrugged and said, “I think things will be the same.”
I wanted to slam the brakes on the car and start screaming at her. I wanted to tell her that things weren’t ok. I wanted to tell her that I felt a deep betrayal at how calloused she had been when I had gone through my two surgeries.
Instead of doing that, I kept driving.
Later on that drive I told her about an older friend of mine who had recently retired and realized that he and his wife disliked each other, had nothing in common, and that they had swept everything under the rug. Now, they had nowhere to walk because the rug was so lumpy. I told her that I didn’t want that future for us and that she had my permission to talk with me about anything that she thought I needed to change.
She didn’t return the invitation.
I drank all night, keeping a low buzz to numb the hurt.
People Wanted Me to Write
May of 2016 finally rolled around. Carrie and I boarded the flight to France with my sister, my brother-in-law, and my parents. She was missing graduation because LSU-E had moved its graduation date after we had already scheduled the flights. I improvised by taking pictures of her all over France in her graduation cap. I uploaded them the day of her graduation. She was so pretty with her dark hair framing her gorgeous eyes. The hat added a playfulness to the pictures as well as to our trip.
When we got back to the States and stepped off of the flight, our roles had officially switched. I had quit my job at The Lab to focus on supporting our family so that Carrie could work full time as a nurse.
I still worked with men through The Inner Kingdom. I was putting on a massive seminar in September of that year and I was working on a book. It was a tongue-in-cheek book I was calling The Field Guide of American Men. I had different stereotypes of men like The Alpha, The Cynic, and The Coward with different steps for how to identify them, what to do if you encountered them in the wild, and a small worksheet/devotional in how to overcome the weaknesses each man had. My heart wasn’t in it, though.
It didn’t feel like the book I was supposed to write. I didn’t know what the hell that book was. I just knew that The Field Guide wasn’t it. This was merely the book people wanted me to write. A few months prior, a consultant told me I needed to write a book, even if I didn’t sell a single copy, so that it would give me more authority on the subject of Male Spirituality. The Field Guide was going to be that book.
Breath She Had Sucked In
My Ma-Ma -my last remaining grandparent- passed away at this point in my life. My dad and his siblings had made the difficult decision to move her into an Assisted Living Community a few years prior. It was almost like the daily tedium of maintaining her house was a scaffolding for her mind because her mental faculties fell apart rapidly after she moved into an Old Folks Home.
My parents and sister were in town the day Ma-Ma died. My sister and I got a phone call telling us we needed to get to her room asap. As we walked in, Ma-Ma took in a deep breath. My dad & mom, my uncle & his wife, and my two aunts were all around her bed.
In case she was still hiding somewhere inside that body, I told Ma-Ma I wanted to read something to her. I opened my Bible app and read Psalm 23, both for her benefit as well as everyone else’s in the room.
I found out a few moments later that the deep breath she had sucked in when I walked into the room had been her last.
According to my Evangelical theology, she went straight to hell because she had never prayed The Sinner’s Prayer. According to my Catholic theology, she went straight to Purgatory to atone for her sins. According to Science, she decayed and became one with the earth next to her husband in Scott, LA.
All I knew was that I was glad death finally had taken her out of the mental prison she had been trapped in the last years of her life.
A Panacea for Whatever
My boys and I made a list of what we wanted to accomplish that summer. We all agreed we wanted to buy a new video game and beat it. We wanted to swim a lot at their grandparents’ pool. They wanted to experiment with me in the kitchen. I don’t remember everything on the list, unfortunately.
Here’s what I remember from that summer:
– Summer Camp for my two youngest
– Beating the video game we bought and all of us screaming so loud that the dog started barking and howling
– Swimming almost every day
– Quiet afternoons when we were all reading
– Meeting with men
– Writing blog posts
– Carrie studying more
– Planning a five day seminar that over 100 people were attending
– Carrie working a lot
– Cleaning the entire house over and over again
I drank a lot that summer. I thought I was getting my wife back once she had graduated. I then found out that she had to study for the State Nursing Exam, a completely different test that she had to pass after graduating. I was so angry when she informed me that Study Land would be around until at least mid-July that I had to fight the impulse to throw the glass of water I was holding. I wanted to launch it at the wall behind her and tell her to fuck off.
But I didn’t.
I drank instead.
To be totally honest, I didn’t understand how stay-at-home moms didn’t spend most of the summer drunk. As soon as I finished my driving duties for the day, I poured myself a bourbon to celebrate that major accomplishment. Once I finished prep work for dinner, I poured myself a bourbon for Family Meal. Once the boys were in bed, I poured myself a bourbon for Cocktail Hour. Once Carrie got home, I poured myself a bourbon to fall asleep.
Bourbon was a panacea for whatever ailed me. Including the boredom of stay-at-home parenting.
As the calendar flipped to August, I was thankful for Summer coming to an end. I couldn’t wait for days when I could express my Gender in feminine ways again. They were right around the corner.
Read the next Chapter: Interlude 4