Sorry

Sorry folks. I disappeared from blogging. This summer has been hectic. But Seminary starts in 2 weeks and I am so excited. I will definitely be blogging to keep everyone in the loop.

To recap the summer:

  • Had an awesome mission trip with my youth group
  • Supported one of my best friends- Rev. Benjamin David Hutchison as he was ousted from his position as a pastor for being openly gay.
  • Visited family
  • Went on a personal leave from my position at Lowes with the intent of leaving officially by next summer
  • Have read a few books: New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, and The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. I’m trying to get educated on Racial Justice issues.
  • Started a GoFundMe for my transition: http://www.gofundme.com/z5g3a5n
  • Played a lot of Splatoon on the Wii U
  • Prepped for Seminary and completed online work
  • Really started to use twitter a lot (follow me- emkelley39 )
  • Officially am now a Member in Discernment in the United Church of Christ. One step closer to ordination!

Hope all are well. Will be sharing more soon!

Em

Transition: Authenticity

I’ve been trying to piece together this blog this morning, but much like the last blog it may end up being somewhat of a stream of consciousness blog. So bear with my thoughts and hopefully they are coherent.

As I’ve come out and as I’ve mentally transitioned and as I’ve transitioned to living as the real me this year, some things that I do and ways I act have changed. When I look at it, I see it as me taking off the old mask and act that I had built up over the years. It was something I had to build up so I was not outed. I knew what to do to be seen as a guy.

So, as I’ve embraced authenticity in my transition, I find myself stepping back to make sure that I am not simply building up a new facade based on what society has told me about being a woman. While it is impossible to separate yourself from social pressure, I believe it is important to step back and examine your life often. I don’t want to dress or act a certain way just because thats what I am told, I want to do it because it is who I am and how I feel most comfortable.

I do believe that is what I am doing at this point. I am not transitioning into another facade, rather I am transitioning into authenticity. I am embracing the real me.

It is so nice to finally feel somewhat comfortable in my own skin. It is nice to be perceived by others as the woman I’ve always known internally that I was. There are adjustments that I have to make mentally- getting used to things that cisgender women grew up with- like the male gaze or having fashions that show way more skin then I ever did growing up. But my mind is so much more at peace now that I have transitioned into authenticity.

Anywhoo- thats my reflections for this Monday…hope any of it made sense to you. I’m off to go watch the new Taylor Swift video again.

Mental Transition

So I’ve often talked with friends about how I feel I have noticed a mental transition from male to female. I will likely write a few blogs thinking about “Transition” and what that means, this being the first of them. There is the chance that this may end up being word vomit, but I hope it is not, and feel free to ask clarifying questions or say “wow thats brilliant Em”.

I am going through a transition this year- I finally have truly fully come out and am living my life fully as the real me. At home, at jobs, at church, and at my soon to be seminary. This has been amazing- to finally embrace the real me.

But I feel like over the course of the last few years of coming out that I also made a mental transition. I think that this was a very important step of my transition process, and one that people do not actively discuss as an element of transition.

Much of it has to do with a sense of leaving behind privilege, but also letting my mind embrace what it has always wanted to do instead of hiding behind a mask. Let me dive in a little.

Growing up, I heard from society loud and clear messages of what was expected both of men and women. And while many cisgender people internalize their assigned gender, I internalized both. I hated the fact that I was never going to measure up to being the woman I knew I was, but at the same time was also trying to put on the mask of being one of the guys.

While receiving male socialization was mentally torturing, I feel it is important to acknowledge that it happened, and that in fact it did shape me during my younger years, as much as I did not want that to happen. I could aim for whatever careers I wanted. I could say I want to be a pastor without people saying that women are not supposed to be in ministry. I could have unquestioned authority about topics I talked about just because I was born male. I hated being male, but it was so easy to stay in that privilege. I think that despite my gender identity being female, I grew into a very privileged male mindset in how I looked at the world.

When I hear people say that men have it hard, or that feminism is not needed, I can only laugh, because I had male privilege, and I have now felt the loss of it. It exists.

So as I came out (starting way back in May 2008), and began to be honest about who I was, I still often stayed in the same mindset. I had to control things. I had autonomy. To be fair, I had my male privilege still.

One of the greatest things my wife has done for me is to introduce me to thinking critically about gender and feminism. I was challenged so much. I had hidden my real self, and embraced this mask of male-ness that I had built up as a defense against being outed- but I had all the benefits that came with it. So as I transitioned and came out-I had to put that mask away, even if it meant losing the benefits it came with. And wow that was tough. I had spent so long trying to fit in to the guys club that it was difficult to break the habits I had set up to keep me closeted. But they were an act. They weren’t the real me. I had to get rid of them to find out who the real person was beneath the mask I had built. No need to be so macho. No need to repress emotions. No need to think that the world always had to be in my control.

I can not point to a specific day or even really a time frame, but I can just tell you that at some point my brain made a jump. Suddenly I was letting myself feel. I was not constantly repressing the way I thought, what I wanted to do, or how I wanted to act. I hear other trans women talking about how estrogen made them so much more in touch with their emotions, and while  I do not doubt that- I wonder how much of that is also just a mental transition happening since taking estrogen is also associated with having finally come out of the closet.

Of course thats not saying that embracing myself has all been easy and happy. Now, even more so, I feel the messages that society sends to women coming into my head. Telling me I must be skinny. Must be beautiful. Must be desirable. And heck these thoughts are hard on your average cisgender woman, but they are also torturous when combined with my gender dysphoria. I look at myself and see all the ways I do not measure up

I’ve had a lot of people tell me after coming out to them that they knew something was different about me. I have to think that it is partly due to this mental transition. Even before making my life transition this year, I was not fitting in as “one of the guys” anymore.

So yeah. This seems like a lot of random thoughts. I hope it made some sort of sense. I just wanted to write about it, and about the changes that have happened in my life bringing me to this point.

Thanks for reading

Em

Today’s Journey

I am headed today to Chicago to visit Chicago Theological Seminary and attend the Selma at 50 Conference. I am very excited about this opportunity to listen, learn, and network with some awesome people. As the summer draws near, I am getting more excited about the prospect of Seminary in the fall. I am definitely heading where God is calling me. I will press on despite the challenges, and see where this journey takes me.

I will not leave a long blog today, due to the trip I will be on. I hope to reflect on the conference in Monday’s blog.

Have a blessed weekend everyone

-Em

Gender Dysphoria

Today I want to talk about a very tough topic. Dysphoria

Some of you may have heard me use the word Dysphoria. You may have heard me say, “I am having a bad dysphoria day” or that variety of statement, or perhaps I just seemed down. In this blog I want to dive in to what exactly that means. Fair warning: this will be emotionally intense. Just so you are prepared.

Gender Dysphoria is most simply defined for me as the feeling caused by the disconnect between my gender identity being female, and my body being male. In my experiences I have seen it manifest itself in two ways: Body Dysphoria and Social Dysphoria.

Body Dysphoria is when you specifically find yourself triggered by something about your body. A lot of trans people have really bad genital dysphoria, but that has never been a major problem for me. My current biggest dysphoria related to my body would probably be concerning my facial hair. I despise it and it makes me feel so male. And even when I get a really good shave, I still feel like everyone can see it, and I also know it will grow back. I can say that my body dysphoria improved when I lost some weight also.

But Social Dysphoria has always been my bigger problem. I would note that bodies are how we interact with society so it isn’t like they are completely exclusive. In fact I think it is impossible to completely separate the two, much like I think that nature versus nurture debate is pointless. We are all complex creatures with millions of factors interacting at a given time. But it seems to me that my dysphoria is more about how people see me instead of how I interact with my own body.

When I say Social Dysphoria I mean that my dysphoria is usually triggered by my social interactions with the broader world. Mentally, I hate knowing that I am being seen as male, because that is not who I am. I pick up on every little subtle thing that people mention about gender.

Even when people are not actively meaning to say something, it may still get to me. One example I think of is that as I was losing weight. During this time many other friends were also getting in shape. While I will admit I did aim for too skinny and too restrictive on my diet, I always noticed that once I started getting thinner, that there was suddenly a chorus of “oh stop losing weight”. Yet any time I heard someone talking to female friends who were having similar amounts of weight loss, there was no such negative feedback. Society encourages women to be weight conscious but because I was perceived as male, it was bad for me to get any skinnier. I know that dysphoria is often illogical, but that is just the plain and simple of it.

Anything can trigger it. I have developed a fairly thick, or perhaps even Teflon skin, but sometimes things just get through. Sometimes I cannot handle it that I am constantly called sir or dude or man by customers at work even while I am obviously wearing makeup and very feminine clothes. Sometimes it gets to me that I know people are talking about me in a negative way. Sometimes I can’t handle being misgendered. I just wish the world could actually see me as the real me without me having to put so much work into it.

Some other common feelings/actions/stupid ideas that pop into my head that I get when feeling really dysphoric:  (As previously stated, dysphoria is illogical, so I know that these statements are not always factual,merely things I have felt or experienced as part of my dysphoria)

-I am always going to look male.

-I am gaining weight because I eat to deal with my dysphoria and stress.

-People are only accepting of me because they feel bad for me, not because they actually see me as female.

-I get in slumps during the day where I just do not want to do anything, and if my son was not around I probably would not be doing anything.

-I cant afford the things I need to feel more confident: hair removal, clothes, etc…

-My transition will cost me a job

-No one is ever going to want me as a Pastor.

-I hate that I missed out on growing up as female, and instead have the mindset and internalized hate of spending 20+ years in the closet.

-I hate that being closeted for 20+ years means that sometimes I keep secrets when there is no reason too.

-I despise my voice.

-I have lost friends and become disconnected with family, and I worry about it getting worse.

-I’m a freak that doesn’t deserve anyone who actually cares about me (In other words a whole lot of internalized self hate).

-I hate that I have to get up in the morning and put a ton of work into how I look just to even stand a chance of someone seeing that I am female.

That is just a small hint of what I mean if you hear me say that my dysphoria is bad. My dysphoria used to come in waves in my younger years. Now even when I am in a good mood it is usually in the back of my head bothering me just a little bit. And it sucks. As I have transitioned this year there has even been a sense that the higher highs make the lows of dysphoria even worse.

Overall there are many parts of being trans that I consider a blessing, but dysphoria just sucks. It is horrible. I would not wish it on anyone. It is a very rough place to be mentally.

That being said, one of the major reasons I am taking the steps that I have been and am taking is so that I can better handle my dysphoria. So far it seems to be helping. 

Thanks for reading, thanks for your friendship,thanks for your support.

-Em

=====

Against Me has a wonderful album that really relates well to my experiences of dysphoria, but this song definitely connects the best.

 

Some other reading on dysphoria:

http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones/2013/09/that-was-dysphoria-8-signs-and-symptoms-of-indirect-gender-dysphoria/

http://www.autostraddle.com/radical-self-care-25-ways-of-making-my-body-dysphoria-smaller-and-quieter-146649/

http://keira-is-real.tumblr.com/post/110368386165/10-things-i-didnt-know-were-gender-dysphoria#notes

Youth Pastor- Trans Trailblazer?

When I graduated from my first round of Seminary in 2012 with a Master of Arts in Bible and Theology, I searched nationwide for any Church that seemed to be affirming of LGBT people that had postings. I applied in at least 5 different denominations, and probably sent out at least 70 resumes to Churches. I had a few interviews, but I have to think that for many of the positions, that having a transgender woman running a program was still a bit more than their churches were ready for. The positions were of various types- Director of Education, Youth Pastor, Director of Faith Formation, and many other titles. I was open to doing whatever God called me to do in a Church as I spent time discerning a call for ordained ministry.

But it took until last year for a Church to finally say that they wanted me. I had actually interacted with the Church previously, and had helped them in their process to become open and affirming. Now they had an opening for a Senior High Youth Leader. I applied and got the position, with the knowledge being out there that I was Trans and would like to transition to living as female before too long after taking the position. But I was so nervous. I wasn’t the extrovert like all the people I knew who received degrees in Youth Ministry. I just hoped that I would do ok.

Once it came time to discuss with the whole congregation my plans to transition, I became aware that (as far as I can tell)- I am possibly the first Transgender Youth Pastor in the country. There are Transgender Pastors (though more often Trans Men than Trans Women), and there are lots of Trans people who work with youth, but in all my searching, I could not find any one else who had gone down this sort of path.  That made it even a tad bit more intimidating. We have risen to the challenge, and I find that the Youth have been very receptive to my journey. In fact, I hope that the youth are learning from the lesson of me being authentic, so that instead of waiting till 10 years out of high school to pursue authenticity, that they can better figure themselves out earlier in life. I hope that they see that faith can bring life and not just judgement and pain. I hope.

But that does not mean it has not been without challenges. There is not really anyone that I can go to and say “how did you do this during your transition as a youth pastor”. Instead I discuss and pray and hope that I make the right choice. I’m confronted with challenges about what to do with Chaperones, or cabin set ups at retreats, or how to interact with parents and the congregation. It has been a challenge. But every time I feel down, God finds a way to help me get back up. Whether its kind words from my wife, one of the youth being awesome, or one of the staff members saying something encouraging. It makes a difference.

I hope this blog enables me to give you a glimpse into my journey, and into the challenges I face, as well as the joys I celebrate. Blessings on your new week everyone!

-Em