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"Feminization of the Transsexual"
Douglas K. Ousterhout,
M.D., D. D. S.





The following statement is reproduced with the express consent of the author, Reverend Erin Swensen, of Atlanta, Georgia.

The following is a question (one of 52) that was posed to me by the committee that was considering removing my ordination as a Presbyterian minister in 1995/96:

"How do you answer the charge that you are living a life of public deceit contrary to Holy Scripture and our Constitution? - that your behaviors are deceitful and a denial of your creation? - that your behavior will bring shame on the Church and offend many of 'the least of these?'"

And this is my response:

I have 'saved' this question for last because I think it deserves special attention. I am aware from other conversations that this is perhaps the substance of the Accusation that was filed against me by one of my Presbyterian brothers. I believe that it must be answered not only for him and the others joining him in the accusation, but for the church as a whole and for myself in particular. Hence I have made it the 'wall' off of which I wish to make my theological statement.

I have struggled with the virulent anger that drips from these words and wondered the source from which such anger flows. As I have struggled with the other questions in this document I have also found myself wondering why I feel like I am defending myself more from existential rage than from real theological argument. As I have wrestled with this I came to recognize the anger, for it is not only the anger of my accusers, or of the Committee, or of the the Church, but it is my anger as well. It's as if this reality standing before you, a reality that clothes my own soul, threatens the very foundation of what we believe. I have spent the best years of my life wringing enough energy from myself to carry on as husband, father, and minister against a personal reality that seemed wholly unacceptable to not only others, but to myself and God as well. It seemed that I had either truly been excluded from the kingdom of heaven, of God was playing some kind of cosmic trick on me.

This couldn't be true. So I spent enormous resources in trying to make it not so. I not only entered psychotherapy, but also became a therapist myself. I have been in therapy so long I can honestly not really remember what life is like without a therapist to talk to regularly. I involved others in my personal struggle. I married believing that this had finally "answered" some need in me and I was freed from my gender burden. Not so. I pursued what appeared to be a normal male life pattern in the desperate hope that, because of this no one would be able to see the terrible truth about me. I wanted to be female against all reason and against all that seemed right and good to me. And I lacked faith in my community, perhaps in my God, to be able to nurture and see me through whatever dark valley I seemed to be traveling.

So I carried on, burying myself in work, responsibility and depression in order to hide from the terrible truth within. I applied myself especially hard to the task of living and working as a male, and succeeded. In my arrogance I even convinced myself that I could hold the terrible truth within me for a lifetime, dying with my secret still intact. But the depression and denial began to take their toll, on my health and the health of my marriage. I lost my marriage, not because of my gender problem, but because of my willingness to deny the truth and therefore destroy my self-respect and the respect of my partner.

And so I am now before you, bewildered that I am being charged with deceit now when my experience is that I have, at great cost, ended my deceitful life and devoted myself to living in the light of the truth.

And so the central question for all of us to wonder over is, why does my proposal that the Presbytery accept my transgenderism cause so much visceral objection? Simply put, I believe this is so because the church's struggle with me parallels the church's struggle with itself. In a sense, the church has also been struggling with a gender change.

I must thank the committee member who posed the question regarding the sacredness of sex organs in the Old Testament, for this one question, above all others, has helped me to understand our struggle. You see, the OT view of male sex organs WAS that they were sacred in ways transcending all other aspects of human biology. The ancient Hebrews felt, understandably, that the source of life was contained exclusively within this part of the male anatomy. The homunculus theory of human reproduction viewed the male seminal fluid (inaccurately thought to come from the testicles) as containing a small, microscopic in fact, human being, a homunculus. This homunculus was deposited, during the sex act, into the woman's womb for safekeeping while it grew, nourished by the mother, to the size necessary for birth. Naturally, the source of all life would come to be revered.

And this ancient 'scientific' view fit nicely into the strongly patriarchal culture that belonged to the Hebrews. Men, therefore, became the center of Hebrew social and religious life. Women were viewed as not only second class, but actually of a different order altogether. This was common in ancient patriarchal cultures where women were often viewed as chattel, lives worthy of ownership and use by men. But movement away from the pagan patriarchal world had already begun. Both the Priestly and Yahwistic creation stories that come to us through our Hebrew forebears and recorded in Genesis say something radical for their time. Both stories, in different ways, place men and women next to each other, either by treating them together ('He created them male and female') of making a clear biological connection between the bodies of men and the bodies of women (Adam's rib).

God's people continued to struggle with this, and the cultural and religious attitudes prevalent in Jesus' time were once more confronted by God. Women, before seen only as valued property that could be cast out at the will of the owner, now were seen as human beings needful of respect. Jesus, in his discourses with the Pharisees about divorce, continued to drive this point home. And even more profound is Jesus' friendship and valuing of women in his ministry. And in spite of Paul's early teachings on family life, the early church clearly began to count women among her leadership.

Today, two millennia hence, we still struggle with patriarchy. In spite of ourselves, probably all of us continue to hold the status of men above the status of women. I experience this as mostly an unconscious thing, one that has been illuminated by my transitioning from having the social role of male to female. For about the first two months after I began living full time in the female role I was having a problem bumping into people. At first I thought it was simply a kind of emotional dizziness that had come from allowing myself full expression of myself for the first time in a long life. But as I went along I began to notice that my collisions were almost exclusively with men. It took much self-analysis before I realized that men and women navigate differently in public space. Men tend to walk directly toward their destination, and women tend toward the more circuitous route. I realized suddenly one day after another such collision, again with a man, that what happens is that men take precedence over woman in public space. Even the men who would hold open doors for me or allow me to enter the elevator first would also walk right into me. I realized that men have the right of way! And having navigated most of my life as a man, I simply was navigating like a man in public while men were expecting me to navigate like a woman. Hence we collided!

My entire life has been filled with a struggle, often with God, about the difference between what I looked like-how I was treated by others, and what I felt like on the inside.

Now I am not so arrogant as to believe that God has somehow made me to be transgendered to "teach the church a lesson," but I do believe that God uses us somehow to work God's purpose out. I would sing the lines to that hymn, popular in the seminary chapel, and completely miss that they could somehow apply not just to my theological education, but also to the transgendered nature I knew myself to contain.

I have struggled my entire life with my own patriarchal feelings and attitudes. I felt it somehow shameful that I felt like a woman and wanted desperately to be one. I knew for certain that I would become a miserable outcast were I to reveal by terrible truth. And the portrayal by the media of others with my "affliction" did not help. These were not people with whom I could identify. I felt no relationship whatever with bizarre prostitutes and nude dancers.

But, you see, God has throughout history been calling people away from this ancient myth, that men and women are somehow of different substance and therefore profoundly different from each other. God has continued to lead us away from the prejudice and ignorance we all are victim to, toward the light of truth. The church, an institution characterized by it's strongly patriarchy (in spite of it's being the Bride of Christ), has entered a time when the church truly faces its own transgenderism. And my request that the church simply recognize my transgendered reality comes at a time when we as the church are disoriented by our own (as the church) transgenderism. I don't believe, incidentally, that the church is moving toward a matriarchy. As I have stated elsewhere, I have never really been a man and I know that I can never really be a woman. I am transgendered and will always remain so. My hope is that the church, too, will be able to recognize its transgendered nature and discover more fully God's love for us humans not because we are male or female (or anything in between) but because we are all God's children.

So I deeply disagree with the charge that I am being deceitful and a source of shame for the people of God. On the contrary, I believe that the truth I live in is a truth the people of God are struggling to understand. The church, as it is currently, may not be able to recognize or appreciate this. Nevertheless, we are all desirous of finding God's will, and it will be done."

The result of all of this was that the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta sustained (continued) my ordination by a divided vote on October 22, 1996.

Erin Swenson,