The Grace Letter
1998: Christmas Remembered
I've been talking with a longtime friend; some of you would recognize her if I mentioned her name. She tells me of a great change that is benefitting her life. Not transition, mind you; she is many years post op. This is a change which she fought against for years before finally giving in to reality.
You see, my friend, who blends very well into society as a normal woman, has suffered from a rather severe hair loss problem. It happened over a short period of time, during which she was under great stress, and doctors told her it wasn't typical male pattern baldness.
When she began taking estrogen prior to transition, she began using topical minoxidil and oral Propecia. She visited several different cosmetic surgeons for consultation. Their advice was always the same: her remaining hair was too fine and sparse to cover properly, so transplants and scalp reduction were not feasible.
She was very distressed: how could transition be possible? But she was very fortunate to be referred to a hair stylist who specialized in hair loss clients. This stylist worked with her over the years to design custom human hairpieces which were nearly undetectable. These hairpieces attached to her own hair with clips in the back and a liquid adhesive in front; each night she would detach the clips, dissolve the adhesive, and place the hairpiece on a head-shaped styrofoam block while she slept.
It was a workable solution; she could be quite normal in society during waking hours - if "normal" meant no swimming, no snorkeling at the beach, no walking in a strong wind, and above all no intimacy with someone who might run their fingers through your hair. But at night the hair came off, and she hated her appearance in the mirror. With the medical treatment, she was able to get slight regrowth of her natural hair, but nowhere near enough to go without a hairpiece.
Her stylist was very aware of this distress, and for years she tried to persuade my friend to take the next step in hair replacement. A different sort of "permanent" hairpiece could be applied to the scalp with a special adhesive which would last for several months, and would not be removed except for the re-applications in the stylist's salon. She could do all those things which had been forbidden to her until now. The only downside was that this would require shaving a large area of scalp with every re-application, in order to achieve a secure fit. In other words, my friend would be giving up her dream of regaining her own natural hair.
It seemed so unfair. She knew many persons whose hair had regrown after transition. Why did she have to be different? She held back, still believing that each new improvement in scalp treatments would be the key to her hair regrowth.
"What changed your mind?" I asked, after she had finally agreed to make the change and was totally happy with her beautiful, flawless new system.
"I had to get my attitude right," she told me. "It was a matter of letting go of a dream. Once I accepted that it wasn't realistic to keep hoping for a miracle, I was able to take the right steps to reach an equally good solution."
Sometimes, growth and improvement cannot occur in our lives until we are willing to let go of those things in our past which hold us back. Letting go is hard - it's a risk. How can we know when the time is right? We say, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know." But sometimes when we let go we don't find a devil at all - we find a very pleasant surprise.
Children want stability in their lives. Too much change and uncertainty make them anxious, and impair their ability to learn and grow. On the other hand, without any changes at all, growth will not occur. We try to balance a stable environment with stimulation and gradual change.
I remember learning to ride a bicycle. My father asked for help from a neighbor boy whom he trusted. I recall watching Tim take the training wheels off my bike and being very skeptical about my ability to ride. Tim had no doubts. "I'll hold the bike for you. You get on and pedal; I will still hold the back of your seat and back fender." I complied, naïvely assuming he wouldn't let go. Off we went, with Tim running alongside me. When I got up to speed I looked over to him for assurance. He was grinning at me, holding both his hands in the air. "You're on your own, kid," he laughed. After a second or so of panic, I realized I wasn't falling, and he slowed down and let me ride by myself.
As we grow up, we should have more experiences with letting go, as we leave our high school friends behind for new college experiences. Still, there is a framework to our ordered lives, and we don't feel comfortable disturbing it. The relevance of this for transsexual persons is obvious. So many of us know we are different, and we begin to understand just how we are different, in our teen years, but the idea of allowing this difference to manifest publicly is just too frightening. We have too much to lose! The love and support of our families - inclusion and acceptance of friends - financial support to continue our education - all are jeopardized if we let go of the notion that we are just like everyone else. We can't yet see the possibility of succeeding in transition, and so the gain doesn't justify the risk, until the dysphoria becomes so great we can't live with it. That may take years.
In the meantime we make even more entanglements: marriage, family, jobs we can't afford to lose. Letting go becomes less and less of a possibility.
The transsexual Christian carries added burdens she can't let go. I could never continue in this church if they knew. No more teaching Bible study. No more choir. No more leadership positions.
God will take this away from me. I know He will. He must! I am so sincere about wanting to be free from it.
Why haven't you healed me, God? What am I going to do?
This is the point at which crises occur. Living in denial can only take one so far, and there comes a time when the truth must be faced. It's time to let go.
The first decision point is, quite literally, life or death. Remaining in the old role is just not an option. Ending one's life is an option, but it's a poor one, as I've written before. It's not necessary. There is so much more life to be lived.
With the decision to live comes the decision to face the truth and acknowledge it. At this point, many of us turn away from God, or at least away from the church which we believe would reject us. Others - I was one - cling to our belief that God loves us and has allowed this part of our lives to manifest itself for a reason. We search for ways to continue to follow God, and we find them.
The experience of "letting go" reaches a new height when we finally make public our truth. The emotion I experienced when everyone in my world knew I was going to transition was a feeling of such great peace and relief. Here is where we learn experientially the meaning of John 8:32 -
Do you really, really know what that means? I do...
I'd like to tell you that letting go of your fear, and acknowledging your truth, will bring you love, acceptance, and support. Many of you know better.
Some of you may maintain your job and your income during transition. You may even keep the love and support of your family and spouse. It's more probable, however, that you will experience rejection from some persons who mean very much to you. Can they return in the future? Certainly, but it's not a guarantee. You should at least be prepared for these losses. Do not be devastated when your son refuses to have anything to do with you. Continue to love him; continue to contact him, even if he doesn't return the contact. One day he probably will resume contact, on his own timetable. Until then, you will have your new family: persons who have experienced and survived similar rejections, and others who can love and accept us without judgment.
Plan for losing your job. Know your skills, so you can present yourself to recruiters and personnel directors. Be prepared to move to another city. It's often the best way to get a fresh start. Do not assume you must be downwardly mobile after transition. You are still yourself, and you can still do as good a job as ever. Maintain confidence in yourself. If at all possible, build a nest egg, so you will not be without funds during a period of unemployment.
If you are now in a church which is not accepting of all persons, start looking for a church which is accepting. The words "open and affirming" are a good start for an Internet search. Look at denominations such as United Church of Christ, United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Episcopalian, Metropolitan Community Church. Do NOT stay where you are not welcome. Even if you are "stealth" post transition, do not remain in a church which discriminates against other GLBT people. It is hypocrisy to do so.
The one constant which you must not let go is your personal faith. God has not deserted you, even though your church may. God did not create you a certain way, only to condemn you for it. God loves you and wants you to have as much joy and peace in your life as anyone else. God will be there for you, during your transition and afterward. "Let go - and let God" is an old saying, but it is relevant for our lives.
...But Lord, during some of the worst times of my life I saw only one set of footprints in the sand. Where were you during those times?
Dear child, those were my footprints. I was carrying you...