So far, chivalry has been the scariest thing I have dealt with as a transgender woman.
It is scarier than coming out to my entire Facebook friend list. Scarier than the first time I used the lady’s room. Scarier than giving a speech as a woman to a room of hundreds of people.
And all those things were scary.
But chivalry? Worse than those things? Yes. Let me explain.
Tonight I took two of my children to a traveling magic show. My parents had two free children’s tickets. I only had to buy one adult ticket for myself.
We sat near the back. The performer thanked the local Masonic lodge who organized the event. He pointed out the row of half a dozen Masons, sitting in the row directly behind us. We all clapped to thank them.
The show began. At one point they paused the show to give parents an opportunity to buy their children an overpriced candy bar. Some of the wrappers had red dots inside them, which meant you won a free glow-stick magic wand. I didn’t have much cash on me, but I was going to buy one for the three of us and we could split it.
One of the Masons behind us says, “Do you kids want candy bars? I’ll get them for you? Do both of you want one?” They said yes. We politely thanked him, and the two kids went up with him to the back of the line at the stage. He proceeded to buy seven candy bars, two for my kids,one I saw him give to someone else on the other side of the room, and I don’t know about the other four.
Something about it felt weird. Then it dawned on me. There I sat with my son and daughter… and no wedding ring.
Now someone could say, “Well, that could have happened to you as a married woman or as a single man. You don’t know that’s why.” No, you’re right. I don’t. But I’ve lived a lot of years as a man. And no man ever came up and offered to buy something for my kids.
No, men do not typically offer gifts to other men, or to children of other men. It would be perceived as… what? I don’t know. It’s hard to say because it’s all non-verbal. But if I had to try to put it into words, it would be perceived as attacking his masculinity. You’re implicitly saying that he cannot provide for his kids.
And that’s why it’s scary for me. I just benefited (or rather my kids did) because I was presenting female instead of male. But what if he finds out I’m transgender? What if he finds out that he just crossed this unspoken “man-boundary” because I “tricked him?” Would it hurt his pride? Would he want to retaliate? Would he want to hurt me?
Moreover, having lived most of my life according to the “man-rules,” I actually DID feel like he was attacking my… well, not masculinity… but competency, I guess. I may be a woman, but I still have that old knee-jerk reaction to defend my masculinity. What if I had unintentionally acted non-verbally? A flash of the eyes, a facial expression, a body posture. Would I have given myself away?
Probably not. But it’s a very scary space for me to occupy as a recently-transitioned woman.
Then after the event, one of the other Masons came up to me and told me how much my son was getting into the music. My son has musical ability, he said, and I might want to look into enrolling him in some musical program. I told him I’d consider it, and we quickly left.
Again, I could be reading into it. It is possible that he may have said the same thing if I was presenting as a man. But I highly doubt it. Men don’t give advice to other men on how to raise their children. Well, not to strangers, anyway. But to a single mom, who’s lousy husband left her alone to raise the kids, well maybe he thinks she “needs” that masculine input.
Actually, it felt more like maybe he was looking for an excuse to strike up a conversation with the single mom without a wedding ring. What would he do if he found out that this average-looking soccer mom he was considering hitting on actually used to be the lousy husband?
I’m not saying (yet) that I think chivalry is necessarily bad, though a lot of people I respect would say exactly that. At this point though, I’m more concerned about making sure I present well enough that I’m not scared for my safety.
Image: God Speed! by Edmund Blair Leighton, 1900
2015 has been a year of huge changes for me. I left my old church and joined the Episcopal church. I withdrew from my program at seminary as an M.Div. student. Let’s see, what else?
Oh yeah. I transitioned my gender.
I am no longer presenting as male. I had my name legally changed from Ryan to Rya. I started on hrt (hormones). My drivers license now says I’m female. I pretty much did the whole thing.
No. It’s not a joke. And yes that’s really me in the picture.
It was quite a whirlwind, and it all happened so fast. In the moment though, it seemed like it couldn’t happen fast enough.
Of course, I didn’t make this decision lightly. My wake-up call came in mid-spring, when in a moment of intense emotion, I took an action that I intended to result in suicide. At that moment, I preferred to die than to either go on living as a man or transition to be a woman. With the help of my family, I realized that even though the negative effects of transitioning were enormous, the cost of not transitioning was even higher.
It’s been three months to the day that I publicly transitioned. Looking back on it, I can say without a doubt that transitioning has been the worst decision of my life. I can also say that transitioning has been the best decision of my life. But the best outweighs the worst by at least 2-to-1. So I’m glad I did it. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
Now I begin the long process of working out the details. For me, a lot of that means sorting out my beliefs, which are pretty much up in the air right now. I’m not sure where I’ll end up, but the ride just got a lot more interesting…
I was walking down the street with a homeless gay man. My college roommates and I had been letting him crash on our couch for a few weeks while he put his life together. We left my apartment and headed for the coffee shop down the street.
He walked with a limp.
It bothered me how slowly I had to walk in order for him to keep up with me. Finally I couldn’t take it any more. I was irritated.
“Sit down right here on the curb. I’m going to pray for you.”
I put my hand on his leg and commanded it to be healed in the name of Jesus.
“Get up. How does it feel?” I asked.
“It feels better!” he exclaimed. He started jumping up and down. He was immediately able to walk at regular speed, completely without a limp. He couldn’t believe what had just happened. For me, this was just normal Christianity.
We proceeded to walk to the coffee shop where we sipped our flavored coffees and inhaled the perfect aromas that wafted over to us from behind the counter. I counseled him that he needed to yield his life completely to God, give up homosexuality, and follow the Bible.
The Bible as Foundation
Through my 20s, my faith was grounded my personal experience that the power of the Bible is real. I saw miracles, received amazingly answered prayers, and had God reveal things to me that I couldn’t have known any other way.
Experientially, I knew the power of Christian faith was real.
If I encountered something in the Bible I disagreed with, I would yield my belief and conform to the Bible.
But I began to ask myself how did I know that it was true?
These Simple Questions Devastated My World
Couldn’t it be that lots of what we believe about God is wrong, but that God meets us where we are at anyway?
And couldn’t God meet other people in other religions where they were at too?
How did I know they were wrong just because I had seen miracles?
Those questions started to bother me. A lot.
I couldn’t seem to find any answers that satisfied me. If experience alone can’t prove the truth of the Bible, then there must be other good reasons for believing the Bible. But none of the reasons on offer seemed very compelling to me.
- You can look at fulfilled prophecy. But most of the prophecies in their original contexts seemed to be talking about something else.
- You can look at the historical accuracy of the Bible. But being historically accurate does not make something the Word of God. We have lots of history books which are historically accurate.
- You can look to the resurrection of Jesus. But I found that the evidence for the resurrection was not nearly as strong if I didn’t already have a reason for believing in it. And since belief in the Bible was the very question on the table, my previous reasons for believing were quickly evaporating.
I almost lost my faith.
How My Faith Was Saved
Then I encountered George Lindbeck’s The Nature of Doctrine. It reoriented my entire understanding of faith.
Drawing on the work of modern religious anthropologists like Clifford Geertz, Lindbeck observes that religions are social constructs which provide religious rules for the members of the community.
He compares doctrine to the grammatical rules of a language. Members of a religious community must be taught the “language” of the religion in order to function within the community.
He calls this a “cultural-linguistic” understanding of doctrine.
What struck me about Lindbeck’s proposal was that it was grounded in our best anthropological insights. In other words, it is very difficult to disagree with him without also completely ignoring a vast body of anthropological evidence. Religion may well be more than just a cultural-linguistic system, but it is certainly not less.
When I combined this insight with my experience of God, I came to see the Bible as a cultural-linguistic system that, regardless of whether it was true, it presented us with a covenant between God and humanity that God appears to honor.
Instead of functioning like a science or philosophy book, I began to see the Bible functioning more like the Constitution for the church. Whether it is “true” is much less important than whether we live by it.
But what if the Bible is wrong?
This new understanding of the Bible potentially placed every other religious community’s holy book on par with the Bible. After all, the Book of Mormon functions as the constitution for Mormons; the Qu’ran functions as the constitution for the Muslim community; and even Anton LeVey’s Satanic Bible functions as the constitution for a group of occultists. What sets the Bible apart?
As I thought about it, I had two realizations:
First, you don’t have to have all knowledge of every religious system in order to follow your own. You don’t have to know why another holy book is wrong, or even assume that it must be wrong, in order to follow your own holy book.
Second, a reasonable requirement of any holy book, whether theirs, mine, or someone else’s, was that it must not require its followers to do anything that is morally wrong. It can’t violate your conscience.
A Trial Case: Terrorism
The terrorists who flew the planes into the World Trade Center should have known better. It is self-evident.
They knew in their hearts that it was wrong.
If they had quieted themselves before God instead of submitting uncritically to their interpretation of their holy book and drowning out the voice of God, they would have had to acknowledge that what they were about to do was evil.
I will be the first to admit that placing conscience above scripture is far from being comprehensive or perfect. Our consciences are not always reliable guides. Just because our conscience isn’t warning us doesn’t mean that something is okay.
But the opposite is usually true: if your conscience is going off, it is a good bet that the thing in question is probably wrong.
So our conscience is the only internal guide we can have. If we don’t submit our scriptures to our consciences, what would prevent us from flying airplanes into buildings if we really believed our holy book said to do it?
The Man With a Limp
So finally I came to a place of peace with my faith. Regardless of whether the Bible is true, I came to believe that at the very least, God honors the covenant it offers. So long as it does not require me to do anything that is morally wrong, I can follow it with all my heart. I think it would be fair to challenge a Mormon, Muslim, or occultist to submit to this simple rule. Therefore I ought to be willing to submit to it also.
This whole ordeal had been the most difficult time I had ever gone through in my life until then, and I didn’t come through unchanged. Like Jacob, I had wrestled with God and came away with a own limp. Unlike my homeless friend, that limp didn’t get healed.
It was a limp that would set me up for another crisis of faith a few years later…
I have so many things I want to tell you.
And a lot of questions I want to bring up again.
It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. In the meantime, I’ve been doing most of my writing in other forums and places where I could be anonymous.
I think most writers do their best writing anonymously.
I started this blog anonymously. But then it all changed.
The problem with writing anonymously is that, once you start writing things you’re proud of, you want to show your friends what you’ve written. So eventually you break the barrier and tell them about it. But then you can’t be anonymous anymore, and you start to feel the pressure that you can’t write the kinds of things you used to write.
I’ve changed a lot since I stopped posting here. I came to some surprising conclusions about my view of the Bible. That led me to rethink my conservative beliefs. A couple months ago I voluntarily gave up my ordination. I’m rethinking the ethics of sexuality, particularly in regards to sexual orientation. And I’m sorting through some personal issues in regards to my own gender identity.
Yeah, I’ve got some stuff to talk about. Am I ready to come back? I think so.
I thought about starting a new blog from scratch. But I’ve getting between half-a-dozen and a dozen random visitors a day to this blog. I hate to just let it go.
And I think I’m done with trying to hide this stuff. It’s time for me to start talking about it. That’s one of the reasons I gave up my ordination, so I can deal openly with this stuff without feeling the pressure that I need to “be someone.”
So here I am back again, blogosphere. Time for a restart. I’m finally ready to get real with you. I’ve missed you, old friends.
I started taking a course on logic through Coursera. Ah, the internet, how cool. Free classes with amazing quality. The class is called “Think Again” and it is taught by Walter Sinnot-Armstrong, a philosopher whom I respect. The class started at the end of November and must be completed by mid March. I didn’t sign up until about a week ago, but I’m cruising through it. So far this is literally the best class I’ve ever had on logic. And to think, it is completely free.
I’m still figuring out how Coursera works, but it doesn’t look like it is accredited, but it is the same course taught by accredited programs (in this case, Sinnot-Armstrong is from Duke). At the end of the class you get a certificate of completion. So really, how is it different from a paid University, where you get the same thing at the end? And did I mention it’s free? If anyone else would like to join me, let me know. I think it would be fun to connect with someone else. The forums seem daunting. I posted an introduction, but I’m like one of 2 gazillion people. So it really didn’t work for me. Plus, since I started late, I have to catch up.
There’s another cool class coming up with Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational. The course is called A Beginner’s Guide to Irrational Behavior. It begins March 25 and goes for 6 weeks. It’s harder for me to justify taking the free courses at the same time I’m taking “real” (=paid) courses for my M.Div. program. But we’ll see. It’s not really too much of an investment other than watching the videos and doing multiple-choice forms afterwards.
When someone is presented with the gospel and asked to respond, is that person really free to accept or reject the message?
Well that depends on what you mean by “free.”
We could ask whether we are really free to do anything. This the question of free will in the “formal” sense, and it is primarily a philosophical question. But it is not really a very useful question. Even if it were not logically possible for any human to ever make a “free” decision, we would still be presented with choices, and many of these choices have the appearance of requiring a free will decision.
Ultimately the real question is: Are we free to respond to the gospel in the same sense as we are free to choose chocolate rather than peach gelato? This is the question of free will in the “material” sense.
Historically there have been three major families of theological answers on this topic.
1. The Calvinist answer. Following John Calvin (1509-1564), this position fully accepts the implications of Total Depravity. God chooses or elects some individuals to receive grace which empowers them to receive the gospel. God’s grace is said to be both irresistible and efficient, meaning that it always accomplishes salvation in the individuals God chooses. On this view, you are not free to accept or reject the gospel in the same sense as you are free to make other kinds of day-to-day choices.
2. The Pelagian and Semi-Pelagian positions. The Pelagian option is to deny or temper what we have said about Total Depravity. Pelagians, who derive their name from Pelagius, a fifth century British ascetic, deny the doctrine of Total Depravity altogether. Semi-Pelagians argue instead that humans are only partially depraved. For Semi-Pelagians, individuals have a real choice when presented with the gospel, but they are predisposed against it. Their choice, though free, is perhaps more like choosing between chocolate gelato and rice patties.
3. The Arminian answer. Following Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), Arminians also fully affirm the doctrine of Total Depravity. The effects of depravity can only be overcome by God’s grace, but on the Arminian view, this grace, called prevenient grace is given freely to all of humanity. In contrast to the Calvinist view, God’s grace can be resisted but it empowers people to be able to respond to the gospel despite the effects of Total Depravity. The final result is to affirm both material free will and Total Depravity.
Can I ask you for a favor? I’m really trying to restart this blog, and what makes blogging exciting is the comments. You’ve taken the time to read the post, so now please take an extra minute and leave a comment.
What do you think? Which answer makes the most sense to you? Have these three exhausted all the options?
Photo by madmannova
The concept of free will is one of the thorniest and most difficult for both theologians and secular philosophers. To complicate matters, within Christian theology, there is not just one problem of free will. There are two.
And lots of smart people who should know better regularly get them confused.
1. The formal problem of free will
The formal problem of free will is the question of how human will is related to the divine.
In philosophy, the question is whether our choices are really our own, or whether they are dictated by genetics, environment, and conditioning.
In theology, the question is how our decisions can really be our own when God is in control of everything.
In his entry on “Will” in the New Dictionary of Theology, Paul Helm states that no matter how one chooses to understand free will, “there is a prima facie problem of reconciling the activity of the human will with the divine. Those who have attributed powers of contrary choice or self-determination to the human will have often attempted to effect such reconciliation by limiting the scope of the divine decree in some respect… Others have rested content with maintaining that while God foreordains all human actions he is not the author of sin.”
The position that we have true freedom to choose any option when given a choice are often called libertarian free will.
The position that we are free only to choose according to our motives and personality is usually called compatibilist free will because it is this view is said to be “compatible” with God’s divine choice as the ultimate cause of all of our human choices.
2. The material problem of free will
The material problem of free will is the question of whether we have the ability or power to follow through on a choice we have already made.
You might choose to start a new, aggressive plan for working out. But that doesn’t mean you’re really going to do it.
So even if you are logically free in a libertarian sense, you still may lack the material willpower to follow through on my decision, a commitment to exercise for instance. Likewise, even if the compatibilist position is true and your will is logically constrained, you may still have the discipline or “freedom” to follow through on your decisions.
What does gelato have to do with it?
Let’s put it in more concrete terms.
Let’s say my wife and I decide to get gelato from the Millstone, a popular mom-and-pop restaurant in Iola. Let’s say I have a choice between chocolate and peach.
I sit and stare at the choice. I go back and forth because they both look good. Finally I decide upon chocolate.
As I’m eating my gelato, I muse philosophically, “Was I really free to choose peach, or did I choose chocolate because God wanted me to choose chocolate?”
My wife turns to me and says, “You think too much.”
That’s because whether we have free will in the formal sense is really irrelevant in our day-to-day lives. What we care about on a day-to-day basis is whether we have free will in the material sense: we all know that I could just as easily have chosen peach, but for whatever reason I chose chocolate.
The good news
Christians believe that our material will is naturally constrained because of sin. Through faith in Jesus, you can be transformed so that you are finally free in every sense that matters.
If you have been “freed from sin and enslaved to God” (Romans 6.22), you receive the benefits of true freedom, to live as God intended and designed you.
Photo by pierofix