Friday, April 24, 2015
Trans people have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered. This number goes up to 1 in 8 if they are a trans woman of color. 75% of us will be homeless at some point. Almost 1 in 2 attempt suicide. These are pretty insane statistics, right? But let’s make it even more personal. What if I was murdered? What would you do if I was murdered?
And I don’t mean this in the typical “make me feel better” way. I know a lot of you would show up at my funeral, I know people would miss me, I know my life has value. But that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking, what would you do after? Would it end at crying at my grave and reminiscing sometimes?
Would you sit at home and be sad? Would you send the murderer to jail and feel justice is served? Would you say “People are already talking about it” and stay at home?
Or would you fight? Would you speak out against this? Would you fight to change that statistic? Would you seek to end violence against trans people? Would you want to prevent other families and friends from knowing the pain?
I know you’d be sad, but would you fight for me? Would you talk about me and spread my story? Would you push for trans friendly culture and laws? Would you try to change the world to prevent this from happening again?
We have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered. Just by the end of February this year Trans Women were murdered at a rate of one every week. And people sit back and think “Well others are talking about it” or “Murder is already illegal” or “It’s not my place to talk about it.”
We’re dying! My sisters are being killed! My trans family is dying. And we don’t take it sitting down. We do our best to speak out, we do our best to fight back, and we’ve been doing that for years and years. And we’re still dying. We’re still being kicked out of homes and fired and beaten and killed.
What would you do if I was murdered? If you would fight when it’s too late… why not fight now before it’s too late? If you would fight for me after I’m murdered, why not fight for me before it happens?
We’re hurting. We’re rejected. We’re dying.
Monday, April 20, 2015
It’s been awhile since I’ve actually written to you instead of just posting your blog posts on my Facebook (You’re welcome for the views by the way!) How have you been? It’s nice to see you find time to make blog posts and perform church services. I enjoy some of your blog posts, there are a lot of problems within WELS. We may not see eye to eye on what all of those problems are, but we certainly agree that they exist.
By the way, I find it really adorable and sweet of you to mention me on your blog so much, it’s flattering, really! I had no idea you followed me that much! And I thought you didn’t like me! I do wish you’d use different pictures though, I have much better looking ones if you’d like. It’d just be a shame for you to get into a stale pattern of using the same things over and over again. I see the banner on your blog change a lot, other things should change too! I’d be happy to help you out there, just ask J
By the way, I just remembered back at MLC you came up in a class once. I personally think the teacher was unfair to you, and was unfair to Rydecki as well in the ensuing conversation. I hope you don’t feel too terribly misunderstood like I was. It’s an awful feeling for sure. L
But enough about my experiences, this is about your blog. I think my favorite thing is the empathy within it! I mean, to see a pastor laughing at people and making fun of them with no regard to their stories or getting to know them as people to actually do anything useful with your time just warms my heart. The humor and blog views are such a worthy goal in place of making any actual effort to change people’s hearts and fulfill any real capacity of being a pastor. It’s a nice change from the usual humdrum of people caring about individuals and speaking to them on a personal level.
I hope more people reach out and see the wonderful jokes you place at the expense of real people without regard to any sort of empathy or humanity. Empathy and caring are for liberals and contemporary worship anyway. Ah, look at me, telling you how to do your pastoral duties. I’m sure you’re much better at dehumanizing people than I am!
Well, I just wanted to check up on you and commend you on your blog. I hope I’ll continue seeing me on your blog. I would hate to think that we might be drifting apart. L Hope to hear from you soon!
Warm Regard From Your Friend Amber <3
Sunday, April 19, 2015
[Trigger Warning: Homophobia, Transphobia, Suicidal Thoughts]
“What is it like being trans?” I’ve been asked this many times by many people. And each time I’m kind of at a loss as to how to answer that question. How do you explain what it’s like to be something you’ve never not been? It’d be like me asking what it’s like to be cisgender. Cis people have never known anything else, and it is literally impossible for either of us to know what it is like to be the other. Sure, if you got called the wrong gender and wore the wrong clothes a lot of the time you’d get a taste. And when I get gendered correctly and wear the right clothes I get a taste of being cis. But beyond a taste, we can never really know what it’s like. So, instead, I think the best way to explain it is to simply tell my story. How did I get from growing up in a very conservative religious church and schools to a left wing out and proud bisexual transgender activist? That’s what this tells.
I was born as Samuel Richard Birner on July 9th 1992. I was born about a month before originally stated but beyond that I was largely a pretty normal baby. But my first memories of gender dysphoria were a bit later when I was 5. I have memories before then scattered about, but when I was 5 was one of the most burnt in memories of my brain.
I waited until everyone was in bed, and I had a plan. I couldn’t really express why but what was in between my legs just bothered me, I hated it, I wanted it gone. I didn’t want to be a boy. I hated being put in “boy” groups, I hated being called a boy, I just wanted it to all go away.
So, I snuck downstairs, grabbed a pair of kitchen shears and went into the bathroom. I knew exactly what I was going to do with them and I prepared… and then stopped myself. I couldn’t do it. I was a smart enough kid to realize it would, ya know, hurt like hell. But I also couldn’t tell anyone. It was scary, and it was shameful.
It might seem strange that I would already think it’s shameful at that age, but the background I was in was a heavy contributor to that I believe. Many people scoff at the term “patriarchal” but the church I grew up in was the very definition of patriarchal. I already had much ingrained in me of what games were “boy” games and what games were “girl” games. Girls and boys were distinctly different and had their own roles.
Women in my church were supposed to serve, they would serve their husbands, and they were not allowed to vote on church matters. I’d often here about women being needed in the home and essentially being expected to be the ones in the home. And even at the children level, liking girl things was bad. I was a boy, I couldn’t like girl things, I’d be laughed at!
And sure, overall I wasn’t super feminine. I did play barbies with my cousin occasionally to dress them but overall I was a “typical” boy (whatever that even means.) I liked video games, I didn’t care about getting dirty, I loved Pokemon and Legos. Obviously, girls can like these things too, but overall it was considered a “guy” thing.
So, I wasn’t wanting to like girly things, but I could never admit to wanting to be a girl. I mean, look at what I would’ve thought about being a girl. Being like a girl would be going backwards, it would be shameful! Why would anyone want to be a girl in a situation like that? So, I had to hide it. What else could I do? Being a girl would be bad, right?
As time went on in the church, my view of women and what it would be like to be female didn’t get any better. For all of my schooling I went to schools run by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), the church I was in for a strong majority of my life. And usually, I tried not to question anything that I was taught in the church. It was very close to fundamentalist, but had different end times beliefs. But, it held to the other 4 beliefs of fundamentalism. The Bible is the inerrant Word of God, Genesis is a literal historical account (So the earth is about 10,000 years old), Jesus was born of a virgin, and Jesus’s death was to satisfy God’s wrath (Penal substitutionary atonement.) There are other versions of fundamentalism, but this is the one I’m most familiar with.
My first memory of questioning anything actually had nothing to do with my sexuality or gender identity. I don’t remember what grade I was in but I remember exactly what I questioned. We were discussing Genesis and there was a question I couldn’t get out of my head. “If God knows everything, he knew what would happen when he made Adam and Eve. So why did he make Adam and Eve in a way where they would disobey him? Seems counterproductive…” But I couldn’t ask it, because I already knew the answer. “God’s ways are higher, don’t question it.” And that was most of my questions growing up in WELS, simply to be answered with “Don’t question it.”
But in regards to sexuality and gender identity, I never actually questioned any of it. In fact, I was very homophobic and transphobic growing up. I thought gay people were gross, I didn’t want to be friends with any. And I didn’t even know what trans people were. And yet I have one distinctive memory that stuck with me.
As much as I pushed down the feelings, I still often felt like a girl. But there was something said that stuck with me. Years and years ago there was Brandon Teena, a transgender man who was born as Teena Brandon. He was the uncle of someone I went to school with, and one time my mom saw him. At the time he still asked to be called “Uncle Teena” instead of Brandon. I remember hearing my mom talking about how “disturbing” and “disgusting” “she” was. Later on my mom said that “If my daughter told me she wanted to be a man, she would no longer be my child.” Months after my mother saw him, he was raped and murdered by two acquaintances, and his head stone still says “Daughter, Sister, Friend.” Nothing like insult to injury there.
Now, my mom has since taken back that remark, but at the time, what else was I to think? I mean, Brandon was basically me in the opposite direction. So all I could conclude at the time was that if I followed through with these feelings, I would lose my family. So, what choice did I have but to suppress it even deeper?
What happens when kids get to about middle school age? Puberty of course! And what a time it was. When I was in 5th grade my friends talked with me about the girls in our school that they had a crush on (Which, I went to a K-8 school with only 40-50 students, the selection wasn’t exactly a huge variety.) So naturally the question came up, “Who do you like, Sam?” And the truth was at the time… no one.
I thought something was wrong with me because I didn’t feel attraction to anyone really. I didn’t care about looks, I didn’t care about women, or even men for that matter! But I had to fit in. So I lied and declared that I liked one of the girls, or at least found her attractive. But really, I didn’t care about any of that. But I had to fit in and be “one of the guys.” Remember, being like the girls would be shameful.
But then eventually, puberty did hit me, and what a time it was… Now, I did start finding women attractive, and I still do! So I thought that maybe I was finally becoming normal, or at least whatever normal was supposed to be. Until one day on the computer, I noticed who was on didn’t sign off (We had a shared computer with multiple profiles.) And sometimes I liked to click “slideshow” and make the saved pictures flash on the screen. I wonder what was on this profile (And I won’t say who, because I have a suspicion it wasn’t their pics, and even if it was, I wouldn’t want to risk outing anyone.)
I was faced with… well, to be blunt, dicks. Tons of pictures of naked guys, in various positions, various clothes or lack-there-of. But the thing that caught my attention was that I didn’t look away. I wasn’t disgusted, I didn’t dislike it. And really, that was scary to me. Gay people are gross! (And I had no idea what bi was anyway.) I can’t like men! So of course, that was another aspect that I couldn’t tell anyone.
But puberty didn’t make things any easier. I didn’t like what was happening to my body. Body hair, facial hair, my voice lowering, it all felt… wrong, and strange. And it forced me to really think about my gender identity. Why did this all make me so uncomfortable? I mean, consciously I knew I was a “biological boy.” But puberty was the first time I really ever truly faced that fact. And that was the most terrifying realization I had.
By the time I got to 7th and 8th grade it was time for Catechism class. This was where theological topics were really starting to come up. It was time for the real meat of the Bible, and finally I could ask real questions. And really, at the time, this was probably one of the most involved times I got in the church. I really truly enjoyed the class and learning about theological topics, and for once, I actually started really thinking about my faith.
But of course, along with this, came up discussions of sex. Now, despite our age, we were fairly mature about it. But this hammered in again what I was taught before. One man and one woman together, the woman serves the man. At the forefront was discussions of women and their “place” in the church. Women were always the ones doing the cooking and cleaning and planning, while they were not allowed to go to voting meetings for church matters.
So further began the path that being a girl would be shameful. I began to internalize misogyny. There was no way I could ever want to be a girl now, it just sounds like it’s horrible! It was shameful, it was bad. There was one time I heard a church leader discuss how it was a bad sign that more and more women in the US were becoming the breadwinners of the family. It was seen as messing up the structure of family, that nothing good could come of it! We need that traditional structure or everything falls apart! And at the time, I ate it up.
And so, my 8th grade year I was confirmed into my WELS church, and no one knew yet of what I was going through, because it was shameful. So, I hid it, pushed it down, and prepared for high school.
In my 8th grade class there were only three of us, and all three of us went to different high schools. For high school I was sent to Michigan Lutheran Seminary, a dormitory school run by WELS. I vehemently opposed it, I wanted to go to the school my best friend Bekah was going to. I would know someone already so I wouldn’t need to worry about meeting people.
Now the dorms themselves didn’t really bother me actually. I was ok with being away from family (And in some ways was glad) but it was not knowing anyone, and especially that I would be in the boys dorms. It felt wrong and uncomfortable, as though I didn’t belong. I got along fine with roommates, that was no problem. But it was just a feeling I couldn’t shake that it wasn’t right. I had never heard of the term transgender, so at the time, I just assumed something was wrong with me.
And the feelings were only made worse by the environment of the school. There was one day that was called “Freshman Dress-up Day.” Freshmen would be put in ridiculous costumes by the seniors. They ranged from somewhat funny (A friend of mine was dressed as one of the tutors), to racist (The middle-eastern student being made to be Aladdin), to mine. My costume was a purple-pink tutu with a bright red wig. I was dressed as a girl for the first time, and I was shamed horribly for it.
I was called all kinds of names throughout the day. I was called gay, and a faggot, and a queer. I was mockingly called “Samantha” and asked about my “boyfriend.” And I wish I could say it was because of the outfit, because that would be marginally better. But truthfully, this came from everyone, including my classmates, year round at school. I was a social outcast with few friends.
Now some people think “Well why didn’t the teachers step in on things like this?” Well, I’ll tell you why, because they sanctioned it. Students were not the only ones who laughed at and teased me. Teachers laughed too, they made jokes about my outfit. The first time I was dressed as a girl, and the whole school laughed. And that night, I quietly cried myself to sleep, wondering why it had to be me in this situation.
Now, I wasn’t a total pariah in high school, I had friends, and very close friends. In fact, I am still good friends with most of them. And there was one girl I was becoming fast friends with during my Sophomore year that I slowly developed a crush on. Her name was Jenny, and we would talk and laugh and shared similar humor. So, one day I did something I’d never done before, I asked her out. And to my surprise, she actually said yes! I was sweating and red, I was so embarrassed but I was ecstatic. For the moment, it was like my struggles were gone. This was short lived however, as she broke up with me a week later. Honestly not much more to that, as she left after the first semester, and I haven’t spoken with her since.
But I got my first tiny taste of a relationship. And I thought that maybe that’s how I could get the feelings to go away. I knew I liked girls, that was never in question, but liking guys was totally out of the question. Remember, gay people were still very gross to me. And I was made fun of for it a lot already. So I needed a girlfriend, and my chance came up the next year.
My Junior year I shared a room with one of my still best friends, Willie. And it was fun for quite a while. And then I met a girl named Meghan. She was a shy but cute blonde freshman girl. I met her through someone else, and immediately began talking with her a lot. And eventually I meant talking a lot. We would laugh, we would write notes, we would write in pen on each other’s hands, and just overall we would have fun. And so, after a bit of knowing her and hanging out with her on weekends in the dorms, I decided to ask her out… and she said no.
But, life moved on, and things didn’t get awkward between us. In fact, it continued to grow! We kept talking, we would text after dorm bedtime, we would hang out on weekends and flirt heavily. I was completely infatuated with her. I thought that maybe she was the answer to my struggles, that all of those feelings would go away if I was with her. So, I tried a different approach. People thought we were dating anyway. We flirted often, and we’d even held hands before, I mean really, who could blame them? So I said “I was thinking people think we’re dating but… I wonder if maybe it would actually work out.” And this time she agreed! I was ecstatic, I again had a girlfriend, I was so excited! Again, I thought that maybe the feelings would be gone.
Now, I was clingy, to understate it. I wanted to be around her all the time. I mean hey, people knew we were dating, I was dating a hot skinny blonde girl, no one was calling me gay anymore! I tried to be the best boyfriend I could be. The year before my roommate gave me a metal heart and told me to give it to a girl I like. So I took a blue ribbon, her favorite color, and turned it into a necklace to give to her to get my first kiss (Which was horribly awkward by the way.)
But the problem was, the feelings never actually went away. I still hated being in the boys dorms. I hated how I looked, and I hated growing facial hair. I often caught myself imagining what I would look like in her clothes, or in girl clothes in general. And I hated it so much. I wasn’t thinking about attraction to guys, cause I had someone now, but the gender struggle was still there. And so I hit a low point.
Frequently I began going off to corners to sit, and she would come to console me. And it would work for a time, but I never told her exactly what was bothering me. In fact, I had suppressed it so long, I wasn’t sure even I could express what was bothering me. But the depression grew as the relationship I was so excited for didn’t help the feelings. I really liked her, I really did. But even that couldn’t get rid of the feelings. And soon my depression broke it down, and after 6 months we broke up. And to add insult to injury, she immediately began dating my roommate afterwards.
For that time, me and Willie hated each other (Which is funny now cause we’re amazing friends still.) And so, I began looking for somewhere else to turn. I couldn’t be around her or my roommate, and most of my friends didn’t live in the dorms, so after school they were gone. So, I began going to someone else’s room, where I noticed a guy named Zach playing the game Persona 3. (By the way Zach, if you read this, sorry in advance for telling people about this but it’s an important piece :P)
Now, truthfully, I kinda hated Zach at the time. I thought he was obnoxious as all hell, and I kinda just wanted to punch him. But his game was really interesting. So I watched and I found it interesting, and I wanted to try playing it. (I still really love the game.) But, he was the one that owned it, and he knew stuff about it, so naturally I actually talked to him.
And, so we talked more and more, even when it was only just us. And soon it became therapeutic for me to discuss the break up and everything with him. I said that I especially missed the relationship and having someone to kiss and be close with. And to be honest, I don’t remember the exacts but soon after… we began kissing.
At the time I convinced myself that it was because I just wanted that feeling again and I could just pretend he was a girl (I know, it’s ridiculous, shut up.) But now I was faced with the fact that I actually did that. And we did it more times, multiple times. It was strangely comforting, but also a rush. I was in a school that would literally expel me for that. And I was constantly around doctrine and dogma telling me that I would go to hell for it.
But the thing I hated trying to admit was that I enjoyed it. I couldn’t enjoy that! I wondered about being a girl and now I liked kissing a guy? My depression plummeted. I frequently cried at night, and this was one of the few times in my life where I actually prayed. I prayed for the feelings to go away. I wanted God to just make me normal. I was supposed to be a straight cisgender guy right? So why couldn’t I just do that? And I prayed for months upon months for it.
But the feelings never left. In fact, more and more they piled up in my mind. I had lost one of my best friends, I was in the guys dorms where I hated it, I lost my girlfriend, I could be expelled, if my family knew I would be rejected, and I sincerely believed it would send me to hell. So at that point in my mind I thought I’m damned for this… so what’s the difference for being damned if I killed myself? I mean, at least then I wouldn’t need to deal with everything.
So, one night by myself I went to an empty unlocked room on the top floor. I removed the screen and sat on the windowsill, looking down at the concrete 5 stories down. I sat there and I cried. If I ended it, I wouldn’t need to confess to anyone, and no one would need to know my horrible secrets. But eventually, I decided that the fear of hell was so great, I had to find another way around it. So I got down, and tried to find a better way.
I had a plan in motion. I knew about Martin Luther College, a school also run by WELS. If I went there to become a teacher (Which I actually did want to do) they would give me a job and I wouldn’t need to worry. I was totally convinced that just maybe if I went to MLC, I could find a girl to change my feelings and save my soul, or at the very least be celibate, and not need to worry about it anymore. Plus, I knew friends going there, so even more bonus.
So, I set out to do so, totally convinced it would be God’s plan to save my soul. And sincerely I believed that for a while. And so still I continued to pray just in case. I tried to become closer to God. But instead, I felt myself drifting further as the feelings didn’t go away. I felt betrayed by God. Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find! God was supposed to listen and help me! If these feelings would damn me, why did he keep letting me have them?
Some nights I found myself in the campus chapel alone, wanting the feelings to just go. I couldn’t take them anymore. I was getting near suicide again, but I knew I couldn’t do that. I had to keep trying.
I tried dating again. I dated two more girls, hoping for the feelings to leave. Each lasted a few days. But still I tried to be as much of a “dude” as I could. I occasionally let my facial hair grow out. I tried to talk about women and how hot they were, and ridiculous guy things like that, I had reached a point where I was trying to be the opposite of what I wanted to be.
And for a time, I was able to keep it up. I kept up this façade of being a man, and I kept up the façade of being ok with myself. But truthfully my self-esteem was at an all-time-low. I was practically an atheist. I had lost my connection with God. I had lost most of my feeling really.
I tried to keep it going as best as I could, but I hated how I looked. The facial hair was awful, and I hated having to pretend. But I hoped if I pretended long enough I would just become that way. But finally, the summer before my Junior year of college, I snapped, and I knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I was done.
It started first with my sexuality. I couldn’t stand denying myself anymore. I knew I liked men (in addition to women) and I couldn’t just keep pressing that down. So at first it began with accepting the feelings were there. But I didn’t act on them, I couldn’t anyway, who would I act on them with? But then, the biggest change came that summer.
I had a friend that wanted me to video chat with him and other people he met through online communities. And it was all kinds of fun! We would chat about random stuff and sometimes it would only be a few of us. But there was one person that caught my eye specifically, a guy that called himself Chester.
To be honest, at first all it was was that I found him really cute, so I messaged him privately and began talking with him privately. At the time, he believed he was totally straight, but I talked to him anyway. And soon we found ourselves talking more and more. And for the first time in a very long time… I started to be happy.
He shared my story of being at a Christian school studying to be a teacher. But he admitted something that was very interesting to me. Even though he was sure he was straight… he had a crush on me. And I had a crush on him. So, we started dating long distance. It was strange. I had spent so long fighting these feelings for God, and I was miserable. But now that I “gave in” to the feelings I was happier than ever. But what about God?
We discussed it fairly often, about God, I didn’t want to totally leave God. Something kept drawing me back. I began researching and reconciling slowly. I knew finally that I couldn’t stay with WELS. But transferring would be a bigger hassle. So, now I had to hide a boyfriend from school and family.
So, I would call Chester every night and talk to him and we would skype occasionally. The next summer we met up in Pittsburgh I met up with Chester in person and met his brother as well. Things were going amazingly and I took a huge risk, I brought him home with me. Of course, I just played it off as him being a friend so family wouldn’t know (When you read this part mom, Sorry for lying but let’s be honest, you wouldn’t have let him come over if you knew he was my boyfriend :P) And then when he was going to fly back home, we hugged tight for a long time and cried, not knowing when we’d see each other again. And finally I said good bye.
Remember though, that I’m not just bi. At this point, I had totally reconciled that, but my gender still bugged me. I wasn’t sure I could say I wanted to be a girl, but I wasn’t happy with myself still. I started exploring a little bit with my boyfriend with girlier clothes. I started trying on skirts and looking more feminine… and I loved it. And for the first time, I thought maybe it would be ok.
But I wasn’t ready to admit full on yet. I had pushed everything down for so long, I almost couldn’t even admit to myself the feelings were there. So I made a compromise, I told my boyfriend I was genderqueer, just between genders. I tried to start looking more androgynous-ish. And now that I wasn’t overcompensating, I was starting to feel better! But then, things got interesting quicker.
During summer I found out my friend Zak Stowe was gay. So while I texted him about it, I decided to take the moment. What other moment would I have? So, just before our senior year, I came out to him in return. And soon after, I came out to other school friends, and told them about Chester. And Zak, in addition to my other friends have continued to be a huge support to me.
So now I finally had the venue I needed to be open to myself. I went to pridefest with Zak and another friend (I don’t know if she’s ready to be out yet so she’ll be anonymous) and it was amazing! I felt even more comfortable with myself! But I still couldn’t shake the gender feelings. So finally, I simply said I wanted to be female. I was starting to admit the feelings to myself. I had already moved so far away from WELS thinking, what did I have to lose anymore?
Soon after we broke up because of distance, unrelated to my gender identity. But now… I was ok. I starting to be ok with myself. I began looking into what goes into transitioning, and I began growing my hair out. I was finally beginning to be happy with myself! But there remained two looming questions. Would anyone date me? And what about family?
The first question thankfully didn’t stay long as I met Kurt through friends. We shared a lot of silliness and nerdiness together. And I was up front about being transgender this time. I mean, I wasn’t really transitioning yet, and looked nothing like a girl, but still, he said I could be his girlfriend and January 18th we began dating. (And spoiler alert, we’re still together <3)
But the second question stayed. I was about a year away from graduating, and I knew I couldn’t hide being trans, and I didn’t want to keep Kurt a secret. I already knew I was going to be gone from WELS by the time I graduated, but what about coming out? And especially what about student teaching? I already had to keep Kurt a secret from family and school, but what about my gender?
Stress naturally grew, but despite this, I kept exploring my gender identity. Ultimately, for multiple reasons Zak was not allowed to student teach and was forced to graduated that May with a non-teaching degree. And so, on graduation day, he came out as gay. And to be honest, I was jealous. I was jealous both of how his family reacted but also that he was actually out. I wanted that so bad. But I still had student teaching and I wanted my degree.
And… I couldn’t wait. So, I told my mom first. There was a lot of crying and hugging and questions. I think I was asked “Are you sure you’re not gay?” like 5 times that night. (P.S. mom, really though, I’m not just gay :P) And then the next morning I told dad. And then siblings and others also found out. But at the time, no one really had to face it. I told them what I was going through, but I hadn’t start anything. So, ultimately, very little changed yet. I thought that maybe family was going to be good about it. Everyone seemed relatively ok at the time, and it would take adjustment.
But student teaching came quickly, and it was a new thing for me to face. And then came the continuing question, what about transitioning? I didn’t want to wait, I couldn’t wait. I had finally reconciled myself, and I was starting to be happy! But if school found out I was doomed. So, I had to tip-toe through it, and I found my way to do that.
On October 1st of 2014, I found my hormone doctor, and I first began hormone treatments. Now, hormones are easy to hide, and the effects are slow and subtle, so I wasn’t too worried. But then, after my first week of student teaching, I passed the first session and had to go to Wisconsin for the second. I would live with a host family, people I had never met. So I lived with an older couple (Who were perfectly friendly and lovely by the way.) And I began session two of student teaching.
And hiding stayed easy. The effects were subtle enough that no one knew about the hormones. But student teaching was stressful. I was told that I wasn’t doing well enough, and I got very little feedback from my advisor. I felt like I was set up to fail. And while the students loved me, my advisors weren’t confident in me.
Eventually, I reached a lot point. I was hiding my boyfriend, hiding myself, hiding my hormones, having to lie about who I am, and all while trying to put on a façade of a good conservative Christian teacher. One night I even almost drove myself to the ER, terrified of my suicidal thoughts.
And then, finally, I was told that I failed student teaching. I cried, a lot. The next day, I finished my lessons and then left. Students gave me good-bye letters, but I said very little to anyone. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was going to graduate with a non-teaching degree in December, I couldn’t handle going to MLC anymore. I packed my things and went to Zak’s place. I desperately needed to be somewhere welcoming. And then afterwards, I filled out the paperwork and graduated December of 2014. I was done with MLC. I left it behind gladly. And I couldn’t take it anymore. And then Christmas was the final day I ever set foot in a WELS church. Finally, after years, I was done.
But questions weren’t really done yet. I had a degree different from what I wanted, graduated a semester earlier than planned, had no jobs lined up, I was 3 months on hormones, and I had no idea where I was going. But, I had already planned to move to Des Moines because friends offered me a place to stay. So, I packed my stuff up and moved to Des Moines, where my boyfriend already was as well.
Using the phrase “I am transgender” seemed really odd at first. I had said it, like, maybe 2 or 3 times before. I mean, I admitted it to friends, but I always talked around saying that phrase. But on New Year’s Day I posted that sentence, with a very short version of my story. I finally was out. And not just out to specific people, I was out totally and publicly. I finally was declaring who I was. I changed my name on facebook to Amber Noel Birner finally.
And at first, the response was amazing! So much support from friends and even some cousins, and people I hadn’t seen or talked to in years! The response made me smile so much, seeing so much support! And sure, there were some dissenters but overall, everything was amazing! But of course, that’s not the end of the story.
My oldest sister called me a sexual deviant and kept me from talking to my nieces or nephew and blocked me from social media. Much of my extended family removed me from social media. My mother asked me to move back home, stop transitioning, and see a counselor. My hopes from the last year of family reacting ok were beginning to shatter.
But I had Kurt, and I had friends, and eventually I had a job with Wells Fargo. And things began to get better again. I was terrified at first of coming out at work. But when I began to see how open work was, I took the leap. And thus, I began finally being full time female, after 6 months on hormones. And coworkers have ultimately been insanely amazing about it.
But some things still loom. I’m going to apologize to family that reads this part, but I can’t hold back how I feel. I was told that I am heading down a “dark path” since transitioning. I have been told by multiple family members that they cannot support what I’m “doing.” (Doing is in quotes because what I’m “doing” is being myself.) And ultimately, that is the pain that still stick around.
I am the happiest I’ve ever been with myself. I can actually stand to look at myself. I feel like my body finally belongs to me. And now that I’m finally being me, it hurts all the more. Every time someone says “he” or every time a family member says “Samuel” or “brother” or “son” or “uncle” a knife twists in me. I have been told that it feels “like I died.” When I’m told that I can’t be supported for living as myself, it’s like I’m losing family all the more.
And so, questions still loom. Am I welcome in family? Now I know they will say absolutely, that I’m always welcome. But when I know deep down they mean that “Samuel, the son/brother/uncle we thought you were, just looking like a girl now” is welcome I wonder then, am I welcome? Is Amber Noel Birner, the daughter/sister/aunt welcome? And if they can’t support me for me and accept me, they only see me as some person that they thought I was that I was only pretending to be for so long… then how in the hell could anyone declare that I am welcome?
This is the only section I thought deserved a two word header. Because there’s two things looking forward. Again to family that reads this, I apologize but I also have the be honest.
On the unfortunate side, the family question still looms. Where am I welcome? Who can I call family? When my mom in conversation never acknowledges the man I’ve been with for almost a year and a half now, when I know that most (if not all) of them will not show up to my wedding, when I know that I will likely not have family support when I have children, when I think that my children may grow up with only one grandma and grandpa on Kurt’s side because the other side won’t support us, I have to wonder, can I really call them family simply because of DNA?
But on the other side, the future looks brighter. I have started laser hair removal. I’m looking into voice therapy. I have a very wonderful boyfriend, wonderful friends, and amazing coworkers. I have the ACLU working to help me legally change my name and gender. I’m working with the ACLU for trans advocacy and to further social progress for transgender folk. And ultimately, despite the looming questions, I am the happiest with myself I have ever been, and continue to be happier. And regardless of what happens, as long as I still have my support and Kurt by my side, I think I’ll be ok.
My name is Amber Noel Birner and I am an out and proud bisexual transgender woman.
Saturday, April 4, 2015
I disagree with the religious right on… well, just about everything. But if there’s one thing I will agree with them on, it’s that the word “tolerance” is thrown around too much with little regard to what it means. In fact, it comes as a surprise to a lot of people at first, but I really honestly don’t want tolerance, least of all from the religious right. And that really has to do with what tolerance really means.
Let’s look at a different form of the word, let’s look at the verb, when you “tolerate” something. I can’t really think of a situation in which saying you tolerate something has been good. In fact, just typing it into google brings up two definitions. “allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference.” And “accept or endure (someone or something unpleasant or disliked) with forbearance.”
All the existence of? How low of a standard do you need to go to to say “At least let us exist”? We (The LGBT community) don’t need to have anyone’s permission to exist! And the second definition isn’t much better. To accept or endure and it’s something unpleasant or disliked. Essentially, pushing for tolerance is saying “Let us exist, and just deal with us, even though you don’t want us to exist.”
And then next the religious right declares the “liberals” and “progressives” are hypocrites for not tolerating them! And you know what, they’re right on one thing. We really don’t tolerate them. And that is what is so awesome about the left. Why should we tolerate them? I definitely don’t want to tolerate them!
This seems strange at first but let’s dig deeper. First of all, I am not saying that we should kill the religious right or outlaw it or anything like that. But should we seek to totally remove and destroy it as a system? Hell yeah we should! And we should do it through education and fighting back. And why?
Well tell me, why should we as the LGBT community tolerate a system that seeks for us to be gone? Why should be tolerate a system that has directly led to so many hardships in our lives? Why should we tolerate an abusive system that causes damaging “therapy,” parents to abandon children, innocent LGBT folk to be murdered, and extremely high rates of suicide? In what insane world should we allow that just in the name of being tolerant?
The truth is, when we tolerate the religious right, we’re not much better than them. When we tolerate them, we are saying “Well I don’t like it, but I’ll allow you to cause pain and suffering to millions of people.” How many times has the phrase “The only thing needed for evil to prevail is for a good person to do nothing” been said? We cannot sit back and be complicit with a system that is demanding to remove our existence, for a system that is literally destroying us.
And religious right, I don’t want your tolerance either. Not because I don’t want you to allow me to exist, but because it’s the most passive aggressive form of acceptance. The only difference between what you’re doing now, and tolerance, is with tolerance you’d shut up about it. But you still wouldn’t like me. You still wouldn’t like my existence. You still would want a system that destroys me.
The only thing I want is acceptance. I want to be welcomed. I don’t want people to just passive-aggressively “allow” my existence, I want people to be glad I and all other LGBT+ folk exist! I want my existence to be celebrated! I want our existence to be a no-brainer, like a “Well duh, of course you’re allowed to exist.” I don’t want your passive-aggressive BS excuse for barely allowing me to exist. I don’t need your permission to exist, and I don’t want it. Either are totally for my existence, or you are against it. And if all you can muster is tolerance, I know exactly which one you are.