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Monday, May 4, 2015

Here's The Things Ichabod Got Wrong About Zak And Me

            For those who have never heard of Ichabod, I’m going to do my best to be as neutral as possible in explanation (And Greg Jackson, please feel free to tell me if I got anything factually wrong in this part, I want to be accurate!)
            Ichabod is a blog run by Greg Jackson, a former WELS (Wisonsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the church I grew up in) pastor who left the synod and now works independently. His blog follows key news from WELS especially in relation to the college run by WELS, and important figures in WELS, particularly pointing out things he and/or others find wrong that they are doing. He also does sermons each Sunday via stream, and posts about other news usually gardening or other churches such as the Episcopal church.

            He’s made many posts about me coming out as trans and my friend Zak coming out as gay since graduating from MLC. He’s entitled to whatever opinions he has about us or what happened, so my goal isn’t to attack his opinions. Instead, for those that have read his posts, I’d like to address some of the factual errors that have come up in his posts about us.

“Among other things, Zak bragged about posting photos of himself on a gay porn site.”
            This one was kind of hilarious when we saw it actually. The reason this one came about was another post that I could not find in which Zak messaged him and mentioned Grindr. He then sarcastically referred to it as a porno site as a bit of humor. Whether or not you find it funny, as many already know, and the rest of you who have the modern capability to google something, know that Grindr is simply a chat and dating app (Not even a website.) And so obviously Zak wasn’t bragging about anything but, well, being silly.

MLC was going to let Zac Stowe graduate with his degree, not give him an assignment,
and he was supposed to keep quiet for a few years.
            This one was also hilarious when we saw the conspiracy theory type message. Now this one can’t totally be blamed on Greg Jackson as he has “informants” within WELS and MLC, and this came from one of them. So they are to blame for the silliness here, but there are a few points in this one to clear up.
1.      Zak was denied student teaching for a totally different reason. Zak wrote a paper for a class which troubled the professor in Zak’s views in regards to Christianity. This resulted in him being counseled, and when they did not think he was ready to student teach in a Christian school because of his troubling views, he was denied student teaching.
2.      Zak did not graduate with his degree. At least, not exactly. Because he was denied student teaching, he only got an Education Studies degree, which is a non-teaching degree, and therefor he would never get an assignment regardless
3.      No one outside of Zak’s close friends knew he was gay (And even if others did, it was a fluke.) Zak confided his secret in a few close friends. This secret was guarded carefully because, well, we all knew he could likely get expelled for it. He was terrified of the school finding out (Which makes the idea of having a deal with the VP being even more ridiculous.)
4.      Zak had no plans to keep quiet after graduation. Zak pretty much already planned on coming out after graduation. He would’ve never made the deal in the first place, cause it really wouldn’t have gotten him anything.
5.      People were threatened to not be able to student teach for being friends with him and me on Facebook. If MLC was so willing to know about us and just hide us, why would this happen? In fact, why should it happen regardless, seriously?
6.      Even if Zak did admit he was gay to Schone, he wouldn’t necessarily need to have been quiet. This one is a little complicated at first, but think about it. Admitting to being gay would simply be him saying “Hey, I have attraction to men.” Guess what? We’ve had that happen in WELS already. They’re the people of “People of Grace Lutherans” that have admitted to same sex attraction. But they don’t act on that attraction. WELS would’ve gladly let him speak… if he were speaking that way at least.
7.      Seriously though, lol at the idea of the VP already knowing.

Sorry, but I can only report rumors. That is factual reporting.
Rumor: a currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.  Ok umm… no, that in fact, is not factual reporting. It literally by definition is not. Also, fun fact, you can report whatever you want! You could make stuff up, it doesn’t even need to be rumors. It could just be total lies or even literal hard evidence. So no, you can’t only post rumors. YOU CAN DO IT, I BELIEVE IN YOU :D

Neither are you a woman because you are taking some female hormones and want to be female. That is not my position on the issue - it is medicine's position.
            Actually, it’s not medicine’s position! This one both misses the point and gets into the sticky point of gender and sex, so there are a few things to discuss, the first of which is what we use to determine what makes someone a man or a woman.
            “Simple,” you might be saying “Men have penises and XY chromosomes and women have vaginas and XX chromosomes.” And for a majority of the time, that’s right!.... buuuut it’s not exactly an absolute thing, as humans have a lot of sexual dimorphism (Things that are different between male and female.) But to simplify the already incredibly complex explanation of biological sex, I’m going to boil it down to 3 key sexually dimorphic parts of the body: Chromosomes, genitals, and brain structure.
            It is easiest to teach children that men have XY and women have XX. This however, is vaaaaastly oversimplified. In fact, we’ve found non-chimera people that have both XX and XY chromosomes in different parts of their body!
            This also ignores interesting chromosomal patterns. Not only do we have XXX, XXY, and XYY happening but we also have De La Chapelle syndrome (Having XX chromosomes but having a penis) and Swyer syndrome (Having XY chromosomes but having a vagina.) Now, I haven’t had my chromosomes tested so, the best we can go upon is assumption that I have XY.

            Genitals also are far more complicated than we think. While penis and vagina are the most common, we have a large spectrum of intersex people that have anything from ambiguous genitals that are inbetween and impossible to tell if male or female, people with both a penis and vagina, and people with gonads that are neither ovaries nor testicles. So… are they men or women? They don’t have the things we like to say are specifically for men or women. So genitals are pretty iffy on the factor too.

            But not the last one, brain structure, is a very critical one. The brain is the center of our concept of our gender, of being male or female. Studies show that kids have a concept of being male or female very early on in life. And brain studies have shown that key parts of the brain are (Generally) different between men and women. So what about trans people?
            Well, the really interesting part is that trans people’s brains have been shown to have the same structure as their gender identity, rather than their birth assigned gender! So, it is very likely that if my brain were examined, it would match the structure of women’s brains.
            Not only this, research has shown again and again that medical transition is the best option for treating the conflicts trans people feel. Attempting to change the brain not only doesn’t work, but can cause serious damage. And the brain is also the center of our concept of self.
            So, while it’s easy to say that because of my genitals, I’m a guy, science is far more complicated than that. And in fact, scientists have generally agreed that taking into account these factors, trans women are, in fact, women, and trans men are, in fact, men.
            So, sorry GJ, modern medicine is pretty well on my side here J

You said you were leaving WELS, but you seem to have a lot of allies already in the synod.
            If you look at the post the last point was mentioning, you’ll see this with a bunch of pictures following it. This again is one in which there are a few points to be made.
1.      I do not have allies in the synod. Everyone that I know of that is fully supportive of me either was never in WELS, or has left WELS. And multiple people still in WELS have stopped talking to me altogether. So no, I don’t have a lot of allies.
2.      Students pretending to be gay is NOT supportive. Notice the picture of the two boys with the heart? Now, I really really want to give GJ the benefit of the doubt and say he doesn’t actually think this means WELS people are supportive, but just in case, if it isn’t obvious, they’re not supporting gay people. They’re making fun of gay people. Pretending to be gay is a joke, it’s something to be laughed at. That’s not supportive, that makes gay people feel worse, because it makes them to be something to be laughed at.
3.      Cross-dressing is not necessarily supporting trans people. The pictures of the pastors in dresses is not something that makes me “feel better” or think they’d be “open” to me. It’s obviously another thing to be made fun of. It’s not supporting me, it’s laughing at me. It’s making me a joke. That’s part of why I was so afraid to come out. I was something to be mocked, because wearing girls clothes would be shameful and funny and something to be laughed at.
4.      Cross-dressing is not the same thing as transgender. In case you’re someone just figuring out that gender is a cultural thing, cross-dressing doesn’t make someone transgender. If a guy wears a dress that doesn’t mean he wants to be a girl, it could just mean that like… he likes that dress. We associate dresses with women culturally but objectively… it’s just clothes. It’s not objectively male or female, our culture defines it as such. What clothes you wear has no bearing on who you are. Hell, most cross-dressers are heterosexual men!

Now, this last one isn’t something wrong, it’s a question he posed. And now, I want to take time to actually answer the questions for him.

Where was the pastoral care for Sam Birner and Zak Stowe
at WELS Martin Luther College?
Or at Michigan Lutheran Seminary, also WELS?
His congregation?
His fellow students - many of them future pastors and teachers?
Ok, I lied, one error. You used male pronouns when you mention two of us, so it should be “they.” J
Anyway, GJ, I would like to answer your questions, because we sort of agree for once. I wondered the exact same thing while I was going through my schooling and going to WELS churches. So where was the pastoral care? It either wasn’t there, or was just really well hidden.
We were terrified to tell pastors about any of it. We didn’t have support. It was never stated “If you’re struggling or suicidal, you can talk to us.” There was no offer for us when we were suicidal. And in fact, the environment made us only more terrified.
I do agree with one thing. Those pictures of people pretending to be gay and cross-dressing and all of that? I agree, that should’ve never been done. I saw it everywhere, even in talent shows and other school sanctioned shows. And it was an awful idea.

Not because it “promoted” any LGBT stuff, because it made us terrified. Because we were made to be jokes. We were made to be mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and totally dismissed. We weren’t offered comfort, we were offered mocking. That’s where it was, behind the mocking. So I agree, where was the help? Cause I sure as hell didn’t see it.


  1. Amber,
    "We were terrified to tell pastors about any of it. We didn’t have support. It was never stated “If you’re struggling or suicidal, you can talk to us.” There was no offer for us when we were suicidal. And in fact, the environment made us only more terrified."

    As a pastor, I would have objected to this statement, 'but of course you could talk to me, that is why I am here.' But I understand that unless that is stated specifically, repeatedly, and not undermined by harsh statements in sermons, or in Bible Classes, or coarse joking that goes on in many places, there is no way you or anyone else would feel safe coming forward.

    Thank you for explaining your experience with your gender identity and also sharing some of the medical realities as well. Working at an academic medical hospital campus, I have heard similar facts as you have shared.

    And lest anyone care to dispute facts, I don't believe there is any disputing one's feelings.

    Thank you for sharing and God Bless.

  2. Your experience so disturbed and troubled me that what I intended to be a short comment posted here turned into something else ( ) .

    My apologies to you for the shameful and ugly behavior of those professing Christians.

    With kind thoughts,

  3. I think if you were more open about your thoughts and feelings of who you are earlier that you would have had the pastoral care that you claim you lack. My father is a WELS pastor and I know of many instances where he has counseled people who have proclaimed homosexuality or feeling of being a different gender. I know some of those people and they never felt judged or condemned by my father. I am sorry that you feel that way but please do not put all WELS members, pastor, or professors under the same judgement of a select few you have come across. Just as you want everyone to not judge you without meeting you. I wish you well in your life!