Victory Christian Center here in Oklahoma City has found itself in a situation which, while still rare, is becoming more common.
At issue is a member who has become transgendered -- a member who has gone from being a married man with children to becoming a divorced woman. An uproar occurred when the member started using the women's restroom, making other members extremely uncomfortable. The church had asked this member to use a different rest room, located at the far end of the church.
At this request, the member balked and threatened a possible lawsuit on the basis of gender discrimination.
And this is the point where the situation exploded.
The church's response was to have its attorney send a letter to the member instructing her to stay off the church property. Period.
It's so easy to deal with this issue of a sex change by simply slamming the door shut, isn't it? A click of a key, and voila, no problem!
Even attorney Michael Salem, a noted advocate of civil rights in this area, said the church is guaranteed the right of free association, and so may be able to ban this member.
But what about the higher authority? What would Christ have us do? Should the church only allow members we feel comfortable peeing with? A lot of people are "uncomfortable" sharing a rest room with people who use wheelchairs. OK, let's lock them out too.
This particular issue IS a hot spot for me. And this revelation may make some very uncomfortable. But here it is.
My ex-husband was a transsexual, which is what led to our divorce. He started living as a woman in preparation for a sex change surgery. In July 1990, I went through the suicide of a co-worker, my divorce (the day before what would have been our third anniversary) and an emergency surgery. The day I was admitted to the hospital, I had seen the doctor, had scheduled a second opinion and went to the pharmacy, where I collapsed. The staff called my ex-husband to ask him to drive me to the hospital; he did -- when we pulled into the emergency drive, he reached across me to open my car door and pushed me out of the car, then drove away. A nun brought a wheelchair out to help me into the hospital.
The next night, after my surgery, while I was on a morphine drip and my friends had gathered, he showed up "to visit". In my haze, I remember seeing him -- his thinning hair pulled up over his bald spot a la Pebbles Flintstone, wearing a crop top and pedal pushers. I also remember him having a purse tucked under his arm and garish makeup on.
I had not told anyone at that point what caused our divorce. His appearance was shocking to everyone in the room, and there I was, drugged up and having had my insides removed. Fast forward to 2 a.m., when everyone was gone but one very good friend who was determined to spend the night with me since I had no one else there. (My mother had refused to come visit me through this, even when the nurse got on the phone and told her there was a good chance I wasn't going to survive. But I digress.)
Through my drugged state I did my best to explain the situation to my friend. There's no telling how it came out or if I could make her understand.
In any event, later that summer I attended church with my ex- at a small Methodist church he had started attending. The minister and other members were wonderful, though they couldn't figure out who I was or why I was visiting. I didn't attend again, since I had found my own new church by then (we both agreed not to attend our previous church.)
A couple of weeks later, he was excited to tell me he had "revealed his secret" to his church. During a visit from the District Superintendent, without speaking first to his minister, he rose during the time of joys and concerns and, basically, outted himself. He was so proud. Beginning the next Sunday, he started attending church dressed as a woman. And let me tell you what he was SO excited about: using the women's rest room.
There were women members who were very upset about sharing a rest room with this person they had known as a man. And the truth is, he was not completely through the transition. He had not had a surgery, though he was taking hormones and was going through pre-surgical counseling, which required him to present himself as a woman for at least two years before surgery.
Wiser minds prevailed. The handiman put a lock on the rest room door and the minister asked my ex to please lock the door while he was in there, to alleviate the discomfort of others.
That summer I cut the last of my ties with him, so I do not know if he completed the process and had his surgery. I do know he had a court hearing to change his name, but the records are sealed and I do not know his name. I do not know where he is, or anything else. The man I married, long ago, no longer exists.
It has been a strange and disturbing experience for me, as a spouse whose life was changed through no desire of my own. Even so, it raises so many issues about personal choice and societal acceptance or rejection.
And to tell the rest of the truth, there was a time when I felt like the one who had been cast out from the church. The associate minister at our previous church was a woman who later divorced her husband and left her children because she is a lesbian. Instead of counseling us as a couple, she loaded him up with books on lesbian theology. And guess who came to make a pastoral visit to me in the hospital? Bingo. All I could do was cry. I couldn't even ask her to leave. She now is a minister in another church, which she founded, having been asked to give up her credentials.
Even now, 15 years later, I don't know any more about how I stand on this issue. Is a locked church door appropriate? Or just a lock on the bathroom door?