Monday, May 09, 2005

The right to free assembly?

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?

7 comments:

Haddassah said...

I find this interesting. We have become a society that is so "politiacally correct" that we expect others to endure discomfort in order to avoid offending others. I personally would not mind a transgendered individual using the womens restroom when I am in there, but I understand others discomfort.

Joel Thomas said...

I'm no expert, but your pastor clearly wasn't very pastoral and your ex wasn't very considerate, to say the very least.

I don't have any easy answers, but it seems to me that a person shouldn't expect to use a restroom of a different gender absent a lock until they have completed the transgendering (sex-change) process. (Transexuals, it seems to me, should use the restroom of their biological gender.) For one thing, not all folks complete the process. Sometimes they realize they were wrong.

Gaining acceptance is also a two-way street, it seems to me. Someone undergoing a change should also exhibit patience and understand that not every fear or anxiety is born of bigotry. After all, if I were suddenly to announce to all of my family that I had become a Republican or a Muslim, I should expect that people would need time to adjust and that there would be an uneasiness.

And what about your feelings? Weren't those important, too? Shouldn't people have seen what a crushing experience it was for you? Maybe your ex didn't intentionally deceive you -- but was just deceiving himself. But the deception obviously caused deep wounds. On top of that, the gender issue aside, he sounds selfish, period.

Sometimes I encounter women who bring their young boys into the men's room. The presence of the woman makes me a little uncomfortable, but if she has a couple of young males in tow, perhaps she feels that she would encounter less hostility that way as opposed to having two boys in the women's room. I try to be understanding.

Trixie said...

Thanks J.T.! And if you made an announcement like your examples, I'd have to run an intervention on your behalf! LOL!

Yes, I will say that my feelings were always disregarded during that time and it's left a considerable mark. I remember we went to marriage counseling, and during one particular session I had mentioned feeling close to suicidal. Then his narcissism took over and he hogged the session talking about how wonderfully free he felt in women's clothes, etc. Finally the counselor stopped him (after about 30 minutes) and asked him if he had even heard what I said when we came into the session. To show you how skewed his perceptions were, he thought I had said something supporting his changes! Now I have to laugh about that. Then it was not so easy.

Erudite Redneck said...

But I think there IS an easy answer: a men's restroom room, a women's restroom, and a third one for freaks. And I use the fine old term deliberately. From Wikipedia: "freak is often considered an insulting term for an organism with an abnormality of some kind. Freaks are generally classified into two basic groups, these being natural freaks and made freaks. A natural freak is a mutant and a made freak is one who, though wasn't born abnormally, experienced a change sometime during their life." And if that doesn't satisfy, then head to court.

TECH said...

Well, Trixie, your ex was a jerk. I can say that and be absolutely certain of it. I wish I had known you then so I could have supported you. You needed someone to stand up for you and tell the other jerks to back off or lose their heads. (Yes, I'm still grumpy.)

As for the bathroom issue, I think a lock on the door is appropriate, particularly as many churches don't have a third bathroom. I know a lot of older churches that only have one bathroom, and they have locks on the door.

My roomie and I were talking about it about last night after the story came on the news, and he said it should be determined by what "equipment" is involved. If a person still has male equipment, then the men's restroom. Otherwise, the women's.

I don't think he/she should be denied access to the church or to a bathroom (with lock). There are still people today (many in our hometown, E.R., that I can name) who don't want to share a bathroom with blacks.

However, I thought it was interesting at how important going to the women's restroom was to that individual. I guess it stood for acceptance of his new gender. It was very naive of her/him to think that he/she would be.

Truthfully, I wonder why he/she didn't change to a new church. If he had always felt that he was a woman inside, you'd think he want to go somewhere they only knew him as a woman. I wonder if he enjoys the attention.

Trixie said...

Tech, I think there's something to your last sentence. And I would love to see some research on this (well, no, I probably wouldn't, honestly, after all). I see similarities between this example and my ex, and wonder if there's a narcissistic element to the personalities of those who go through gender reassignment. There IS something peculiar, in at least these two cases, where the bathroom issue takes on such importance. And something tells me that a unisex single bathroom wouldn't really satisfy that need for validation. I know for my ex there had to be some ceremonial element in his/her thinking on the issue. Of course another problem he had was Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, so EVERYTHING was ritualized, clear down to drinking a glass of water.

And thank you for your support. We can all use a grumpy friend on our side now and then! (And please be grump-free today if you can.)

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