In case you’ve been living under a rock lately, North Carolina recently won our battle for marriage equality. While I intend to find (ahem) time to write more about this later, I wanted to leave you with this testimony that I delivered yesterday evening at the Interfaith Voice after-pride service. 

f79e9e4eb680bac233d97eac57d604d5The We Do campaign, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is the brainchild of the Campaign for Southern Equality working out of Asheville. Headed by UCC Reverend Jasmine Beach Ferrara, the staff works tirelessly across seven southern states, staging peaceful justice actions in pursuit of full marriage equality.

To tell you the truth, until yesterday, the reality of marriage equality in North Carolina hadn’t actually sunk in yet. I had anticipated a huge party; great rejoicings in the streets of Winston Salem filled with tears and hugs. After all, I had lobbied hard against Amendment One and Liam and I had been denied marriage licenses in three separate We Do actions. I know there were celebrations. I know the streets were filled with my friends, waiting out the news downtown, rushing in to claim long-deserved marriage licenses and witnessing weddings on the steps of City Hall.

In my case, I saw the news on Facebook during a quiet dinner with my son in the middle of torrential downpour. Liam was somewhere far away on a spiritual retreat with classmates from Wake Forest Divinity. At that point, more than two years after our first denial for a marriage license, the end of Amendment One felt more like a sigh, “finally.” And, I admit, more than a bit of “do we dare believe it?”

I have spent a lot of time since then thinking about our three trips to the register of deeds counter and I’d like to give you a glimpse of what it was like to participate.

Our first We Do campaign action took place May 10, 2012, just two days after Amendment One was passed. We had decided fairly suddenly to participate and I had no real expectation of what that action would mean for us. Upon returning home, I wrote the following:

I was holding my driver’s license, my social security card, and, in my other hand, a wallet-sized photo of my son, wrinkled and damp from my sweaty palm. I wanted to show it to the woman at the desk. I wanted to show to everyone. I wanted to hold it up to the cameras and tell them that this 11-year-old boy is who we were fighting for. We were a family. We needed civil rights afforded us under the constitution so that my son could be protected at all costs. I wanted them to know that we were just an average family with jobs and a great church and a dog and a cat and this incredible kid and two old cars and a huge family of friends and…and…and…my voice died in my throat and my partner was requesting a marriage license and the woman was blankly telling us that “it was against the law of the state of North Carolina to issue a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”

This is part of what I wrote after our third We Do action:

Liam and I do not talk about what we are planning to say prior to each action. I generally let Li do the talking as I tear up and well over when speaking on issues that hit close to home. We approached the desk (taking note of a heterosexual couple applying for their own license at the next counter), and before Li would make a request, he retained our drivers licenses and asked the clerk (a nervous smile plastered on her kind face, she was clearly steeled for the onslaught) to hear our story.

I cannot tell you exactly what he said to her. I remember her face. I remember the fact that she never once broke eye contact during the telling of it. I remember hearing not unkind laughter from the couple next to us. I remember the feeling that the support group behind me radiated love and affection and had our backs. I remember that Li did not identify himself as a member of the trans* community and being surprised about that. (One of the things we wanted to focus on was the fact that when his gender marker changes—one initial on a driver’s license—our outcome in these actions will automatically change as well; which just proves how ludicrous these laws actually are. We will be the same couple that has stood at that counter and been denied three times.) And I remember screwing up my courage, looking into her eyes and that frozen smile (after already having been told “no”) and saying to her “Your job is to grant joy to loving couples every day. Would you deny us that joy?”

The answer was the same: “I’m sorry but I cannot issue you a marriage license at this time.”

Since that action, more than a year ago, Liam’s legal name has changed and the gender marker on his driver’s license is different. For months now, the same couple who has been denied three times has been eligible to receive that marriage license. But we waited. I will tell you that I have been very jealous of all our friends and the other couples from We Do campaign actions who have married elsewhere in order to have their unions recognized on a federal level. While we had a big, wonderful wedding back in 2011 and consider ourselves married in the eyes of our friends, family, and God, we made a very deliberate decision not to make it legal until everyone in our home state had that option.

I originally ended this with an empowering plea not to forget how much work we have left to do, not just for marriage equality but equality for all: gay and straight, trans and cisgender, young and old, citizens and immigrants – but I’ll hope you already know all that. Instead, I’d like now to tell you what was so important about yesterday. It wasn’t so much the celebration of Pride, although that went a long way toward convincing me that here, at least in North Carolina, we’d won our long-fought battle. It was the honor of witnessing the marriage of two beautiful, highly spiritual young women who have chosen our state as home and have plans to raise a family here. I can’t imagine two souls more perfectly matched. When Pastor Roger Hayes began “By the power vested in me…” and faltered, there was not a dry eye in the place. “By the power vested in me by the state of North Carolina.” That moment, my friends, is when I realized why we did, and continue to do, the work needed toward full equality. Liam and I already had the ability to get married. Our friends did not. Today they are legally recognized by the state of North Carolina as a couple fully joined in matrimony, and that makes the whole struggle worthwhile.

ImageIt all starts with a plain, white ribbed sleeveless undershirt (this prevents chafing). Then there is a binder. It is made of cotton and spandex and is pulled taught with Velcro on one side (breast tissue is flattened, destroyed). The next layer is a white short-sleeved undershirt (there are a dozen in the laundry each week). A polo or button-down shirt comes next (loose, oversized) and this is usually topped by a sweater, vest, or light jacket (often at least one size too large). In colder weather, a heavier jacket becomes the last of many layers. This is how my husband gets dressed in the morning.

It is painful to watch. It is more painful to hear him try to breathe after a long day of binding (forget walking up hill–he wheezes like a long-time asthma sufferer). He struggles with his appearance in the mirror and checks himself from side to side, front, back, back, front again, and side to side. He asks whether I can see any breast tissue. “Do I look like I have tits?” (This question is asked repeatedly throughout the day.) No. No, honey, you don’t. He appears dubious, but it is true. The average person would never know. They would never know that he was born female and those that do know, assume he is post-operative. His breast tissue is, luckily, virtually non-existent. But to my husband? These breasts are monstrous.

Layering has been a necessary part of his routine for as long as he can remember. Layering makes him safe for public consumption. This heavy-duty binder is a fairly new addition (ordered from a company overseas early last summer) but it was preceded by Underworks undershirts and before that, the dreaded sports bra.

I ache for him every time he dresses to go out. He is self-conscious and filled with doubt. He worries about passing, he worries about his safety. I worry for his frame of mind. After 50 years of living in the wrong body, he is *thisclose* to comfort. *Thisclose* to having an outward appearance that matches the guy he is on the inside. But *thisclose* is still $6000 away.

Liam has insurance through the graduate school he attends full-time, but his school has not yet joined in on the ever-growing bandwagon to cover sexual reassignment surgery (or gender affirmation surgery, as I like to call it. It’s a GAS, GAS, GAS.) While the AMA considers SRS to be medically necessary for those who have been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, private health insurance companies still consider this surgery to be elective. As the sole provider for our family (and a freelancer to boot), I am unable to front the funds for my husband’s surgery. We just don’t have it. So I do what I do best: I get creative and I problem-solve.

In this case, I designed a t-shirt and started a month-long fundraising campaign to reach our $6000 goal. At this point we are halfway through the campaign and we’ve raised just over $600. Clearly we have a long way to go. However, both of us are amazed at the outpouring of support; and not just from our friends as we have had orders from perfect strangers who have shared the link to our site. The campaign page tells us that over 150 people have shared the link on their Facebook pages and we’ve had over 500 visits to the booster site. If that actually translates into sales, then we will cover all of the surgical expenses (we will still need to cover travel expenses as we are nowhere near the doctors who excel at, and specialize in, top surgery for female-to-male transsexuals) and Liam will be able to start a new fund as part of his non-profit organization, GRASP (Gender Revisioning and Sexuality Pathways), to help fund surgery for other trans* patients in need, as well.

The t-shirt simply says “Radical Love.” It encompasses everything about what Liam believes, teaches, and preaches. He is a huge proponent of radical love and justice–about meeting people where they are and loving and accepting them no matter what. He embodies a true spirit of radical love for others even as he cannot love and accept his own physical form yet. He cannot yet meet his own body where it is. He cannot continue to allow his own physique to betray him.

I will continue to be his biggest supporter. I have witnessed, first-hand, the miracle that is top surgery. I have seen a few hours under the knife transform a loved one’s state of mind. I have seen friends blossom into the person they were meant to be all along. I have seen them shed the binders and walk freely in the world, unencumbered by duct tape and bandages. I want this for the man I love: to be the man he was meant to be in the body he was meant to have. Unbound and whole.

Magazine-illustration-1950s-colour-lithoYesterday Liam and I participated in our third We Do Campaign action for the Campaign for Southern Equality. You can read about our participation in two earlier stages here and here. Recently, clerks in such places as New Mexico and Pennsylvania have been issuing marriage licenses despite the fact that their individual states do not sanction same-gender marriages (New Mexico neither approves nor prohibits them and Pennsylvania is not legally recognizing the marriage licenses issued in spite of state laws). Here in North Carolina, we have added Amendment One to the books, in spite of the tireless lobbying against it. Amendment One makes any kind of same-gender union illegal in this state. The Campaign for Southern Equality seeks, in this stage, to engage a clerk of court, bring them into our experience, and encourage them to stand with us in an act of conscience and award a marriage license to a same-gender couple. We hoped to be that couple.

In anticipation of our action, Liam wrote a beautiful and heartfelt letter to the clerk of courts here in Forsyth County requesting that we be granted a marriage license. Although the answer was a resounding and precipitating “no”, we still prayed that, when we got to the desk and actually presented our story to the clerk, our no would become a “yes”. Wishful thinking.

Our action took place early in the morning and we arrived at the public staging area at 8:15. We were greeted with hugs and an overwhelming amount of love and respect from friends; some live locally but others drove from the far reaches of our state and from South Carolina to support us and the We Do Campaign. Our incredible friends from Gender Benders got themselves up at 2:30 a.m. to make the 3 hour journey. My heart skipped a beat to bear witness to the support of our friends. After greetings, we filled out our license application alongside the other couple, our friends L Rankin and Kristin Hedin (who would also be requesting a license in the action). The inimitable Reverend Jasmine Beach Ferrara gathered us into a small circle and gave voice to our prayers and wishes for the day’s event.

The group at large circled up and prayers were spoken by the clergy present. Our own UCC pastor was in attendance (his third time accompanying us as well), along with two of our very good friends from the UU church in Asheville, NC (a couple who had participated in a We Do Campaign action in the last stage). My heart was racing as we queued up to head into the registry of deeds and I clung tightly to Li’s hand.

Liam and I do not talk about what we are planning to say prior to each action. I generally let Li do the talking as I tear up and well over when speaking on issues that hit close to home. As a pastor and educator, he is used to public speaking and does so well and eloquently. This was no exception. We approached the desk (taking note of a heterosexual couple applying for their own license at the next counter), and before Li would make a request, he retained our licenses and asked the clerk (a nervous smile plastered on her kind face, she was clearly steeled for the onslaught) to hear our story.

I cannot tell you exactly what he said to her. I remember her face. I remember the fact that she never once broke eye contact during the telling of it. I remember hearing not unkind laughter from the couple next to us. I remember the feeling that the support group behind me radiated love and affection and had our backs. I remember that Li did not identify himself as a member of the trans* community and being surprised about that. (One of the things we wanted to focus on was the fact that when his gender marker changes—one initial on a driver’s license—our outcome in these actions will automatically change as well; which just proves how ludicrous these laws actually are. We will be the same couple that has stood at that counter and been denied three times.) And I remember screwing up my courage, looking into her eyes and that frozen smile (after already having been told “no”) and saying to her “Your job is to grant joy to loving couples every day. Would you deny us that joy?”

The answer was the same: “I’m sorry but I cannot issue you a marriage license at this time.”

I don’t know why I thought these actions would get easier as time goes on. You’d think we’d be old hat at this and it would be no big deal. The truth is that it gets much more difficult. The fact that we are second-class citizens is thrown into the harsh light of day. The fact that the majority of my home state chose to discriminate against me and went so far as to put a constitutional amendment on the books banning me from legally solidifying my marriage to the person I love is staggering. We turned from the desk and I walked out, ahead of Li, and into the loving arms of a friend who literally held me up as I my breath caught and my chest heaved. I had no control over the sobs that escaped me and clung to her as other friends rushed over with tissues and comfort. My heart shattered and I was left feeling very much less than.

Less than the couple that left before us, smiling and on their way to lifelong recognition of their marriage. Less than respected. Less than a citizen. Less than human.

The remainder of the morning was filled with prayer, support, love, friendship, coffee, and a few interviews with local news agencies that never made it into print. I awoke this morning to a text informing me that my photo was plastered all over the local newspaper’s website. I have yet to see a print version, so I’ve no idea whether our action warranted ink or not.

In the end, we accomplished a great deal. We made a connection with someone who is in a position to make a difference. We told our story, publicly and honestly, and asked her to see us as worthy of the same human rights as our heterosexual counterparts. We looked into her eyes and she looked back at us. She “saw” us. While we were not granted equality at this time, my prayer continues to be that someone, somewhere, will come out from behind that counter and say “Yes, I will grant you the right to marry your partner. The laws are unjust, you are hurting no one in so doing, and I want to stand on the side of love.” The action continues and we will pray for just such a day.

Page001The South doesn’t have the best reputation for being liberal or accepting. My own state of North Carolina has become somewhat of a police state and bills are being passed on a near daily basis that restrict our rights. Unless you are a white upper-class male you can’t vote and unless you live somewhere not North Carolina, you can’t get a safe abortion. But you can carry a concealed weapon into a bar. So that’s something (says the pacifist with the Quaker upbringing).

In the midst of all of this frustration with my home state, Liam and I traveled deeper into the south last Friday afternoon for the most unlikely of events: Camp GB. Through the Campaign for Southern Equality’s We Do Campaign, Li and I got involved with a rather ragtag group of renegades called the Gender Benders. They are a rapidly growing non-profit organization consisting of trans* and genderqueer folks—mostly young folks—who offer each other support, education, and resources for mental health and physical transition, to name but two. We have been blessed to attend a couple of legal workshops and Liam was invited to present his work on spiritual reconciliation, which was received with so much positivity that we carried a glow in our hearts for weeks. Out of that opportunity rose a discussion about a day-long retreat. That discussion turned into the possibility of a weekend retreat and Camp GB was born.

It was born five weeks ago, to be precise and it was built on a prayer and a spitball. There was dust in the coffers and no time to plan but these hard workers made it happen. My hat (you know, that straw fedora with the black band?) is off to the two original members/leaders and their respective partners. They embarked on a mad Internet fundraiser and in no time had all that they needed and then some to house and feed every single member that wished to join us, free of charge. In the end, the attendance, at its high point, was likely around 30 (the overall membership is into the 200s, but distance/jobs/short notice made it difficult for some). At Sunday’s family/friends meeting we saw numbers well into the 40s, but more about that later.

So there we were, two old fogies lugging our bags up the porch steps on a Friday evening. The air was thick with the humidity that would stick to us like Saran Wrap for the remainder of the weekend and the porch was already full of beautiful young people in all states of glorious gender non-conformity. I will admit that I was full of trepidation and experienced the first of several moments of self-consciousness. I would estimate that the average age of this group falls around 22 or 23, maybe even younger. We are twice that and then some. I was acutely aware of my silver hair and Li’s face well-lined with character. The camp was held at Ivy Acres in Piedmont, South Carolina, and is an RV Campground for those 45 and older. I imagined that the campers thought we were wayward old folk, heading up to the office to check in. I could hear the creaking in my joints.

Yet, as they welcome every single person they encounter, so too did they welcome us. They welcomed us as allies, as compatriots, as their pastor (by the end of the weekend, Liam was being introduced as such) and his wife, as friends and confidantes. I felt an overwhelming motherly love toward each of these incredibly brave souls. These are my heroes. Each of them–where they are now and where they have been and where they are heading. Some of them I had met, briefly, during one of the previous workshops or meetings; some of them I had seen only on Facebook. By the end of the weekend, I felt as though I had formed the first groping tendrils of bonds that will last a lifetime.

I’m not going to recap the schedule, but I will refer you here, should you wish to learn more. Suffice it to say that our time was jam-packed with a wide variety of offerings. We had meditation sessions and breakout groups and a Spirit Walk (which, sadly, I slept through as I had hit a wall of emotional overload and came away with a particularly nasty headache) and meetings to learn more coping skills (who knew that my own husband could still teach me a thing or two about getting through panic and anxiety?). I had the wonderfully good fortune to co-facilitate a partners and allies group, which I expect will lead to more support of my own ministry. And the food! Oh, the food. Dancing! Birthday cake! Team building exercises filled with laughter and camaraderie!

I could go on and on about what an amazing time was had by all, but what I really want to say is this: these people really are the bravest human beings on the planet. They are the intrepid explorers of the road far less traveled. They are, by turns, exuberant and introspective. Many are fledglings, just shaking their tentative wings in preparation for flight. Several are confidently pointing the way, having gone before and beaten back the underbrush. My own husband is early in his physical transition and it seems that testosterone becomes the great equalizer—at times I felt surrounded by pre-teen boys ranging in age from 20-50. I know that he felt a true kinship with these young men and women and those that blow my mind by being able to see their own fluid place on the gender spectrum that is neither one nor the other.

At the close of the weekend, we wrapped with a family and friends meeting that was facilitated by a local family therapist, Landa Basham. We had gone for a tour of the extensive and beautiful grounds and came back to see the porch, living room, and front yard filled with parents, friends, siblings, partners, and children. All of them there to offer various levels of support. I really had managed to hold my tears all weekend (unusual for me as I am a crier, but I think the constant laughter kept my weeping at bay), but I admit to misting up then. Growing up as “other” I never had this kind of support system, and I know my husband would have benefitted from a group like the GenderBenders. Their mantra has become “You are not alone,” and I felt that so keenly in that moment. While some family members were still expressing doubt and hesitancy and insistence upon using birth names and pronouns, some were not there at all.  Yet the overwhelming message was clear: no one was going through this stuff alone. Each of these pioneers has each other. A whole group of caring individuals that love each other unconditionally and accept each other where they are and where they’ve been and where they are heading.

I realize that this sense of magic will wear off quickly. We return to the real world and instantly we are confronted with life and all of its discrimination. I already see members, who just spent a weekend wrapped in the loving arms of acceptance and encouragement, struggling against self-doubt, self-hatred, deep depression, and even suicidal impulses. As a much older woman who has been there (yes, I have been there), I want to take each of these children (to me they are children, my children) and shake them by the shoulders. I want to tell them to look around at each other and remember that they have all that they need to succeed right here. They are part of the luckiest group in the world; a group that holds each other up and lets the light shine through the cracks and into the deepest, most hurt part of their souls. “You are not alone.” And, when they are ever in doubt that their lives will never be more than they are right now, they should look to these two old veterans and be reassured: it really, really does get better.

In the meantime, to my dear Gender Benders: I love you. I am grateful for each of you. You, you are my heroes.


tumblr_m4hnevXrah1qa70eyo1_500Less than two hours ago, the Supreme Court of the United States released their decision that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. They have also struck down Prop 8, which means that same sex marriages in California will now be recognized on both a state and federal level. As someone who has participated for two years in peaceful actions for the We Do Campaign sponsored by the Campaign for Southern Equality, I should be jumping up and down and shedding tears of joy, right? Except, I’m not.


For one thing, I live in the State of North Carolina. In May of 2012, the citizens of our state stuck a lovely little addendum onto our constitution called Amendment One. Amendment One denies any union between same sex couples. Our beautiful wedding ceremony in 2011 was just that, a ceremony. It remains as the single best day of my life and I feel married in the eyes of God, my church, and my family and friends. But I still check the “single” box on all forms put in front of me. While “wedded,” we are not actually “married.”


But, you say, you have a “husband,” your spouse is male and you are female, so why can’t you get married? Right. My spouse identifies as male, presents as male, lives as male…but that North Carolina driver’s license? It says otherwise.


Today I feel very much othered. We are no longer a lesbian couple. We are not recognized as a heterosexual couple either. We drift in this purgatory; this space between one and the other, happy for both, belonging to neither. I want to be legally married to my husband. What I want more is for his major medical insurance to cover the sexual reassignment surgery he must have in order to change his birth certificate. What I want is an alignment with others who get this feeling of not belonging. What I want is so much broader than the marriage equality we’ve been fighting for these last two years.


Just a few years ago, we would have been holding hands in solidarity with our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters. We would be crying tears of joy and embracing each other in celebration. Am I ungrateful for this decision? Of course not. But I stand as an ally and no longer as a lesbian looking for equal rights. Like it or not, my situation is different. It has changed. I am a queer woman in a queer relationship, and queer rights? Not quite on board yet. Queer is odd. Queer is uncomfortable for people. I’m not lesbian but I’m not straight. I’m queer and I’m trying to get used to it.


We have made a pact that even when Liam’s gender marker has changed, we will not get married until all can. But I feel as though the country is moving faster than we are. What happens when everyone in this country can get legally married but us? If we get married as a same sex couple, we are not being authentic to my husband’s gender. Additionally, what happens to that marriage when his gender marker changes? Is it declared null and void? Do we marry again as a heterosexual couple? Where are the folks in the gay and lesbian community who will stand up for the trans* couples and say, “hey, it’s all good. We’ll wait for YOU, now!”


Oh, I see them…they are all celebrating their good fortune. It’s okay, we’ll just wait here and hope they don’t forget us.

tumblr_lp8bkgptxp1qiej2io1_400A few months ago (maybe a year? Time whizzes past my head these days and I can honestly say I don’t know how long it’s been, which scares me to no end.), I noticed The Lump under my arm. Not really my armpit and not really my breast—sort of hanging out in the space between my stubble and my sleeve–it started out as a swollen place that aggravated me when I pushed on it. So I stopped pushing on it.

Last month I was dressing for a wedding. I had bought a lovely, sleeveless, hot pink dress. A-line, belted, and flattering, I was excited to wear it. When I looked in the mirror, I saw The Lump. This thing that I’d been ignoring had stealthily grown up and out. It hurt. It was painful to touch and painful to be touched by anything. There was no solid cyst or lump to hang on to—just a blob of fatty tissue that nagged at me, felt uncomfortable, and looked rather unsightly. I chose to ignore it, hoping it would yet go away.

A week later I received a call from my doctor who needed to run blood tests in order to continue renewing my thyroid medication. It had been two years since my last appointment and I couldn’t keep shirking my physician. I made an appointment and kept it, despite my lack of health insurance. While there, I used the opportunity to discuss a couple of troublesome issues: the ongoing tightness in my chest since my 8-week bout of bronchitis and The Lump. She donned latex gloves and started massaging the offending mass. Then she leaned against the wall and heaved a rather large and exasperated sigh. “That has to come out,” she said. “I don’t know what it is but I don’t like it. Make an appointment with a plastic surgeon and let them biopsy it.”

Oh, yeah…the “B” word. I was already dealing with two masses on my thyroid that I’d been avoiding since my last ultrasound and after yet another round of imaging later that day, I was able to breathe easier when it was confirmed that neither had grown in two years. A reprieve from the neck up. The neck down, however, was another story. I made an appointment for one week later and turned up at the plastic surgery center a day late, due to a conflict between what I was told and what was on my referral note.

My doctor was ridiculously young. He had a whitehead on the side of his nose that I couldn’t stop staring at. I kept thinking that with all of the laser dealies and rejuvenating jobbies and pretty young estheticians running around, he should have been able to get somebody to pop that bad boy before seeing patients. He looked at The Lump. He poked it. He prodded it. He grabbed it. He fondled it. It hurt and I wanted to hit him. Then he decided a breast exam was in order.

Erm…what? I expected him to say that I had some fatty deposit, we could cut it out in the office, and I’d be on my way to wearing sleeveless tops again in a month. What I didn’t expect was the order for a bilateral diagnostic mammogram, followed by a sonogram, to be done ASAP (which, in my world, means another two weeks as I wait on my health insurance to kick in).

I came home sick and scared and tearful. I love The Girls. Having reached an age where everything is moving east to west and then south, The Girls are still hanging in there—perky, responsive, and utterly perfect. They have nurtured my child during his first year and I often use them to divert my husband’s attention during an argument or stressful conversation. A gay male friend of mine (the only one who could ever get away with such a statement) recently told me (in church, no less) that I had “a nice rack.” Yeah, I was tickled.

This week, Angelina Jolie underwent a radical bilateral mastectomy to avoid getting breast cancer. She of the beautiful, bountiful breasts, sacrificed them to potentially save her life after discovering she carried a gene that gave her an 87% chance of being diagnosed with it. A few years ago, cancer was unheard of in my family. We had strokes and some heart disease, but cancer wasn’t an issue…until my favorite aunt was diagnosed with advanced, acute breast cancer. Having endured 15 hours of surgery to remove and then reconstruct her breasts, in addition to full-on follow-up therapies, she is convalescing nicely but will remain on chemo pills for 10 years.

I ignored the signs. I ignored The Lump. It may be nothing. It may be a lipoma or a shiny node or some other benign, unnamed, easily rectified thingamajig. I’ve waited for months (years?) to deal with The Lump, but now that I have, I feel this incessant need to hurry up and find out what I’m faced with. I have no earthly idea how I would handle losing one, or both, of The Girls. I’d like to say that my self-worth isn’t tied to my awesome boobies, but that would be a lie—they are seriously awesome. I’d like to say that it would be no sweat to hack them off and replace them with some radical tattoos, but the truth is, I’m quite fond of them and…I’m scared. Even though this is horribly premature and hopefully unwarranted, I am giving voice to my fear. I admit that I am terrified and worried and obsessing. I should be working and yet I am recording my fears for posterity (or however long WordPress blogs remain in the Internet ether). I feel ashamed of myself for ignoring The Lump and I hate that I have to live with it for even one more day, much less two more weeks, and then who knows how long after that. I want it gone, I want a clean bill of health, and I want to keep The Girls. I want to live long and never be faced with tough decisions that might be necessary to live my life.

I want never again to have to write posts like this one.



vintage_wedding_groom_carrying_bride_newlyweds_card-r992e137e1e7a4ad8b043304288939dc8_xvua8_8byvr_512This is the first anniversary of the devastating passing of Amendment One to the Constitution by the State of North Carolina. As of this writing, 11 states have now passed marriage equality. We are currently awaiting two rulings by the Supreme Court of the United States that will determine federal marriage equality. My home state continues to dig itself further and further into a hole of right-wing “moral” majority defiance and indignation. I continue to be both saddened and appalled. This was written after the first time Liam and I applied for a marriage license as part of the We Do Campaign. Early this spring, we participated a second time and were again turned down. In honor of our ongoing work toward marriage equality. I am reprinting this story that originally appeared on my other blog.

 In May of 2004, my then partner of 11 years and I cried tears of joy to learn that the Massachusetts Supreme Court had decided it was unconstitutional to allow only heterosexual couples to marry. On May 17th we sat in our car outside our tiny town hall and waited for the doors to open, chatting with the one other couple there. There had been no formal proposal; no engagement; no long, drawn out wedding plans—because we had a child together, it was the thing to do, and so we did. When we entered the town clerk’s office at 8 a.m. we filled out the request for marriage license, handed over our respective identification, and were one of the first lesbian couples in the country to receive a marriage license.

And so, when I found myself standing at the registry of deeds in Winston Salem, North Carolina, on May 10th, 2012, with my partner of 3 years (although we’ve known each other for 28, but that’s a long story for another time), I had an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu and an unrealistic sense of expectation.

Unrealistic, because just two days earlier, this state that is once again my home state (the state that I grew up in) passed an amendment to the constitution banning gay marriage even though gay marriage has been illegal in North Carolina for 16 years. We were not there to get a marriage license. We were there as part of a peaceful protest organized by the grassroots Campaign for Southern Equality and we were joined by nine other GLBTQ couples and more than 100 supporters. The scene bore little resemblance to that chilly, quiet early May morning in Massachusetts and yet I still had this nagging point of excitement in my gut that had nothing to do with the media frenzy or the many faces of the county workers that stared down at us from the floor-to-ceiling glass walls that circled the courtyard in which we gathered for a blessing before our act of civil disobedience.

We had walked, undeterred by any antagonistic protestors, from a loft a few blocks away. A long, determined chain of average folks: young and old and middle-aged (us) and black and white and not and some with kids and some without and clergy in the front and police on bikes alongside and cameras following our every footstep and we each held our partner’s hand. Because that’s what you do in the face of adversity. You cling to the person you love and you show the world that you aren’t some monster that is going to rape and pillage and convert their kids as you’ve been so recently portrayed on television and in the papers.

And so we walked.

And when we arrived we circled the wagons and we were surrounded by loving support from all sides. We were blessed in prayer and we were led by the organizers of this incredible action into the building and up the escalator (or was it stairs—the details have become blurred by the whirlwind of the before and after, the little things slip away from me as the days go by). We stood in line, holding fast to one another and watched each couple enter the glass-walled “room of decision,” flanked by the director, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, at least one support person from the Campaign for Southern Equality, and any family or friends who had come along for moral support. Some couples came out so quickly I wasn’t sure that they had even been asked for their identification. It all seemed to be happening too fast. I was becoming angry. I wanted to have a speech prepared–something profound, something scathing, something that would go down in history. And still, for some inane reason, I kept expecting things to be different for us. I joked with my partner to use a really low voice and maybe we could trick them, forgetting for a moment that our identification would immediately give us away. Forgetting for a moment why we were there in the first place.

We could hear the roar of the crowds as each couple emerged into the huge group of supporters outside. They were cheering their bravery. We were buoyed by the energy, fueled by the wave of radical love. And before I knew it we were being ushered into the inner sanctum. Joined by a beloved young adult from our church, the three of us were beckoned to the far end of the long desk. I had a vision of a line of grave countenances of the county workers seated at their stations and behind them a sea of photographers, cameras everywhere. Right in our faces. All thoughts of saying anything coherent went out of my head.

I was holding my driver’s license, my social security card, and, in my other hand, a wallet-sized photo of my son, wrinkled and damp from my sweaty palm. I wanted to show it to the woman at the desk. I wanted to show to everyone. I wanted to hold it up to the cameras and tell them that this 11-year-old boy is who we were fighting for. We were a family. We needed civil rights afforded us under the constitution so that my son could be protected at all costs. I wanted them to know that we were just an average family with jobs and a great church and a dog and a cat and this incredible kid and two old cars and a huge family of friends and…and…and…my voice died in my throat and my partner was requesting a marriage license and the woman was blankly telling us that “it was against the law of the state of North Carolina to issue a marriage license to anyone other than one man and one woman.”


Oh, no.


That weirdly irrational, stupidly unrealistic part of me just threw up a little bit in my mouth. I knew why we were there. I’m not a dumb woman, far from it. But dammit, I’m also an idealist and a dreamer and somehow I thought it would all turn out alright. I thought that if I could get a marriage license on a chilly, quiet May morning and marry someone to whom I had to pay an enormous amount of money to divorce just two years later (because sometimes you should really take the time to think things through before you leap into something just because it’s legal), then I should be handed a stupid piece of paper legalizing the big gay wedding I’d shared with my partner just seven months prior.

I felt deflated. All I could say–numbly, dumbly–was “We’ll be back,” like some female version of the Terminator. My partner asked if the clerk could document our denial and we were denied that as well with a flat statement that it was “not policy,” although we later learned that other couples did get their requests documented with the date and “request denied.” The rest became more of a blur as we somehow found ourselves outside and I had become deaf and mute and put on a smiling face for the paparazzi and quelled the hurt and ache by mentally punching myself in the stomach.

When the last of the couples’ requests were denied, three remained to await arrest. For some reason they decided to extend office hours until 7 p.m. and so we made the trek back to the loft to gather in a huge circle and briefly process what had just occurred. I talked a bit about my feelings of surprise at not receiving a marriage license. I fought for this once already. I lived in a state where I took so many things for granted. I now live in a state where I am a second-class citizen. I am viewed as “less-than” and “other.” I am fighting for my rights all over again.

My Pollyanna viewpoint is definitely tarnished. I’m feeling a little worse-for-wear these days. But I am sure that, like every one of the other “Winston Salem Ten” as they are now referring to us in the media, I am down but not out. My partner and I believe very strongly in the work that the Campaign for Southern Equality is doing and in the WE DO campaign itself. We’ll just keep on going. My skin will toughen up and I’ll get used to denial.

Sooner or later, they’ll have to say yes.

hairstyle-topOn Wednesday mornings, when the sun is just rising and there is the lingering hint of the night’s chill temperatures, I join two women from my church for a devotional study. We review and discuss a week’s worth of daily devotions from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. The devotional was actually written by his wife, after his death and transcribed from shorthand notes she made during daily discussions with him. When I first began reading Chambers I found the language dry and inaccessible—he had lived a century ago, after all. Often I find him tedious and “over my head.” But when we sit down and begin to talk about what each passage truly means in our lives today, the words spark something in me. I see how each devotional has some bearing on my crazy, often overstressed, days.

This past week, the daily devotionals seemed to revolve around work. Chambers talked much about “Christian workers” and at face value one might assume that he meant, literally, the work we do for Christ. There was a lot of discussion regarding “mission” and how I feel a tremendous amount of friction when I rub up against that word (as a self-proclaimed Christian Pluralist I feel very strongly that there are many ways to one God and barging in on other cultures to convince them of the one “right way” is offensive to my sensibilities. I would so much rather sit and absorb all that other Faith traditions have to teach me about getting to God). I came to think of the passages as being more about work in general: the work that we do for a living and the work that we do to maintain our homes, our families, and our bodies. I am blessed to truly enjoy what I do for a living; my job requires very little faith at all. I am not actively mindful of God’s grace when I am designing a workbook on leadership training or proofreading an Alice Walker novel (except for the oft-unspoken prayer: Thank you, God, for giving me a gift with which I can pay the bills). I am much more aware of God’s presence in the more mundane tasks of daily living: the grocery shopping, the dishwasher loading, the bathroom cleaning. I am not, by nature, a domestic Goddess. On the contrary, I will often leave distasteful chores until I absolutely can’t stand the filth any longer and I am certain that my threshold for dirt is much higher than that of my husband. It is in those moments that I must actively pray “God, help me to be mindful of the warm soapy water, the sparkle of the clean dish, the way the drying rag feels in my hands.”

I also took Christian work to mean “doing the footwork” for Christ’s glory. Not a testimony, mind you, but Christ’s glory in my own life and that of my family (despite the tone of today’s post, I don’t tend to proselytize). When we do the footwork, we must have Faith. And Faith, to me is a big old capitalized action word. It means truly trusting the process and knowing, without a doubt, that God knows what is right for us and will see our way clear to making that happen. Chambers’ entry for April 23rd concludes with: “We have no right to judge where we should be put, or to have preconceived notions as to what God is fitting us for.” I let God lead me and I have Faith that all will be well (not an easy task for this control freak, mind you).

Liam, my husband, entered divinity school on a dare of sorts. While I have never questioned that he has a calling greater than most I have known and truly deserves a place there, it was not his plan. He was cajoled and nearly bullied by friends and loved ones (including yours truly) into applying. Not surprisingly he was accepted as an Honor’s Scholar with a fair amount of financial assistance attached to that award. It did not, however, pay 100% of the tuition or any of our living expenses and obtaining even a part-time job is difficult at best for someone in active and early gender transition. I am self-employed and until last August I made just enough to (barely) cover my half of our expenses and the caretaking of our child. But we decided to have Faith. I did the footwork: I maintained deadlines, did my work on time and without complaint, and sent regular reminders of my availability to both faithful and prospective clients. That Faith was rewarded with twice the workload I had been handling; we got exactly what we needed when we needed it. Liam is finishing his first year with two more to go. This summer he will be at a local hospital from 9-5 every day with many nights on call as he does his Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) training. There is no time for a part-time job with those kinds of hours and a stipend from an education loan (which we choose not to obtain for more than this first year for future financial reasons), does not cover summer expenses. Our Faith was rewarded with enough of a tax return to cover his half of expenses for four months. Exactly what we needed when we needed it.

Today I came home to a message from an agency hiring a full-time graphic designer. They are interested in interviewing me as soon as possible. While I am loathe to give up my flexible schedule, I also know that having a full-time, onsite position would afford me a solid paycheck on a regular basis, prepaid taxes, and sorely needed health insurance. “We have no right to judge where we should be put, or to have preconceived notions as to what God is fitting us for.” I do not know what is in store for me, for us. I will do the footwork needed to express my interest in this position because I feel strongly that I was given the information about its very existence for a reason. I have Faith that whatever comes my way was meant to be. I know that if I do the work, the rest will come. Faith: it’s an action word.

couple_300-300x200This past weekend my husband and I found ourselves with three childless days while our son backpacked in the North Carolina mountains. We planned meals out, caught up on Netflix movies, slept in on Saturday and Sunday, and spent lots (and lots) of alone time. It was truly glorious.

On Friday night, after dropping our child off with his scout troop (no hugs from mom lest he be embarrassed in front of the other guys), we met friends for dinner at a favorite local Asian fusion place. Liam wore a sweater vest over a button-down shirt and jeans. I wore a white blouse, loose over skinny black corduroys, with a huge paisley scarf draped around my shoulders to guard against the early Spring chill. We arrived early and, after determining that our friends were not yet there, stood outside as other patrons arrived in droves.

It seems that Friday night turns this usually quiet restaurant into a real hotspot for the middle-aged heterosexual set. Couple after couple in their 50s and 60s arrived by SUV, Volvo, and Mercedes. As I stood there, I realized that we fit right in. Liam and I, in our late 40s (very late 40s), with our graying (okay, mine’s pewter) hair and our laugh lines and crow’s feet, looked just like everyone else.

The scene reminded me of a similar one that played out a month or so earlier. On our way to a transgender law workshop in South Carolina, we stopped to grab a quick bite to eat at Wendy’s. As we were leaving I said to Liam, “Honey, do you notice that no one ever stares at us anymore? We look just like any average, middle-aged couple.” His response was “Middle-aged??? Wait…AVERAGE???”

And here we were again, sharing a meal with a lovely couple from our church that we hadn’t, until that evening, had a chance to socialize with outside of committee meetings and potlucks in the fellowship hall. A straight couple with three older children, we relied on them for parenting advice, good conversation, and insight into our congregation and into Li’s grad school experience, where the wife held a job working for the dean of students.

Whenever the waitress came by she called Liam and our friend “sir.” His wife and I were always “Ma’am.” Liam referred to me as his wife and they joked about good marriages being based on agreeing with whatever their spouses said. I looked around the room and was, again, struck by the fact that no one gave us a second glance. Liam, after eight months on testosterone, no longer looked out of place, different, “other.” We didn’t register as a lesbian couple anymore and I began to feel guilty. I felt that somehow I had betrayed all of my years in the lesbian community, my activism for LGBTQ rights, and my own coming out at age 19 with Liam (then Lisa and my first female-bodied partner).

Liam and I agreed before his physical transition that we would never live stealth, meaning we would never try to blend into the heterosexual “normative” and we would always be open and honest about his trans status. However, I didn’t see myself jumping up and breaking into a mournful rendition of Chris Williamson’s “Sweet Woman,” or wandering from table to table to be certain that everyone knew of Li’s “transsexual medical history.” I kept my mouth shut and we continued to (ahem) bask in the passing.

It is true that we celebrate every time Li gets “sir’d” instead of “ma’am’d.” Out in public, he is viewed as male 99.9% of the time now and that suits him just fine. I still struggle with being seen as the average, middle-aged wife of this average, middle-aged guy. I liked standing out and bucking the system and making people question their assumptions about what lesbians look like. But…I’m married to a trans guy. I’m not in a lesbian relationship. I’m the average middle-aged wife of a not-so-average middle-aged guy. I understand that this will happen more and more often. This is what Liam wanted: to be seen as a man. I get that and I am thrilled for him. I suppose I will be more comfortable with these roles as time goes on and I imagine that sooner or later it will just be commonplace. In the meantime we will content ourselves with continuing trans and LGBTQ activism and being out and visible in our community and our daily interactions. Do strangers at our local Asian fusion place have to know that my husband started life as a girl? Absolutely not. But for the sake of authenticity, others do.

Middle-aged? Yes. Average? Not on your life.

2gyc5d3There has been a groundswell of controversy surrounding the elective cosmetic procedure, labiaplasty. For those of you who might be living under a rock, labiaplasty is a “beautification” process designed to surgically alter a woman’s labia—sometimes for health reasons (I’ve seen blog comments made by women who claim to have suffered yeast infections from labial hyperplasia) but more often to appear, what, non-threatening? In researching this post, I even came across an article offering instruction for suggesting labiaplasty to a spouse (oh, no you didn’t!).

So I recently read this article on Jezebel (they might be pro-woman but their authors need to refrain from using the word “retarded” when what they mean is “stupid,” ‘cause that’s just dumb), that thoroughly denounces the practice of labiaplasty and all who undertake it. My first reaction, of course, was “of course!” In my “up with women” frame of mind, I immediately thought “death to the natural vulva (not vagina, the writer needs an anatomy lesson to go along with a lesson in politically-correct terminology) haters!” I couldn’t imagine anyone knifing into their genitals for any reason.

And then I remembered my husband. And my friends. And let’s get back to that in a minute, shall we?

In my ongoing effort not to respond from a knee-jerk point of view, I sat on my hands for a minute. I thought about body modification in general. My nose is pierced and I have one tattoo with a couple more planned. My rock star preacher husband has several tattoos and several more planned. He is also working on stretching his lobes with a kit I bought him for Christmas (that titanium will look great with a double-breasted, pin-striped suit behind the pulpit on Sundays). Most of my friends are inked and pierced and although I don’t know of any with a doughnut implanted in their foreheads, I wouldn’t be that surprised. So there’s that. We willingly distort our own flesh in an attempt at being both unique and *othered* but at the same time, fitting in with those like us.

And I thought about my ongoing quest to diet in an epic attempt to make my curves more palatable in a size 2 society. I can’t remember the last time I either wasn’t actively dieting, thinking about dieting, or planning a new diet. How is labiaplasty any different? Fewer people (I hope) see your special place, but we are all wont to be “the same as” whether we like to admit it or not. I want my stomach to be flat, you want your “wings” to be a little less flappy. So who am I to judge?

Let’s get back to that genital mutilation thing. In the worlds I travel in, going under the knife, while often prohibitively expensive, is not that uncommon. Few among my friends and loved ones in the trans* community wouldn’t trade in their genitals on a new set, an improved set, in their minds. Who would be the first to cast a stone in their direction? Certainly not me. If I had an extra $20,000 lying around I’d be making my husband’s appointment tomorrow.

So I’m not going to be one of those that jumps on the anti-labiaplasty bandwagon. There are plenty of others who can get riled up for this cause and there are plenty of other causes for me to get riled up for. I’m okay with my own hooha. It’s not perfect, but it only matters to the one who matters (me). (Now you are all sitting there wondering what it looks like, right?) In the meantime, perhaps someone can figure out an excess labia donation program for my many transwomen friends who would trade places under the knife any time.