Transgender and Ex-Gay: Burnt in the Gender Melting Pot

Anyone who has ever been in any sort of ex-gay treatment designed to “de-gay” or “de-lesbian” them, will know that often the “therapies” extend beyond looking at sexuality and tend to dabble a lot with gender. We can joke about the football clinics for the guys and the Mary Kay makeovers for the gals, but beyond the ridiculous, the ex-gay movement is one that demands gender normative presentation and behavior. As a result, many gender-variant and transgender people of faith have ventured into ex-gay ministries and “therapist” offices for gender-normative treatments before they were able to accept and appreciate their gender identity and presentation.

Years of bullying on the playground, at the dinner table, in church youth groups, on the job,  and on the streets can weigh on a person who feels they do not fit into the rigid gender binary enforced by the culture. Without seeing representations of individuals with transgender histories or gender variance, they can feel unique and all alone in a struggle to find their place in the world. The pressure to conform to the only norms available (especially when these are reinforced through religion and the threat of violence in this world and the next) often causes a person to seek change.

I like to think of it as the Gender Melting Pot. One gets placed in the male or the female Gender Melting Pot and then under the intense heat they begin to misshapen and disintegrate into the gender normative muck the chefs envision. I would much prefer a Gender Stew where we all get to mix and mingle, influencing and seasoning (marrying flavors?) but we retain our individual taste and texture.

At Gender Odyssey (a delicious Gender hot and steamy cassarole) earlier this month I met Francie Milazzo, a male to female transgender woman who attended my workshop Homo No Mo?!? Gender and Orientation in the Ex-Gay Movement. Both in the workshop and afterward Francie shared how much her experience of struggling to understand and affirm herself as a male-bodied person with a growing awareness of a female identity brought her into contact with Christian groups that supported her in her many failed attempts to live life as a heterosexual male. She writes about her experience as a trans woman struggling as a Christian.

This was also my first time living away from home and a time of extreme loneliness.  Seeing no alternative, I tried to play the gender role expected of me and sought companionship with a woman, purging my female wardrobe and stopping the hormones for months or years at a time.  To conceal my complete ignorance on dating, I studied Christian books on the subject.   On two occasions I promised before an ordained minister to play the husband’s role dictated by Scripture, although I never revealed the hidden feelings that I mistakenly believed would be “cured” through my efforts.

Through the years this deception brought me to despair, robbed me of hope, joy and dignity and withdrew me ever farther from God and into myself and away from those I cherished. Although I never revealed my inner self in my first marriage, that was destroyed by the stress of my suppressed feelings and my lack of a male soul to play the part. Refusing to see my own fault, I married again after 5 years.  In that relationship, my children and I suffered physical and emotional abuse, breaking up the family and bringing me to desperation and two unsuccessful suicide attempts.

Fortunately for Francie, she found a way out of that despair and learned how to be authentic about herself leading to psychological, emotional and spiritual health. You can read more of her story here. Para Un Testimonio de una Cristiana Transgénera oprima para español.

At Beyond Ex-Gay, the organization for ex-gay survivors, we have featured narratives of transgender people as well as highlighting transgender concerns. While we recognize differences in regards to sexual orientation and gender, we also see lots of overlap and shared experiences. On our FAQ section, where we attempt to be entertaining as well as informative, we write:

What about trans and genderqueer people?

Male/Female sign(cricket, cricket)

In the ex-gay world not much is said or done about trans folks (sometimes neglect has its privileges). But many trans folks experience pressure to change and “act normal” by parents, faith communities, schools and neighborhoods.

A big part of our ex-gay experiences have had more to do with gender than actual sexual activity and desire. Act your gender! is the message we heard directly and indirectly.

But it’s not so simple. Sometimes the outside doesn’t match the inside, and in the case of intersex folks, one’s sex is not easily discerned.

The relentless push from society for trans and genderqueer folks to “change,” to conform or to just disappear remains, even among many gays and lesbians who express transphobia through words, action and inaction.

To read more about a gay man with a trans experience, read Alex’s Narrative.

Beyond Ex-Gay is very pleased to be one of the sponsors for the upcoming TransForm Arizona conference in Phoenix Oct 16, 17 and 18. In addition to performing my play Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, I will also offer my workshop on Gender and Orientation in the Ex-Gay Movement.

At our new Beyond Ex-Gay Community site we seek a diversity of peole with ex-gay experiences including transgender and gender-variant individuals. Although many people went into ex-gay/gender-norm treatment because of religiuos reasons, we are not a religious organization. For many moving beyond their religious backgrounds has been part of the recovery while others have found ways of rediscovering their former religious practice or found a new practice. We have atheists, Christians, agnostics, pagans, neo-Evangelicals, post-Christians, post-Toastie Christians and much more. What draws us together is our shared experience of trying to change something fundamental about ourselves only to discover that pursuing such a change caused much more harm than good.
Like at the upcoming TransForm Arizona event, at Beyond Ex-Gay we seek to unite the T with the LGB. Below is the ad (beautifully designed by Christine Bakke, bXg co-founder) that will appear in the program guide . BXGHalfPgHorzAd

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This post has 4 Comments

  1. Dave Lambert on September 25, 2009 at 1:39 pm Reply

    I was part of the ex-gay movement for 7 years, There program can only produce self hate and hurt…. It has been a long road to Health and Wholeness !
    Today I am out, open, Travel and tell my story in MAIN LINE churchs God has open doors and let me go places we ALL never dreamed could happen !
    I have a partner of almost 10 years and we have 3 children.
    I feel my story and music will bring help,hope and healing, feel free to share my post on YOU TUBE with your e-mail list.. to see and hear my music go to….
    http://www.davelambertmusic.com OR go to YOU TUBE type in dave lambert concert pianist and see ware i was filmed LIVE !
    Blessing and Love,
    Dave

  2. Beth on September 25, 2009 at 3:46 pm Reply

    What a powerful post, saying what needs to be said and heard.

    Light and Love,

    Beth

  3. Michael Bright Crow on September 28, 2009 at 11:43 am Reply

    Peterson,

    As always, a helpful post.

    In grade school in the 1950s, I was constantly teased by other boys for being a “sissy.”

    At that age, none of us knew anything at all about sex or sexual orientation or gender or gender role or any of that. We…or they, I should say…just knew “what boys were supposed to be like.” And I wasn’t like that.

    I was in junior high before I began to recognized what, years later, I would recognize as sexual interest in other boys. But I knew I was a sissy, because I couldn’t act like other boys.

    I wasn’t effeminate, but I was definitely not butch and athletic. I was clumsy from childhood polio, and I was geeky, I was a convinced bookworm and grade A student. Definitely a sissy.

    Decades later, having now been out for 36 years, I look at the hyper-vigilance of so-called straight men about cleaving tightly to male gender role norms, and I think:

    “Straight men are such sissies!!!”

    Thanks for your work,
    Mike

  4. e2c on October 8, 2009 at 1:04 am Reply

    w00t w00t w00t!

    Y’know, Peterson… I think a lot of what’s coming from LGBTQ folks in this area (supposed “gender-normative” behavior and the ideas behind it) will – dare I say it? – be of help to those of us straight and straight-identified bi folks who don’t quite fit the stereotypes held dear by our society and in much of the Christian subculture.

    I went through a lot of taunting and bullying in jr. high and HS for supposedly not being feminine enough, per the standards of the mean girls *and* adults. Later on, that came up in a big way for me in a couple of churches. My reality was more along the lines of wanting different clothing choices for women – something you’d hardly think would cause much of a stir, but back in the 70s and 80s, it sure did. And I went around for years thinking I was somehow lacking. No more!

    I’m praying for you and yours (all who are involved in this) and will be looking forward to further reports and comments on this topic!

    all the best,
    e.

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