Thursday, November 20, 2008
What would YOU do?
Now that I have your attention . . .
I often get emails from colleagues around the country, asking for my opinion/advice about difficult situations which arise from time to time in the parish. I am always honored, but truth be told, it is more often the case that I seek the advice of my colleagues when I get into a situation I feel completely unprepared to address with any sense of confidence or knowledge.
Sometimes I just call and sometimes we carry on a conversation in cyberspace. I'm always so grateful to know we have such wonderful, competent clergy in the Household of God. Yes, we have our 'clunkers' but for the most part, the ones who are stellar absolutely shine!
I have posted below my comments to a brother clergy who was about to have a couple from his congregation come visit him. Seems that this couple know a couple who have a young son. From the age of three, this young boy has identified as female.
The parents have supported that child in his gender identification, allowing him to wear feminine clothes and play with toys that are more typically embraced by the female gender of the species.
He's now off to elementary school and his parents have instructed his teachers to do likewise, including a feminine version of his name. Just for sake of conversation, let's say his name is 'Paul' and they've instructed the teachers to call him 'Paula'.
The parishioners who are friends of this couple find this distressing and have made an appointment with their rector to discuss it. My colleague wrote to ask for advice. Here's what I said.
A confession: I'm pretty much shooting from the hip here. I'm confident that I know what Jesus would do. The real reason for posting this is to ask, "What would YOU do?"
If there are those of you who read this blog who have information or access to information on this subject, I'd be deeply grateful to receive it.
Thanks to all of you in advance for what I know will be your brilliant information.
Oh wait. One last thing: The posters above are from the Would Jesus Discriminate? Campaign. You can find out more information and join the discussion here.
Okay, 0ff you go, then..
UPDATE: Today just happens to be Transgender Remembrance Day. You can find more information here.
My dear brother,
I have no doubt that others will have far better information than I and better access to appropriate resources - especially in your neighborhood. So, I'm a little hesitant to offer what little I know. I happen to have the evening off (thank you Jesus) so I have the time right now, and, because you know I adore you, I'm willing to give it my best shot.
Believe it or not, I've been in similar situations three times in the past 10 years. I have one kid in my congregation I've been watching for the past 6 years and I have no doubt that we're headed into "crisis" soon. He's now 10 and, well, I could be wrong, but I strongly suspect he has Klinefelter Syndrome - "genetically female, pragmatically male". (Ms. Conroy concurs, which is very important, as you know.)
This may be more information than you need or want, but very, very briefly this means that, instead of inheriting x chromosome from mom and y from dad, these men inherit an extra x chromosome from either mom or dad. They are either xx with an extra y or as xy with an extra x. At puberty, they do not develop facial or body hair or deep voices and heavy muscles and some experience breast growth.
So, for what it's worth, here's my best shot - not as a Transgender person but as a pastor - AND not knowing important particulars of your situation (neither, apparently, do you).
I'm going to give you some medical information, but please let it play as "background music" to your interactions with your parishioners. Your primary role is as their pastor. I don't have to remind you of that, but I don't want you to get too tied up in the medical information and lose your primary focus.
First: Forgive me, but I'm not clear: Is this a problem for your parishioners or for the affected family? You don't need to answer me, but get clear about this for yourself.
If it is not a problem for the "affected family", but it IS for your parishioners, then you begin, I think, with exploring with your parishioners their "problem" - their feelings - helping them work through the roots of their discomfort and offering some concrete suggestions about how they might be helpful to the parents and their child.
Be on the alert to see if this has touched something deeper in them and assess if you think they need to talk more about it with a professional in this field. Check beforehand to see what the appropriate referral resources are for them in your community. You might also want to check with those community resources in terms of booklets or recommended books you can provide them with.
If it is a problem for the affected family, which is a problem for your parishioners, then you are obviously on different path.
The first thing to remind yourself is that there is Sexual Identity and then there is Sexual Orientation.
Remember that there are four components to Sexual Identity
1. Biological Sex (various chromosomal, hormonal and anatomical factors)
2 His or her gender identification (sense of being male or female)
3. The person's social sex role (the cultural definition of being male or female)
4. The person's sexual orientation
It is important to remember that these four components are not isolated but interact with each other to form the whole, healthy human being.
There are, as you know, three components to Sexual Orientation
1. Arousal patterns (including fantasy)
2. Affective preferences
3. Behavior (patterns of physical contact with others)
In the interest of time, to put this very, very briefly and simplistically (understanding that it is a very complex issue), there are two possibilities of the cause of his gender identity "confusion" or "crisis."
(I apologize for those terms. They are not mine, but belong to the medical profession which, in Western medicine, has its basis in assumed pathology. They sound so judgmental, don't they? I'm sorry.)
1. Physical (chromosomes, hormones and anatomical factors)
2. Psychological (it's important to note that as a healthy term, not always indicating pathology)
1. Physical: We all learned in the 5th grade about chromosomes and that we "all" have an x = female and y = male chromosome. That's not exactly true. We don't "all" have xy chromosomes.
Some of us have xxy chromosomes, sometimes known as "Superwoman"
Some have xyy chromosomes, sometimes known, of course, as "Superman"
The interesting thing is that about one person in every 500 has a karyotype other than xx or xy. About one in 1,000 women has three x chromosomes instead of the usual two (me included, btw). Some have as many as 4 x plus two y's.
As recently as 1996, eight women in the Olympic Games tested as "not women" who had been observed while urinating and not disqualified on that basis - only after chromosomal analysis (Yes, one of the indignities of Olympic testing is that you have to be observed while urinating.)
To get right to the point: I would say that the first thing this kiddo needs is genetic analysis. If he hasn't been tested, your parishioners can be real friends in strongly urging the parents to speak to their pediatrician and get a referral to a pediatric genetic specialist. It's not the only answer, and the situation is much more complicated than a simple blood test, but it's an important place to begin to sort out the complex puzzle pieces to this child's identity.
This has to do with this child's inherent and/or intuitive sense about being male or being female. He may have had a very early role identification 'crisis" or "confusion' which is not unusual but it is significant. From the copy of your parishioner's email to you I'm reading some negative judgment on his/her part in terms of how the parents have approached this (Of course, I could be wrong, but that's how I read it.).
There is no way of knowing - for them or us - whether or not the parent's approach to this was correct or incorrect, from a psychological standpoint. Which leads me to this piece of advice:
Along with the genetic testing, the child needs to be seen by a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist for further assessment and testing - preferably in concert with the pediatric genetic specialist. The best approach would be to find a 'team' that works on this issue. I know there are several clinics in NYC and Boston as well as one in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins, where some of the original work by John Money was done. I can't believe your local Medical Center or some equivalent teaching hospital doesn't have this resource.
Again, many people hear: "He needs a psychological or psychiatric evaluation" and immediately interpret it as judgment or a message of some sort of pathology. That is absolutely not the case. This is about acquiring information that will help put the puzzle pieces together to help make this child - this family - whole (if, in fact that is part of the "problem")
The important thing for you in your role as pastor is to reduce the anxiety and distress of your parishioners.
1. Allow them to express these feelings in the open, non-judgmental, non-anxious presence of their trusted and loving pastor.
2. Active listening - including check in and feedback at appropriate intervals like, "So, I'm hearing you say ____, is that right?"
3. Provide them with information that gives them the message that this is not "the end of the world," or "an abomination"; that this kiddo is a Child of God and not a "freak"; and that his parents, if they haven't already, need to seek out and secure the services of professionals who can help them help their child grow into a whole, healthy human being, with a positive gender identification that may differ (at least, right now), from his external, physical gender identification - whatever that might be.
4. Have some resources to give them to better educate themselves. I urge you to do that for yourself, as well. I have been helped enormously by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott's "Omnigender" - chock full of good information and stories. However, I don't know your parishioners so I don't know if that would be an appropriate place for them to start their own educational journey.
There are lots of other books and resources. You might want to visit the TransEpiscopal webpage and leave a message for some assistance and advice.
There's lots. lots more to this, including all the components of the term 'Transgender', but I'll stop here. Don't hesitate to call me if you need to talk this through.
God has called you to do a mighty work of justice and peace with this family. I know you will be as much of a blessing to them as you are to us all.