Matthew 27: 45-46: From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Most of us know the story of the crucifixion. Growing up in the evangelical church it was used as a weapon to make those listening to the story feel so horrified by what Jesus suffered, because of them, that they would immediately dedicate their lives to Christ and commit to being better. I remember being told in horrific detail the manner of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus. It was as if the gorier the speaker could make it, the more we would be convicted.
As I left the church I grew up in, I discarded the story of the crucifixion. I didn’t want to deal with it any more. A theology that centered around torturing an innocent person because of the wrongdoings of other people was a theology that made me sick. A God who demanded such torture to appease His wrath (and this God was always male) was a God I wanted nothing to do with. I no longer believe that God demanded the sacrifice of Jesus in order to save the world from sin. I believe instead in a more political act; one in which Jesus is so committed to his calling to speak truth to power that he willingly dies on a cross. His willingness to die doesn’t overlook the horror of the act, though, or the wickedness of political power systems that would kill an innocent person because he threatened their sense of themselves.
I realize that writing about the crucifixion as a trans narrative invites all sorts of grey areas, so let me get a few things out of the way first: I am not saying that transition is as horrifying as being crucified or being tortured. Yes, there is pain involved, but in my experience it was nothing like what Jesus must have experienced (besides, I was given vicodin). Suffering of any kind should never be glorified. I want to be clear on this; there is a tendency to elevate people who have suffered simply because they have suffered. I believe this is the wrong approach. Instead we should elevate and celebrate people because they survived and work to eradicate suffering. When I speak of suffering in this way I am speaking about abuse, torture, disease, poverty. Over the years there have been theologies written that say one should embrace their suffering because Jesus suffered. It has been used to tell women to stay in abusive homes, to tell people that they shouldn’t work to eradicate the systems that cause poverty, that somehow they should be happy in their suffering knowing they’ll get a better deal in the afterlife. That to me is complete and utter bullshit and the complete antithesis of the Gospel. Pardon my strong language but I need to be very clear on this point before we continue. Sometimes in life we suffer but our suffering should never be glorified. However sometimes our suffering leads us to a better place, helps us discover strength we didn’t know we had. Those outcomes are positive, but it still doesn’t mean we should glorify suffering. Now with all of that said, let’s begin.
Medical transition is an interesting time. It’s definitely a journey and there are stops along the way. And in a way, it is definitely a crucifixion experience. When I say that I mean that it is a slow death. The person you were slowly dies and disappears.
My transition began by first coming to terms with the fact that I was transgender and realizing that I needed to transition. I told my partner and some of my friends. Then I began the process of seeking out counseling.
There is a lot of debate around the medical/psychiatric profession and transitioning. It’s a long and complicated debate that doesn’t entirely pertain to this subject so I will skip most of it here. But for most people, in order to transition, one must go through a series of steps including a certain amount of counseling (which sometimes involves a diagnosis of gender identity disorder (another heated topic of debate) before one can access medical transition. I was fortunate to live in a city that allowed people to transition on an informed consent model; you were briefed on what the risks were, what the effects were, etc. and then you signed a statement allowing treatment. For me, though, counseling was important on a personal level and so I took that route.
I entered counseling with a wonderful counselor. Most of my counseling involved talking about issues other than my gender identity. It was, in a lot of ways, preparing me for transition and giving me the emotional tools to do things such as come out to my family, deal with communication issues with my partner, prepare for the stress of transitioning while in seminary, etc. After several months of counseling my therapist wrote a letter stating that I knew myself to be male, knew the risks of transitioning and that I understood that transition was permanent. I took this letter to a doctor and got initial blood tests. Then I was prescribed testosterone and got my first injection. Over the next couple of weeks I was trained to inject myself and my transition began.
My process is to inject myself every week with testosterone shots in my upper thigh. I will have to do this for the rest of my life. The next step of my transition was trying to figure out how I could have my chest reconstruction (or top) surgery. Most insurance companies don’t pay for any part of transition (although some do cover prescriptions and some surgeries) and at the time I was not insured anyway so I was paying for everything from doctor’s visits to prescriptions out of pocket. Chest surgery would cost at least $5500 plus travel expenses, hotel costs, time out of work (at least 4 weeks), and other various costs. I was fortunate that I was in school at the time and was able to get extra student loans to cover my surgery. A year after I started testosterone I was able to get chest surgery.
Up until my surgery I wore something called a binder. It’s a super tight shirt looking thing (mine looked like a white t-shirt) that had extra paneling. It held my breasts tight against my body so they looked more like pecs. Then I usually wore two shirts over top to camoflauge my chest even more. Even in the summer. The binder was uncomfortable and hot. It pressed into my sides and left marks. I had permanent bruising around my waist where it rolled up and dug into my sides. The testosterone gave me hot flashes in the beginning and that coupled with the extra shirts made life really unbearable for a while. Not to mention the sheer mental discomfort of having breasts. Ever since puberty I hated them, but once I began transition they were unbearable. I was fortunate to be able to get surgery so soon. It’s something I am grateful for every day. But the time spent waiting for surgery weighed on my mind.
Meanwhile I was doing my weekly shots and slowly beginning to change. My voice started to deepen, my fat started to redistribute, facial hair and body hair began to ever so slowly fill in and become visible. My muscles began to develop more quickly and even a little bit of working out went a long way. My periods stopped (which was a huge relief). I dealt with hot flashes and a cracking voice as I was pretty much going through menopause and puberty simultaneously.
The changes were sometimes unbearably slow. I would look in the mirror and see nothing happening. Then sometimes I would catch glimpses of the person I was becoming and be filled with such joy. But the process was painful. My acne was out of control and very painful. I was still having people use the wrong pronouns for me, I still didn’t know what bathroom would be safe to use. I still had a chest that I hated and didn’t feel right in my clothing.
Surgery had me out of work for about six weeks. The recovery was at times painful. In the beginning I had drains in and couldn’t shower. That was probably the most miserable week of my life. The drains were incredibly painful, I couldn’t move very much and I just felt gross. After the drains were out things got progressively better, but healing still took time. I couldn’t reach up very high, I couldn’t lift or carry anything heavy. Driving was painful. I wore a padded vest pretty much 24 hours a day for a month. It was uncomfortable and constricting. The wounds took time to heal and the scarring even longer to fade.
This transitional time was a death in a lot of ways. I was dying to who I had been; I was becoming someone new, someone unrecognizable. I was in between in a lot of ways; not who I would someday be but no longer who I was. And those are just the physical aspects of transition, there were also mental things that happened that I wasn’t prepared for and couldn’t explain as they were happening. It’s to that aspect of transition that I turn next.