Christian Humanism

Christian Humanism is the belief that human freedom, individual conscience, rational inquiry and a commitment to the values taught by Jesus as a guide to the ethical life are not only compatible with Christianity, they are fundamental to a proper understanding and interpretation of Christian belief. Being a Christian means at the least feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, healing the sick, supporting the poor, comforting the lonely, seeking peace and standing with the powerless against the mighty.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Making Schools Unsafe for Transgender Students

Four years ago this week I published an article entitled under the same title the gist of which was that the same Neanderthals who brought us the Scopes anti-evolution trial in Tennessee in our grandparents’ generation are at it again.  A cabal of right wing politicians and fundamentalist Christian terrorists are attempting to make schools less safe for gay and transgender kids in Tennessee by means of legislation that uses bad religion and irresponsible Christian ethics to prohibit teachers from talking to students about gay and transgender issues and requires teachers, administrators and counselors who learn that a student is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) to report that information to his/her parents.

That peculiar legislation, done in the name of keeping schools safe for Christians to intimidate and harass students without fear of discipline, was just one of many legislative attempts religious conservatives across the nation to restrict the rights of lesbians, gays and transgender students.

Schools should be safe places for children that teach tolerance and understanding of differences without fear that teachers and administrators will “out” them to their parents and fellow students.  So when President Trump rescinded protections for transgender students that had allowed them to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity it seemed the perfect time to write about the problems faced by transgender kids in schools.  Just as I was in the middle of writing that essay I had a fortuitous contact with Ash, a transgender boy in the Midwest, who provided me with an essay he had written describing his traumatic experiences as a transgender boy.

Some adults are confused by the concept of transgender and assume it is a “phase” arising from sexual identity confusion that teens will outgrow as they mature, but that is an incorrect understanding of a genuine human condition, a distinct gender identity that is most easily understood when you have met teens who are transgender and have faced the tragic consequences of people misunderstanding who they are and refusing to accept them.  Because I am a youth counselor I have met a number of teens who have had to face the implications of who they are.  Perhaps the best way to begin to understand these issues and concerns is to let Ash tell you his story in his words as provided to me except for minimal editing to make it shorter and an occasional grammatical, spelling, word or punctuation change as necessary for clarity or readability.

Here is Ash’s story:

My story begins a long time ago, even times I can't remember.  First off I am female to male transgender. When I was young, we were poor, in baby/toddler pictures you can see me and my sister in boys’ clothing handed down from my older brother.  When we started to get on our feet I preferred the handing downs instead of my new girly clothing. I remember in pre-school kids would ask me if I was a boy or a girl.  Even though I said girl something inside me made me extremely happy.
When I was 5 we went to see my family in Tennessee. (I do not remember this but my mom and my grandma’s sister told me this.)  I guess I thought since I didn't know them, they didn't know me. And I said it over and over again, I am a boy.  I refused to wear the dress for the family picture and I only did because my mom told me I could take it off right after the picture and the last time I wore a dress was to my dad’s funeral.
My mom really didn't care what I wore from the ages 3-8, I mean I still wore girl clothes willingly, but I had a lot of guy clothing too.  Especially when it came to summer time, my mom didn't care as much what I wore.
I remember being 8 years old, always being shirtless and I wore boxers.  I remember one day seeing teenagers with their pants sagging showing their boxers and I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  I started doing it all the time.
When I got a Nnintendo DS light I loved writing in the name section the boy names I wished I had. My favorites were Jangoe and Owen.
But when 3rd grade came my mom decided my extreme tom-boy "phase" needed to be over.  When school came she only let me wear girl clothes, I got to keep my boy clothes but at a time when I grew out of them.  From 3rd-5th grade my mom only let me wear girl clothes. But after shopping she would let me buy one guy shirt. When it came to the girl clothes I just got whatever my mom wanted me to get. I didn't fight what she got me but I also didn't ask her to buy me more. When it came to buying that 1 guy shirt I looked down every row looking for the previous one and I always wore those shirts at least once a week.
The years went by and 6th grade was here, my mom decided to let me pick the clothes I wanted and without thinking about it I got all guy clothes. I remember the day they came, I couldn't choose which one to wear. I changed a few times that day.
I started getting bullied and people would call me gay girl and dyke. And I would cry to myself because I didn't understand I was a girl, always acting like a boy.  At this time I couldn't force myself to wear girl clothes, but my mom made me once going to Thanksgiving at my now stepdad's old house.  It was the first time meeting my step sister who was in college and I hated that was my first impression.
6th grade ended and it was summer time. I was about to go to a new school, 7th-12th grade, the school I still go to, and I really wanted to make a good impression.  I wanted friends and to at least be cool to them.  I was excited, I was planning for this great year and then my life changed forever.  It was late June, early July in 2012. I was 12 at the time and I was alone at my grandparents’ house watching YouTube.  While I was watching, in the sidebar a video called FTM timeline came up.  No clue what it meant I decided to watch it, and it explained things.  Talk about how they knew and the struggles they went through and by the time the video ended, I knew I was transgender.
It felt like a weight off my chest for but that weight came crashing down on top of me. When I started to think about my religion, family, kids at school, I wanted to erase my memory.  I prayed to God, crying and begging him to fix me for 2 weeks straight, but got no answer.  After that I just kind of accepted that God hated me (It even says it in the Bible, God hates many people!).
School started and I did make friends.  It was great, I even got invited to y first sleepover and my new friends started asking me who I like and after they went through every single guy and in our grade and I said no to everyone, they said I had to like someone. And I did, a girl and I thought my new friends would at least accept me for liking girls so I told them the name of the girl.  C told me she wasn't gay and had a boyfriend, I told her I understood and please please not tell K that I liked her and they both promised.  The next day S told e C told K and all their friends plus the volleyball team that I liked girls. And I started getting bullied bad, very bad.  People pushed me, called me names.  No one even wanted to do class projects with me, I sat alone at lunch every day. (Side note, the harassment only came from middle schoolers, high schoolers couldn't talk to us.)
I went down to the principal many times, sometimes he gave a warning and even one time he yelled at me in front of the bullies and said maybe he should just call my mom because I seemed to be the problem.  Then I went to the counselor and she made excuses for the bullies.  “Well, gay means happy, how do you know they didn't mean that?”  And of course the kids will say that is what they meant.  She said it RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM.
I got so depressed, my grades were horrible, I didn't eat because I was sleeping all the time and after another day of hell I wrote a Facebook status stating I got bullied every day at school and I couldn't seem to find a teacher who cared.  A lot of high schoolers were on my side and some messaged me asking who the bullies were, and I told a few, and some kids started threatening the bullies.  Next day at school I get called down to the office and the school called the cops on me.  They said everything I wrote on Facebook was lies.  People were screaming at me and getting in my face and when my mom and the cops got there they asked me why I was getting bullied, and I said I wanted my mom to leave the room first, and then my principal said I had 10 seconds to tell my mom why I was being bullied or he will tell her.  Yeah he forced me to out myself!
Then my life just crashed, my stepdad took away the wi-fi for 4 months, and my depression just got worse. I just stayed in my bedroom all the time because it felt like my parents hated me. The neighbor’s wi-fi worked in my room and I got a boyfriend who was in 6th grade, and even though I still only wore guy clothes I got ungrounded because I was dating a boy. But after dating him for 5 months I told him I wanted to be a guy and he broke up with me. During that summer I cut my long hair to my shoulders.
October 31, 2014 is the day I told my mom I was transgender, I thought my stepdad was the only problem, I thought she would accept me, I was SO wrong. She screamed at me, told me she would never accept me, looked me in the eyes and said I will NEVER be her son and then told my stepdad. They didn't take away the wifi, but I wished they did. I was no longer allowed to go to friends’ houses or even have a friend in my room with the door closed. They made me get this super girly haircut and made me grow my hair out months at a time.
In the summer of 2014 when they went on vacation I cut my hair short.  It was my first boy haircut. High school had started and I decided to come out as trans. And even though most people didn't care or accepted me, it felt good not to hide anymore.  In 9th grade I fell in love for the first time with a girl. She was a senior while I was a freshman. We were both in band and she lived close to me, my parents didn't take me to the games so she did. And I would say the games were earlier so I could spend time with her. We never did it, but we made and showed our love in different ways. After about 4 months I ended it because I knew in the end she would pick her boyfriend over me.
In April of 2014, I made a transgender page on Facebook and to this day it has 53K likes and I post every day and it is just not helping educate others, it has helped me.  It opened my mind that there are more than two genders. Most of all it made me know that I am not alone….
Every day I go to school I'm forced to use the girls bathroom were people look at me like I don't belong but the school would never let me use the boys.
Sometimes I sit and think it would have been truly better if i never came out, more friends, more freedom, less hate from family and strangers. Teachers don't even try to use male pronouns on me because it causes problems in class. Why are you calling HER a him? Don't you know SHE is a GIRL?  I've been publicly humiliated in class twice for being transgender, once in 9th grade my boxers were showing and one kid was loudly talking about how gross I was and it started a verbal war --"Wait are you a boy or a girl? Yeah that is weird/gross/ disgusting. So does that mean you have a weiner?" That's when I walked out of class.
Then in 10th grade my class was talking about how wrong and gross it was to be transgender and when the teacher asked what everyone was talking about, someone pretended to throw up in his mouth.  I sat at my desk trying not to cry.
People don't bully me any more. I'm just labeled as the freak now a days, and I'm okay with that. Sure, no one talks to me at school except for my best friend, but at least I don't get bullied anymore.  Now I'm a Junior in high school, everyone still calls me female pronouns, but I'm used to it.
In 8 months I will be moving out because I will be 18 and free. I can move out of this house, live with my supportive grandparents and start male hormones. Spending my senior year hopefully getting breast surgery, male hormones, name change and gender change. So when I go to college no one will know I am a girl, no one will call me she, they will just know me as Ash, not what's in my pants, or that I lived the first 12 years of my life as a girl. Just a normal person—what I've always wanted.  
Transgender kids deserve what every kid deserves--to be treated with respect.  Being safe in their own schools seems like a good place to start.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Sexual Abuse and Pornography: My Name is Adam

Sexual abuse of minors is in the news regularly but only gets headlines when it involves large numbers of abused and abusers over many years as in the Catholic Church, or the Boy Scouts, or orphanages and schools in Australia or Ireland, or public schools in general or the New England boarding schools in particular.  Most of the interest seems to be on the institutions (their negligence and their silence) and the abusers (how did they get away with it so long and what will happen to them, if anything or is it too late because of statutes of limitation) but not much attention is paid to the abused victims and what they suffered at the hands of their perpetrators.
 
One crime involving sexual abuse of minors is not talked about very much—child pornography.  The back pages report that “John Doe, a teacher at Lost Children Primary School, was arrested at the school today and charged with multiple counts of possession of child pornography.  An investigation of his computer revealed 731 images of child porn.  The school reported that happily none of the victims so far identified were students at their school.”  There is nothing said or reported about the victims who, after all, are just digital images.  They are not real so our concern about them is not real either.

I counsel teens.  One of the teens I am currently working with was a victim of sexual assault starting when he was 10 years old.  From age 11 onward he was kept as a virtual prisoner by his family until he reached puberty and was no longer useful in porn for pedophiles.  During the long years he was a victim of pornographers he kept his sanity and his humanity from the daily degradation of his life by writing in a journal.  He has sent me pages from that journal and what he sent me a few days ago was difficult to read without wiping the tears from my eyes.  His graphic writing demonstrates the struggle of the human spirit against evil personified.  Pornography is not just illegal, it is an assault on the victim’s humanity, it destroys what is essential in being human, it kills the human spirit.  

This young man’s ordeal ended when he was 15 after four years of hell.  He is a survivor and in the past three years he has been healing.  He is a remarkable young man.  Here is his story, written when he was 12 or 13, in his words:

My name is Adam*.  I see men, big men, their faces hidden by shiny black leather, men in a circle, men without clothes. I can’t look up, I don't want to see. I look down, I'm so relieved, I have my pants on.  Maybe its ok.
  
In a mirror on the wall I see a boy, a small thin boy, standing on a low table surrounded by naked animals, circling like a pack intent on the kill. I look into his eyes. I see the fear and confusion. I see the hands like the claws of some crazed animal, tearing at what clothes I have left, pulling clothes, tearing clothes.  Now I'm naked before them all.  The hands, so many hands, touching, pulling, prying.  Inside I'm dying.  The hands are pulling me down.

They are above me now, filthy black faces with mouths that will touch the filthiest places.  My body betrays me like everything else—mumbled comments about size and beauty, about how he seems to really enjoy this.  At the edge of what’s left of my mind is a flashing light… flashing… flashing…  getting closer and farther way.  It’s very close now and I can see it’s my uncle with his camera…  snap!... a part of my soul taken away… snap!... a moment of my pain captured forever… snap!... my shame preserved for all time… my face frozen in time… the lights are bright… I am so hot.

They are smothering me now, sweating huge bodies, rolling and thrusting, my body like a leaf in a storm.  I scream out in pain… snap!... gotta get that one!... how many of you were there?  I was too scared to count. I marked time by times of intense pain followed by minutes of relief as the next one stepped up. 

They are holding me up now.  I can’t even hold myself up.  I am gagging, choking.  They are on me, they are in me.  I am not there anymore.  I am a shell with nothing inside.  I don't know who you were.  I don't know about your lives.  Your black hoods made you invisible to me. 

Why didn't I get a hood?  Did you need to see who I was?  Did you need to see my face?  Did you want to see yourself in my pain?  Did you want to know this boy?  Was I more than just an object?  Was I everything you could never be?  Did it make it better to see how innocent I was?  Was the innocence part of it? 

I know I'll never know your names, but I want you to know mine—my name is Adam*.
__________ 

*I proposed using an alias but Adam said, as his last line indicated, that to all the perpetrators of this evil, which includes anyone that saw the pictures, he wants them to know that he is a person by the name of Adam.  That is not his birth name, it is the name he has chosen for himself for his new life as a survivor.