do it scared

"You raised your son, black and autistic, in a time when autism was pretty new and ..." I paused. She waited. "Well, how did you do it without being scared all the time?"

She looked at me with compassion, set her hand on mine, and said, "I did it scared. Every day, whenever someone leaves the house, we pray together, because we know it might be the last time."

This older, wiser black friend's words spoke both truth and heartbreak to my soul that morning. Through tears I told her, "It's just so hard." She nodded. We hugged. I went home and cried some more.

when you are
no longer surprised
that your black son –
only seven years old –
is labeled thug
(the modern-day replacement
for yesteryear’s “nigger”)
for the same behavior
that your white son –
also seven years old –
isn’t criticized for,
because he’s just
being a boy
after all

you are reminded
that the privilege
of being a boy
is part of white privilege too

I grew up the daughter of a Vietnam veteran who returned from the war to devote his career to law enforcement, first in Georgia and then in Florida. I knew how families like ours then prayed for protection for their loved ones, whose lives were at risk for the uniforms they chose, the blue ones they wear every shift.

I didn't know, not until much later, how families like ours now pray for protection for their loved ones, whose lives are at risk for nothing they chose, just the beautiful dark skin they wear every moment of every day.

I still only know any of that to a degree, because when I step out in the world, I'm wearing white skin.

I am white

I might be
raising children
who are not

but the reality remains that
I am white

I am a better mom
when I stay in my lane
and listen well
to those who have lived
in my children’s skins
because they are the experts

I am mom
but I am still white
and my whiteness
means I can love
their blackness
but not that I can
fully relate to
the experience
of living in skin
that is anything but

Jordan Edwards died this past weekend. Alton Sterling's murderers will not be charged for their crimes, the news just reported. Walter Scott's killer told the truth in court today, which was a spot of bright news except that murder charges were replaced with one federal charge of deprivation of rights under the color of law. 

The hashtags keep coming. So does the injustice. 

Lord, have mercy.

my beautiful black babies
your skin, hair, lips, noses
are priceless adornments
to your invaluable souls

if the world tells you otherwise
(and they will)
they are the liars

you are the light
and their eyes
are too damn weak
to see all of your radiance

and you
you matter
your beautiful black lives matter
no matter what lies
the world whispers

White friends, please. Listen. Learn. Feel. Break your silence. 

Declare with us that this. is. not. okay.

Yes, praying together before leaving home seems like a quaint and admirable practice. But when black families institute this practice because they know any one of them could be a hashtag, white neighbors need to pay attention and then act.

And if you're worried you'll do it wrong, follow the model of my wise black girlfriend and do it scared. (I promise, your fear is nothing compared to hers.)

I am NOT the problem when I point out a problem

“Excuse me, sir,” I interrupted, doing both of my least favorite activities: talking to strangers and bothering anyone for help. “Can you point us to the wheelchair accessible entrance?”

“Um, well, I don’t think… um, let me, um, check… I, um, just don’t, um, know…” he stammered as he picked up his walkie talkie. I stepped back a bit, knowing I probably didn’t want to hear whatever he was saying to the other person.

After a wait – short yet long enough for my children to lose any chill they had – a man escorted us all around the building to a doorway next to the dumpsters, where he had to move a table blocking the only ramp so we could enter the Chinese New Year celebration. I smiled and thanked him. I knew I would make the kids angsty if I showed my real emotions, plus it wasn’t that poor guy’s fault. But make no mistake: I was both blinking back tears and desperately wanting to tell someone off.

We enjoyed the event, and we’re used to this. But it stings a little each time.

When I pointed out the lack of accessible entrance, was I the problem? Was that divisive? Did I undermine the unity of this cultural event? No. That’s obvious, right?

The problem was that we couldn’t get inside. The problem was the lack of a ramp. The problem was all the barriers to Zoe and me – her in a wheelchair and me with a cane – being full participants in an event for which we already had tickets.

I was not the problem. I simply pointed out the problem.

Like a thermometer measures temperature, I measured the situation at hand. Like a weatherman uses observation to forecast the chance of precipitation, I did the same to judge the chance that Zoe and I could enter the space. Like a windsock shows the direction of the breeze, I showed the event staff the absence of accessibility.

The thermometer does not make a fever. The weatherman does not summon the storm. The windsock does not direct the gusts. I did not position the ramp or block the door.

The thermometer, the weatherman, and the windsock simply reveal what’s already happening. So did I.

So it is with those speaking out about police brutality. So it is with those tweeting #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear or #ThingsOnlyBLACKChristianWomenHear or #ThingsOnlyChristianWOCHear or #disabilityinchurch. So it is when any of us is brave enough to say “this hurt me.” So it is when we reveal effects of abuse, only to be called wolves for it.

When we reveal what’s already happening, we do not divide. We do not create disunity. We are not the problems.

We are simply pointing them all out.

Once upon a time, the Pharisees took issue with Jesus healing the sick on the Sabbath, saying “aha!” to any violation of the letter of the law as they interpreted it. Meanwhile, Jesus – the author of the law – modeled that the spirit of the law trumped the gnat strainers. He healed the man, pointed to the problem, and challenged those who cried foul.

You can nit pick all you want. That’s your choice. You can emulate the Pharisees if that’s your thing.

I’m going to choose to follow the example of Christ. I’m going to do the work of healing, which begins with a naming and acknowledgment of the hurts. I’m going to pay attention because I know God doesn’t plug his ears and sing lalalalalalalala in response to the cry of the needy. I won’t ignore the walls and unbiblical structures and unjust realities, even the ones that don’t hold me back personally. I’m going to declare that if our gospel isn’t good news for everyone, then it’s not really the gospel.

Basically, I’m going to love my neighbor, for the good of all and the glory of God.

How about you?

the opposite of chaos

I've never liked silence.

I've never liked stillness.

I've never liked staying.

“You need to learn to be comfortable with the ordinary,” my therapist said. “You’re addicted to chaos.” As much as I hated to admit it, she was right.

I think you’re a little addicted to chaos too. How do I know? Because we all are. We’re all rushing and looking and longing for the next thing, refreshing our social media feeds for new posts, checking the news to see what scandal deserves today’s outrage.

I used to think the opposite of chaos was calm. As I write this, I’m sitting at my desk on Easter Saturday, surrounded by messes of papers to be sorted, looking out upon a backyard that needs to be mowed, seeing in front of the windows a Christmas tree that’s still up, hearing small noises of our many pets (currently two dogs, one cat, a chinchilla, and a bearded dragon), and waiting for my husband and six children to return from a camping trip that I couldn’t join because I’m recovering from a major knee surgery. If calm is the opposite of chaos, I’m doomed.

Thankfully, the opposite of chaos isn’t calm; it’s being centered. When the cacophony of chaos clamors all around and coaxes us to join in the noise, being able to reject that call used to feel impossible. I didn’t bother. Lean in was my motto. Join the chaos. Shout for your voice to be heard. Light more fires, bang more drums, get yo’self a megaphone and rain down snark and sarcasm and all the other currencies of an uncentered world.

I’m an extrovert, obviously. One of my dearest friends – as introverted as I am extroverted - feels none of the draw I described above. But still, the chaos beckons her to draw closer, with demands to say yes when she wants to say no and to say no when she needs to say yes. It lures her to define herself in terms of others, rather than being centered in her own unique calling despite feeling like it – and she – is not enough.

I’ve considered myself to be centered for most of my life. But I never, not until recently, understood what it meant to be steady at the core of who I am. My core terrified me. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to examine that. I put it in a box and wrapped it up with pretty paper and a tidy bow, scared to let anyone – including myself – know what was inside.

“Can you recommend a therapist?” I found myself texting my friend Sam a year and a half ago. Half out of confusion about what I felt inside me and half out of fear that I would never recover from my bestie’s suicide six months earlier, I knew I needed to find words for the chaos in my soul. I didn’t know if therapy would help, but I figured it couldn’t hurt.

I wanted a quick oil change and go on your way sort of fix. I walked out of the intake session realizing we needed to take apart the whole damn car and rebuild her. Actually, it’s more accurate to say that the car was on fumes, leaving a trail of parts behind, battered and off balance and dented all over, and barely yet miraculously still avoiding the scrapyard. Therapy didn’t break me; I showed up barely holding anything together.

Brene Brown describes her first appointment with a therapist after her breakdown/spiritual awakening of 2005 in her book The Gifts of Imperfection. (Side note: this is a must read. Seriously.) Her therapist started with “so what’s going on?" Brene shared the reason she was there and followed with, “Some specific tips and tools would be helpful. Nothing deep. No childhood crap or anything.” 

That was me. I was going to therapy because I knew something was off with me. I figured it was all the change in recent years: a few recent deaths. friends who abandoned us because of HIV. the adoption of a sibling group of three in 2013. the diagnosis of epilepsy for one of our children less than a year prior. our first adoption in 2012. births in 2009 and 2007, with chronic disabling illnesses diagnosed for me in 2008. all the growing up that brought for me and my husband, having met with young love at 18 and married at newly 23. I wanted to talk through all of that. Nothing deep. No childhood crap or anything.

I tease my therapist now that she clearly hasn’t addressed the life change issues I came there to sort out. Instead, since I met her, more has changed than stayed the same. I set healthy boundaries with some loved ones that they rejected, and now we’ve been estranged for more than a year. I drew closer to another family member as she decided to join me in not allowing abuse - worse in our childhood but continued through adulthood - to continue unchecked. We changed churches. I ventured into political writing I thought no one would read, yet my pro-life piece about the 2016 election has been read by more than a million people now. I became the subject of news stories instead of the writer. I found myself kicked out of my old familiar Christian spaces for being too liberal (and this was before I voiced my affirmation of the LGBTQ+ community), and I lost my job. I got some piercing and tattoos and a new haircut. I had a major knee surgery.

Some judged all this new change as new chaos. That wasn’t it, though. Having lived life uncentered for so long and tossed about by chaos, stepping back into who I am and what really matters – the very acts of centering, as I finally unwrapped the core of myself I’d kept hidden so long – brought definite changes. Those changes, though, were the result of stripping away chaos’s shame and dressing myself in healthy vulnerability.

I know this re-centering in Christ has disappointed some people. They were comfortable with my contortion to fit the chaos. Having only met that side of me, when I unfurled my origami girl self, they experienced my new shape and size and voice as a personal loss. I have no plans to change to fit back in their boxes of who they imagined me to be, but I get that it can be hard to see someone else change from who you thought they were. If that’s where you stand, I won’t apologize for letting you down because that would have required letting myself down and rejecting God’s calling for my life; I will, however, say your feelings are valid. Whether or not I share those emotions, I acknowledge that am different outwardly than I used to be, so I hope you give yourself permission to feel whatever you need to feel as you decide if the value of our relationship to you is conditional on my remaining in the chaos place. I'm not going back, so the choice is yours.

When I lived in the throes of chaos, I was chasing after Jesus and feeling like he would round the corner just as I was getting close. When I stepped away, I realized I was pursuing an idol of Christ fabricated by what my friend Jen Hatmaker recently called “the Christian machine.” While the false god of American Christianity drew me deeper into unrest, the true God embraced me with real rest as I centered myself in him.

I’m staying here.

I’m savoring stillness.

I’m lulled into peace with silence.

And I’m praying you’ll find your center someday soon, if you haven’t already.

Pastor dude, I'm not your victim

I’m not your fucking victim.

That’s what I wanted to reply to a pastor on Twitter yesterday. In a conversation about women’s ministry events, he started replying to tweets to tell the women in the discussion that we were wrong. I tried to be firm but gentle in my response to him. Everything was civil. 


And then he tweeted this to me specifically, in response to my tweet above:

I knew it wasn’t healthy to want to reach through the computer to tear someone’s head off, so I reached out to three friends from the conversation. They helped me find center again. But, still, as I read this guy's tweets, I’d mutter to myself, I’m not your fucking victim.

I didn’t reply with that. I knew any credibility I had would be shot if I lost my cool. I valued the overall discussion - one of women sharing their experiences and encouraging each other and even disagreeing at times without being disagreeable - too much to be the one who started dropping f bombs left and right. I stepped back from the conversation for a bit when I realized I was past the point of being kind. By the time I came back, he had begun deleting his tweets, with all of them gone now. 

I won’t lie: I’ve been a victim. I’ve been violated and beaten and bruised. I’m not alone in this. When I read that pastor’s words, my visceral reaction to the word victim was about so much more than his mansplaining. I couldn’t help but remember my past, which intrudes into my present in the form of PTSD symptoms, specifically nightmares and flashbacks. In those events, I was a victim. In a Twitter conversation in which I'm expressing that someone's tweets feel dismissive and unhelpful? That's using my voice and sharing my thoughts. No victimhood in sight there.

When a man enters a space filled with women, refuses to listen, tell us that we’re wrong and also too emotional, and then acts like we’re mean for ganging up on him when we say “no, sir,” that’s not okay.  I find myself both shocked at the blatant disregard for women’s views and not shocked at all because this is so common. I joked to one friend that I think he won sexist bingo in brandishing so many significant examples in his series of tweets. 

We women have opinions aplenty. We want to share our experiences and give voice to our stories. We don’t want to be your victim, be it in the literal sense or the snarky one. If you regard us as sisters, then this is not the way to treat us. Instead, listen and learn and ask and engage with curiosity rather than defensiveness.   

We aren’t your victims. We aren’t playing. We are simply sharing our lives, and you’re not listening. It’s easier to dismiss a woman as an emotional wreck playing the victim, but that’s neither honest nor compassionate. It certainly isn’t loving us as Christ first loved you.

What is it that I’d like you to take away from this post? It’s simple, really. Accusing someone else of acting like a victim, pulling the victim card, or playing the victim is never helpful. Never. Please, don’t do that. Ever. 

Statistically speaking, a lot of women (and men) have been actual victims. While we aren’t a monolithic group, I think it is fair to say one thing: none of us chose to be victims. The crimes of humanity committed against us gave us wounds to nurse not cards to play. Many of us will transition from victim to survivor but not all of us make it. Being a victim can be fatal, directly – by the abuse itself – or indirectly – via addiction or disordered eating or suicide, for example. We don't all survive, sadly. 

As I write and speak about my experiences as a survivor of abuse and rape, people often ask how they (or their church or organization) can better support victims. I have plenty of suggestions, but this one is basic: Don’t use the word victim as a punchline or insult. When you do, you might as well be plugging in a neon sign declaring “not a safe place.”

Victimhood is not an act. It’s not a card to play. It’s not a rhetorical fallback.

Dismissing or mocking victimhood is a conversation-ender that leads to distrust and thoughts like I’m not your fucking victim.

Because I’m not. And neither is anyone else. Women aren’t playing your victim when they disagree with you. You’re just being an ass when you insist they are.

loving and affirming our transgender neighbors

My heart has been pained lately.

I live in North Carolina. I’ve tried to stay quiet because I have dearly loved friends who support HB2 and dearly loved friends who have been hurt by it. I have some who think HB 142 is too much, some who think it’s too little, and some who have given no thought to it at all. (If you’re one of those, saying “What’s HB 142?” I think this take is helpful and accurate.) I love the opportunities I have to speak into multiple settings and spheres within the church about what it looks like to love families like ours, those affected by mental illness, childhood trauma, and adoption or foster care. I’ve wrestled with God and with wise friends about wanting to stay silent so I don’t get disinvited from places and tables where I used to be welcome.

But I can’t be silent anymore.

(I know my privilege was the only reason that I could be silent in the first place. That was wrong, and I am sorry.)

So what changed? I met a boy.

No, this isn’t a love story. I met a young boy who was identified at birth as a girl. This vibrant beautiful boy offered the reminder I needed. When we talk about transgender identity, we are not discussing an issue. We’re discussing people. When we get to know people instead of just talking about them as one dimensional, that’s where empathy is born, whether we share much or little in common.

Empathy alone didn’t define my views here, but it provided perspective and a solid starting place. Now, take it or leave it, here are my thoughts on gender differences, on HB2/142, on potential bathroom assaults, on changing rooms and school locker rooms, and on why all this matters. I’m not trying to persuade anyone here. I’m merely sharing what's been on my mind for quite some time. (Like my last hot button post, this one is a long one, so take a seat, grab a cup of your preferred beverage, and let’s have at it!)

On God’s word, creation, and gender differences

I became curious about gender diversity long before I met that sweet boy, though, whose identity I’m protecting by not sharing any details. I have an MAEd in special education and a few kids with disabilities, so people often reach out to me with special needs adoption questions. When you get known for that, people ask anything. I was assumed to know a basics of any category of special need. Because I’m a people pleaser and because I’m a research nerd, I’d search for answers or resources if I had none.

Then, from prospective adoptive parents considering China’s programs, I started getting questions about an area with which I had zero experience: ambiguous genitalia. I began researching, starting with medical journals. I sought first person experiences, but I didn’t find as many as I hoped. I wasn’t naïve to the realities of gender diversity, but I never had to think of it much before then, just like most people don’t think about wheelchair accessibility like our family does because of our youngest child.

After I shared the research I found with these families, I kept learning. I hungered for more information, realizing how ignorant I had been. I listened and read and watched debates, soaking it all in. I asked myself, “what if this were my child? my best friend? my neighbor?”

And then I realized my life was full of people who I assumed fit the gender binary just because I do. When I brought up this topic I was researching in a nonjudgmental way, because I didn’t know what I thought yet then, stories flowed out of people I thought I had known about their loved ones who were transgender. One friend shared with me her intersex condition, a part of her life that I never would have guessed. Each story told me that I knew non-binary people, but they just hadn’t trusted me before and I hadn’t been seeing them.

In the course of that research, here’s what I learned – from God’s word and creation – when it comes to transgender identity. I believe God created each of us and makes no mistakes.  Impersonally from medical journals and personally from friends who live outside of the binary, I know God knits some of his image bearers in their mothers’ wombs with biological gender ambiguity via a range of intersex conditions. Sometimes this shows up in genetic expression (like XXY or monosomy X instead of XX or XY chromosomal presentation), other times hormonal levels from birth are different than usual so that a person with XX sex chromosomes presents as a boy or vice versa, and still other times babies are born with genitalia that doesn’t fit our binary definitions.

(Side note: Those with certain chromosomal abnormalities, as in Klinefelter and Turner syndromes, aren’t always grouped as intersex because those with the latter are always classified as female and the former male. Regardless of whether we group them in the intersex category or not, though, I think these conditions are relevant to this discussion because chromosomal gender is part of the conversation. Arguments against transgender identity often include insistence that chromosomal gender can only fit in two categories, and that’s simply not true.)

Furthermore, some children’s bodies are surgically altered without clarity, with lasting pain for some, and prior to an age of consent. Thankfully, now that medical professionals know better, they are making better recommendations, but this is still a problem. If we want to talk about child abuse in this gender identity debate, focusing on this issue would be more logical than on mythical bathroom horrors.

Takeaway: In God’s creation, we see multiple evidences of non-binary gender presentations apart from our usual biological, chromosomal, or anatomical definitions. In other words, the argument “but God made us male and female” isn’t a universal truth.

In the Bible, we don’t see the word intersex but we do hear about natural-born eunuchs. Eunuchs were men who had been castrated, men who had been born with genital differences, or men who chose celibacy. In Matthew 19, in the context of talking about marriage and divorce, Jesus says,

For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.

When it comes to eunuchs who were made eunuchs by others or by congenital physical differences, we find a gem of a verse we don’t quote much in church, Deuteronomy 23:1:

No one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

Seems like eunuchs were kept out of churches in the Old Testament, huh? Not exactly. In Isaiah 56,

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,

    “The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;

and do not let the eunuch say,

    “I am just a dry tree.”

For thus says the Lord:

To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,

    who choose the things that please me

    and hold fast my covenant,

I will give, in my house and within my walls,

    a monument and a name

    better than sons and daughters;

I will give them an everlasting name

    that shall not be cut off.

In this passage, eunuchs are more than welcome. God bestows upon them an everlasting name that shall not be severed from them. This affirmation is echoed in two distinct places in the New Testament. First, Galatians 3:28

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Then God doubles down on this affirmation with Philip’s encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch, found in Acts 8:26-40. First, the Lord directs Philip down a wilderness road with no reason first. Along the way, he comes across a chariot in which an Ethiopian eunuch is reading Isaiah, and the Spirit prompts Philip to join him. There, beginning a few chapters before the Isaiah passage I quoted above, Philip proceeded to share the good news of Christ with this man. And then verse 36, my favorite in the whole passage,

As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

There the eunuch, belonging to a group once barred from the assembly of the Lord, was baptized by Philip. Once the baptism was complete, Philip’s work was done. God had sent him down that wilderness road for this divine appointment, not to seek out those already welcome but to instead meet with a marginalized man so that they might become brothers in Christ.

Takeaway: In God’s word, we see indication that his people discriminated against those outside of the male/female gender binary, but God through the prophet Isaiah made clear that this was not right. Then much later God orchestrated an encounter between Philip and an Ethiopian eunuch so that the man with the gender difference could become a child of God.

(I'm sure some of you are thinking, "but what about Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 5:2 that speak of God creating us male and female?" That's totally true. God did create Adam and Eve male and female. That doesn't mean every human he created fits that binary. "And what about when Jesus talks about people being created male and female in Mark 10?" Again, that's true. But he's talking about a husband and a wife in that context. In all three of these passages, the gender binary is descriptive rather than prescriptive. "And how about Deuteronomy 22:5 and 1 Corinthians 11:14-15?" First, crossdressing and transgender identity aren't the same thing. The first is dressing up like another gender; the latter is being another gender. But second and more importantly, those passages are about behavior not identity, and they're entrenched in cultural norms rather than presented as absolutes. As such, none of these usually used verses work to classify transgender identity as sinful or wrong. 

Given these biblical and biological realities, I can’t adhere to a belief that says God only creates us all as male or female. I don’t buy the rationale presenting the rarity of intersex conditions to mean we can ignore that diversity in God’s creation. In rhetoric and persuasion classes, we teach that disproving an always statement only requires one exception; in this case, it’s more than that, as intersex conditions – if you include chromosomal abnormalities – are present in approximately 1 in 100 births. We’re not simply talking about one exception. Using the CDC figure that roughly 4 million babies are born in our country each year, that means about 40,000 babies were born with gender-related differences in chromosomes or anatomy last year.

In other words, these conditions are rare but not so rare that they’re irrelevant to the conversation. For example, intersex conditions and atypical sex chromosomal presentation are nearly seven times more common than Down syndrome (which occurs in 1 in 691 births in the US). For obvious reasons – including stigma – those affected by intersex conditions don’t talk about them as openly as those affected by Down syndrome do, but these realities aren’t as rare as most discussions make them out to be.

I talked about this recently with that friend who I didn’t know was intersex until a few years ago. I asked her why she thought they were left out of the conversation so often.

“People talk about intersex conditions like we’re unicorns,” my friend quipped. “I’m real. But I’m not going to out myself to prove that because the discussions on this topic are ugly. I can’t go there, not yet.”

On top of bodily and biological differences, what about the brain? Professionally and personally, I know a great deal about the diversity in neurological expressions of identity. In my own family, for example, we see that with autism and childhood trauma. (And, lest you frame either as wholly negative, I see benefits to each. In other words, I reject an ableist mentality that says neurodiversity in disability can’t create amazingly positive outcomes outside of the realm of typical.) We know our brains aren’t all the same. Why can’t we also leave room for the brain-based gender expression of some of our friends to differ from their traditional biological or anatomical presentation at birth?

In summary, I don’t see sound biblical, scientific, or rational logic that can justify telling any trans or intersex person that they’re wrong. I see others who share my faith confidently standing against transgender identity, and I won’t join them. I see individuals who don’t fit our binary gender definitions being marginalized without any sound justification, and I’ll stand on the margins with them in love.

On HB2/HB142

So now let’s come back to HB2. That law stripped localities from the ability to provide more anti-discrimination protections than offered by the state, but it’s mostly known as the bathroom bill. It stated that people using public bathrooms had to use the facility matching the gender stated on their birth certifications. Our then governor – Pat McCrory – said it was no big deal because trans people could just have that document changed. Either he was mistaken or intentionally lying, because it’s not that simple. Across the full range of gender difference – from intersex conditions to transgender identity – birth certificates don’t always match the person’s expressed gender. Simply changing the birth certificate isn’t an option for everyone, though, as NC law only permits such a change if sex reassignment surgery has been completed.

Gender identity isn’t based in anatomy, though. Consider, for example, how you know you’re a boy or a girl. When I asked my own children that question, they – ages 5 to 10 – each spoke first about how they felt and not what they see in their underwear or what combination of chromosomes appear in their 23rd pair. That’s exactly how my transgender friends describe their identity, based in the brain and not the rest of their body. As such, surgery – while chosen by some – isn’t necessary. When I was in middle school, my mom endured health issues leading to a hysterectomy and hormone supplementation. It would be an understatement to say that process was hard on her body. Likewise, even those who would prefer a surgical approach might choose not to do so, preferring to accept their present bodies rather than enduring the procedures involved to change them. Furthermore, the hormones and procedures involved can be costly, so economic reasons often influence the decision not to pursue medical interventions. Finally, for youth who identify as transgender or experience gender dysphoria, medical interventions might not be appropriate developmentally.

Under HB2, many of our neighbors who identify as a different gender than indicated on their birth certificates can’t use the bathroom matching their identity. They have to decide to abide by this law and face the social repercussions for doing so (for example, when a transgender man – living in full appearance as a man but whose birth certificate still says female – enters the women’s bathroom, do you expect him to be welcome there?) or break the law and use the bathrooms they’ve been using all along. And if they break the law? This measure has no means for enforcement or policing.   

This bill was introduced, passed, and signed in less than a day, spending $42,000 in taxpayer money on the unnecessary special session. The extraordinarily short time span from introduction to signing meant that few voices spoke into the issues present in the bill. That led to some changes being made in June, but the reality is that everything about HB2 was rushed and reactionary. The Charlotte ordinance was, even as it was passed, expected to be overturned by the state, but no immediate danger required the cost and haste of HB2.

(And most of the negative information shared about what happened in Charlotte proved to be inaccurate once I dug into the bill itself. Here’s a bit of background. When the narrative presented fits the story a little too easily, then it’s helpful to look into it all more deeply.)

This week, news outlets are reporting about the HB2 repeal. You might assume I’m happy about that, given my HB2 concerns. I’m not. This “repeal” – called HB 142 – was similarly hasty, offers no new protections for the LGBTQ+ community, and bans municipalities from creating their own protections until after the next presidential election. Can our trans neighbors use the bathroom of their choosing under HB 142? No one can answer that. It’s murky. We’re back to maybe, maybe not, which is the realm in which we existed before. Given the egregious power grabs by our GOP majority general assembly here in North Carolina, I expect to see less dignity extended from here on, so this seems like the high point under the current legislators.

Looking at HB142, I can’t imagine that businesses who pulled out of the state will be coming back. People might not like decisions like those made thus far by the NCAA, but the precedent is there. They refused to hold pre-selected championship games in South Carolina for 15 years because of the Confederate flag flying over their statehouse. They lifted that ban in 2015 after the state changed course. I hope it doesn’t take 15 years for our state to change, but I have no problem with the NCAA making decisions based on the perceived impact of HB2 and now HB142 on the fans and players drawn to their sites.

On concerns about bathroom assaults

What about the risk of bathroom assaults by those who aren’t transgender, though, and who enter the opposite gender bathroom? First, the population at risk in public bathrooms are transgender men and women. According to a paper out of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 70% of transgender people report being denied access, verbally harassed, or physically assaulted in public restrooms. If you search for bathroom assaults involving transgender individuals, you’ll find they’re the victims, not the perpetrators.

Second, when people offer stories of bathroom assaults against women and children, read them carefully. More often than not, the incidents occur in the absence of any transgender-friendly legislation and without any attempt by the offender to be considered transgender. No one in this debate is denying that bathrooms should be safe places. But pointing at laws allowing transgender individuals to use the bathroom of their choice in certain locations and then pointing to unrelated bathroom incidents (often in other locations where no such laws exist) doesn’t make for a sound argument. That doesn’t even show correlation, much less causation.

Third, if we’re concerned about men entering the bathroom to assault women and girls, then shouldn’t we be concerned about those men assaulting boys in their own bathrooms? The crimes that are real are definitely worth preventing. But as I said on Kristen Howerton’s blog, “Let’s hold accountable those who commit crimes when and if they commit them, instead of asking trans people to sacrifice bathroom safety to pay for crimes that non-trans people might possibly commit someday.

Here’s the reality: Only 10% of child sex assaults are committed by strangers. Meanwhile, 30% are family members and 60% are otherwise known to the child, including neighbors, childcare providers, or church volunteers. So boycotting Target doesn’t add up to me, which is why I wrote the piece quoted above – albeit anonymously because I wasn’t public about my rapes at that time – back in May. I shop at Target without pause. I live with PTSD from sexual assault, yet I’m comfortable using Target’s bathroom and letting my kids do so. Boycotting the store just doesn’t add up to me.

On changing rooms and school locker rooms

What about changing rooms in gyms or school locker rooms? I don’t understand the lack of common sense in most of our rhetoric about this. Why create false dichotomies? Are we really so lacking in creativity that we can only imagine two possibilities: either that every child, regardless of gender identity, needs to change in the locker room matching their biological sex or anatomy or that accommodating gender identity has to involve the exposure of opposite sex genitalia to all kids? Why can’t we figure out a third way?

I agree that I don’t want my girls to see a penis in their middle school locker rooms, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want a transgender girl to be accommodated so she doesn’t have to use the boys’ locker room. (Same goes in reverse for not wanting my boys seeing vaginas but still wanting transgender boys to have a safe place among boys.) The transgender kids I know don’t want to be exposed to their classmates either, so I think this is much ado about nothing. I’ve observed situations in which transgender kids are accommodated in dignifying ways while the needs of other students are considered too. Sure, creativity is sometimes needed – especially in facilities that don’t offer much privacy in the first place – but our Creator made us in his image, which means we can be creative too. It’s not impossible, y’all.

And sometimes new facilities will be needed. I see this as a win/win. It’s a win for transgender students to preserve their privacy and allow for their full inclusion in school settings. The pushback here is often that the population served is so statistically small that their needs don’t warrant sweeping changes. But? My daughter Zoe uses a wheelchair, along with 2.2 million other people in the US. In a country of 320 million, wheelchair users account for only 0.68% of our population. In the school aged population, the percentage is even smaller. Yet we still deem her and others in her situation as worthy of the accommodations necessary to use public facilities. Back before laws were passed in favor of such accommodations, some argued that they were too hard and too much for such a small group. We’ve made progress with those attitudes, thankfully, and that gives me hope that we can make progress here too. If she can be accommodated in public restrooms, why can't trans people?

(Also, if you heard the hyperbole about the gender unicorn being used in student instruction and the rule that teachers in Charlotte can’t refer to boys and girls, you might want to fact check that. When I did, I found several sources – like this one – offering a more balanced perspective.)

On why this matters

Why does this issue even matter? Because transgender people are people. I’m a person. My husband is a person. My children are people. All of us are valued in God’s eyes, even when the world – or the church – fails to show the same.

I’ve heard detractors say all these bathroom laws are much ado about nothing, because nothing was stopping anyone from using whichever bathroom they chose before. My answer to that each time was, “do you have any transgender friends?” Because I do, and those relationships have taught me that they weren’t welcome to use any bathroom before. They each share stories of real experienced rejection or even violence in attempting to simply use the restroom. These laws weren’t birthed out of a desire to drive forth an agenda rather than solve a real dilemma.

Here’s the reality: People who don’t fit traditional gender norms face discrimination. If you haven’t seen it or experienced it yourself, that doesn’t make any of it less real. But an accommodating culture can make a difference. Among transgender youth, a recent study in Canada showed that rates of suicide consideration or attempts were significantly reduced by social inclusion, protection from bullying and violence, and parental supports.

If I've lost some of my conservative evangelical friends and readers and speaking opportunities by sharing these thoughts, so be it. I can’t stay quiet. This is worth leveraging my privilege and allowing it to take a hit for the sake of those being marginalized. I’ll put my ministry reputation on the line to say this:

You, wherever you fall on the gender spectrum, are loved and worthy and enough. I am so sorry I haven’t said that this clearly before. I am saying it now, and I won’t stop. You are not less than anyone else. You, just as you are, are beautiful and precious.

(Please be clear: I deserve no applause for any of this. None. My stance is human decency. I don’t get a trophy for treating people like people instead of issues. That should be the norm.)

I expect some people to disagree with parts or all of what I’m sharing here, and that’s okay. Like I said in that last post that found me kicked out of some churches and friendships and conferences and roles I cherished, we can all disagree without being disagreeable. I’m sure of it. Many people chose not to last time, but many did and I’m better for having heard their voices.

If you agree with me, I love you. If you don’t agree with me, I love you. If you share this post, I love you. If you write a post about how wrong I am, I love you. If I have to block you for being nasty in your comments, I still can love you. If you write me the sort of threatening messages I usually get after posts like these, I will keep on loving you while I report you to the authorities.

So why is it so hard for us to say “I love you” without adding “but…” to our transgender neighbors?