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Saturday, May 17, 2014

Spirituality: Creating a Religion of One’s Own

I was privileged, as I had mentioned earlier, to have attended a workshop in Birmingham, Alabama recently on the topic of spirituality and psychotherapy. I believe that the path of being transsexual is a profoundly spiritual journey. To the degree that one develops their spiritual life on this journey reflects the enhancement and sense of wellbeing we experience throughout the decision to transition, the transition itself and the quality of life we lead after we transition. Many people assume that once the transition is complete, you have arrived at your journey, but I, like many others recognize the journey continues and we are faced with many challenges. Many of these challenges are the same one faces whether they have been through the transsexual experience or not, but there are still unique situations that will come along. Having a well-developed sense of spirituality will help you to not only weather the storms of life, but will also enhance the pleasure one finds in everyday life as well.
In this article, I would like to begin to share the concepts that Dr. Moore believes will help someone to develop a deeper spiritual life. This is the first installment in a series.
1.     Deepen your formal religion

Many of us have a background of having been raised in a church, synagogue, or Islamic place of worship. It is something that is ingrained in our being and affects us in many profound ways, both positive and in negative ways, depending on the orientation of our faith and in the way a particular denomination of our faith teaches us about God and how we need to behave within our faith. I was fortunate enough to have attended a Southern Baptist church during my adolescence that taught love and tolerance for each other. Other people have experienced and learned that their denomination or church were very legalistic and were condemning, particularly if they were gay or transsexual. 

In my adult life, I experienced this with a United Methodist pastor. Her condemnation led me to leave that church and find a home in the Episcopal Church where I am welcome and made to feel part of the church family. Having found a place where I can formally worship is very important to my spiritual life, though over the years, I have been an episodic attendee. I may attend for a year or so at a time and then find myself not being very active in formal worship. Most recently, I stopped attending due to the death of my father a year and a half ago. I simply did not have the energy to go during that time, which coincided with my work transition. Yet I find that I do better all the way around when I attend on a regular basis. Formal worship keeps you from neglecting your spiritual life. 

The most profound spiritual experience I ever had was when I visited a church my friend Marsha attends in New Jersey. It was the first opportunity I had ever had to stand before my God and worship as I am with others who accepted me as I am. It was also the first time I had ever taken communion as I am and I remember tears running down my cheeks during the whole service. It was something that had been missing and  much needed in my life to move forward on my journey as Lauren. 

2.     Get to know one or more other faith traditions. 

The idea of becoming more familiar with other faith traditions is one that is not often encouraged. Some of us who are more spiritually advanced than I are familiar not only with their own faith, but have deeply explored other faiths as well. 

I have explored Taoism to a certain degree and have read several translations of the Tao Te Ching (Book of Changes), written by Lao Tzu. From that I have learned to be still and allow events to unfold, not wishing them to be anything other than what it is. It teaches acceptance and to live harmoniously with nature and in your culture. These lessons I do not practice faithfully, but having explored this avenue of spirituality has made a positive impact on me at various times of my life.

I have been interested in learning more about Islam. I think because of the acts of terrorists who falsely claim their actions are due to teachings of Islam, as well as the poor treatment of women by Middle Eastern cultures who practice Islam, many westerners have a decidedly negative view of that faith. My opinion is that each of the monotheistic religions has leaders and followers who claim to follow their faith. They pervert the message to use it to spread hatred and condemnation of those who do not adhere to their version of their faith. Knowing that my faith tradition has such people and knowing the truth of my faith, I have felt some sense of the need to learn more about Islam rather than to reject it out of hand without real examination. So perhaps this is another faith that I will learn more about to harvest what it holds that can aid me in my spiritual journey.

3.     Explore secular sources of spiritual insight

When Dr. Moore began to talk about this, it puzzled me about how to go about doing that. One of many ways to do this is through service work. Become involved in activities that serve others who are less fortunate. By doing so, it takes you out of your usual life of thinking of yourself and your needs and puts you in the position of giving to others and being with people who are in service to others. This is particularly true when engaging in a service activity that allows one to interact with the people who are benefitting from your service work directly. The examples that first come to mind are participating in programs like Meals on Wheels, Special Olympics or volunteering at a nursing home or to read to children at the library. Participating in Big Brothers or Big Sisters is another example of secular activities that will deepen your spiritual life and there are countless others.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Pink Essence: Why I Chose to Discontinue My Membership

I was a member of Pink Essence for a number of years and I recently decided to discontinue my membership as did Patty.

There were many benefits that I got from being a member and my decision to end my membership in this community ultimately has to do with a decision that Chloe Prince made to open up Pink Essence access to the World Wide Web.

I have known about this decision for quite a long time and at times worried about what the personal implications for my private life might be. Then again, I have this blog which would throw into question why I might be so concerned about my privacy. After all, I have given a great number of workshops around the eastern U.S. over the past 5 years and I have documented my transition here as well as on Pink Essence.

However, when I decided to write my own blog, I made the decision to be more public. When Ms. Prince made the decision to open Pink Essence up to the internet at large she made a decision that has the potential to harm many people who are not prepared to be potentially discovered by family or employers or by friends. It is a difficult path that we walk and for those who are not ready to deal with being outed at a time when they are just coming to terms with themselves, this is potentially disastrous. When  one considers that we have a rate of over 40% of us who attempt suicide at some point in our lives due to the heavy price we pay for attempting to come to a place of peace with ourselves and the associated losses of families, friends and careers, among other things, perhaps Pink Essence is no longer a safe haven for those who are just coming to terms with themselves.

In my situation, family did discover my presence on Pink Essence and it did recently cost me and Patty some relationships that we held dear. I don't fault Pink Essence for my own losses, but I think someone not as far down the path as I am and who has not worked as hard at self acceptance as I have may not be as emotionally prepared to pay the price that Patty and I just paid by not ending my membership when I first became aware of the new policy opening up Pink Essence to the World Wide Web.

The value of Pink Essence is mostly for new people who are coming to terms with their gender identity. They are also the most vulnerable people on Pink Essence. Having made the decision to open up Pink Essence to the World Wide Web puts the most vulnerable of us at risk.

Unfortunately, I have seen a huge turnover in membership. This is most likely because many of us who have transitioned and accomplished what we set out to accomplish (a successful transition), have no need for what Pink Essence offers. Other people who have successfully transitioned stick around to offer advice on what worked and what didn't on our journey to becoming whole.

I believe that opening up Pink Essence is a huge disadvantage to those who have transitioned and want to live a private life, even if they wish to contribute in a positive way to the lives of others who feel lost and are trying to figure out how to be happy and live a fulfilled life.

It is also a huge disadvantage for those who need a safe and private place to discuss the often painful issues that we face on our way to finding peace and happiness.

I only wish Chloe Prince well, as well as future success. I hope that those who join Pink Essence find what they need on their journey, but I also hope people will be aware of the risks associated with membership on Pink Essence and make a wise decision if the benefits of membership will outweigh the risks involved.

To read an article I wrote about the benefits of belonging to social websites such as Pink Essence that I wrote earlier, please follow this link:

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Transsexual Spirituality (Connecting Body, Mind, Soul and Spirit)

If you are on the path of being a transsexual, it is vital for your holistic sense of wellbeing to recognize that this is necessarily a spiritual journey and to the degree you can develop your spiritual life as you travel this road, you will feel more balanced and have a greater sense of wellbeing as you face the inevitable adversities along the way. It will allow you to become more thankful and have more gratitude for the kindnesses, often unexpected that are extended to you along the way as well on your individual journey.

Developing a rich spiritual life will help you to keep from becoming bitter when those who are supposed to love you and care about you unconditionally, fail to fulfill the love and support you have expected from them. It allows you to forgive them so you can move on and extend them grace if they should come to you and ask for forgiveness so that you will be able to once again have a loving and mutually supportive relationship with them.

If the ones who have hurt you never do attempt to make amends, then you will be able to move forward by creating new supportive and loving relationships with others rather than react by withdrawing from others and becoming bitter, isolating yourself from other caring people in the future who will come into your life.

Last week I attended a two day workshop in Birmingham, Alabama given by Thomas Moore, who has written a number of books on living a spiritual life. His best known book is probably The Care of the Soul and his most recent book on which the workshop was about is entitled Creating a Religion of One's Own. He is a former monk and lived a monastic life for 14 years. He and I both share the belief that psychotherapy is a spiritual practice and that we care for the soul of the patient who chooses to engage in psychotherapy. We believe that the emotional pain that one experiences and leads one to seek help is a spiritual affliction. Dr. Moore's workshop was entitled "Creating a Religion of One's Own".

This workshop had nothing to do with the topic of being transsexual and did not touch on the subject in any way, but there are profound ideas that I found to be very relevant to our spiritual development.

In the next series of articles I will be writing about his concepts and how they can help you live a more spiritually fulfilling life on the journey of living with a transsexual identity. To begin this series, I will leave you with this idea....

"We do not create or choose our lives, but we are destined to follow our paths. It is not predestined. It is about our experiences and what they lead to and it is about the meaning we find in them" - Thomas Moore

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Tuscaloosa (It Sounded Like a Train.....)

Today we arrived in Tuscaloosa. It is very difficult to express what this place means to me as it holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons. It is my spiritual home. I found myself here after being lost for quite a while. It gave me a path to my spiritual identity because what I chose as my career path is a spiritual journey. I have much to say about that, especially after having spent an evening and a morning with Thomas Moore, but I cannot write about this at this at particular time, because of recent events in my life in Virginia and due to the experiences I had upon my return to a place that I dearly love after about 5 or 6 years.

Some of you may recall that in 2011 that an F4 tornado laid a major portion of Tuscaloosa to waste. I had not had the opportunity to revisit here until today.

Patty was not feeling well at all. She and I have been through quite an ordeal this past week and she was not up to going to see the University of Alabama baseball game against Florida as we had planned, but she encouraged me to go anyway. It felt really good to be out in the sun, even though we lost the game 4-3.

When I got back, she was not feeling any better and I went to the pharmacy to get her some medicine and then went to eat dinner at Buffalo Phil's, a hot wings place that I went to when I went to school here.

Before I went to eat, though, I decided to see what happened to where I lived and also to visit where I had buried a very beloved cat named Timothy, who came with me from Virginia and was killed by a dog. Patty and I had talked about going there together, but I had also told her I was sure that that tornado demolished where I had lived. She and I have visited that place together in the past several times. She has been such a loving supportive wife when we have gone together, though this is not a part of my life she experienced personally.

I had been through a tornado personally when I lived in that upstairs apartment and was terrified when it hit the neighborhood before my apartment, skipped over us, and destroyed the next neighborhood on the other side of us in 1991. Trite as it may seem, yes, it does sound just like a train. The Drive By Truckers have a song about that. What people like me don't mention is, that in fact, it sounds like you are lying between the crossties and it passes right over on top you. That is not an exaggeration. It scares the living wits out of you and you will never forget it. You just can't. Even though you wish with everything you can that you could forget it and wonder why you made it through and others didn't.

Though that particular event happened in the dead of the night and I had the sense of foreboding that made me keep the radio on loud that night, and I browbeat my ex-wife to get out of the bed and under the kitchen table. Perhaps it saved our lives, but we won't know that because it skipped directly over us then. It was a very close call and this last time, that whole neighborhood is gone. Thank God I was not there.

I decided that I needed to do this this evening and as I expected, where I had lived was gone without a trace. I was overcome with a sense of grief and took a few moments to collect myself. Though I was prepared intellectually for this for a very long time, in the face of such a massive confrontation that what of my past was no longer there was heart breaking, especially in view of all else I have lost in the last week. I wish I could say I enjoyed my dinner, and on some superficial level I did. The profound sense of loss was overwhelming and it took a few minutes to pull it together and go have dinner. I wish I could say I enjoyed eating at Buffalo Phil’s, a chicken wing place, that evening, but that wouldn’t be truthful.I was just too upset and it was all I could do to keep from crying.

The next day, I took Patty with me to see the destruction and support me in the sense of loss that I felt. I felt waves of grief when I saw what had happened again and knowing that it was only by God's grace that this had not happened to me the night I was living in that apartment. She suggested that I take home a brick from what was left and a piece of wood that was lying there in the ruins. I found the brick lying on the spot where I had lived along with a piece of wood that was weathered and twisted. It means nothing to no one else but it is a symbol of my life there in that spot which does not exist there anymore.
Still, I am glad to be here and have found a reawakening of my spiritual progression after having been feeling like my spiritual life has been on a plateau since my father died a year ago this past Christmastide. I have so much more to write about this and look forward to conveying my experience in spending an evening and a morning with Thomas Moore in Birmingham.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sweet Home Alabama

Here I am with Patty in Birmingham, Alabama. We left for vacation on Wednesday morning and had a really nice drive down. Alabama is probably my most favorite place to be and I really do miss living in Tuscaloosa, where I went to graduate school at the University of Alabama School of Social Work, even after all these years. I haven't been to Alabama in about 5 years, I think.

The occasion of this trip is mixing business with pleasure. I am here with Patty to attend a workshop given by Thomas Moore, who writes of all things spiritual and is giving a workshop on finding spirituality in a secular world. It is an occasion to continue my education for maintaining my licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as visiting well loved places and enjoying things that I miss.

We are in Birmingham until Saturday and then move on to Tuscaloosa. Today we dined at a restaurant in downtown Birmingham called the MIX and enjoyed that. Then we went to the Birmingham Museum of Art where we were treated to some very fine collections of ancient Chinese, Japanese and Korean art from the times of antiquity. They also have a wonderful collection of Wedgewood china and porcelain.

After that, we returned to the room to rest a bit and then went on to Bessemer for dinner at the Bright Star. Anyone who is travelling through the area and is looking for a fine dining experience with down home hospitality should make it a point to visit the Bright Star for dinner.

Their specialty is southern cuisine with a Greek spin to it. We enjoyed fried green tomatoes with shrimp and salsa and a hollandaise sauce, shrimp and crab gumbo for appetizers and I had red snapper prepared in a greek style, a greek salad, shrimp and crab au gratin and eggplant.

One of the owners came by to visit and I told him that it had been a much overdue visit since the last time we had been to the Bright Star, about 10 years and that we had made it a point to come on our vacation. He was so touched that after we were done with our meal and had paid our tab, our waiter asked us to wait because the owner had something for us. He said that the owner had said that our comments touched him and had made his evening! We were served with coconut cream pie and their special peanut butter pie. It's the small kindnesses such as this which makes me miss it here so much. What a wonderful way to end our day!

Tomorrow, we plan to go visit the 16th Street Baptist Church, which was bombed in 1963, killing three little African American girls during the darkest time of racial hatred against African Americans in our country. It is my intention to go and pray for them and for bigotry and hatred to be driven from our society in what ever form it may take. We have come a long way, but we have so far to go as it takes so many forms against so many people for too many reasons, none of which can be tolerated.

After, that I hope we can have time to visit the Birmingham Zoo as they have a wonderful elephant exhibit and are one of the leaders in helping to find ways of preserving wild elephants in their natural habitat. We also hope to have time to go see the statue of Vulcan, the Roman god of Fire, who symbolizes Birmingham's history of manufacturing iron and steel.

Saturday afternoon, after the second half of the workshop, we head on to Tuscaloosa, where we plan to see a University of Alabama baseball game.

On Monday, I have an interview with the Dean of the School of Social Work to explore the possibility to return to teach there.

Of course there are some favorite places to see and places to eat, especially the Waysider for breakfast, Buffalo Phils for Buffalo Wings, and then the other two dining highlights, Dreamland who have the best BBQ ribs anywhere and the Cyprus Inn overlooking the Black Warrior River.

It should be a delightful time for us both!