Hopefully, none of you will be disappointed to find that this post isn’t about a picnic or a trip to the mall. Instead, it’s about my decision to once more tell my story.
As I mentioned on my About Abby page, A Course in Miracles has been an important part of my spiritual life for more than 11 years now. In fact, without the things I have learned through the Course, I would never have had the courage to accept the truth of who I am and become the woman I am today. Thus, I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Course.
I first came to the Course through a woman I began dating in August 1996. Linda had been a student of the Course for several years and we discussed it briefly several times while we were together. At one point, we read the Preface, which describes how the Course came to be and the major lessons it teaches. What I read spoke to a deep place within me but the study group that Linda had been part of had disbanded and I didn’t know how else to begin, so I didn’t pursue it further. In January 1997, however, Linda ended our relationship. By then, I had lived in Prescott for almost two years. During that time, I had noticed an announcement of a weekly Course in Miracles study group in the “community calendar” feature in the local newspaper. Having lost the relationship that I had been clinging to for support and companionship, I was angry and hurt and felt myself sinking further into the depression that has been a part of my life since I was very, very young. Fortunately, by that time, I had learned that I didn’t have to live in misery. I also knew, however, that I had to find something besides the twelve-step meetings, therapy and breathwork sessions that I was already doing, to keep me afloat. In that moment of pain and desperation, I turned to the Course.
My first step was to call the number in the newspaper for the study group I had read about. George, who hosted the group, encouraged me to come to the next meeting and told me where I could buy the Course. (The Course consists of three books – the Text, the Workbook for Students and the Manual for Teachers.) That same day, I went to Lifeways book store, bought the Course, and also A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles“ by Marianne Williamson, an author with whom I was already familiar through one of her books of prayers. Other than re-reading the Preface, I didn’t plunge into the Course itself right away. I did, however, read A Return to Love over the next few days. The following Monday, I appeared at George’s house for my first study group meeting.
I continued to go to that group every week for more than two years. Through that group and what soon became my daily study and meditation, the Course quickly became a refuge and source of peace and love in my life that continues to this day. At one point, however, I decided that I didn’t need or want to go to that group anymore and told them that, due to a change in my schedule (which was true but could have been avoided), I wouldn’t be attending the group anymore. Their response was to ask what night of the week I could attend. I told them I had no conflicts on Thursday nights and everyone immediately decided to change the group to Thursdays, so that I could continue to attend. I was honored that they would do that for me and accepted that Spirit evidently thought I should keep going, so I did.
In 1999, I moved to Chandler, a suburb of Phoenix (to live with my then fiancée, which was a total disaster, but that’s another blog) and didn’t return to Prescott until 2001. By then, the study group I had attended had disbanded and I didn’t look for another one. I did, however, continue to my daily study of the Course. At one point, through another girlfriend who had been a member of my first study group, I led my own Course study group for about a year. That group disbanded, too, however, when people’s priorities (including my own) changed. Again, my (mostly) daily study continued. Although I occasionally thought about finding another group and even searched an online database of Course study groups for a group in Prescott, I never joined another group, not until August 2007, that is.
After moving to Prescott, one of the other things I had done as part of my recovery from depression and addiction was to attend and eventually join Unity Church of Prescott. When I moved back to Prescott in 2001, I went back to Unity. Several months later, however, I got involved in a relationship and had other things to do on Sunday mornings. *Smile*
(If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with an “outing” or being trans. Just be patient. I’m almost there.)
My story about being trans is a little different than many you hear in that, although I can look back now and see that I had thoughts about being a girl/woman from an early age, I never thought I was really was one. Instead, I dismissed those thoughts as some strange aberration and, later, as an adult, as simply a fetish. In the late summer of 2005, however, that began to change through a series of events that eventually led me to learn that, strange as it may appear to many people, there is actually a practical way for a “man” to transition to living full-time as a woman and be happy. I also learned and began to accept that my desire to transition wasn’t just some bizarre idea rooted in mental illness. Once I had that “roadmap” of transition, things began to change fairly rapidly. In October 2005, I started on hormones. In May 2006, my then girlfriend, who is still one of my dearest friends, and I broke up due to other issues and because she had no desire to be with a woman. In June 2006, I began electrolysis (still incomplete, unfortunately). I also began seeing a therapist who specialized in dealing with gender issues. In August 2006, I was officially diagnosed with “gender identity disorder, which for me was one of the happiest days of my life, since it told me that I wasn’t crazy and that transition was what I needed (and wanted) to do to be happy. In September 2006, I began to tell friends, and later my family, that I planned to transition to full time. On May 10, 2007, my name was legally changed and, four days later, I began the rest of my life as Abby.
Although I understood why my girlfriend had chosen to end our romantic relationship, it was still very painful for me. Because of that pain and the accompanying loneliness, in August 2006, I started attending Unity of Prescott again. By that time, I was wearing women’s clothes almost exclusively, although I was still trying to appear at least somewhat masculine in public. The day that my name was changed, I finally met with Rev. Tom, the pastor at Unity, and told him of my plans to transition. He wasn’t particularly surprised (by then the changes were obvious and I had become less and less concerned about who noticed). Because of my four-year hiatus in attending Unity, there were only a few people there who really knew me, all of whom I expected would be supportive. Consequently, rather than make some sort of announcement of my transition to the congregation, Rev. Tom told a few people who knew me and provided me with a name tag that said “Abby” instead of [guy name]. The following Sunday, I began attending church as Abby.
As I prepared to transition, one of my hopes was to be accepted as a woman among circles of women. (I talked about this with Lori recently on one of her podcasts.) Unity Church has turned out to be one of the places where that dream has been realized.
The principles of Unity Church and A Course in Miracles share many basic ideas, but the Course is rarely mentioned, at least at Unity of Prescott. In July 2007, however, a retired Unity minister and student of the Course started a study group at the church on Thursday mornings. I wanted to attend that group from the beginning, but I was afraid about whether I would be accepted there, especially since I didn’t feel then (and still don’t) that my voice is very feminine. In August, however, almost exactly one year ago, I overcame my fear and began attending that group. Although men attend from time to time, the group fairly quickly became almost exclusively women. It also became one of those places that I had dreamed of where I am accepted as a woman among women.
When I began attending that group, I expected that, at some point, the fact that I am transgender would become known. (None of the people attending the group had known me before my transition.) At the same time, however, I had no desire to make myself the center of attention or distract the group from discussing the lessons that we were all trying to learn from the Course. So, I waited, expecting that, at some point, the subject of my transition would become relevant to whatever we were discussing and I would mention it as an example of how I have applied the lessons of the Course in my life. That moment never arrived, however. Instead, I felt increasingly constrained about talking about my own life because these women did not know that important part of my story. At one point, I remember thinking about sharing a story about my childhood. However, when I realized that the best way to start the story was to say, “When I was a little boy . . .,” I held my tongue. As I have said before, I didn’t spend the last 13 years of my life trying to find out who I am and what I need to be happy to turn around once I found those answers and hide the truth about who I am and how I got here.
I also realized some time ago that I want the world to know who I am. I am proud of who I am and believe, rightly or wrongly, that sharing my story can help people understand what it means to be trans and that, like them, we are simply striving to find a way to live with peace and dignity. Consequently, the fact that these women, with whom I have become very close, did not know about my journey began to rankle more and more.
I did not, however, keep the fact that I am trans from every member of that group. Last winter, Charmaine, who leads the group, took me up on my offer to have lunch together, so I could tell her how I had learned about the Course and how it had come to have such an impact on my life. After I told her my story, Charmaine said she had suspected I was trans, but didn’t know for sure. Rather than driving us apart, sharing my story has brought us closer together and, I think, led her to respect even more the person I have become. This last spring, I also shared my story privately with Carol Lee, another member of the group. (I told that story in my Trans and Proud post.)
Finally, I decided that the time had come to share my story with the entire group and that the only way to do it was to simply ask for the opportunity outside the group’s normal routine. So, three weeks ago, I asked Charmaine if I could take time to tell my story. She was excited about my decision and immediately said yes. I also emailed Carol Lee and told her my plan; she assured me that she would be there to provide her support. Two weeks ago, I announced to the group that the next week I was going to take time to tell my story. (I wanted people to know in advance so they could choose to be there or not, since this would not be the normal group.) Last week, I finally did it, with Charmaine on one side of me and Carol Lee on the other.
As I thought about how I was going to tell my story, I vacillated between telling it as a fairy tale about a young boy who grows up trans, only revealing at the end that the boy was me, or simply telling them at the beginning that I’m trans and then sharing parts of my story. I didn’t decide which approach to take until last Thursday morning just before leaving for the group, when, after praying to Spirit for guidance, I was given a way to combine both approaches.
As last Thursday approached, I became more and more nervous about “outing” myself to this group, making up stories in my head about being rejected by some or all of the women there and having to leave and find another source of support. One of the most important things I have learned from the Course is how to recognize and accept my fear but not let it control the choices I make. Thus, despite the fear, I knew that telling my story was the right thing to do.
After our regular meditation and prayer, I began by telling the group that I asked for time to tell my story for two reasons: first, because I wanted them to know who I am, so that I could feel more comfortable talking about myself; and, second, because I thought that knowing my story might help them to see more clearly what a powerful force the Course has been in my life. Then, I swallowed my fear and simply began. This is what I said:
Once upon a time, not so very far away and not so very long ago, there was a little boy. That boy was me.
At that point, I stopped and looked around the circle, meeting the eyes of each person, and then I continued . . . for the next hour and 20 minutes! (I always have liked to talk about myself.) Talking about my childhood especially was very emotional for me and I cried freely. When I finally finished and we stood to take a break, each woman gave me a hug and thanked me for sharing the truth of who I am. And, much to my surprise, only one of them said that she had known for some time that I am trans. Needless to say, for the rest of that day, I felt emotionally spent.
Today, I’m not sure what I feel about outing myself to my study group. I know that it was something that I needed to do to be true to myself and am glad that I did it. At the same time, however, the impact on the group, and my position in it, will only be revealed over the next weeks and months. I have some fear that some in the group may distance themselves from me now that they know I once was a man, but I also know that I will go back and that the freedom I feel from revealing my past and allowing these women to know who I truly am is well worth whatever happens as a result.
When I decided to transition, I never expected that I would feel more comfortable with people who know I once was a man, but I do. And, so, I will continue to share my story, both to free me from the fear of being outed and to show the rest of the world that we’re really not much different than they are.