Monday, 29 September 2014

Interview with Bobbie Lang

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honour to interview Bobbie Lang, a transgender activist from USA, businesswoman, blogger, Viet Nam veteran, the author of "Transgender Christian in Chains". Hello Bobbie!
Bobbie: Hi Monika, thank you so much for asking me to be part of this wonderful group of people who are doing so much to advance the acceptance and civil rights of the trans community.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Bobbie: Well to start with I started my transition in 1981 and had GRS in 1984. At that time the term “transgender” had not even been coined yet. We were called transsexuals and even the professional community knew very little of this dysphoria. Many of the medical and therapeutic specialists thought this disorder could be alleviated with extensive and lengthy psychological treatment. Sadly, I find this approach is still widely believed within most denominational Christian churches.
At the time of my transition I had just been discharged and disgraced from my career as an Air Force NCO. I was married to a fine lady and had a seven year old daughter. I was deeply involved in my church and had serious questions about how my transition would affect my family and my walk with God. 
Monika: Why did you decide to write your autobiography “Transgender Christian in Chains“ (2013)?
Bobbie: It was never my intent to write a book and certainly never intended the book to be published. In 2012 when I conceived the idea of a memoir I had realized that I had spent three decades explaining to various members of the professional and educational community, friends and co-workers about the circumstances and reasons for my transition, but I had never explained to my daughter and family. So I wrote the book for them. Afterwards I was compelled by many people to offer the book for publication as it may help others who are struggling with transition and Biblical and family questions and complications.

1983 During transition.

Monika: Which aspects of your experience can be useful for other transwomen?
Bobbie: I have been on a journey of over thirty years since transitioning and I have learned where the land mines are and how to avoid them. I have also learned where the watering holes are. All I can say to others following along the same path is to be confident in who you are. Spend time observing other women, how they dress, how they speak and how they move.
When out in public dress appropriate for the location you are in. I have found dressing down causes far less attention than dressing up. Carry yourself with confidence. People don’t look on physical appearance or a voice inflection as much as they do the persona of confidence. If you believe in yourself and act like you belong others will too.
Another valuable thing I have learned along my journey is insight and revelations about God’s view of transgender. Through extensive Bible study I found nothing in the Word of God about it.
However, down on my prayerful knees God revealed Himself to me and showed me that God loved me rather I was male or female. All He expected of me was to “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you”. When I learned to put God first in my life, I learned to have peace.
Monika: In your book you often address your Christian religion. Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Bobbie: Let me make one thing perfectly clear. God is not merciless toward transgender people. Gender Identity Dysphoria is just that—a dysphoria (not that we are broken, just different). It is something that is either congenital or caused from pre-natal or natal development. It is not a choice. God is not the author of any dysphoria or anything that can be even remotely considered bad or irregular. It is because of the mercy of God and the strength of His Word that got me through many long dark nights when it seemed all hope was lost. Early on in my transition I was given the vision of the apostle Peter walking on the water as described in Matthew 14:22-33.
On my left side I felt the gender therapists were scratching my itchy ear with the things they thought I wanted to hear. On my right side my childhood Sunday School training and the direction I thought my church wanted me to go seemed to conflict with what I knew was right for me. Through this vision I knew I had to look neither to the right nor to the left but to keep my eyes upon Jesus. I knew I needed to seek God with all my heart and with all my soul. It was only through Him that I had the courage to find God’s plan for my life.
Monika: In one of my previous interviews, Lisa Salazar indicated that transgender persons are said to be some of the least likely to become involved in religious institutions (like Church) since most have been rejected and judged by their Christian families, friends and faith communities. Would you agree?
Bobbie: I know Lisa and I definitely agree with her. In the Book of Matthew, Jesus solemnly warned those that followed Him about the scribes and Pharisees that thought that they sat in the rightful place in Moses’ seat. The Pharisees dictated to the people to observe the laws but “They tie up heavy loads, hard to bear, and place them on men’s shoulders but they themselves will not lift a finger to help bear them”’ Matthew 23:4.
Since the first church after the Resurrection of Christ the church has struggled with doctrinal beliefs and what should be taught in the church and what not should be taught. The apostles Paul and Peter struggled with this and often did not agree. Once doctrine was established these precepts have since been taught in the church, however, some doctrines have been added to or taken away and what may be acceptable in some houses of worship may be strictly forbidden in others. God expects each one of us to finds through conviction what is plan is for each one of us personally.

1984 Just before GRS.

In my own life I have been rejected by a number of churches. During my transition I would start a new fellowship and entrench myself in the varied outreach programs and became a leader in the women’s ministries. I was still trying to find God’s plan for my life and felt I needed prayer support and discipleship to help me hear more clearly the voice of God.
As I became better known in the church as a Godly woman, someone who loved God with all her heart, I finally felt comfortable enough to confide in the pastoral staff about my past and asked for partnership in prayer for God to reveal His divine plan and call upon my life. I was not asking for “answers” or “judgement” directly from them but to help me through prayer and discipleship. However, judgement is what I received and I would be removed from fellowship. I was not allowed to share with others the spiritual gifts that God had given to me and trusted me with. I was pushed into a corner and ignored. I was not barred from the congregation but I was not allowed the fellowship of God’s family.
After the third time I left the church. I did not enter the church doors again for sixteen years. However, I did not not give up on God and still worshiped Him through private devotions. And God did not give up on me. Despite of being chained out of the church, God’s Word and His Love sustained me all those years.
No Monika, God is not merciless toward transgender people. As he hung upon that cross he looked down on me and loved me and every other trans person.
Monika: What is the general attitude of the Christian religion to the transgender phenomenon?
Bobbie: I think it is slowly changing for the better. There are many churches that are more accepting than others. I’m just surprised it is taking so long. I find many Christians are slowly warming up to gender identity dysphoria and are realizing it is real and it is not some choice we made and not a “sin” as they previously believed. As more trans people step out and show that we are each individuals and each seeking God’s plan for our life we will become more accepted. It breaks my heart to see so many give up on God because of the way some churches have treated them.
Monika: You are the champion of a myriad of causes that touch on transgender rights. Could you name some of the initiatives that you took part in?
Bobbie: During my transition and after my GRS, I was very active with the Rosenberg Clinic in Galveston Texas. Under the guidance of Dr. Collier Cole I was afforded the opportunity to speak at many Medical Symposiums, University medical and psychology conferences, and a few churches. I had major national newspapers seek me out for exclusive stories.
After I decided to publish my autobiography “Transgender Christians In Chains” I began to see how the journey I have walked may help many others who struggle with some of the things that I did. I am happy that I was able to be a pioneer in the early 1980’s to blaze a trail that many others would later follow. Now I am actively involved with the education of the church and to portray trans women as ordinary women, no different than your mother, your sister or your wife.

One year after GRS.

Monika: What do you think about the present situation of transgender women in the American society?
Bobbie: Gains have been made but there is still such a long way to go. Trans rights are on the table and discussed in many areas of employment. HR resources are available in many large companies. Insurance companies are beginning to recognize and tailor appropriate insurance for the trans community. I know this doesn’t sound like much to the current trans community but as I said many gains have been made.
During my transition I was working with the City of Houston, Texas and I was completely dropped from both my health and life insurance. The AIDS epidemic was getting its footing and my GID seemed to be too high a risk to chance insuring me. Also my family insurance coverage was dropped. I was forbidden to even let my hair grow out, make-up and wearing feminine clothes was strictly forbidden. I was once severely reprimanded for even talking about my GID to a co-worker. Frequent visits to the municipal HR office yielded nothing.
As I said there is still such a long way to go. Though some of the more progressive companies are protecting and safeguarding trans rights many employers do not. Capable employees are often overlooked for promotion and often stuffed into a corner and ignored. Many are barred from housing and not allowed to serve openly in the military. Violence against us is still very high and accessibility to appropriate rest rooms are still barred. Health insurance is still denied to many of us and too many of us are too often unjustly or inappropriately incarcerated. And at the top of my list is that the doors of most houses of worship are chained so that when we seek prayer support and discipleship to make perhaps the most important decision in our lives, we are turned away.
Monika: At what age did you transition into woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Bobbie: As I said I started my transition in in 1981 at the age of 34. I was 37 when I had GRS. It was not a very difficult process for me physically. I was 5’ 8” and had always been very petite with good hair and that played well for transitioning. Voice was not very difficult with practice. I was very fortunate. I always was so sad for so many who was not afforded the opportunities I had.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Bobbie: To my knowledge at the time of my transition Christine Jorgensen and Renee Richards were the only ones. About this time there was a James Bond film, “For Your Eyes Only”, that had a transgender woman in it. I think I watched that film like fifty times. I remember as a small lad hearing of Christine Jorgensen. It seemed amazing that medical technology would be able to perform such a procedure as this. I read Ms Richards book and fantasied that perhaps that could be me.
From that day forward I dreamed of following in her footsteps, however, I was very confused about my sexuality. I had always assumed that to feel like a girl then you must be attracted to boys. I was not and that just confused me. It was not until 1981 that I heard about the Rosenberg Clinic and Dr. Cole’s practice that I even heard the word transsexual and learned that sexual orientation and sexual identity were two different things. That seemed to be one of the biggest hurdles I had to cross.

Ten years after GRS.

Monika: What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Bobbie: Absolutely the two hardest things about making the decision to transition were my religion and my family in that order. My friends were very accepting and supported me very well. My spouse was already searching for a way to end our marriage and my daughter was so young she just loved me whatever gender I was.


All the photos: courtesy of Bobbie Lang.
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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