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.
My family for the most part was tolerant but I feared that they may be embarrassed or ridiculed because of my transition. For that reason I protected them and never “dressed” when I came for a visit. Without a doubt the hardest thing was to reconcile myself before God. I was raised in a very strict southern Pentecostal church and this kind of thing was clearly on the wrong side of the gospel line between Heaven and Hell.
I never got spiritual peace about transitioning during my transition and in fact it was only after extensive personal Bible study and writing my book that I began to believe in the security of my salvation and God’s plan for my life.
Monika: Have you recently read or watched any interesting book or event/film about transgenderism?
Bobbie: Not really. I rarely watch TV and I gather my news/ current events from surfing the web and talk radio. However, I have followed the news surrounding Kristen Beck. I deeply admire the courage that she has in stepping out and showing the world that being trans is not about men who have failed or was not validated as a man. She has demonstrated to us all that gender identification is deeper than appearance, traditional masculine gender compliant interests and activities.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBT communities. Being the last letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBT group?
Bobbie: There is certainly strength in numbers but personally I prefer quality over quantity or in this case focus over numbers. The needs of the trans community in many ways exceed the needs of the LGB community.
Meggan Sommerville said it very well in her interview that “the LBG community is not being denied access to the gender appropriate restroom” and “the LGB individuals can now openly serve this country in the military where transgender individuals must continue to hide or be discharged”. I believe these needs are so unique that they need to be targeted outside of the umbrella of the LGBT movement.
Monika: Is there anyone in the US transgender society whose actions could be compared to what Harvey Milk was doing in the 60s and 70s for the gay activism?
Bobbie: Oh there are a few who have been elected from city councils to state legislators and each has made gains in the way we perceive our politicians. Currently in the news is Lauren Scott who in June 2014 won the Republican nomination for the Nevada Assembly earning 58% of the vote. If she wins in the November election she will become the first openly transgender state legislator to serve in the United States.
Ms Scott has been an activist for transgender issues since 2003. In 2007 she travelled to Washington DC to take part in the “Transgender Lobby Days” sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality. There are many names that are noteworthy. Kim Coco Iwamoto of Hawaii, Althea Garrison of Mass., and more close to my Colorado home, Joanne Conte to name a few.
Bobby aboard her sailboat "Persistence".
Monika: Are you active in politics? Do you participate in any lobbying campaigns? Do you think transgender women can make a difference in politics?
Bobbie: I am active in politics in the fact that I know the issues and I vote. I am not a one issue voter in that no politician can win my favor on every issue. I do not vote party lines but I select the candidate that values and preserves the constitution as the living document it is.
The candidate of my choice will be conservative on fiscal responsibility and listen to the voters and what they want. I do believe transgender women can make a difference in politics just as Ms. Loren Scott is doing in Nevada. We need many more such women.
Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Bobbie: Love is extremely important in my life. I have a cis female life partner of nearly 19 years and we are very happy together. Her name is Kate and she is the love of my life. Thank you for asking and giving me the opportunity to express the significance she is in my life.
Monika: Are you working on any new projects now?
Bobbie: Yes. I have an active blog called Bobbie Lang and Transgender Christians in Chains. Through it I try to bridge the gap between the denominational church and the LGBT community. It is mostly targeted to the church to present a different viewpoint that many LGBT are not part of a group but are individuals and like everyone else, each with their own walk and each trying to find God’s plan for their life.
Also I am presently working on a new book. It hasn’t been assigned a name yet but it is a satire or account of the more amusing happenings in my transition and my 30 year walk as a woman. Look for it in 2015.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Bobbie: The foremost thing that I would highly recommend is to be certain of your need to transition. There are so many false positives that may lead you to believe that you are indeed born into the wrong anatomy. Be extremely careful of therapist that will tickle your itching ear and lead you into a decision that may have dire consequences. Seek God with all your heart and be certain that you have clearly heard His voice.
Monika: Bobbie, thank you for the interview!
Bobbie: Thank you again for having me Monika.

All the photos: courtesy of Bobbie Lang.
Done on 29 September 2014
© 2014 - Monika Kowalska

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