Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Interview with Lois Simmons


Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Lois Simmons, an American tax preparer and writer from Suffern, N.Y. She writes posts for the blog titled “Being Christian and Transsexual: Life on Planet Mercury.” Hello Lois!
Lois: Hello Monika. To be included with such an illustrious group of trans women who you have interviewed is quite an honor.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Lois: This is the toughest question you asked me, as it is difficult to limit myself to a few words on almost any subject! But here goes.
I’m 64 years old. I was born in New York City (borough of Queens) and have lived all my life in the city or its suburbs. I went to Cornell with plans to be a Civil Engineer/Urban Planner/designer of roads and rail systems. I ended up with a degree in Government.
I have worked in the financial services industry since 1983. At various times, I have been a stockbroker, real estate salesperson, insurance salesperson, and certified financial planner. I started to prepare tax returns professionally in the late 1980s. I currently have clients in 13 states and 4 foreign countries. The only foreign tax return I prepare is a Canadian one. I do mostly individual returns but do a handful for small businesses as well. 
I qualify for Mensa. I was a member at one time long before I transitioned but at some point, I didn’t renew my membership.
I enjoy many sports. I went to a small private high school and was able to make the varsity teams in baseball (just about every position), ice hockey (goalie), and soccer (midfield or wing). I also ran cross country one year but didn’t like it. I recently learned that it is very likely that I played baseball against Denzel Washington.
Monika: Not bad. :)
Lois: I was also the manager of the cross country and track & field teams at Cornell for all four years that I was there. In American colleges, a manager is someone who takes care of the equipment and does other odd jobs needed by the coaches and athletes. During that time, I was privileged to meet a number of past, present, and future members of the U.S. Olympic Team including someone who won a gold medal in 1952. One of those Olympians also won the Boston Marathon.
My favorite spectator sport is baseball and I am an avid Dodgers fan.
I love to sing, or more specifically do vocal impressions of famous singers. Because of my vocal range, I can imitate singers (at least some of their songs) with voices as high as Minnie Riperton and as deep as Jerry Butler. Most of the singers I imitate are from “back in the day”.
I also have been actively involved in Christian ministry. I am part of a mentoring program at a local high school for the general student population. I also have spoken to a number of college classes, sharing my story.
One of the ways I keep my sanity is to read about a dozen classic comic strips plus two online strips. A daily dose of them helps me laugh at myself and make the world a little less serious.
And that’s about as few words I can manage. And the rest I will fill in here and there in response to your other questions.
Monika: I have read some of your blog posts. You are quite open about your faith and how it affected your life. Is there a key point to that aspect of your life that you would like to share?
Lois: It is my sincere and respectful wish that all people would know the abundant joy that I have received since having what Christians refer to as a born-again experience. It is with great sadness that I see some people who identify as Christians (whether they actually are, God knows, I don’t) who drive transgender people away from learning more about Jesus and His love.

Professional photoshoot.

Also, as a Christian, I believe that I have the guidance and counsel of the Holy Spirit available to me. And that spiritual resource was a great blessing during the transition process. My gender counselor thought I was out of my mind with some of the things I chose to do and even to this day she is amazed at how successful I was. I can’t claim the credit. I was following what the Holy Spirit led me to do.
Monika: Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Lois: I don’t believe that He is merciless when someone is born transgender. I’m going to share a story about that.
I started to meet other Christian transgender people who found my blog. One of them told me that her Christian landlord didn’t believe her testimony about being born transgender. In other words, he believed that it was all in her mind; a delusion. And he told her, “God wouldn’t do that to someone.”
Now it is a complicated topic as to how much of our formation in the womb is because God does it and how much is because God allows it due to the corruption that came into a perfect world. But let’s take the premise that God does most of the formation and allows some corruption to affect each person. Some may have a congenital heart problem, some may be more susceptible to cancer, some may have the gene for alcoholism, some may be Intersex, and so on.
And some are born with life-threatening conditions or conditions that may affect the quality of their entire life. For example, people are born with cleft palates, spina bifida (my dad had a very mild form of that), a hole in their heart, Down’s syndrome, and so on. Now, why would God do these things to people?
Monika: Yes, indeed! Why?
Lois: So in response to this landlord and others who believe as he does, I wrote a very long blog post describing many birth conditions far more devastating than being born transgender. There is nothing about being born transgender that is problematic for me. Far and away the only problem is the reaction of certain individuals and certain segments of society.
One thing that God provides is various ways in which we are tested. For me, dealing with being transgender was a test of my faith. When other Christians, even some friends, and clients, turned away from me, would I turn away from God or would I be steadfast? And for cisgender Christians, it is also a test: would they show compassion toward me or prejudice? The Bible tells us that God is not a respecter of persons. In other words, He doesn’t play favorites based on color, gender, wealth, physical strength, visual beauty, talent, and so on. And Christians are supposed to follow that example.
Furthermore, as one who believes in eternity and that our life here on earth is a blink of an eye in comparison, where we will spend that eternity is far more important than what happens to us here, including the conditions of our birth. Trust me, when something goes wrong in my life, I don’t always practice what I preach at first. But this is always what I come back to. The Lord has blessed me far more than any slings and arrows I have received.
So I don’t think of it as God being merciless or punishing someone. Because of the way much of the world still treats us, I wouldn’t wish transgender on anyone. At the same time, I think of it as a huge blessing in my life. It has helped me to be a more caring, helpful, and insightful person. And who knows what kind of person I would have been if I had been born cisgender? If I had been born intelligent and attractive, I might have ended up a stuck-up bitch!
This is who I was meant to be. Everyone else is already taken (with apologies to Oscar Wilde).
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?
Lois: Many transgender people will have nothing to do with the Christian church and some other religions that are negative about transgender people. But many others were raised in the Christian church or these other religions. And a high percentage of those have either left the church/religion entirely or moved to a more liberal and accepting denomination. 
One of the support groups I belong to meets at an open and accepting church that has hosted TDOR and other supportive events for many years. And still, people who expressed interest in attending the group choose to stay away from when they learn that we meet in a church. Mind you, the church doesn’t have any say over the activities of the group and in general has been nothing but supportive. But that doesn’t matter to certain people in the TG or CD communities. And it is very sad.
I would be happy to assist any transgender people who would like to return to the Christian church as well as those who want to come out to their church but are fearful of doing so.
Monika: What is the general attitude of the Christian religion to the transgender phenomenon?
Lois: It is quite varied. It ranges from those denominations that are quite open and accepting to those who think we are quite reprobate. And there are some in-between who aren’t quite sure what to make of transgender people.

One of my favorite outfits.

I am quite an anomaly to some open-minded Christians who I have met. On the one hand, they were taught that pursuit of a transgender life is sinful. On the other hand, they see me as a sincere, Bible-believing, and in many ways very conservative Christian who demonstrates being led by the Holy Spirit in her worship and everyday life. And I am happy to report that most people in this quandary tend to resolve it by giving me the benefit of the doubt and treating me well. And in such situations, I always try to remember the two catchphrases I coined to help me keep perspective:
- If it took me fifty years to figure out what to do about being transgender, I can’t expect you to understand it in fifty minutes.
- If I want to be understood, I need to be understanding.
It is also important that we try to help those in the church understand that transgender is not a recent phenomenon.
Monika: So is it ignorance or fear?
Lois: Some are fearful because in their perception, we are recent and growing. But that perception is due to medical science reaching the point where at least some measures can be taken to make our bodies and mind congruent; as a result more of us are willing to go public. Therefore more fair-minded people have gotten to know us and learned that there is nothing evil about being transgender.
In reality, there is a great deal of evidence that transgender people have been around since the earliest days of recorded history. In some societies such as Native American tribes in the western part of North America, transgender people have been revered for centuries. Transgender is dealt with favorably in the Code of Hammurabi, and the Talmud takes into account more than two genders without a pejorative toward any of them.
Monika: Is there any reference to transgenderism in the Bible?
Lois: Most of them are indirect and deal more with how God identifies gender in general, how people are born, and how people should be treated, including those who are transgender. The most direct reference is considered to be Matthew 19:12, where transgender people would fit two of the three examples of people cited by Jesus, who are called “eunuchs” in the King James Version. Jesus would have been quite familiar with the Talmud.
Rather than reproduce a full discussion of the key Bible verses I use in discussions on the topic, it will be simpler to provide a link to the page on my blog where they are listed.
Monika: I saw your short story in The New York Times series titled “Transgender Today.” Why did you decide to come out to the general public?
Lois: The primary reason was that I knew how rare it was for someone to be both Christian and transgender. I wanted readers to know that we existed, even someone who would be considered conservative within Christianity. And two of my friends in the broader TG/CD community (one Jewish and the other New Age) thought that my story and the acceptance I received in my church were noteworthy. They suggested and even urged me to do it.
If I received recognition and more opportunities to be active in helping the transgender community, that would have been great. As it turned out, the response far exceeded what I and the NY Times editors expected. So I have no idea how many people read or connected with my story. And a 400-word limit doesn’t give much opportunity to tell one’s full story.
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Lois: It depends upon how you define the beginning of the transition. My awareness of being female occurred at age 7. As someone with an engineer’s personality, my initial reaction was that this was ‘cool” and unique.
But at around age 10-11 when I went from elementary school (5th grade) to a school that was a combination of junior and senior high school (grades 6-12), I was suddenly confronted with what my future would be like and I could see it wasn’t pretty (literally and figuratively). So one could say that my transition started then: when I started praying to God that I would wake up with the body of a girl. And it was around that time that I renamed myself. After all, if I had faith in God, then I needed to be ready when he answered it.
Only I didn’t know it would take Him so long! So for about 49 years it was a struggle. I would go to the local library and look for any new books on the topic. When I found one I hadn’t read before, I would go into the farthest corner of the library and have the book as flat as possible on the table so no one could see what I was reading, lest they guessed my deep, dark secret. By then, I had learned that society treated transgender people as a joke: someone to mock. As I got older, my search expanded. I found and read Jan Morris’s book “Conundrum”.

Conundrum by Jan Morris.

Monika: I read this book as well. It is one of the best transgender biographies.
Lois: In addition, I found a place in New York City that sold relevant literature. I bought magazines about CD’s, drag queens, female impersonators, and trans women. I began to understand the differences, who I identified with and who I didn’t. Of course, I was fascinated by the ability of those who transformed themselves into beautiful women.
For a time, my travels gave me a reason to walk past Renee Richards’ Park Avenue office on a regular basis. Her office window with her nameplate faced the street. But even when the light was on, I was not able to summon the courage to ring the bell and get buzzed in. She must be bothered by too many people already was what I told myself. 
Looking back on it, I wasn’t really ready, fearful of the risk to take a very lonely journey. And it probably wasn’t God’s timing yet. It was nearly 40 years of my adult life with many false starts and missed opportunities too numerous to detail.
But if the beginning of my transition is defined as age 58 when I realized that I finally had to face my gender identity situation head-on once and for all, the evaluation becomes quite different.
My epiphany came from a totally unexpected source. A female Christian friend asked me to download a video for a Christian woman’s conference. She didn’t know I was beginning to struggle with and acknowledge that my masculinity was a fraudulent façade. The video helped me see that the type of relationship I wanted deep down with other women was to be girlfriends in the buddy sense, not to have romantic relationships. Of course, the only way that would be possible was to have the outside match the inside.

END OF PART 1

 
All the photos: courtesy of Lois Simmons.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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