Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Susan Stanton, who was Steven, of Largo, Florida: Showing my affirmation to someone who is transgender

"Her name was Steven" was broadcast Sunday night on CNN, and I watched in order to try to understand transgender people better. This is the story: the man once known as Steven Stanton, now legally Susan Stanton, used to be a successful public figure - the city manager for Largo, Florida - and when she decided to change her public sexual identity, was fired. The man who was once respected and well-thought-of, instantly was questioned and quickly let go once she came forward, as she moved toward the reconciliation of her inner, formerly hidden, sexual identity.

There still is so much I need to learn, but I'm trying. Understanding the day-to-day issues that a trans-person goes through is like taking off blinders and looking at a bigger picture. Susan's story, brought forward with respect, is helping me and others to understand.

According to the American Psychological Association,
"transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity (sense of themselves as male or female) or gender expression differs from that usually associated with their birth sex. Many transgender people live part-time or full-time as members of the other gender. Broadly speaking, anyone whose identity, appearance, or behavior falls outside of conventional gender norms can be described as transgender. However, not everyone whose appearance or behavior is gender-atypical will identify as a transgender person."

Of course I wondered what this family went through, and I wish I could talk to Susan's former wife, Donna. I sure wondered what SHE has been through, emotionally, and just about every way, since her former husband transitioned. If she were reading this, I wonder what I could do or say that would let her know that her story is important, too? I hope Donna is getting to tell her story in her own way, and that she feels like she's understood and supported. (You can hear Donna in her own words on the post about the program here. Look along the left side of the article for audio posts.)

It resonated with me that Susan's love for Donna never changed. Susan said, "I am still wearing my wedding band. ... We speak frequently, I still love her as much as I did before," which is nearly exactly how I talk about my former husband (who came out as gay).

As I listened and watched I was struck by similarities of Susan's confrontations with others and with herself. The following quotes sounded exactly the same as things that either Ray or I have said...

I thought if I just explained it well enough...[others would understand]

What brought me pleasure, brought her pain...

This is not a choice. No one does this because they think it is a good thing to do. It's done to preserve life.

The vulnerability of Susan Stanton to share all that she's been experiencing is courageous and brave. The process of transitioning has taken about two years, and she has now been able to continue her career as a city planner. Her son, Travis, has remained close with "Dad," and the love the two share is evident.

I ask myself now if I've been welcoming to others in the past...those whose "gender expression" didn't conform with what I expected them to be. I have to be very honest...years ago I wouldn't have known what to do with "Susans". Even though I've gotten to know some transgender people, I'm still learning and I have to keep asking questions and listening for answers. No matter how I thought in the past, I know these days that I want to show acceptance, affirmation and support for people like Susan, like Donna, and like their family, because it is the right thing to do. I hope Susan knows that sharing this very personal story in such a public way is helping to enlighten the rest of us.


Liz Brimm said...

Hurray for you, madam! While I grieve your lonliness, I applaud your big heart and your Christianity. I'm in seminary in admittedly liberal Massachusetts, but the craziness over same-sex relationships needs to end, and I say this with all love. We don't bash alcoholics or perhaps closer to home, haters rather than lovers. In essential matters, we Christians can be united, in non-essential matters, we can welcome diversity, and in all things, we can embody charity. Be encouraged, God is with you, as well you know, so who can be against you? All peace, grace, and blessings to you, Liz B.

Birdie said...

We need brave people like Susan to help us understand. I have dear friends whose daughter has recently completed her transition to a man. They love their child completely, but they are struggling with the change. Education is important to understanding, but love is the key. I don't want to make this sound trite, but that's really what it all comes down to anyway, isn't it.

Bridgeout said...

Thank you for sharing this here! Amazing...

Jenny wren's nest said...

Hi carol,Wow what a place God has put you in,I will rember you and your family in prayer, I love you so much, you let me come to your house and play mommy to your kids when I was so shy, your family made me feel so welcomed.

Mary Kay said...

Carol: Part 1
Before I read your article I was going to let you know that my gay friend called me at midnight crying. His brother is getting divorced and now the mother is keeping her son who has been the highlight of my friend's life for 8 years. He loves that little boy so much and has spoiled him to death. Now all at once she is a homophobe and thinks that my friend will either molest her son or turn him gay....or even both. My friend is terribly saddened and I am worried about him and she wants to use it in court when my friend's brother has him he is not allowed to be around him. I pray that God will give the judge mercy on this situation and my friend can still be a part of his nephews life.

Mary Kay said...

Carol: part2

My husband caught part of the TV episode on transgenders. I missed it for some reason...probably napping or doing a craft.

One of my husband's clients is transsexual. My husband witnessed the entire transformation from cross dressing to the actual operations.

My husband laughs because the guy/woman is still into his old hot rods. When ever he gets excited and shows my husband one of his cars his voice will go into a mans. My husband said he/she is still the same great person he remembered before the change.

I have never met him but my husband feels sorry for him. I guess his own children have disowned him and of course the ex wife has nothing to do with him.
I don't know the man at all but after reading your article I am going to have my husband give him one of my business cards because I can at least be a friend to him. I don't know why he chose to do what he did but there is a reason. I hope he will accept my invitation. My goal and prayer is to talk to his children and pray that they will accept him for who he is and he is still their father.
Thanks for sharing!

Renee Michelle said...

To Mary Kay

With respect to your comments under "Carol part2"

For many folks the idea of a physical transition from one gender to another can be a lot to get one's mind around. For the transgender individual it is one of the most profound and often intensely difficult experiences that anyone can imagine.

Part of appreciating that is understanding the importance of using the correct pronoun in addressing the person who has transitioned. The primary reason that a person transitions gender is due to the intense and long-term sense of incongruence they experience with their birth-assigned gender. Those who are transgender generally report their first recollections of being so as early as ages 5-6.

It may seem to you pointless and perhaps overly sensitive but your husband's client was never a ‘man’. Transition affirms what we innately are as humans. We don't know what exactly causes transgenderism/transsexuality but increasingly research in molecular genetics and developmental neurology are pointing to this as a prenatal and statistically significant expression of human variance as the "cause". This explanation, whether you find it satisfying or not, is offered to suggest that using the correct pronoun on your part is an appropriate form of respect that affirms the humanity of the individual.