Terms of Confinement

I could never control who or what I am — a woman unfortunate enough to be born into a mostly visibly male body. There is, however, one thing over which it seems I have always had some measure of choice: the terms of my confinement. Today, I have essentially traded one sort of imprisonment — having locked my genuine self away for many years in favor of presenting the “male” face that society, from my earliest years, showed me that it “expected” of me — for another type of sentence. Now that the person I have always been on the inside is finally free to be herself, she is cut off from any contact with many of her closest and dearest long-time friends and associates, the majority of whom are Jehovah’s Witnesses.

The question arises, why have I made this choice? Some who have expressed questions along these lines to me, appear inclined to view my decision as a “selfish” one. I could go on about the growing cumulative negative impact of my former course on my own life, and my psychological and emotional well-being, along with the impact that had on those around me. Those of a different opinion sometimes go on about all the apparent “positive” impact I was able to have, perhaps on them, or my family, or others with whom I was associated (and can no longer be), all the while that I was managing to present myself in a way that met their expectations. The fact is, weighing the choice cannot be all about me, nor is it all about them. It’s also about what is right, and what is wrong — which course is most honest and true, and which a matter of pretense — and which has the greatest potential to help or harm, not just myself, but other fellow humans.

In this last regard, I know full well that my fellow Christian brothers and sisters are inclined to automatically conclude that any course recommended by the “faithful and descreet slave”, the governing body of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, can only ever be helpful, and so any choice that appears to go against such a recommendation (such as mine) can only ever be harmful. I will be the first to agree that the brothers serving in this capacity are (1) faithful, and (2) genuinely motivated to keep their decisions in line with Jehovah’s thinking, as expressed in the scriptures. However, I also believe they would be first to admit that despite their best efforts, they remain, as the rest of humanity, imperfect. And while brothers and sisters by and large recognize this in theory, the tendency exists, in the name of “unity,” to overlook this small, but significant fact.

No human being can live his or her life to any extent without eventually causing some harm. We all do it, hopefully most often unintentionally. It is part of being the imperfect creatures that we are. Perhaps the best we can hope for is that when such harm comes, we can at least say that the actions leading up to it were well-motivated. It is in many ways remarkable that Jehovah has used humans throughout the centuries to carry out his will – he dignifies us by giving us the privilege of serving him in our imperfect state – and he has enabled both the individuals and nations that have had his blessing to accomplish many great things. He has also refined both individuals and nations who have proven faithful so that they can better accomplish his will. None of this means that we have ever been able to expect perfection of humans, not even those whom Jehovah so clearly seems to be blessing.

If this is true of us as individuals, it is surely no less true of us in groups. There can be no such thing as a perfect human organization – not prior to the end of this system of things and Jehovah’s setting straight of inherited sin once and for all – if such perfection were possible, that would contradict the whole theme of scripture itself!  Even with Jehovah’s blessing, the ancient nation of Israel could not prove to be perfect in its day, and neither can the spirit-directed organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses today.

Often, in the name of peace, love and unity, any perceived mistakes, especially ones that are clearly not ill-motivated, can be overlooked. Things can be smoothed over. It is a testament to the genuine Christian love practiced by Jehovah’s Witnesses as a whole that this tends to be the order of the day, in dealings between individuals, as well as any minor questions that might arise about some direction coming from those taking the lead in the Christian congregation.

Sometimes, however, the consequences are more serious, the issue a deeper one of integrity and conscience. My situation, for me, has been such a case. Understanding why is at the core of understanding my choices. I’ll go into more detail in my next post.


Spiritual Gifts

“To you, O Jehovah, I raise my very soul. O my God, in you have I put my trust; O may I not be ashamed.” — Psalm 25:1-2

I previously mentioned that I am making every effort to attend meetings regularly at the local Kingdom Hall. Some may wonder why.

[Here is my usual disclaimer: For more background, and particularly if you yourself are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, please read this first!]

As a transgender woman, my being disfellowshipped is not like it is for some others who in most cases have likely committed serious offenses against the law of the Christ. (See for example 2 Co 5:11 and 2 John 1:9-11) If such a person abandons the sinful practice and seeks forgiveness – an adulterer, for example, gives up the affair, or an alcoholic takes steps to combat their addiction – they can be restored to the congregation (2 Co 2:6-8), and of course, more importantly, they can restore a good relationship with Jehovah himself.

Even without knowing all the details, when such a person starts attending congregation meetings regularly, brothers and sisters seeing them will tend to assume that happily, the person is on the path to spiritual recovery. Elders in the congregation will likely reach out to them, to encourage them further.

When they see me attending meetings, I expect many assume because I do not hide my gender (I really am a woman, despite being born ambiguously with some male parts – a subject I’ll discuss elsewhere another time) that because of the way I dress — to the best of my ability, modestly and appropriately for a woman attending a meeting for worship, by the way — I am stubbornly continuing to “practice sin”. Unlike actual fornicators, adulterers, and others whose practices the word of God really does condemn, it appears that I have no way to regain the acceptance of the congregation. (To my understanding, they would welcome me back only if I were willing to present myself unambiguously and forevermore as a “man”, which is obviously what they remain convinced that I am, although I am utterly convinced that I am not. Therefore, for me, to even attempt such a thing now would be a disgusting pretense, and so it seems we are at a hopeless impasse.)

In light of all that, the question certainly is significant — why do I attend? Why place myself in that situation, again and again, seemingly without hope of improvement?

The answer is simple. My trust is, always has been and always will be in the true God, Jehovah. Attending meetings is not about the people, even though I do miss many of them dearly, nor is it about me. Christian’s are admonished to gather together, to incite to love and fine works (Heb 10:24-25) and by far the most beneficial encouragement comes from their consideration together of God’s word. True, I may not be able to socialize with brothers and sisters at the meetings; Much as I might wish to, I may not be allowed to contribute encouraging comments of my own during the Bible study portion of the meetings; and these things are regrettable. However, I can still show my loyalty to my God by being present, by hearing the word of Jehovah and paying attention to it.

Some may still wonder, why not attend meetings at another religious institution where I might more readily be welcomed and accepted? The answer to that is also simple. I do not know of any other religious group on earth that I could go to and expect to regularly hear even the name of Jehovah (Ps 83:18, Matt 5:9, John 17:6-26), let alone regular discussion of Jehovah’s thoughts and reminders, week after week, all based solidly on his inspired Word, unadulterated by politics, various common but false (i.e. unscriptural) doctrines and customs, and the shifting philosophies of men.

No, I can say without a doubt, that despite any discomforts, I am in the right place, and I find myself being blessed with spiritual gifts as a result. Among other things, studying a recent Watchtower article led me to the scriptural gem quoted at the outset. For me, those verses were encouragement directly from Jehovah God to keep my faith and hope squarely in him, where it has always been, and not to let any of the discomfort of my current disfellowshipped status make me feel ashamed, or downhearted.

I prayed, fervently, thanking him for this gift, among many others, and I attended the meeting happily, none of the trivial discomforts of being viewed as disfellowshipped able to even dent the joy I felt at knowing my loyalty is to Jehovah. Jehovah is surely a rewarder of those loyal to him, and that truth was in evidence for me during the meeting as well. The public talk on values was especially strengthening. Beyond that, Jehovah’s spirit was in evidence in the deeply insightful and touching comments made by several brothers and sisters during the Watchtower study portion of the meeting. One comment in particular touched me deeply, to the point of joyful tears.

The Watchtower briefly touched on how, in 1914, many Jehovah’s Witnesses expected an immediate end to this system of things, and to receive their ultimate heavenly reward at that time. It was not until eight years later in 1922 that they gained clear Biblical insight into why that had not been the case, and what was going to be expected of faithful Christians moving forward, the global preaching work that Jehovah’s Witnesses have been carrying out ever since. (Mark 13:10) In commenting, one brother observed how those Christians set a wonderful example of remaining faithful, despite their expectations not being met, and a lack of satisfying answers to that particular dilemma plaguing them for eight years. Paraphrasing the way he summed up his point, “you may be going through something as ‘wrong as two left shoes’ — keep trusting in Jehovah — eventually all things will be corrected.”

One of the hardest things about my current situation is not being able, after a meeting, to go up to some of the brothers and sisters who just gave the most beautiful, heartwarming spiritual encouragement, and to just say, “Thank you so much!” There is no question in my mind that Jehovah is providing what I need. I do wish I could personally thank those he is using to do it — I just want to hug them all! I will faithfully and patiently wait for that day, and trust in Jehovah that it will eventually come. In the meantime, I can keep those loyal ones in my prayers as well, trusting him to bless them with hugs on my behalf, and much, much more.

A Matter of Judgement

But now I am writing YOU to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” … “Remove the wicked [man] from among yourselves.” – 1 Corinthians 5:11-13

To their credit, Jehovah’s Witnesses are sincerely diligent when it comes to applying Bible counsel to themselves, and to the congregation. Faithfully doing so has proven to have tremendously positive results, which only makes sense. If the Bible really is, as it claims, the word of our creator, his wisdom certainly must surpass ours, and as it is summed up at Isaiah 48:17, “I, Jehovah, am your God, the One teaching you to benefit yourself.”

The context of the above scripture indicates that it is not about pre-judging people, or looking down on anyone. Jesus did not do that, after all. He ate with, taught, and showed love for those with all sorts of faults and problems. By the same token, he did not accept or condone ongoing attitudes and behaviors in opposition to his Father. What Paul was inspired to later write is therefore no contradiction, but rather an indication that anyone called a brother or a sister, that is anyone actively associated with the congregation as a Christian, who would knowingly and willfully practice such things that Jehovah condemns as seriously harmful, unloving and wrong, could not rightly still be considered a follower of Christ. Faithful brothers and sisters are counseled then to avoid any association with such a person, even to the point of just sitting down to a meal with them.

Other scriptures make it plain that this applies to someone who has not shown any repentance, remorse or regret for such serious wrongs, and that the purpose of such “disfellowshipping,” as Jehovah’s Witnesses call the practice is twofold. First, it may move the person to reconsider the seriousness of what they have been doing and to turn around, thereby restoring a good relationship, first and foremost, with Jehovah God, but also with their spiritual family, who are urged to “kindly forgive and comfort” them. (2 Corinthians 2:7) A second key reason is that, in the event they should remain unrepentant, “a little leaven ferments the whole lump.” (1 Corinthians 5:6)

Indeed, the wisdom of the scriptural admonition is evident, and can be clearly seen by counterexample. No doubt we’ve all heard of some widely publicized cases of unthinkably horrid offenses committed by members of various religions. (Child molestation, for example, comes to mind. Murder is another, such as the bombings of abortion clinics, for example.) When those engaging in such acts, even repeatedly, can yet remain affiliated with others of their “faith,” as though even such gross wrongs are tolerable, or beyond judgement, what does it say to the world at large about that faith? “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26)

So yes, Jehovah’s Witnesses are to be commended for upholding their faith, even in difficult matters of judgement such as disfellowshipping.

[Now, before I go any further, if you’ve not previously looked over my background, and particularly if you yourself are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I am going to ask you to please read this first!]

What is sometimes not as commendable, even if it is readily understandable, is the human tendency for over-zealousness. I well know that we cannot expect perfection of one another in this system of things, nor can we expect it of the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses, nor those appointed to positions of responsibility, in spite of the tremendous good that Jehovah clearly is using them to accomplish. I don’t question that the brothers taking the lead in the congregation have both the authority and responsibility to make decisions of judgement, nor am I bitter about the decision that they came to in my case, though I certainly disagree with it. I do, however, continue to wonder whether they themselves genuinely believe that I fall into any of those scriptural categories mentioned in 1 Corinthians 5. I hope they might eventually give some consideration to the possibility that in some situations, no matter how well-motivated they may believe their actions to be, that they themselves may well be going “beyond the things written,” in removing not only the “wicked,” but sometimes merely the afflicted.

The background of how I suppressed my own nature as a transgender woman for many, many years, as well as how and why that life eventually became impossible to maintain, is a lengthy story, perhaps for another day. What is most relevant here is that, quite frankly, I was a bit shocked that, within weeks of my first surfacing the truth of my situation openly with a brother whom I considered a long-time friend, the congregation elders had decided this was a “judicial matter,” and scheduled a meeting to essentially determine whether I would be “repentant,” or would need to be removed from the congregation.

What was even more difficult to comprehend about the abruptness of this action is that prior to speaking with that brother, he knew very well that I had been suffering from major depressive illness for some years and as a result had had very little contact with him or anyone, from the congregation or otherwise for that matter. Though still suffering from depression (which remains an ongoing battle for me), I was managing to break free from the worst of it, finally feeling more able to interact with others, and actually wanting to do so. I was ready to try attending meetings regularly at the Kingdom hall again, something I’d not been able to manage for a long time.

What I knew by then, and what I repeatedly tried explaining to him and the other brothers I spoke with afterward, was that coming to recognize and accept the truth about the woman I’d buried inside of myself all my life, and finally allowing her to peek her head out of that prison to breathe fresh air, was a major part of the reason I’d begun to recover to the extent that I had. Nonetheless, their decision was essentially a foregone conclusion. Because I cannot, and will not dress and present myself as the “man” I have come to realize I never truly was in the first place, I have been removed from the congregation.

I’ve had a good deal of time to reflect and ponder my own situation, in light of the scriptures and otherwise, both before and since. My own conclusions have not changed, though I do think that my understanding has deepened, and in part that is why I will be continuing to explore the subject here.

For now, though, I’ll conclude by saying I am grateful to be attending meetings regularly at the Kingdom hall again, and despite being considered “disfellowshipped” I find them spiritually strengthening and encouraging. These days I am glad to say I can be more sociable again, and although it saddens me that I cannot now freely associate with many of my friends, brothers and sisters in the congregation, I find I am being given precious opportunities to speak about the good news of God’s Word with others I come into contact with. Far from letting my circumstances cause me to be negative, many an acquaintance has told me they have come away after a conversation with a better view of both the Bible and Jehovah’s Witnesses than they had before. It pleases me know that I can still plant seeds of truth. I would encourage anyone in my sort of situation to do the same. Jehovah is a rewarder of those loyal to him, and so although the appointed elders may still expect to see me doing things that I cannot do, I know that Jehovah is pleased to see me doing what I can.

Glorious Freedom

For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will but through him that subjected it, on the basis of hope that the creation itself also will be set free from enslavement to corruption and have the glorious freedom of the children of God. – Romans 8:21

I can recall many moments as a very little girl when I felt totally secure, completely loved, and wonderfully happy, in blissful childlike innocence. As with all humans, it would only be later on that I would begin to learn some of the desperate truths of mankind’s present condition: that every descendant of our first human parents from Cain and Abel onward, myself included, was born into an imperfect and dying condition. Even the most well-intentioned of people, which certainly described my loving parents, were far from perfect, and would sometimes make painful, even hurtful mistakes. There would also be some in this world who are not so well-intentioned, inclined towards selfish motives, even deliberate hurtfulness of others, seemingly for hurtfulness sake alone.

As humans, we may struggle to greater or lesser degree against this overwhelming tide, but in the end, throughout history, the struggle has in a sense invariably proven futile. We have never overcome the inevitability of death, for ourselves or for those we love. We have never overcome the divided state of humans, nor stemmed the endless flood of selfishness and hurt. Human governments and leaders continue to come and go, and yet the Bible saying has only proven true of all: man has dominated man to his injury.

When my mother began to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I used to sit in the kitchen with her for those studies. That was my first exposure to the Bible’s incredibly satisfying answers to so many questions and concerns: the reasons the world came to be in it’s present state; how and why a loving creator could ever have allowed such a period of tragic futility in the first place; and most importantly, that these things are truly temporary. Eventually, when I grew older, I studied the scriptures for myself, and for me the evidence soon became overwhelming. Today, I am convinced that the Bible is exactly what it claims to be: the inspired word of the true God, Jehovah. It’s promises are trustworthy, and so I know that there lies a time ahead when this captive condition will be overturned. We will all have the prospect to truly experience freedom, far beyond even the freedom I felt as that innocent little girl.

Certainly that is something to be longed for. What I did not know back then, however, was that for me, freedom was going to become an especially complicated issue over the years. It was some time before I began to realize that what I knew with simple clarity from my earliest recollections as a young child — that I was a girl — was not what everyone else around me thought. They all thought I was a boy. Without anything even being explicitly said, it gradually became clear that all the people I cared about, and who cared about me, were expecting some very different things of me. I wasn’t going to be able to look the way I would have expected, or dress the way I would have expected, or even play in some of the ways I would have expected.

And thus without a word began a kind of self-imprisonment that would last forty-some years.

There have never been easy answers for dealing with such a condition. Although societal acceptance as a whole of transgender persons seems to be gradually improving, at least in some parts of the world, a lot of misunderstanding and misinformation remains. For the transgender Christian Witness especially, there are extremely challenging decisions, none without their consequences. My experiences in this regard will be the focus of future articles.