Open Letter to Transgenders and the LGBT Community

I have considered myself an ally of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender rights sense I was a teenager.  Not always perfect on language and sometimes a bit thick to an issue I never thought about before.  But I have never had any malice or hate toward anybody.  Something I saw changed my understanding and I needed to share.

Please bear with me as I explain a bit of my background on the topic.  My parents never taught me to hate LGBT people.  In fact I never heard them use the term gay until a cousin came out.  Even that was a matter of fact thing that they brought up once and never mentioned again if they could help it.    

One of the critical philosophical moments in my life took place when I was fourteen at an Episcopal Church camp who had a visiting Bishop from West Africa. I do not remember the country he was from but we were talking about being saved.  He had said being gay meant you were damned to hell. As the conversation went on I learned that he believed that only Christians and people who never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel (A.k.a. isolated tribes) had a chance to go to heaven.  I responded with the classic “Hitler had a chance but Gandhi didn’t” arguement. He told me that if Hitler repented and turned himself to Jesus then yes and Gandhi was in hell.  That was the turning point when I started believing it was more important what you did then who and how you worshiped.  

In College I became friends with several people along the wide spectrum of sexuality.  I always treated people as I would want to be treated. Not judging lest ye be judged.  It is also where I first started seeing real homophobia and bigotry and the hurt it could cause.  I marched my first gay pride parade in Fargo, North Dakota in the 90’s supporting my friends. The parade was more of a group of 30 people walking downtown then into a park but it meant so much to many of them and made it mean something to me.

Yesterday I watched The Opposite Sex: Rene’s Story on Showtime.  It’s a  2004 documentary about female to male transsexual preparing for reassignment surgery.  Watching Rene talking to his family and his wife of 15 years who had never seen him naked.  Being thrown out of his church that he was a deacon for.  Getting told by his older brother that he will always be his “Little sister.” All while Rene struggled to tell them, as he had since he was 5, that he was a boy and now a man.  That he needed to do this so he could not only feel but be whole.  

This all made me realize how much I didn’t understand.  I’ve had struggles with identity but never with my sexual identity.  My questions about who I was never had the chance to get my family to disown me.  I’ve never had a legal document tell me that I was female or had to worry about what bathroom will I be safest to piss in.   If never looked at my body and believing it was wrong like it belong to someone else. (well sometimes I look at my belly that way.)  

I also watched The Opposite Sex: Jamie’s Story a parallel male to female story.  Both are available from Showtime on demand.  They made me realize how hard being transgender can be and how I can never fully understand that life.

To my friends and acquaintances on the “Sexual Rainbow” know that I am still here for you and will try harder to get my pronouns right for you.  To the greater community, I will defend your rights to be who you are, to love who you love, and piss where you want to piss.  And when I inevitably screw up let me know so I can fix it next time.  May a day come when discussions like this are not needed.  

With love,
Toby Sterling

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