A Response: A TRANS-Faith Friendship

This blog post is written by Bryson in response to  A Christian & A Trans* Friend. He wanted the opportunity to respond through Education in Living Water.

BY BRYSON D

Almost daily, I see, hear, or read something put forward by a ‘Christian’, or ‘Christian’ group criticising the ‘gay agenda’, suggesting that educating kids about the diversity of sexuality and gender is harming them, likening us to pedophiles and Nazis, and other such harmful sentiments.

I use quotation marks, because I know that these people aren’t really Christian, because they’re not behaving in a loving way. Christianity as I see those close to me practise it looks very different. Even so, it can be hard to remember this at times.

Pretty soon after meeting Emma, she knew that I was queer, and I knew that she was Christian. Admittedly, at first I wasn’t sure how we could be friends. I had read and heard so many sad stories about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people feeling alienated and rejected by their friends and family due to a conflict between their identities and the beliefs of their loved ones. Although I’d never experienced this myself, I was still afraid.

However, it soon became clear that I had nothing to worry about with Emma. We had so much more in common than what we disagreed upon. We shared a love of music, junk food, coffee, and Disney movies. We still do. But we don’t just stick to the small stuff, or talk about the same old things. Emma and I have had many interesting conversations over the years, about politics, sexuality, religion, music, work, family, etc. Obviously, it’s this kind of friendship that you can count on in difficult times.

One of the most difficult times in my life occurred when I started to seriously consider that I might be transgender. There were a lot of other things I was struggling with, too, but the gradual realisation that I could no longer live as a girl was the most personal. I didn’t feel I could tell anyone, even my partner at the time.

Eventually, I did tell Emma. She responded with kindness and honesty, which is how she responds to most things (when she’s not being sarcastic, that is!). I don’t remember much about that time in my life, as there was a lot going on. However, suffice to say that if Emma hadn’t responded as she did, it would have taken a lot longer for me to begin telling others, and to get where I am today. She got the ball rolling, so to speak.

It’s difficult to overstate the imperative of transition for many trans people. Transitioning reduces, if not eliminates, depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s very common for trans people to attempt suicide. Personally, I reached a point where I felt I would rather die than continue living as a girl.

Even so, I was afraid that others wouldn’t understand the need for me to transition, particularly Emma. Almost all my other friends were either part of the LGBT community themselves, or very old friends. In hindsight, my fears seem ridiculous, but that’s often the nature of fear. At one point, I asked Emma how she could support my transition. She answered that she would rather ‘an alive Bryson than a dead friend’. It was then that I understood that Emma knew how important this was, and I feel that only made our friendship stronger.

I’ve often thought about how, for some other friends, this kind of thing could be impossible to overcome. Unfortunately, there are Christians who fail to recognise what Emma did – that not to treat LGBT people as PEOPLE first, often whose identity is very closely tied to their sexuality and gender identity – is directly harmful, and serves to create the impression that Christians only see LGBT people as sinners whose agenda needs to be stopped.

Obviously, this is untrue, as Emma has shown me. I will always be grateful for her support and friendship, and hope she knows that she will always have mine.

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A Christian & A Trans* Friend

It’s great that you can still be friends with them.

Maybe you should be taking a boy with you.

Isn’t that weird?

Just under five years ago, I became friends with a chick at college who is now a dude I’m still friends with. Bryson and I bonded over his posters of Obama and Matchbox Twenty hanging in his college room during the first week that we moved in. We remained firm friends who went to the movies, ate chocolate, studied and enjoyed each other’s company.

However, towards the middle of second semester, Bryson disappeared from college. No one knew where he was, and I was worried. I called everyday with no answer. Until, at a fateful 2am, Bryson appeared online and replied to my message. Bryson told me that he was struggling with his gender identity and that at least some part of him wanted to be a guy. He felt confused and just didn’t know what to do. He apologised profusely for telling me.

How did I respond?

I didn’t run around and quote the Bible. I didn’t tell Bryson that he was going to hell. I didn’t line up my pitchfork.

Why…? Christians are called to love others in the midst of their pain and suffering. What my friend needed was someone to listen. I had spent three months worried about him, and he had being going through tough stuff alone.

What he needed was a friend. A friend who didn’t dismiss the significance of his suffering because it wasn’t something the Christian community sees as God’s plan.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. ~ Proverbs 17:17

But you did tell him he’s a big trans* sinner, right?

Not that day, nor the days that followed after.

Christians need to be aware that being transgender and transitioning is a highly emotionally driven decision. Unhelpfully, I had people telling me it was great that I could still be friends with him. As if someone being trans* is a reason to stop being friends.

If Christians were to stop talking to anyone we thought were sinners, we’d talk to no-one… including ourselves.

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God…” – Romans 3: 10-11

I still remember having a rather sad friend who was sitting on my floor [slightly intoxicated] telling me how much he hated himself. To tell Bryson that his choice is wrong, when my faith is not his own, would be for me to tell him I’d prefer the alternative path he was heading down before transitioning.

I prefer an alive Bryson to a dead friend. An all too real alternative that Christians should not forget.

A few years later we talked about identity and how my identity was in Christ; not the way others perceived me. This didn’t lead from a conversation where I presumed that Bryson had made a decision to transition into a dude, because he simply wanted others to see him that way – but one  about what made us, “us,” and where we believed our identity came from.

Christians also need to realise that the decisions that we would make are different to that a non-Christian makes. We believe in living lives for God, and should not begrudge and belittle non-Christians for not doing the same. Bryson knows the Gospel and has his own views on life.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. – Colossians 3:1-3

As Christians, we are called to be witnesses of Christ and to show his love.

If you actually want someone to believe that God is loving whilst being friends with someone who is trans*, then the best way to do that is to actually be a friend.

Save any recommendations for when they bring it up or decide to be a Christian. People who are trans* deserve to have such a large decision dealt with appropriately, rather than someone steamrolling them with advice that is not appropriate for where they’re at. Gender dysphoria is a legitimate psychological issue which is handled differently by each person much like the depression and anxiety that manifests alongside it. Words carry weight, and need to be spoken thoughtfully.

Let’s be clear. I love my friend regardless of the pronouns he uses, the clothes he wears and the legal documents he changed. And you should love him too.

What if I come across someone who’s trans*?

  1. Don’t run away, dodge them or ignore them. Say hi.
  2. Get to know them.
  3. Be aware that those who are trans* may have been burnt by other Christians.
  4. When they are comfortable, ask questions to understand not to argue.
  5. Use the pronouns they identify by. This is something loving to do. Much like not calling your friends names that they don’t like. Apologise for when you forget.
  6. Don’t just view them as someone to convert.

Today, Bryson has changed a lot from the chick I met in my first year. He has a new name, his ID card now matches his face, and he’s had a chest reconstruction. He’s much happier and we still go to the movies, eat chocolate and enjoy each other’s company. We talk about Christianity, we talk about transgender identity and we understand that we are two different people who still like Obama and Matchbox Twenty.

I would encourage you to listen, learn and love. Speak graciously and wisely. Pray honestly. And don’t disregard the trans* community, their feelings, their struggles and their choices, because loving them first is the most loving thing to do.

Future Me’s Problem

People often presume that being organised is something that you just are, rather than something you become. We presume that these kind of traits are inherent to the way we are born, rather than something that we learn. This means, that whenever people are challenged to be more organised they argue that they “just aren’t that way.” However, I’d argue that these kinds of people have the wrong view of the purpose of being organised.

My first year of university, and my final year were variably different in how I organised myself. In my first year, I didn’t fly by the seat of my pants through my course, but I didn’t exactly plan my time well. The amount of effort I put into managing my commitments was minimal.

Past me, happily went through my first year of uni knowing when my assessments were due but not really doing anything about them until just before they were due. I’d ‘save’ all my readings (that I needed to do for my assignments) until mid-semester break and do them all over a week – only then to need to do the same thing again two weeks before semester ended.

Similarly, when I started working four days a week in my first year, I’d put off doing anything because I was tired, wanted to spend time with my friends, had other events on, wanted to watch a movie or any other form of procrastination. These habits continued onto my second year, where life wasn’t so cruisy. I had a car accident and a close relative of mine was diagnosed with the early stages of cancer. My procrastination when things were okay, meant that when things were rubbish, I fell far behind.

It became difficult to commit to anything outside of uni work within those weeks of assessments. I’d prioritise finishing my assignments rather than going to church, bible study or 1-1s. Yet, I’d not have a problem with bailing on assessments for movie trips, naps or watching copious amounts of TV.

I learnt that putting more effort in to make sure I managed my responsibilities meant that the more hectic life got the less likely I was to be overwhelmed. I was able to end semester with next to nothing to do, and didn’t dump “extra” commitments like ministry.

Future me is unlikely to want to do what present me is putting off.

There will always be things that you cannot deal with by being organised, but you’ll save yourself a lot of hassle if you stop pretending that it’s just something you can’t be.

Don’t put things off for tomorrow, that you can do today.

 

 

 

 

Time to Quit

When I finished my undergrad I headed into a Youth Worker position that I was looking forward to. However, I soon came to realise that it was time to quit.

The job I accepted was working a 24/7 roster with children in residential care. For those of you who don’t know what residential care is, it is a care arrangement for children who have been removed from their families by the state welfare services. These kids often have aggressive behaviours and significant emotional regulation issues.

As I said, I was keen for this work. It paid, and it was challenging enough that I wouldn’t get bored. For the first four months of my job I enjoyed it. There were a few downs with clients who were just perpetually angry (and violent).

The start of my job was easy. I was able to turn down working when I had Bible study on, and to take two weeks off for mission. During university holidays, I dealt reasonably well with long shifts where I’d sleepover at work and with some of the more violent shifts. Yet when uni rolled around, the flexibility I needed slowly ebbed away.

Eventually, I began being asked to work when I already had made myself “unavailable.” I also began working with a client that was becoming increasingly violent. I was managing a full-time course load at university and was working no less that 21 rostered hours (but upward of 50 with sleepover shifts). It wasn’t until I had three weeks away from work, that I realised it was time to go.

I’m not one to shirk responsibilities I’ve taken on, irrespective of how much I like them. So why did I choose to leave?

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that we are workers for Christ. Our life is a sacrifice for God, and we must be prepared to live a life that pleases God. Our work AND lives must glorify Him.

Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him ~ Colossians 3:17

This means acknowledging God’s sovereignty in our jobs. We have jobs to live, and are not to live for our jobs. Jobs support us for worldly responsibilities like paying rent and feeding ourselves, but are not our purpose in life. God is.

Lord, the God of our ancestors, are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you. ~ 2 Chronicles 20:6

If God is sovereign, it also means that what we do not only at work but our spare time matters to Him.

The major issue of my job was that it was pushing me towards living for work. I was being encouraged to use my time outside of work for more work, and the emotional toil of working with troubled children alongside uni was pushing my spare time further away from God.

I became less inclined to meet regularly for bible reading. I struggled to maintain relationships, not just with my Christian friends but also other (just as important) non-Christian friends. I was tired and didn’t feel like reading my Bible and felt constantly pressed for time.

Meeting regularly, loving our brothers and sisters, loving our friends and growing in God’s word are all important. It wasn’t until I stopped to breathe, that I realised I was overwhelmed by my work. My job consumed my life, and left little space for God.

What did I do?

Well, I checked my contract and gave my minimum notice for resignation. I left without a job lined up, but knowing that it was a good choice.

…there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. ~ 1 Corinthians 8:6

 

A Forgotten Blog. A Choice and A Degree

What can I say? After August I hit the mid-Internship chaos and traded blogging for sleep. Let’s just say that internship had it’s great moments, and some downs. The six drafts from that time, may be posted … one day.

Over a year has passed, and I’ve taught in China, been to New Zealand and Singapore, scored a new job, resigned and got another, chosen to stay in Newcastle and enrolled in a new (nearly finished) degree. Given my intended purpose for this blog, I think it’s worth ignoring my trips overseas and sharing why I chose to stay in Newcastle, find another job and do a Masters degree online.

At the start of 2015, I asked someone at my church if I should stay in Newcastle another year. The answer I was given wasn’t a simple yes or no; but a question which asked me to reflect on my ability at that time to go out, not as a new teaching graduate, but as a worker for Christ.

Was I prepared and equipped to leave the Newcastle community, and live with teaching not as my number one priority? 

At the time, it was easy to convince myself to stay. On the surface, because I wanted to “grow”; in reality, if I chose to stay in Newcastle, I’d just enroll in my Masters degree and continue through with my job at the uni. I could just take my graduate position after my Masters was done. Easy peasy. No real rocks to the boat and clearly, not an honest answer to the question I was posed.

However, by the end of 2015 it wasn’t such an easy choice and I was actually challenged to make hard decisions (for reals this time). The uni changed the Masters program and I wasn’t able to enroll. This meant I couldn’t continue with my university job. I’d committed to staying in Newcastle, because it was the easy option. Yet now, I had to really ask myself, was I prepared to leave and go out as a worker for Christ?

Such a choice, particularly based on work, requires you to check your motives. To be a worker for Christ, your priority in moving on actually needs to be with serving Christ because as Christians, our whole life is a sacrifice to God (moving, jobs, dreams, careers.. all of it).

….In view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…. ~ Romans 12: 1-2

Was I prepared to serve God in such a massive way? Given my sinfulness of choosing to stay in the first place, it was a resounding no.

I eventually came to realise that to stay, I was going to need to do my Masters online AND look for a new job. Neither one of these was a happy prospect. Studying online is hard, and means you can’t be superfluous about being on top of uni; nor does having a “normal” (non-student job) allow you to use uni as a reason to avoid work. When you also factor in making time for church and loving those around you, it becomes this abysmal cavern of low ambiguity and high organisation. It requires effort and actual thought — which is exhausting.

The choices that I made were not the ones I wanted, nor particularly liked. Yet it gave me all of 2016 to grow and work on placing God as sovereign in all parts of my life.

 

 

But Why Do You Believe in Equity?

Recently, a friend asked me why I thought my teaching practice should be shaped by distributive justice (equity). So this blog post is the long answer, which I couldn’t manage on a Friday night over dinner.


 

Two students.

One from a family whose parents completed high school and obtained a tertiary education, they have books in their house, the student is helped with his homework which includes the reading of an age-appropriate book for English.

One from a family whose mother completed high school and works night shifts and a father whose literacy is where he left it in high school at the age of 15. His father tries his best to help with his homework but the book requires him to sound out the words aloud before he can help his child.

Which one is most likely to finish their homework to a better standard?

No one is equal in education. 

The answer to this? Equity.

Equity acknowledges that people are inherently unequal. Students are born with characteristics like creativity or an affinity for algebraic equations. Some are born with impairments, or disabilities. Others, lag behind academically. Others have been born into high cultural capital families.

So what is equity exactly? Well here’s the layman’s definition:

Equity is the provision of resources to those who need them in order to create a level playing field.

Equity perpetuates inequality to create equality. (Woah). It discriminates on the basis of need to enable fairness of chances in succeeding.

In education this can take many shapes and forms. It can be the employment of Teacher’s Aides, diversifying learning activities or changing expected learning outcomes. Really, it’s being aware of student’s weaknesses, strengths and diverse backgrounds then acknowledging that these will impact the learning experience of every single student in a different way.

As a classroom teacher, I will never be able to provide the funding needed to employ a TA, purchase specialist resources or a far reaching educational program. However, I can differentiate my teaching. This uses all that I know (and can find out) about the students in my class and then alters my pedagogy (everything teacher’s do) to cater for the needs identified.

An example is of these two export tables. One was given to Year 9 students who were reading at a primary school level, the other to those at or just below stage level:

diff 2diff

Note: I did six revisions of the readability of the export table, to change headings, simplify commodities, exclude the %’s traded, and the font.

Sometimes, this is time-consuming and often hard, so why bother?

I wrote this in a recent education assignment:

Differentiation requires learning objectives for all students to be the same, but ensuring tasks are tailored to meet the needs of individual students so that each have the opportunity to engage and learn.

What I really wanted to write was something far deeper and less secular.

The only thing that Christ treats equally is his love of people and hatred of sin. Jesus was sent to save the sick, not to call the righteous (Mark 2:17). Christ also treated those who were downtrodden with an unyielding compassion regardless of who was watching (Luke 7:37-50).

Although Christ’s love is far more pure, constant and unconditional that anything I can offer; my students are equal human beings who deserve me to care about them, however, I didn’t become a teacher to sit and watch students struggle when I could easily do something about it. I choose to discriminate my pedagogy so that a child who may fall into the cracks of the education system can achieve, even if it means another child’s worksheet hasn’t been read seventeen times for readability when they don’t need that treatment.

I also wrote this in the same assignment:

This [equity] is contrary to current discourse which requires teachers to be competent experts who are measured on the basis of standardized tests.

It is easy to forget equity when a standardized test like NAPLAN or an exam measures your ability to teach well. When differentiation is time-consuming and almost irrelevant to the national assessment of education, why use your time if the student isn’t even going to be able to read the question on the HSC test paper?

I wrote this:

That is, realizing how to cater for students is a life-long process, and I will not always be the expert, but that my praxis [way you teach] will be constantly reinvented.

 

What I meant was:

As a Christian, we are called to emulate the love and fruits of the Spirit that Jesus so awesomely displays to the world.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. ~ Galatians 5:22-26

Sure, a teacher can’t be expected to fix the world– it’s infinitely filled with brokenness, and almost every student will be marred by this (#Jesus can fix all: Luke 18:27; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17).

Yet if I’m faced with the decision to have a two hour nap on a Friday afternoon, or change all my slides to black and white, so that the student I just found out was colour blind can read the explanations, notes and instructions; actual kindness demands me to forego the nap. Or, despite the great desire to discipline the student who stands outside the classroom he’s just been kicked out of whilst banging on the door, screaming to be let back in; self-control reminds me he has an additional learning need, where he can’t draw the connection between being punished (in this way) and his behaviour so I sit him down, ask him why he’s outside, what he should have done then explain it’s fair to be outside.

 

Short answer: Equity. I think it matters. Jesus.

 

 

Dealing with Supervising Teachers

Another long post…

images

Throughout our placement courses, we are often reminded of how important it is to get along with our cooperating teachers (teacher supervisors/mentors) during placement. This is because they are the ones solely responsible for writing our placement reports. They decide whether we’ve met each standard, put in a decent effort or deserve to pass. Alongside this, however and whatever is written in that report is seen by the Department of Education during the recruitment interviews. CTs ultimately hold our teaching fate in their hands for three, four or even ten weeks; so an unhappy CT does not make for a happy placement life.

Now, most people assume that if a teacher has signed up to be a supervisor they should be understanding and keen to help out the new pre-service teacher. More often than not, this is true. My third year prac was amazing because my CT and all of the secondary staffroom endeavoured to make it that way. They let me be a creeper observing their classes, talked to me about why they chose to do a lesson a certain way, and were generally friendly. However, my first year placement was a little worse for wear.  The supervisor sat down with me at the end of observation week to “help” develop goals for my placement; in actuality the result was less than helpful. I was yelled at, belittled and left with next to no confidence in my ability to teach over the next three weeks.

What I experienced was not an isolated incident for a teaching degree. For the university staff overseeing teaching students, it would have been a red flag. Questionably, I chose not to contact the university about the situation. This was partially due to an unwillingness to “snitch” and mostly to gain experience with colleagues who didn’t ‘float my boat.’

So what did I learn from dealing with my CT?

1. Give the benefit of the doubt

Even though I felt disregarded at times, I learnt to give my CT the benefit of the doubt in most situations. They have rubbish days and hectic lives too. It is better to believe that your CT actually cares about your success as a teacher rather than wanting you to fail, otherwise you simply start to begrudge everything that peeves you. Like poor days in the classroom, next period and tomorrow is a fresh start with students, it’s the same with your CT.

2. Listen well

During placement, I find that my emotions are heightened with words, inflections and gestures becoming a touchy battlefield for constructive conversation. In the haze of tiredness, difficult classes and planning it can be hard to actually listen to what someone is trying to tell you. Focus on what feedback is being given and how it applies to your teaching. Don’t be afraid to clarify points, even if you feel the feedback has highly critical undertones. Look for practical applications and remember that some suggestions will not suit your beliefs about education or teaching style. You will need to make a decision to ride that feedback wave, or to stick it out (especially if your CT brings the same point up again).

3. Patience

I learnt to extend the same patience that I gave the year seven boys to my CT (that was appropriate for our professional relationship, so no “you’re not talking while I’m talking” and waiting till she settled down). It took three weeks (out of four) for me to finally feel my CT respected me as an individual who listened to what I said. We built mutuality and reciprocity, without pushing each other under the bus.

4. Fake it until you make it

Placement is tough and so are difficult relationships. As teachers, we perform a highly organised routine with the classroom as our stage, everyday! We know how to look like we are calm, when we really just want to tear out our hair. My CT just reminded me, that alongside an amazing learning experience, the performance sometimes needs to leave the classroom and flash mob the staffroom.

One final point… if you are constantly left feeling terrible about yourself due to a CT’s remarks, contact the appropriate person immediately. Once criticism turns nasty and personal, it is not alright to remain in that placement for an extended period of time.

Remember, CTs are people with different personalities, lifestyles and tastes; but they are people none-the-less.