When I began revealing to family, friends and clients that I was transgender, it came as a shock to everyone who knew me. I had done such a good job of suppressing and repressing my true identity, being transgender was the last thing anyone suspected.
I remember how the process of coming out made me feel, it literally felt as if I was undressing in front of people; there was nothing left to hide. I have never felt as vulnerable—it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done.
Knowing I had an opportunity to not only inform the people in my life of the changes to come, I wrote a carefully worded letter to also help educate them. In essence, it was a brief primer on what it means to be transgender, but more importantly, it was an appeal for acceptance.
Compared to the experience of many transgender persons, I was fortunate. Not only did my family embrace me, my friends and clients offered their ongoing support. I am is most grateful, however, for how my three adult sons have welcomed me into their lives.
Though I transitioned fairly late in life at the age of 57, I had struggled for many years—not knowing why I felt the way I did. Like many transgender persons of my generation, it was not until I was forty years old when I first heard the word “transgender.’’ This word did not come into use until the late 80s and early 90s. Up to that point I had “spiritualized” this internal conflict for which I had no explanation. As a devout Christian I struggled with guilt and believed that all her internal confusion was an attack from the devil. Nevertheless, I beleive my faith helped me survive and kept me from self-harming and self-destructive behaviors, even if I often thought about death.
In 1999, at the former Gender Clinic at Vancouver General Hospital (VGH), I was diagnosed with acute gender dysphoria and was offered assistance to transition medically and surgically. However, it took me nine years to act on the recommended treatment. I first had to reconcile my Christian beleifs to what the doctors had explained to me. I didn’t want to trample over my faith, but I also didn’t want to park my brain on the shelf.
While it seemed as if my marriage, and my free-lance graphic design career were going to survive my transition from male to female, my wife and I divorced in 2011 and my business gradually all but dried up. I now find myself severely underemployed, a fate lamentably shared by many transgender persons. It was in recent conversations with two of my ex-clients that my worst fears were confirmed—transitioning was the equivalent of committing career suicide.
Though Vancouver’s progressive social scene offers one of the safest places for transgender persons to transition, the truth is that when it comes to employment and business, things are seen through a much narrower lens. Employers and clients worry about the optics of associating or working with a trans person; there is the fear the trans person will drive business away or make co-workers, clients and customers feel uncomfortable. And who wants to risk losing a client or a customer; or risk impacting the bottom line?
Hoping to help make a difference in the lives of other transgender persons and their families, I recently completed a M.A. in Public and Pastoral Leadership at Vancouver School of Theology. As part of my degree, I did spiritual care (chaplaincy) training at VGH and also conducted a quantitative and qualitative study titled “Transgender Spirituality Pulse Survey 2015.” I have been asked by various church groups and denominations to share my findings and to speak about the implications for the church and communities of faith. I also share my findings in workshops and corresponds with pastors throughout North America who hope to help their congregations become welcoming, affirming and safe places for gender-variant people of all ages.
In 2011, I publiIshed “Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life,” the story of my life up to the point just after my gender confirming surgery in 2010. Many people, especially those with a faith background, have found my journey inspiring and illuminating. A pastor from Nevada recently wrote this review:
“This is a thoughtful, compelling, and insightful look at the life of someone struggling with gender identity. It gives insight into the struggle, and helps the reader find empathy, compassion, and understanding. Lisa, through her humble vulnerability, invites the reader to experience the range of emotions encountered as someone comes to grips with transgender issues. The glimpses into her strong Christian faith and her journey of reconciling that faith gave me hope for a future where transgender people can be participating members of the church.”
To this I would simply add: “And society!”
Thanks to the marvels of technology, I have had the privilege of meeting with individuals, groups and class rooms from home using video chat apps. From college and university classrooms, to church halls and living rooms, I've been able to "spread the word" and have met countless people on-line, but most importantly: in person!
My presentations and discussions come in two flavors: spirtual and secular. In other words, if you are a person of faith, a religious group or faith community, I share the process I went through in reconciling my beliefs, and examine the scriptures that now inform my theology. We also talk about the implications for people of a faith and how they can respond to transgender persons. Into this conversation, I integrate what it means to be transgender, review the terminology and consider the opportunities and challenges of being transgender.
The secular presentations and workshops have these objective:
I have given keynote presentations, as well as workshops, complete with a PowerPoint presentation. Each presentation is tailored to the group and, more importantly, how much time we have available for the session(s).
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Please contact me via the contact link if you would like to discuss an online meeting, or if you would like me to speak at your next conference, retreat or professional day.
I first met Lisa Salazar at a workshop she presented at Vancouver Community College for the Positive Space committee. As there have been issues in some of our classes with transgender students not always being treated respectfully or with a proper understanding, I asked Lisa to come to speak at a department faculty meeting. It was an important first step for instructors. They appreciated the facts and details Lisa presented in her very well prepared power point, as it gave the instructors a better understanding of the subject, but also a clear idea of what a transgender person may go through, emotionally and possibly physically. As well, Lisa punctuated her presentation with personal stories which made it all so much more personal and relevant. In fact, the presentation was made complete with these personal stories.
It was unfortunate that we weren’t able to devote even more time to Lisa’s presentation as instructors had many questions but we weren’t able to get to all of them. It was because of Lisa’s open and genuine personality that instructors felt at ease asking whichever question was on their mind, and Lisa was gracious enough to answer as many as she could in the time allotted.
I would highly recommend having Lisa present to other groups or organizations where there is tension because of people not having a proper understanding of transgender people.
Asst Dept Head - LINC Dept
Vancouver Community College
February - 2016
I am writing this letter of recommendation for Lisa Salazar, who guest taught in my undergraduate course Issues in Modern Religions for the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Redlands in fall 2015 and is scheduled to do so again in spring 2016. I am a professor in the Religious Studies Department there and have known Lisa for a little over two years now due to our shared scholarly focus on gender studies in religion (particularly American evangelical Christianity). The class of about twenty traditional undergraduate students at this residential campus were required to read Lisa’s book Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life before the discussion, and I was impressed with Lisa’s ability not only as a scholar but also as a positive role model, engaging students in active and informed discussion in this eighty-minute session.
Specifically, Lisa’s writing, speaking and teaching style is organized and clear in spite of technical difficulties beyond her control. (The university’s web conferencing in our classroom in California was working only intermittently as she taught us from her Canadian location.) Lisa was articulate and open as she explained not only key points of her book relevant to the course topic but additional fact-checked and original research she has done more recently, which she emailed so that I could post on our course website for full access by students. Lisa promotes student engagement, creating a comfortable and positive learning environment. She actively invited students to share their names and to ask questions, recognizing and respecting the contributions of each one, including one who was somewhat challenging and seemed not to have done any of the required preparatory reading. Lisa answered that student’s question as graciously and patiently as she did all others, inviting students to explore further. Lisa clearly prioritized the group learning goal that day of learning about gender issues from the perspective of diverse Christian traditions over focusing on herself as an individual, even though we had been reading her autobiography.
As a collaborator in team teaching, Lisa took the lead in clearly defining and agreeing on our roles as partners in the collaborative teaching process, seeking specific information on the class learning goals and strategies and how she could help inform and expand on those. She contacted me both before and after the class session, keeping communication open to share information on our goals and methods and to process what we and students had learned from the experience. She provided content for me to share with students, including web analytics related to our topic of study that day.
I highly recommend Lisa Salazar as a positive contributor and collaborator in any professional setting. If I can answer any other questions, please feel free to contact me via email or phone as listed above.
Heath Adam Ackley, Ph.D.,
Department of Religious Studies
University of Redlands, CA.
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