No Vulnerability, No Courage

It’s time to burn your bunker.

Kira Wertz
May 5 · 12 min read

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”
Brené Brown,

In 2017 I had been approached by my good friend (founder of Free Mom Hugs and author of ) to protest a showing of the transphobic documentary ‘TranZformed: Finding Peace in your God Given Gender’. The “documentary” was being peddled by conversion therapy advocate and Executive Director of First Stone Ministries (FSM) Stephen Black. FSM was attempting to get the film viewed in other churches in the OKC area.

As word of our intended protest began to circulate, the leaders of the church who were going to allow the screening met with me and Sara, as well as at least one leader in the mental health community. Ultimately they agreed to cancel the screening because they didn’t realize how damaging it was. After my conversation with these leaders, I have come to believe that they didn’t necessarily disagree with the contents of the film, so much as their prevailing concern was the negative publicity associated with their church.

After successfully detering that viewing, FSM swore to keep pushing the film. And in April 2018 they were able to successfully have a viewing at the First Moore Baptist Church. Once again, Sara had attempted to appeal to the church elders, but they refused to return her call. She obtained a permit for a protest, and I was all on board. As the days leading up to the viewing drew scarce, Sara had been contacted by the Human Rights Campaign as well as the former director of Freedom Oklahoma. The concern was that our protest was going to be plastered all over social media as “the militant LGBTQ community fighting against religious liberty.” Furthermore, the Oklahoma State legislature was just weeks away from weighing on on a bill that would allow discrimination against LGBTQ parents seeking to adopt with the assistance of religious-based adoption agencies. It was believed if we protested, we would negatively sway the vote against the community.

We respectfully stepped away from our plans to protest, and as the day of the viewing came, it became apparent that it was a very smart decision. I worked that day, and my route lead me past the church about an hour before showtime. There was a police car in the church parking lot; seemingly in anticipation of a dustup that wouldn’t have happened even if the protest had commenced. I ventured back after I’d gotten off work to see if there were any protesters who hadn’t gotten our message to disband. Thankfully no one was protesting, but what I saw confirmed what the HRC and Freedom Oklahoma had feared. FSM had a man outside the church filming the street in the very location I would have opted to set-up our protest. It was extremely windy that day, and watching this man from afar was extremely comical. He took an uncanny and paranoid approach to pedestrians; even running after someone on a bicycle. I was amused at the lunacy that was playing out, and the thought that our peaceful protest would have warranted that kind of behaviour was a bit unhinged. But I guess when an oppressor needs to paint themselves as the victim, these are the lengths they’ll go to in order to accomplish that.

I will lamentably admit that I was too emotionally weak to attend this screening. In preparation for the protest, I chose to view the film with two of my Transgender peers. To call that film triggering would be an understatement but since I was unable to rebut the promoters of the film I opted to give an

Whether I got to be in the audience for this viewing would have proven moot. Prior to the showing FSM had stated that those in attendance would be expected to sign wavers indicating that none of the presentation could be recorded, and that any protest or counter argument would lead to removal from the viewing. I am aware of at least one person who is openly transgender who opted to submit to these conditions. I can’t imagine the distress my sister felt as she had to view this deceptive film and sit through a Q&A that would never permit her views (or even her existence) to be validated.

Tragically, despite the protest being completely called off, it never swayed the Oklahoma State legislature from passing the discriminatory which allowed religious adoption agencies to deny assistance to anyone they disapprove of “ based on religious or moral convictions.” This bill affects the LGBTQ community, minorities, and those who’s religious beliefs do not mesh with the beliefs of the assisting agency.

“People often silence themselves, or “agree to disagree” without fully exploring the actual nature of the disagreement, for the sake of protecting a relationship and maintaining connection. But when we avoid certain conversations, and never fully learn how the other person feels about all of the issues, we sometimes end up making assumptions that not only perpetuate but deepen misunderstandings, and that can generate resentment.”
Brené Brown,

Recently I became aware of a similar situation that took place in British Columbia where a Transgender individual named The purpose of these sessions was to attach additional stigma and reinforce stereotypes against the transgender community by playing into unverifiable fears that we’re a danger to women and children. The closed-door nature was no different than the position that FSM took with their viewing of TranZformed. Jenn set the rules such that the only evidence of what they said would be in the form of handwritten notes, and that any form of dissonance with their message would be punished with expulsion from the event. This is their closet; their echo-chamber, their bunker.

“The special courage it takes to experience true belonging is not just about braving the wilderness, it’s about becoming the wilderness. It’s about breaking down the walls, abandoning our ideological bunkers and living from our wild heart rather than our weary hurt. We’re going to need to intentionally be with people who are different from us. We’re going to have to sign up, join and take a seat at the table. We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.”
Brené Brown,

As far as the events of this “information session” I only have a second hand account of what was said and the inaccuracies that were perpetuated. What’s important to note is that this individual was supported by The Canadian Christian Lobby. Such as the case of FSM it can be difficult to see these closed-door one-sided conversations as anything beyond a religiously supported attempt to utilize shame as a resource to dehumanize anyone who’s happiness and sense of self are derived from living differently than that group. The doors are closed because accepting the facts regarding being transgender are more difficult than simply choosing to accept and love those individuals who are different than themselves. It’s xenophobic and indicative of zero-sum — us versus them — thinking.

I recently bore witness to this same thing as I attempted to engage in a comment thread of a transphobic piece posted on LifeSiteNews (a “Christian” website). My responses were long, thought-out, and civil; but it didn’t take long for my counter-argument to get me banned from commenting altogether. The same people that would cry foul if censored, take no issue in censoring others when it serves them. I suspected this would happen, so I copied the (now deleted) comments to my public facebook page;

“In philosophy, “you’re either with us or against us” is considered a false dichotomy or a false dilemma. It’s a move to force people to take sides. If other alternatives exist (and they almost always do), then that statement is factually wrong. It’s turning an emotion-driven approach into weaponized belonging. And it always benefits the person throwing down the gauntlet and brandishing those forced, false choices.”
Brené Brown,

Weight is given to their position when they can have an individual speak from the “I am Transgender,” or “I thought I was Transgender” position. Jenn Smith is admittedly one of those individuals, and in the case of the documentary TranZformed, there was the re-emerging face of Walt Heyer — a man who transitioned to female, only to renounce it and detransition years later. Still, I’m baffled that these individuals who apparently hold such strong positions are opting to do so from the relative safety of their bunkers. Undoubtedly their detractors manage to malign their views from the relative safety of the anonymous internet, but that’s a counter argument that’s easy to ignore. However, when it comes to these public displays, they remain unwilling to engage in respectful dialog with the very people whose lives they seek to destroy, or — in their minds — transform.

“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage. When the barrier is our belief about vulnerability, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome?’ When the barrier to vulnerability is about safety, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen?”
Brené Brown,

When we see these attacks levied from the safety of a controlled environment, I have to begin to ask deeper questions. What is the pain these individuals are dealing with?

In both Jenn’s presentation, and in the TranZformed “documentary” there is an implication that a upbringing that has some form of sexual abuse within it becomes the catalyst for becoming a Transgender person. Does that mean that every child that proclaims they’re a different gender at a tender age has been sexually abused? What of adults? Many people are sexually abused in their youth, and if this abuse was a trigger for being transgender, then there would be an abundance of people who grew up in deeply religious households that would identify as Trans. If I have to explain why that would be, then you’re not paying attention to the news.

To hear these kinds of assumptions makes me believe that in lieu of addressing their own pain, these individuals scapegoat, deflect, and project their own matters of confusion on to others. One individual’s misunderstanding of self should never burden another who completely understands who they really are.

“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. — JAMES A. BALDWIN”

I understand this more than anyone realizes. As a victim of shame, I would much rather deflect and dehumanize another before daring to admit the thing I am most ashamed of. Understanding that, and acknowledging our shame is an essential part stripping it of the power it lords over us. Finding our own humanity is key, and that’s how we do it. Unfortunately, even as many of us cast off our shame, others are quick to try and re-instill it.

“When the culture of any organization mandates that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of the individuals who serve that system or who are served by that system, you can be certain that the shame is systemic, the money is driving ethics, and the accountability is all but dead.”
Brené Brown,

When we see these closed-door events being perpetrated, accountability has absolutely died. These people will speak their position to people seeking to reinforce their own beliefs while never be permitted to be shown the actual statistics regarding the trans community. They will hear that the suicide rate is high, so one should never help someone transition. They won’t be told that an individual who has accepting family will have their levels of suicidality drop to those of their Cisgender peers. Love — being the saving grace — is never promoted; instead love is rebranded as shame, the very basis of conversion therapy.

Moreover, they demonize the medical establishment as being the force whereby “money is driving ethics;” a point that was brought up in the “documentary” TranZformed. That argument doesn’t really hold much water; anti-trans proponents claim Transgender surgeries are “highly lucrative,” yet that statement highlights this perceived notion that everyone who transitions will seek surgery — as if our identity isn’t validated until we go under the knife. Some don’t want to, and some will never afford to. The surgeries themselves are often less expensive than more common surgical procedures like a hip or knee replacement. An example would be the almost eighty thousand dollars my insurance company was billed for my gastric bypass, and the 1.5 days spent in the hospital following it. My bottom surgery was approximately twenty thousand dollars. To call these surgeries lucrative is nothing short of spin. And as the medical establishment seeks to help youth, they ultimately will create lives that result in that individual needing fewer surgeries because they will have prevented the dysphoric effects of their natal puberty. How then can this be “money driving ethics?”

Conversely, one can see easily see members of religious institutions reinforcing the culture of their organization such “that it is more important to protect the reputation of a system and those in power than it is to protect the basic human dignity of the individuals who serve that system or who are served by that system.” Moreover, it is necessary to maintain religious revenue streams to keep individuals feeling shame such that their only salvation is weekly repentance and a lifetime of tithing. And of course this group is not permitted to be held accountable for their hateful and harmful actions; part of the awesome benefits of claiming “religious liberty.” It’s the same disregard for humanity that had

“Dehumanizing and holding people accountable are mutually exclusive. Humiliation and dehumanizing are not accountability or social justice tools, they’re emotional off-loading at best, emotional self-indulgence at worst. And if our faith asks us to find the face of God in everyone we meet, that should include the politicians, media, and strangers on Twitter with whom we most violently disagree. When we desecrate their divinity, we desecrate our own, and we betray our faith.”
Brené Brown,

True courage is having the ability to walk in this world as your honest and vulnerable self. It means accepting the consequences of that truth and carrying on because the pain of denying your authenticity is worse than the pain we’ll endure for embracing that authenticity. I often wonder if it’s the very act of displaying that courage that causes others to attack us so fervently. The idea that one is not controlled by shame is dangerous, especially when shame utilized by religious institutions has long been a powerful means of control. If you cannot be controlled, you unwittingly create fear in others. And as Yoda so aptly revealed this truth, “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering.” One could even see the connection between denying employment or access to basic services as a means of reinstating control when the shame of simply being LGBTQ is no longer applicable.

The inevitable outcome of fear is dehumanization. You can accomplish a lot with name calling. If you can assign a derogatory term to any group and say it enough it will permit the otherwise-kind masses to see that group as “less-than” and allow those individuals to feel moral justification for their hate.

So what’s the solution?

“People Are Hard to Hate Close Up. Move In.” ― Brené Brown,

It’s easy to objectify and demonize an individual or group from afar, this is exactly why I choose to be visible. I refuse to allow a denial of my Transgender identity to subtly permit those in my world to diminish this beautiful community. I will speak against the hate, I will educate the ignorant, and I will denounce every stereotype. I am not alone, and my people will not stand idly by while a handful of scared people promote lies, half-truths, and distorted statistics from behind the closed doors and distilled voices within their bunkers. We will host our own “information sessions” where everyone is invited; even those with dissenting opinions.

We are not scared. No matter how you try to oppress us, so long as we are true to ourselves, we will always be free.

I’m Kira; I’m done with safe spaces, closets, and bunkers.

is a research professor at the University of Houston. For nearly two decades she has been studying Courage, Vulnerability, Shame, and Empathy. She has written She has as well as a .


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The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.

Kira Wertz

Written by

Married, cat/dog momma, Transgender Truck Driver, public speaker, activist, LGBTQ advocate, and primary author at The Transition Transmission.

The Transition Transmission

The place to embrace the Triumphs and Tribulations of those who Transitioned and risked everything to live authentically.