Episode 62: Carmen X.

I met Carmen at my home group, and have always enjoyed her thoughtful comments, intelligence, and her honest, open, and warm personality. This podcast features a portion of her story followed by an interesting conversation based on her experience as a transgender woman and a freethinker in Alcoholics Anonymous. 

Carmen has the utmost respect for AA and credits it for her sobriety, but she says, “facts and events are what they are.” And it’s a matter of fact that three different AA groups suggested she belonged somewhere else. They asked her to leave, and she thinks her belief system was just as much a problem for these groups as was her transition. They told her that she was a “distraction.”

Seeking another way, Carmen read Charles Bufe’s book, Alcoholics Anonymous Cult or Cure, and began to google “Secular AA.” Her search results produced a long list of possibilities, including our group, We Agnostics Kansas City. I’m glad she found us and that she now has a place in AA where she is accepted and feels at home. I’m also grateful to her for enriching my own life and for teaching me through her example.

There are many things about Carmen that I admire, but what I find perhaps the most inspiring is her ability to transcend pain and to offer understanding and forgiveness to those who shunned her.  

During our conversation, she made the comment, “there comes a time when we just have to be comfortable with who we are.” That time has arrived for Carmen. Sitting across my kitchen table, as we recorded this podcast, was a woman beaming with self-confidence and contentment— completely comfortable with who she is. 

When I asked her about the AA program and if she believes in the Steps, she told me quite plainly that she believes in herself. She believes in living a moral life, which to her means being good to others and treating them as she would want to be treated. 

Relying on her intellect to search for the truth, Carmen finds herself drawn to people who are seeking the way. She’s wary of those who are certain they know the path, because those people don’t have to think. One of the gifts of sobriety, she believes, is that we can use our intellect as part of the recovery process. I believe this is a healthy attitude and a welcome respite from the anti-intellectual sentiment found in many AA meetings. It’s an attitude that embraces the spirit of a sign we often find hanging on the walls of our meeting places—a slogan urging us to “think…think…think…”

Thank you, Carmen, for our fascinating conversation and for agreeing to share your story with the rest of us. 

To learn more about Carmen, check out these links:

The Tenth Voice KC’s LGBT Radio: Trans Talk Featuring Carmen!: This is an informative program featuring two guests who talk about issues facing the transgender community. Carmen’s segment begins at about 27:04.

Carmen’s Performance at the Outburst Gallery: Carmen gives a performance narrative of her loss of innocence on a grade school playground, providing a look at one of many events that hinted at her gender dysphoria. 


Download the transcript, or read it by scrolling through the embedded pdf below.

Episode 62 Carmen X

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  1. DerekV August 20, 2017 at 11:18 am - Reply

    This is why I moved away from Agnostic AA. While I am atheist and an AA member I want to learn and hear about peoples’ experience of getting and staying sober without a deity. This conversation starts out talking about step twelve to practice these principles in all our affairs.. but it rapidly moves into just carping criticism of regular AA. I personally don’t find that helpful.

    • John S August 20, 2017 at 11:24 am Reply

      To be fair Derek, many if not most of the podcasts that we produce feature discussions that center on recovery in AA through a secular perspective. The conversations often flow on their own. In the case of Carmen, three different AA groups asked her to leave. They told her that she was not welcomed. She believes this is due to her atheism as much as her transition. In view of this, I think a little criticism is understandable. At our meetings, we don’t criticize AA or even talk about God or lack of belief in God all that much. I often suggest to people to not judge a group by one meeting or a few meetings. At any rate, thank you for listening.

  2. Angie Lee July 23, 2017 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    Very great to listen to Carmen. Great you can share like this. True compassion comes from you. Definitely a great topic. Glad your life has improved over the years. So much I agree with taking your power back.  Thanks for sharing

  3. Diana R July 23, 2017 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    I loved your discussion together–so very honest and refreshing. This is what AA is about for me–frank sharing of our struggles. You  highlighted both AA’s strengths and areas in need of improvement. I particularly enjoyed the discussion about sponsorship and some of it’s pitfalls.

    Thomas, I am looking forward to your article “AA and Original Sin”.

  4. life-j July 23, 2017 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    Thanks, both of you. This was really inspiring, you touched on so many of my “favorite” topics, most of all how unnecessary the concept of a higher power is to recovery.

    These days when i get my hands on a grapevine first thing I do is scan the article for god and higher power. if it is in there I simply don’t read it anymore. This is not to say that there may not have been something the author could teach me, but I figure i will probably stumble upon someone else without god who can teach me the same thing.

    And the think, think think thing vs. my best thinking got me here. I remember this meeting I went to once, musta been about 10 years ago or 15, where these three little old ladies who appeared to have been sober forever and were buddies in sobriety sat there trying to ourdo each other in the meeting talking about how stupid they were. how they were so glad they didn’thave to think, because they were no good at it anyway, so it was good the program told them exactly what to do, etc.

    I just can’t understand why anyone would want that sort of life, well, maybe if that was the best they wound up with, ok, but to even sit there and praise it as an ideal condition, inferring that others ought to strive for the same leave-your-brain-at-the-door bullshit, it’s sad.

    And newcomers are sitting around listening to this, and confessing “I’m really struggling to find my higher power” I feel compelled to quote Bill here: “Either god is or he isn’t ….” – well if it is such a struggle to find Him, maybe it’s because he can’t be found except by applying an inordinate amnount of delusion.

    And a bunch of other good things in this talk. My memory is short, and my 85 year old mother is visiting, and that’s a distraction though we’re having a good time.

  5. Joe C. July 23, 2017 at 11:14 am - Reply

    I love a podcast that gets me thinking. Thank you Carmen, thank you team-Beyond Belief.

    I thought about something Andrew Solomon said in a Ted Talk: “There is always someone there to talk our humanity away and always someone to restore it. Oppression breeds the power to oppose it. Identity politics always works on two fronts. First it gives pride to someone who has given characteristics and secondly, it causes the outside world to treat such people ore gently, more kindly.”

    This isn’t an AA thing anymore than AA is just a microcosm of our larger community, but when Carmen mentioned occasions where she was told, “Your kind aren’t welcome here” first for transitioning and secondly, even within the LGBTQ AA community for her non-theistic worldview, that is oppression in AA. But to find in the We Agnostics group helped instill “the power to oppose it,” that is also AA. Not only does AA help all of us reconcile that our alcoholism doesn’t make us second-class citizens,  young people’s, women’s LGBTQ and atheist/agnostic groups further the safety of not being alone.

    To Solomon’s second point, ” it causes the outside world to treat such people ore gently, more kindly,” while groups for women, youth, atheists, LGBTQ initially face ridicule and hostility, in time there is a normalizing of our groups being like any other AA group, slightly different from the rest but equal and autonomous. 

    Carman, you are an example of being the example in AA, of live-and-let-live. It’s easy for me to react to persecution with outrage and there is a place for expressing anger and speaking truth to power. But ultimately, rising above discrimination and living well is the best solution. Thanks for sharing your story. I feel inspired.

  6. Thomas B. July 23, 2017 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Thanks so much, Carmen and John, for this podcast, which demonstrates so authentically the truth of the slogan that is on every one of “traditional” AA’s sobriety coins, the quote by Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “To thine own self be true !~!~!”

    John, somewhere swirling among the bucket list of projects within my head is the intention to write an article for AABB entitled, “AA and Original Sin.” The article will explicate how explicitly AA follows with cult-like precision the Christian imperative that we are all desperate sinners with character defects, which can only be removed by the power of Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for all of our sins, so that we may all be saved. This is why it is so prevalent that every “traditional AA meeting” reads How It Works and why every meeting must end with the Lords Prayer. Thus, the C. portion of How It Works is fulfilled, “That God could and would if He were sought.”

    I am so grateful that all of our atheist, agnostic and free-thinking authentic selves can share with each other truthfully with respect for all beliefs and/or non-beliefs within Secular AA, which as you pointed out in the podcast, John, is more in line with what AA traditionally and historically has always been.

    • John S July 23, 2017 at 9:41 am Reply

      Thank you, Thomas, I look forward to your article. Really, anything you write is brilliant. I need to make point of reading your memoir. I think I will take it with me on my trip to Florida next week. 

      I enjoyed this podcast with Carmen and getting to know her has been a pleasure and I have the utmost respect and admiration for her. I have always known on an intellectual level that bigotry and discrimination exist all around me, but I don’t often feel it in my bones. I want to feel it and to do that, I need to break out of my bubble and surround myself with people from all walks of life. 

      In AA, we like to think that we are like the passengers of a sunken liner, clinging together for life on a dingy. Well, we could do better. There are AA groups who actually toss others off the lifeboat, and that needs to stop. 

      Carmen just puts one foot in front of the other and does what she needs to do to move the ball forward and she’s doing it. I keep thinking how fortunate that I am to learn about secular AA and to help get our group going. I love that we value inclusion, and I hope to see more diversity in our meetings. We don’t want AA to be like the rest of society where we only interact with people who look like us and think like us. 

      Anway, I am rambling. It’s a nice Sunday morning. Storms came through here last night which helped blow away the oppressive heat. 

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