How did you reconcile your trans identity with your religion? The question comes up after almost every talk I give, in every one on one conversation, and I always, always, always struggle to answer it. Because honestly? I didn’t feel like the two identities needed to be reconciled.
But that’s not the whole story either. It’s important to remember that this was not my first time coming out. I had already come out as gay years before. And honestly, in a lot of ways, that was a lot harder for me. Not because being gay was harder but because when I came out the first time I was still thoroughly entrenched in the evangelical world. I was still in a more conservative church (though not nearly as conservative as the church I grew up in). All of my friends were mostly conservative evangelicals. I was still living at home. The list goes on.
But the hardest part? When I came out the first time I hadn’t yet freed my own mind and soul from my fundamentalist upbringing.
Can I tell you a secret? You don’t actually have to reconcile your faith and your sexuality/transness. Not really. What you need to do is free your mind from the narrow view that says there is only one way to understand Christianity. That there is only one interpretation of Scripture. That there is only one way to read the Bible. That there is only one way to get into Heaven (and that getting into Heaven is the be all end all of the Christian life). Because once you do thatwork; once you really understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus (and what it doesn’t mean) then you will find that there is no reconciliation to be done. Because you’ll find that who you were created to be is good and holy and beautiful.
When I came out as gay….well, even before I came out, when I realized that I was queer and that these feelings that I had weren’t going away. That no amount of praying harder or doing better or believing more stridently was freeing me I was devastated. I knew what my church and family thought of people like me. I knew what they had done to people like me. Kicked us out of homes and colleges. Packed us away to reparative therapy camps. Mistreated and abused us. In the best of cases we were told that “they loved the sinner but hated the sin”. We were tolerated…maybe. But we were never accepted. Never really loved. Oh, they would say that they loved us, but they didn’t. Because love isn’t about words, it’s about actions.
So when I came out as gay I was terrified that it would cost me everything; my family, friends, a job, a church community. And for a while it did. I had friends tell me to stop emailing them, that they didn’t want my lifestyle thrown at them. I was asked not to preach because I would be a bad example. I was alienated from family. I floundered for a long time.
But while I was floundering I was reading anything and everything I could get my hands on. At first it was simply trying to understand those “clobber passages” but the more I read the more I realized that it wasn’t really about those passages. It was about what we believe about what the Bible is. What we believe about who God is. What we believe about the purpose of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
And the thing is? The conservative evangelical view of all of those things? It wasn’t handed down from Jesus like I had always been taught. All of their beliefs: that the Bible is the literal and inerrant Word of God voice dictated to the scribes, that God was vengeful and spiteful but also somehow loving, too, that Jesus was only born to die just so he could save us from our sins: those are all pretty recent understandings. Or, at the very least, they were not what the earliest church believed and taught.
Once you start to shake loose those things, then the particular meaning of a Greek word in Romans 1 suddenly means a whole lot less. Not because you’ve stopped believing in the Bible or that you don’t take it seriously anymore, you just read it differently. You can step away from petty arguments about verses out of context and start to ask the more important (and frankly life-giving) questions: If I believe in a God of love, if I am a follower of Jesus (who was all about bringing about justice), then how shall I live?
How can I honor God and pursue justice with my sexuality? How can I honor God and pursue justice with my life?
I certainly don’t believe that hating and despising my identity and my body; the identity and body that God gave me as a gift, is honoring to God. I certainly don’t believe that a life of justice looks like endless pissing contests over certain Greek and Hebrew words.
So I did the work. I deconstructed and reconstructed my faith. And doing that work allowed me to consider other questions about my life and my identity. It was in those considerations that I finally found language for my gender discomfort and and came out as transgender.
The work of reconciling my trans identity and my faith was already done: I believe God called me to live an abundant life and that living an abundant life means standing in my truth, being all of who I am, and seeking wholeness. For me, transitioning was another step on that journey. Not only that, but as I’ve talked about before, transitioning deepened, strengthened, and enriched my faith in beautiful and profound ways. There was no reconciliation to be done.
No, the stress of coming out as transgender had nothing to do with God and everything to do with society and people. I worried, once again, about losing friends, my family, and my job. And once again I did lose those things for a while. I lost my partner. I had friends drop out of my life. My family struggled. It became much much harder to find work in the church.
The reconciliation between faith and transgender identity that is needed is for cisgender people to get right with God and get some education. The reconciliation is for cisgender people to be reconciled to transgender people by doing justice and stopping oppression. The reconciliation that is needed is not my work to do.
Will you be reconciled to God and to my community? Will you do the work required of you? Will you pursue justice and stop oppression?
Will you choose reconciliation?
This article was published by Fr. Shannon Kearns
Want more encouragement & inspiration for LGBTQ Christians?
Join 4,905 others in receiving Queer Theology articles