July 19, 2017 is a day that will remain forever burned into my spirit. It is the day the man I considered my pastor and spiritual father called me into his office. I was not prepared for what I was about to walk into.
Before I came out as transgender, I struggled within the church with “same-sex attraction” for two years. I had come out to family as a lesbian and they were fine with it. But earlier that week, I finally had enough of the struggle and decided this was how God made me. I came out on Facebook, which sparked this text message from my pastor: “[Insert legal name]…I need to see you.” Innocently, I picked up the phone and made the appointment for July 19.
Not only was my senior pastor there, but so was the associate pastor–another man I considered a father figure.
See, I grew up without a father, as mine was murder when I was 2 1/2 months old. These men, then, held very special places in my heart and soul. While I wasn’t expecting the associate pastor to be there, I wasn’t surprised, either.
I remember that day clearly, though I would give anything to not remember it. Even as I sit here and type about it, my body fills up with the fear and anxiety that I faced in that room.
I was sitting in the corner, my senior pastor was at his desk on one side of me, and the associate was on the other. I was literally blocked into the room. We all sat down and shut the door. I had just walked into a firing squad, but I didn’t know it.
My senior pastor slowly began to strip away everything that had ever meant anything to me. He said I couldn’t be gay and a Christian. I couldn’t worship God. I couldn’t say, “I love you God,” or raise my hands in praise.
Then came the first of two nearly fatal spiritual blows–“What, did you just think we would love on you?” This came out of my senior pastor’s mouth. Then the second blow came from the associate pastor, “I will try and treat you like a human being when I see you.”
These were men I called on for help with my children when they needed a father figure. I had been a member of that church for more than a decade. My youngest child, who is now eight, was dedicated at three months old. I served countless hours and went to church each time the doors were open with three young boys in tow. I did life with these men, and here they were stripping me of the only thing I had ever known…my faith. I had been kicked out of my spiritual home just because I professed to be a lesbian.
I didn’t step into my new church until September or October 2017. Between July and September I was, what I like to call, “a spiritual wanderer.”
It was during this time without a spiritual home that I began to question my gender identity.
When I first sought out The UMC, I identified as a cisgender lesbian. I reached out to a wonderful lady who was on a mission team so that I could spare myself the same abuse/trauma/hurt I had experienced several months earlier. She reassured me that she–and the two pastors on staff–were not like that. In fact, the senior pastor was a part of Reconciling Ministries Network. This same lady invited me to attend services with her and sit with her. I attended Saturday services, and when I went up to receive communion, the senior pastor knew my name (at the time), and I was floored because she greeted me with a hug as she handed me the body of Christ.
I met with the senior pastor personally, which was a huge step because after what I had been through with my former church, I hated churches and vowed to never trust another pastor. As I began to share what had happened with my former pastors, the senior pastor of my local UMC laid her head down on the table in front of her out of frustration.
She reassured me that you can be gay and be a Christian, and that God loves you no matter what. I don’t know why, but something inside of me trusted and believed what she said.
As I continued my attendance in worship, Bible studies, and getting to know the pastor more, I was still questioning my gender. However, I didn’t dare mention this to her out of pure fear of rejection until October 15, 2017, when I came out as a transgender male, and said that my name would be Brian.
During my Bible study that following Wednesday, the senior pastor kept calling me my legal name. Each time she did, I died inside. I knew the time had come for me to tell her, no matter what it meant. I went up to her after Bible study and said, “I have something to tell you. I’m not a lesbian. I realize now that I am a transgender male and I go by the name Brian.” I was expecting her to tell me I was no longer welcome there and to get out.
Instead, her response was, “You look like a Brian. Have you picked a middle name?” The same welcome, the same acceptance, the same love I received as a cisgender lesbian is what she gave to me as a transgender male. Nothing changed for her. I was amazed, to be honest.
Throughout this whole process of my own self-understanding and accepting the fact that God created me to be transgender, I have felt more deeply drawn to God. I’ve had some fundamentalist Christians ask me, “How can this bring glory to God?” My answer to that is simply, “My faith and belief is still standing even after you tell me that I am an abomination to God. God dwells in me, and God cannot dwell where sin dwells. I am being true to myself and to who God called and created me to be. That brings glory to God.”
Just recently, after a Tuesday morning Bible study, a very opinionated older gentleman happened to overhear me mention my transition to someone else. With my senior paster, him, and me in the room, he said, “I couldn’t help but overhear you mention transition. I had no idea you were even transgender because you carry yourself as a man.” He also mentioned that I seem to be much happier and free. At the end, this gentleman shook my hand and said, “If you ever need anything, let me know. Good luck on your journey.”
My senior pastor told me she went home and mentioned to her husband that she saw the church and the Holy Spirit at work that day.
Finding a new spiritual home hasn’t been easy. I came from an extreme fundamentalist Pentecostal background. Now, I find myself a United Methodist who really loves that John Wesley emphasized God’s three graces and God’s love. I love the fact that the emphasis is to love God, yourself, and your neighbor the very best you know how. Everything else will fall into place.
Finding my spiritual home within The UMC has allowed me to love myself the way God intends me to as a transgender man. It has given me the ability to accept that God doesn’t see medical transition as sin, either, but as a form of me loving myself the way God intends me to.
Without the acceptance, love, and support of my pastors and the members of my local UMC, I would still be a spiritual wanderer.
I have finally found a spiritual home, and it feels good to be at peace with God, finding love, peace, and acceptance for myself.