My name is Felicia DeRosa. It has taken me close to 40 years to say that without fear.
A little background, for context: I grew up very Roman Catholic. From a young age, I was an altar server–which is like an acolyte, but more like a sidekick. My approach to faith was academic; I saw the Bible as a book of instructions. “If I do A, B, and C, I will achieve salvation and get into heaven.” I did all the sacraments. I repented. I prayed. I wore out three rosaries.
You see, I had an unfortunately violent, and sadly complicated childhood.
At age six, I realized that other people couldn’t see that I was a girl.
I knew me, why didn’t they? And the harder life got, the more cruelly I was treated, the harder I prayed…the more God remained silent, the more devoted to God’s will I became. How many prayers would it take to earn God’s mercy? A hundred? A thousand?
My family had plans for me. Expectations. There was a box that I was meant to fit in. I wanted them to be happy so they would stop hurting me, so I got in the box, but it never fit right. I was scared to be myself because I believed I would be beaten to death. I was ridiculed and called slurs (that I won’t say here) so often that when I was nine, I attempted suicide.
Still, I prayed. I begged God to either let me wake up a girl or change me into what people wanted.
I needed to hear God, but I couldn’t. I desperately wanted God to hear me, but my prayers didn’t get answered, I always had fresh bruises to hide, and eventually I thought: God either doesn’t care about me or simply isn’t there.
I felt like a complete imposter at church because I couldn’t be my authentic self. Hypocrisy in the house of God was unacceptable to me and it bothered me when people acted one way outside of church and a different way in church. I didn’t want to be like that. It eventually got to the point that I would have a panic attack by simply crossing the threshold.
So since I didn’t feel welcomed in my faith community, or that the people in my life would accept me as i was, I left. I wandered in the dark for a long, long time and life became unbearable.
On my 30th birthday, I felt I had suffered enough and tried to kill myself with a gun. I pulled the trigger, but nothing happened. God had intervened. And then, a few days later, a miracle! I met my wife, Gwen. I found true love.
Let’s skip to nearly three years ago…
Gwen said that she wanted to attend church every Sunday. I didn’t want to, but I agreed anyway. I dipped my toe back in and was blown away by the genuine authenticity of the people I found at King Avenue UMC (Columbus, OH). I felt God’s presence–could hear God’s voice, finally.
“This,” I said, “is a house of God.”
Six months later, my wife and I became members. And one and a half years ago, I came out to my family, church, friends, and community as a transwoman. And the world didn’t explode.
Since then, I have been reborn. Without borders or fear. I have found the endless love of Christ, and the effortless acceptance of my church community. I don’t know where I would be, or if Gwen and I would still be married if not for the guidance, support, and prayers of our pastors and chosen family there. And they have truly become my family. I have grandparents and parents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. I even have children.
Since August 2016, I have stepped into the role of Youth Leader, and have found my place there. I’ve been through nearly everything that these teens have been through. I can relate to them and I have since devoted myself to showing them that they have a spiritual home, that God knows them and loves them unconditionally, as they are. And that there is hope. Bruises can heal.
I’ve long last found my identity and purpose in the love of Christ.
From Austen Hartke (Transgender and Christian): “Sometimes accepting who we are, and what God has called us to do, is really, really hard. …God doesn’t call the qualified; [God] qualifies the called. Even when we think we can’t possibly be worthy of our call, God makes us worthy. So what’s your call? How is God asking you to live?”