2017, what a year.
There are so many exciting things happening this year. Some amazing events have already passed and there are so many great memories. It’s the future we get to look forward to. For this post I was asked to talk about why I am looking forward to the Rooted conference this August. It was also suggested that I could talk a bit about my story as well.
I grew up in an Assemblies of God church. The Assemblies of God church is really great. The leadership and pastors there helped me develop a relationship with God. I’d very much like to take a moment to say that as we talk about subjects that cause such divide among Christians of all different denominations, that I love serving and attending Assemblies of God churches and some of the AG pastors are the most amazing people.
I currently am attending an AG church. The close group of Christian friends that I have at this church are very near and dear to my heart. It is one of the things that has made portions of my life very difficult. It also makes future decisions very difficult.
I was born and brought up as a boy. Considered male all throughout childhood. I was encouraged to do boy things though not necessarily directly by my parents. I grew up with a twin sister and an older sister. My older sibling was 12 years ahead and so she moved out for college when we were pretty young. When we were younger it wasn’t a big thing that we would play together and as we grew up society and the conservative suburban area we lived shaped the gender roles and values that people consider to be “normal”. I pretty much hate that word “normal” as if there was a standard by which we could be measured. (Sorry for the tangent.)
The AG church that we went to had pretty conservative views as well, which formed this very deep rooted knowledge that anything outside the binary was not normal. That anything that didn’t make sense could be solved by saying that as part of a broken world we simply needed to seek God for any shortcomings we may have. So as I wrestled through my teenage years, I felt that many of my feelings were desires from a wicked heart. I felt as though many of the temptations that I had to dress a certain way or express certain opinions were simply the result of not having enough of God.
It created a pretty big divide in myself.
So like so many, I set to work using what I thought was God’s word and teachings to build a wall around my soul. Eventually the wall became complete and the soul inside would be locked away for a long time. I had it pretty well under control. To the secular world I was just like every average guy. To the church world I was a devoted Christian. I served doing tech for the churches that I went to. It was in moments of service where the only warmth she could feel within those walls were found, music.
Worship has always touched me deeply. Music praising the Creator. When even just the practice would get going and his Holy Spirit would surround us I could feel Him (I use Him as a pronoun for God in this case because it is as a heavenly father that I most felt connected to). So it was only in worship that I started to connect deeper to my Creator. It was in the notes and lyrics that He was able to give the soul I kept locked away respite. The biggest obstacle that I am still working to overcome is that in those moments the only one who knew what was happening internally was God. The worship would move in powerful ways, but thanks to the height and depth of her tower the body never moved.
I have this physical skill, to remain motionless and emotionless regardless of most situations while in the presence of others. From the world’s view there is very little that touches me. With the only emotion besides a hollow fake smile the being that of disconnect, exhaustion and sometimes even slightly anger. When asked about why I wasn’t adorning my typical smile I would simply say that I was tired from work. It was an easy enough lie to believe since I work for a veterinary hospital and often do have long hours and a very physically demanding job. Having that as an excuse I even convinced myself that it was true.
So now we get to the good part. My wife wanted to go on a long mission trip to Thailand. She has heard about the trip through a convention she goes to every year with the women’s group at our church. She went in July of last year (2016). A few weeks before she left I had been going through a pretty long period where I just felt tired and a little depressed a lot. I kind of knew what was bothering me, that I was uncomfortable living life as the male that I present as. But I was still at the point where I was trying to figure out how exactly a person could deal with feeling this way for their entire life. I wanted to do something, the idea of transitioning had come across my mind thanks to the beauty of the internet. The only thing was, I was scared of loosing so much. I was scared that my conservative Christian family would not be able to see her. I was scared that my conservative friends both secular and Christian wouldn’t be able to see her. I was scared that my work wouldn’t want to employ her. I was scared that my wife had decided to build a life with him and that after four years of marriage had never even met her. But mostly I was scared that she was just a figment of my imagination. That she was some sort of deceitful desire that had been placed into my life. I was afraid of the possibility that I had created her and that God did not.
I was afraid that if I tried to start taking down this wall that God would walk away from me.
I knew in my head all the verses and times when God says he will never leave you but I was so convinced that if I transitioned and learned what it would mean to live from my soul and not from my mind that God would be gone. It’s really a bit funny to me. I remember a pastor once talking about how the only argument that a Christian can make that is irrefutable when you’re talking with an atheist is your personal testimony. The concept is that if you tell someone I’ve felt the presence and power of God in my life or some circumstances that the person can not turn around and tell you “no you didn’t”. So we are encouraged to use the testimony and the feelings that God puts on our heart to spread the word.
At the same time we are told that feeling as though your soul is one gender (or gender less for those that fall into that category) but your body is built as something different is wrong. So deep feelings are good when they make certain people comfortable but ungodly when they aren’t in line with the majority. I have spent so long following my head and the knowledge I had about who God is and how he created us. I never allowed my heart to guide me, which for some strange reason is the exact opposite of what us followers of Jesus we are called to do. For so long I had followed my head. I compartmentalized my feelings and tucked them neatly away where they did not need to be dealt with.
Last July I had been through enough. My wife left for two weeks, leaving me with my veterinary hospital job as well as taking care of the horses that my wife normally trains. These two weeks were the first time since we had been married that we were apart for a prolonged period of time. The emotional stress and the physical work stress was heavier than I had ever felt. There was also a lack of time spent seeking after God’s motives in this time.
When she got back from her trip we were expecting a certain level of excitement to see each other after so long apart. The hard part was the slightest things would spark arguments. My wife was really concerned, she didn’t know what was wrong but was worried. She asked if I had thought about talking to a doctor, or a therapist. I had thought about it, not only had I thought about it I knew of one that I wanted to talk with. He is a psychologist in Chicago who deals with gender related issues.
I sat down with him and after trying to piece together some sort of way to tell my wife and my family and eventually everyone else I decided that transitioning wasn’t a death sentence it was freedom.
The first person I came out to was my wife. She needed time and is still working on trying to figure out exactly how this is changing our relationship. Overall she has decided that we are going to stick it out. Gender aside we are there for each other. Regardless of what else was going to happen we are going to face all these things together. We are actually expecting our first child this September. I am taking some time, in the beginning of my transitional process, to work on things like improving my health as well as learning some of the basics that will help to move through my day comfortably as the female that I’ve avoided presenting as. I am only out to my siblings and a few others. I would like to transition socially and then professionally though I don’t know yet how my work will take it.
The biggest concern I have coming out is how to approach the idea within my church.
I don’t believe that leaving or finding a new church is the best approach right away. The struggle to understand God’s acceptance of transgender identities has been difficult. What a basic statement to make, and one that I know I am not alone in feeling. When I first started seeing the gender therapist that I started with I started looking to see if there were any less harshly condemning thoughts on Christians who are transgender. I never imagined I would find so many stories and testimonies from people like me. I came across more and more ideas that aligned more with the way I felt and what I could discern of God through the relationship we had.
And then through a newsletter I found out about the Rooted conference. Most of my excitement was in the fact that this conference was so close to home. I grew up in the western suburbs of Chicago and currently live just outside of Racine, Wi. This was a gathering of not only transgender people but of spiritual people who love and desire to serve God the same way I do, authentically. So it is with great anticipation and equally great anxiety that I wait patiently for August to come. I hope to be able to take away tools to engage in loving conversation about transgender issues within the church. I am also looking forward to fellowship time with people who have very similar stories. I am excited to see what happens, perhaps for the first time I can fellowship and more importantly worship the God I love without abandon. Perhaps for the first time ever I will know what it is like to worship the Creator of such beauty as part of that masterpiece instead of just an observer.
I can’t help but get wrapped up in the Mercy Me song, “The Hurt and the Healer”. The song lyrics say “ I’m alive, even though a part of me has died. You take this heart and breathe back to life.”
For more information on Rooted or to register for this transformative conference, click HERE.
Are you an ally and wish to donate towards scholarships for transgender and gender non-conforming attendees? Click HERE to donate!