By the time you read this, I will most certainly have been working on getting the words just-so for days on end. I want to be able to share this information with you in a way that is informative and gracious. I want to honor myself by not over sharing and at the same time honor you by helping to answer your questions. I am taking such care with this post because I am writing to share that I am a transgendered person. I have tried less and less in recent years to hide my true self. Today is celebrated as Trans Day of Visibility and, as of today, I refuse to hide anymore. I am proud of who I am and who I am becoming. I have never felt more whole.
Spoiler alert: I’m not a lesbian.
I will never forget that day in the 9th grade when I was grabbed by my shirt collar and slammed against a wall of lockers… “you’re a lesbian, you just don’t know it yet.”
I had, after all, gone out for the Varsity Soccer team (having never played a game of soccer in my life) just because I thought the coach was super hot. I ate lunch each day with my teammates, but no one ever told me I was sitting at the lesbian table. Well… not until my back crashed into those lockers. Those words stung. Not because they were true, but because they didn’t fit. I knew I wasn’t a lesbian, but I also knew I was only attracted to females. But I had no way of articulating how those things were both simultaneously true for me.
Later that year, I woke up from a dream where I was making out with the high school cheer captain. I was mortified.
I was an active part of my Southern Baptist youth group and if I knew anything, I knew that “gay was not okay.” So, I did the most logical thing I could think of and made a habit of having a boyfriend.
I remember feeling so alone, because these feelings I was having were so shameful. And my shame continued to translate into a very deep, very dark depression.
From the Beginning…
At four years old I remember laying in bed and wondering what happened. When would they tell me…? I knew there was some great secret that was being withheld from me, I just wasn’t sure why. Something happened when I was born and my parents had to make a choice – boy or girl. At least that was the narrative that looped in my mind throughout my childhood. I was sure there had been an accident during my birth, because I was missing part of myself. I knew something was anatomically wrong with me. I don’t know how you know something like that before you even start Kindergarten… but I did.
You’re a tomboy. ● You’ll grow out of it. ● You’ll feel different when you’re older. ● You’ll change your mind. ● But you’re so pretty. ● I can’t wait to see what you look like when you really find yourself – you’ll be beautiful.
Those are just some of the well intended, but harmful, things that were spoken to me over the years. Purses, makeup, dresses… I hated all of it. I preferred boys’ clothes over girls’ clothes. I didn’t like that I had to play softball – I wanted to play baseball. When I was 8 or 9, someone got me a tweety bird shirt. The print was fairly feminine, but it was cut and buttoned up like a baseball jersey – I loved it. At one point, I somehow ended up with a pair of Simpsons boxers – I loved them.
As a kid my uncles would call me “little feller”. I think they meant it to be derogatory, but the truth is I loved it. I felt like they saw me for who I really was.
Time went by and I grew older, and it became clear that I had a normal girl body with normal girl parts.
And nothing had ever been more disappointing.
More to the Story…
For my whole life not only have I felt great disappointment at not being able to have the life experiences I wanted, but my body has looked wrong and my clothes have never fit right. I had hoped for a beard and I ended up with breasts. And for most of my life I felt stuck. I didn’t see anyway I could reconcile this inner truth with my external world. The idea of disappointing my family overwhelms me. The reality of being turned away by the Church I have given my whole life to, takes my breath away. And I have lived in a paralytic state for years. But the truth is that being transgender is not something that can be cured. No amount of prayer, psychotherapy or social conditioning could change the fact that I have a male brain in a female body.
Knowing that there is no “cure” to take this away and being deeply fearful of what transitioning to male might mean for my life has held me hostage for years. However, when I asked myself the question “what would you do if you weren’t worried about how people will respond?” the answer was always “transition fully and live my life as a male.”
I’ve always known that transitioning from female to male was possible, scientifically speaking. But it took time, lots of time, for me to build up the courage to admit to myself that it would be a mistake to continue living as a female. It took even more time to understand that any hesitation I have is rooted in the fear of how others will respond and that those hesitations are greatly outweighed by what it would cost me to continue my life as a female. And so I made the decision to begin the process of becoming who I’ve always been.
I think we really like our boxes and our categories. There’s something in us that needs a label and a neat explanation for all that we encounter. But try as we may, there is always more to the story. There is always information I don’t know, experiences I’ve never had and influences I can’t understand. I try to remember that when I encounter things that don’t fit into my predefined categories. I don’t always do a good job, but I try.
No Longer a Slave to Fear…
In June of 2015 I scheduled top surgery (which is trans-speak for a bilateral mastectomy with free nipple grafts; essentially I had my breasts removed and my chest reconstructed to have a masculine appearance). It had long been an unspoken goal of mine to do this before I turned 30. And on January 12, 2016, just 45 days before turning 30, I accomplished this goal. When I made the decision to move forward with scheduling top surgery, I did so from a thought process of “let’s try this and see if it is enough for me,” but as my surgery date came closer I became more certain that top surgery would never be “enough.”
On the second to last Sunday that I led worship prior to surgery, I found myself singing the song No Longer a Slave after the message. The lyrics to the chorus are:
I’m no longer a slave to fear,
I am a child of God.
I’m no longer a slave to fear,
I am a child of God
And as I sang out those words from my guts (because if you know me, I really can’t sing any other way), the Holy Spirit confirmed the lyrics in my heart. No longer a slave to fear. A child of God. Fully known and fully loved. Just as I am.
And just like that, I was free. Free to begin the process of becoming who I’ve always been. Confident in God my creator to be present with me in this difficult season. Confident in my incredible wife and her unconditional love for me. Confident in my trusted group of friends to walk this path alongside me.
Most good things comes at a cost. The decision to be my true self cost me my job and, for now, my career. The church I was working for had been fully informed and incredibly supportive until I began the conversation of changing my name and pronouns. Prior to that conversation, I had been amazed at the church’s willingness to support me through this process. After I had top surgery in January, I was not permitted to return to work and was forced to resign. I was given a three month severance to assuage their guilt and left to tell my two year old daughter (every time she asks), “I’m sorry honey, you can’t go to church and watch daddy sing anymore.”
I’m sure not everyone will be able to understand this about me and I accept that this decision will cost me some relationships. I am grateful for the community and support system I have that allows me to be comfortable taking that risk.
No sane person would choose a call to ministry and a queer lifestyle. But neither of those things are a choice. So, for now, I wait. I wait to discover if there is a place in the United Methodist Church for a transgender man with a calling to ministry.
After having top surgery in January, I began hormone replacement therapy on February 3, 2016. I filed for my legal name change on March 11, 2016. I am changing my name first name to Benjamin, my maternal grandfather’s name. I am changing the spelling of my middle name from Lea to Lee, to match my father’s middle name. You will notice that I will be changing my accounts on social media to be consistent with my new name and pronouns.
Thank you to those of you who choose to journey with me as I step out into this vast darkness of the unknown.
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