Finding ways to bring visible incarnations of hope to spaces of Christian Worship has been my life’s work for over 25 years. Six years ago I discovered I could no longer pretend to present as male and in one moment my visibility changed. The focus of my work in creation and visualization shifted from the work I sell to clergy and churches to the creating in my new journey from male to female. As a Liturgical Fiber Artist I spend my time seeking and creating what many in church business call “Holy Hardware.” What a surprise to discover that the holy hardware I needed was actually make up, bras and dresses, pretty shoes and a purse. After 49 years on this earth I finally allowed myself to ask the question, “What is my true gender identity?” and suddenly I couldn’t find anything in my house to wear.

Creativity prevailed and so did I but not without God’s guidance to find the holy hardware, inside and out, to navigate this transgender journey.

There are a variety of ways to be visible as transgender. Some of us choose not to be out at work or perhaps even at church or at the grocery store while still maintaining authenticity with friends. Many of my fellow transgender folks have found very public venues of activism to pursue authenticity. In my personal day to day life my visibility is mostly limited to just trying not to embarrass myself. As an MTF, I’m often more concerned with whether I’ve remembered to tweeze my ear and nose hairs than wearing a PFLAG pin and handing out pamphlets. Yet in spite of my reluctant activism I have been very fortunate to receive opportunities to speak my truth in many different places. Most chances to share my story have been a surprise, a situation just bubbling up from a fleeting moment of human encounter. Many times I’ve kept my mouth shut just because I don’t want to bother someone with something so personal and private, I don’t want to burden them, I don’t want to lay myself naked on the table to be dissected just one more time.

But nearly always, when I take the risk to open up and share that this old woman happened to live the first 49 years of her life pretending to be male, the news is received warmly and without judgement.

Knowing that today is Transgender Day of Visibility, I finally spoke up at my church this Sunday and requested prayer for those of us whose being visible means danger if not a death warrant. I’ll never forget going to a fast food place along interstate 35 headed north to Minneapolis to display my product at a preaching conference in 2008. I had just decided to start transition and a table of guests at the restaurant weren’t satisfied with my gender expression. I was dressed in women’s clothes but these folks weren’t buying it and though that situation didn’t escalate into violence it easily could have.

What turned out to be a minor and isolated event for me is what many of our transgender folks face each and every time they leave their house.

My prayer request for the transgender community this week was the first time that I publicly mentioned my transition in my local congregation. It was a small but important moment in my journey, small because most everyone at church already knew my story and significant because I needed to open up one more door to my vulnerability. I thought it would be safe and I knew I didn’t have to fear ridicule, but I didn’t know how I would be blessed. I didn’t know what added and growing support I would experience by being just a little more visible.

My prayer is that the church, all of the church of Jesus the Christ, welcome our transgender folk with open arms, open doors, open hearts and especially open minds that the Holy Spirit may descend again into our souls with great wind and fire to purge hatred and to break the locks and chains which keep The Holy from moving freely among us. Soli Deo Gloria.

Grace Cox-Johnson

Grace Cox-Johnson is currently the artist in residence at Color 4 the Journey, a company specializing in banners and fabric art for churches and clergy. She is a proud parent of two adult children and lives with her partner Mike in Kansas City, MO. Grace, formally trained as a church musician, has served in a variety of ways through the arts and Christian education within the context of the local, regional and national levels of the greater church. She joyfully sings in the choir at Linwood United Church in between travels leading banner and "holy hardware" workshops across the country.

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