Part 1 — How I Reconciled My Faith to My Diagnosis (Gender Dysphoria)
Excerpt from “Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life” — Chapter 26
I became very paranoid about being seen going in and out of the Clinic, the doctors’ offices and medical labs I was now having to visit on a regular basis. Our church has many members who work in health sciences, and since I didn’t know where any of them worked, I was always on the lookout as I entered and left the medical buildings.
I worried that if people found out about me, the discovery would embroil our church in controversy. I knew one individual who was very critical of anything that hinted at the acceptance of gays. One Sunday during a pastoral prayer there was a request on behalf of victims of violence due to their race, color, creed, gender or sexual orientation. That week he railed into the pastor, members of the deacons’ board, and anyone who crossed his path. Since when did we start to look favorably on gays? My, oh my, was this individual incensed or what? I was one of the unlucky ones he dumped on. All I could think of at the time was, “Well, brother, you ain’t heard nothing yet!”
A few years earlier, some members had left our church because the new assistant minister, who was female, presented too “butch,” and they thought this was wrong. When they lost the vote at the confirmation meeting they protested with their feet. Granted, they were only two or three individuals, but they certainly did not like the fact so many stood up for this young woman and voted for her.
Aware of the potential damage that could result if my disclosure was not handled correctly, I decided it was time to step down from my involvement in the worship team. Towards the end of September, 2007, the worship leaders got together to discuss and plan the music for the Advent and Christmas seasons. The pastor chaired the meeting and, like all other meetings we’d ever had, this one was sprinkled with laughter and warm camaraderie. We all got along and worked together really well; no one had an ego—and I’ve seen some egos when it comes to worship leaders. So it took the pastor by surprise when I met with him a few weeks later to resign from all my responsibilities on the worship team.
We met one morning and over coffee I told him everything. I explained I was worried about being recognized entering or leaving a specialist’s office by someone from church, about people jumping to conclusions without having all the facts. I did not want to cause a rift in the congregation; neither did I want to become the elephant in the room. Most of all, I did not want to become the poster child for transgender issues, or a cause célèbre. I reminded him of how some people had been upset during the hiring of the assistant minister, and opined my issue had a much larger potential for making things uncomfortable for him and the Deacons’ Board.
Admittedly, this is what I said to him, but it wasn’t easy for me to get the words out; my heart was in my throat, and I had to stop and compose myself throughout my disclosure. Have you ever been so nervous you can’t stop talking? I think that was me that morning. I was absolutely terrified the pastor was going to judge me and exact his godly wrath on me.
He just sat there and listened to me, handing me extra napkins to wipe my eyes, and waited for me to finish. I’ll never forget his first words, and the way he said them, full of compassion. He told me this was not a moral issue any more than being born with a physical disability or any other medical condition.
He thanked me for sharing with him and told me this did not disqualify me as a worship leader, adding it made me more qualified because of my integrity and honesty. Then he suspected, quite correctly, that I had been beating myself up all my life with scripture, and assured me he did not judge me. He was very concerned for Rachel and how this had affected her; he sympathized with her and what she must be going through.
When would I begin to make changes in my appearance, he wondered, and when was I planning to start presenting as female? I explained to him some of the changes that were already taking place. And, to the question of when I would start presenting as female, I told him he didn’t have anything to worry about, it might not be for one or two years, or longer. I told them as long as my parents were alive I would most likely not take that step.
He then said something to me I will never forget: he promised me if I ever came to church as female he would stand with me and affirm me as a member of the congregation. As we were saying goodbye he asked me if I would like him to let the rest of the worship team know about my resignation or if I wanted to do that myself. He promised this information would be absolutely confidential between the two of us; he would not say anything to anyone about my reasons for stepping down. I was so grateful for his offer, I accepted—I could not see how I could possibly speak to all those people.
It must be said I was able, finally, to reconcile my faith to my condition, thanks to my pastor’s first sermon as our new minister in which he set the tone for his style of teaching. He warned us then if we were looking for black and white dogmatic answers from him we were going to be disappointed. He explained, having been a diligent student of the Bible for close to twenty-five years, that he had come to the conclusion that no one had the right to pull out one or two verses of it to formulate a doctrine.
He told us we needed to approach the Bible with humility, recognizing the Bible itself is ambiguous, if not silent, on most aspects of the human condition. To compound the challenge, he asked how many times Jesus answered His questioners with ambiguity? How many times did He leave His listeners with more questions than they had before? Therefore, the pastor told us, we needed to be open to different points of view as we try to make sense of scripture and how it should be applied to life.
His sermon that day breathed life into my soul. I had always struggled with Jesus’ comments recorded in chapter nineteen of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus was having a discussion with His disciples about divorce and marriage and quoted the passage from chapter one of the book of Genesis that we often hear at weddings:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”
The disciples were perplexed by his answer to the Pharisees, then he added this, which seemed out-of-the-blue:
“Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it.”
Now, tell me the last comment makes any sense to you if the discussion is about divorce and marriage. For years I used the first part of this passage, with its reference to Genesis, to beat myself up. I would often castigate myself with this rationale: “It says we are either male or female, there is no other option. Why do you allow yourself to go there in your thinking? Get it out of your mind, you are male! You have fathered three children, what more proof do you need?”
Then, gradually, after the pastor’s sermon, I began to see something in Jesus’ last statement I had never seen before. First, Jesus re-stated God created us male and female—but, He concedes, it doesn’t always work out that way. Some are eunuchs because they are born that way.
In this one statement Jesus tells us it isn’t all black and white. There are individuals who are neither male nor female; they are eunuchs, or inter-sexed, somewhere in between. We are, therefore, not to view gender and sex strictly as one or the other, but as a continuum with many aberrations and manifestations. Doing so only causes some to be marginalized ostracized, hated, and even persecuted.
Doctors and the parents of an intersex child have a difficult time deciding how to best raise that child. They will often make a decision one way or another, to raise a girl or a boy. The deciding factor might simply be a cultural preference, or what the parents feel they want in terms of gender. Unfortunately, studies show in fifty percent of the cases, as that child gets older and becomes more sexually self aware, the sex chosen for the child is at odds with the child’s gender identity. If this is the case for a person born with “ambiguous” genitalia—that their gender identity is not directly related to their biological sexual characteristics—then who has the right to draw any lines of delineation as to which gender and sex pairings are correct?
This thought or understanding didn’t come to me all at once; it was as if the scales fell off my eyes gradually, until I finally saw what Jesus was saying to his disciples was applicable to me. What also struck me was what Jesus didn’t say; the implications are huge. First, he didn’t condemn the eunuch, whether he/she was born that way, or was made that way, or chose to become that way. He also did not place any conditions on them with respect to the subjects at hand, marriage and divorce. He also did not list which parings of unions would be acceptable for gender variant persons. Should eunuchs only be paired with other eunuchs? I read somewhere the Hebrew language had five variations for eunuch because only one designation was not enough. For example, they had a word for a female eunuch, and a different word for a male eunuch. In the first case, it was used to designate a mostly female person with some male sexual characteristics, and in the other, a mostly male person with some form of female sexual characteristics. The point Jesus was making was gender and sex are not binary in nature, and therefore needed to allow for a broader understanding than simply and only male or female.
Additionally, Jesus’ comment not everyone can accept this is significant. The statement is similar to when in other places he said, “let him who has ear to hear, hear,” or, “eyes to see, see.” It is a teaching device, and it is not meant as a declaration of exclusivity for only a few. Rather, it is a challenge to the listeners to wrap their brain around this because I want you to get it! Jesus wanted to raise their awareness by challenging their small thinking. He wanted to change their paradigm on sexuality.
Finally, this served to temper my expectation that I would enjoy universal acceptance, because not everyone would choose to view things from this much more inclusive perspective.
I find it ironic how the passage I used for years to beat myself into submission was the very one that freed me and gave me permission to be who I am. Unfortunately, the same phrase I used out of context, “the Creator made them male and female,” is often quoted by all who oppose lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusive, doctrines, policies or laws. Listen for this phrase in the sound bites when reporters ask how people feel about same-sex relationships or marriage. It is also ironic how the conservative and right-wing churches and organizations judge and condemn LGBT persons while insisting they love the person, but hate their sin. The volume and temperature of their condemnation, if applied to the issue Jesus was really addressing in the Matthew chapter nineteen discussion, which was divorce and infidelity, would be detrimental to their cause. If they preached against, rejected and judged divorced persons in the same way they preach against, reject and judge LGBT persons, their churches would be empty and so would their bank accounts.