Are We Family?

When I told my family that I had lost my job as a Christian school band director, they were angry with the school and loving of me. When I told them that my wife was divorcing me, they offered nothing but support and shoulders to cry on. When I told them my church had kicked me out, they told me it was no big deal to them. When I told them that I was on hormone replacement therapy and that I would be undergoing gender transition and living life as their daughter/sister, their reactions were truly unbelievable. My mom, after getting past the initial surprise, within a couple months of my coming out to her told me she was ready to meet the daughter she never (thought she) had. Her greatest concern was just that her child not be hurting. My brother’s only reaction was, “I’m glad I found out from you rather than from somebody else,” and takes pride in introducing me as his sister. My dad has been in denial of it all, but has been tolerant. He will almost undoubtedly never refer to me as Angela or use “she” when referring to me, but neither has he removed me from his life or his love.

Like most families, we’ve all had our shares of arguments, disagreements and trials. And every time they’ve come up, over whatever reason, we have always been able to work through the differing thoughts, come to compromises or acceptance, and continue to remain a loving family. A family still able to respect and love and care for and about each other. Through our struggles we’ve grown closer together, being able to see where the other person’s point of view may be valid, even if we don’t feel it to be so. Encouragement, love and support of each other are paramount. Those differences we have will not undo our family. We have endured together and love each other for who we truly know each other to be from within, rather than be torn apart because of the thoughts or actions of the others that we may not agree with. This to me seems to be what a family should ideally be about.

I had the opportunity a while ago to visit a church that happened to be having a guest preacher. He spoke on Hebrews 10:19-25. He commented on how this passage offered five “Let us” commands to live as a family of God. He spoke of playing electric guitar as a 17-year-old in the early seventies on street corners while his friend preached. As people became interested in the message they shared, he asked his pastor about inviting these people to the church. And the pastor said no, because they were “not the right kind of people,” because they were of a different racial background. So he took them to another church that saw no racial differences, simply that these people were more family members to be loved. The preacher spoke of how happy he was for the Family of God today, that it was so inclusive of whites and blacks and Latinos and Asians and their all being able to worship together.

And, as he was preaching that Sunday to us, my partner and I sitting side by side, I could only think about the GLBT segment of the Christian community and how so many churches have said we are “not the right kind of people.” Their church is not for us. That we simply cannot be part of their family because we don’t act, feel, or believe exactly the way they do. Because we were not created the way they feel we should have been. How sad that the Family of God cannot grow in love because its members cannot simply support and love each other as we should, loving all because we are family members first and foremost. How easy is it for us, as a GLBT community, for us to scorn and hate others because of their intolerance and non-acceptance of us? How easy is it for us to say that those from the exclusionary churches must certainly not be “true Christians,” for they cannot show unconditional love towards all of God’s creation; that is to say, us? From both sides, this kind of destructive bickering might make for a family, but one that only grudgingly comes together for a couple hours at Christmas out of obligation, rather than enjoying building one another up and sharing each others’ burdens.

What I think is among the saddest things of all is that in so many ways we do agree with each other, we two parts of the family that so often fail to peacefully co-exist. I received an email from a friend of mine, a former student. Though she has not been at all accepting of my gender transition and believes it far outside God’s will, she has continued to simply love me in spite of how she feels about my transition. Because of her ability to love, love first, and love even when I didn’t live as she thought I should, I didn’t write back to her about her forwarded message, though I took great offense at the message text itself. This message was about a high school principal in Tennessee who, before a home football game, said over the PA system:

It has always been the custom at [this] school’s football games to say a prayer and play the national anthem to honor God and Country. Due to a recent ruling by the Supreme Court, I am told that saying a prayer is a violation of Federal Case Law …

I could not be more on this principal’s side. I know most every Christian would agree that those at the game should be allowed to share a prayer. Any gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual Christian certainly would. Especially since as related at the end of the letter, everyone in the stands joined in communal prayer before the game simply because they chose to, not because it was being recited over the PA system. What a beautiful picture of the family of God in spontaneous prayer. Such a focal point could so greatly strengthen our family unity. It’s ground that we share, hold dear and hold in common. Then the author continues in the very next sentence:

As I understand the law at this time, I can use this public facility to approve of sexual perversion and call it an alternative lifestyle.

So much for that feeling of family unity and strength. We have gone in one sentence from a spirit of unity to one of division. Such a number of us that would support her first sentence are now distanced and injured by the second. And how hard is it to get past the sting from the hurtful words to support her in the areas in which we agree? Hebrews 10:24 is a start. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (NIV). We can simply act as friends, for Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times …” even if that love isn’t returned, all we are called to do is love.

And it’s so amazing how strong that love is. I’ve kept in touch with a number of my former students from my time as a teacher at a Christian school. As I’ve continued on in my gender transition, I have informed many of these students, and even a faculty member, of what I have undergone – that I am now living my life as a woman. And very few have removed me from their lives. In fact, as time has gone on, some have begun to return. I had a school administration throw me out of their ministry and told me I am not welcome to return. I had a devout Christian wife who will no longer speak a word to me. I had a pastor who told me not to come back to church and that as the pianist of that church, my music was no longer worshipful. Such stalwarts of Christian love and charity. They very nearly destroyed me in mind, body and spirit. But so many of those students (including that pastor’s stepchildren) – even if they have disagreed with my undergoing transition and believe it to be outside God’s will – each of the students has still been a friend, because of the loving Family-of-God relationship and friendship we shared. They and I realize it is possible to disagree, to not understand the other, and still remain loving, caring family members. And in many of these cases, for them and me both, nothing has happened but the strengthening of those familial ties. That, to me, is truly being a Family of God. And it is so encouraging to know that such families do exist.