You were never a Christian in the first place!”
Comforting words from my wife, the one who ten years ago had originally invited me to the church we attended. And honestly, I had the same feeling about myself for a long time. I remember a Bible study where we each wrote a sin of ours on a slip of paper and tossed it into a fire, to symbolize our prayer of giving up that sin. I remember how condemned I felt one night in college, flipping through a concordance and finding Deuteronomy 22:5. I called my pastor that night, and dealing with the issue in all of ten minutes. I know he didn’t understand what I was going through – I know I didn’t either. We had spoken of the cross-dressing, but I ended the conversation with the comment that I had always felt that God had made a mistake in making me a man. Even I didn’t pick up on what I had said for another ten years.
That ten years has passed. My transsexualism came out full-force. I was unable to keep it either silent or ignored. Was I not praying hard enough, or not often enough? It was the focus of nearly my entire prayer life. Perhaps I was praying too hard and too often over it? Is such a thing possible? Maybe I wasn’t studying the Bible enough? What was there to study about transsexualism in the Bible? There is nothing in the Bible specific to it. I was the church pianist and on the church board for Religious Education and helping with the senior high youth group, so I was vigorously involved in my church. That couldn’t be it. What was the problem? I was teaching in a Christian school, surrounded by men and women of faith. Why wouldn’t the feelings go away? Everyone else I had told of my transsexualism was so sure that either God would take the feelings away or that He would give me the strength to endure them. They were equally sure that to act in any way on those feelings would be a grave sin. They all assured me they would pray for me, and I’m confident they did pray.
It’s five years later and I am now living full-time as Angela. I lost my wife. I lost my church. I lost five jobs. I lost many friends. Did I lose my faith?
I guess it depends on who you ask. Many churches would say that I am in direct rebellion of God’s personal will for my life. They would say that I have abandoned the solid rock for the shifting sand, that I didn’t trust in the Creator enough, that I chose the easy way out of my struggles, that Satan himself has conscripted me for his very own. If I were to repent of my obvious sin and flagrant disregard of God’s will, God would be overjoyed to forgive me, the lost sheep, the prodigal son.
But would God forgive? In those ten years, my constant prayer was for the transsexualism to go away. The prayer was never answered. I would dress and then feel guilty. I would pray for forgiveness of my sin, and no forgiveness was to be had. I prayed for strength not to fall into the same sin again, and the strength was not given. I found it so very strange and painful; I felt abandoned. In so many other areas of my life, if I had fallen short and asked forgiveness and strength, it was so freely given. Why not now? Why not here, in this area of my life? Particularly since it was such a major failing.
For the better part of a year, after having come out to my wife, and her bringing me out to our pastor, I had lengthy, weekly talks with the pastor about my gender conflict. At one point, reaching for a new tactic, he asked, “If you feel God wants you to be a woman, why aren’t you pursuing that goal full-speed ahead?”
Intriguing question from the man who had spent months trying to help me see the errors of my ways and how the Powers of Darkness were blinding me from the Holy Spirit’s guidance in my life. I asked in return, “What if I felt God did, and what if I did pursue that goal?”
The pastor’s answer?
“You would be disfellowshipped.”
That stung. If God’s leading in my life did not agree with what the church though God’s leading my life should be, that was grounds for dismissal. But it was a thought-provoking question. I had never once considered that my being a woman could actually be what God wanted in my situation. Had I been trying to find any other answer than God’s — knowing what God wanted all along but not wanting it to be so because I was afraid? Was I acting like Jonah, when God said, “Go this way,” I went every conceivable direction except that very way?
That day I finally quit praying for God to take the feelings away. I quit asking for forgiveness about being transsexual. I quit asking for strength to overcome the feelings about who I am. I simply asked instead, “What do You want? I can’t figure it out! Show me!”
And that is exactly what happened. God led me to an open, affirming, welcoming, loving church, with members and clergy who did not condemn me for being a transgender. God helped me overcome my fears of being in the world en femme and replaced those feelings with ones of peace, calm and joy. God has given me strength to endure the condemnation of others. God has shown me areas where I have harbored bitterness against my accusers and shown me how to forgive them and be free of that bitterness. God has blessed me with a loving supportive family and new wife and stepchildren who are just as loving. God has opened doors to new avenues of ministry I could never have dreamed of. God has brought me to a new church that is open to the blessings they can receive through me, and from whom I can receive similar blessings. I now live a life where I do not have to hide the person God has created. I have found people who encourage me, who strengthen me, who comfort me, who love me.
My faith has changed greatly and is in many ways unrecognizable from what I had before. But it certainly has not been lost. Quite the opposite, it has been strengthened and deepened. I know for certain that I personally could not have undergone this gender journey without God’s help. I have learned what it means to love unconditionally, by seeing how others continue to love me, even if they haven’t understood or agreed with what I have done. I have learned to see blessings when they aren’t so easy to spot. I have learned to trust in God’s strength when I would otherwise be paralyzed, unable to press on. I have learned that other people, no matter how well-intentioned, do not have a direct line from God’s mouth to their ear concerning God’s desire for my life. I have had my entire outlook on life changed from dark, miserable and depressed to joyful, radiant and calm. If I had continued to follow the way of the world and deny my transsexualism, I would have become more despondent and bitter against God. By allowing God to show me the path that I was to follow, though it has not been easy I have certainly come to a greater trust and love. These are the lessons I have learned by standing firmly, yet flexibly, in my faith.
My faith has not been lost. To be sure, it is very different from the faith of those who want to be my accusers, my condemners, my executioners. But that very difference in my faith, I feel, is the best difference possible.