This month something momentous occurred. After 32 years of struggle and suppression, I came out of the darkness and stepped into the light, and introduced my true self to the world. My journey was cataloged in a brief video I made, compressing my story into just under 9 minutes. Usually November is reserved for NaNoWriMo cheering, and I will continue to cheer from the sidelines. But here on the DreamAnvil I would like to go a little more in depth into my own journey. Each week we will look at one chapter in the video, and talk about the story behind the story.
For the majority of my life I had been taught that anything LGBT was sinful. That it was an abomination. That those kinds of people went straight to hell. I had learned to hate anything related to the LGBT spectrum, which means I had been taught to hate myself. For years I struggled to overcome the feelings and thoughts that came to me unwelcome and unbidden. My mind was screaming at me and I was in no mood to listen. Yet, it persisted, no matter how much I wanted it to go away. Imagine walking past the mirror and seeing your reflection, but it was wrong. You were you, but you weren’t. This was my experience whenever I looked at myself. I didn’t see someone who was handsome, or dashing, or brave, or wise, even if everyone else told me those things. I would look at my physical form and see exactly what I had been born as, a male. And everything inside of me told me that it was all wrong.
I stayed in the darkness, willingly suffering in the hope that I would find relief and healing from somewhere, some day. For nearly two decades I tried to find a way to fix my cross gender feelings on my own. Eventually, I found myself in North Carolina, attending a church I loved, surrounded by friends who felt like family. And I was lying to them. On the outside I was a normal person, a bit melancholy or sullen at times, but always good to lend a helping hand or lead a bible study here and there. Inside I was coming undone. My efforts to fix myself has failed. I was trapped between self-harm or coming out. I wasn’t sure which one would hurt less.
On a warm day in March of 2014, for the very first time, I uttered aloud the words that had changed my life. “I am transgender,” my friends and I were renovating a bathroom at the time, working side by side and shoulder to shoulder. I felt as if I could not lie to them any longer and stay sane. It was hard, but not as hard as coming out to my family a few months later, during the long Fourth of July weekend. With stuttered words, and tears I told them of my greatest shame, afraid that they would simply get up and leave, and never come back. They stayed. They listened. I quickly reassured them that this was something that I was going to fix. At the request of my church I started seeing a Christian counselor.
If the Ex-Gay ministries are anything like my counselor, then they rely on two things. The first is misinformation. This was a phase (really? For 32 years?), or it happening because of abuse (no), or not being affirmed as a man (not even close), it was a demon (really?), or this was fashionable and I was bowing to the culture (goodbye). By this time in journey I had garnered a cursory knowledge of trans health care. I knew these statements were all false, but this was someone my beloved church, my spiritual family, had sent me too. I was determined to make it work. The second tactic they rely on is shame. I had done a good job of shaming myself into the closet all those years but this was a whole different level. We discussed what it would be like if the church posted big signs on the video walls telling the congregation I was trans. Wouldn’t that be bad? I was told I wasn’t built to be a woman, that no one would ever find me attractive, that I would be alone and cut off from the world. I came to the church believing that they could heal me as they claimed via the Ex-Gay ministries they support. Instead they told me to do the exact same things that I had been doing for the past 30 years. It drove me deeper into the darkness. My suicide ideation increased, my stress increased. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed. My faith was breaking under the weight of it all.
I say all of this to illustrate where I was and the monumental shift that occurred in my life to get me where I am now. I had been driven further into the corner, and I was being let down by those I had entrusted with authority over me. If the man in charge of overseeing my therapy and counseling refused to educate himself on what was going on, then I would have to do it myself. Armed with a library card and a brain, I began an intensive research project. I knew what Christians said about trans people, but what did science have to tell me about trans people? For that matter what did trans people have to tell me about trans people? I read everything I could find. Science journals, biographies, manifestos, diatribes and sermons, nothing was off limits. I read both sides of the argument so I could make my own decision about what was really going on. I was no longer a jailer, keeping my feminine desires in check. I was an explorer, and as I learned, and grew, and began to openly express these feelings, the more I knew that I had been lied to.
It was a death in the extended family that helped me see things clearly. Like a hand wiping away the fog on a mirror. What was so different, from a moral standpoint, between a patient needed a medical procedure and a transgender person affirming their identity? The research showed high rates of success and satisfaction among those who had transitioned. I learned that it drastically improved the quality of life and seemed to improve the horrid suicide rate which is usually around 40% among the general trans population. If there was a disease that killed 40% of the people it touched we would throw everything we had at it. Yet trans people are simply blamed for their suicide rates. No one wants to take responsibility for the violence and harsh words directed at us, the lack of government discrimination protections, and the shame heaped upon every trans person the second they leave their front doors. I knew where suppressing this desire had lead me, and I was determined not to add at that statistic. In spite of the massive amount of discrimination that many trans people face, I couldn’t help but wonder, “what if transitioning could help me?”
I sat at the foot of my bed, tears in my eyes. It was May and I was still wrestling with the question of if I should transition or continue as I had been. I had just finished reading Torn by Justin Lee, a man whose life speaks more about Jesus than most of the people I went to church with. He is also gay. Towards the end of the book he wrote something that was common church speak, but when it came from Justin it made me sit up. God had made me this way. I was transgender. And it was ok. I cried and cried and cried. I couldn’t, I had to stay as I was. The cost was simply too high. My entire life had been spent inside the church, my education, my family nearly every single one of my friends were from the church. If I ever came out, I would lose everything. Yet, I looked to my left, the darkness swirling in my heart, shame, humiliation, grief, pain, loss. There was no abundant life there. Trying to fix what wasn’t broken had only driven me towards deeper shame. The Christian healing I was supposed to have received, the healing I had prayed for, had never arrived. What if?
I sat there going back and forth like this. I knew where one path led, back into the darkness. The other path? What if I considered the only option that I had not yet tried. What if I affirmed who I was, and listened to the voice inside my head that had been telling me my reflection was wrong? But the cost? The most important people in my life are my family and my friends. I couldn’t lose them. There on the foot of my bed I thought of a grand plan. A year. I would wait a year, researching and reading and trying to understand all of this as best as I could. All the while engaging my friends and family in open dialogue about what I knew and didn’t know. Maybe, if we all took this journey together, I could make it out of this alive. Less than a month later I sent out an email asking for prayer and explaining a bit of what was going on. At the time there were twenty people on that list, friends who were close enough to me that I felt like I could trust them with my greatest secret, I was coming out to them a second time now. Immediately, five of them cut off all contact with me. It would be the first drops of blood in a year long battle for ones soul.