To: The Members and Elder-Commissioners of the Presbytery of Sheppards and Lapsley.
Dear friends and colleagues,
By now, you have heard some things about me, about my journey of self discovery and how that journey has led me to places outside what society calls the norm.
The CPM has given me the opportunity to share with you some of my thoughts and feelings about this journey, about what it has been like for me and about some of the places, in scripture and theology, that I have explored and relied upon as I have traveled along this road.
The first step I would like to take with you is to invite you into an exercise of imagination and empathy as I try to explain who I am and what I have been through. Someone once said about Transgender, “it’s a fact, but it’s a fact that requires imagination,” in that light I invite you to imagine with me
Imagine there is something you want, something you want more than anything else in the world, something you would give anything up for. Imagine you have wanted this thing for as long as you can remember, from when you were just a child. Imagine that more than just wanting that thing, you believe it was something you should have had to begin with. But something happened, and now not only don't you have this thing, you can never have it. No matter how many times you go to bed praying that you will wake up in the morning with it, no matter how much you wish, or dream or how hard you work, you can never have it. Can you imagine that feeling? Okay – hold that feeling.
Now imagine that society, that the culture, tells you it is wrong for you to want this thing. That just wanting it makes you sick, twisted, perverted. Imagine always needing to hide who you are, what you want. Imagine never being able to talk to anyone about this thing you want more than anything else. And imagine what it would be like to be told you were sick, that you were perverted. Imagine how hard you would try to hide it, or how much you would struggle to change it, but you never can. Now hold on to that feeling.
Now you might think the thing to do is just to not think about it, to get away from it. But imagine that everywhere you go half the people you meet have the thing you want. It was just given to them: they didn't have to ask for it or do anything for it. For them it is the most natural thing in the world, just like it should have been for you. And because it is so natural for them to have, they have no idea how precious what they have is. Can you imagine that? Imagine the frustration of never being able to have what you so desperately want, and always being surrounded by people who have it. Imagine the feelings you might have toward them: envy, frustration, jealousy, awe, wonder, and even a little anger. Now mix all that with the fear you always have that someone will find out about you, find out who you are, what you want. Now hold on to that feeling.
Now imagine you find a way to help lessen some of the pain. You learn that it hurts a lot less if you can pretend you are one of those people. Not only does it hurt less, it feels right it makes you feel more like yourself than you have ever felt. You try to be as much like them as you can; you imagine you are one of them, you dress like them, try to act like them, try to do what they do. But if the culture says that wanting the thing is bad, pretending that you have it is even worse. If you are caught, not only would you be laughed at, humiliated, and shunned, you could be arrested, beaten, or even killed. You try to stop, but you can't because it is the only thing that helps with the pain. So you hide even more. You pull yourself out of the world, because only when you are alone can you do the things that make you feel like you are really yourself. Can you imagine all that?
If you can imagine all those feelings, then you can understand what it feels like to be transsexual. You can imagine what it feels like to be me.
As I have talked about my journey, there are two theological questions that people have raised on several occasions. It seems to me then that the best place to start a scriptural and theological discussion of these issues is to respond to those two questions.
The first question that people raise is “do you think that God made a mistake?” In other words, do I blame God for this circumstance?
It would be very easy for me to beat my breast, tear at my hair and wail about how I have been cursed by God with this affliction. Not only would it be easy, there would be a certain comfort and freedom there. If this is God’s fault, if this is something God has done to me, then I am freed from struggling to get beyond assigning blame and I can settle into a warm and comfortable place of feeling sorry for myself.
But, as tempting as it may be to play Job, I don’t think that’s a place where we are supposed to stay. Self-pity and blaming our problems on God are not what we are created for.
God looked at creation and called it good, Paul tells us that “all things work together for good,”and we have only to look around at the beauty of a sunset or the miracle of a newborn child to see that truth. But Paul also tells us that creation is groaning in labor pains waiting for the coming times.
We know that through the redeeming death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has done what needs to be done to redeem us and all of creation. But, we don’t take that knowledge to mean that every thing should always go the way that we want it to go. The processes of nature are complex and we don’t expect God to interfere with them simply because we want them to be different. We don’t expect God to stop the rain just because we want to go golfing, and we don’t blame God when the bread falls butter side down.
No, where we meet the power of God is not in God’s preventing bad things from happening to us, but in God’s ability to bring good out of worst that happens to us. My comfort is not that God will wrap me in cotton wool and keep anything from happening to me, my comfort, my only comfort, in life and in death, and through everything that happens to me is that:
I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Do I think God made a mistake? No. I trust that the sovereign Lord of all creation doesn’t make mistakes. We don’t understand the exact mechanisms that lead to someone being Transgender, but it is becoming more and more clear that it is the result of small fluctuations of particular hormones while the fetus is developing in the womb. The human body, and the brain in particular, are tremendously complicated. With all that complication it is not difficult to imagine how a very small change during development could lead to very large differences later. I am more amazed at the vast number of births that don’t have issues like this than I am shocked at the small number that do.
Do I blame God for my being Transgendered? No. I believe that whether society or I decide that being Transgendered is a blessing or a curse, this fits God’s “purpose for my salvation.” God has the power to use me and my condition for good, if I but trust in God to guide me.
The second question that I hear is, “by doing this, aren’t you going against God’s will or plan for you?” Or, “isn’t what your doing unnatural?”
Yes it is true that I was born in a man’s body and not in a woman’s. It is also true that I was born with poor eyesight and high blood pressure. If working to make the first one more bearable is unnatural or against God’s plan for me, how can we say that the things I do to deal with the others are not?
Psalm 139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Who I am is no surprise to God. As the Psalmist says God is acquainted with all our ways, and just as I said earlier that God has the power to bring good out of bad, I also have faith that God plans for us as we are.
God’s plan for me includes that I am who I am. Getting stuck in wishing that things could be other than what they are is a human failing, not a divine one.
This is a hard path, but God does not call us to always follow the easy path, nor has God ever promised us responding to God’s call will be easy.
We see time and again through out the biblical witness that Israel being God’s chosen people did not mean that they would never see hardship, that their path would always be easy.
As the great theologian, my mother, has asked, if being a Christian meant that bad things would never happen to us, how could we ever relate to the people we are supposed to carry the Good News to? How could we relate to them, how could we help them in their pain if we never know any pain ourselves?
We speak of there being two components to a call: a personal, inner sense of call that drives a person forward through this process, and a communal, external understanding that pushes that person along. Before I started dealing honestly and faithfully with who I am, my self-esteem and self-understanding were so low that I was relying almost exclusively on the second component. People I knew, people I trusted kept telling me that I was called to this work, and pushed me to come to seminary.
An amazing thing has happened since I started living into my true identity: I have grown in confidence and have learned to see myself in a positive light, to believe that I can do this work and that I am called to it. I believe that this growth has been reflected in a great improvement in the quality of my sermons and in my ability to provide pastoral care. Until I could see myself as a person of value, I could never really treat others as valuable. What convinces me that I am following the right path is that the farther I have gone down this path the more sure I have become of my call. I would welcome the opportunity to share with you the evidence that I have seen.
I know that God knows me and has always known who I really am, even when I didn’t. Through both external and internal evidence I have come to believe that I have been called by God to the work of ministry. Those two things together say to me that there are people that God needs me to serve, as the person that God truly knows me to be.