Following on from a post I read from Sarah Savage last night, I wanted to share a little more of my own experience as a transsexual Christian.
The following chapter which I wrote is from a published anthology entitled “Trans/Formations” published by SCM Press, and edited by Professor Lisa Isherwood of the University of Winchester, and Professor Marcella Althaus-Reid who sadly died before Trans/Formations was published.
The book chapter came about because I was due to give a talk at the Southampton branch of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, but came down with laryngitis. So the talk became a published book chapter.
The chapter was written some years ago, but I wanted to show it in its original form.
I plan to update it with a part two. For those of you who want to read Sarah’s blog too, the address is on my links page.
I was brought up in a Christian home by my mother as a single parent. She was Church of Scotland and a Sunday school teacher. I attended Sunday school in a carefree way. When we moved to Yorkshire, I attended Beverley Minster, a beautiful cathedral type Church in a lovely Yorkshire town. I knew I loved God, but like most young people I was fairly flippant about it.
However, it wasn’t until I hit my teens that my faith took hold of me and I began to enter into what some describe as a “relationship” with God.
I attended Christ Church, in Winchester, a fairly large congregation which I was a member of for some time. However, I was at the age now where I was also beginning to question and challenge my faith.
I began to realise also, that this Church (and later others like it) had very dogmatic, almost iron-bar like views on certain core issues, like marriage, sexuality, and the roles of men and women in society. Although I wasn’t living as female at this point, I already had experience of what it was like to be different from the norm through my physical disability.
The evangelical church, of which this was a congregation, all seemed a bit too sanctimonious and self serving for my liking. They seemed to be very zealous and excited at the prospect of their own passport to Heaven, but very disinterested in how to bring in others, or treat non Christians with equal respect.
So having become very cynical, I left that Church. I was visited at home by members of the congregation and youth group leaders who told me I was making a big mistake and I’d probably go to Hell.
You’d think I’d learn my lesson there wouldn’t you? Well, I didn’t
I went to University at Oxford Brookes in 2000 to study English and Sociology. For a number of years after the Christ Church disaster, I hadn’t attended a Church at all.
In the first few weeks of my time at Brookes, I met a fresher called Ryan. We got talking, and it became apparent that Ryan was a Christian. He invited me along to one of the major Churches in Oxford, also evangelical, St Aldates. Now to be honest, after my issues with Christ Church, I was pretty unenthusiastic about going. So, I didn’t, bowing instead to pressure from my flatmates and carers who told me I didn’t need “god-squadders” in my life.
So it goes on. I didn’t go to Church until halfway through my second year at University. I’d had problems with an abusive carer just previously, so was feeling pretty low and vulnerable, not to mention depressed.
I thought that going to Church might help. So, I remembered the name of the Church that Ryan had told me about, St Aldates. I looked online to see if they had a website to check for disabled access and practical things. They did, and it was easily reachable via bus to the city centre.
So, I went that evening. It seemed friendly and welcoming enough, with lively music and lots of young people. There were regular occurrences of people falling on the floor, and crying uncontrollably after services. This according to the clergy was the Holy Spirit at work.
But what I liked about this Church was the large congregation; it was so enormous that I could just lose myself in it. There were also regular baptism services, mainly comprised of candidates it seems now who had done terrible things and then found St Aldates.
It was a good job I could lose myself, because parallel to this I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I had always identified with the more feminine, girly aspects of life, and naively thought that this made me gay, as in homosexual male.
So, this was the box I put myself in. I joined the LGBT Society, made friends with everyone, donned the odd feather boa, and partied to cheesy music.
But back at St Aldates, it was the proposed ordination of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Now Jeffrey was openly gay, had been in a gay relationship for some 30 years, but had abstained from sex, so according to Church of England guidance, had done nothing wrong.
However St Aldates were utterly opposed to the appointment, and I found myself feeling uncomfortable, and almost persecuted. The Rector even devoted a sermon to Biblical texts which in the eyes of St Aldates, proved that homosexuality was against Christian principles, and telling the congregation why St Aldates were opposed to the appointment.
Now in the end, Jeffrey’s appointment as Bishop of Reading did not go ahead, but he was appointed as Dean of St Albans.
Sometime later, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams came to preach. He preached a perfectly interesting sermon, but there was a question and answer session. The Rector put his hand up and began to tell the Archbishop how very disappointed St Aldates were by Jeffrey John’s appointment in St Albans.
I leaned across to my carer and told her I couldn’t listen to any more. With that, I left the service at very high speed.
So no Church again for a while, that is until the last attempt at conforming, brought about by disabled toilet evangelism.
I was partying like a cheesy thing at GLAM, the University’s cheesy themed student night, when I met this very friendly girl. Her name was Anna, she’d lived in Nepal and she was studying Occupational Therapy. We chatted about many things that night, but the conversation took an unexpected turn when she offered to help me to the toilet.
I went in, did what I had to do, and then she began to engage me in a conversation about attending Church. I saw nothing of her for a few weeks, apart from the occasional text, asking me if I was coming to Church.
In the end she turned up to take me to the Wednesday Bible group, FOCUS, held at the local school.
Now, around this time, I’d also been receiving counselling, abandoned my gay phase, and come to the conclusion that I was transsexual.
As soon as I entered the Bible group, something became apparent. There was a gender divide. The individual sub-groups were single sex. So I began feeling more of a hypocrite than ever before. Whilst the men discussed their weaknesses regarding pornography and money, I had half an ear on the discussions about romance and women’s roles within the church, and the other trying desperately to fit in with “the boys.”
My only short term relief from this came when we used to escape over to the Sports Bar for drinks after the meetings. I then got to sit with the girls and chat. I felt more comfortable with this. However, that was frowned upon, and questions were asked. I was even asked if I felt less of a man because of my disability. I told them I was gay to keep them quiet. This for them was satisfactory, as long as I wasn’t practising.
Eventually the pain of being a fraud was becoming too much. Leading a double life, I was out with the LGBT society on a Saturday, and in Church on Sundays. I was also growing closer to Anna and the other girls, and they treated me like one of them. But I didn’t have to take any action myself this time, to leave.
My degree was ending and I came back to Hampshire to live at John Darling Mall, a hostel for physically disabled adults, whilst still keeping in touch with Maria and the others by telephone.
But soon after, I found a therapist, and began living as female. This is when my friendship with Maria and the others came to an abrupt end when I disclosed my true self to them.
They all urged me not to believe the lies, and told me that God’s grace was sufficient enough for me to carry on living as male. They even mentioned my DNA!
However, I ignored them, and they to this day have ignored me
I think that to understand the predicament of the transsexual we need look no further than Jesus. He was ridiculed, and marginalised. He reached out to Mary, allowing her to wash his hair. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbours as ourselves, with no discriminatory opt outs.
Romans tells us that there is “no condemnation in Christ Jesus” If this is so, why then am I condemned for my decision to honour myself as a woman in Christ? Clearly, I am not. The only right answer to this question is that humankind condemned me instead.
The other important question is of course, did God create transsexuality? I think unequivocally yes definitely, if He created everything else.
Making u-turns in your life does not mean that everything will be perfect, nor easier, just different, as the Rev Dawson B. Taylor points out in a sermon preached at the Cathedral of Hope
I definitely feel more fulfilled, and more real now, even if I have lost many “friends”
Those friendships were based on lies anyway, and a last desperate attempt by me to conform and fit in with society.
But I think it was still a useful experience, in that it forced my hand and made me admit my true feelings. I believe that in order to know what you are, you must also know what you are not. I think the single sex Bible study was God’s way of showing me. It was the first time I had really had to try, badly, to take on the male role in society
People often ask me what attracted me to Evangelical churches, and what kept me going back for more.
I think they appear to be very welcoming places, with a snake charm-esque feeling, and very seductive and happy, that is until you put a toe out of line or say something controversial.
My Christian experience as a transsexual has been less disappointing overall than my experience of Christians as a transsexual. I know that God is still there, and God is with me always. However, in a fallen world the same cannot be said of my supposed Christian friends sadly. I pray that their hearts would be opened, and their minds illuminated.
As to grace, finally, the greatest irony is that the central planks of the evangelical argument against transsexuality can also be taken to be in favour of it. If God’s grace is sufficient enough for them to remain male, it is therefore also abundantly sufficient to allow them to be themselves.