On being a Queer Transgender Person of Faith
Our mistakes are in our assignment, not our creation.
TW: Self-Harm, Suicidal Ideation, Transphobia, Homophobia
The most common things I hear from my family and other people that knew me as a child is, “You were such a happy kid. You always woke up with a smile, but somehow that changed. You lost that as you grew up.”
I lost nothing. It was taken from me. Over the years I’ve struggled to find the words to express this. In 2022, as part of the Pride and Prejudice Video Anthology, I put words to it through a Mythobiographical piece I wrote and performed.
I even expanded on the themes of the piece in the music I wrote and arranged for the video and later expanded into an EP by the same name.
In many ways, I think the music tells my story better than the words it was written to accompany. This is such a hard thing to talk about. I find it so much easier to talk about this topic through my music.
I wrote the song Black on my album Pride as a meditation on the me I used to be and as a farewell to that person who never should have lived the life they did.
But I suppose I need to put it into words again, so let’s give it another try.
When your body betrays you
Puberty is a traumatic experience for a lot of people, but it was monster that stole my life from me for decades.
As a kid, I always had a hard time making friends with boys. I had been assigned male at birth and everyone of my parents’ friends thought it only made sense for me to be friends with their sons, but we didn’t have much in common. Instead, I made friends with their sisters if they had one.
I will never forget the first time I wasn’t allowed to sleep over at a friends house because it was a girls only slumber party. It hurt me that I had to leave and I couldn’t understand why. That night, I sat in my bed crying and begging for God or the devil, anyone who would listen to me to let me wake up as a girl. That prayer went unanswered.
Then the changes in my body started. My voice deepened. I developed the secondary sex characteristics of a male. I had to start shaving.
Shaving my face was particularly troubling to me. Every new hair betrayed me. I often used to stand in the bathroom looking at my face in the mirror and wondering how deep I had to cut with the razor to keep the hairs from growing back. Fortunately, I never acted on those thoughts.
All of this took place in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. Transgender topics weren’t topics anyone discussed at the time, and the only trans person I remember hearing about was Tula, Caroline Cossey, who was in the James Bond movie, For You Eyes Only. It was a scandal. The way I heard the story is that she was a man pretending to be woman and fooled so many people. Her story terrified me. I didn’t want to be caught like she was.
I was raised an Evangelical Christian. I knew I was going to hell as a homosexual, and the way I heard people talking about Tula convinced me that their was a special place in hell for people like me.
My Saving Grace
One night when I was about sixteen, my parents were going to be out of the house and I was going to be alone. I had studied how to end my life and nkew exactly how I was going to do it. I knew how to make the cuts, and I even drew up a warm bath to make it go faster.
By the Grace of God and Mary, I am didn’t do it. When I went to get the knife, I saw a book my great aunt Inez gave me. She was Catholic, a black sheep of the family. She gave me a copy of The Secret of the Rosary by St Louis de Montfort, and for some reason, I read that book instead of getting the knife.
In that book I read a line in the introduction that gave me something I needed, hope:
If you say the Rosary faithfully until death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins “you shall receive a never fading crown of glory.” Even if you are on the brink of damnation, even if you have one foot in Hell, even if you have sold your soul to the devil as sorcerers do who practise black magic, and even if you are a heretic as obstinate as a devil, sooner or later you will be converted and will amend your life and save your soul, if—and mark well what I say—if you say the Holy Rosary devoutly every day until death for the purpose of knowing the truth and obtaining contrition and pardon for your sins.
The barest whisper of hope I saw there caused me to skip to the end of the book on how to say the rosary. I didn’t own the beads, so I counted the prayers on my fingers.
As I sat on the floor of my bedroom praying the Our Fathers and Hail Marys I started crying. Something stirred deep down inside my soul. I saved up my money and bought every book by St Louis de Montfort I could find. I consecrated my life to Mary, and eventually converted to Catholicism.
It is important to note, the Church didn’t save my life, Mary did. My faith in Jesus with, through, by, and in Mary gave me hope. This wan’t the only time I tried to take my life, but it was my devotion to Mary the pulled me back each and every time.
The Flawed Church and the Rabbi
I’m not going to talk about all my experiences in the Baptist Church or the Catholic Church, but my interactions with the institutions were fraught with problems. Suffice it to say that within a few years, I was slipping toward atheism, and a Jewish friend of mine who knew how important my faith was to me took me to talk with his Rabbi. We talked about a lot of things that helped me out, but one thing has always stuck with me.
I told the Rabbi that I was an effeminate gay man in hopes that I would shock him and he would cast me out as so many others had. To my surprise he didn’t care.
That Rabbi then broke my brain as he explained to me that there weren’t just two genders. He mentioned the males and females that I knew about, but then went on to list others:
The aylonit who were born as female but develop into males
The saris who were born male but develop into females
The androgynines who had characteristics of both males and females.
The tumtum whose gender was unclear.
He then told me a story about how Sarah laughed when she heart the angel saying she would have a son, because she knew she was pregnant with a daughter. That Isaac was bound on Mount Moriah to cut free the feminine soul from him, and that he spent his life looking for it until he found it incarnated in Rebecca his future wife.
My mind was blown and this is where my faith came back to life and became the embodiment of Judeo-Christian. I studied Judaism to the point where I even contemplated converting.
Unlike Christianity, Judaism has centuries of contemplating these questions, and while neither tradition is perfect or, in some branches, even tolerant, they have become the foundation for the faith I have today.
For God to be Ultimate
Needless to say, my faith has changed a lot over the years. The most important change came when I read The Dynamics of Faith by Paul Tillich. He defines faith as our ultimate concern and God as the Ultimate. As such, any limiter we apply to God pulls the idea down from that ultimate place and makes an idol to be worshipped instead of God. I cannot help but agree.
God cannot be male, female, or even nonbinary. If humans contain the image of God, then all the spectra of human expression are facets of that image.
This is where the energies and essence arguments about God take primacy. When we talk about the Divine Feminine, Divine Masculine, or Divine Androgyny of God, we are talking about the energies of God that we can participate in and with, not the absolute essence of God. The Godhead is none of these things and all of these things. Most specifically. God is not a thing at all. A thing is by definition limited and definable. God is beyond infinity, because even infinity is definable in words and mathematics.
I’ve come to adopt the gender fluid language of Julian of Norwich who is as comfortable with Mother Christ and she is with Brother Jesus. The ability to slide from one image or idea of the Divine to another has liberated my heart and soul to more fully participate in the mysteries of faith.
My name is Charlie, and I am an allosexual, queer, nonbinary demigirl who is a practicing metamodernist mystic, and a board member of Creation Spirituality Communities. God was never out to get me, those who claimed to speak for him were.
I am moved.