Sometimes I preach to the choir, sometimes to the genuinely curious and sensitive; at other times to hostile skeptics, but often to myself.
I had the distinct honor and privilege to do a workshop at this year’s Gay Christian Network Conference (GCN) last weekend. I cannot begin to describe what it is like to be among 700 attendees who have one thing in common, a hunger and a love for God, and for whom faith is not a legalistic dogma, but a the river of life.
To say that gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and gender-queer persons are excluded from the “banquet” of the King is to deny the essential message of the Gospel, and comes pretty close to that unforgivable sin, which is to ascribe the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil.
One only needs to meet the large number of parents of LGBTQ persons who attended this year’s conference, listen to their stories and see the love in their eyes to appreciate our Heavenly Father’s heart more fully. No one can sit through Linda and Rob Robertson’s telling of their story and then accuse them of any heresy. And you better have a good supply of tissue on hand as they recount the process they went through when their son Ryan came out to them as a teenager, a process of transformation from narrow-minded religious judgement to unconditional love and support with a capital “S.” Despite this transformation, they lost their son tragically and now they want churched parents to open the eyes of their hearts and consider the logs in their own eyes. If you haven seen their “gone-viral” presentation, allow me to infect you with the link: “Just because he breathes.”
At GCN, Linda and Rob were gracious enough to recount their painful journey through their son’s final moments and the years of struggle that preceded his premature death. Their love for the son is palpable, so too is their love for the church. They share their story to help us all grow in love for one another.
This was my third GCN conference in a row, and the third time I have given a workshop on what it means to be transgender as a Christian. I typically cycle through states of nauseating nervousness to transcendent peace in the days and hours before my workshops. I have identified two reasons why I go through this cycle: one, I am an introvert, shy and basically insecure person; and two, I am an introvert, shy and radically transformed person. The difference is that I am aware and cognizant for how God has been at work in my life. I see God’s grace as a golden thread that is so intricately and intimately woven into the tapestry of my life, that it has kept me from unravelling.
Consequently, when I recount the process of how I was able to reconcile my faith to my medical diagnosis of gender disphoria, I too,like the Robertsons, have the privilege to declare God’s unconditional, transforming love and power. The truth is, I need to remind myself that I am truly loved, because even after five years, undoing 56+ years the effects of self-loathing takes time.
A sad postscript
I received some news on Sunday evening that illustrates some of the things that shoot me down.
At last week’s Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference in Chicago, I met Betsy, a fellow Canadian. She attended as an ally and we had a long chat about an old friend from her high school, who like me, transitioned from male to female in her fifties, Amanda. She shared how Amanda had friends who supported her but these relationships had slowly cooled and Betsy was concerned for her friend. She thanked me for my work and was looking forward to being a more informed friend of Amanda.
The note I received from Betsy on Sunday night was short; Amanda had ended her life.
This my friends, is a very low low. It is a sad commentary that life is made to be so impossible for some that they cannot envision living another day. That impossibility is often a combination of many small factors, none of which may seem damaging or threatening on their own, but when accumulated through time can break the camel’s back. Getting the sideways looks, hearing the whispers behind one’s back, being addressed with wrong pronouns or name, feeling like the elephant in the room or feeling invisible; all these may not seem like much in isolation from each other, but when you cannot go anywhere in your community where you can be free of these life sapping scenarios, it is easy to slip into a quiet despair and hopelessness. It doesn’t always have to be a hostile, judgmental comment; those seem to roll off one’s back much easier. It’s all those seemingly benign non-verbal barbs that stick like velcro to one’s heart, until it is pierced as if with a spear.
Dear Amanda, I am sorry your light was slowly snuffed out. I’m sorry you were not allowed to imagine a better life for yourself, where you could be you and all your talents and all the things that made you special could be celebrated by all.
Dear Betsy, I’m sorry you have lost a friend. I’m sorry that you will mourn instead of cheer for her. Thank you for what you did for Amanda.
Until the age of 58, Lisa Salazar lived a life that was complicated by the fact that she was born male. She envisioned a very private life after her transition in 2008, but her life is anything but private these days. She shares her life journey in her book, Transparently: Behind the Scenes of a Good Life, gives workshops on transgender issues, and is a board member of Canyon Walker Connections.
Her advocacy is directed towards the church. “Whether you like it or not, the church continues to influence politics in both the U.S. and Canada. As long as pulpits continue to spew out misinformation regarding LGB and T issues, the longer it is going to take to see real change happen,” she says.