A series of essays towards General Convention in 2003
Caveat! Episcopal Life rejected this essay as shocking.
© 2002 by Thomas Lewis
When I travel to a new town, I look for the familiar blue and white sign: "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." It proclaims our form of the Gospel's invitation to join in the work of the Body of Christ, and lets us know that we are among friends. But how many of us secretly wonder -- if they knew everything about me, would I really be welcome?
I am a transgender person, in particular a female to male transsexual. If you saw me in the pew next to you, you would not know that I had been born a girl. You would simply see a young man with glasses and a goatee, unobtrusive, singing bass during the hymns, shy at coffee hour. All through my childhood and young adulthood I had a sense that inside and through this visible world, there was a wonderful purpose, and a loving God. Even so, the various identities and orientations I had tried to live out didn't fit. As a girl, I was a tomboy, growing into a quiet young woman who dated men, and later women. In my early thirties, it became undeniably clear to me that I could not live in my body as it was, whomever I was attracted to. I was a transsexual. From the time of that realization, through the years of my transition to this day, I have come to hold as precious and central the fact that God, to be fully God, needed to live out His love for us inside a body. But as Jesus' life showed us, ultimately it wasn't the body that mattered -- it was the living out of love. In order for me to live, I had to consent to my own incarnation, and as paradoxical as it might seem, for me that meant living my life as a man.
Transgender and transsexual might be unfamiliar words, or they might come with some preconceptions which don't fit the picture I just described. Basically, transgender is an umbrella term, encompassing anyone whose gender identity, or sense of self is somewhere on the spectrum from man to woman, and doesn't necessarily match up with the body's sex, which for most people is clearly male or female. A transsexual is someone whose inner sense of gender is so different from the body that the person takes medical steps (hormones and surgery) to change the bodies. Gender identity is different from sexual orientation, which may be heterosexual, gay or lesbian, or bisexual. It is very easy to conflate gender identity, biological sex, and sexual orientation, as if they are all the same thing, and if they don't align, there must be something very wrong...perhaps even sinful.
Thus we risk becoming outcasts. But as with other groups whose struggles highlight the need for justice, Scripture holds up a new model. Isaiah 56:3-5 and the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27ff) assume that transgender people are not sinful simply because we express our genders differently than others do. I encourage people who may be wondering about this question to meet transgender people before deciding that we are confused about how we need to live. For us, there is a great deal of discernment that goes into discovering our own gender identity. It is a deeper form of the question that everyone must ask: "Who is God calling me to be?"
When transgender persons live the truth of their lives in the context of the Church, instead of leaving in silence or shame, those daily and weekly acts of courage show that they have decided to take the Church at its word, as the Body of Christ. Answering that trust with welcome, you allow us to experience a hint of the resurrection which is our common hope, and give us freedom to employ our gifts in unexpected ways. Welcome us, and see what fruits we bear.
Thomas Lewis was raised Methodist, and joined the Episcopal Church while in graduate school. He lives in the Boston area and worships at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Cambridge. Thomas is a member of Integrity, the organization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Episcopalians and their allies. He works as an administrative assistant at Harvard University and is also a consultant on transgender inclusion in college and church settings.
That this will not be published in Episcopal Life saddens me.
I think of
lonely male to female crossdressers or transsexual women somewhere, with a
wife and family, who live with shame and loneliness, believing themselves
to be the only transgender person in the Episcopal Church. I think of
female to male transgender men who don't want to leave the churches they
love, but who aren't sure that staying is an option. Gays, lesbians, and
bisexuals may already have some connection with the LGBT community, or if
not, they at least know that their lives are being discussed and struggled
with. In addition, how many people are out there who, like my parents,
away from their lifelong parishes out of shame, reluctant to answer the
simplest questions about how their children are doing? As long as my life
is unspeakable, the basic facts of my existence too shocking, so are the
lives of those who love me.
-- T. L.
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