Preparing the Way

Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were questioning in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water, but one who is more powerful than I am is coming. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with[a] the Holy Spirit and fire.
Luke 3:15-16, CSB

Two weeks ago, in the lectionary reading from the Gospel of Luke, we read the story of John the Baptist. When we enter the story, we see John’s ministry taking off to the point where many were following this weird man from the wilderness. They even began questioning if HE was the Messiah they had been waiting for. It was in that moment that we see John address the gathering crowd, basically saying, “listen, I’m just a simple minister. I am here to point you to God and to repentance.”

As I read through that text, I was reminded of the conversation that I’ve been having with some people via Twitter over the news that broke recently about a pastor in northern California who had drawn heavy criticism for their marquee, which read, “Bruce Jenner is still a man. Homosexuality is still a sin.”  In this particular conversation, the question was asked of me why I felt the need to “obsess over my gender identity. After all,” they said, “the fact that you mentioned your identity means that you worship it. My identity rests in God alone.”

I don’t know if any of you have felt the same way about what I have been sharing, but what I felt compelled to write about this morning is the idea that John the Baptist didn’t reject his identity as “the Baptist.” He used it, and his growing popularity, to point to Jesus. Do I lead with my identity as a queer transgender woman? Yes, but not because I worship who I am. I lead with it for a few different reasons:

I have found that if I don’t lead with it, I am setting myself up for hurt and rejection.

I have heard from numerous people that I am very feminine, and that if they hadn’t known, they would have just guessed that I was a woman. After all, I dress feminine, my mannerisms are feminine, and outwardly, I look feminine. Yet at the same time, I know who I am. I’m not about to hide it. And at some point, my self-consciousness will take over, and I’ll end up blurting it out. At that point, what happens, especially if I have already begun forming relationships? Many times, I am dismissed - sometimes told to just go away. Thus, I have learned that the safest thing for me to do is to lead with my identity to know right away if this is a safe space or not.

I have seen the hurt that the LGBTQ+ community often associates with church.

For many within the LGBTQ+ community, the hurt is very real. They aren’t finding themselves in a place where they can accept the love of God because it comes with spoken and unspoken conditions. Even at that, many aren’t even hearing about the love of God over the people around them telling them that they’re going to hell. I prioritize my identity as a queer transgender Christian woman for them. I believe that they need to see other people like them that are working to expand the Kingdom of God as originally designed for ALL - no conditions. Sorry, but I simply don’t believe that Jesus is up in heaven saying, “well, when I died on the cross for your sins, I certainly didn’t know that you’d be doing that.” And yet, the Bible tells us, while we were YET SINNERS ourselves, Christ died for us.

I’ve seen the suicide statistics.

Did you know that for those inside the church who are dealing with LGBTQ+ issues, the chances they will commit suicide goes up 38%? I’ve had well-meaning Christians tell me that this is a sign that the LGBTQ+ “lifestyle” is against God. That “those people wouldn’t be suicidal if they were just following God’s natural order.” Yet for me, the depression doesn’t come from my identity - it has been incredibly freeing to come out and live my life as my authentic self. The depression comes from the fact that I long for community. Somewhere to belong. Friendship. Relationship. And, more importantly, community who will pray with me and encourage me in my walk with God. Yet, far too often, this is not the case. I’m told by most churches that I am not biologically female, so I can’t be a part of their women’s ministry. I’ve been told by some pastors that I am not even welcome at their church when I am “living in willful disobedience to the Bible.” Friends, rejection hurts. Period. Full stop. And when we reject people - even with perceived sin - we block people from relationships, and in doing so, a tangible example of the immense love of God. And so, the depression, loneliness, and confusion sets in, and suicide for too many is seen as the way out. I share my identity because I NEED to realize that visibility helps lessen that sense, and gives people who are dealing with LGBTQ+ issues a beacon of hope to tell them that they aren’t alone. But it wasn’t always that way.

When I first came out and began my transition, there was a point in time when I didn’t want to openly identify as transgender.

At the beginning, I fully embraced life as a woman. Period. There was no “transgender,” because the implication was that I would never be able to fully identify as a woman if I had to qualify that with the label of trans. And so, in an effort to fit in with the women’s groups that I had found myself in, I began my transition process by completely trying to disassociate myself from the trans community. While that lasted for a little while, I quickly found that it wasn’t feasible, as I kept feeling the need to disclose my identity as a caveat to make sure that I wouldn’t find myself attached to a new friend only to have them run the opposite direction if they ever found out. A few months later, I turned to YouTube and recorded a video in which I came out publicly for not only my friends, but for the world to see.

More and more, though, I began to find myself gravitating towards stories of other trans experiences. I laughed with Jazz as I watched her explore life as a transgender teenager. I cried, overcome with emotion, as I watched HBO’s “The Trans List,” and listened to the stories of other transgender people who had fought the same struggles I had growing up. I read a number of different books, watched YouTube videos, and searched on Google to find more - until I realized the reason I was doing so: the overwhelming sense of community. That I wasn’t alone.

It is that sense that draws me to a space where I feel compelled to share who I am, especially in light of my faith. Do I feel like the title of queer trans woman needs to be prominently a part of my life? Only in that I pray that it points to God. If I can save one life by sharing my story and connecting to someone in the church who feels like the only choice they have is their gender or sexual identity versus death, then I believe God is glorified. We lose nothing in talking about it - but yet, we find ourselves constantly in a space where our identities tend to matter more than God. We’ll call ourselves Christian, but do we allow that identity to point others to Christ, or do we just use it as justification to treat others as inferior while still boasting in who we are? The lectionary reading suggests that perhaps we have our different identities so that we can use it to point to Christ.

Here’s the thing, though - not one identity is any more meaningful than the other.

We’ve got to start living like that’s the case. The Apostle Paul writes about this in his letter to the Ephesians when he says, “He (God) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.” (Eph. 4:11-13, CSB) We are to be working towards unity so that we can reach maturity and the fullness of Christ in our midst. We lose that if we begin to even think for a moment that certain people don’t belong because they don’t make us feel comfortable. God doesn’t call us to comfort. God doesn’t even promise safety. He promises hope. And that, my friends, is a promise that is given to each and every person we see each day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *