I hope we can all agree that teaching of Biblical gender should be truthful yet positive and compassionate.
But what does that really look like from the perspective of someone who presents as transgender? How does the Church ‘deal with’ someone who professes to be both Christian and transgender? Well, that was the position my church found itself in when I came to faith in early 2017.
What follows is a short reflection of my experience of coming to faith at a time when I identified as a trans woman (ie a male to female transsexual) and of being ministered to as I sought to reconcile my cross-gender lifestyle with Biblical truth around gender and sexuality.
First, a little background. I was born male, but struggled with and acted upon cross-gender feelings from early childhood. Despite those feelings, I married and have two children. But in 2001, at the age of 38 and overwhelmed by feelings that my life as a man, husband and father was a ‘lie’, I transitioned and began living as a woman. I underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2004. In 2011, I began a co-habiting relationship with a male partner. That ended abruptly and badly in 2017, rendering me homeless.
It was in circumstances of near brokenness that I found my way to a small but lively Pentecostal church (FGC). There I undertook Bible study, discipleship classes, a course called ‘Going Deeper’ based on the teachings of Ellel Ministries, and became an enthusiastic cake baker! In August 2018, I was baptised. In early 2019, I began also attending an Evangelical Anglican church (StM’s). There I undertook the Alpha Course, which honed the basis of my faith.
There followed a period of intense and often painful reflection on the causes and consequences of my gender confusion. This was initiated by the growing realisation that my gender transition had not resolved my lifelong struggle around who I was and by feelings of regret that my transition had affected others, especially my children. Over time and with the support of FGC and StM’s, I came to understand that I was in denial about my true gender; that my feelings of being ‘a woman trapped inside a man’s body’ were not the result of some biological accident at birth, but rather the result of parental wounding and self-rejection; that my true identity was in what God had ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’.
And so it was that, in November 2019, reborn in my true identity, I reverted to my birth gender. My detransition marked the end of a 56-year long struggle around my identity. It had taken me to the point of attempting to end my life and numerous other periods of crisis requiring psychotherapeutic input. It had also seen a once-promising legal career ended prematurely. Yet it wasn’t until I came to faith in 2017 that I began to make any sense of it all. And, ultimately, through God’s grace, it brought me back into a right relationship with Him, to a position where I am beginning to stand in His strength as the man He intended me to be.
So, what part did those in my church play in that journey? What did they get right and where could they have done more? These are my thoughts based on my experience. They are shared in the prayerful hope that they will be of use to those who find themselves ministering in this difficult but increasingly important area (important because the incidence of trans-regret is rising). They are also offered as a testimony to the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit in me and those who have walked with me this past four years. Please bear in mind that much of what I say will be specific to my particular situation, some thoughts will be generalisations and every situation will be different. Nor is any of this rocket science, so please forgive me if anything I say comes across as patronising.
Acceptance (by which I mean simply being treated like everyone else) was critical in those difficult first few months. FGC had an impressive history of outreach work with the marginalised and of bringing such people to faith. That was a blessing and was reflected in the welcome I received. There was a real sense that I was accepted for both who I was and where I was emotionally and spiritually. To be referred to, addressed and accepted as a woman (however deluded I was) was important for me at that time.
I became aware later that some comments had been made by certain lay members – ranging from my need for urgent spiritual deliverance (!) to which toilet I was to use – but I was not made aware of those at the time. For me, that was important, i.e. that I was protected from any ‘chinese whispers’. Believe me, a trans person does not need to be reminded (as I was when visiting another church) within five minutes of entering the building that they are different by being shown the ‘gender neutral toilet’ (yes, that’s what it was called even though it had a disabled sign on the door!). At FGC and StM’s, I have no doubt that, had conversations been necessary, then they would have been handled sensitively and spoken in love.
I was open about my trans status from the outset and was happy to share my story. So perhaps that made it easier for the ministers at FGC and StM’s to understand me and my journey. Not all trans people will be as open. If so, engage with and get to know the individual. I would suggest that getting to know them is YOUR responsibility, however difficult you might find that. Try to understand the person’s journey and their struggle. Initially, it is about building a relationship with the individual and understanding and acknowledging the very real pain that trans people feel when struggling with their gender identity. Only then, and only in time, is it about helping that person build a right relationship with God.
Coming to see God’s plan
The journey between coming to faith and detransitioning took me in excess of 2½ years. Such was my brokenness, it took me that long to achieve a sufficient level of head knowledge (heart knowledge is a work in progress) and confidence to step back into my true identity. It is important to understand that there is no ‘quick fix’. The individual needs to be afforded the time and space in which to grow their faith and come to their own understanding of God’s plan for their gender and sexuality.
There was Biblical teaching around gender/ sexuality/marriage/etc at both FGC and (more so) StM’s. Neither compromised on Biblical truth. I recall feeling uncomfortable after sitting through a sermon on Romans 1 and in that moment I would have appreciated a quiet word to check how I was feeling. Similarly, as I grew in my faith and started to question the contradiction between my trans identity and Biblical gender, I would perhaps have benefitted from a chat to check my understanding and to answer any questions. Maybe there was a reluctance to address the ‘elephant in the room’, or perhaps it was a lack of awareness of the sensitivities that trans people feel around Biblical teaching on gender and sexuality. Either way, both need to be addressed so that the individual feels supported.
The opportunity for prayer ministry became increasingly important the more I struggled with the knowledge that my transition had resolved nothing and that my status as a trans woman was incompatible with my faith. I was blessed that both FCG and StM had active prayer-ministry teams. FGC had a healing and deliverance ministry team trained by Ellel Ministries. This meant I was easily able to step into ministry when, in/around March 2019, I reached the point of being overwhelmed with feelings of regret and confusion about my gender identity and the team was able to lead me in faith to confess, repent and seek forgiveness for my past. The healing continues, but availability of an appropriately trained ministry team just then was crucial.
I was truly blessed that those who walked with me were alive with the Holy Spirit working in and through them to heal my brokenness. No more so was this the case, I believe, than when my minister at FGC agreed to baptise me in August 2018. I was, at that time, an openly trans woman with only a limited understanding of the nature and extent of my sin. It could be argued that baptism was an affirmation of my ungodly lifestyle choice: indeed I know now that some concerns were expressed about me being baptised. But I believe that the decision to baptise me was the result of my minister being convicted by the Holy Spirit to loose His supernatural healing power in me. And it worked because a few months later I was led to seek healing ministry. And the rest, as they say, is history. PTL.
I would recommend Caleb Kaltenbach’s book, Messy Grace – How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction. Kaltenbach makes a passionate and compassionate case for the Church to welcome, love and nurture members of the LGBT community and challenges those in ministry to think through their responses to questions such as: ‘Would you allow a trans woman to attend your women’s ministry?’ I was. But, whatever your personal answer to that question, Kaltenbach’s message is clear – that churches need to foster a new sense of compassion and empathy for those who are thinking, speaking and acting in ways with which you might not agree. He argues that you need to overcome your own inner resistance to getting involved in a relationship with such people. Because, as he says, the real mark of spiritual maturity is how you treat someone who is different from you. And isn’t that how all of us want to be treated? Isn’t that how Jesus would have responded to the LGBT community?
Photo: (Left to Right) Stephen Coles in December 1991 – December 2017 – September 2019 – November 2019. Courtesy of Stephen Coles