As a Trans Woman, The Church Pushed Me Away From Faith

Up until my late teens, I went to church on at least a once per week basis. I was the kind of kid who initially went to services with their mother as a family outing, attending Sunday School, then main services, then helping out as tech support running the church projector. I went to evening services, I asked questions about theology, I attended study groups, and I watched people get baptised as adults with a sort of reverence for their level of believe in their faith.

I found a church where I was free to ask about how the pastor reconciled his faith with scientific evidence, and if it was okay to look at the bible as more emotional template than literal account of events. A place Where I could ask questions about faith and be met with discussion rather than being shut down.

What ultimately made me leave the Christian faith was how the church as an institution seemed to view the LGBT community. My first experience seeing LGBT issues approached in a church was when a couple of my gay male friends attended a service together, and held hands as they walked in. They were teenagers, and both has been long lapsed in their faith, but were interested in seeing what my church was like.

I watched a member of the church congregation tell them that, while they were welcome to worship at our church, she would be praying for the lord to forgive them and hoped they would be praying for the same. Understandably, they did not stick around. They were told their existence was a sin they needed to be forgiven for, and they walked away from an attempt to reengage with christianity.

As a trans women, in the years that followed, puberty began to set in, and I began to develop secondary sex characteristics consistent with a testosterone based puberty. This was the tipping point for me, and what motivated me to start making steps to transition to female. At this point, I still considered myself a christian.

I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask the church. How could I reconcile the knowledge that in a world with an omniscient creator, I would be designed to be uncomfortable in my own skin. I wasn’t sure how to reconcile my feelings about transition without having to, as a result, believe an infallible god could make mistakes or make me imperfectly. If god has a plan for everyone, how would I avoid resenting god for putting me through dysphoria. These were sincere questions I had, but that I never asked.

I kept thinking back to my friends who came to church and promptly left. I thought about someone trying to pray for forgiveness on my behalf, like I had done something wrong. I thought about being accepted only on the proviso that I pray routinely for my own forgiveness, and consistently live in a state of guilt for something I could not control.

And I think that was the biggest thing that scared me about coming out to the church, the guilt I would have to live with forever.

What the churches I attended at the time portrayed to me was a belief that sexuality or gender were things which could be changed just through devotion to the lord and personal desire, something I can honestly tell you from first hand experience is nonsense.

When I first came out to myself as trans, and acknowledged how I felt, I prayed to god for hours to make the feelings go away. I prayed for respite from dysphoria, I prayed for comfort with my own body, and I prayed for answers on what possible benefit there could be to putting me through this. I prayed for my feelings to go away, as they and their consequences terrified me. I was terrified of a life of ostracization, attacks and loneliness. I was scared my life would be ruined and I prayed and prayed and prayed for hours, day after day, for it to go away.

It did not.

No amount of prayer was going to pray the trans out of me, and the thought that something I could not change even with god’s help being a sin I would need to eternally ask forgiveness for made me realise that the religion was not for me.

My experiences with members of that church years post transition have taught me I made the right judgement call. I’ve met people since who learned of my btransition and told me they would pray for my forgiveness.

I did for a short time attending an explicitly LGBT focused local church, shortly after coming out, but it didn’t last long. My primary issue was that I couldn’t shake the sense I was in some kind of quarantine. I was shut away, and I was only allowed to worship with the other church undesirables.

I didn’t want to be part of a religeon where an inate part of myself was a guilt laden sin. After leaving the church, I realised in hindsight how much of my faith was habit and situation of birth. I knew I would never believe in another religeon after christianity,and that christianity was going to have a heck of a time trying to win me back.

I still sometimes pray in my darkest moments, out of despiration rather than sincere belief. I no longer believe, but I wish I could. I miss the comfort that faith brought with it, but the costs were just too high.

If you’re a christian reading this, my only request of you is to please read the bible in a modern context, recognise the contradictions within interpretations of it, and accept LGBT christians without them feeling like they’re inherently sinning. Religious faith offers many a respite from a harsh world, and making the church that same kind of harsh place needlessly just pushes lifelong believers away from faith.

The bible never actually mentions transgender people at all, contrary to many assertions to the contrary. Most modern clothing a christian might wear are formed of two types of interwoven fabric. The bible supports owning human slaves, and murder as a punishment for goodness knows how many benign things. The bible is a book written by humans, and was a product of the time in which it was written.

Please understand how many liberties you likely already take with 1:1 following of biblical texts, recognise that being LGBT isn’t an active choice, and that regardless of what the bible says pushing away an individual who wants to believe in the same religion as you is countering your own goals. If you want to push people like me away from the faith due to our LGBT status, but not okay with the idea of owning human slaves, then your reading of the bible selectively reinforces existing beliefs at best.

Categories: LGBT

6 replies »

  1. I don’t hide the fact I’m Catholic. While I’m still happy to have my faith, I don’t blame you for giving up yours because you did no wrong. I’m tired of those in charge of Christianity, as an organization, are allowed to make contradictory teachings.

    When the 2015 referendum for legalising gay marriage was happening in Ireland, my local priest would speak against it. He doesn’t outright condemn homosexuality but he kept spewing the whole “marriage is sacred only between man and woman” and “think of the children” bullshit, painting the homophobic Church as the heroic David and the marginalised group as the blasphemous giant Goliath. I wanted to stand up and speak up against my priest and tell him how the Catholic church is only hurting itself by driving others away for no good reason, how the Mary Magdalene asylums tortured and killed many young women, how Irish priests raped children, who couldn’t speak up until the early 90’s when all those priests are long dead. I wanted to my voice at our local priest… but I couldn’t because I was afraid my parents would kick me out of our home and the whole community would look down me and my family with hate and contempt. The best I could do was shaking and whisper to my mum that the priest was full of shit but she was still angry I didn’t even try to tolerate the horrible things being said.

    People outside the faith will say that’s how Christianity works, that homophobia, transphobia, sexism, ageism, etc. is part of the Christian identity. Then why even teaching children about love, compassion and faith and just straight to bigotry? It’s BECAUSE I’m a Christian, I stand everything anti-LGBT, especially Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and other monsters like them. LGBT-people should not be “cured”, they should be allowed to enter the House of God without ANY judgement more than any other human.

    Even if you’ll never return to your faith, know I see you as far better and more virtuous than many Christians I’ve ever known because most of them are shit.

  2. I’m a born again Christian, and in my teens my faith was rocked and tested and ultimately I walked away from it. Too many things I didn’t agree with and I went through too many events that left me permanently damaged. I’m slowly coming around from the pain and torment I went through and recently felt the touch of God. I don’t know why I felt the touch, and decided to go back to church to discover why. But I felt compelled to comment simply because I see you as a woman. I’ve read your work, your tweets and comments on how hard it has been for you in your transformation with being true to yourself. It’s painful to deny who you truly are with yourself. Living that way is too hard and draining, and it takes its toll. It’s not easy, everyone will tell you that. If anyone has a problem with that, that’s their problem, not yours. I respect and admire you more than those people because you’re living the life you want. It takes time, but to see you how you are now is wonderful. You just keep doing what you’re doing, and if it makes you happy more power to you. Long time reader, first waffling on comment, Chris 😀


  3. As a male myself, I was able to reconcile my attraction to men with historic (not traditional) Christian theology on sex and sexuality. But I know how you feel, and I feared similar reactions from the people in the church and in my family–that I’d be rejected or perhaps worse, quarantined. I know how lucky I was able to avoid that for the most part. I wish everyone would have been as lucky. Although sometimes I have to push back against a subtle, unconscious tendency on the part of others to quarantine me off as someone “special”. Seeing people like us as a special category of person is a sin the modern church itself is wrestling with and should seek forgiveness on.

    I won’t mince words Laura, while you and I may not agree on a lot, we do have in common the belief that all LGBT-people should be treated equally, with dignity and respect and love. I hope that’s enough. After all, we’re just people, I enjoy your writing, and even if you don’t want to approve this comment, which I would totally understand, I hope it gives you a perspective that’s gracious and not judgy. Because I don’t want to come off like that.

    I just want to share a summary of my journey. I grew up like you, in a church and the product of my environment. And as I moved into puberty I became aware that my attractions were now going toward other guys and not to girls. I knew I had a contradiction in my faith and my sexuality to sort through. I actually started sorting through it by asking a question. Who was Jesus, really? If Jesus was God, then that would lend a lot of credibility to what he believed, including what he believed about human nature and sexuality.

    What I discovered was enough for me to stay in the faith. I did conclude that he is God. I made my faith my own, and attempted to control my sexual desires (but not very well). I also learned that everyone is inherently sinful–not just LGBT-people. And if we were LGBT people then it wasn’t because we were LGBT that we had inherent sin. It was because we are just as human as any straight person. I learned that Christ accepted me regardless of who I was or what I had done, and that that acceptance freed me from a life of constant guilt. I learned that God isn’t trying to make gay people straight but that he’s in the business of making dead people live. This all took me a good decade or so to sort through.

    I want you to know, I’m still attracted to guys, and that I’ve found peace with that, even though I didn’t follow the path of Gay Christianity (this is the term used by folks at Gay Christian Network, iirc). I don’t pretend to be “cured” and think that such mere behavioral modification is a fool’s errand. I took a third way, and my hatred for myself and my fear of eternal consequences faded away after several years. But it’s true, getting there is SCARY. You’ve heard it said that God is not safe, although he is good. I think this is the kind of thing they were talking about.

    This was my path. I know it’s not yours. I know you are happy where you are, so I’m not trying to push this at you. Just as I found reading about your experiences helped me think about how I relate to others’ experiences, perhaps mine would be beneficial in some way as well. I also think you’d find the perspective of the folks at Spiritual Friendship interesting, because like me they strive for that third way that doesn’t demonize LGBT-people or call them sinful but also doesn’t depart from the historic faith. I also think they are by far the most accessible resource for people who want to reconcile their Christian faith with their sexual identity without opening that Pandora’s box called reparative therapy.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences. They helped me to relate to you and your journey so much better.

    p.s. I do my best not to offend easy, so if you’d like to write back to say anything on your mind, feel free! 🙂

  4. I can’t recall ever truly believing in religion, but I went to church a lot. It was the one place I felt okay being around and talking to people funny enough. There were two major events that made me quit church. One was at a hotel were we’d hang out, eat pizza, and listen to lectures made “rad”. It was lame, it got boring, but it was fun to be able to go out and hang with friends and all that. Then one year one of the lecturers (some guy that made this sand art over a projector or something like that) and then just randomly, without any prompt, at the end of his art show he just blurted out something along the lines of “marriage is for a man and a woman”. Well, my church always seemed fine with it so that didn’t bother me too much. In the huge hotel auditorium though, my church were the only ones not cheering at that statement.
    The next event came as a shock to me. The church I’d been going to for years, engaged in, helped fix their computers, went on trips to fix up flooded homes and all that, and one day I realized people weren’t excepting me. They just weren’t showing their disdain to my face. This church that I had loved, when I really looked at it, was just a bunch of bigots run by faithless people who just wanted a tax shelter.
    Like I said, I can’t recall a time where I ever truly believed in all that. I wanted to, or at least I wanted to look into it. See what all the fuss was about. It interested me. But the people who claim to be open and want more followers in their face are the ones that actively pushed me away.

  5. As someone who is Catholic AND LGBTQ+-affirming, this was difficult to read. But important.

    I will also say that I found it difficult to comment, but that it’s important to comment too.

    The first thing I’ll say is that while it’s unclear to say the least whether you love Jesus, Jesus loves you. I know that’s cliche, but it’s true. If Jesus can love a Samaritan woman at the well, and a Samaritan woman who’s had five husbands at that (John 4), then He absolutely loves you. If He loves lepers and blind people, then He loves you (because none of the three are a choice, after all). He loves you.

    I will also say that Jesus did hang out with the outcasts of His day, such as lepers, blind people, tax collectors, Samaritans, fishermen, zealots. I don’t know if that thought is of comfort given how you’re a bit of an outcast, but hopefully it is.

    I will also try and remember to pray for the hurt which still seems to exist.

    Finally, if you don’t think I’m absolutely nuts and you want a person of faith to talk with about all of this, feel free to reach out via my blog’s e-mail. Of course, given the fact that I’m Catholic and affirming (which sounds contradictory to many people), maybe I am a bit nuts after all hahaha.

  6. Laura, as a Christian (and my Mom being a Youth Pastor for most of my life), I see the pain that is caused by (often) well-meaning people. When they say they will pray for you to “Get right with God”… only to not realize what damage those words can/do cause (and worse are the people who KNOW and… don’t care).

    For me: I have learned the hard way to try to filter everything through the words of Jesus himself. Who would he love today? Who would be his modern disciples. Who would he seek out in the streets?

    It wouldn’t be the Church-Goers. Honestly, the modern “Christian” faith is so much like the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’s time. One faction focused on the Letter of the Law, not the point of it. The other faction STRICT to the letter of the Word…. and missing the message of it. Both of these sects tore their culture apart… until Jesus came with a new message:

    “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and love your neighbor as you do yourself.”

    Jesus was clear on so much. Love. Love is EVERYTHING and without it… what you preach, what you think, what you believe is WORTHLESS.

    I see see your pain in your words and it rips me up. All I keep thinking is “I was like them… how many people did I hurt? How many did I drive away?” I’m sorry. I am sorry to you that you were hurt so badly when someone should have hugged you and said they loved you and were proud of your courage. That they love you as much as God did (enough that he would rather die than be without you).

    And I am sorry to any/everyone that I hurt for being like the people who hurt you.

    Laura, God still loves you, he still heals broken hearts. And I love you too, and will pray that one day you can believe it once again because you deserve to feel that love. That acceptance. No matter what people say, no matter what people think, you are still a child of God. All you have to do is remember that.

    Gods not some unknowable force out there or in someone’s mind… He is a dad who misses the daughter he loves for always.