I’m so honored to have a friend of mine at City Church of Long Beach share his story. We thought it would be best for it to be anonymous at this point because of how personal it is and to enable him to continue to process his story individually with people when it’s the right time.
When I was in second grade, I had my first crush. I remember telling myself that being that girl’s boyfriend would make me happy. What shocked me most about this thought was that I was a girl. I asked myself, “why did I want to be the boyfriend in a relationship?” I didn’t have an answer.
Around that time, I started becoming aware of how uncomfortable I was as a girl. I didn’t want to wear dresses and bows. I wanted to wear cargo shorts and shirts with hot wheels on them. Fortunately, my mom let me grow into being a tomboy, and as I got older, while my friends didn’t quite understand why I was becoming so boy-ish, they didn’t try to stop me either. During this same time, I had another group of friends who attended an after-school program with a couple of ladies who read the Bible, so I decided to go. At this age, God was an invisible friend I could talk to when I was bored.
In middle school, my peers began to tease me for being a tomboy. One girl started a rumor that I was secretly a man. I was often questioned by girls when I would try to use the restroom at school, so I stopped using the school restrooms for a while. All the bullying didn’t stop me from growing, of course, and when I came out as a lesbian in high school, nobody was surprised. I had been dressing entirely in men’s clothing at this point. My first girlfriend introduced me to our on-campus Gay-Straight Alliance, and going to meetings regularly armed me with a lot of knowledge. It turned out that there was a name for who I was, and there was an entire community of these people. I learned that a lot of people in this community had been cast out by their families, and some of them were even homeless because their family’s religion had made them intolerant of gay people. Religion had hurt a lot of my new friends.
Proposition 8 came about in California, and it got ugly at my school. People who had never talked about religion before began telling everyone that God hates gay people. I had a friend tell me that I was going to hell because I was a lesbian. That was the first time I realized that my new-found community was hated by another community: Christians. I didn’t have much experience with God, but now suddenly he hated me for being true to myself? That didn’t sound like any God I wanted to be involved with. I hated those religious people right back. When Prop 8 passed, I felt defeated. Why did Christians in my school and outside of school hate us so much? Why were our lives so invaluable to complete strangers? I stopped talking to God out of hurt.
My home life was great, despite the taunting and teasing I was facing in school. My parents and family didn’t care that I liked girls and was dressing like a boy. In fact, my mom was becoming one of my biggest supporters. But there was something that I needed to address in my heart. I was starting to feel uncomfortable in my own skin the more I became physically involved with girls. Being called by name felt strange sometimes. Even being referred to as she or her was starting to bug me. Nobody in my immediate group of lesbian and gay friends was talking about this kind of stuff, so I tried to hide it and pretend I didn’t feel that way.
I graduated high school that year and started classes at the local community college. I began skipping classes early though. There was something going on inside of me that I couldn’t deny anymore. I had never really been comfortable with the name I was given at birth, and I was often called by a nickname so I didn’t have to hear it in its entirety. But in college, it was getting painful hearing even the nickname. Something was stirring inside of my heart, and my community couldn’t help me hide from it anymore. My girlfriend at the time urged me to do some research about how I was feeling. I found an online community of people who were calling themselves transgender. I found out that these people had been born a girl or a boy, but felt most comfortable presenting as the opposite sex. I thought about all my years dressing up like a boy, and how much better I felt in those clothes. I thought about how uncomfortable I was in my body, and how sometimes I had longed to have a flat chest.
I told my girlfriend about my new findings, and we decided to see how being called he and him felt to me. We tried out some boy names, and she even introduced me as male to classmates she had. I did some counseling online, and in a period of six months, I realized I was transgender. I had done hours of research by the time I went to my doctors and asked about hormone replacement therapy. They had never worked with a transgender person before, so the process was very slow. During this time, I became severely depressed. I couldn’t live in my own skin anymore, and I nearly ended my life. Fortunately, I found out that I could get a referral to an endocrinologist in Los Angeles who had experience working with transgender people. The first day I met with this doctor, she started me on injectable testosterone.
My parents were initially upset and confused by my coming out as transgender, but about a year and a half after starting hormone replacement therapy, my parents started calling me the name I had chosen for myself, and it felt good. In another six months, I picked up a study bible and decided I was going to read it¾as an atheist. Meanwhile, using my driver’s license became tough because it said I was female, yet I was presenting male. After struggling for months with this issue, my mom decided she was going to help me pay for a legal name change and a gender marker change on my license. This was a big deal, and it changed my relationship with my mom.
Unfortunately, just weeks after sending all the necessary paperwork, my mom got very sick. We didn’t understand how severe it was until she passed away just weeks after that. The moment leading up to her death was chaotic and tragic, but in the middle of that I prayed to God. I didn’t know how to ask for his help, but I told him I needed him with me. And somehow, I made it through the chaos. When the dust settled and I was alone, it was way too quiet. I had promised God that I would figure out my spirituality if he protected my mom from a traumatic death. And given the circumstances, her death wasn’t horrible. It came under heavy sedation. She didn’t feel a thing. God had delivered on his part, and now the ball was in my court.
Through calling my mother’s friends and family, I found someone who went to City Church of Long Beach. They knew that I was transgender through my mother, and didn’t care in the slightest. They invited me in after hearing the crazy tale of my dance with God. I had never gone to church before¾was I welcome here? I was terrified. But I accepted and went with every guard up I could manage. And something weird happened¾these people saw me. They looked me in the eye and thanked me for being there. They asked me what I thought, and told me to be honest. The pastors gave me their private cell phone numbers. They wanted to have coffee with me. Where did these people come from? They wanted to invest in me, and they didn’t want to push me into a relationship with God. I was encouraged to take everything at my own pace. I started to believe that God actually wanted me to follow him. I began believing that Jesus died for me too.
I got to bring my grief and brokenness to the table, and nobody told me to put it away and hide it. Bill and Jason often reminded the congregation that Jesus invited whomever he wanted to his table, and they didn’t get to say who came or not. And shortly after joining City Church, I was baptized. I had decided to give my life to Christ. Just eight months prior to all of this, I had called myself an atheist. I still cannot wrap my head around how quickly my life changed.
There was one thing still looming over my head, and it was my transgender identity. Surely these people didn’t want to love THAT part of me. I was involved in a discipleship group that was constantly pushing us to be genuine and true, yet I still had a very big secret. Could I be loved by Christians? The LGBT community didn’t believe it to be true, and neither did I. But, I decided to find out: I told Bill. He didn’t freak out; he didn’t walk away or condemn me to hell. He blinked, and then he saw me for the first time. I’ll never forget this moment; I hold it very close to my heart because I never saw it coming. He had a lot of questions, and I did not mind answering them. He asked if he could share my story with Jason and his own family, and I agreed. I had several coffee dates with Bill and Jason, and they loved me well through coming out to them. I told my discipleship group, and they pledged their support to me, too. There are now a small number of people who know my truth, and not one of them has condemned me. They have all been so welcoming and loving. I am so lucky to call City Church my church.
I never believed that I could be loved by people who follow Jesus. It’s so strange that I have wound up here, in the middle of church, telling my story to strangers. I still struggle with believing I’m worthy of being loved by my church and God. But no matter how angry I get with God for taking my mom from me, or for how heavy it is to be transgender in this world, I always come back to him because I need him. I feel a pull in my heart towards his love, and I want to be an honorable man of God. I can now finally say that I am a proud, transgender Christian.