Loyalty to the Inner Light
I lectured at the University of Colorado this week and the students had questions about the early days of my transition. It started me pondering about the insights I have gained since that difficult time.
First, I definitely underestimated how shocking it was for people to hear I was trans. I had been living with the knowledge since childhood, but only four people knew of my circumstances. Having chosen adaptation over authenticity, I had hoped to keep it under wraps throughout my life. I finally realized I needed to come out.
Many Christians experienced my transition as a betrayal. One friend who has not spoken with me since, said, “I wish you had taken this to your grave.” Others felt keeping it a “secret” had been wrong. I protested that it was not a secret because there was no moral wrong in being transgender. It was just private, like your sex life with your spouse is private. Of course, when my intention was to stay in the closet, I had every reason to keep it quiet. I knew speaking up would end my career.
After I came out, many Christians chose to identify me as a person of questionable character. I suppose it made it easier for them to separate themselves from me. With impunity, they told stories that were not true. It was my darkest hour.
I had an “Aha!” moment early in the process. One of my family members asked a woman to watch a speech given by filmmaker and trans woman Lana Wachowski. The woman replied, “I started to watch, but her hair and voice were just too weird.” Her response made me realize that the narrow norms of the Evangelical community were going to stop most of these fundamentally good people from exploring the transgender journey. It was my loneliest time. Grief descended. As novelist Lindsay Clarke writes, “Loyalty to the inner light felt like stepping into outer darkness.”
Fortunately, time is a great healer. Brené Brown says before forgiveness can occur something must die, usually grief. As my grief expended itself in painful fits and gasps, peace arrived like a deep river. I learned to trust its flow.
I know my return to the church hastened my healing. The acceptance I have been shown by a small handful of people from my former church world has been powerful. The welcome I found at Highlands Church in Denver has been extraordinarily transforming. I love that church as I have loved no other.
The decision to forgive is a decision of the will, born of the heart, forged in the soul and sustained by the spirit. It is not cheap forgiveness, the kind offered prematurely by souls frightened by their anger. It is hard won, willing to go through the pain of briefs for the prosecution and briefs for the defense, and a judgment of guilt for both sides. It requires humility, and includes asking the forgiveness of others, for there are always two sides to every story.
I am very much at peace with my life and my faith. I am comfortable in my own skin. I hold no illusions. The attacks will continue. Just today I heard of an online group that has decided I am possessed by a demon, more than likely because of my playful picture in last week’s blog, which also appeared in the Huffington Post. There was no sting in hearing the news, just sorrow for the good people who might be affected by that kind of bigotry. It is a given that I will continue to be vilified. It is all right. The truth is, I showed up, and it was difficult for everyone. But we serve a God of mercy and forgiveness. And when the last rays of sunlight grace the western sky on each and every day of this sacred odyssey, I retire knowing love has won.
11 thoughts on “Loyalty to the Inner Light”
“And so it goes…” 😉
Please continue to share. You will help so many who are frightened and hidden in the guise of “what is expected of them” by their family, church and some in society. I am thankful I am part of your past who supports you, although I am scorned, judged and out of fellowship with our church because I’m gay.
Amazingly, God has opened new avenues of friends, new venues of services, and God still is very much a part of my life.
Blessings as always dear one,
David E. Ellis
Paula, you rock! As deep grief “expended itself . . peace arrived like a deep river,” and extra helpings of humor must have shown up as well. The hard-won hilarity in that men’s bathroom selfie shines God’s laughing light in the foolish darkness of a state-mandated, urinal-fixtured (water-) closet for trans women! Your grinning face shows Phos Hilaron in the flesh, and Oh my Lord, we need to weep and pray for a big gift of Holy Spirit discernment to a church that sees a demon there. What demon could radiate such warm-hearted, self-giving love for — and PATIENCE with — our broken craziness as your face does there! Yet more fruit of that hard-won forgiveness that you share so well. Rock on!
Paula, you rock! As deep grief “expended itself . . peace arrived like a deep river.” Extra helpings of warm-hearted humor must have shown up as well. And talk about “hard-won.” Such a hard-won hilarity shines forth from that bathroom selfie!
How many people can pour out God’s laughing light in the foolish darkness of a state-mandated, urinal-fixtured (water-) closet for trans women? Your grinning face wryly shows Phos Hilaron in the flesh.
And Oh my Lord, we must weep and pray for a great gift of Holy Spirit discernment post-haste to a church that sees a demon there. What demon shines such self-giving love for — and PATIENCE with — our chronic craziness?
It’s all yet more fruit of that hard-won forgiveness that you share so well. Rock on!
I apologize for the duplicate post — I thought I’d done it wrong the first time around.
when you told me about your transition there was much i did not understand, but your challenge to read, research, think and rethink made a difference. when people ask about my brother, I tell them I only have a sister, and their words are often hard, harsh, or just plain ignorant. I know this is nothing compared to the pain you suffered and continue to suffer, but now I hear you loudly and clearly.
I too am thankful you found a church home. in one of my quiet times I heard the voice of God tell me “I’ve got it” meaning your faith. I did not understand, but just kept praying and watching. Then Easter of 2015 came and I knew what God meant. Listening to your sermons reminds me just who and whose you are.
Paula, specifics aside, you are a reminder that God is bigger than we give God credit for being. You personify and carry the true message of Christ, which is reconciliation offered to all, just as they are.
“Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you. Once again I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law. You who want to be justified by law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from Grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” – Gal 5:2-6
Your journey conveys a willingness to share in the suffering of Christ, to ‘go into the pit’ with our Lord and King in the name of faith working through love. I see that, and so do many others. God bless and keep you as you go. I will continue to cover you in prayer as Holy Spirit prompts me to do so.
This gives me comfort to hear that you have risen out of the grief period from your past and now can really feel the joy of the difficult journey you went through and know it was worth while. Many people were not ready for it and are still struggling through it and perhaps time will help some of them to accept it and forgive themselves for being so limited.
I am amazed and honored by your journey. You know, from our conversations, how grateful I am that you have found a deeper faith and re-connected with the church. I continue to learn from your journey and I’m grateful for your amazing gift to share it so well – in a way that goes beyond information and touches the soul. Most times after I read your posts I just say “wow!” God is using you in ways you could have never imagined in years earlier.
Love you. Church is kinda supposed to be the place for that.
This is one of the meatiest and astute observations I have read: “It is not cheap forgiveness, the kind offered prematurely by souls frightened by their anger.”
As always, I’m deeply appreciative, Paula.