Most of the life-changing discoveries I have made as a transgender woman have related to the differences between experiencing life as a man and as a woman. Those differences have been the subject of my TED Talks and two chapters of my memoir, As A Woman – What I Learned About Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy After I Transitioned. But not all of the differences relate to gender. One of the biggest discoveries is something I did not anticipate.
Until I left, I had no idea how isolated evangelicalism had become from mainstream America. Almost all of my life as a man was spent within an evangelical bubble. Even when I was doing work not associated with the church, most of my co-workers were evangelical Christians. Until I transitioned, I had no idea just how insular that bubble is, or how small that bubble is becoming.
As I wrote in my last blog, the number of Americans who identify with a specific religion has dropped from 70 percent in 2000 to 47 percent today. One of the major reasons is the intolerance exhibited by the conservative forms of the desert religions. In the United States, the major conservative religious group is evangelical Christians, and they are very unaccepting of outsiders.
Only two groups have personally opposed me as a transgender woman. They are evangelical Christians and right-wing extremists. Unfortunately, they are often one and the same. Most of the rest of the world basically shrugs when they learn I am transgender. It’s just not a big deal anymore. But don’t tell that to the legislators in Arkansas, who just voted to override a bill vetoed by their governor that stops healthcare providers from giving life-saving hormonal treatment to transgender adolescents, including the over 200 who were already receiving treatment. The legislature passed the law on the grounds that hormonal therapy is not reversible. Except that it is! Puberty blockers are reversible. Congratulations Arkansas! You’ve just solved a problem that does not exist and replaced it with a problem that could cost vulnerable adolescents their lives. At the very least it will require them to go out of state to continue the treatment they have already begun.
Similar legislation is pending in almost thirty states, almost all in the south or southwest. Twelve bills restricting transgender rights are pending in Texas alone. Why are these bills so popular in these states? Because that’s where the evangelicals live, and evangelicals feel threatened. As our nation becomes more diverse, evangelicals are becoming more marginalized. Concentrated in the south, southwest, and rural Midwest, they have joined together to fight for their particular brand of anti-LGBTQ+ bias.
Whenever I speak at a conference or corporation, we always end with a robust Q&A in which I encourage the audience to ask any question they want to ask. Almost every time someone asks, “How can you be in the church when the church has treated you so horribly?” I always answer by saying there are expressions of the Christian faith more generous than evangelicalism, and they are thriving. They meet the needs of the oppressed, serve the poor, support immigrants, and work to right the wrongs of centuries of smug patriarchal Christianity. I am thrilled to serve as a pastor at one such church – Left Hand Church, in Boulder County, Colorado.
As for the new law in Arkansas, it’s just one more reminder why I avoid spending much time in any of the states in which anti-transgender legislation is pending. I have to think about these things. They are places in which my life could be in danger. The fact that the danger comes from those who identify as evangelical Christians remains mind-boggling to me. These people were once my friends and family.
I understand the fear that has created this environment. Conservative White Americans are frightened of losing their influence. But to pick on one of the most vulnerable people groups in the world, transgender children, is nothing but bullying, pure and simple. It is leveraging what little power they have remaining to deny civil rights to vulnerable children.
I am angry, and I will do everything in my power to stop these proposals from being enacted into law. Where they have already become laws, I will do whatever it takes to get them reversed. I still desperately hope the words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin prove to be true, and I want to do everything in my power to make certain we get there before it is too late:
Someday, after mastering the wind, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.