I recently read a post by Mudblood Catholic about Christianity and coming out of the closet that pretty much hit on everything I’ve been thinking lately on the issue, and it inspired me to write a parallel post for trans Christians.
I’ve come out to nearly all my close friends now, and in some select groups of people I’m out completely. The question of coming out has become more of an issue for me lately for a number of very interrelated reasons:
(a) Word seems to be spreading that I’m trans.
(b) I’m willing to be visible to certain groups I’m involved in – does that mean I’m willing to be visible to even larger groups?
(c) I seem to be the most visible trans person on campus. If I’m going to find the other trans people and build community, I need to be just visible enough for them to find me.
(d) I want to make a difference on campus but I don’t want my identity to be politicized. Right now people define trans people based on what they know about me, rather than defining me based on what they know (or think they know) about trans people.
These pushing factors have made me think more about how so many older Christians automatically try to shut down any ‘coming out’ language or thinking. If you’re queer, well, (a) no you’re not, (b) STOP IT, (c) don’t label yourself, (d) don’t come out of the closet, whatever you do, and (e) suck it up. This to me sums up pretty much everything wrong with the general Christian response to LGBT people. Maybe the remedy to the problem is the realization that there really isn’t a “gay agenda” (or “queer” or “trans”). I was actually going to write a whole post about this, but since Mudblood Catholic already stole my thunder (and probably expressed it better than I could have), I might as well just quote him:
First of all, the gay agenda isn’t really a thing — or, it is only a thing in the same sense that the Christian agenda is a thing, or women’s agenda, or the black agenda. Any subcategory of “everyone,” whether religious or sexual or racial or whatever, is defined by a certain degree of shared experience; but it doesn’t follow that everybody in that subcategory has the same views and desires. People are incorrigibly plural. That should point us to the fact that “Why would somebody come out unless they were supporting X?” is the wrong kind of question. Why would a person come out, period?
Exactly! Part of the problem is the bizarre assumption that ‘coming out’ is the same as signing a pledge sheet to a life of orgies on the beach, parading down Main Street buck naked and painted in rainbow hues, and daily rituals of taking a blowtorch to an effigy of the nuclear family. Sure, by a generous definition of ‘agenda’ there’s a transgender agenda the same way there’s a Republican agenda and middle class agenda. Really though, at the end of the day there’s just a whole lot of people, individuals, human beings. These people aren’t mindless pawns of some Freemason plot to overthrown traditional America; they’re brothers, sisters, parents, children, people with stories.
So given that the people who come out aren’t members of some queer army-against-society, that the people coming out are human beings who feel a personal need to expose themselves to potential hatred and rejection – given all this, why would a queer person come out? Specifically, why would a Christian person choose to come out? What’s the point if they aren’t trying to replace the red white and blue with a pride flag (or a trans flag as the case may be)? I think many of the reasons people come out, Christian or not, are validated by the Christian worldview. The motivations to be out of the closet are, for the most part, awesome reasons to do anything.
Because coming out is honest.
Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices. Colossians 3:9
I think one of the biggest reasons to come out is because it ends a lifestyle of dishonesty, half-truths, compromises, bitten tongues, and awkward silences. It’s hard enough to avoid this string of fibs as a closeted gay person, but as trans it becomes all-consuming. I’ll list just a few of the lies that get squashed:
(1) No more lying about gender identity. I don’t have to pretend that I feel like a dude or identify with other males.
(2) No more lying about preferences. I don’t have to pretend I like male-typical activities, hobbies, dieting, etc, unless I actually do.
(3) No more lying about the future. I don’t have to pretend that my life goals are to be a breadwinner, marry a beautiful wife, father children, and teach my son how to play baseball.
(4) No more lying about my problems. I don’t have to pretend I’m anxious because of stress from school. I can address gender dysphoria for what it is.
(5) No more lying to myself. I don’t have to run from my own reality.
Now is it necessary to divulge everything to absolutely everyone? Of course not! But my very unprofessional opinion is it’s extremely unhealthy to hide the most important parts of ourselves from the world. At some point life becomes a lying fakery, and our God is the God of the living truth.
At the very least, the lifelong method acting required of a trans person is just plain exhausting, and we only have so much energy.
Because coming out is communal.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
As much as some Christians hiss at the thought of queer people banding together in any sort of community, the social element of coming out is absolutely essential. I hate to get on the minority soapbox, but no one who is a straight white cisgender Christian can possibly understand the feelings of alienation that queer people suffer. Even the American Catholic Bishops understand this (to some very limited extent) when they say regarding gay people:
It can be helpful for persons who find themselves with homosexual attractions to gather together in mutual understanding and support. This can be particularly the case because persons with a homosexual inclination may feel “different,” which can lead to isolation and alienation, which are risk factors for an unhealthy life, including unchaste behaviors. – USCCB, Ministry to Persons of Homosexual Inclination
I cannot express how horrifying it is to live a life in which you think you are the only person of your kind; in which you are cut off from anyone who might possibly share your lived experience. For many people coming out allows them to connect with others who have suffered and survived similarly.When I was in the closet, I wavered between two equally confounding assumptions about the world: (1) that everyone was the same as me, and that my best guy friends had crossdressed consistently from an early age and wanted to be girls, and (2) that I was a mutant, the only of my kind, a lonely freak of nature. Both of these assumptions are obviously ridiculous, but such was the power of isolation in my lonely closet.
It’s only after coming out that I found real support for my real anxieties. Not only does coming out allow you to find kindred spirits, but it also allows for truer communion with the rest of society. Many of my close friendships have become richer and more honest because of coming out, both because I’m willing to share something so personal, and because my friends now know the true me with more clarity. I’ve made more friends the last nine months than almost any other time in my life.
Because coming out is freeing.
And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. – John 8:32
I’ll resist making an analogy having anything to do with princesses and towers.
Being in the closet was – at least for me – like being a prisoner of war, secret agent, and bomb squad all at once. Every step was calculated, every expression was guarded, every action was performed. Every day was a day of limited resources; it was like I had to cook tourtière but was only allowed pancake batter and hamburger helper as my ingredients. Coming out to myself was truly like shining light into a deep dark dungeon. I was blinded at first, but as my eyes adjusted I began to look around and see for the first time. I looked down at my hands and saw the shackles that had been chaining me down my entire life were broken. Knowledge is power, self-knowledge especially so.
Coming out to others has been similarly freeing. I’ve never really liked the term ‘coming out of the closet’ for no particular reason, but sometimes I’ll admit there’s something really poetic about the image. Sometimes being hidden really feels like being grounded to a pitch-black sealed-off room. A lonely prison. It’s not good for man to be alone, and I can say from personal experience it’s wonderful to finally walk among other people rather than watching them from behind prison bars. As long as being in the closet is imprisoning, I think it’s very beneficial to break free.
Because coming out is healing.
… but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. – Ephesians 5:13-14
Secrecy has a way of corrupting things. When something is hidden away from the world and pushed down into a deep hole, there’s always the chance – perhaps the likelihood – that it will waste away. If you shove your soul down into a damp dark place, chances are it will begin to mold. From my own experience I know that repressing my identity and self-awareness caused loads of internal problems. I was prone to addictions to cope with the gender dysphoria. I constantly gnawed at myself with extreme self-loathing. Worst of all, I became narcissistic and selfish. Perhaps by no fault of my own, I turned in on myself and brooded. This kind of extreme introspection can lead to what some psychological literature calls autogynephilia – when a transgirl turns to sexual fantasies of being a woman in order to feel complete and loved. When transgender feelings are repressed, they sometimes turn into compulsive behavior: compulsive self-destruction, compulsive masturbation, compulsive crossdressing, you name it.
Literally the moment I came out, nearly all such internal problems dissipated. All compulsive behavior ended full stop. My depression shifted from private self-loathing to actual struggles with the real discrimination of society. Excessive fantasizing stopped. I started noticing more of the world around me. I’m increasingly less trapped in my own head. All this came from the simple fact of starting to be honest about myself. I praise and thank God for bringing me to the breaking point where I had to admit what was going on. If I’d never been there, I’d not be here; I’d still be a brooding masochist. Thank you, Jesus, for bringing me into the light.
Because coming out is evangelistic.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16
I’ve never understood why, in our Christian culture of ‘testimonies,’ there’s no room for queer people to have a little honesty. High school retreats are full of kids getting up to the podium and talking all about their troubles and how Christ has given them strength. The problem with many of these testimonies is they often succumb to a “I done been saved once an’ fer all” kind of mentality. They talk about the struggles of life as if they’re in the past for good. These talks often go like: “I used to be a bad, unhappy person, but now life is peachy keen because I met Jesus and he gave me a religious experience.” (For why this is bad theology, read The Book of Job).
With a faith culture like this, the only queer people welcome to the pulpit are ‘ex-gay’ poster children for lame support groups like Courage and One by One. Since the ex-gay and ex-trans phenomenon seems – as far as I can tell – to largely be a fiction of people who don’t want to take the issue seriously, this attitude leaves the massive majority of us in the dust. This horrible shut-down culture leaves queer people feeling utterly alone.
Being trans is especially difficult since most Christians don’t know anything about it and assume it’s the same as being gay. All the rhetoric about queer issues in Christianity talks about ‘the gays’ as being an evil outside the Church. This makes queer people feel like they can’t speak, or worse: that they can’t be Christian. It also leaves lesbian, bisexual, genderqueer, and transgender individuals feeling invisible because Christianity only talks about gay guys, and only in the most negative way possible.
Coming out gives queer Christians the chance to witness to the real power of Christ in our lives, not the fake ‘ex-gay’ sort of forced testimony. Rather than repeat in a tired monotone how we used to be messed up and now we’re putting on a brave face, we can talk about the real victories. We can talk about God’s love for us, about the spiritual lessons our unique life experiences have taught us. We can talk about how we continue to grow, how we continue to struggle to be joyful witnesses of the Gospel, how we are broken people to whom God gives the daily grace to survive. In short, we can actually preach the Good News, not the Socially Acceptable News.
Because coming out is inspiring.
… but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. – 2 Corinthians 12:9