When I was in high school, my best friends were people I met while traveling overseas as a teenage missionary. I now have a whole host of reservations about the whole idea of short term youth missions (especially those that are evangelical in nature), but I still greatly value several of the friendships that were forged in the countries I visited. One of my dearest missions friends was Janel, who ended up marrying one of our fellow missionaries several years after our trip to Nepal. Janel features prominently in my MFA thesis, which I wrote about my time as a teen missionary. Earlier this year, Janel wrote to me to tell me that her husband is transgender and is in the process of transitioning from male to female. More recently, Janel wrote this lovely essay about the journey she has been on, and how that has affected her relationship with Hailey. She has graciously allowed me to post her essay here.

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I guess there’s no denying that I was a sheltered child. I was homeschooled and any out-of-home classes or school-related events took place in monitored Christian environments. Otherwise there was church and my interactions there. I heard consistently through my childhood that I needed to share my faith and shine the light of Jesus to my non-Christian friends, but the thing is… I didn’t have any of those. Well, except the girl across the street who was Catholic, but I wasn’t sure if that counted or not. I don’t mean to say that living a sheltered childhood was a negative experience. I was well-loved, had good friends, a positive home life, and solid relationships. What I lacked was experience and knowledge in nearly everything outside of an American Christian perspective.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I had Uncle T*. As a child, he was the fun uncle. The one with an apartment decked in Micky Mouse paraphernalia. The one whose visits included singing and playing show tunes on the piano and side-splitting Three Stooges impersonations. It was not until my teen years that I recognized underlying (and sometimes blatantly out-in-the-open) difficulties that put a strain on these visits. Primarily, he was gay. I remember being shocked and scared when I was told. While I’d never known another gay person at this point, I had learned that it was wrong (it’s in the Bible somewhere…) and dangerous and I should pray for him.

So I continued to grow up, and had a fabulous college experience at a Christian liberal arts school, much less sheltered than my childhood interactions but students definitely could not live a wild or deviant life out in the open. Dancing was discouraged, drinking was out, sex was banned, and there was that one incident where a girl had become a lesbian after attending… scandalous. Anyhow, you get it… sheltered little me surrounded by nothing but Christians into my 20’s with only one person to get me thinking about what LGBT people are like or what they go through. Actually, make that just “G” because I didn’t really think the others were real… I mean, I’d never met one. (So I thought, anyhow.)

But I guess Uncle T* was enough. Sometime in my early 20’s I had this thought while driving down Foothill Boulevard one scorching summer day: if being gay is a sin, I understand why people crack down on it in church, but why don’t we leave the non-Christians alone? We don’t expect them to live by the Bible in other contexts, so why do we expect them to in this way? It felt like a heretical thought after all the teachings and conversations I’d ever had on homosexuality, but I couldn’t shake the logic of it. At this point in the story, we’ll let that little thought sit and grow for a few years, through a number of friends’ coming-out, through disappointment at the church’s response to the LGBT community and LGBT issues, through my own husband’s coming-out as transgender, through extremely deep soul-searching and faith-searching about what God asks of me and how Jesus lived, and eventually, I found myself lurking at the edge of the LGBT community and quietly glancing about.

The circumstances of my life in the past few years have forced me to do something that very few Christians are required to do: act on what they believe. I have been shocked and amazed at the amount of people in conservative churches, with quiet lives and demeanor, who have admitted to the exact same difficulty with the church’s stance on LGBT issues that I have, but who simply do not need to talk about it. They might quietly vote in favor of gay rights, they may silently dissent when transgender people are made fun of in conversation, they can find grace for homosexuals in scripture without bringing it up at Bible study or church or around their Christian friends, because of course, they’re the only one who feels that way. I find myself in a unique position to know that I am not the only one. You are not the only one. More honest Bible-believing Christians than you can imagine share that view too. The only difference between you and me is that I had to vote in public. I had to choose to let the transgender person take the ridicule on stage alone or get up from my chair in the middle of the seated congregation and walk up to support her hand-in-hand.

I have found it fascinating in a macabre sort of way to consider how Christians are viewed from the LGBT perspective. Can you imagine how gay people feel about Christians forming picket lines to support DOMA, which affected the freedom, finances, and logistics of a gay couple’s life and means nothing for a straight couple’s life? Can you imagine how the faith walk of a trans person is harmed when they are banned from worship services or preached down to while they are there? Can you imagine how a questioning teenager might change their life when Christians become the least safe people to discuss their struggles? I think you can. Do you know how Christians are known by the LGBT community? By their hate. By their HATE. Some might call it righteousness, living by scripture, some might even try to call it tolerance, and even if that were remotely true, I don’t recall anything in Christianity about merely tolerating people. Sorry guys… your fellow lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning human beings call it hate.

At this time in my life, it is wholly natural for me to consider who I am. I am surrounded by self-discovery everyday, and so I begin to ask the questions of myself: what sort of person am I? Am I happy with the direction of my life? How do I want people to see me? No, I’m not questioning my sexuality or my gender, but so much of my life is changed, I have the opportunity to break out of old patterns and fears and try something new. Now, I find I can no longer be a silent dissenter to the conservative Christian’s treatment of the LGBT community. It is not possible for me to pretend it doesn’t bother me. I am not a hater. I absolutely refuse to be known for hate. Boil down the gospel, law and prophets, and what did Jesus leave us with? A command to love. That’s it.

Jesus made friends with the “sinners,” right? I wonder who decided to call them that. I know it wasn’t Jesus… He would never have singled out those people as sinners and let the religious folk off the hook. I think you might recall how he treated the letter-of-the-law churchgoers of His time. In fact, you might recall entire chapters of scripture where Jesus stood and heaped damnation and destruction on them. What about the chapters where He called down lightning and hellfire on the gays? Remember those? Yeah, no, me either. In fact, He never mentioned them, or transsexuals, for that matter. I’m pretty convinced the author of the gospels would have lumped them in with the so called “sinners” (or perhaps with the eunuchs?) so we’d do better to just have them over for dinner, beer and games like Jesus did, right? Heck, if Jesus can show grace to the most heartily condemned, white-washed tomb of a Bible-basher (His main target for hellfire), He can certainly handle the gay and trans folk.

All I’m saying is, this crusade against LGBT people is backward. Jesus only threw out the hypocritical church leaders, never the outcast, the “sinner,” or the one who couldn’t quite live out every scripture. As Christians, we are called to become Christ-like, and as I understand it, that means showing love, kindness, grace, and friendship to the gays, lesbians, transgenders, bisexuals, and the others, and leaving God to dole out the judgment as He sees fit. I think the direction of it might astound Christians today as much as it did the Pharisees.

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