This afternoon – 11 February 2018 – I had the pleasure of taking part in the relaunch of the monthly LGBT gathering Our Tribe at Augustine United Church in Edinburgh. Held during LGBT History Month, the service took ‘coming out’ as its theme. I was one of four people asked to speak briefly about my own experiences of coming out. The following is more or less what I said (more or less, because I did deviate from my notes very slightly!).
Hello everyone! For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Anna. I’m reading from notes (which I wouldn’t normally choose to do), partly because I could easily talk for much more than my allotted five minutes, and partly because the additional cognitive load of not using them – the ‘brain strain’ – would interfere with the voice I want to use; it’s a voice that doesn’t yet come completely naturally to me – and it might well go wrong even with the notes!
I’m trans, I’m a lesbian, and I’m a Christian.
It’s actually lovely to be able to stand up in a church context and say these words. It’s incredibly validating for me to be able to join with you here and be completely open about who I am. Let me just say them again.
I’m trans, I’m a lesbian, and I’m a Christian.
I’ve been in churches where I simply couldn’t have shared my identity openly – apart from the Christian bit, of course! Half a lifetime ago, in my mid twenties, in just such a judgemental setting, I ‘gave my life to Christ’ – and the only ‘coming out’ I did then was to confess my new faith to my atheist parents and friends. But long before I was a Christian – way back in my childhood – I felt that I should have been a girl, and later that perhaps I was a woman; but if I was, didn’t that make me a lesbian too?
The seeming implausibility of this trans, lesbian identity held me back for a while, and then, as a new Christian in a conservative evangelical environment, I felt the right thing to do was simply to suppress these ‘shameful’ thoughts and ask God to keep them from resurfacing. I still hate the fact that I thought that way at the time.
A few years later I married a wonderful woman from my church – my wife would say she married a man – and we had a son a few years after that (he’s now 15). As I grew older (I was going to say ‘matured in my Christian faith’, but I wouldn’t like to claim too much maturity!) I found the increasingly homophobic and misogynistic atmosphere in the church becoming unbearable – so we moved to another church (where we still worship). That’s despite the fact that I didn’t really think of either the homophobia or the misogyny as directly affecting me at the time – it just felt so wrong.
Up to now, I suppose this has been a bit of a not-coming-out story! So let’s fast-forward to a little under two years ago, when a recurrence of debilitating anxiety led me to speak to my GP about it and to seek counselling for the first time in my life. Those ‘shameful’ thoughts I’d tried to eliminate by prayer and blind hope had kept coming back over the years, especially in stressful times (probably because I didn’t have the mental energy to keep them hidden away). So I decided to tell my GP and my counsellor that there was this other issue I had, that I thought I was transgender. I told them both the same day, both were extremely supportive, and I felt a huge weight lifted from me. This is how my coming-out story begins.
The next person to find out that I was trans was my wife – which is a story for another day. Over the next few months, I told perhaps twenty or thirty people – people in church, family members, people at the university – always with some trepidation because I never knew how anyone was going to react. But luckily for me, everyone was very nice – or simply stunned into silence!
As I’m sure most of you are aware, coming out isn’t a one-off act. There are people I have known who have yet to find out that I’m trans. But, now that I’ve ‘socially transitioned’, it’s simply not an option for me to hide it from them if they meet me face to face. (On the other hand, far fewer people know that I’m a lesbian.)
Coming out for me also involves an ongoing coming out to myself, a peeling away of decades of self-deception – breaking out of the fake masculine exterior I’d constructed for myself. As the shell falls away, I find myself becoming closer to God. I don’t think I had to come out to God – God knew all along. It’s more about letting God come in.
In my own church, I’m a worship leader: I sing and play keyboard or piano. Since beginning my transition, I have felt so much freer when worshipping, whether leading or as part of a congregation. I feel more authentically me in relation to God and to those around me. And that’s a vital connection I’ve missed out on for most of my life and am still getting used to.