The following post is from Trista L. Carr, Psy.D. Dr. Carr is a Clinical Psychologist and has a private practice in San Francisco, CA. She completed her doctorate in clinical psychology at Regent University in Virginia Beach, VA, where she was a research assistant for the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. She obtained an M.A. degree in Community Counseling from The University of Akron in Ohio. Her research and clinical interests are in the integration of Christian faith, psychology, and sexual identity concerns. She can be found at www.tristacarr.com.
Last month, I wrote a post for The Marin Foundation on the study of Male-to-Female (MTF) Transgender Christians that I was co-presenting at the 2013 National Transgender Health Summit in Oakland. Both the folks at The Marin Foundation and I agree that all of these discussions about sexuality and identity and faith are not complete if they don’t also include discussions of gender and gender identity.
As I noted before, we have to include our brothers and sisters who experience their gender differently than others as they can be extremely ostracized, marginalized, and otherwise abused within and outside of faith communities. These are individuals for whom we need to be advocating for their safety and a place to worship, among other things.
One of the things I found surprising at the TG Health Summit was how much spirituality and faith were discussed. The reason I found it interesting is because spirituality and faith are not constructs mentioned much at all within mainstream TG scholarly literature. There are volumes written about HIV/AIDS prevention/education/care, transition practices, medical procedures, healthcare access, political advocacy, and so on–not much about God. Needless-to-say, I was very happy to see the few presentations discussing issues of faith there were—from a poster about Jewish TG persons to a seminar on the experiences of TG Christians to the closing meditation and reflections from a Native American transsexual to our poster on the milestone events in the lives of MTFs.
In the first write up we did of different data from this same study, we asked participants to share their stories as they related to various questions about the interaction between their gender identities and their Christian faith. We also asked about support received and desired from important people in their lives, such as spouses, pastors, friends, and family members.
When asked about how the church body had reacted to them, the majority of the participants reported that religious people and organized religious communities inflicted more harm than good. Many of the participants shared heart-wrenching stories of how they were negatively treated by other believers. However, not all of the participants had painful memories of their churches’ responses. Most of those with positive experiences from churches found themselves in open and affirming environments.
Like many people who experience turmoil in their lives, TG Christians find themselves searching for meaning through their faith traditions. What we saw in our participants’ responses was a sincerely expressed faith and connection with God through Jesus Christ and an earnest search for understanding and support from their religious communities. Where they seemed to struggle the most was with individuals within local congregations who represented their faith traditions.
It is data like this that give insight into possible reasons that another study of nearly 600 female-to-male (FTM) individuals, conducted by a colleague of mine, found that about 80% of their sample who grew up in Christian homes, or identified their childhood religious affiliation to be Christian, shifted away from Christianity as adults.
This saddens me.
This should sadden every believer.
Are we as believers in Jesus Christ not supposed to be known for our love of one another? Or did I misread Jesus’ mandate?
As I stated above, I got to co-present our study at the conference in Oakland. My colleague and friend, Rebecca Thomas, who is a current Psy.D. student and member of The Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity (ISSI), was able to come and participate in this wonderful event (a first of it’s kind for her). She is the editor of the ISSI Newsletter and recently wrote a beautiful piece about her experience at the conference for that publication. I read it and almost cried. So I asked her if I could quote her here. I think she gets across my point better than how I imagined it. This is some of what she had to say about her experience at the conference:
Perhaps the most salient moment for me happened not in a seminar or breakout session, but instead by merely observing my surroundings and soaking in the kaleidoscope of beauty my eyes beheld. Many of those who attended the seminar were male-to-female transgender individuals who truly embraced all aspects of their femininity. Manicured nails, high heels, dresses, lipstick, hairdos—every aspect of their femininity was accounted for and expressed without reserve. Their beauty was inviting—beckoning, even. It was then that God whispered to me, ‘That’s Me you see.’ I was reminded of the Scripture that states we are all created in His image. Regardless of sexual or gender identity, each one of us is created by the Master Artist. Even through a complete sex transition, God is still present! His fingerprints are there, and His beauty is evident. It was a powerful reminder for me of His presence that dwells among us and within us should we choose to seek Him. His presence is everywhere—in every face we see, in every beautiful thing, it all points us back to Him, our Beautiful Maker.
That is how it should be. That is how the church should respond.
If the church as a whole would take the time, as my friend Rebecca did, to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying more closely, we might find more love and less judgment for our TG brothers and sisters. At which point, there would be fewer and fewer ostracized, marginalized, and otherwise abused TG persons in our churches. They would be welcomed and loved where they are, and seen as beautiful and precious sons and daughters of God Most High.
This is my challenge for us: Let those who have ears, let us hear that still small whisper of the Holy Spirit at every moment. Let us see without judgment and love without inhibition.