My alarm goes off and I groan. I have never been a morning person. My mom used to have to wake me up for afternoon kindergarten. But I drag myself out of bed, head to the shower. Then I sit on a pillow in front of my small altar. It has candles on it and a hand carved bowl that was given to me by a former parishioner when I got married to my ex-wife. In the bowl is a wooden “clinging cross” given to me by a former customer at the bar where I bartended my way through seminary. I pray Lauds using the Benedictine breviary.
After prayer I put on my clergy shirt. I don’t have to worry about putting on a binder anymore, which is something I am still so, so thankful for. I head out the door to get on the bus that will take me to the church where I work. I think about what my life was like before this and I thank God that I am in a different place now.
It’s been 4 ½ years since I got my first shot of testosterone. I still do my shots weekly, but the anxiety over the needles is gone now. I still get excited about doing my shots, but it’s less of an event and more a way of saying “yes” to myself and my life.
I remember the terror I felt as I thought about transitioning. I worried about what it would cost me. I knew there was a chance it might cost me my family and my marriage. I worried that it would mean I would never find a church to ordain me and that I would never find a church to hire me.
And now it’s been 4 ½ years. My life is unrecognizable now from what it was then. I have entered into a future that I couldn’t even have dreamt of.
It is so, so beautiful.
The pain of transition has mostly faded, like the scars on my chest, to a light pink instead of an angry red. I have dealt with the pain of my divorce but recovered a self-confidence that I didn’t know was possible. I have faced down my fears and come out so much stronger. There is a church that has given me employment and a denomination that has granted me ordination. There is a future in ministry that I am excited about. I have the (complicated) love of my family.
I move through the world in a body that feels like home for the first time.
The most unexpected gift I have received from all of this is that I have rediscovered my faith. I have rediscovered a way to encounter the Divine that is both intellectual and emotional.
This is what resurrection feels like: The terror of night that gives way to the joy of the morning. Faded scars and so much joy. New life and new love. Peace. Overall, so much peace.
Thanks be to God.
From a journal entry on March 8, 2008:
for our next assignment in our preaching class, my exegesis section has to do an artistic presentation (because we’re in a special exegesis for the arts section) and i was totally at a loss on what to do because i don’t really like the passage that we’re assigned (it’s the “doubting thomas” passage in John 20). but i’ve been thinking a lot about queer bodies (because basically i’m a science experiment right now) and want to tie that thread throughout my projects if i can. i was thinking about how thomas was saying that he wouldn’t believe that jesus had been resurrected until he could see the wounds for himself and touch them, and i started to think about how for trans people there is that same element as people ask, “so have you had surgery yet?” “what do your genitals look like?” “can i see?” and it’s that same idea: until i see what you look like without your clothes on, i won’t believe you to be who you say you are. so i want to do some kind of artistic presentation of that. and i think i want to culminate the presentation by giving myself my T shot in front of the group. i’m still not sure how it’s all going to work out, but that’s the initial idea. i think it might be really powerful.
This was the moment when my relationship to Scripture, theology, and God changed. This is the watershed moment that I point back to and say, “This moment sent me on a new trajectory.” It was this experience of reading myself into the Thomas passage that has shaped almost all of the work I have done in the past three years around theology. This was the impetus for the writing of the Trans* Passion Narrative, it’s been the impetus for much of the preaching and teaching I’ve done, and it’s also radically shifted the way I view my personal relationship with Scripture.
I’ve written before about how in my evangelical days my spiritual life had been based mostly on emotion and in my early coming out and seminary days it had been based mostly on intellect. Working on this artistic project in seminary was the beginning of bringing back together the emotional and the intellectual.
For the final project I ended up making four large canvases with photos of myself during transition, photos of my shot supplies, wearing my binder (and the crease it left in my skin from being so tight), my prosthetic, and articles and phrases about gender. I displayed the canvasses in a cross form and in the center I had a video of me giving myself my shot that played while people took in the photos. I prefaced the presentation with a short reflection on the invasiveness of the questions and the gentle rebuke of Jesus. And then I invited them to come and see.
It was an intensely personal project; I revealed a lot of myself through those photos, but it was also honest to the text. I began to see that I could reclaim Scripture as a living, breathing thing. I could see my story and my experience reflected in the Sacred story. It has made all of the difference.
John 20: 19-20: When it was evening on the that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
John 20:24-29 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.” A week later the disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”
Thomas. Poor Thomas. You have one bad day, one bad moment and you are saddled with a nickname that lasts for centuries. Doubting Thomas.
It’s an interesting passage, though. First we have the scene with the disciples minus Thomas. They are locked in a room and Jesus appears among them. It seems that they were worried about the religious leaders finding them (although the passage is kind of harsh with its language of them being afraid of “the Jews” of which they were also a part. One wonders if the writers of this passage had something against the Jewish religious establishment and needed to get a dig in.) We have no idea where Thomas is and it seems odd that he wouldn’t be with the rest of the group. Jesus comes into the room and shows him his hands and his side and then the disciples rejoice. I think it’s important to note that the passage is very clear in the order of things; Jesus does his show and tell and THEN they rejoice.
Jesus leaves and Thomas comes back. Everyone tells him about what they’ve seen but Thomas is unsure. Thomas says that unless he sees the marks and touches Jesus he won’t believe. A week later they’re still in the room and Jesus appears again; this time with Thomas present. Jesus offers his hands and side to Thomas and Thomas, even without putting his hand in Jesus’ side, believes and worships him. Then there comes the gentle rebuke from Jesus asking if Thomas only believes because he has seen and offering a blessing to those who believe without seeing.
Growing up this passage was brought out to affirm the faith of modern Christians. We are the blessed who believe because we have not seen. It’s interesting to me, though, that the rest of the disciples didn’t believe until after they had seen and yet Thomas is the one who gets called out for it. We have to wonder what else was going on that Thomas is the only one to get the rebuke. In addition I had always read Jesus’ rebuke as quite firm and annoyed, but in re-reading the text it seems pretty gentle. Jesus is simply raising the question of what it takes to get people to believe. And he offers a blessing on those who take someone’s word at face value.
When I was first transitioning this is one of the passages that resonated with me the most and continues to be meaningful. When I first told people that I was transitioning, or that I had transitioned the first questions were, without fail, about surgery. Have you had surgery yet? Are you going to have surgery? And they usually were referring to genital surgery. Invasive questions, asked loudly and in public. I began to be resentful of people and their inability to just take me at my word.
What is it that makes me a man? Is it having a penis? Is it carrying myself in a certain way? Is it all about my body? I wonder if people want me to drop my pants so they can see what I look like. If they need to see the scars on my chest. If they need to invade my privacy in order to believe that I am who I say I am. That I am resurrected.
Sometimes these questions make me angry and annoyed. I don’t want to have to tell you these things. I don’t want you thinking about my naked body or asking me about how I am intimate with people. It’s insulting.
And then I remember Jesus’ gentle rebuke and I wonder if I can be gentle as well. Is there a way for me to answer people’s questions, trusting that they are coming from a good and well-intentioned place while also rebuking them gently for their lack of tact? Can I teach them what it means to be trans without violating my own privacy? Can I be as gentle with them as Jesus was with Thomas?
I want to be a resource for people to understand what it means to be transgender. And most of the time I realize that the questions are coming from a really genuine place of wanting to know and wanting to understand. I want to honor the person asking the questions. However, there is a part of me that doesn’t want to have to show you my scars, not because I am ashamed of them, but because they are private. And because my gender isn’t about what surgeries I’ve had or about the scars I carry. At the same time I realize that my scars are one of the things that make me visibly male.
So most of the time I answer peoples’ questions while blessing those who believe without having to see. And I pray for the day when people will take all trans folks at their word.
post-script: A friend pointed out to me that in medieval depictions of Jesus and Thomas Jesus’ side wound looks very much like an FTM chest surgery scar. I find this to be fascinating on many levels. Included with this post is a photo of Jesus and Thomas and also of my chest post-surgery.