Coming OutLesbianReligionTransgender

Coming Out Stories: The Reaction of a Conservative Christian Friend

I recently contacted an old friend from college through Facebook. We were very close during our time in school, and I wanted to come out to her in hopes that we would be able to stay in touch, however infrequently. My Alma Mater is a very conservative, Christian college, and many of the students that attend hold traditional uber-conservative views. It was my hope that even though her husband is a pastor she would be one of those cool Christians that puts love first instead of their own personal dogma. Here is her response to my coming out, personal information and names redacted for privacy reasons:

Hey[old boy name] ([new girl name])
Sorry, it’s weird thinking about calling you a different name. Thanks for looking me up and letting me know about what is going on in your life. I’m sure it has to be difficult to open up about this to others who know you from different circumstances and places. I appreciate the openness you took with me.

I did look you up and sent a friendship request and would love to stay in, however often, contact with you. You were a great support to me throughout [Alma Mater] and I (probably [husband]  too) wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for you!

Regarding ‘switching genders’ (I understand that this is a crass way of describing your situation, however I have no idea how to state it!), it’s difficult to describe what I believe and what I feel about this. You see, I support the people I love with love. No matter what is done, I will still love you and respect you as I did throughout our times at [Alma Mater]. However, in regards to this life choice, I find it difficult to say that I can support you in this decision 100%, based on what I know and believe from the Bible. I will always support you in life decisions like jobs, school, buying a house, getting a dog, etc. It will be difficult for me to fully support you in this decision though. I want you to know that this means that our friendship will not change.

Oddly enough, I have had a conversation like this with several people. If you need an ear, feel free to message, text, or call me. [Husband] and I do not share secrets with each other [I’m sure she meant “keep secrets from each other”], so I did have him read your message. We will keep this between us and not share what is going on with others. We know that that is for you to do. (He says hi by the way!)

Anyways…. [personal life stuff that’s not important for this post]

Sorry for an even longer message.  Talk to you soon!

[Friend]

I’m sure she was trying to be nice; she’s always been a kind person at heart, and I know deep in my own that she meant no malice in her words. However, to say what she did and then follow it up with “our friendship will not change” was just too much for me. And given her husband’s job leading a flock of pious Christians, I truly felt a need to speak my peace in hopes of changing their perspective. Here is my letter back to her:

Hey [Friend],

[Response to personal stuff, not important here]

So, I’m going to be blunt with you. These past 3 or so years have been the hardest of my life; I’ve had to confront a huge amount of personal truths and accept things about myself that I used to loathe. I’ve found wells of courage I never knew existed, and as a result of the personal battles I’ve faced I have become a completely different person than the one you knew long ago. [Alma Mater] seems like a different life to me, one long past. I am no longer a Christian, and instead tend towards Secular Humanism, which is a philosophy rather than a religion. That being said, I put no stock in what the bible says. When you say, “No matter what is done, I will still love you and respect you as I did throughout our times at [Alma Mater]“, but then follow it up with, “However, in regards to this life choice, I find it difficult to say that I can support you in this decision 100%, based on what I know and believe from the Bible”, I find that statement entirely contradictory. One cannot love another yet refuse their personhood.

First off, this is not a life choice I am making. This is a biological necessity, a medical condition that I have had since birth. Think of it as a birth defect if you will, one which I have a chance to correct. It is called Gender Identity Disorder in the DSM IV-TR (though the term will likely be changed to Gender Identity Dysphoria in the upcoming DSM V), and the treatment of it is considered a medical necessity. It’s less a choice and more something I’ve had to overcome. You know I’m not an idiot, though I often seemed to be during our time at [Alma Mater], and that I wouldn’t choose to do something that makes me a pariah in society’s, and the government’s, eyes. Every single time I walk out the door I face a hard truth that many people in the world today will happily beat and/or kill a transgender person, and think they’re doing the right thing the entire time. LGBT people are the most assaulted group in this country, and of this group transgender people more likely to be a victim of a violent crime than any other. This is not fun for me; I am scared to death every time I leave my house. Yet this fear is so much preferable to the near suicidal pain I experienced pretending to be a boy for 13 years.

Second, I honestly don’t need judgement. I understand that based on where you’re coming from in life, and based on your absolute belief in a book which ascribes to homosexuality a sinful nature (and thus to transsexuality as well, even though the two are completely unrelated categories) you would think of this more as a sin against god rather than a hardship I’ve had to face. I used to have this mentality as well, and viewed starting my transition as though I lost the battle within myself. I spent over 10 years thinking that every boy on the planet wanted to be a girl, and that learning to be a man meant learning to suppress this side of you. I look back on my childhood and see all that I’ve missed, all that I should have had, and all the things I never will have. However, I also know that fighting this battle for so long has made me the person I am today, and accepting this has been a struggle I wouldn’t wish on anyone. When you say you love and accept me in spite of this trans part is not saying what you think it is; it’s an insult to all of the pain I’ve gone through, and I will not have that discredited. I am the aggregate of all these life events, and to do anything in spite of the thread that gives strength to the whole is to unravel everything.

I did not message you in the first place just to rant at you, but it’s important to me that you and [husband], especially since he will be a pastor, understand what all of this truly means. You mentioned that you’ve had conversations about this with other people, and in all likelihood you will meet somebody else either looking at transition or who has gone through it. When somebody is transgender, you cannot ignore that part of them, and you cannot deny them their identity by bringing up what the bible says. If you truly believe that god created people the way they are, then you have to accept them at their very core. It would sadden me greatly to know that somebody came to you or [husband] to confide in you two what is likely their greatest secret just to hear that it’s not what god wants. Ignoring this does not make it go away, it simply makes life more complicated for the trans person down the road, or eventually leads to their suicide. Trust me, I know from personal experience what kind of pain comes with this and it really, truly can lead a person to kill themselves.

I hope when you read this that you don’t take it as a personal insult. My words can come across strong, but that is only because I feel strongly. None of what I said was meant to be rude, but this is an important topic, and the intersection of it with religion is a huge source of pain for many people like me. You and [husband] are going to hold very important positions in peoples’ lives, and you as a teacher may very well run across this as well. Even if this message leads you to hate or dislike me in any way, I would rather the words be said and to know that you’ve heard the truth than to simply parse words for the benefit of a friendship. I hope what I’ve said makes you think, and I hope even more that you’ll allow a personal account some amount of credibility.

Thanks for reading what turned out to be a short novel. [My girlfriend] and our puppy just left, so now I have to get ready before they get back. Hopefully I hear from you soon, and I would like us to continue this discussion if there are any points you would like to chat about. Talk to you soon!

[Me]

I was full of emotion when I wrote this, but I didn’t want to change a word in posting it. I could have phrased things differently and altered my tone slightly, and I’m sure I pissed her off more than made her think, but this is an important conversation, and I would much rather have it than keep friends.

So, it has been a few days since sending this letter. I have been incredibly lucky thus far, every person I have come out to has been incredibly cool, but I believe I just lost my first friend from coming out. I can only hope that somewhere down the road we will put our differences behind us and find a way to be friends once again. Until then, I will miss her, and cherish the relationship we once had.

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Rimi

Rimi

Rimi is a 25 year old transgirl currently residing in Michigan with her amazing girlfriend and the most adorable pug in existence. Her first degree was in math and physics for secondary education, though she is now pursuing a second degree in nursing due to an extreme lack of teaching opportunities for LGBT folk. She enjoys studying and writing about LGBTQA politics, secular humanism, human origins, and the impact of religiosity on cultural attitudes. In her spare time, she's a skydiver, science geek, movie nerd, and a gamer girl.

7 Comments

  1. September 25, 2012 at 4:54 pm —

    sigh… your friend’s letter sounds like a somewhat more articulate version of my brother’s reaction (“i’ll always love and respect you but i can’t fully support your choices because bible”). i’m sorry that your friendship may have been lost or strained. for what it’s worth, i thought your response was extremely articulate and i may adopt some points from it in trying to explain to friends why transition matters.

  2. September 25, 2012 at 6:27 pm —

    Thanks! 🙂 And feel free to adopt as much as you’d like of it! It’s open source as far as I’m concerned.

  3. September 26, 2012 at 8:31 am —

    “This is a biological necessity, a medical condition that I have had since birth. Think of it as a birth defect if you will, one which I have a chance to correct. It is called Gender Identity Disorder in the DSM IV-TR (though the term will likely be changed to Gender Identity Dysphoria in the upcoming DSM V), and the treatment of it is considered a medical necessity. It’s less a choice and more something I’ve had to overcome.”

    I really don’t like putting it this way. I’m a trans woman, and I don’t feel that I have a “birth defect.” It also wasn’t “a biological necessity” that I transition. There is a choice there: it’s a choice that you lay out later in your email: it’s a choice between being unhappy (or worse), and living a more authentic and happy life. It’s a choice between being something you’re not, and being who you know yourself to be (or want to be). By continually couching being trans in terms of “defects” and “medical conditions,” people are perpetuating the view that it’s *wrong* to be trans! Stop it, please!

    Maybe you dislike being trans: not everyone does. Some people embrace it. They don’t feel like they have a birth defect or a medical condition. Not everyone undertakes medical interventions for transition: some transition only socially (and legally, where applicable). There isn’t a one size fits all.

    Look, I get why you put it in those terms: it somehow makes it not your fault, and imputing the cause to biology somehow accomplishes that task. But I think that you’ve already given up the argument by conceding that even if it weren’t a “biological necessity,” “medical condition,” or “birth defect,” then it would be your fault. That’s false! We can embrace “Look, this is how I feel: it’s who I am” without resorting to stigmatizing narratives that harm other trans people *and* they harm those who embrace the narrative that you have. It’s hurting us all when people latch onto what you have.

    Philosochick

  4. September 27, 2012 at 8:32 pm —

    Philosochick,

    I can see where you are coming from in this. In my attempt to explain to someone that I felt I was “born this way”, to use the common phrase, I inadvertently implied that being trans* is somehow less than being cis. I originally was going to write to you and say that we just simply had different views on this matter, and we may still do, but I can see the point you were trying to make.

    When the gay rights movement successfully showed the public that being gay wasn’t a “lifestyle choice”, it seemed that public opinion of gay rights started swinging in the right direction. It’s become more and more taboo to hate “the gays” lately, and I feel that it is largely because people realize that who you love isn’t a choice, but rather something you’re born with. I was simply trying to point out the similarity, that we are born with this, and I think I had the right idea, but using the word “defect” means something different than I originally thought. It says that being born cis is the proper way, and we should strive to make ourselves adhere to that “ideal”; while some trans* folk might want to undergo surgery to make themselves cis (myself included), that is only one identity and I shouldn’t have generalized. I do apologize, and I thank you for pointing that out. In the future, I will be sure to point out that this point of view is simply my own, and not every trans* person feels this way about being trans*.

    However, if I’m reading your last paragraph correctly, I need to point something out. I have a right to my identity, and I’m not hiding behind the term “medical necessity” to avoid taking responsibility for my transition. I know the choice I made to pursue this, and I don’t view being trans* as something that’s wrong. I simply describe my situation as a birth defect because that makes sense to me personally.

  5. September 28, 2012 at 8:59 am —

    Thank you for your comments.

    Of course you have a right to your identity: did you think that I suggested otherwise? Because I didn’t. That was really the point of my comment. However, your comments, especially in their being public, carry an “implicature” (something communicated but not said) that your comments are the standard way that trans* people view themselves, and possibly how others should view trans* people. My comments were to remind both you and readers that there are many perspectives and lived experiences of being trans*.

    I don’t have the “trapped in the wrong body” feeling, even though I am schedule to go through with genital surgery in early 2013. And while I don’t think you’re hiding behind “medical necessity” vis-a-vis taking “responsibility” for your transition, I think it is a kind of “hiding behind” regardless. It communicates that transitioning is a biological imperative: something that you can’t resist. Sure, maybe that’s how you feel (heck, once I realized that I’m trans*, I felt that transitioning was the only option), but not everyone feels that way. We have to be aware that there are political implications of our words when we post in venues such as this.

    And while narratives such as “trapped in the wrong body” and “birth defect” make sense of your lived experience, I wrote my comment as a call for us to be more careful in always making explicit that these are *our* experiences, and that they do not necessarily represent other trans* people. The prevalence of those two narratives, particularly, is damaging: they’re the only two narratives picked up by popular media, and the only two that enter into the minds and “understanding” of the public.

    More problematically, they enter into the understanding of medical and mental health specialists who are supposed to help us through this difficult part of our lives. When they expect to hear “I knew since I was 3; I feel trapped in the wrong body; and it feels like a birth defect,” but they don’t, because it’s not the lived experience of every trans* person, they may turn people away, or it may raise “red flags.” Yes, this happened to me: I had to educate both my psychologist and my physician. Thankfully, I have a PhD and the research abilities and argumentation abilities to articulate what’s wrong with their lack of information. Most others don’t, and they’re told that they’re not “trans enough.”

    Sorry, but when I read another account that perpetuates these prevalent narratives, without making explicit mention that not everyone experiences being trans* this way, it irks me endlessly.

  6. September 28, 2012 at 9:06 am —

    Also (sorry), I don’t think that you read my final paragraph correctly:

    “Look, I get why you put it in those terms: it somehow makes it not your fault, and imputing the cause to biology somehow accomplishes that task. But I think that you’ve already given up the argument by conceding that even if it weren’t a “biological necessity,” “medical condition,” or “birth defect,” then it would be your fault. That’s false! We can embrace “Look, this is how I feel: it’s who I am” without resorting to stigmatizing narratives that harm other trans people *and* they harm those who embrace the narrative that you have. It’s hurting us all when people latch onto what you have.”

    What I mean is that your post seems to suggest that since being trans* is a “birth defect” and a “medical condition” and transitioning is a “biological necessity,” it suggests that being trans* is “wrong” or “not normal.” I’m a philosopher of language, that’s what I “do.” We feel that we need to prove that being trans* isn’t our fault: and it’s not! But the principal strategy that trans* people have used in order to accomplish that goal is to locate the cause of being trans* in biology. But my point is that that’s already conceding the point: even if being trans* were a choice, it still doesn’t mean that it’s our fault!

    The right approach is to recognize that we’re placed in a losing position merely by feeling that we need to defend ourselves from the blame argument. We don’t! We can say: the question of “fault” is irrelevant. Even if it were completely a choice (and I agree that it’s mostly not), then so what?! We don’t (generally, morally) fault people for their choices in taste of music or sports team, at least not to the degree that people condemn trans* persons. Just because something is a choice isn’t relevant to its being “wrong.” That’s the fight we should be fighting. We shouldn’t be trying to win a losing fight by situating the source of being trans in a biological basis.

    My further point was that some people embrace being trans*: they don’t consider it something that’s wrong with them. I’m not saying that you’re not embracing it, but your language suggests or communicates that you may not: “birth defect” was the big one that communicates this. Again, yes you may feel that way, and you’re completely entitled to that: my point is that not everyone feels that way. And it’s imperative that in our writing, we make that clear.

  7. September 28, 2012 at 10:53 am —

    Philosochick,

    I feel like both of your latest comments are saying I should be more sure to point out that my story is my own, and not all trans* people feel this way. I conceded this point in my earlier comment, “In the future, I will be sure to point out that this point of view is simply my own, and not every trans* person feels this way about being trans*.” That was a good thing to point out and I do appreciate that you’ve done so.

    I disagree, however, when you say that attributing any of this to a medical basis somehow implies that being trans* is a “bad thing”. Just because there’s a medical reason for something does not imply that someone is ill or lesser for having experienced it, and it doesn’t imply that we have to hide behind biology to excuse a bad behavior. And of course some trans* people don’t feel any sort of medical need, and I will make sure to describe this point more in the future.

    I agree that the term “birth defect” is harmful because of the implications that individual term holds, and I intend to watch myself on that in the future.

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