Woman holding a sign that reads “Trans rights are human rights.”

Photo by vanenunes

Being trans and terrified

July 10, 2023

There is a well-financed and organized reign of terror moving across our country. The weapons of this terror are half-truths, innuendo, and outright lies. Over 500 pieces of anti-transgender legislation have been introduced into state legislatures this year, often under the pretense of “protecting our children” or “women’s rights.” The exact opposite is true, these policies deny the necessary medical and emotional treatment that these children need and don’t expand freedom for women at all. The damage being done is incalculable.

As a child, I knew that I was different from my brother. When I was nine, there was an inkling of understanding and I attempted to talk to my mom. The feminine held an incredible attraction for me and I wanted to explore this evolving realization with her. I knew exactly what I wanted to say, and I thought she would be delighted. Delight was not her response. Although she assured me of her love, it was made very clear that I was a “boy” – period, end of story – no further conversation necessary. I now understand that at the age of nine I entered a deep, dark closet, shut and bolted the door. I would reside in that closet for six decades. Over those years my true self would pound on the door, but I was my own jailer and would not respond to the pleadings of my inner self.

Although every person’s journey is their own, many children at an early age have a sense of their authentic gender. I am a testimony to that reality. For others, that realization comes a little later. No matter the timing, the fact is clear, some of us are born with an interior self that is inconsistent with our bodies. This is not new, transgender folks have always been among us. Some cultures have recognized and even celebrated the trans and nonbinary folks among them, while others have not. Sadly, the Christian church in the United States has been and continues to be a force of oppression. The Bible has been used to support slavery and oppose women’s suffrage, the ordination of women and interracial marriage. The good news is that in each of the examples cited, a group of believers has risen to share a gospel of liberation, not oppression.

In Galatians (5:1) we read: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” J.B. Phillips translates Romans 12:2: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” Jesus said: “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). I’m not trying to cite these verses as some sort of proof texting, rather as exemplary of an inclusive gospel that welcomes everyone as in the words of the old gospel song, “Just As I Am.” This is not intended to be an expository essay—rather, I share these verses as a reminder of the fact that we are not to simply accept the thinking of those around us without exposing ideas to the revolutionary perspective of a God who extends an extravagant welcome to all.

Not to oversimplify, but the church has three basic choices: It can continue supporting a gospel of oppression, sit idly on the sidelines, or proclaim the radical gospel of inclusion brought to us by Jesus. Perhaps Isaac Watts said it best when he wrote:

“Must I be carried to the skies
On flow’ry beds of ease,
While others fought to win the prize,
And sailed through bloody seas?”

Although Quaker author and educator, Parker J. Palmer, may not have been thinking of transgender persons when he penned these words, they speak so powerfully to the transgender experience.

“Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”[i]

Amid a well-financed and organized reign of terror against transgender people in this country, I’m calling on us to embrace Jesus’ radical gospel of inclusion that rejects oppression and celebrates a life-giving and sustaining existence of freedom to be one’s authentic self.
I’m calling on us to embrace Jesus’ radical gospel of inclusion that rejects oppression and celebrates a life-giving and sustaining existence of freedom to be one’s authentic self.

So how might we do this?  Here are a few practical suggestions:

-Be sure your own congregation has done the hard work of thinking through the implications of what it means to be a Welcoming and Affirming Congregation for trans and nonbinary persons.

-Join with allies who share your goals. The Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists is ready to help. Your local PFLAG group can be a great community resource. Especially when it comes to supporting children and families.

-Become engaged in your communities’ choices for leaders. Those who support this reign of terror are intentionally seeking positions of leadership on your city/town councils and school boards in every part of this country. 

I suppose some who are reading this might think that I am overstating and overly dramatizing the current situation. The sad truth is, I am not. Please try to imagine looking in the mirror and seeing a body that does not fit your inner self. Please try to imagine what it is like to have people tell you that they know your truth better than you do. Please try to imagine what it must be like to know there is medical and mental health help available, but people are actively working to deny you that care. Please try to imagine being a loving parent who cannot access the help their child needs. Please try to imagine that your church is telling you that just being you is sinful.  Now imagine that the message is being played repeatedly, day in and day out. Research consistently shows that the rate of trans and nonbinary youth who seriously consider suicide hovers around 50%. The plethora of anti-trans legislation is exacerbating the existing anxiety of many of our youth. The research does contain good news as well. When adolescents feel supported by allies, they are less likely to consider suicide as an option.

What an opportunity for a church that proclaims the life-giving and life-sustaining message of Jesus’ gospel. Instead of terror, your congregation can become a beacon of compassion, acceptance, and love. 

The Rev. Dr. Donnie Anderson is the minister of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in New Bedford, MA, and is a member of the AWAB Board of Directors.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of American Baptist Home Mission Societies.

[i] Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, p. 10.


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