}Faith, being trans, and finding joy | Allison Letson

Faith, being trans, and finding joy


posted | about 5 minutes to read

tags: gender identity faith and religion

I am still not really sure whether I made the right call as far as where to start this story. It was either at, like, age 12, or last week, and it was really hard to say what would work better. At the end of the day, though, I think it makes the most sense to start with the impetus for the blog post and go from there, so that’s what I’ll do.

I have been attending a local church with Sarah for the last few months. My grandmother’s the organist - she’s been there for years - so it’s not like I was going in blind. Heck, I got married there. It’s a very accepting and welcoming community, and while I haven’t given a lot of thought to faith in the last few years, message in the pastor’s sermons really aligns with my beliefs - very focused on social justice and inclusivity. To me, that’s very important, and honestly one of the reasons that I’ve continued to attend each week.

Anyway, last week, Easter Sunday, there was something that really stuck with me. The pastor didn’t just talk about “The Resurrection”, but about the way other people’s lives turned around. He spoke about a friend of his that had struggled with chronic alcoholism for much of his life, dropped off the face of the map for a couple of weeks, came back, and was sober from then on - and was able to see the joy in each day.

That stuck with me. The part about seeing the joy in each day, I mean. I think maybe that’s because I really didn’t for a long time. (Which is not to say I was unhappy every day! I think that’s different.) Like, when I look back on college or high school, I can definitely remember a lot of the stuff I did, but I can’t think of things that I was, like, genuinely excited about. Some of that might be just the amount of time that’s passed since then, but I think at least part of it is based in me not really being happy with myself at the time, and not really understanding why.

It’s at this point that I think it’s worth interjecting and talking a little bit more about my faith, because I think there’s some relevance here that I haven’t really explored from a personal perspective before. When I was, oh, I don’t know, 11 or 12, probably, I remember vividly sitting in church during the times of silent prayer or lying in bed getting ready to go to sleep and asking God to make me a girl, or asking him what to do. Of course, there were no miraculous heaven-sent changes, or any divine guidance. But I was eleven. This was my way of coping with something that I felt was profoundly wrong with myself. (In retrospect, I should have, you know, talked to adults about this, but we can’t have everything in life). I think that having nothing happen with that, having no response or guidance or any feeling at all from those prayers, probably led to the loss of faith that I experienced. (Having an openly atheist pastor at the time probably didn’t help, to be fair, but that’s a separate discussion.) Somewhere between 14 and 16, I just kind of gave up. I had heard countless stories of people who maybe didn’t receive a direct answer to a prayer, but got a feeling, or had something happen indirectly, and having none of that happen to me, combined with my existing extensive doubts about literal Biblical accuracy, really pushed me away from caring about the idea of a higher power. This was never, like, a hill I would die on - I never really hit a level of disbelief that rose to atheism, I don’t think - I just stopped caring about the existence or nonexistence of a deity. (Which, for the record, is fine! I could write pages on how “having a constructive moral framework” and “having a religious belief system” are not inexorably intertwined, but this is not the time for that post.)

Fast forward. None of that really changed in the intervening, uh, decade and a half or so between then and now. I lived my life, got through college, got a job, got a house. The standard markers of Success In America™. Went to church on holidays/special occasions, but mostly just to be social with family members in town.

In September of last year, Sarah mentioned she wanted to explore going to church again. I didn’t have any seriously strong feelings about it, so we did. It was a good experience - hearing a message from the pulpit that aligned strongly with my personal moral compass was great, and the church community was great.

Anyway, that pretty much brings us up to today, which lets me tie this back into seeing joy in each day. I think the reason why that hit me was because that’s a thing that I’ve been able to do a lot more since I realized I was trans, and more so as I’ve been more effectively able to see myself as a woman over the last few months. One of the things that Sarah said to me recently was that I was smiling a lot more these days, and honestly, I’ve noticed it too - I just hadn’t really thought about it in the context presented in that Easter sermon.

I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything more significant to this than “it jumped out at me and prompted me to write this thing”, though. Like, I’m not trying to say that there was some kind of message from a higher power here. There’s not some big thing where I’m reexamining my personal framework of belief. Just…a thing that happened, that made me realize how much better I’m feeling about life and myself and each day. And that, I think, is all there needs to be.