Writing about one’s life story can be both painful and healing. It’s strange how formulating words about one’s own experience can encourage even the most discouraged of souls, even if the process might hurt as well. Writing this unveils myself to the world, much as my own story was a series of unveilings, to the point where I finally could share with people the most hidden thing about me.
I was born to upper-middle-class white evangelical parents about an hour and a half away from the Oregon coast in Eugene, Oregon. My dad’s side of the family was long involved with the evangelical publishing industry.
After working at Tyndale House Publishers for a while and helping to start the careers of evangelical authors like Tim LaHaye and James Dobson, my paternal grandfather started an evangelical publishing house — Harvest House Publishers — in Irvine, California in 1974, eleven years before I was born. He decided to move it up to Eugene in the early 80s after my parents got married, and my dad was already moving up in his father’s company by the time I finally came along in 1985.
As Harvest House says on its website, the company grew by the late 80s to be “among the top ten publishers of Christian literature,” and my grandpa’s goal in starting the business was “to help the hurts of people.” He eventually handed the presidency of the company to my dad in 1991, when I was five. I still remember sitting in the car after it happened, marveling that my daddy was the president of the company. In that regard, I already had a sense of how privileged I was, at least in that area.
My relationship with my paternal grandfather was never very close. He wasn’t sure how to show affection for his grandkids other than doing things for them, but he would always hug me when we would visit him, and he’d always be sitting in his favorite living room chair at Christmastime or some other occasion when the family got together.
I was much closer to my paternal grandmother, as she was much more outgoing than he was—her personality mirrored that of Lucille Ball, of whom she was also a big fan. In fact, that’s probably why Ricky and Lucy Ricardo reminded me of the respective temperaments of my paternal grandparents, except that my grandpa was a white guy and didn’t speak Spanish or have any Cuban heritage, and my grandma was a talented singer (she even had a story about how she once met Bing Crosby back in her days of being the token female singer in a men’s glee club and turned him down for going on tour with him because he had a reputation as a womanizer). She had so many stories of hilarious things that had happened to her in life, and she told them with the flair of a movie star, a gravitas she carried effortlessly, even as she was also very down-to-earth at the same time.
She was a paradox of a person—on the one hand gentle and kind and eager to make others feel seen, and on the other hand, a major fan of Rush Limbaugh and other conservative media like Fox News. Whenever I visited when I was growing up in the 90s, she would lament Limbaugh’s coarse demeanor and language. She once told us grandkids that she wrote him a letter about how she wished he wouldn’t talk so crudely. But that’s the complicated thing about growing up evangelical—as much as they are sold out to the religious right, and indeed they are (my grandmother fawned over Reagan, Bush Sr., and Bush Jr.)—they also can be really skilled at showing love in the ways they know.
My grandma loved spending time with us grandkids and would take us out to eat all the time. She was closer to our older cousin (since she was the first of any of us on my dad’s side to be born), but after my grandmother died, whenever I drive past the restaurant she would take us to every now and then, I think about her and tear up a little.
My dad’s family moved around a lot during his childhood (from Oregon to Illinois to Southern California and back to Oregon again—my grandpa never could stay in one place), but my mom grew up in Sacramento, born to parents who had a strained relationship since shortly after they first got married in their late teens. My maternal grandfather had a rough childhood and created a “tough” exterior persona as a result (he also was the non-Christian my mom kept praying for throughout my growing up years, that he might accept Jesus).
My maternal grandmother has always been tough and sweet on the inside at the same time, and she is very intelligent—an avid reader to this day. She was told by my maternal grandpa that he didn’t love her early on in their marriage, and though they stayed together until my mom and her siblings grew up, she found out sometime after my mom had given birth to me that he was having an affair with a woman at work, and they divorced. My grandfather wasn’t all bad, though. He not only loved me as one of his grandchildren, but he liked me too, I think, probably because I used to ask him a lot of questions (and he loved answering questions). But his Alzheimer’s developed to an advanced stage by the time I started transitioning (and no one in my family decided to tell him about it as a result), so I don’t know what he would have thought of my transition.
Grandma remarried after the divorce, and the man she married was very good to her and treated her nicely, though he has now also passed away. She’s now my only living grandparent. I’ve always thought of her as a great cook and a smart, opinionated (often in ways we sharply disagree), common-sense person.
My mom met my dad in college at Fresno State University, when they were paired up for a lab assignment in a psychology class (my dad now considers that “ironic,” since his stance has shifted to a rather pronounced anti-psychology one). At the time, he thought this was his opportunity to “witness” to my mom, but she had been raised as a Christian too. She had been told about him by one of her friends at college: “You’d like Hawk,” her friend had said to her, referencing my dad’s nickname then. “He’s religious.” After they fell in love and got married, my mom cried when it was time to pack up and leave Sacramento to go north to Eugene. My dad was lucky — his parents moved with him, given that it was his dad’s company. Consequently, I never really got to know my mom’s side of the family as well. I would see my dad’s side of the family almost every Christmas and could visit them readily for family get-togethers, but it was usually once a year, usually during the summer, that we would drive down to California to see my mom’s family, if even that. I only remember two Christmases we spent down there.
An Evangelical and Closeted Trans Kid in the 90s
Growing up with a family business in evangelical publishing meant we always had a big bookshelf filled with evangelical literature. Because my grandpa used to work for Ken Taylor at Tyndale House (who produced The Living Bible, which my grandpa had helped to sell), I used to have a little red illustrated Bible story book written by him called My First Bible.
It wasn’t my first real “Bible,” but it did tell Bible stories in a way that kids like me could understand. I used to read it at night, even with the lights off, which, of course, wasn’t good for my eyes, but I didn’t care. By the third grade, I soon graduated to my first real Bible—at least the first one I regularly used—which was Zondervan’s NIV Adventure Bible, complete with Indiana Jones font and late 80s/early 90s Saved by the Bell background flair. I would read that one in the dark too, so much that I remember my dad coming into the room and flipping on the light switch, asking me, “Don’t you want to shed some light on the subject?”
Like many kids raised in an evangelical household, I was led in the “sinner’s prayer” at an early age. I specifically recall my dad coming up to my bed and leading me through it. Dad explained that I was a sinner—that we were all sinners, born into sin from our birth, and that we all deserved to be sent to hell to burn forever and ever, so we needed a way out, and that way out was Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross to take the penalty we deserved onto himself.
Mom had written in a baby book that this happened in January or February of 1991 and that I “seemed to understand” the gospel that my dad had communicated to me. I do remember it making sense to me. But of course it did—my dad was the one telling me about it, and I trusted him.
The gender roles I learned from my parents were very traditional—my mom was the stay-at-home parent, and my dad was the breadwinner. I remember getting lost in my thoughts at night from a very early age, wanting to grow up as a mom (even though I was assigned male at birth), but I also didn’t like the idea of having to become someone’s housewife. Perhaps this is when I first began getting a hint of what male privilege was before I knew the term itself.
My mom never taught me or any of us to cook (both my brother and sister are way better at it than I am, but at least I can say I’m better at it than my dad)—she just usually made dinner for everyone, though she never really liked doing it. I remember just having to learn the basics on my own. I’ve long had cooking anxiety, or anxiety surrounding domestic chores, perhaps because I felt ill-equipped to deal with them, and feeling this way only compounded the gender dysphoria I already was experiencing all the time. I told myself, “How can I ever be a girl if I’m bad at keeping my personal spaces clean and haven’t bothered to learn how to cook beyond a very basic level?”
Looking back on this now, I see how much internalized transmisogyny (and misogyny in general) I had developed, and how I had still accepted the toxic gender expectations and stereotypes from society in my socialization, despite how anxious they made me.
I may also have struggled with an undiagnosed neurodivergence for most of my life, given how so many everyday activities that seemed to come naturally to others have always been harder for me.
Conservative evangelicalism often made things worse, as it reinforces the binary thinking of “girls are this way, and boys are that way” all the time. In several ways, one could say my behavior conformed more to stereotypical girl behavior than the boy kind, particularly because I was never very rough-and-tumble and was not afraid to cry when all my feels were mounting.
But then one day I learned that my dad’s dad was a better cook than my dad’s mom, and this challenged my binary thinking, which decreased my anxiety too. “Maybe I could still be a girl after all,” I told myself. I think in many ways, my gender dysphoria was tied to my anxieties over what I felt I could or couldn’t do, and some of this was linked to stereotypes about gender.
For example, I had it in my head that boys take longer to learn how to tie their shoes than girls do (which isn’t true), and I didn’t learn how to tie my shoes until the fourth grade, so this weighed on me because I felt like a girl so much and felt comfortable with the idea of presenting as a girl, but I was too scared to tell anyone for many reasons. Among them was the idea that people would say, “Ah, but you took a long time to learn how to tie your shoes, so you’re really a boy.” Aside from the whole “being born with a penis” thing (which itself has been a source of anxiety on its own, speaking from my own experience). At night, I used to imagine it caving inwards into a vagina, praying, “God, make me a girl tomorrow morning. Like Cinderella.”
No single trans person’s story is completely alike, as we’re all different people, but I can tell you that in my case, I was constantly thinking about my gender (or it was always there, floating in the back of my mind). People told me I was a boy, but I felt like a girl, and I liked that I felt like a girl inside. I was a shy kid, and I always wanted to please others, so I suppressed my feelings and thoughts and avoided telling people that I felt like a girl. Once, though, I was brave enough to tell my mom when I was seven. We were in the car, pulling up to the parking lot outside an indoor swimming pool, when I said to her, “Mom, do you think I’m really a girl?”
I remember she sounded confused, saying something like, “Of course not.” And then I clammed up, devasted but not surprised that she disagreed.
But Mom’s refusal to discuss the idea with me didn’t make my inner life as a girl go away, nor did the fact that I rarely heard the evangelical adults around me address the existence of trans people. I didn’t know it was possible to transition to a life as the gender opposite from what one was assigned at birth until a grade school friend of mine mentioned that some people did this (without me saying anything to prompt it or giving him any reason to think I had this secret). I still remember him saying with a disapproving tone, “Oh yes, they do it. Snip, snip.”
Occasionally, I would hear some evangelical adult in my life talk about the “feminization of boys” in a similarly negative way, which made my secret ritual of dressing in my mom’s clothes when she wasn’t there even more guilt-inducing. I already felt guilty for doing it because these weren’t my clothes and they belonged to my mother, but this added an extra heaping helping of guilt and a sense of shame.
I remember once my little sister saying while we were driving to church one Sunday, “Mommy, can I have some of my own lips?” “Lips” was her shorthand for “lipstick.” My mom responded, “I’m sorry, sweetie, but you got into Mommy’s lips, so not until you’re older.” I felt awful. I had gotten my sister in trouble. She had taken the fall for what I was doing.
Even among those in my life who said it fine for a boy to like pink and dresses, some of them still balked at the idea that a person raised as a boy would actually insist they were a girl on the inside.
Adventures in the Closet
So I was a girl in secret for years. I coped by secretly dressing in my mom’s closet.
There were a couple close calls, one worse than the other. The first came when I was around the age of ten after my mom found one of her blouses in my laundry basket. She asked me about it but I shrugged and made up some silly excuse. Whatever it was, my mom must have shaken it off as some weird “prank” I was playing on her, but I remember it being a very frightening moment.
Another time, which was worse, was when I was in eighth grade. I had attended private Christian school all the way through my eighth-grade year (where we would pledge allegiance to the “Christian flag,” the American flag, and the Bible every day). My gender dysphoria had followed me through all that time too, remaining a secret from all my peers. I was involved in drama that year in our middle school production of The Music Man. I was playing Otis, the bass of the barbershop quartet, but I wished I could have played one of the female roles. One day, during a Saturday of that same year, my parents and my brother and sister decided they wanted to go bowling, but I declined and stayed home. While they were gone, I took the opportunity to go upstairs to my parents’ closet and start dressing in mom’s clothes again.
This was around puberty for me, and the only thing about puberty that wasn’t secretly horrifying for me was that I had a small amount of breast growth — the medical professionals call it “gynecomastia.” Many kids raised as boys go through it, and not all of them were secret girls like me. Many of them are distressed by it. But for me, it made me think for a moment that perhaps I was developing as a girl after all. Maybe, I thought, I would develop breasts so much that my mom would take me to the doctor, and the doctor would go, “Well, looks like you’ll have to raise this one as a girl now. Start using ‘she’/‘her’ pronouns, and take her shopping for her first bra.”
Anyway, this was why, when I went up to my parents’ closet, the first thing I put on (before wearing one of my mom’s dresses) was one of her bras. I’d had experience with bras since at least middle school, and it’s one of the memories I take with me as a consolation prize for missing out on having experienced girlhood. But after I put on the dress, much to my horror, I heard the garage door opening. I had thought my family had already made it to the bowling alley by now. So I quickly took off the dress, hung it back up, and undid the bra I was wearing and I was still holding onto it when my dad opened the closet door. It turns out he had forgotten his wallet.
I was mortified. He said with an authoritarian tone, “I know what you were doing!” I put the bra back in the drawer and hung my head, thinking I was done for. This was my worst nightmare.
He had me sit down on his side of the bed and began to “have a chat” with me. Apparently, he thought I was doing something…else than what I thought he may have surmised I was doing. I confessed to that, even though it wasn’t what I was actually doing. I would rather him think that about me than admit the truth to him.
I’ve asked him about this years later, and he doesn’t remember it.
I thought that moment would have cured me, but it didn’t. And honestly, I didn’t want it to. I continued the same prayers after that that I had made since I was really little: “God, please let me wake up tomorrow as a girl.”
The very next year, I began my freshman year in high school, which was the first year I ever attended public school. I had it in my head that I was going to be able to witness to the students there. When I met the first atheist I had ever known during my first week, I quickly found out that he was actually a relative anomaly. Most people at this school attended youth group at church like I did. I had lots of conversations with him, and we actually became good friends. One time I brought some Harvest House apologetics books and showed them to him, and he found their arguments laughably specious and wasn’t shy about telling me so. I credit him as one of the people who deepened my faith and intellectual life and forced me to think more carefully about it. But I was too scared to tell even him at the time about my secret.
Telling a single soul was out of the question for me — I suppose I was still scared that my parents would not love me anymore if they knew, or they’d send me to some re-education camp if they ever found out.
At the end of my first year of high school, I was back in my mom’s closet one morning before school started. Both my parents had to leave earlier than I did on those days, so after they had left, I decided I would walk toward my early-morning Spanish class that day decked out in one of my mom’s most fab dresses. I shaved every crevice of my body, including my legs. I put on lipstick (I still didn’t know how to do foundation, eyeliner, or mascara, but whatevs). And I put on sunglasses because I thought somehow that this would conceal my identity (that’s how it works in movies, after all).
But instead of daring to go on campus dressed as I was, I went into a McDonald’s across the street from my school, where I entered the women’s restroom and went into a stall, where I changed into spare clothes I had brought with me in my backpack. Thankfully, no one else was coming in when I went out, but it was highly nerve-wracking and deeply stressful for me. No one said a word that morning in Spanish class, but I remember later in my sophomore year a jock approaching me and asking me if I was wearing a dress one day. I lied to him and said it wasn’t me, but I was scared of what he would say next if I admitted to it.
There were other days where I would sneak one of my sister’s headbands in my backpack to school (sorry, dear sister…none of your things would fit me except for the accessories).
I was constantly torn between wanting my identity to be a secret to avoid potentially devastating social consequences and wanting people to know it because suppressing who I was all the time was exhausting.
During my junior year in high school, my parents and siblings were all out of town one night when I was alone at the house by myself, so I decided to find something in my mom’s closet to wear, and I made myself up and everything, and I went out to the local mall to walk around outside for a bit before asking myself what on earth I was doing and going back into my vehicle, driving back home and putting the clothes back.
Scriptural Snares in the Journey
The Baptist notion of “once saved, always saved” I had been raised with gave me some comfort that God wouldn’t send me to hell for doing these things in secret, but I do remember some verses I would be reading around this time that gave me a lot of anxiety. I hated Psalm 139:13–14, which most evangelicals typically see as a source of comfort:
You created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
The reason I hated it was because my perspective on it was such that I thought it was saying to me, “God made you a boy. Can’t you just be happy that God made you a boy, and that you’re fearfully and wonderfully made as a boy?” I found out years later that anti-trans evangelicals, such as my dad, see that verse in a similar light to how I saw it back then. We’ll come back to this passage later.
There were also passages about “secrets” in people’s hearts that made me nervous, such as Luke 12:1–3:
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.”
Remember this one for later too.
There was also the passage in Deuteronomy 22:5, a prohibition against crossdressing. I usually handwaved this away as part of the so-called “civil laws” in the Torah that didn’t really apply to Christians today, though regardless of its context, I still don’t consider it relevant to trans people because a trans woman is a woman, not a man dressed in women’s clothes—her gender identity is female, not male. Because of the common evangelical conflation of homosexuality with being trans, I believed that I was under the condemnation of the so-called “clobber” passages (which most often would include the supposedly “clearest” among them: Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). But this wasn’t so.
All of these passages were my least favorites. I thought of them at the time as “convicting” me of my supposed “sin,” even though these passages are actually used to target sexual orientation, not primarily gender identity. Being transgender isn’t about who you’re attracted to—that’s sexuality.
College, the Virtual Makeover Phase, and the Navigators
When I went to college at the University of Oregon in my hometown, my dad had arranged a meeting between me and a grandson of two Harvest House authors, who happened to be attending the same school . When I met him, he invited me to live with him and two other guys in a house he had bought with money he had been given for Christmas, and I accepted his offer (mostly because I wanted to experience what it would be like to live on my own, like my parents had when they were in college).
I kept my secret as tightly as I could from my roommates while living with them, but after a while, the one who had invited me in once asked me point-blank, “Are you gay?”
When I told him no, he breathed a sigh of relief, which I thought was sad for anyone who might really be gay who may know him. I also was thinking, “My friend, you have no idea.”
I found some stories of trans women’s successes online during this time, which encouraged me. I also learned that there were “transgender Christians” out there too, which was balm for my often scarred and anxious soul. I had first learned the word “transgender” back in middle school during the AOL dial-up days, when I’d be secretly researching whether there were people like me out there. But now I was finding stories of trans people who were finding a way to reconcile their identities with their Christianity.
I also found an online virtual makeover website when I was in college that allowed you to upload your photo and try on various female celebrity hairstyles and see what various makeup products would look like on you. Since I had no real makeup or wigs to speak of, this was the next best thing.
While all this was happening, I had gotten involved with a campus Bible study ministry called the Navigators, a sister organization of sorts to what was called at the time Campus Crusade for Christ (before they deleted the problematic, alienating word “Crusade” from their name and replaced it with “Cru”). We met at our Navigator leader’s house, where he would conduct Bible studies. This was around 2006, the time when Facebook had become a thing, and most college students had a Facebook account.
By this time, I had gotten into the habit of uploading pictures of myself from the virtual makeover site and changing my gender marker on my profile for a split second before immediately changing it all back. I would reason to myself that I did it all so fast that no one could have seen what happened (or that not too many people could have seen it, since part of me simply wanted people to know my secret so I could stop hiding).
My split-second profile changes were an outward manifestation of what was going on inside me. My female gender identity was like a beach ball I had been trying to keep submerged in water, and sometimes I lost my hold on it, and it came out of the water before I pushed it back under again.
During one of the times I was briefly changing the gender marker on my Facebook account every so often, the most conservative girl in my Navigator Bible study saw it, and she commented on my wall, “Did I just see you do a profile sex change? Should I be calling our Bible study leader?”
I was horrified. I quickly joked to her that it was just me trying to be funny, but part of me always wondered if she brought it up to my Bible study leader (as she liked to gossip about others in the Bible study group while they weren’t there and claim it was a prayer request). My Bible study leader would take all us students out to coffee from time to time and ask how we were doing. He considered this his way of “discipling” us. One day, he mentioned to me that “gentleness can be a very masculine trait.” I wondered if he said this to me because I had a reputation for being gentle, and it made me wonder if the conservative girl in our Bible study had said something to him to prompt him to say something like this. I said nothing at the time, but when I look back on it, of course masculine people can be gentle. Gentleness doesn’t imply femininity or masculinity. That is a beautiful truth. What bothers me now about it, though, was the subtle message that I should be “masculine” about my gentleness because of how I was assigned at birth. I’m so glad I can now say that I don’t think that to be case.
This Bible study leader, though, was noticing where my interests were going with regard to biblical languages. I had taken Biblical Hebrew during my freshman and sophomore years in college, and I loved it. I also began reading more and more scholarly literature that didn’t conform exactly to the evangelical ways I had been taught to read the Bible growing up. It was during this period that I had been introduced to N.T. Wright and James D.G. Dunn, scholars within a school of thought called the New Perspective on Paul, which is a form of New Testament scholarship that attempts to understand first-century Judaism on its own terms rather than through the eyes of Augustine and Protestant Reformers, who thought of it as legalistic (and thereby influenced how generations of Christians, especially Protestant Christians, have approached their reading Paul).
I went even further and was introduced to the perspective of scholars like Mark D. Nanos, Paula Frederiksen, and Pamela Eisenbaum, who argue that Paul continued to identify as a Torah-observant Jew, one who merely began to follow Jesus as the Messiah (a position that is certainly provocative to the evangelical tradition I grew up with, but I loved it).
Because my Bible study leader was picking up on these interests of mine, he told me about a Christian graduate program that his son was attending called Regent College which has a reputation of being one of the more intellectually rigorous evangelical schools in North America (it’s associated with theologians such as James Houston and J.I. Packer). He suggested I pursue studies there, which I was eager to do.
After I received my bachelors degree in English in 2008, I applied to Regent and got in, and I enrolled there in 2009. That meant I had to find housing and had to move somewhere else for the first time in my life — in this case, it was to Vancouver, British Columbia, which wasn’t that far away from my home (only an eight-hour drive), but it was a big deal for me. I thought somehow this would cure me of my secret.
But it didn’t.
Grad School and the Unveiling: Finally Pushing Open the Closet Doors
I am grateful to this day for my education at Regent. I ate up everything I learned about the biblical languages, taking as many classes as I could in both Hebrew and Greek. It became my major, and I graduated in 2012 with a Master’s in Biblical Languages, with a concentration in Hebrew. But I still wasn’t done. Even though I now had one Master’s, I applied for another program there, which began in the fall of 2012, an MDiv (Master of Divinity), with a concentration in Old Testament.
I never finished that one. Because that’s when everything came to a head for me.
While I was at Regent, I made lots of friends and enjoyed talking theology with them and just enjoying their company at the local pub. But I still took my secret with me wherever I went. I once went into a Shoppers Drug Mart and bought a wig, which I would wear from time to time in my room in secret, as I was living in a Christian community house at the time. I remember eventually feeling shame for having it and threw it away while I was walking back home one day.
But I also had the first of several moments of feeling “seen” during my time there. There was a family (a little girl and her parents) running the Christian community house I was living in at the time, and they were also renters alongside the rest of us. Their little girl really enjoyed my company, and we became friends, and I even babysat her from time to time. One day, she drew a picture of me as a girl with long blond hair. I never had said anything to her about my secret.
Her mom showed it to me and laughed about it, and I probably laughed too, but inwardly, I saw it as though God were trying to tell me, “I see you, Becca.” Before I even had started using that name.
I also became involved with a church community with mostly Asian Canadian congregants in Vancouver during my time at Regent (they had formed after leaving a first-year Chinese church in the neighboring city of Richmond), and I still consider it the best church community I’ve ever been part of. The people I met there were remarkably kind, and I eventually got to a point where I could be vulnerable enough with them to share about my struggles with anxiety with them. I could unveil one layer about myself, but not the innermost.
After I had completed the first year of my MDiv program and had then been a part of the church for a while, I applied to begin a pastoral internship in the fall of 2013 to fulfill one of the requirements in my studies. The head pastor was going to go on sabbatical for the summer, and before he began it, he was going to have me lead a “guys’ group” while he was away.
I was dealing with a lot of depression that I was attempting to mask, and this forced me to mask it only further. As far as I was concerned, I was a secret girl leading a guys’ group. I led the group as faithfully as I could, reporting to the associate pastor (who was then taking on the leadership of the whole church), and I’d tell her how it was all going. She was the first female pastor I had ever had, and I’m very grateful to everything I have learned and continue to learn from her, as well as from the head pastor of the same church.
Despite my best efforts, things got to a point where I couldn’t keep up the charade.
My depression was getting really bad, and I didn’t have the motivation to finish the independent study in the book of Revelation I was doing. Ironically, that’s a book about a peeling back of the curtain of things previously hidden, an ἀποκάλυψις (apokalupsis), meaning “unveiling.” I finally decided to tell someone. The female associate pastor of the church I was attending was the first Christian with whom I had ever shared this secret. It was one of the scariest things I had ever done. I had mentioned my secret to only one other person by this point: The first person I ever told was in college, but she no longer identified as Christian, and she was very accepting. But this Christian pastor responded very kindly as well, and when the head pastor returned from his sabbatical, I told him too, even though that was also very scary, and he was very gracious about it. They even let me rescind my planned internship so that they could give space for me to be cared for pastorally.
Escaping the Closet: The Transition
But I was still attending the guys’ group (now being led once again by the head pastor). My cognitive dissonance and anxiety got to a point where I couldn’t do that any longer.
It was then that I sent the head pastor an email telling him I didn’t want to be part of the guys’ group anymore. He asked why, though he kind of knew already. I told him that I couldn’t take it anymore and was going to transition, and I understood if this meant that I couldn’t be part of his church anymore.
To my pleasant surprise, he said he would journey with me through this. And so did the associate pastor. It took a while before I told the whole church my secret and what I had planned to do about it, but when I finally did, most of them were accepting. There was and still is some painful rejection I received from people. But most of the church wanted to walk with me, too.
At the time, it all felt like a dream that this was happening. I still remember the first day when they welcomed me officially to the church now as “Becca,” and they read from Psalm 139 as a whole during that Sunday morning. The very text I had once hated took on brand-new, life-giving meaning for me.
When I finally let myself be Becca, I was finally recognizing that the trans aspect of who I am itself was “fearfully and wonderfully made” and not part of some cosmic fall. I no longer believe the Bible teaches a cosmic fall either — for a great book that explores this topic carefully and intelligently, see Bethany Sollereder, God, Evolution, and Animal Suffering: A Theodicy Without a Fall (Abingdon: Routledge, 2019).
In recognizing that the trans part of me is “fearfully and wonderfully made,” I also noticed something in the Hebrew text:
The NIV uses “inmost being” to translate the Hebrew word כִּלְיָה (kilyah) in this passage.
An attested literal meaning of כִּלְיָה is something like “entrails” (for example, Exodus 29:13,22; Isaiah 34:6; etc.). But I think the NIV closely captures its use in contexts such as Psalm 139, which is a song, which is similar to how a word it’s often parallel with, “heart” (לֵב, pronounced lev), is treated. They render it as “inmost being.” Or as The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) puts it, it’s used as an image for “the innermost, most secret part” a human being. See “כִּלְיָה,” HALOT, 2:479. Also, the image of God knitting David together in his mother’s womb wasn’t just with reference to his karyotype or the more visually discernible parts about him: It’s the innermost, secret chambers of who he is as a human being.
Of course, David was (presumably) a cis man, though who knew what secrets lay in the deepest chambers of his heart. He was saying God knew even about them.
A trans person’s gender identity is often popularly considered not “real” in terms of defining their gender, whereas it is argued that their chromosomes and genitalia at birth are. But if we were reducible to our private parts in how we are defined, that would be truly a sad world to live in. And science shows that chromosomes are far more complex and don’t hold the keys to defining a person’s “real” gender.
Deconstruction after Leaving the Closet
I did eventually have to leave Regent College, if only because the school’s leadership and faculty were not going to make the college a safe place for people like me to thrive. It’s not that they kicked me out…it’s that the environment wasn’t welcoming, and the doctrinal position on gender of most of the faculty would have made staying there unpleasant for me. So I left. Given the similar theological trajectory of some of the predominately white cis-het male faculty at Regent to N.T. Wright, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them at the time likened a trans person’s transition to a somewhat recent claim N.T. Wright recently has made about us, that many of us undergo transition based off some kind of “Gnostic” thinking. (Gnosticism being a Christian heresy that the body is evil and must be escaped.) In response to Wright’s claim, I’d just like to point out that if I thought the body were evil, I wouldn’t take hormones to alleviate my gender dysphoria. And the hormones have done that for me very well. I feel much happier and healthier as a trans person, and any discomfort or ill health I feel comes from societal rejection or frightening political situations, such as the presidency of Donald Trump and the aftermath of that era.
I eventually left evangelicalism entirely (way before Trump was elected in the US, but that was one of the nails in the coffin), and I’m still very pleased about that. I’ve gone back and forth regarding leaving Christianity itself, but I keep coming back to the same place, which is that I’m a theologically and spiritually compelled person, just as much as I’m a trans woman. I wouldn’t be very “good” at “not being Christian” anymore, but at the same time, I feel very comfortable staying away from church environments at the moment. And I’m only able to see myself as “Christian” because I don’t limit the definition to a certain set of dogmas.
I don’t see the Bible as “inerrant,” as evangelicals often do. In fact, I think there’s much in there to be rejected by decent humans that have nothing to do with trans issues (such as God’s command to Saul to kill even the infants of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15:1–3). At one point, this bothered me, but now I couldn’t care less.
I still find many parts of the Bible to be compelling (including many of the stories about Jesus), and I still believe we should value the Bible for what it is and not for what we want it to be, even if that means letting some less pleasant parts just…be unpleasant. Similarly, I’m only willing to have a meaningful relationship with someone who will let me tell them who I am, and not try to make me into someone they want me to be.
My perspective on some parts of the Bible has changed as well, particularly Luke 12:1–3, a passage I mentioned above about revealing the secret things. When I was trapped in the closet, the thought of my hidden identity being known was terrifying. But I realize now that while my coming out was indeed an ἀποκάλυψις — that is, an unveiling of my most secret self — it was the unveiling of something good. It was a benevolent unveiling, not one I had to fear.
But on the other hand, I think the election of Donald Trump has “made known,” however, some ugly things in evangelicalism that were previously “hidden” and are now being “proclaimed from the rooftops.” What Jesus is saying in this passage is that the corrupt cannot hide forever. All secret things will one day be made known.
But not all secret things to be revealed are bad. The secret things of my innermost being were made known, and it liberated me.
For this reason, I now relate much more to another passage featuring the same verb for revealing, ἀποκαλύπτω (apokaluptō), as well as its noun counterpart, ἀποκάλυψις (apokalupsis):
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God (Romans 8:18–21).
As for the journey ahead, I don’t know what is in store for me. I am a highly anxious person. But I also know that I am strong, and I am not alone. You are not alone either, dear reader, regardless of your beliefs or lack of beliefs.