A personal story and a call to support transgender youth in Texas
Updated: May 16, 2022
I live in Texas, where you may have heard by now our Governor signed a letter stating two things:
The treatments available for gender dysphoria constitute child abuse when administered to minors, and
That the Department of Family & Protective Services should investigate parents for child abuse, as well as any facilities that administer these procedures.
This is based on two things:
Potentially, an attempt to distract from testimony that Gov. Abbott instructed ERCOT to gouge prices during last year's winter storm
A gross misinterpretation of the Texas Family Code's definition of abuse
There is a lot of history and psychology to unpack here, and I'm not going to attempt a thorough review in one afternoon. I do want to give some context to why this issue matters to me and why I hope it already matters to you, or will matter by the end of this article.
Religious Trauma, a short story
I grew up going to church. While I was never involved in an overtly evangelical church, a lot of the teaching I heard growing up was based on legalism and the necessity of a performative spiritual relationship. I was cushioned by the fact that my parents weren't hyper-religious; however my dad was hyper-republican. So, I also grew up listening to Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, and Ann Coulter. I also went to college at a Baptist university. In public communication and propaganda, they towed the Southern Baptist Convention's party line. In the classroom, though, many of those professors taught me how to question the status quo and learn for myself.
For a long while, though, my approach to life was based on the theology of the political-evangelical right: this idea that anything, anything you do that is not "perfect," (perfect, being defined by the powers of authority) makes you unloveable by God (and therefore unworthy of the love of people), therefore you need to repent and be ever self-flagellating, because that's all you deserve anyway.
I believed that my anxiety disorder and PTSD were a sin. A sin of not trusting God enough to overcome my fears, to just not have them. A sin of being a burden and inconvenience to those around me. Someone said to me once, "You don't have any business being afraid of [repeating your traumatic experience], that's not scary. [This other thing] is scary, be afraid of that." They were so indignant at my fear, they found it insulting, preposterous. They were invalidating, and at the same time they were threatening me with fear.
I believed that being LGBTQ was a sin, because I was told to believe that. I didn't know what to do with that, though, because the greatest commandments according to what are recorded as Jesus' words in Biblical scripture are to love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Loving my neighbor, to me, has never looked like shaming them or going on an attack against one specific facet of a person's life.
So I got myself into the mental gymnastics that, while it may not be "okay" to be LGBTQ, it was no one else's business to judge someone for it. Because if we're going to believe the whole Bible, it also says we're not in a place of authority to judge others. I'm supposed to run from my anxiety and feel like a deep disappointment to God and complete human failure every time I have a panic attack or can't do something "normal" people can do–that's between me and God, and I will live with that judgment bearing down on me. Same goes for you, LGBTQ friends; so I thought.
While holding that belief, I was at least able to speak out and say, if anyone has shamed you for your sexuality or gender due to their beliefs, that's on them and got nothing to do with you. They are the ones out of line because they're not loving others, and they are judging others without any authority or reason to do so.
But this still didn't make a lot of sense to me, and to this day I regret even saying that. Because it is not fully loving to look at a people group who've been outcasted and say, "Sorry they're hateful to you. They shouldn't be hating you." That attitude is still condoning, through passivity, the narrative within our culture at-large that it is okay to act hatefully toward people and create or limit policies based on that hatefulness and judgement.
Then I went to grad school
I wanted to become a therapist because of that commandment to love my neighbor as myself. The most loving thing I had ever done for myself was go to therapy and begin the process of healing a lot of trauma.
In our classes, they would ask us questions like, "Would you provide therapy to someone who's had an abortion?" "Would you provide therapy to someone who has molested a child?" And if the answer was no, then you'd better work through your own shit before thinking you can help someone else. If I was going to love my neighbor as myself with honesty and integrity and truth, I could not hold on to the theology of the political-evangelical right.
It meant that I had to deal with my trauma, deeper and deeper. It meant I had to confront who they had told me God is, and how that didn't match up to what I read and saw and experienced.
Then, I learned the numbers. I learned that the rate of suicide attempts for LGBTQ youth is 3.5 times higher than for their heterosexual peers. For transgender and non-gender-conforming youth, it's 5.87 times higher. I remember quite literally thinking, "Fuck this. I'm out." Meaning, I'm out of any church and any organization that is going to tell me not to love someone else. It's a matter of life and death, the risk is too great, and I will not have my name or reputation associated with hate.
A society that tells people who they are is not okay, that tells families and communities to reject others, is a society that creates shame and attachment trauma.
In my practice, I have had the great privilege and honor to work with LGBTQ-IA youth and adults. I remember during my internship, sitting in a gender-affirming session with someone and feeling that old evangelical fear-mongering creep up. I thought of that verse that says, "If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea." I thought, Oh, God, am I tying a millstone around my neck right now?
But no, no. If God is love, and I am loving the person across from me, then no. I believe the millstone is around the necks of those leading people away from loving their neighbors. They're doing it through fear and shame, all for power.
I regret agreeing to the peripheral beliefs of American Christianity that are required for inclusion in the in-group. In my sincere desire to please everyone and follow the rules but also love everyone, American Christian theology was doing exactly what it was designed to do. It's colonizer theology, power politics theology. A theology of in-group versus out-group. A theology of who gets to say who is in and who is out. A theology of who gets to say who is worthy of love and acceptance, who is not, and under what conditions. Increasing someone's risk of suicide is not loving our neighbor, and shame–yes, shame–on you Church for contributing to that. For slow-dripping that into the culture until you had enough power to influence policy, loudly and hatefully.
For more on the history of the evangelical vote and why it's so enmeshed with the political right, I recommend listening to this Throughline episode, as well as reading the articles you'll see linked there.
Why does this matter?
This matters because powerful people are using their privilege to manipulate, to gain power-over, instead of power-with.
This matters because there is a part of our population that are being rejected from secure attachment with our society, that are being rejected from inclusion, love, and joy.
This matters because 19% of LGBTQ youth attempted to end their lives in 2021. Not supporting LGBTQ youth is abuse.
How can you help?
Together Rising will be raising money to support transgender youth in Texas. They work by finding organizations on the ground that will have the biggest, most direct impact.
Read the Ally Guide from The Trevor Project and support their work.
Listen to The Bible and the Gay Christian (episode 14) or read God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines. Also check out his YouTube channel.
Share any and all of these resources with people you know. Start a conversation based in love and compassion.
And of course, vote.
"A huge percentage of people who "deconstruct" are trying to save their faith, not abandon it. They're reevaluating the relationship between the Christian culture and Christianity itself because they don't want to lose faith in Jesus." – Zachary Wagner