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CLARE’S STORY

My name is Clare. I am transgender and lesbian, truths I only accepted in 2013 by a process including page 5 Claregreat highs, difficulties, triumphs and an examination of every part of my life.

At an early age I knew I was different and didn’t fit into the life I was living. It wasn’t long before I worked out that I wasn’t just different, but what was thought of as bad – in my gender and also in my neuro-diversity. From early childhood I knew shame about my identity and attempted to suppress everything I believed to be shameful, to create a persona to imprison the one already there and live as the kind of person I thought would be acceptable.

I managed to suppress myself so far that I didn’t even know that I am female. Clues arose sometimes: dreams, desires, interests and fantasies, and because I felt so guilty I hastily squashed them. I came to hate myself intensely. Inevitably this contributed to decades of mental health problems.

My upbringing was outwardly normal and balanced, a stable home with two parents and a brother. But that balance could not compensate for what was going on inside or for the way I was consistently told that certain things were wrong; the times I was told ‘Don’t be stupid, that’s for girls’. Life as a teenager became inner torture. I turned from being a child who didn’t smile much into an inwardly bound person with constant low lying depression and major depressive episodes.

Then I discovered Christianity, or at least one version of it. I converted through an evangelical, Pentecostal, born-again experience. I hadn’t expected that but it gave me much that I had never had before: solidity, meaning, hope. Yet it wasn’t all good. I didn’t convert based on the conviction that God loved me. I couldn’t really deal with that concept. I converted largely because that brand of evangelicalism was pretty much the only religion that agreed with what I already believed: that I was evil, some kind of monster, an aberration.

That form of Christianity wrecked any self-esteem I had left. When somewhere deep down you know you are transgender, queer, it’s hard to be part of a faith that teaches that that is evil. Many can tell of how churches – not Jesus – have hurt them greatly. My first church had many ministry tapes from a ‘gay cure’ ministry. As a young, enthusiastic convert I swallowed the message and didn’t dare to question ‘God’s word’. I became thoroughly biblically (as we saw it) homophobic and transphobic, hating myself even more.

Coming to terms with accepting myself as female and lesbian took a long time and a series of near miracles. I almost don’t know how I got from there to here. When I ‘came out’ I had good and bad experiences in churches. The people in my local church were supportive, though I was told it would be ‘inappropriate’ for me to continue to preach or lead anything. That hurt, and it caused me to walk away from that life and find a wide open space to learn more about myself and about my faith. I’d been attending another church, too, and got called in for a “talk” with the pastor. He called me an abomination (based on Deuteronomy 22:5) and said that I must repent of my gender. He said lots of other things that were highly unpleasant. But by that time I was secure in myself and certain that I was not condemned for who I am.

Overall I have been very fortunate in faith. My wife sent me to get support from Northern Lights Metropolitan Community Church. So in June 2013 I went to a service, one of the many scared people who come through the door. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. MCC is now home and the people there are cherished family. It’s been very difficult at times and through everything MCC has been a rock of support. After about a year, I was preparing to leave MCC and to walk away from Christianity forever. But in October 2014 that changed. I surprised myself and formally became a member of the church, publicly renewing my baptismal vows a week before.

I needed this renewal for two reasons. Firstly, I was baptised under another name, another gender, and was a very different person then. My present is a changed life from my past. I’d love to be re-baptised as Clare, but of course that’s not a theological option because baptism is a one-time event; but I needed to publicly express that, as Clare, those vows I made as ‘him’ still stood, more firmly than they ever did in the past.

The second reason was even more important to me than the first. Over the previous eighteen months my Christian faith died a slow and painful death. Church services were torture for me. MCC put up with my many words, my complaints, and my deep pain through that process.

My faith deserved to die. It really did. Good riddance to it! The root of my faith was self-hatred, self-denial and self-rejection, arising from a firm belief that I was no good. Much of that came from received beliefs about my gender and consequently my near-constant urges to self-destruct. My faith helped to destroy me, to eradicate myself, for twenty-three years. It was immensely important to me, but it crushed me. Eventually I was able to leave that faith behind and rest secure in a faith that excluded any personal God. The plan was to leave MCC and never look back.

Yet throughout the whole journey I still believed in MCC, her vision, her people, and the place of healing that the church is. Solely because of certain people there, I stayed.

Then something changed. At church one evening in October 2014, everything suddenly clicked. I could sing the songs, pray the prayers and knew it was OK to receive communion again for the first time in a long while. I was extremely surprised that night to find myself on my knees, hands in the air, lost in worship and thankfulness to the God I didn’t believe in. The ‘God of Surprises’ entered again and renewed my world, my heart.

Faith returned. It’s a new faith, a far healthier faith, one that accepts the love of God, and one that can honestly say with the psalmist;

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well.

As I renewed my baptismal vows it was my freedom to be Clare, to be authentic, that I celebrated. More than that, I celebrated my return to faith: a very different faith from before. It was based now on self-love rather than self-condemnation, on freedom, love, grace, hope, acceptance, inclusivity, joy; on light and life, and on so much more.

The story has continued in the seasons since that renewal. The surprises keep coming and my faith is going in directions that I could not have considered. I now seriously call myself more of a Christian than I ever have been, though not constrained by dogma and doctrines. My Christianity gives me freedom and joy rather than my previous false Christianity of law and self punishment. In short: Hallelujah! For I am set free. f