When I was four years old, my grandmother taught me to play Baptist hymns on the piano. “Oh, How I Love Jesus!” was the song of my heart. It did not take much to convince me to love Jesus at that age. I heard about him three times a week in our missionary Baptist church, and all I knew of him was love. I knew that he encouraged children. I knew that he was of God, who was good. I knew that every song we sang on Sunday mornings referenced his gentle love and generosity.
All I knew of Jesus was love. But the traditional narrative for young, queer and trans folks who were raised in a conservative, evangelical church is not typically a story of love. Rather, it is often a story of fear and loneliness. I feel privileged to say that my spiritual story did not begin with heartache but with the love of Christ. I am grateful for the foundation of love that I learned from my grandparents and our church in rural Arkansas. Jesus lived there.
As I grew older, I learned that sometimes the church believed certain things about God that I did not believe. I questioned my church’s theology, its relationship to the marginalized, and its unwillingness to welcome queer and trans folks. My pastor, a dear friend and mentor, told me that there was no room in our church for those sorts of questions. It was then that I first tasted the isolation that many of my LGBTQ friends have encountered in modern Christianity. As a result, I forgot, for a long while, that deep, deep love of Jesus that my heart had sung about and experienced in my more tender years. I ached for corporate worship experiences but felt excluded from my church. In those days, my prayers were mostly whispered in solitude. Even so, Jesus lived there.
In a final attempt to fit into some sort of faith community, I enrolled in a Southern Baptist college. While there, I experienced some of the darkest moments in my life, followed by moments of resounding clarity. I realized that the spirit of God dwells in all people, even in me (the transmasculine heretic who had somehow lost his grasp on a literal interpretation of scripture). I sensed that the Spirit of God was calling me to something that my childhood church rarely mentioned: authenticity.
During my quest for that authentic life, I found that my Baptist college was an unsafe environment for me. I was required to live in the women’s dorms, and my professors and classmates refused to call me by my chosen name and pronouns. I knew that if I began my medical transition, which was necessary for my mental and emotional health, I would be asked to leave the school. So I left. Doing so meant that I sacrificed the time and work that I had dedicated to obtaining my degree, but it also meant that I was free to pursue God and my gender identity, authentically and on my own terms.
Since then, I have gradually grown more aware of my connection to the Divine. I have encountered God in song and in prayer, in scripture and in nature. I have watched God weave together communities in the unlikeliest places. I found God on the front porch of a house church in rural Georgia called Church of the Misfits. I found God in the Eucharist at my queer friend’s ordination to the priesthood of the Episcopal church. I found God when I prayed naked in front of the mirror for the first time, honoring my trans body as an image of the Creator. I found God in a quiet Friends meetinghouse in Memphis on the day that I decided to apply for Quaker Voluntary Service. I found God in my two years of service for QVS in Portland, OR, and in the tears and laughter of West Hills Friends Church during the weeks after our removal from Northwest Yearly Meeting because of our welcoming stance.
I found God in my authenticity. I found God in my liberation. I hope to continue finding God in the authenticity and liberation of the oppressed. Because that’s where Jesus lives.