In the process of talking about something else somewhere else, I realized something that I haven’t previously given a lot of consideration, or at least have only considered peripherally: in the church we (or at least I) was taught that God loves us, that if we trust in Him then everything will work out perfectly, and that even if we have a little trouble, it’s part of His big plan, and there’s a reason for it, and all that. How often have you heard John 16:33: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

We are raised to believe that God loves us, but never to believe that God will test us or challenge us or give us something to deal with that seems overwhelming. We are always told that No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Cor 10:13).

The thought that things could be so overwhelmingly bad seems not to have crossed the mind of most of my Sunday school teachers. That such an important thing is left out of our religious educations is a massive failure. For me at least, growing up in America precluded the experience of tribulation that Jesus talks about in St. John’s gospel, but growing up trans made me confused about that quote from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

I grew up thinking that being gay was a horrible thing. I think other writers have done a better job analyzing why the church excoriates gay people to the degree it does, but maybe it will suffice to say that gender roles were rigidly enforced in my environment. Being a crossdresser, which is how I started out viewing myself, was something I thought of as worse than homosexuality, or at least on par with it (c.f. Deuteronomy 22:5).

The reason I say that I started out viewing myself as a crossdresser is because I had no idea what a trans person was, or how or why people got sex changes (which is how we all thought of GRS in elementary school), and at that point in my life I hadn’t given a lot of thought to it. When I started crossdressing, I hadn’t even hit puberty yet. I don’t think I was naïve enough to think that dressing in girls’ clothes made me a girl, but I do think I completely failed to understand my own feelings, that there was more to it than just wanting to dress like a girl. Thinking back on some of my earliest experiences, I remember a strong feeling of dysphoria with my body even then: I wanted breasts, I wanted my penis gone. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but I’d say I was probably 9 or 10.

My parents caught me in my mother’s clothes when I was 11. I’m sure you can guess how well they reacted to it. I don’t really blame them for it because I think they understood it less than I did. My Dad asked me if I did it because I was curious. His tone made it sound like that might have been normal. I didn’t get any other option, any other choice, so I had no idea what to say in response. My options were curious or not-curious, and I thought about what not-curious might entail. I admit that I hadn’t the slightest inkling, but I knew that curious was definitely something I wasn’t, and I needed an out. So I lied. I said I was curious.

I had no words or vocabulary to express how I felt. I had no idea why I felt the way I did, or if it was even unique or important. I wasn’t curious in the conventional sense of the word, but I wondered if maybe every boy was curious about what it’s like to be a girl, and that my feelings just weren’t a big deal. When I read the book of Deuteronomy for the first time, I understood that gender roles were a big deal, and that wanting to be a girl or even pretending to be one wasn’t okay.

I struggled through my teenage years (and my twenties) with this unresolvable dilemma. I didn’t understand how to deal with the overwhelming temptation/desire to be a girl that I viewed as my own sin. It contributed to my depression certainly, and also made me question my faith. How could I reconcile my impotence against sin with my belief that I was a Christian, with that quotation from 1 Corinthians? I had, as I’ve said before, started cutting as a way of punishing myself or showing God how much I really wanted to be a good, straight little boy. I couldn’t stop my cross gender feelings, and I had no idea what to do. Fast forwarding to the time I was 30, I was utterly hopeless.

I decided to buy some clothes that felt like me, and to stop shaming myself as a crossdresser. I wasn’t sure how I was going to reconcile crossdressing with my faith, but I knew that I had to stop beating myself up over my failure to be someone I wasn’t.

The internet, as it turns out, is a marvelous thing. I found out that were actually transgender Christans, and that they had support groups online that weren’t interested in making you straight or masculine or whatever people thought would make you not-a-crossdresser. Lee Heller’s newsletters were instrumental in helping me understand that God wasn’t against me. There’s a link to some of her writing here, if you’re interested.

Lee’s writing focused a lot on putting the Biblical rules in context and perspective, on talking about how God loves what He has made and doesn’t hate anyone. The proscription against crossdressing in Deuteronomy, I’ve seen it argued, was to prohibit the practice of a certain kind of fertility ritual, not to eliminate all gender variant expression. And that makes sense, given the subject of those first five books of the Bible. They’re about how to serve God, not how to be a jerk to others that are different from you. Some of Lee’s writings weren’t a lot different than what I’d heard in church, except it was being applied to me, a transgender Christian, with no expectation that it was going to free me from my sin of gender variance. Instead, it freed me to express my gender identity as I understood it, as I understood myself to be, and that was hugely different.

Gender variance in the Bible isn’t actually discouraged. Eunuchs are praised in a way that can make me feel like God really cares about us. I feel like the linked verses from Isaiah say something like You may not be able to have children of your own, so here’s how we can make up for it. It’s not equal to what you lose, but it’s important and it *honors* you.

I don’t think the Bible promises that such roads are easy. Jesus said For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have made themselves eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” It sounds to me like it’s a hard thing to accept, a hard thing to deal with, not just for yourself, but for others, too.

Which brings me back to the point of this post: that there are hard things that we deal with, and sometimes those things feel like they’re going to overwhelm us. Sometimes they make us feel depressed, sometimes they make us feel suicidal. And reading the Bible, or being a Christian, or praying, or going to church, don’t affect those things. There are aspects to our identities that have been misunderstood in the past, both by others, and maybe even by ourselves.

I am not saying that faith is useless or evil, or that it oughtn’t to inform our actions. I’m saying that sometimes faith is the wrong tool for the job: sometimes a person just is the way they are, and trying to beat, pray, or exorcise it out of them is about as useful as trying to use a screwdriver to pound nails. That we can be so confused about something that we would try to use our faith to resolve it is a tragedy.

I’ve been depressed, raged and stormed against God, called Him every profane word I could think of, because I couldn’t understand why He fucked me up. I couldn’t understand why He wouldn’t help me, or turn me into a girl, or at least help me be a good straight cisgender boy. And I remember something that Lee Heller wrote: that maybe to God, asking Him to fix this is like asking for my eyes to be brown instead of green, for all it might really matter in His economy. To expect that God ought to fix it and make it right isn’t necessarily correct. In short, I think that’s more like expecting faith to do something that faith doesn’t do.

I remember watching the movie Luther a few years ago, and Martin decided to bury a suicide in the churchyard despite the fact that the Catholic Church considered suicides to be damned. Unable to remember the quote, I looked it up, and it turns out to have been a quote from something Martin Luther actually said: “I don’t have the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil.”

To be overwhelmed by the power of the devil, in my mind, is to think that God is supposed to make something better but that He fails to do so. As a result, we think that He must hate us, or that He’s teasing us and we despair. In short, we have no hope because we do not have that which we need. Contrasting against the same God who said, You are worth more than many sparrows (Matt. 10:31), makes God out to be a liar, the despair sets in because we have no solid foundation, and we wither and die.

I think understanding the depths of despair, acknowledging that people can face things that they aren’t prepared for is much healthier than a belief that God will keep any ill from befalling us. Realizing that God isn’t going to automatically make everything better for us, simply because it ought to be His will is one of the first steps. Dealing with those challenges on our own is what it really means to have free will. Otherwise we’d all be cured of whatever wasn’t right with us, and God would make us all into cookie cutter copies of each other, though I admit He doesn’t seem much interested in that, either. Understanding that it doesn’t work that way and that some challenges are uniquely our own, for better or worse is what it really means to be our own people, and to be individuals.