Hey my name is Alex, but you probably don’t remember me as “Rachel” if you were around for the ‘98/’99 school year. I was painfully shy and awkward back then. Though, if you were around you may have seen a chick that always wore a ball cap and a grungy pair of airwalks (topped off with a long black trench-coat) with her skirts.
I grew up in various GARBC churches, was homeschooled for highschool, and sent off to SUMMIT (a VERY conservative worldview indoctrination camp - thing) the weeks before coming to Cedarville. There we were warned sternly the dangers of secular education (which I didn’t have to worry about ;) ) and homosexuality. “Don’t become a homosexual,” we were admonished, “and if you do, don’t come crying to me when [insert list of ‘consequences’].” I came to school repressing my sexual attractions as well as I could, even if I failed at hiding my gender non-conformity. I left after two terms due to severe depression. One of the most pivotal memories from my time there was a special lecture that was given one afternoon. I think it had something to do with debate, but I remember very clearly the woman who was talking saying that she had the gift of prophecy and had she been born a man, she would have been a preacher. She said this very matter-of-factly with no bitterness or sorrow. My heart sank. My spiritual gifting profiles always scored high in prophecy and I wanted to be a preacher, but knew that God didn’t approve of women in that kind of leadership capacity. I left depressed and angry.
During my short stay at Cedarville I had spent some time locked up in my dorm chatting with a church acquaintance from back home. We became online friends and then real life friends when I returned to home to Binghamton, NY. The next fall she enrolled in a local Bible college. One afternoon when I was visiting her dorm I told her that I needed to take some distance from her. We had grown close, and I knew that it was too close for me and my “weakness.” She was hurt and confused so I took a risk and admitted my romantic feelings for her. Even more confused than before, she admitted that she had feelings for me as well. I spent most of that fall sneaking into her room and hiding under her bed during room checks. I was on campus so much that a lot of the students knew me a “camo girl” (due to that fatigues I was always wearing). That relationship was every bit as dysfunctional and intense as you’d expect a first time lesbian relationship between two young internally homophobic Baptists to be. I truly felt that what we were doing was wrong. I cared, too, which didn’t help my depression. She didn’t care about the “contradiction” and wanted us to have children. We broke up (badly) and I tried to do the ex-gay thing for a bit, crying bitterly for weeks “battling” in prayer and listening to Focus on the Family and desert stream ministries as well as devouring books and resources from, the now defunct, Exodus. I even married a man as I started to pursue the ministry through the Free Methodist church. They had rid me of that nonsense about a woman’s place in leadership. A part of me was still miserable, though.
One fateful Sunday afternoon I headed to the little gen-X church plant my husband and I were involved with. We went to church separately that night because he was doing something else earlier in the day. Apparently one of his friends had just started dating someone from the singles group in our parent church. My husband offered to give them both a ride to the new church. He had to pick up something from our apartment and on the way he was talking about his new bride, “Rachey-this” and “Rachey-that.” As he approached our street the new girl realized that she was riding with her ex’s husband. I can’t imagine the nausea she must have felt at the prospect of seeing me (I was not a great “ex” back then). So after 3 and a half years, I ran into my ex-girlfriend.
The hermenuetics that led me to be okay pursuing ministry had me second guessing the clobber texts - oh, the slippery slope. I made a hard decision to return to my first love, a love that I had made a commitment to. Somewhere deep down, even “Bondage Breaker” (the spiritual warfare guide I had gone through with some church counselling) couldn’t pray away that vow. That was in 2003. By 2006 I had been immersed in queer culture enough to have a good understanding of gender identity and was hit with an epiphany that set me on the road to “becoming me.” I began my hormonal and social transition to Alex. I am now confident, happy and so glad I rejected the advise that perhaps this was just my “thorn in the flesh.” I no longer believe that some folks are born to lead a life where happiness and righteousness are mutually exclusive. I don’t have to “just get by” relying on grace. And despite those who think my trans* identity is an affront to God, I do not believe that “God made a mistake.” I am thoroughly grateful for this journey and the things I would not have experienced otherwise. Though my conservative Baptist family doesn’t have much contact with me, I have a wonderful family of queer sisters, brothers and siblings of non-specific gender, as well as 2(.5) kids with my wife (legally - YAY, NewYork!). For a time I lay-ministered in a small Metropolitan Community Church congregation here in Binghamton - letting the queer and allied folks here know that God loves them unconditionally. That chapter, too, has ended and I am now starting to get active with the Unitarian Universalists - a tradition that can accommodate the breadth of my varying (a)theologies.