Tonight I have hunted for my first profile picture on my “man” Facebook account from before I came out as a transgender woman and began the process of transition. But it’s not there. Neither is my penultimate picture – which was an image of St. Clare of Assisi.
There’s a Facebook bandwagon I would have jumped on: Post your first ever profile picture with your current one. Another version calls for a pre-puberty picture. Another version thinks that your first profile picture will be pre-puberty but we didn’t have Facebook when I was a child and it wouldn’t have run on a 48 kilobyte Sinclair ZX Spectrum.
But I did find the poem you’ll find at this end of this blog post. I posted it one week after coming out to myself about the whole “hey, I’m female” thing and calling myself Clare, back when the only people I’d talked to about it were Beth and whoever I met at Metropolitan Church (MCC) on my first ever visit there when I didn’t even know for sure what I wanted to be called in the place. The pastor, Cecilia, asked me my name when I walked in – a very scary thing for me to do because it was a psychological moment of the queer community becoming in some way “my people” rather than how I’d been taught to think for so long. I said I didn’t know. She just smiled and said, “Well you can be called whatever you want to be called here.” She’d seen it all before and I knew I would be safe enough there. Later, MCC was a safe enough place to lose my faith. I no longer believe in Jesus the saviour or in God. But I’d still gladly send any LGBT+ Christian to MCC if they needed support or somewhere full of acceptance.
By the time I returned to MCC, a fortnight later, I knew with total certainty roughly how I wished to proceed and definitely that I would be transitioning publicly at some point. A month after that I legally changed my name. When you have support at home and total support of your new found church community it’s a lot easier to just get on with these things.
There were quite a lot of queer posts too in the last months of my old account and some amazing arguments with a fundamentalist ex-friend. I enjoyed those arguments a lot because his zeal for his version of faith prompted me to do a heck of a lot of research about ways to be Christian and not homophobic, to know it backwards, and to be utterly sure that no true God was going to disapprove of me being me, and to do all the research very quickly. Those arguments were useful and he didn’t win converts. Eventually I could take no more though when he refused to ever call me Clare because that would be “compromising with Satan.” There were other friends I lost too but they don’t matter. They’ve been replaced by many more friends, friends who accept me even though I’m sometimes pretty difficult.
Interesting times for me. Difficult times too but they could have been a lot worse. Only yesterday I was talking with someone who has been rejected by her parent for decades because she’s queer. My path, my “coming out story,” was easier than that of many people once I decided to stop rejecting myself. When you come out to your wife and she immediately starts using your new name and your gender except with people who haven’t been told, never once making a mistake, and advises you on some excellent things to read it is helpful! With that kind of support all the other difficulties can’t stand in your way for too long.
I started a second Facebook account as Clare two weeks after coming out to myself at the suggestion of people at Liberty Church in Blackpool which I visited while staying in Fleetwood for a week. Great people. If you’re queer, like Jesus, and are anywhere near Blackpool I’d recommend saying hello to them. [The importance of commas: “Queer, like Jesus” is not the same as “Queer like Jesus.”]
Looking back I wish I’d done some things differently. There’s no point regretting how I socially transitioned but with foreknowledge I’d have changed some aspects of the process. I guess most transgender people can say the same thing. I wish I’d just come out to everyone on facebook en masse by changing my name and making a single announcement.
But I was terrified. I’d spent so long believing I was some kind of monster and had spent so long in conservative churches that consistently reinforced my belief. So I naturally thought most people would see me in a similar way. To begin with – until my mum accidentally outed me to everyone online, which turned out to be helpful – I could only find the courage to tell one person a day and every day I lived in dread and an overdose of anxiety hormones that they’d be horrible to me and walk away.
I was very surprised to find they didn’t. Shocked to find that most people couldn’t really care less that I was suddenly Clare rather than him, at least if Beth and Kit were okay. At times, because of my fears, I got far too over-defensive about things.
I also wish I’d come out at the Anglican church I was preaching at in a different way. I so nearly did. It would only have taken the addition of two words to a sermon I preached in July 2013. I didn’t know whether I’d say them until the time came and then bottled it. Coming out mid-sermon would have saved me a lot of hassle and would have given the congregation something to remember – just like I still remember the sermon in the 1990s at the Elim church in Aberystwyth when the pastor stopped talking, looked at us all, said, “I don’t want to do this any more,” and quit the ministry.
As it was I had to see diocesan pastoral people for counselling (what the hell?) and senior clergy and there was much worry about how to tell the congregation. I also got banned from preaching and still remember the exact words in which I was told that. I’d probably have been banned if I’d come out in a sermon but it would have been so much simpler. As it was the congregation weren’t perturbed by the news. I went back after the announcement was made – turned up in such cool clothes too. One person hugged me while telling me what good news it was. The congregation were fine. The organisation wasn’t. Five years on, the Church of England is introducing liturgy for a kind of transgender renaming and affirmation. That’s progress, albeit progress that’s appalled many of the more “traditional” Christians in the denomination.
Anyway, here’s a poem I posted a week after first calling myself Clare. Five and a half years later I haven’t gone grey at the temples. That’s something to look forward to and I will rejoice in it because I’ve overcome and am overcoming so much, especially related to mental health. Every grey hair will mean I survived, conquered, and lived as myself.
I am becoming the woman I've wanted,
grey at the temples,
soft body, delighted,
cracked up by life
with a laugh that's known bitter
but, past it, got better,
knows she's a survivor-
that whatever comes,
she can outlast it.
I am becoming a deep
I am becoming the woman I've longed for,
the motherly lover
with arms strong and tender,
the growing daughter
who blushes surprises.
I am becoming full moons
I find her becoming,
this woman I've wanted,
who knows she'll encompass,
who knows she's sufficient,
knows where she's going
and travels with passion.
Who remembers she's precious,
but knows she's not scarce-
who knows she is plenty,
plenty to share.
-Jayne Relaford Brown (Finding Her Here)