What was your experience being queer and religious?

Especially as an adolescent, I was not religious. I didn’t feel like there was a space for me: I was very gay, very transgender, and I felt like I didn’t belong in religious spaces. I’d internalized the idea of, ‘God made Man and Woman, and you can’t be transgender because it’s in defiance of God.’ I interpreted that as ‘Well, I guess there is no God because here I am.’ I exist. My experience is real. My pain is real. But I also always believed in something a little more spiritual than just the mundane world we live in. I like to believe that there is a spirituality in all things and plants and animals and our connections to each other. So religion has interested me, but when I was an angry 14-year-old, I cast it aside and said, ‘I’m an atheist.’

How did you first find the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers?

During quarantine, I had time to sit in my room and think. I spent part of that time in religious introspection. I researched Quakers and I thought they were cool because I don’t like rules and Quakerism doesn’t have a lot of rules—there’s no correct way to be Quaker. At the Quaker meeting I attend, there are people who are firm believers in Jesus Christ, and there are also people who are like, ‘Yeah, I’m Buddhist or I’m Agnostic, or I don’t really know what I believe, but I like the people and the community here.’ Community is a huge part of  why people are drawn to religion. That’s why I joined the Quakers—I was alone and scared and I needed a group of people that I could come home to. 

How has the group shaped your identity and understanding of religion?

I haven’t been involved super long. I joined the Quakers in October, and in Quakers, there’s an official process of becoming a Friend. I haven’t gone through that process—I’m currently an attender —but I’m putting a lot of serious thought into converting. I leave feeling better, and it’s something I want to have in my life for a while. 

It’s definitely changed my perspective on religion and that I actually can be religious. I’m in the process of rediscovering my connection to spirituality; it’s fun seeing that and I feel like my connection to God is growing. 

When did you come out as transgender?

I came out at 13 years old to my family and I started testosterone when I was 14. I’ve been extremely blessed in that I have a very accepting, supportive family. My parents are spiritual and they’ve always believed that God loves me just the way I am. They’ve worked hard to make sure I have everything I need to be secure in my identity, making sure I had all my documents changed and that I got my hormone replacement therapy. 

Because of my parents, I’m secure in myself as a trans person. And it’s becoming a bigger part of my identity as kind of a spite against anti-trans legislation. A lot of the legislation is attacking gender-affirming care for youth, which is what saved my life. There’s a real chance that instead of being out here living my life, doing internships, meeting people, and doing normal teenage stuff that I could be six feet under the ground. There was a really dark time in my life and I couldn’t see a way forward. But I made my way forward, and I want every trans kid out there to be able to make it to a trans adult.

What would you tell other queer teens who are going through a similar struggle?

I would tell them, ‘First of all, you are not a mistake. You are loved and you have a place in your religious community.’ In the book Something That May Shock and Discredit You, there’s a quote that I love: ‘God blessed me by making me transsexual for the same reason God made wheat but not bread and fruit but not wine, so that humanity might share in the act of creation.’ I’m not trans in spite of God, I’m trans because I was wonderfully and beautifully made this way. 

How did you feel about sharing your story?

It’s fun and I like it. I’ve always tried to be an open book. People are more likely to understand and be compassionate towards trans people if they’ve had a conversation with one of us and understand we’re real people with feelings and passions and dreams, not just scary talking [points] on Fox News. 

A lot of trans people aren’t comfortable with someone approaching them and going, ‘Hey, have you had the surgery?’ But I let the cis people in my life know that they can come to me for those weird trans questions. Sometimes people just want to live their lives without being asked what their genitals look like, but I’m happy to walk cis people through the process of hormones and name changes and what my genitals actually look like. Being published has been an extension of that and I hope someone out there can read it and learn that maybe there is a place for them in religious circles, or someone in a religious circle can understand that there’s a place for people like us.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com.

Support independent local journalism

Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.