“What I really want is for all the many gendered possibilities in the world to be, not normal, but rather profoundly ordinary and familiar.”
—Eli Clare, in Exile and Pride
It was my first Sunday in the pulpit of the congregation that I serve. I’m not typically a worship leader and felt particularly nervous this Sunday—not because of preaching, but because it was my first time taking a public role while wearing a skirt and presenting as more feminine.
I was raised as a boy. People look at me and see a strong, healthy young man. I have an invisible disability and am a gender-nonconforming person, however, and people get very uncomfortable when what they see doesn’t match their expectations. I was also raised with the southern conservative teaching that church is about conformity, fitting in, and being respectable. Anything that could make people uncomfortable, ask questions, or draw any scrutiny was not allowed in church. (Thank the Heavens that I haven’t attended a church like that in decades.)
I still come to church with a voice ringing: Don’t rock the boat; be who they want you to be. That voice and conditioning are at odds with everything the faith traditions that I love tell me about myself and my relationship with the divine. The challenge I face is to share the authentic and sacred truth inside of me.
That morning, I began the service with, “My name is Zeb Green. My pronouns are they/them.” I’ve got my scraggly beard, brand new skirt, and cute scarf, and I am here to share a word or two about love. It’s just who I am.
At coffee hour following the service, one of the youth came over to me and said—with so much pride—“I’m a they/them too, and my brother is a he/him.”
I would have loved it as a kid to have a church that encouraged us to listen to our heartfelt yearning of self, to express ourselves with authenticity, and had adults who modeled those behaviors for us. That’s why I work past the inner voice. That’s why I risk uncomfortable situations, strange looks, questionable comments about wearing a “kilt,” and the microaggressions as people figure it all out.
Trans and nonbinary people are under attack in this country. The pressure for all of us, especially our youth, to hide our true selves is immense. I’m so glad that we have faith traditions that embrace multiple paths through life. I’m grateful that I risked scrutiny to appear as my true self, and deeply touched that in doing so, I was able to affirm the journey of my congregation’s youth.
Beloved Spirit, Thank you for seeing, knowing, and loving us all in the full mystery and unfolding of our being. Through you, we remember that our souls yearning to know our true selves, true identity, and true loves is stronger than any conditioned voice of doubt. May we be blessed with the grace to support all people exploring the ever unfolding journey of self discovery and pride. Amen and Blessed Be.