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Living authentically as a transgender priest in the Christian Church

Editors Note: Today’s guest column is written by Father Shannon T.L. Kearns, Priest of the Old Catholic Church for Transgender Awareness Week. Due to the personal nature of the post, Editors will be highly monitoring the comment section. Please be reflective of Christ-like love while engaging in the comments.

When I first realized I was transgender I tried to ignore it because I was terrified. For a long time I thought that I could simply be transgender without transitioning (and to be sure there are some people for whom that is a path, but for me it was not). I tried to make it work because I knew that transitioning might cost me a lot. I knew there was a chance that my family would disown me. I knew that I was called to ministry and I worried that if I transitioned I wouldn’t be able to answer that calling there might not be a denomination willing to ordain me (and even if a denomination ordained me there might not be a church willing to hire me).

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Father Shannon T.L. Kearns

I agonized over my decision, not because I had doubts that transitioning was the right thing for me to do, but because I worried about what it could cost. There was a moment, after months of soul searching, where I realized that even if I lost everything; even if my family disowned me and the church abandoned me, that I needed to transition. In that moment I knew that it was either transition, and show the world my authentic self, or live a miserable half-life — hiding the best parts of myself away.

In that moment I felt peace about my decision and knew that whatever came down the line I would be okay. In all of my soul-searching, though, there is one thing I never doubted; that I am a beloved child of God and that God was with me. In fact, trusting in the Gospel message of Jesus; that Jesus came so that we could have an abundant life, is what gave me the courage to transition. I knew that God would not be pleased if I hid my true self. God wanted me to live abundantly and freely.

I am one of the fortunate ones; I didn’t lose my family. I found a new denomination that was more than willing to ordain me and I am the priest of a new church community; a community that is centered on the lives of the marginalized and believes that [tweetable]if the Gospel is to be good news, it must be good news to those on the margins.[/tweetable]

Sometimes the church talks about transgender people as if we are “out there” in the world somewhere, but the reality is that we are in your churches sitting in your pews, we are called to ministry, and we too are faithful followers of Jesus. Our experiences of our gender identities and expressions have a lot to teach the church about openness, authenticity, and what it means to live full and abundant lives.

On November 20th the transgender community observes the Transgender Day of Remembrance. It’s a day where we speak the names of all those who have been killed in the last year because of their gender identity — mostly transgender women of color.  Every year there are far too many names on the list. Every year the brutality they faced in their final moments is horrific; brutality enacted because they are living their lives authentically, because they dare to be true to who they are.  Every year we speak their names so they will not be forgotten. We speak their names to remind ourselves that we are human and worthy of love. That people who speak of us and treat us as if we are trash do not get to define us. This day is an act of remembrance but it is also an act of protest. A moment where we declare our humanity in a world that treats us as inhuman.

My hope for the church is that they will begin to listen to the voices of transgender people telling our stories and that they will honor our humanity. The church needs to allow transgender people to speak about our own experiences, in our own words, and to share the gift of our authenticity with the church. So that maybe someday, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, there won’t be anymore names on the list.

Shannon T.L. Kearns is the first openly transgender man ordained to the priesthood of the Old Catholic Church. He is the co-founder of Queer Theology and the founding priest of House of the Transfiguration in Minneapolis. He is a writer and a speaker. He can be found  on his website and twitter

About the author

Eliel Cruz

Cruz is a contributor on religion, (bi)sexuality, media and culture at The Advocate, Mic and Religion News Service.

6 Comments

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  • Thank you Rev. Kearns!
    Fellow Christians, no person is an “it”, that’s degrading and in opposition to seeing each person as in the image of God. God planted the seed in Trans* people who discover their true identity later in life, they transition and receive new names (not unlike many people in the Bible).
    Scientifically, all major medical associations consider transitioning the best response to a recognition that gender identity does not match the body. It’s as natural as eye color, and similar to people who, due to being born with physical characteristics of male and female bodies (intersex) don’t fit neatly in binary “man” and “woman” categories.
    Beautiful diversity in creation, transcending our understandings of God!

    Trans* people are some of the most stigmatized, persecuted, and marginalized, with NO legal protections, and crimes against them are rarely classified as Hate Crimes. A community that suffers with extreme harassment, arrest, and great poverty. With Transgender Day of Remembrance coming up, my heart is heavy and goes out to you, Rev. Kearns, and all Trans* persons.

    -Thomas

  • Thank you for this beautiful piece. Historically, Jesus brought his message to people on the margins, and he is still with us there today. Understanding that God loves us as we are, and wants us to be whole, opens up new worlds and allows us to use the talents God has given us. Congratulations on your transition and on being called in an open and affirming church. Wish I could come worship with you!

  • All of what has been said here is fine and I understand it but trying to fully live it is one of the most difficult things l have tried to do. I wish I could say I am living it now. But, I have to admit I am not only scared to continue but also maybe not trusting enough in God as to the out come, or even trusting enough in myself.

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