My name is Aran. I am a man with breasts. I was born with a female body and tried to live as a woman for nearly 39 years. As hard as I tried, though, I always felt like I had a huge hole in the middle of me. I tried to fill the hole with many things over the years: food, television, church, boyfriends, sex, books. Nothing ever filled it until I found my manhood. I didn’t want to be a man. I fought the very idea, but as much as I struggled, I couldn’t let go of the fact that it made me feel whole. I was afraid that I’d lose my job, my friends, my family. I was convinced that no one would love me because I felt so unlovable. How could I ever hope to live as a man? Fortunately, I still have my job, my family, and lots more friends.
As for love. In my struggles, I railed against God. How could God do this to me? What did I ever do to deserve this? Luckily, some very good friends of mine showed me that they loved me as I was and told me that it was okay to yell at God; God was big enough to take it. In the midst of my struggles, I was led to attend Quaker Meeting for the second time in my life. I felt something and went back the following week. When a woman asked me if I was coming back, I came out to the group as transgendered and was welcomed warmly. A man said, “You are safe here,” and I knew that he spoke not only for himself, but the whole meeting. Over time, the members of the meeting proved those words. They helped me become the man I was always meant to be. I truly knew what it meant to be loved and held in the Light.
Coming clean about some things takes a radical action of the Holy Spirit. The radical working of convincement is when the Creator God makes your heart pound, grabs hold of you by the shirt, and pulls your soul into a realm that seems terrifying. Before you know it, though, you are led on a journey of spiritual self-awareness and a love for “the other.” One afternoon during worship sharing at Lake Erie Yearly Meeting’s annual session, the Inward Light convinced me that, in my response to God’s love and grace, it is not about rights, and never about being right, but about being in right practice. Rather, it’s about Orthopraxy, or love as an active and material response to God’s love and grace. My sense of convincement during this worship sharing pulled me out of the realm of rights-based understanding of equality and integrity, and to a foundationally loving relationship with the “other,” a sense that every person is not simply worthy of love, but is simply loved beyond human knowledge. Because God loved me, I could get over my terror and be convinced to share that love with Aran, a man with breasts.
I have always had gay and lesbian friends. Living in Detroit, I was aware of the spectrum of human sexuality and the intricacies of intimate relationships, both sexual and nonsexual. Yet, in the community that surrounded us, which was catastrophically impoverished, transgendered persons were objects of humor, scorn, or pity.
Most transgendered folks who were visible in public space were prostitutes. Others simply frequented their own places: bars, coffee shops, and night clubs that were hosts to the Detroit Lesbian/Bisexual/Gay/Transgender (LBGT) community. For me, there was a big difference between gay and lesbian individuals and cross-dressers, whom I considered to be campy. When I tended bar at the Temple on Cass Ave., Thursday night was always “Trans” Night, and it seemed to be all about fun.
However, in my heart and my mind, I wanted nothing to do with transgendered individuals. I marginalized transgendered individuals, but not in the sense of refusing them equality or a right to enjoy what everyone else can. I marginalized transgendered folks by excluding them from relationships with me, or the potential for relationships to develop under any circumstance. It was purely prejudice. Even during my time as a “devout” Christ-centered Friend, it was only about rights, and never about right relationship, or, right practice—the pure activity of loving the person next to you and inviting the other to sit beside you.
Shortly after I got to Lake Erie Yearly Meeting’s annual sessions last year, a man mis-gendered me. He asked, “Are you a techno guy? Techno girl?” I didn’t know how to respond to that because people I’ve not met before always call me “sir” now that hormones have dropped my voice two octaves and caused me to grow a beard. I think I mumbled, “Guy,” and carried on with the rest of the conversation. The man’s remark, though, threw me into a tailspin. I wondered if the man had seen my breasts and gotten confused. Was it time for my breasts to go? I didn’t want to get rid of them, but maybe it was time.
I was still muddled the next morning when I joined a small group for worship sharing. The query was about managing our time and resources better for our own sakes and the earth’s sake. I spoke about transgender people feeling the need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on surgeries and other procedures for their own comfort, so they won’t be mis-gendered by other people. Wouldn’t it be great if people could just respect us as we are, so those dollars could be spent to change the world for the better?
A little while later, the assistant clerk opened meeting for business by reading an epistle from the Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns (FLGBTQC) Mid-Winter Gathering. It was so beautiful that I cried, and then Scot rose to affirm what it said, which touched me even more. Sometime later, I was able to catch up to the man who mis-gendered me from the previous night and talk to him. He was glad that I did because he was unsettled by the incident, too. When I asked him what happened, he said, “I knew you were trans, but I couldn’t remember which way you were headed.” We both realized that he had made a simple mistake to which we both reacted poorly.
That afternoon, we gathered for meeting for worship. I rose to say how happy I was to be back here with my friends, and I felt positive energy move through the whole room. After worship had concluded, I realized that Scot was sitting next to me. I thanked him for his kind words that morning. He replied, “No, thank you. I always knew the importance of LGBT rights, but now I feel the love behind them.”
Listening to Aran minister about simplicity, the thousands of dollars transgendered people felt they had to spend transforming their appearance, I suddenly realized that rights had nothing to do with, well, anything. Right relationship had everything to do with building community through love. As Aran shared about his friends and his own body, I suddenly realized the great damage that I had done to the “other” and to myself. Transgendered identity had nothing to do with “camp” or preferred presentation. It had everything to do with deepest identity, the quest to love oneself and be oneself. Transgendered individuals are not about performing on stage shows and being divas, but about the ability to love. Momentarily terrified by the thought of experiencing deep love, I thought about the character of Christ and realized the importance of Aran to my community.
During the worship that followed our worship sharing, ministry was powerful and full of the love known through our measure of Light. And, when Aran was called upon to minister, I could not resist the draw of the Light to get up and sit next to him. This was not a sense of reconciliation or asking for forgiveness. Aran may have held no knowledge of my prejudice. It was simply a call to understanding that to be in a relationship, it starts with worship. Aran and I didn’t become the greatest of friends. There was simply the knowledge that we both had a deep sense of relationship, and it had an effect on us both.
I have long held a vested interest in engaging Christian communities to affirm the worth of every human being. However, it was always from a place of Christ-centered justice. Now, I often say that it is not about human gender identity, or, for churches, a matter of civil rights. It is truly about love and the experience of love and conviction—convincement—that can only be produced by our Inward Christ. I have no problem saying that for a few hours last July, Aran was the salvific spark in my soul—an unwilling and unknowing messiah—whose ministry of integrity saved me from self-righteousness.
Being transgender has taught me that miracles like this happen all the time. But being transgender and also Quaker has taught me some remarkable lessons. I have very little control over anything in this world, so it’s best to just let things be. To look beneath the surface, to find truth and understanding there. To trust people and believe what they tell me. (If a very masculine looking person says that she is really a woman, I believe her and call her female pronouns.) That people are really good at heart because I have witnessed, firsthand, being nurtured and held in the Light. That all people are capable of great change, and I need to treat them accordingly. And perhaps most importantly, to love all people, radically and freely.