The best thing I ever did for my mental health wasn’t going to therapy or seeing a psychiatrist or taking anti-anxiety medication or exercising or drinking more water.
What has helped me the most is quitting church about 6 years ago, after 29 years of attending and volunteering for multiple church functions a week.
Every single church I have ever been to has had teachers and leaders (at every level) blatantly and explicitly against LGBTQ people as a concept, who we are, and who we love. The shame, the misinformation, the fear-mongering, and the deep hatred surrounding LGBTQ people permeated my heart, soul, and mind every week for decades.
I believed with my entire heart that I was deeply flawed, and I cannot understate that enough.
And to address “my flaws,” church taught me that I needed to see how terrible and “filled with sin” I was. I was effectively taught to hate myself by pastors, counselors, small group leaders, and other church-goers who would profess “love your neighbor” in the next breath. And if you’re one of those leaders I knew from church reading this and thinking “surely not me…” Yes, even you. (And actually, there’s a good chance that I’m specifically thinking about you.)
There was no need for “formal” conversion therapy when the church built the framework for people to steer their own “conversion.”
People sometimes ask me “Did you know you were trans when you were younger?”
Here’s the thing…I didn’t know I could ask any question about myself. Much less a deeply personal one about my own identity.
How was I supposed to be introspective when everyone in a position of leadership — especially peers in leadership positions — taught me the only questions worth asking were about things external to me:
- how can I 👉 serve God,
- how can I 👉 worship Jesus,
- how can I 👉 get to Heaven,
- how can I 👉 avoid Hell,
- how can I 👉 interpret The Bible,
- how can I 👉 encourage other people’s salvation,
- on and on and on.
But the question “why do I feel like this” or “how am I feeling right now” were selfish, gluttonous, worrisome questions, and if you concerned yourself with Earthly matters — like your own nature and existence —you were questioning God’s Infallible Will. And there was no room for that. I was taught that our jobs as humans was to look away from ourselves and toward God.
And that behavior was rewarded by intrinsic self-hatred anytime I sat still long enough to consider my own self. And after 27 years, I stopped immediately. And I certainly haven’t missed the toxic environment at all.1
I want to give permission to anyone who’s entrenched in church culture and is struggling with feelings — about anything, not just LGBTQ stuff — to take a break from church for a while. (If you need an analogy from the Bible, then just remember that Jesus went walking in the desert for a while to find himself.)
I wish I could talk to myself from 20 years ago to speak kind, encouraging words to embrace her femininity.
I wish I could tell her to spend less time praying to God asking him to change her and more time loving herself.
And most of all, I wish I could tell her she is perfect the way she is.
- Yes, I know there are explicitly LGBTQ–friendly churches and pastors, but please do not invite me. I will never entertain the idea of attending a church ever again, regardless of their relationship with LGBTQ people. I’m happy to hear there are better options these days, but I still believe that using the same church “framework” does immense harm to people questioning their own identity. If you feel inclined to invite me to your LGBTQ-friendly church, first ask yourself why, then spend your energy on something else. ↩