Tomorrow I’ll be traveling to see my friend “Victor” ordained as an Episcopal deacon (you can read more about Victor here). I’ve been looking forward to Victor’s ordination for years. On his journey to the diaconate, he has overcome barriers that would have deterred most of us. Besides being a transgender man, Victor has a serious chronic illness, and he lives in such extreme poverty that his tiny SRO is the finest home he’s had in years. Yet none of that stopped him from answering God’s call.
One thing almost stopped him, though. In my former church, “Pastor Kevin” was the gatekeeper for the process. Any church member who sensed a call to ordained ministry had to get a “yes” from Kevin before taking the next step. When I felt a vague call to serve the church, Kevin suggested I consider becoming a deacon. (I’m glad I chose not to enter the process; it would have given Kevin even more power and presence in my life.) In one of life’s cruel injustices, Victor’s strong and genuine call got a flat “No.” “It’ll never happen,” said Kevin. “The church isn’t ready for a transgender deacon.” Thankfully, Kevin was wrong. When Victor moved back to his former hometown, he found strong support from his church.
Ironically, some of that support now comes from Kevin’s wife. After she and Kevin moved to Victor’s city, “Monica” was appointed to the committee on ministry. She helped oversee Victor’s discernment process, and she is now one of his biggest cheerleaders. And — I will likely see her at the ordination. As you might expect, Monica is no fan of mine. Judging from how she acted toward me after I filed my complaint, I would guess Kevin threw me under the bus to save his marriage. But that doesn’t matter. Even if she spurns me tomorrow, I will always be grateful for the way she has supported Victor.
A more pressing question: will I encounter Kevin? I haven’t spoken with him in the four years since I left my former church (I’ll be writing about that anniversary in a few days). On three occasions, I spotted him from a distance at public events. Those sightings always upset me, and that’s why I was so glad when he moved out of my city. But I am stronger now. Even knowing that I might see him tomorrow, I’m not afraid. When I walk into that church tomorrow, I will carry the collected strength of the survivors’ movement. I don’t know what will happen, but I am not afraid.
And yet it took me months to decide whether to attend, and weeks to decide what to wear — as if my outfit will matter to anyone but me! Last week I frantically scoured my closet and the stores for clothes that would make me look friendly yet unapproachable, bold yet unobtrusive, attractive yet sexless, powerful yet invisible. Miraculously, I found an ensemble that works. More to the point, it makes me feel safe. I told my husband, “This outfit is my armor.”
If I’m seeking safety in a suit of clothes, I guess I have to admit: “I’m not afraid” is a bit of a bluff. Frankly, I am afraid. I don’t know what will happen, and I don’t know how I will handle it. But I do know I’m stronger than I was. Tomorrow afternoon, I will walk into that church as if I belonged there. I will walk in as if I were an honored guest. Because to Victor, I am.