Highlight: A very special story about Janine
"It's just that I don't look like Janine yet..."
She/Her/Hers — Point Richmond, CA — 50s — Transgender Woman — Former Episcopalian, Current Humanist
Janine is a Freelance writer whom is balancing jobs between social-media ghost-writing and popularizing tech issues writing with what she calls "a ‘job-job’" in retail. She is a transwoman - “of a certain age,” who’s been medically transitioning for a mere 7 months. Before acknowledging her true gender, she had lived a life of a gay man for decades.
In terms of sexuality and gender, her's is anything but a linear path. She was always one of those ‘sensitive’ children, a boy who liked the friendship and company of little girls, slight in build, almost always buried under a mop of long and curly hair, and, tellingly perhaps, with remarkably few of the interests that boys her age were expected to have. Growing up in the starchy and morally conservative environment of a Boston suburb, she assumed she was simply "somewhat odd" and settled into a comfortably introverted existence from Middle through High School. University years came and she discovered that being gay was the closest thing to being a correct identifier of who she was - and began her 20s as a sexually active gay male.
A nagging suspicion that she was still ‘different’ from many of my fellow gay friends led to periods of quiet introspection punctuated by equally long sexually promiscuous times. Her search to discover her true self had to wait a very long time, until gender fluidity was finally seen as something real and not as some aberration or eccentricity that would be outgrown or clarified as something else.
After decades of not knowing who she really was, or not allowing herself to acknowledge what she hid from the world (and myself), she began male-to-female gender transitioning about 7 months ago. It has been, according to her, "with no equivocation, the finest, the best, the most transformative decision of my life." Her community of friends and lovers, sympathetic physicians and supportive gender therapists have given her a new calm she hadn't experienced before.
Her parents were “non-attenders,” at formal religious institutions but early on in her life, an English relative convinced her parents that a ‘young boy’ should attend church, and that it would have to be Episcopalian. She enjoyed those years of regular church attendance. It was a “High Episcopalian” church, she enjoyed the pomp, the religious garb, the choir, and, truth be known - albeit decades after the fact - her first kiss and "first fumbling" awkwardness at a physical relationship. His name was Peter.
She had never thought about it in these terms til this very moment, but involvement with the church gave her a way to forgive herself for things she felt were wrong (memories of playing dress-up with other little girls, having girl friends style my hair, my infatuation with Peter). Being at Church gave her a sense that all guilty things can be forgiven. She mentions how to her it seemed like it was a ‘permission slip’ to be a little more of who she really was.
She was an alter boy who was responsible for some of the flower arranging, for lighting and extinguishing candles, for arranging the ‘hosts’ (the communion wafers) on silver plates, etc. She was also, for a while, a member of the choir. She remembers being pleased at herself for being such a good student about the fundamental tenets of the faith as she prepared for her confirmation service and she remembers being in awe of the visiting Bishop who presided over the confirmation ceremony.
Janine states that her early involvement with the Episcopal Church helped her learn how to ‘compartmentalize’ her existence. Unfortunately, the flip side to that ability to isolate sin from redemption was equally a reminder that what she was doing was a sin, an abomination. Yes, she could be forgiven for what she did, but the moral burden of knowing that she was sinning became intolerable to her.
In retrospect, she thinks the lasting effect with years as a practicing Episcopalian was that it gave her a yearning for larger truths. She genuinely felt the presence of more transcendent realities when I was involved with the workings of the Church, but she also felt the condemnation of other parts of her life and her reaction was to look to other spiritual traditions. It was a decades-long journey through Taoism and Buddhism, and from Friends (Quakers) to Universalists.
She never found a spiritual home for herself. She never found a tradition that could move her emotionally and simultaneously offer sincere acceptance of who she was. Or better yet, who she knew she had to become. Not Episcopalianism or any formal religious organization. She'd say she's settled into the general belief often called Humanism. She believes in the innate goodness and capabilities of people. She believes that people can do a lot of things but that the measure, the true measure of a human being is how they treat others.
She often thinks she has made her personal commitment to a Humanist perspective on two Christian attitudes. One is the ideas that “we are ALL broken people,” and the other, “we shall know them by their works.” She does believe we all do things that others may not understand and will therefore condemn. But she also believes that knowledge of doctrines will always be trumped not by what we say, but by what we do.
Janine on her faith today: "Being regarded as a gay man in these early years of this century, here, in the San Francisco area, is as nearly a non-issue as , say, having red hair. I know this is a bubble of a cultural milieu, but its what I’ve come to expect as what’s right. And expected. Being transgender is still something that goes beyond the comfort level of a lot of people. And being in transition makes it even that much harder for many people to come to terms with. My religion is my personal business. I don’t share it with others, nor would I care if they either lauded - or condemned - it. For whatever reason. I think for those that want to believe in something bigger than life, something transcendent, something that reminds us of the potential of the human spirit - there’s a lot to be said for picking and choosing - selectively - from a number of traditions. Religion - at least as how it is to me - becomes something intensely personal."