To Leelah’s Parents and All Religious Parents of Transgender Teens: Trust God, not fundamentalism
I treat many transgender teens, from ages 14 up, and I meet many scared parents (although I meet many trusting, open parents too). The most scared are those who, paradoxically, could have the most trust: religious parents. Religion is supposed to help people of faith feel trust, hope and awe in who God has created their children to be.
It’s not God’s fault Leelah died. It’s the fault of those still-unlearned institutions of religion, which are, after all, run by people. People, even good clergy, do not always have their ears tuned to God’s message of grace. Fear and ignorance bedevil even clergy, theologians, and people in the pews. We all have to stay open and keep learning, even about what we fear: God makes all things new, right?
If your church is still uninformed and not yet open to God on the matter of transgenderism, then better to put your faith in just God, Who created your child transgender. If your kid had diabetes, you’d let the expert physician suggest insulin, wouldn’t you? Five hundred years ago you’d have been told to try exorcism. You’d have likely agreed. And your kid would have died of diabetes. Today, we know what works for gender dysphoria, and it’s a combination, for religious teens and their families, of spiritual and medical and social transformation. That takes a pastoral therapist with specialized skills in gender dysphoria. Or a gender specialist with a pastoral counseling background. We exist! In every denomination, even if we work “in a closet” in some cases.
For Christians, faith, hope, love are the fruits of the Spirit when we follow God without reservation. For Jews, awe, called yirah in Hebrew, is not simply translated as the fear of God, but as, in fact, awe. Awe, astonishment, and profound surprise and joy at the good God brings out of difficulties to those who trust their journey. Abraham listened to God tell him to drop everything he learned from his father, the polytheist idol-maker in town,and go out to find himself, not knowing where God would take him. Is your certitude that transitioning is wrong the idol you worship? As people of faith, how frightening it is to let go and let God!!! But we must, whether as cisgender parents or trans people.
Parents, of course you are scared for your child. But until your own church or shul proclaims to understand and honor the special spiritual journey of transgender people toward the wholeness God intends for them, you can’t consult your church’s pastoral counselors. They haven’t been trained. How do I know this? Because as a pastoral therapist who is also a gender specialist, I hear this story every week. Recently I gave a talk to pastors, pastoral counselors and chaplains at a conservative seminary on how to minister to the spiritual and mental health of transitioning people. No stones were thrown at me as I suggested transition is a life-saving blessing. People came up later to tell their stories of how God is showing them who these beloved transpeople are, and what they mean to Him. Grace is unfolding. Trust it for the sake of your child’s life, for your child’s authentic wholeness. Wholeness is holiness.
So what is this wholeness? for transgender people of any age, it means not having to pretend to family and world to be what one has not been destined to become. Leelah needed to hear that God loves her, that God made her as she is: transgender. God doesn’t make mistakes, but God makes some people transsexuals too. And transsexual means to be in transit between bodies until one rests ‘at home’ in the body that fits the mind, even the soul. Parents, you need to know your family journey for your transitioning child is blessed by a God of love and mystery.
May the soul of Leelah, God’s Beloved, be safely with God. May you transgender, gender dysphoric, and transsexual people reading this, trust your spiritual journey and be safe from self-harm. May you scared parents trust God to know what is best for your child.