I grew up Catholic. My family instilled in me a deep-rooted faith in some higher power. I went to Catholic school for most of my life. I went to church every Sunday. But I struggled with my faith when I first came out as gay and even more when I came out as transgender. For years I have had to put up with homophobic statements from all levels of my religious community — from the members and priests of my local church all the way up to the Pope. I quickly became cynical of religion — a cynicism that only increased when I came out as transgender.
I questioned God, questioned why He made me this way, if He had made a mistake, if I was a mistake. I hated my body and the God who put me in it. And since that moment, I admit that my faith has not been the same.
But last Tuesday I attended a prayer service led by Victoria Rue, an ordained Roman Catholic female priest — this was mind-blowing for me, because in all my life I had never met a female Roman Catholic priest. According to the law of the Roman Catholic Church, women are barred from priesthood. She also happened to be lesbian-identified. (And her partner is a Presbyterian. How cool is that?) I could not have imagined that a woman like her would exist.
Her sermon was about how God leads us all from behind, that God isn’t the type to lead you through life by the hand, but blows a gentle wind on our backs. Oftentimes we go on a roundabout, time-consuming way, but we do end up where we need to go and learn more about ourselves on the way.
I could have heard the same sermon from a priest at my home parish, but listening to Victoria, listening to this priest, listening to someone like me, someone I could relate to — someone who I could tell probably dealt with the same struggles I did — it felt different. More empowering. This was the first time I conceived that I could possibly be both a Catholic and transgender, that perhaps being made transgender is not as much a mistake or a curse and more a blessing and a new, more interesting way to perceive the world.
Common rhetoric used today is that people like me were “born in the wrong body.” When I first came out to myself, I felt that way. But after a lot of reflection, experiencing life in this body has led to a lot of insights and realizations about my identity. I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I ended up at Stanford, one of the most transgender-friendly schools in the nation. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I dreamed of writing a column since my days doing graphics for The Stanford Daily as a lowly freshman. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence I gained an amazing readership both inside and outside the Stanford community. I have come to realize that if there is a God, He has been leading me from behind, especially when it comes to my transition. I have reached my masculinity in an unconventional, roundabout way. And I admit I was resentful to God at first, but my journey to manhood has taught me a lot about myself. Looking at it that way, being transgender can be seen as a gift, as a means to a level of introspection and appreciation that I don’t think I could have reached as a non-transgender person.
Religion will always be a part of my life. Being a Roman Catholic isn’t just going to church every Sunday. It’s part of my culture. It’s part of me as much as my identity as a transgender person, as much as being a Stanford student, an English major, a human being. And I’m glad that I met Victoria. I think I was meant to meet her, so I could finally come to terms with my faith after years and years of battling with myself. And for the first time, and I never thought I’d say this, I’m thankful to God for making me this way and giving me this life.
What I learned from reflecting on my life and reflecting on Victoria’s sermon is this: what I’m doing now is the groundwork for something better. And I don’t know what that “something” is quite yet, but I know it will be great. The quality of my life and my self-esteem has improved since my dark, frightened days as a child, and I could only imagine that as I look out into the blank and terrifying future — that good things are coming. I know they will.
Want to talk about God? Email Cristopher Bautista at [email protected].