I have remained mostly silent in light of the recent deaths by suicide of transgender people. I would like to say that I have some sort of honorable reason for that silence, but the reality is that I was just too afraid to say much.
You see, I’ve been running in and out of the closet for years. Not the queer closet–I’ve been out of that for some time now and I think it’s safe to say that door is locked tight, thank God.
But the door to my closet of depression and anxiety still flies open more often than I’d like to admit.
What I mean is, I live with depression and anxiety, but my willingness to speak boldly about their reality is fleeting at best. And so what I’m able to say in times such as these has been quite limited; limited because I’m afraid that if I say too much people will know that I’m not so different from Leelah Alcorn or the too many others like her. I have kept quiet because I’m afraid to admit that I know what it’s like to be so anxious that I spend an entire day in my bed, or plan my meals around which events will make me anxious enough that I’ll get sick, or cry for no reason, or even write a letter saying goodbye.
I have kept quiet because I’m afraid of what people will think when they learn (as if they didn’t know) that my transition–my life–hasn’t been perfectly smooth.
I’m afraid that sharing bits about my mental health history will somehow taint my transgender identity.
I’m afraid that if my post-transition life isn’t an example of something glorious then people will start to doubt whether it was such a good idea after all.
But it was better than a good idea–it was the Creator’s perfect idea. And yet, even after journeying into the man that I am, my depression and anxiety remains. The way they have played out has certainly changed since I’ve transitioned and in many ways lessened. I no longer experience many of the social anxieties that used to be nearly debilitation, and my depression is nowhere near as drastic; I can’t even remember the last time my body felt too heavy to go about my day. Neither depression nor anxiety run my life anymore, and yet, there they sit, just beneath the surface, just as much a part of me as my transgender identity.
It’s impossible for me to say how much of my mental health is wrapped up in being a transgender man in a world that doesn’t want me to be and how much of it just has to do with the chemicals floating around in my brain.
To be honest, I don’t really think the “whys” of the situation matter. What matters is that it is a part of me; it’s just as much a part of me as the hair on my head and the scars on my chest.
What matters is that our pews are filled with people who are afraid to admit that sometimes they cry and they just don’t know why.
What matters is that we have pastors who are caring for three congregations on days when it feels impossible to get out of bed, and they don’t feel like they can tell anyone about it. It’s a part of them. And as the Body of Christ, that means it really actually is a part of us; it’s a part of our identity whether it’s in our own individual brains or not.
We have to start taking that seriously–taking our reality as one Body seriously. We have to start walking head-on into honest conversation, even when it feels like we’re walking straight into a pitch black abyss, because only then will courage reign supreme over the darkness so many of us try to hide.
Honest conversation has saved my life more times than one in more ways than one, and I’m certain it’s done the same for other members of our Body, too.
So we place our bare selves in the hands of our community and we ask them to handle us gently. We stretch out our open palms with words of courage and comfort, promising to give ourselves as we are and to receive the lives of others with great care and compassion.
Because we, the church, will only be a safe place when we admit that Leelah–as a transgender person and as someone seemingly struggling with depression–is not some radical exception to the rule in our communities; rather, she’s one of us, just like some of us, loved by God like all of us, and worthy of all of the love and energy we can muster.
This is modified from a post originally published on the Reconciling Ministries Network blog on February 2, 2015.