Welcome to the Coming Out Post I’ve Been Putting Off for Years

The first Pride celebration I attended was held on June 28, 2015. It was a small and joyous affair in a small town in the autonomous region of Galicia, located on Spain’s Atlantic Coast. None of the few pictures I took came out well, but here’s a picture of me from earlier that same day, shortly after two friends picked me up at the airport:

Spanish Galicia Coast Me June 28 2015

These same friends, a lesbian couple I’ve known for years–my friendship with one of them goes all the way back to my undergraduate days–took me to Santiago de Compostela on July 2. They gave me the moral support I needed to buy myself women’s clothing for the first time, despite intense anxiety.

Me in Santiago de Compostela Spain July 2 2015
Santiago de Compostela, July 2, 2015.

We also visited a wonderful lesbian bar that is, unfortunately, now defunct.

me_bar_1_2015-07-02 15.48.07

My friends in Spain were among the few people at the time to know that I had come to identify as queer. That much has been known to anyone who follows my social media for some time now, but I have never discussed it publicly at length. These old friends, however, also knew then what has begun to become known to the general public only in the last few weeks: namely that during the previous year, when I was poly dating a queer woman in Moscow (I was doing academic research and teaching at a Russian university at the time), I had realized, and admitted to myself despite anxiety about the likely fallout of eventually coming out, that I am a transgender woman.

In the aftermath of that moment, I told a few people privately that she/her pronouns had come to feel most natural to me, though I wasn’t ready to make any kind of public pronoun change. And roughly two years after that milestone in self-discovery, I also learned that not only can I admire male bodies without qualms (something that had already been true for a good while), but that I can also crush on men as well as women.

Since that time, I have attended and enjoyed more Pride-related events. And each year, as International Transgender Visibility Day and then Pride Month come and go, I consider writing about my queerness, coming more fully out of the closet, and yet I haven’t–until now. Sure, I tried to push myself in little ways here and there. On a number of podcasts, I’ve said something like “In many ways, I identify more with women than with men.” Part of the reason for this sort of hinting and beating around the bush in not the most visible of spaces is that I’ve been trying to push myself and to build up the confidence to come out more fully. I was raised evangelical, after all–sometimes I still have to be passive-aggressive with myself.

To be honest, under normal circumstances, I don’t think I would have been brave enough to come out as a trans woman before I had gotten to a point in life where I could begin transitioning. The only reason I am doing so now is because I felt the issue to be more or less forced during an internecine exvangelical falling out in which I became the target of a smear campaign on social media. If you want to read about how I was harassed by people I thought were my friends, how I responded, and the attendant drama, there’s a Twitter thread for you here. (Note that the dress I’m wearing in the selfie is the one I bought in Spain in 2015.)

And so here we are. I’m facing my hangups and fear around discussing my queerness and my gender in detail, and while my anxiety has certainly flared up, I’ve also received an outpouring of support on social media that has warmed my heart.

Where I’m From

It took me almost two decades after I began deconstructing evangelicalism to feel like I had rather a lot to say about it and that I was ready to do so publicly. And as I’ve noted before, survivors of abusive indoctrination in toxic Christianity are often able to change our minds about something intellectually–for example, the existence of hell–long before we stop feeling the old emotions around it. I was afraid of going to hell, deeply, viscerally afraid, for a long time after I stopped believing in it. Interestingly, it was only after I recognized my gender that I really stopped being afraid of hell, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. It seems to me that continually repressed queerness was an undercurrent to my deconstruction that needed to be resolved.

So here’s a bit of my story. I was raised as a boy in Jesus Land, USA. I was not particularly good at being a boy and was precocious enough to get away with a degree of non-conformity, but only a degree. Even that seems radical to the denizens of Jesus Land. Growing up, I felt “different,” “off,” uncomfortable in my own skin–so I learned to live in my head. Becoming cerebral as a coping mechanism helped launch me from Jesus Land to Stanford, where I got my Ph.D. in Russian history, so thanks, I guess? Of course there are no tenure-track jobs in the field, and I still sometimes wonder whether I should have dropped out of grad school at some point.

As a kid, I read a lot, but I grew up in an environment in which sexuality was “a choice” and genderqueerness unheard of. At times I got teased for not conforming to masculine stereotypes; a popular boy in high school seemed to find my enthusiasm for Alanis Morissette endlessly amusing. I would shrug these things off by retorting, “I’m comfortable in my masculinity,” but the only thing that ever really meant was “I like girls.” Which I did, and not at all only romantically or sexually.

Later in high school, when I could drive and I had participated in some programs outside the evangelical bubble, like taking summer honors classes at Indiana State University, I got looked at askance for frequently going out with girls–far more often than not, not on dates, but simply because we were genuinely friends. (In fact, what little dating I did do in high school was accompanied by high anxiety on my part because of purity culture.) As a German and pre-grad history major at Ball State University, I did two of my major college history papers–my primary source lab project and my undergraduate thesis–on women’s studies topics, just because that’s where my interests fell. And the more I became my own person, the more it seemed that most of the people I was drawn to as friends turned out to be women and/or queer.

But my understanding of gender remained thoroughly constricted as I slowly and painstakingly broke away from evangelicalism, feeling like “an impossible person who shouldn’t exist” and trying as hard as I could to stay in the fold so that I wouldn’t rock the boat with my family. Any conception I would have had of a transgender woman would have been of someone far more femme than me who was attracted exclusively to men. I know this is silly, but I simply had no awareness that gender and sexuality operate independently, or of the rich diversity of gender identities and expressions out there.

I was 33 (hey, just like Jesus when he was crucified!) and, oddly enough, living in Putin’s right-wing Russia, when I finally had the intellectual toolkit and life experience necessary to realize that I didn’t have to be a man. And, given that I had never really “felt like” a man–even though at that time I had grown a beard and started trying to part my hair on the left side rather than on the right, where it parts naturally, in order to appear more masculine–wow, what a relief that revelation was. It was now okay to admit to myself and to people I trusted that what I really wanted was to be “one of the girls.” At the same time, it was scary, because this was not something that was going to go over well with my childhood friends and relatives from Jesus Land. I’m luckier than most former evangelicals with how things are going so far, but it hasn’t been a walk in the park.

So, where do we go from here? I don’t know. As most of readers of Not Your Mission Field are probably aware, after giving up on the tenure-track academic search and deciding to continue pursuing writing and public speaking rather than letting myself get bogged down in the dead end of adjuncting, I moved back in with my parents in Indiana to see if I could make a go of it and to save money toward getting back out on my own. I had been teaching at the University of South Florida in Tampa for three academic years, first as a postdoctoral scholar and then as a visiting instructor in the Honors College, but then I ran out of good-but-not-permanent instructor jobs with benefits.

In the coming weeks, I need to figure out whether I’m ready to move yet this summer to some place where I can get into therapy and start moving ahead with changing my gender expression, or whether I don’t find that feasible at this point. Right now, when journalists and editors ask for my pronouns, I think I’ll stick with they/them, and I won’t bite anybody’s head off for use of he pronouns. But she/her really does feel best. I like that Chris is a gender neutral name, and it’s fine if people use it, but I’ll be increasingly going by Chrissy. When I am finally able to transition, I suppose I will document that on this blog. I’m still scared. The Trump regime is waging a full-on assault on trans rights and existence, with the enthusiastic backing of the kind of right-wing Christians I grew up among and as. But, as much as I didn’t want to speak it so fully and publicly at this point, this is my truth. And this is the first Pride Month when I’m finally speaking it out loud.

Photo on 3-21-16 at 1.53 PM
Hello world, and happy Pride!

Thank you for reading this post. If you’d like to support me and my work going ahead, please check out my Patreon and/or my newly created CafePress shop, named after this blog and featuring co-branded designs, Not Your Mission Field.

66 thoughts on “Call Me Chrissy

  1. Welcome to you, dear sister Chrissy! Sending you joy in your becoming ever more whole, and ever more the self you discover yourself to be. May courage, integrity and love light your way forward.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Chrissy, and welcome! I am so impressed by your bravery. Thank you so much for sharing some of your journey. I look forward to buying some merch soon. I also look forward to getting better acquainted with you. I have followed you on twitter since 2017, though not closely enough to be aware of your fuller personal story or the issues with the TERF group that tried to hurt you. I think you’re awesome and amazing and again, just looking forward to knowing you and your work better. Sincerely, Carol @cutthetreacle

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would be honored to call you Chrissy. I’m happy for you, and I support you. 100%! I’m bawling my eyes out after reading this. Everyone deserves the right to live our short time on the planet in peace. Why does it have to be so damn difficult? Sending cyber love and hugs your way and and wishes for nothing but support and peace. You are an amazing person, and you’ve touched my life. Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. My dear Chrissy,
    I was so glad to find your writings, again. We had communicated a few years back. I had recently left the evangelical church at which I worshipped nearly 20 years. I left after losing my lifelong faith/belief.
    Somehow, your news doesn’t surprise me. I think we both were searching for answers to questions we didn’t even realize we had at the time.
    I still struggle with grieving the loss, as there was consolation in the hope it sold.
    I am happy for you. Thank you for being so brave and sharing your story. For all the progress we make, there’s still a battle against closed minded people and idiotic leadership.
    Good luck!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. ❤ ❤ ❤ So many ((hugs))!!!! ❤ You have me in tears. Congratulations! I love the name Chrissy! Bless you! (yes, I'm an atheist, but as you said, the emotions can still be there even after we change our minds!) 😀 😀 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hooray for discovering and being your authentic self! I’m seeing some happy “soft butch” energy in those 2015 photos 🙂 You might like Grace Lavery’s e-newsletter The Stage Mirror (find her on Twitter @graceelavery) which is very insightful and funny about becoming a trans woman.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. YES! Mazal tov, Chrissy, & thank you for sharing this piece of your story & yourself with us. Wishing you strength, happiness, & bravery in your continued journey & transition.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Chrissy,

    Have been following your work on Twitter with deep interest. (Work for a progressive Lutheran ELCA synod, with a strong personal wish to Do No Harm, so follow #emptythepews to get educated on how churches can be toxic). Congratulations on your coming out–I am so sorry that it wasn’t at a time of your independent choosing, but I hope that the freedom you now feel will be a comfort.

    Peg Kerr
    @pegkerr
    (mom of two bi daughters, author of The Wild Swans, a novel that examines how the culture of Puritanism in American worsened the spread of the AIDS epidemic)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Tried 3 times so far to leave a message for you, wordpress does not like me.

    Congratulations on finally becoming your true self! Welcome to the world, Chrissy!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Kim! And sorry, if you haven’t commented before then I have it set up so I have to approve the comment. But once I’ve approved you once, it should work in the future without that step (I think).

      Like

  10. Hey, Chrissy! Congratulations on coming to a major landmark on the road to being your true self! My former spouse is making the same journey, and I have seen how difficult that road can be. You have friends on social media who will stand by you & support you (including me!) I hope you also have friends in RL who will do the same. May the mundane world details work themselves out in a way that brings you both prosperity & happiness!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Chrissy,
    Your honesty and transparency are beautiful and will most likely encourage others to be their authentic self. I only wish our culture was more loving and affirming. I wish you peace…

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Hello Chrissy! 🙂 I wish I could say all the perfect things to express my feelings, which are many, and your awesomeness, which is much, but for brevity’s sake: I am 100% for you and for all you’ve posted. My childhood was in deep country; I was raised by believers of zeal and harsh judgment; and my resource was a house full of books, from which I built castles, shields, and weapons. Books saved my life and got me out. And my role models, mostly from fiction, let me follow my gender path.

    I’d love to hear more about that early process for you, if you ever feel like sharing and feel safe to do so. If not, you’re still amazing, and I’m still grateful to have found your voice in the ether. (And your pics! Without unpacking my Pretty™ baggage, let me just say they were beautiful to see.)

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I stumbled upon this by accident. As a recovering evangelical (now, oh horror, a witch!) I applaud your honesty and bravery. May you have the best life ever!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I wanted to thank you for the article about exvangelicals and transphobia on Rewire, but they took away the ability to comment!

    So, I just wanted to say that I too am trans; I too tried to wear the gender shoes that won’t fit for much of my life — and, I too am an ex-evangelical.

    Sadly, even when one leaves evangelicalism, the toxicity and shame can take a while to evaporate from ones soul.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Congrats, Chrissy. I’ve been following you on Twitter for a while now, I’m glad to have gotten to know you, even through the lens of Twitter and social media. Best of luck with your transition and I hope your life as Chrissy is amazing. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Congrats, Chrissy. Sending you BIG LOVE. Also, I’d like to invite you to visit me in MI. I have a lovely spare room, which is also my library, and a garden. Come for a personal healing retreat; take as much time as you like for solitude. Pet the dogs. Relax. For real; any time you need to get away! (HUG) ~lisa eddy

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Congratulations Chrissy! Welcome to womanhood (?). I mean, you’ve been a woman for a long time, it’s just now I know.
    Actually, didn’t know who you were until about an hour ago when I saw one of your posts shared on Twitter. I have thoughts. Much of what you say about being ex-evangelical resonates strongly. I may send you another message later, or I might just chew on these thoughts on my own.
    Anyway, it’s great that you’ve publicly proclaimed your gender identity. You go, girl!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Chrissy, I am navigating this from the other side– my son is exploring transitioning to be female. He’s 17 so of course I’m worried he doesn’t fully know himself yet and, in fact, in the year since he told me and we started at the gender transition clinic here, he’s (I still say he because that is currently how he publicly identifies and says it’s fine with him for now) changed his mind several times about the degree to which he wants to transition or even if he’s trans. So for now, we’re simply holding the full onset of male maturity at bay with hormone blockers and a teeny tiny dose of estrogen to keep him from having hot flashes. We are giving him the time and space to figure things out. We fully support him. I won’t lie: it’s hard to think of this child who I’ve known as a boy since before he was born and whose name I carefully chose not being that person any more. And yet I know that who he is at his core doesn’t change and I also know that a healthy trans daughter beats the heck out of a miserable, suicidal son. (He hasn’t been suicidal, but the attempt rate for trans people is frighteningly high, so it is something that concerns me). My parents, his grandparents are like yours, Chrissy, believing it’s a choice and believing it’s a sin. I dread the day they finally realize what is happening because as awful as it would be, I’ll choose my kid over them. Chrissy, you mentioned being afraid of this administration’s attacks on the transgender community. This has been my biggest fear for my son. He could, if they get their way, lose his health care and his employment protections. It’s scary. Anyway, all of this to say I don’t know what it’s like to be you on your journey (I’ve always been a woman and never had any doubts about it), but I know it has been challenging and you are a strong person. I wish you all the best and all the happiness as you start to live in the body you feel you were meant to have all along. I hope you are surrounded by supportive people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words, and I’m sorry you have to worry about evangelicals and the government when it comes to your child. For my part, I’ve had a lot of suicidal ideation over the course of my life. I’m glad your kid hasn’t been suicidal, but sometimes figuring out one’s gender is a process, and it’s great you’re supportive of that.

      Like

      1. Chrissy, it is through the brave actions of people like you who are ahead of my kid that will make things easier for him. You are breaking ground and making a trail; his journey will be a little easier because of it. So thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

  19. Chrissy,
    I continue to enjoy everything you write and am seeing more healing in my own leaving of exvangelicalism thanks to you sharing your story. I’m glad to call you a sister and hope hormones are everything you want them to be!! They will likely give you energy as well as curves. Enjoy the transition. I’m with you 💯 and will shout down anyone on Twitter that tries to shame or silence you. Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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