Spiritual Beings Having a Human Experience
I can still remember when I first acknowledged that I was trans. It was the early ‘90s, and there were no clinics or special pronouns. In fact, I didn’t even know if there was the option for people born female to transition to male. I simply asked my psychologist if there was any way I could “become a man.” At that point, I had been seeing my psychologist for six years and knew it was safe to ask him such a question. After all, we had already navigated the process of my being homeless, sexually abused by two family members, being in a psychiatric ward, and having post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociative identity disorder at a time when such diagnoses did not exist. Why not ask about this, too? He was a kind-hearted soul whose therapeutic approach was Rogerian, and there were no judgments in his office. Fortunately for me, he was also progressive and remarkably intuitive. He wasted no time supporting me in the process of my transition from female to male.
Transitioning in the early ‘90s had its challenges. I quickly learned to be clever, and where to be and where not to be in order to survive. When the movie “The Brandon Teena Story” came out, I already knew that if the wrong people found out about my situation, I could get raped or even worse, killed. When you’ve been a victim under your own roof growing up, it’s even easier to entertain such possibilities. Despite the understanding that many thought AIDS was God’s way of expunging the universe of ‘people like me,” there was something in me that knew God loved me. And profoundly. I sensed a Holy Presence around me.
But it wasn’t just a sense of a Holy Presence that buoyed my spiritual process as I transitioned, it was also my common-sense approach through questioning that did. For instance, I could never understand how the Bible could say that God made men and women in God’s image, yet a person that embodied a little of both genders, or went from one to the other, could be wrong. How could that be? After all, if somebody was embodying both or had experienced both, wouldn’t that be some sort of cosmic or spiritual boon in which one could experience both aspects of God? It just didn’t stack up. And how was it that I could instinctively feel a loving presence in God when so many in the church seemed to be condemning me? None of that made sense, either. I came to the humble conclusion that it was humans in their brokenness that had a problem with my gender. How this understanding lodged itself in my heart, I will never know, because it certainly was not what I was taught in the Catholic church or schools I attended as a child. In essence, I learned that I could trust God. It was people I had to watch out for.
As I survey the political and spiritual landscape today, I see a lot of the same fear that I did in the ‘90s. What is different now is that we have a social media through which it can channel very quickly. More importantly, however, is what is different for me, which is my perspective. Over time, I’ve come to genuinely understand that people are not monsters. We are all humans on a spiritual journey, or as the famous quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin puts it, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” And I believe this to be true.
Despite how unsettled I am about our political landscape right now, when I take a long view, I can see that on a certain level, times have improved for trans, nonbinary, and queer people like me in this country. There is a space for us that did not exist before that is no longer solely subverted into an underground world. I don’t say this from a place of blindness to encourage complacency, but more to encourage people not to give up and to continue working for a more liberative theology inside and outside of churches and in the world. The progress from such hard work can seem incremental at times, with one step forward and then seemingly two back, but each step forward makes a difference for us. It really does. So, thank you for all you are doing, and you know who you are. It has made my life and countless others on this planet a better one.
Drak attended Claremont School of Theology where he earned an M.Div. in Interfaith Chaplaincy. He serves as staff minister at Claremont Center for Spiritual Living and works full-time as Director of Spiritual Care at RIVA Hospice. He also speaks and leads services on occasion at Upland Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ church, where he once served as Music Director and Elder.