“How do you come out…for your kid…to a large congregation? I’ve gone to the same church for practically my whole life. My 10 year old has started to transition and I am tasked with having that conversation with our church. I want to respect my daughter’s wishes but the truth is I feel nervous and I don’t know the best way, even just logistically, to go about it. Help??”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Jamie Bruesehoff
Thank you for writing in! I appreciate both your love and support for your daughter as well as your honesty about your feelings in this situation. This can be a tricky and emotional journey as a parent, but we can love and support our transgender children while still honoring our own feelings. The key is seeking out appropriate help and resources for our own part of the journey so that we can process our feelings and problem solve situations while continuing to be a steadfast support for our children who are bravely stepping out in their identities. Kudos to you for doing exactly that.
When my own child socially transitioned to live as herself at eight years old, church was a sticky situation for us. We are lifelong Lutherans, and my husband is the pastor of our church. Not only is our faith important to us, but so is our faith community and my husband’s employment. It felt like a lot of pressure. In fact, church was the only place I ever put a restriction on her gender expression. She had started to transition, and she wanted to a wear a dress to church for the first time on Easter Sunday. I don’t know about your church, but at our church Easter is a pretty big day for attendance, a day when people who maybe haven’t been to church since Christmas come to worship. In our case, it’s also an extremely busy and stressful day for my husband. He didn’t feel equipped to answer questions or address any potential conflict on such a busy Sunday, and I knew there would be so many people who didn’t know our daughter very well and might not understand enough to give her the positive reception we wanted. So, I told her no, and promised her that she could wear her dress to church, but that she needed to wait a week. It felt awful for both of us. I can’t say that it was the right or wrong choice or what I would do if I had to do it again. What I can say is that it’s been two years and the feeling of asking my child to delay showing up as her authentic self, to church of all places, has stuck with me since that day.
When it came time to share our daughter’s story with our congregation, we first had to answer the biggest and scariest question: What if it doesn’t go well? What if they don’t support her? This isn’t a fun question to answer, but it’s wise to prepare for the worst. We knew above all else, our daughter had to come first. If they didn’t support her, then we wouldn’t be able to stay a part of the community. In many ways, this decision was simple. At the same time, the weight of how painful and complicated leaving the community would be was not lost on us.
With that out of the way, we were left with how exactly to do the telling. I recommend not starting out with a big announcement or anything public that can invite drama. It can be helpful for people to have space to ask questions and wrap their heads around the news. One of the key leaders or ministers is often a good place to start. Assuming they are affirming of your child’s identity, they can be helpful in the rest of the process, both with support and advice. In our situation, we told key leaders and active members that we had good relationships with and, when we felt comfortable that they could do so respectfully, we asked them to spread the word informally. It was kind of like putting the rumor mill to work for us.
By the time our daughter showed up at church wearing her dress and going by a new name, enough people knew that they were able to welcome her with open arms. People who weren’t aware raised an eyebrow or turned to ask the person next to them who was often able to share the news. When someone asked us, we simply answered, “Oh, she goes by Rebekah now.” We were willing to have conversations, answer questions, and do the educational piece, but we weren’t willing to do that in front of our daughter. We made that clear by keeping our answers simple and following up with people after the fact.
Unfortunately, there’s always a chance that someone is going to have an issue. The church has a tumultuous past with the LGBTQIA community. Faith communities can vary widely in their response, and within any particular faith community, not all people will agree. We didn’t need everyone to agree with us or approve of our daughter’s identity. We did need to keep her safe. Transgender children show us immense strength, but they are also deeply vulnerable. We weren’t going to let anyone tell our kid there was something wrong with her, let alone tell her that in the name of God.
Be firm and clear in your expectations of people. For example, for us that meant ensuring that no one was going to misgender her or call her by the wrong name. If someone had an issue with our child’s transition, our parenting, or anything else, they could speak directly to us. If they couldn’t meet those expectations, it was going to be a deal breaker.
I hope and pray that your church welcomes your daughter with open arms and that you are supported by your community. If they do not, please know that there are affirming congregations who boldly and joyfully proclaim God’s love for all people including those in the trans and non-binary communities, inviting them to show up with their whole selves to church knowing that the Body of Christ is stronger when we are all present. I’m sure you don’t want to leave the church you’ve attended for most of your life, but if it comes to that you can look online for a welcoming faith community. Many denominations have their own organization committed to working toward the full inclusion of the LGBTQIA community in the church.
You mentioned that you want to respect your daughter’s wishes, and I’d encourage you to do exactly that. Get a few key support people in place for yourself. Take it one step at a time. Assure your daughter that she is exactly who God made her to be. Your support for her during this tricky time will stay with her forever, and regardless of what happens at church, she will know she is loved by her family and by God.
Jamie Bruesehoff is a writer, speaker, and advocate. She is mom to three spirited children including a transgender daughter. She holds a Masters of Arts in Theology from Gettsyburg Lutheran Seminary and has worked in outdoor recreation and children’s fitness. You can find her on her blog, I am totally *that* mom, writing about life, advocacy, self care, parenting, faith, and more. In her free time, you’ll find her playing in the woods with her family. Follow her on twitter @hippypastorwife.