Written by Steven Liechty
I have been in music ministry since I was a toddler. I eventually became a church organist and have followed that path ever since. Since I have come to terms with my sexuality many many years ago and now I am in a loving relationship and engaged to be married next year, certain doorways are closing in the church music world for me. I have always primarily been hired by denominations (mainly African American) that were not supportive of homosexuality and, God forbid, the thought of same sex marriage. I have basically been closeted when it came to my church music positions, never discussing anything about my personal life, always avoiding the questions of "Wow, you’re a talented, good-looking guy— why are you not married yet ?" I usually try to make a humorous remark to deflect the true answer. Now with our impending marriage and wedding I am already dealing with negativity from so-called friends who had no problem with my sexuality but DO have a problem with me getting married to my partner.
I am doing my best to prepare myself for career doors to close due to the fact that I will not be ashamed of my partner or my marriage. However, my partner is of the mindset that I shouldn’t have to say anything, and why endanger career opportunities?
I just feel that with all of the struggles it has taken to make same sex marriage legal I would be doing an injustice to myself, and marriage, and to all persons who have fought diligently to have same sex marriage if I don’t go public. I am not saying that I am going to scream it from the mountain top, "I am gay and I am married to a man!" but I am not going to deny it if I am asked.
I am a 55 y/o pastor who is transgender (male to female). I am still in the closet, so to speak, as only my wife and a few others know. I was supposed to begin HRT this month, but after consultation with trusted colleagues, I opted not to.
One of the main reasons is my ministry. I have been in ministry 32 years and have no desire to step out now. I have been told that there is really very little chance that any church would hire me in this stage of transition. If I had already transitioned or been with a church a long time it might be different. Given that I KNOW I could not remain where I am as a pastor once I came out, I opted to not move forward with HRT.
Any advice you could give me will be greatly appreciated.
Dear Careerless Organist and Trans Pastor,
Because your letters strike similar themes of risking your church career in order to be your true self vis-à-vis gender and orientation, I decided to write to both of you together.
Careerless Organist, my first thought in reading your letter was, “you mean there are churches out there that still believe straight organists exist, like unicorns?” Forgive me—but they are deluding themselves when they ask you why a handsome guy like you is still single!
To both of you: as a straight pastor born into a body that seems like right for me, more or less, I don’t claim to know what you are going through. I have never had to make a decision like yours, or face the loss of income, the gossip and slander, the hostility to my person and the people I love, that you two courageous folk do.
But I know this: I know God made you exactly as you are. I know that you can stuff who you really are, but it will come out as depression, a deep sense of dislocation, a divided mind and divided heart.
I urge you both to take this new step in your vocation—to marry your outward self and your inward self, your private life and your public life. You will not only set yourself free, you will also encourage many others, and make the road a little smoother for those who follow you.
If the church is not ready for you—and you may be pleasantly surprised—you may find other ways to work your ministry, until it is. And that day is coming—it is coming.
To provide a check against my optimism, I asked a friend of mine, a trans pastor, for their take on your quandary, Trans, which applies to you both, I believe. Here is what they said:
“As I read our sibling's letter, I was overjoyed and heartbroken at the same time: overjoyed because she is honoring the Divine in her by being true to her Trans identity and heartbroken because she clearly doesn't believe she has the support around her to live out that truth.
The questions that came to me initially are:
1) How does she know she won't be able to remain in that congregation? I'm always amazed at how people come together around the hard work of welcome, especially when that work has to do with someone they care deeply about.
2) To what extent is she able to help "prepare" them for her coming out and subsequent HRT? (Does she feel equipped to preach on change and transition, what welcome looks like, etc.? Would she be comfortable offering a Bible study on gender experience and the eunuch? How would she feel about inviting someone or a group of people to come in and shoulder some of the work of educating the congregation about Trans experience and spirituality?)
3) Has she reached out to the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns for support?
4) My experience was that, once I was able to acknowledge my Trans identity, there was no turning back! I couldn't not move forward; it was too emotionally and spiritually debilitating not to. My fear for her is that she's going to decide not to move forward with HRT and it's going to keep her from fully living out her call in ministry because she's not fully showing up for herself and her own spirit.”
Beloved, we pray in the preamble to the UCC statement of faith: “God promises us…courage in the struggle for justice and peace.” This is what I will pray for you to trust in!
Bless you, and may you be a blessing,
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"Dear Theo" is written anonymously by three UCC ministers of different ages and backgrounds—one main writer and two respite writers. We welcome questions spanning all kinds of topics: from sexuality and relationships to church culture and conflict to mental health, family drama, ethical and moral dilemmas...and everything in between.