Freedom from Gender Confusion
A Pastor’s Testimony
It is not the pattern of Abide Project to publish anonymously, however, considering the content of this testimony we have decided to publish this story.
Grappling with my sexuality and gender has been the most complicated and painful struggle of my life, hands down. But as God so often does, he took this worst part of my life and brought about beautiful transformation. He rescued me from my confusion, and made me flourish as a man.
For various personal reasons, I write this testimony anonymously. I am a CRC minister who cares deeply about the Christian Reformed Church and wants to see it navigate discussions about sexuality in a healthy way. I trust that my testimony can be a small but helpful part of the conversation. It’s important to see how our theology works out in practice as we care for people struggling with LGBT issues. I am not going to make a comprehensive biblical or theological argument in this article nor delve much into the relevant social, psychological and biological research that is important in the broader discussions about transgender people. I will focus on simply telling my testimony as a way to glorify God for his work in my life and then at the end I will share a few encouragements to the Church today as we together care for others who struggle.
I was raised in a Christian home. I had good parents and a healthy family life. Like most people, I don’t remember a lot from my elementary school days, but some of my strongest memories from that time include longing to be a girl, having dreams about it, and spending time lying in bed imagining being dressed up as a girl. Unlike some others with gender dysphoria, I don’t remember begging God to turn me into a girl. It was not a painful feeling yet, but rather something I would just think about for a little while each day.
What brings about such feelings? The etiology is unknown, and maybe that doesn’t matter that much. As with most types of mental illness, it matters less how a person got the way they were, and much more what they can do to try to live a healthy life despite their condition. I have read extensively on sexuality and transgenderism, but I still don’t really know what caused me to be the way that I am. Was it some biological predisposition I was born with? Was it because family members played dress up with me using girls’ clothes? Was it that I usually felt intimidated by other boys and felt like I fit in with the girls better? Or did I have a sexist view that girls were somehow nicer and better people compared to boys? Or was it some combination of all of these?
For years, the cross-gender longings remained privately in my mind. But in middle school and on into high school there was a new explosion of gender exploration and confusion. I cross-dressed by myself for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it even though I didn’t fully understand why I wanted to do it. I started to privately dress as a girl at every opportunity I could find. I thought about little else and I became terribly confused. Why was I doing this odd thing that other boys would never do? I only was sure of one thing – that I should keep it a secret at all costs.
It was confusing that although I found girls to be pretty, I was also obsessed with wanting to be them. While other guys talked about making out or having sex with girls, I was thinking about how to get the clothes and makeup that the girls had so that I could become like them. The obsession grew while my guilt and shame also grew. My desire to be a girl felt good and right in a way, but also felt deeply wrong in another way. I was driving myself crazy with trying to fulfill unfulfillable longings, and I was becoming less happy. I wanted to spend as much time as possible being the false female version of myself so I started deceiving and manipulating my parents and friends in order to get more time alone. I was becoming isolated. Idolatry of any kind can be all-consuming and it can devour you.
Some years later God’s grace cascaded into my life in new ways. I had a spiritual revival and committed to pursue Christ and glorify him in everything as the purpose of my life. My life changed in radical ways. I made new friends and became involved in my church. Surprisingly, my love for Jesus overpowered my love of myself and my cross-gender longings. I spent many hours reading the Bible and for the first time I looked at what the Bible says about men and women, and about sexuality. I quickly became convicted that trying to live or dress as a girl was probably wrong and that I should stop what I had been doing. Somehow, for the next couple years, I had no more struggle at all with cross-dressing or feeling gender dysphoria. Looking back, I account this as God’s special gift to me at this time of my life when I really needed it, as well as the natural consequence of being passionately overwhelmed by God’s love.
After that period, the longing to be a woman came back. I never again got close to my previous obsession level as a youth, but I struggled quite often with daydreaming about being a woman. Cross-dressing also became something that usually was sexually pleasurable. Because of this it became especially addictive. (Many years later I learned that this sexual pleasure from cross-dressing is a common temporary stage or even a permanent characteristic for the majority of male-to-female biological men who identify as transgender or transsexual. Trans activists aren’t quick to reveal this fact because many transsexuals feel shameful about it as it feels like an invalidation of their transsexuality. This fact also makes transsexualism less palatable to the public. From what I’ve read from various studies, I approximate that about 75% of m-t-f transsexuals experience this).
I realized that my life was similar to that of a Christian struggling with pornography. I would periodically fall into what I had come to view as sin, whether that was succumbing to a temptation to cross-dress or succumbing to a temptation to read transgender stories to vicariously live through others’ cross-gender experiences. I would then repent and try again to be faithful. The dysphoria waxed and waned and sometimes I experienced a lot of frustration. When I started fantasizing about myself dressed as a woman being with a man, I started to wonder if I was actually gay or bisexual and just in denial. I also fought regularly with envy of women; I envied their bodies, their beauty, their clothes, their mannerisms, their sexual position, their role in the family, and even their ability to give birth.
Despite all of this, life was not bad overall. In other ways, I had a full and meaningful life, growing in my love for the Lord, doing ministry, and having fun with friends and family. It was mostly a secret struggle as I had only ever shared about it with a few people. As my frustration grew, I eventually concluded that I needed to get serious about overcoming this affliction and I sought help from others. To condense a long story, I’ll summarize. I ended up getting help over a number of years through a variety of means including:
I received love, encouragement and understanding from family members and trusted friends who I shared my whole story with.
I met with a personal Christian counselor to talk through my issues.
God gave me faithful accountability partners who helped me to learn how to resist temptation. They were compassionate concerning my strange affliction but were also tough with me when I needed it.
God taught me about the importance of suffering in the Christian life, and how he uses it for our holiness, to shape our character, and to make us depend on him. Instead of seeing my gender issues only as an unwanted burden, I began to see them as a way for me to depend on Christ, and grow in maturity through choosing to follow Christ even when it was hard and meant personal sacrifice. I was prepared to reject the transgender path, even if that meant my unhappiness. Thankfully, it turns out that for me following Christ in this area led to happiness and feelings of freedom, rather than suffering. The temptations I sometimes face and must fight to reject are still a cross that I have to bear, but I am willing and able to bear it, through Christ strengthening me. I started praying less for God to miraculously take away my wrong desires, and spent more time praying for God to give me strength to resist them. Each of us have different ways that we are called to suffer and deny our desires in order to follow Christ.
I read books about gender dysphoria and cross-dressing to better understand myself, both Christian books and secular books. I also studied the Bible more deeply. When I became convinced that God’s Word is crystal clear on these issues, it became much easier to change and more difficult to rationalize my sin.
I learned a new way of looking at men and women. I realized how much stock I had previously put into gender stereotypes and how this was partly what made me feel like less of a man and more like a woman. I didn’t measure up to the masculine stereotypes but I now reflected that many of those stereotypes are not biblical anyway. Over time I was finally able to accept myself for who I really am. I came to celebrate the fact that I am still fully and completely a man even if I don’t check every box of the culture’s view of manhood. Surprisingly, I also realized that I fit more of the stereotypes than I had at first thought. I wasn’t completely different from the average man, just different in certain ways.
Most importantly, I learned how to take aspects of my personality that I used to think were reserved for women, and let myself experience them as a man, instead of feeling the need to cross-dress in order to experience them. In other words, I allowed myself to be my whole self, rather than to divide myself into masculine and feminine personalities, one public and one private. It has been very helpful to discuss this with my wife. We both help each other to be free to be who we are, even if we both do not live up to the culture’s stereotypes. We accept one another as we are.
While I stopped worrying about stereotypes, I did intentionally try to follow God’s direction for men and women as taught in Scripture. It was challenging for me to try to become a better leader in my marriage for obvious reasons. But learning how to live out my role as a husband has been an important part of my transformation and healing.
God led me to certain Christian websites that talk about cross-dressing and transgender issues. It was unbelievably helpful to realize that I was not alone in my struggle. Even more importantly, I read the testimonies of other men who had overcome their gender struggles. This gave me stronger faith that I could overcome as well, and ultimately I did. I cannot overstate the importance of actually believing that some kind of change or recovery is possible. Through online forums and connections, I also came to know personally other Christian brothers like me, and even a few pastors. From these priceless friendships, I have received accountability, fellowship, encouragement, and prayer.
Using these means, God did a dramatic work in my life and in my heart! I came to feel free, and up to the present day, nearly all of my cross-gender longing went away. I am able to resist temptation to fantasize or cross-dress. I am very comfortable being a man and am grateful to God for my body and my life as a whole. Truly, I have no more identity confusion regarding my sex/gender. I have come to appreciate that I am a good-looking man blessed with a beautiful God-fearing wife.
This is not to say that I never have periodic falls into fantasizing about dressing or living as a woman. Temptation still comes once in a while. In fact, the week I was trying to get the energy to write this article was one of the toughest weeks of struggle for me in a decade. Perhaps that was due to spiritual warfare. Was our common enemy not wanting me to write this article? Once I started writing my story and remembering what God has done, the struggle dissolved once more.
It’s important to note that I never said I would pursue obedience to Christ only if he took away my sinful desires in this area. From the start, I knew that I would probably not experience a miraculous cure which would take away all desire to sin. Does any Christian experience this? I doubt it. I imagine we will all continue to fight against our sinful natures until Jesus returns to this earth and finishes his work of making us new creations who are unable to sin. Life now still includes fighting against our sinful natures and our idolatries, but I can boldly say that the days I experience cross-gender longing or a feeling of wanting to cross-dress are the very rare anomaly in what is otherwise an abundant life without gender issues.
Glory be to God for his forgiveness of my sin, for his redemption of my life, and for the Holy Spirit’s work of giving me power over sin!
Part 2 will be published next week.