I believe transgender people are highly spiritual beings and for centuries have been systematically removed from our divinely ordered place in society.
As a trans woman, I depend on spiritual expression to communicate to the world who I am, when my body often betrays me.
Because of this betrayal, I have yet to feel completely connected to my body. I’ve spent my entire life trying to restore balance to my mind, body, and spirit, but I’m still in recovery from the spiritual violence and trauma I experienced from folded hands in prayer.
Spiritual Trauma happens when the very essence of who you are is under attack, denying access to life-saving truth, especially at early ages when your sense of being is beginning to manifest. Long-term effects of spiritual trauma include “unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, and strained relationships”, and although these feelings are normal, many trans people have difficulty moving on with their lives surviving a devastating blow to their sense of self.
When pain prevails and dominates the trans experience, many of us develop forms of mental illness, dysphoria, addiction and other symptoms that are sometimes fatal.
Without some sort of spiritual practice, it is nearly impossible to get through the gauntlet of transition scot-free.
Growing up, Sunday was one of my favorite days of the week. My mom, my little brother and I would all get dressed up in our Sunday’s best. My step-father, however, never came with us to church. He was extremely skeptical of “the church.”
“I went to church with your mother once, and they started hollering and speaking in tongues and jumping all around,” he would say as he got up off the couch to act out his comical re-enactment, “and then right before this woman was about to fall out from the holy ghost, she pauses, takes a few side steps to the left and BOOM!” he said smacking his right hand into his left, “Fell out! As if she knew if she fell in that spot she would hit her head. Now I could be wrong, maybe the holy ghost told her to move two steps to the left to help her out!”
We would all laugh knowing he was being funny, but also being honest. “Ya’ll go ahead, have fun, tell Jesus I said hello” as he sat back on the couch and flipped between a few football games on TV. To him, it was all one big show.
The show began with an A & B selection from the choir, followed by a charismatic performance from the pastor on deck. Some members were more obvious than others in the fact that they were only there to see the show or to be in it. Greater Grace Temple Church of God in Christ was no doubt home to one of the best choirs around. The smell of polished wood, old bibles, perfume and cologne worn by the elders of the church seemed to welcome you as soon as you opened the doors to the sanctuary.
Sister Brown, the choir director, was one of my early fem-spirations growing up.
I was hypnotized by the way her hair bounced from left to right as she directed the choir. And she could sing. Boy could she sing. Sitting in the pews many days I daydreamed of going home with them after church. The whole family was musically talented. They were like the gospel version of the Jackson Five. Her husband and her son played the drums and the piano, their daughter also sang effortlessly.
I often wondered what it would be like to live in their house, to be a part of their family. At our house, I was always going around singing, sometimes in full phrases, other times it would just be short bursts of notes in hums, oohs and yeahs. “Go sing in the closet” my father yelled as he turned up the TV. To this day, I still burst out in song at any given time of the day. Usually when I reach a point of extreme joy or sadness, I can’t help but let out what I’m feeling in song.
After school, I would hang out in the stairwells and play with the acoustics as I sang songs I heard in Church and secretly wanted to one day have the courage to audition for the solo part. “Speak to my heart, Holy Spirit, Give me the words, that will bring new life. Words on the wings of the morning, the dark night will fade away, if you speak to my heart.”
When I got home from school, I would retreat to my room most days where I learned to piano by ear on my little Casio keyboard around the 4th grade.
I didn’t like going outside and playing with my brothers and the boys. I didn’t like getting dirty. I didn’t like how hot the sun was in the summer. My mother also didn’t like me being out in the sun.
“Boy you better stay out of that sun, or you’re gonna get as black as your bicycle seat” she would say, revealing some of her many internalized oppressive thoughts that would eventually bind us together as I evolve into her daughter, her reflection, as a black women who is denied her truth. My journey would turn out to also be hers, a continuation of unfinished business.
My ancestors, both black and Native American, gifted me with rich dark skin and high cheek bones; with spirituality and religion. With that I also inherited the spiritual trauma my people faced for centuries. Our souls pillaged by white supremacy and cloaked in salvation.
Historically we’ve been seen as savages needing to be saved, and wild women who need to be controlled.
Generations of oppression created an internalization of lies in the form of thoughts and action that my grandmother, my mother, and myself learned to give and take as truth. When we as women lie to ourselves, we lie to our daughters.
“Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” My mother lied to me and for that I forgive her. She had not been told the truth either and therefore was unable to give what she didn’t already have. Of course, I didn’t always have such a namaste attitude towards it all.
Finding my truth is what set me free, unbinding me from the suffering and the lies that muffled the voices and suffocated the spirits of my ancestors. Wild, wise, women raise their voices, and speak truth in spirit.
To speak truth, you must be clear, to be clear, you must be disciplined in your actions, in your practice at being human.
How do you respond to the moments of your life? It may not always be easy, but it is always the goal to respond with love.
Photo provided by Angelica Ross