“If you can’t live based on your own convictions, then you are living a lie.”
Twenty-two years ago, at the age of fourteen, I gave my life to Christ in a quaint Pentecostal church in an underprivileged Miami, Florida neighborhood. It was an intimate affair, as I recall. The pastor was an elderly Cuban man, who had a limping right leg and a wide gap between his two front teeth. The congregation barely reached a total of ten people, but the “Amen’s” and “Hallelujah’s” within the tiny room echoed like the thunderous voices of a hundred men.
The pastor was charismatic, and he would joyously shout his praises and smile from ear to ear, proudly displaying the wide gap between his teeth as he limped to the pulpit carrying what appeared to be the world’s biggest Bible. It was at that moment that I asked myself: Why am I here?
Like the many residents of that shabby Miami neighborhood, I was poor and my family struggled just to get by on a daily basis. Everyone wanted a better life and an easier and faster way to make money and make ends meet, so we all turned to God for answers during those hard times. But there was something deeper troubling me, something I had kept hidden and locked away in the farthest reaches of my being, something I was so ashamed of that I could not even speak the words out loud—I was attracted to men and I secretly wished to be a girl.
Although I did not understand my gender identity at the time, I assumed that my desire to be “that girl” was just another aspect of being homosexual. Yes, I was ignorant, and it would take me a few years to understand the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity. But as I recall, I was unhappy at the time, and I wanted to rid myself of my “unnatural” desires and my “wicked” ways.
Now at thirty-six, fully transitioned and happily married, I understand what I failed to understand then. I understand why I sat on that cheap, white plastic patio chair in a corner of that church for almost five years. I understand why I spent those years of my life listening to the pastor lecture about God’s love, God’s wrath, his salvation, and eternal damnation.
I understand that I was weak at the time—much weaker than I realized—and that I was too scared to face my own self-hatred head on. I believed that God would fight my battles, as the pastor promised me in his lectures, that God would break the chains that bound me to my sins, and that God would cleanse my body and soul and make me new again. So when the pastor asked the congregation who wanted to turn their lives over to Christ that night, I was among the first broken and emotionally wounded to willingly raise my hands and beg to be saved.
During the years that followed, I prayed, and I prayed hard! I fasted once a week, asking God to cleanse me of my homosexual desires and cross-dressing habits. I became the church treasurer, the youth leader, and the pastor-to-be. I preached fervently behind the squeaky oak pulpit and on many busy street corners during those scorching hot tropical days. I was the first to stand by the church doors waiting for them to swing open every night, and the first to volunteer for every charity event and fundraiser. I gave it my all and my best just to change who I was into who I was told I should be.
As fate would have it, nothing changed within me—at least not in the way I thought it would. My prayers, of course, went unanswered and I eventually broke away from the church. In fact, my natural attraction toward men became stronger, and my uncertainties with my gender identity began clearing up. So could it be that my years of service to God and the church kept me from growing spiritually and from discovering and accepting who I truly was? Well, yes. My blind faith in what my spiritual leaders preached hindered me from knowing myself, because they taught me to hate everything I stood for. They planted hateful and terrifying ideas in my head that kept me latched to that white plastic chair in fear for my soul. I learned to hate LGBT folks, because I was taught to hate myself.
My leaders made me believe that the scriptures were undoubtedly God given words, and that no one should dare question the sacred book. They argued that reasoning and critical thinking were the devil’s way of steering man away from God and from the path of righteousness. After all, Adam and Eve did eat from the tree of knowledge. So let’s think about this for a moment: Isn’t a lack of knowledge called ignorance? Is it logical to think that God intended on creating an ignorant human race? That his or her purpose was to create a multitude of uninformed beings that would wander about the earth for eternity solely to glorify him and nothing more? I think not.
All creation is an expression of love. And whether you believe in the divine or not, creation is a manifestation of some sort and love is at the center of it all. We love our partners, our families, and our pets. Sometimes we even love our cars. Some of us love to write, while others love to read. We all love someone or something at some point, and that is what gives our lives a sense of meaning and fulfillment. Love is at the center of everything we do, hear, say, and think.
We only experience unhappiness when we aren’t in sync with what we love, be it the people we love or our convictions. If we are to believe in the archaic religious myths that continue to teach and spread hatred and intolerance, we are destined to live bound and enslaved for the rest of our lives. There is nothing enslaving about love, since love is liberating. So how could we not love ourselves for who we are as LGBT people? And how could the rest of the so called “religious” world not love us, if God is love?
Here is a thought: God is Love and the opposite of love is fear. When we are truly connected to our inner essence (you know, the ghostly-like thing that lives inside of us), we are connected to the rest of the world. That is what love does. It connects people, rather than divide them. So why is our society, our nation, our world so divided? Could it be that most of us are not living in love? The answer sadly is yes.
We are divided because we constantly live in fear, and because our egos don’t allow us to love. We use “sacred books” to justify our ignorance and our hatred, and as we see too often, to justify murder in the name of God and faith. We use little verses of scripture to point out other people’s faults and wrong doings, and we somehow feel accomplished because we managed to remember the name and the numerical reference to those scriptures. We also find those verses that justify our own despicable actions of judgement and violence against others, making us feel self-righteous when in reality we are deluded.
So I ask you, are you really living in love, or are you living in fear?
At some point in our lives we have heard someone say, “Love your neighbor like you love yourself.” Right? So for once, answer my question with honesty and conviction, because if you are one that persecutes LGBT people, you are living far from love, and you certainly don’t love yourself. If your words when addressing the LGBT community are “Repent for your sins or burn in hell,” you are living in judgment, and therefore not in love.
If you feel gratification in condemning someone’s soul for eternity, you are living in punishment and separate from love. If you believe that the LGBT community deserves no rights, then you are living in greed and selfishness and are not perfected in the way of God’s love.