This piece was written by me for Sunshine Faith, a place to engage spiritual questions through a multiple faith lens. Visit the site for other reflections by me and others who share our thoughts and insights gained from wrestling with the complicated yet rich worlds of spirituality and life.
Mi lucha, my struggle, has been a journey of going from a black and white world to a world that thrives and abounds with color.
I was raised in a Conservative, Cuban, Catholic home in Miami, Florida where “different” was not accepted and where being outside the box was not an option, period. My family was very involved in church justice work, especially missionary work, advocating for the marginalized was a lifestyle that was a part of me and would evolve over the years. I didn’t realize initially that my desire for solidarity with outcast people would ultimately propel me into queer advocacy.
Growing up, I knew gays and lesbians were out there (other identities like bi or trans were not even on the radar), but I was taught that being gay or lesbian was sinful and immoral. I was taught that it went against my culture as a Hispanic and that it went against the teachings of the church. I adopted these attitudes. However, the universe has an interesting, snarky, and loving sense of humor. Little did I know that the community I spoke out against would later be the community I advocated for and would come to identify with.
The first time I came out, I was 21. I had just returned to the US from studying at a seminary in the Dominican Republic. My church and my family disowned me. When I was 25/26, I had another coming out experience. I realized that I had haphazardly labeled myself as gay because it was the only way I knew to explain who I was. I also realized that this label didn’t truly reflect who I was. Ultimately, I discovered my transgender identity, which represented a family of identities. These identities resonated with me and reflected who I was as a person, theologian, and social worker. They were closer to representing my sexually, spiritually, and gender as a two-spirited or both/and person.
After going through everything other people wanted me to do such as prayer, confession, reparative therapy, and self-bashing, I realized that there had to be another way. The vindictive and judgmental God that was being used to control me and fracture my personhood was not the God of love, solidarity, and compassion that I was raised with. This was the beginning of an arduous and enriching journey of wrestling with God and trying to live into a radical understanding of theology in the world.
My trans identity has been both liberating and frightening. Because our society generally doesn’t understand what it means to be trans and doesn’t protect trans people, transitioning will have an unknown impact on my family and friends. It will affect my relationship with my beloved, my professional goals both short and long term, my relationship with my culture, as I belong to a comunidad that upholds hyper masculinity. It will present financial challenges, and require me to adopt a clinical diagnosis in order to be who I am. I am not ready to fully transition and not sure yet what that will mean for me. However, despite my confusion, I still fight for safer spaces where people can be exactly who they are, whole and complex.
As an activist scholar of faith, a lot of my work has been pushing the margins and making people uncomfortable. I challenge myself and others to consider different ideas, rediscover lost perspectives, and engage in radical revolutionary images and redefinitions. As a Latino/Hispanic, I am finding ways to speak the language of sexual justice in Spanglish linguistically and culturally, redefining ideas of machismo and marianismo and familia, especially for those of us who are hyphenated Americans and experience mixed loyalties to the home countries of our families and to this country where we were born and raised.
I am realizing more and more that those of us who identify with a religious community are being called to actively and boldly speak from our faith experiences. We have done well with using legalistic, clinical, and public health arguments to support our commitment to welcoming all. It is now time to ground our commitment in theological frameworks and to use religious language in our efforts for equality. There are boundless examples from all the world’s religions that we can draw upon in this effort.
Learning to be bold with groups like getEQUAL, Soulforce, Call To Action, and Dignity USA as well as through the reflections here on Sunshine Faith and my own blog, have inspired me to make sure that full equality does not end at the church door. The equality we are achieving in society must ripple into faith communities. What happens in the pews will ripple into the wider world. For me being equally blessed is not about working to create spaces that only tolerate me; the goal is to create spaces that actively, boldly, and wholeheartedly celebrate us with our goods, our quirks, and our whole complex, rich, contradictory, sacred humanity.