Recently I have listened and read and watched the Pagan community face transphobia. Again. Denora wrote a summary here and offered the challenge “How will you enact change?”

I wasn't around in previous years. I long to see our Pagan community become a healthy and welcoming place free from transphobia. I have no easy answers but I’ve been encouraged to tell the story of my personal struggle with transphobia. I used to a fundamentalist Christian and that meant also being misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, a creationist, and then some. So I offer here a glimpse of my own struggle and transformation.

I briefly lived in San Francisco, or “sin city” as we called it, with a Christian Outreach group over a decade ago. Someone in said group once warned me not to go to the “wrong side of the Safeway”, beyond which lay the Castro, the place where “the gays” lived their sinful lives. I once crossed over to eat at a Thai restaurant and felt frightened and guilt ridden the entire time.


During that time I worked at Starbucks and often took on fill-in shifts at a different locations. Once, I worked next a tall person with a stubbly chin who was introduced to me as Monica. I didn't know what transgender was at the time, but mis-gendered Monica based on her appearance. I refused to refer to her by the correct pronouns, so I avoided contact with her in order to not have to address her. When I came home after my shift I complained about the confusing situation I had been thrown into and made mean remarks about Monica. I then was taught about “the sin” of gender transitioning and felt angry that such a “sin” even existed.


Nearly a decade later an evangelical Christian friend of mine came out as a transgender woman. The reactions in our Christian community were horrific. The theory I heard most often was that her therapist talked her into being transgender. There was also plenty of discussion about the possibility of demon possession. I quickly rejected the latter explanation, didn’t know what to think of the first, and felt deeply confused. Most of all, however, I was appalled by the lack of a desire to understand among our Christian friends.


A few days after I had heard the rumor from others, I received an email from Sheena Renee Adams introducing her new name and gender pronouns. In it, she described how she had always known she was a woman, how as a child she used to ask God to make it so she could grow up to become a mommy. The suffering she went through, and the courage it took to come out after so many years and to so much animosity moved me deeply.


I responded to her email, admitting that I was confused, but telling her how much I appreciated her personal story and that I considered her my friend no matter what. We began emailing each other regularly. Sheena sent me links to resources about gender transitions and I devoured them all, then found more interviews, documentaries, and articles online.


I'm sending something I just found about finding a transgender gene. Something I've been telling others is I've been trans since my earliest memories. My family, including [my wife], thinks I'm just mental,” Sheena wrote. Searching for scientific evidence for predetermined biological gender dysphoria was a gateway toward understanding for both of us. Later I read and learned about gender as a social construct and the importance of honoring choice when it comes to gender identity.


Layer by layer my thinking shifted, and other views were turned upside down. Dismantling my transphobia led to the dismantling of my homophobia. Both led to a wider understanding of gender and sexuality. I read and listened and re-evaluated my views. Eventually my community changed. I was no longer surrounded by cisgender and straight friends only. As I learned and grew, I became able to relate to people of other genders and sexual orientations.


When I moved to California after my divorce, I went on a my first date, ever, never having dated before. The date was with Mik, a fellow I had just met at a potluck. After our first kiss I took him up on the offer to visit his place and on our way we passed a Safeway that looked vaguely familiar. We crossed the street into an unfamiliar part of San Francisco. A few dates later, I woke up at Mik’s place and finally connected the dots. Here I was, in bed with a bisexual man and his other girlfriend, on the wrong side of the Safeway!


Even though my thinking had shifted significantly, I carried with me the weight of guilt and shame for my transphobic days. I talked to Mik about the only trans person I had met while I was steeped in transphobia and how I wished I could apologize to her. Mik listened to me carefully, and told me what I already knew in theory. I needed to forgive myself. If I wanted to be an ally, I would need to change more than just my thinking. I also needed to change my relationship to myself, to accept my old self and forgive her. No one else could do that work for me. By beating myself up for my old sins, I was doing a favor to no one and focusing only on myself.


Through Mik I met many bi-sexual men and women, an erotic gay clown, and other queer friends of his. The old us-versus-them mentality was disintegrating before my eyes. I came to love “the wrong side of the Safeway.” I felt grateful that I was given a second chance and that I had made my new home with “the gays” and “the sinners”.


One day Mik and I went to Dia de los Muertos in the Mission District. While we perused altars in a city park, Mik said hello to an acquaintance. She and Mik talked about mutual friends and events, and then he introduced me to her. Her name was Monica. I hadn't been to San Francisco in a decade and thought the coincidence would be too great. But I asked her anyways. Did she by any chance work at Starbucks, about a decade ago? Yes, she did. I stammered that I thought I used to work with her.


She smiled at me, warmly, and told me she had worked with many people and that she was sorry she didn’t remember me. Before I could find any additional words, she reached her arms around me and pulled me into a hug. Then another friend walked up, she had to leave, and I never saw her again.

I walked away from our brief encounter realizing how often we don't want to admit that we are wrong, in part because we don’t want to deal with the guilt for the harm we have caused. Meeting Monica again taught me to not make it all about myself. It is true that I had wronged her, but in focusing on my own shame, I was making it all about me. She didn’t even remember me. It was my responsibility to not only unravel my transphobia, but also to do the work of forgiving myself.