Sundays used to drag on forever. They were a stain on my weekly calendar, colored by memories of a God-fearing childhood. I remember frightened nights with my face covered by a blanket. I would look out from the covers, my eyes illuminated by moonlight as it splintered through the shutters. I expected to see the devil come to take me away. My heart raced as I squeezed my eyes shut and rolled over.Growing up, I prayed to God for forgiveness and transformation. I would have given Him anything to change me from a frightened, feminine young boy into one of the masculine, heterosexual young men at my middle school. God didn't answer. Instead, my prayers were met by proselytized teens. I can still feel his breath on my shoulder as he whispered behind me in computer class: "I'm gonna kill you, faggot." I didn't change, but that kid in my class continued to hiss at my presence, and so did others.
"I don't hate Gavin Grimm," Pastor Van Ness said. We were seated beside each other in a pew. He wanted me to understand that his position comes from a place of faith, not hate. "I don't hate any homosexual. I don't hate any transgender. I don't hate that individual—I may hate a sin but I do not hate an individual." At this point in the interview, he did not know that I am trans."God doesn't make mistakes," the pastor explained, adding that transgender people are a "perversion" of God's creation. To identify with the opposite sex, Van Ness told me, suggests that "God doesn't know what He's doing." It's "deceptive."
God doesn't make mistakes.
"What I am is a believer in Jesus Christ, and if I put my faith and trust in him for the saving of my soul, that defines everything about me. That defines how I view everything in life," he told me. How could he separate his beliefs about God's teachings from his work at Gloucester High School? It was his moral obligation "to take a stand," to stop Gavin Grimm from using the boy's bathroom.Pastor Van Ness told me that he wants people to know that he prays for Gavin. I asked him what he prays for. "I pray that she will be safe," he replied, failing to understand the hypocrisy of that statement: Gavin's safety is threatened when other people force their personal views about his sex or gender on him.I told the pastor about the way that discrimination has impacted the trans community, how there is a 40 percent attempted suicide rate among trans people, how many trans people struggle to find employment, medical care, and housing—how trans people are the victims of disproportionate levels of violence,. "When transgenders put themselves out there, there's going to be a level of scrutiny," he responded. Of course, Van Ness made it very clear that doesn't condone violence: That's "absolutely wrong in every way." Yet he told me that he understands that it could be dangerous for transgender people to use the bathroom of their biological sex.
I pray that she will be safe.
I was still beside him in the pew, but my mind left. It went to four-year-old Trinity Neal who, ten years ago, was living as a boy and was clinically depressed. I remembered the photos that her mother DeShanna showed me a week earlier—pictures of a despondent child who had stopped speaking or responding to their name. DeShanna knows that if she didn't let Trinity live as a girl, as who she really is, then she would not have that child anymore. She believes Trinity would have taken her own life. But that didn't happen. Today Trinity is a happy, beautiful, brilliant teenage girl—because her mother protected her from people like Pastor Van Ness.After our interview, I walked hurriedly to our car. I shut myself in the back seat and fell forward. Erica held my hand as I covered my face. I didn't want her to hear me crying, but I had lost my breath and I couldn't stop. The Pastor had torn into me with his good intentions, ripping a hole in the wall between my work and my life."I try to get up every morning of my life and live my life in such a way that I represent Christ well," Pastor Van Ness said. "When I lay my head down on my pillow tonight, I'm going to sleep."