This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Growing up performing in a Christian hardcore band, gender dysphoria was never a sin I thought I'd confess to. As a kid, wanking on Sundays and swearing seemed to be the worst of my devil's work. But small urges to wear makeup or shave my legs developed into unavoidable thoughts about my actual gender.
The Canadian Psychological Association defines gender dysphoria as "unhappiness that some people feel with their physical sex and/or gender role." Like many trans people do, I kept my gender secret. It cost me.
Instead of embracing my identity, I became a mouthpiece for God's message, privately using my band's lyrics, scripture, and sermons to "cure" my condition. As I approach age 21, my faith and its impact on my health is behind me. Yet I can't ignore my failing to help reform a community that still discriminates against my true identity.
I'm not saying the masses heard our music, or that our soapbox was tall. We were young, playing small legions, clubs, and churches. However, I missed a chance to discuss dysphoria with devout family, fans, and musicians, most of whom I now feel estranged from. If I knew my thoughts were unavoidable—let alone all right to have—I'd have expressed them straight away.
My childhood was dull, and I never felt out of step until adolescence. My family attended an Anglican church minutes from our suburban home outside London, Ontario. I don't remember the passages from mass, but we left when the reverend related the plot of Spider-Man 2 to Jesus's crucifixion. After that, we stayed home Sundays, leaving me to read my New Testament and Youth for Christ guidebook.
Years passed, and excerpts like, "Friends may fail me, foes assail me / He is with me to the end," made me miss mass. God was good, but I needed community. At the time, I played drums in a speed metal band that included another Christian friend. The band eventually started writing religious material when two other believers joined (our agnostic guitarist and bassist seemed cool with it).
Now, I don't know why people liked us. We were awful. Our sound was cribbed from other groups, but we had "even more heavy parts." Our fan base was probably inflated due to our vocalist's absurd use of spam, but for a local hardcore outfit our sets had healthy turnouts.
We tried to emulate bands preaching redemption and devoting one's life to the Holy Triad; playing with our role models in Texas In July and A Plea For Purging is something I'll never forget. Some listeners weren't religious, but still climbed over each other at shows shouting, "He brings us redemption." We called ourselves "a voice for the voiceless," as if one of the world's largest religions hasn't had enough mic time. In daily life we were moderate believers, but Friday practice was a time we had fun worshiping. I miss it.
By age 14, our band had minor scene status and we were mingling with local Christian musicians. My gender dysphoria surfaced soon after. I hated my clothes, wiry facial hair was sprouting on my chin, and my hands were calloused. My eyes were the only thing I felt represented me. Fellow members fawned over their male rites of passage, but it felt wrong to me.
As LGBT advocacy for marriage equality popularized, some within my community lashed out at the rise of "freaks."
I learned about my lesbian aunt, who lived off disability checks after she left her job due to harassment. School friends threatened to beat up LGBT individuals who touched them and my band members were silent on the movement, occasionally reciting, "Love man, hate sin."
Looking back, I was scared.
I avoided suspicion by purchasing strategically safe clothing from the women's section. Tight jeans and shirts still passed for men's, but their female labels comforted me.
I was overcome by guilt when I confided in my dysphoria. I felt distant from God and sought guidance.
Shortly thereafter, I encountered religious counseling for LGBT people. Pamphlets labelled gender dysphoria as an "illness" curable through worship. I never attended counseling, but its advice spun me into a vicious cycle.
At age 16, I was trying to ease urges by performing, reading scripture, and apologizing through prayer, but it was difficult. I'd usually find excuses to paint my nails or shave my legs, then punish myself by scraping the polish off with scissors, wearing jeans during heat waves, or starving myself. I was depressed and consumed by self-loathing.
If there's a reason why I kept performing, preaching theology that attacked my sense of self, it'd be that I was scared of being a disappointment. I feared letting down my family, my band, the fans, a higher power. I'd never identified with anything more than I identified with the Christian community and I trusted its approach to my dysphoria.
Over time, members of my band—myself included—grew skeptical of religion. I desperately sustained my beliefs by quitting, playing with another band of evangelicals. Most of them had fought drug habits ranging from pot to Oxycontin, and I admired them for resisting their cravings, specifically the vocalist for ignoring the "voices" in his head. Their worship combined Old Testament scripture and hurling instruments across the stage.
But my dysphoria eventually took priority. I started attending grassroots safe space shows filled with friends telling me to embrace my feminine identity with open arms. I drifted away, occasionally hearing about old friends keeping faith. One ditched a gig after interpreting a billboard as a provident sign to go home. It was a strange reminder of the devotion I lost.
It's not empowering being misled, told to treat a nonexistent sickness. It morphed my moderate beliefs into an unstable mindset. To some, my prior fear of hellfire seems ridiculous, but I was largely unaware of contrary dialogue. Furthermore, I was unaware of others like me facing discrimination.
I've seen the Christian community do great things—giving hope to the homeless, the abused, the addicted, and more. But to me, the LGBT community is an exception, and the head of the Catholic church still views them equally dangerous to humanity as nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, the secular media is increasing its coverage on trans issues. With Caitlyn Jenner's transition in the spotlight and gender dysphoria losing its reputation as a mental illness in my province, society's clearly progressing. It's motivated me to explore my gender more than ever and I'm learning everyday. We all have our own prejudices to break; we all did back then. But I wonder if there was someone else like me, and the possibility of messages I spread spurring on someone's own internalized cycle scares me.
It keeps me awake, never speaking up; I wish I had. Not just for myself, but for anybody else.