Welcome back ladies to this month’s column titled “A Welcoming Church”. I want to discuss what I have found to be a very fulfilling way to be visible, to get out. You need to find that place, one where you can get a sense of community. For me, it’s my church. I am not going to preach religion to you here, that’s not my place, none of my business. That is not the point with this column. The point I want to demonstrate is that you can be yourself, be authentic and be completely accepted in a public, mainstream environment. That place may not be a church; it could be somewhere that you volunteer, a community theater, a Meetup group, a book club, anything, just find it.
First a little background. I have a TG friend who had been attending this church for a few months. “All People Welcome All The Time” is the church motto and they live and breathe that! So it took me a while to gather the courage, but one day I got dressed and made that first walk up the steps and into those beautifully ornate doors and again, my life changed. I was welcomed immediately and weaved my way into the fabric of the congregation.
My friend has been basically on the same path as me over essentially the same time (although she is TG, considering transition, I am not). We have done many things together, but both approach this from different angles. She is not married and is a business owner, both of which have an impact on how she approaches things. But we both are fairly fearless about what we do within certain parameters. She had gone to a Transgender Day of Remembrance at a local church and it intrigued her. She began attending Sunday services and found that they truly lived their motto. She told me about the church and I was interested, but it took me a while to finally attend.
January 24, 2016. I put on my dress and off I went. No exaggeration, from the very first second I stepped in, I felt completely at ease. Welcome. Loved. I sat in the back as is my want, behind two African American ladies, Fredi and Ester. We almost immediately became friends as they got to know me. I always answer and encourage questions, always telling people that I cannot be offended. People cannot learn about us unless we are open and honest. Now Ester is one of my best friends, we are quite the odd couple. This suburban stiff white guy in a dress and this inner city single mother (although her children are now grown), probably ten years apart in age. She is delightfully curious, warm, open and giving.
During the service that day (and every day) we have a time of greeting. We walk around hugging and shaking hands, looking people in the eyes and greeting them warmly. Many people complemented me on my dress; it was very natural and never seemed out of the ordinary. While the church is a bit of a drive, I try to attend as frequently as possible. It is the single best decision I have ever made as Kandi. I get so much from this church. That was a remarkable day and a day that really changed how I view my CDing, how I view the world in general.
A typical Sunday begins with my either running some errands and/or stopping for a cup of coffee. I enjoy arriving for services about 45 minutes before they start. Myself and many of the other ladies enjoy some coffee and get caught up with each other. I am simply one of the women, no questions asked. Our church is very diversified.
Then I sit in my usual spot in the rear of the church, gathering and giving many hugs to the dear people that are there. I generally get many complements (yeah, I know Kandi…..) from both men and women alike. Conversations flow naturally, I complement other ladies, we discuss our outfits, our families, church gossip. Many of the men and I talk about the game last night, the weather or anything else one talks about. In this space, there are no men and women, no blacks and whites, no gays and straights, just people. People to be loved and appreciated. It never ceases to amaze me that when I miss a Sunday or two (life gets in the way and/or I am running a Sunday race), many come up and let me know I was missed. And often it is someone I don’t regularly interact with.
An additional benefit of this church are many activities we have. Potlucks are on the first Sunday of the month. I like to grab my own table and see who sits with me and there is never an empty seat. Second Sunday Lunch, the SSL, at a local restaurant, usually with about 40 church members. Again, I go out, IN PUBLIC, in a restaurant and am treated (I think) often better than most. There have been other activities like a cabaret night fundraiser and other charitable activities. I participate in as many as I can.
Not only am I an active and valued part of the congregation, I have on two occasions done the readings. The photos above are of my outfit worn those days and actual photos of me at the lectern. The readings were done in my normal male voice, actually emphasized with dramatic effect. After the most recent reading, a gay member of our congregation kissed me on the cheek during our time of greeting. High praise indeed!
Aside from all of the societal aspects, attending church on a regular basis allows for tremendous opportunities to really have fun getting dressed. I wear nice dresses, put together stylish skirt and blazer outfits, have worn slacks, it has provided so many fun ways to really present myself well. Just last month, after having only met her the week before, the new pastor’s wife walked up to me, complemented me on my dress and told me that I am always so stylishly dressed. How do you think that made me feel? What do you think of this dress?
There is always a way for us to assimilate into mainstream society, be visible, break down misconceptions, pave the road a little bit more for our sisters to follow. We owe it to ourselves, our sisters and those that have cleared the way ahead of us.
Ladies, things are better. We do have work to do, but being visible, being out there, makes all the difference. Be smart, be appropriate, be confident, get out there and be visible!
Sister House Fashion and Style Columnist
Be sure and visit my blog Kandi’s Land.
You can read about my back story in the “About” section of my blog and contact me through the “Contact” section. Outing photos posted immediately on my Flickr page.
Note from Tasi: For those that may be looking for a church home, I can tell you from personal experience that the MCC churches and the Unitarian-Universalist churches are most welcoming of trans people. Click on the links to find a church near you.