I met Candice during my freshman year of college. She had a quick wit and bright smile, and an undeniable optimism and open-heartedness to anyone who walked into our dorm. Candice was the welcoming committee in the commons, sunny and sharp; she kept the conversation and coffee going all night long. Candice had her own room - unlike the rest of us who shared tiny rooms with people we had just met. The reason Candice had a solo room on the main floor is that she had a wheelchair.
Candice suffered multiple family tragedies when she was a child, including being paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident that also permanently injured one of her brothers. Candice is one of the strongest, and most positive people I know, showing her intelligence, and gumption with a refreshing spirit. Today, Candice is a sought after electrical and lighting designer, as well as a programmer. She loves her work and also the community she has found through live game streaming.
For me, it’s all about relationships. I really try to live my life from a Romans 12 mentality.
“For me, it’s all about relationships. I really try to live my life from a Romans 12 mentality.” Candice’s convictions run deep and show in the relationships she has kept and sustained. Her resilience and joy have encouraged so many people. As well as speaking about her experiences as a disabled person, Candice also spoke to me about another key part of her life:
“I am a transgender woman.”
When I met Candice, she was called Charles. The university we attended was a Christian Liberal Arts Community. Morality clauses were signed saying we would not drink alcohol on campus, nor have sexual relations, or watching R rated movies. Dorm hours restricted the times males and females could be together and determined where they could live on campus. At the time, this institution was nearly a decade away from addressing transgender students at the university. For a person in Candice’s position, this might not have been the most welcoming environment. She stayed closeted until 2013, the same year our university faced litigation for refusing male housing to a transgender young man. When we were reminiscing about our college days, Candice confessed she didn’t remember much.
“You know, I was on psychotropics for most of that time,” she stated matter of factly. I had no idea. She went on to tell me she was put on the drugs at 13 years old after her mom found her cross-dressing. The genuinely concerned parents took Candice to a psychiatrist, who put the young teenager on heavy-duty antipsychotics. The drugs stunted her development and made her numb. When she came out as a woman in 2012 she worked with a new psychiatrist who refuted the original diagnosis and weaned Candice off anti-depressant as well as the antipsychotic. She was then able to take hormones to help her transition into a female body.
“Hormone therapy helped a lot! It really helped me rediscover my emotions!” Candice laughed.
Candice was anxious about coming out to her family, who she was very close to. “My mom is Catholic, definitely a person of faith. My grandma Joan came into the family after the car wreck; it has been difficult for her. At first, she wondered if I would be able to have the positive impact I did when I was living as Charles.” Ultimately, Grandma Joan has embraced Candice as being a messenger of God to the trans community.
"Mom has been probably my strongest supporter since the night I came out to her. She has stood up to people on my behalf, even for unknown battles with friends and family. I’ve learned a lot about burdens being turned by God into blessings, to bless others! "But my brother Paul was the funniest.” Candice chuckled at this. “On my first lunch with my mother as my authentic self, my brother took a picture of us -I was all dressed up. He looked at the picture and asked ‘Are you wearing lipstick?’ I don’t know if he even noticed I was in a skirt.”
I’ve learned a lot about burdens being turned by God into blessings, to bless others.
That was it for Paul and her other siblings: Candice was their sister from then on. In many ways, Candice was blessed to have a family that embraced her. From one study of a large sample size of LGTBQ+ youth, 42.3% of transgender youth have attempted suicide. According to a recent study from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, LGBTQ+ young people are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than non-LGBTQ+ youth. It is estimated that about 7% of youth in the United States are LGBTQ+, while 40% of youth experiencing homelessness are LGBTQ+. When citing their reasons for homelessness, the number one reason listed was being forced out of their home, followed by family problems.
“One of the church’s greatest strengths is being a source of fellowship. Like another family.” Hopefully a better family. As a church, can we have the ability to love and surround everyone? Not leave them when they are most vulnerable. When she came out, Candice had been active at a community church in Sherwood, Oregon.
“They didn’t push me away - but they did not welcome me anymore either. I was held at arm's length.” The church she had been baptized in suddenly didn’t feel like the right fit anymore. “Every week I felt like the black sheep.”
One of the church’s greatest strengths is being a source of fellowship. Like another family.
“The most healing place for me after I came out, was the PDX Q center. They had a Queer Bible Study that was so helpful. I also went to an MTF (male to female) support group. That was my church for that season. That is where I met Judith.” Judith is a trans woman of faith in her 60s who lived near Candice. “Judith truly became my sister. We came out at the same time and really shared the experience.” They both attended a conservative non-denominational Church together in Newberg, Oregon for quite some time after transitioning. Judith was a great friend and encouragement to Candice and enabled her to carry on her faith as a trans woman. But Christians can easily get stuck by focusing on Candice’s disability or her gender.
“My home church is mostly understanding and constructive of my disability.” There are still times people are asked to stand up, or there are activities or questions asked that are not inclusive to people who are in a wheelchair. “It’s worse when I meet Christians who haven’t taken the time to know me. See, it’s all about relationships. People who have not taken the time to know me, are more likely to ask me if I want to be healed, or offer to pray for my healing.” “You know what I tell them?” Candice leaned forward with a twinkle in her eye. “Don’t you think God can use me this way?” She continued, “Is God so small that we can put God in our back pocket? Let’s not try to put God in a box- Let God work wonders and blessings. God is big enough to use me the way I am.”
Don’t you think God can use me this way?
Christians are also more likely to assume that Candice is not a Christian because she is transgender. To this, Candice is fierce: “Let me be perfectly clear on this: Never question my standing on faith. That will be the one thing that will anger me faster than anything, almost as fast as people being disrespectful to each other. I know many people have beliefs, or choose what not to believe. My God, if you have met God, doesn't make mistakes. God made us. If the leaders of my church or any church read this and welcome me... without hesitation, then I am more than happy to take part. I will not go where I feel unwelcome though, and I am unwilling to cause any issues within a congregation. Like Romans 12 says, I do my best to live at peace with everyone. Love must be sincere. We have to look beyond the superficial. We are all part of this story, we are all part of the whole. Even the poorest person has immense value when recognized.”
Love must be sincere. We have to look beyond the superficial.
Wouldn't any church would be blessed to have this positive, loving woman in their family? As the people who say we walk in relationship with God, we get to look beyond all the labels we give people, to see the beautiful person God is creating.
Romans 12 (NIV)
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.
Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
If he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Genevieve shares an excerpt from the Village Metropolitan Community church in Brighton to conclude the three part series on Can We Gather?
Part 2 of Can We Gather? In this article, Genevieve addresses shame.