Transgender or devoutly Christian? An Iowa teen refuses to choose.

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
72,930
52,606
113
Sid High left church years ago but stayed devoted to God, and so, one Sunday this fall, the teenager and his family gathered in their living room to watch a sermon on YouTube.
His three sisters dragged themselves to the couch, weekend-tired and silent, but Sid plopped down next to his parents with a goofy grin. He’d been up for hours. Every morning, he lined his bay window with prayer candles he bought by the case from the Dollar Tree, and he prayed for everyone he knew.
When the pastor of a local Presbyterian church appeared on screen, Sid adjusted the funky button-down shirt he’d found at a thrift store, and he sat a little straighter.
“Today, we’re going to hear a little story about Jesus,” the minister said. “Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, and some people called the Pharisees come up to him, and they say, ‘Hey, Jesus, watch out. This king named Herod is after you. He wants to harm you, so you might want to run away.’”
Sid understood that kind of danger. He was 18 and transgender in a world that felt increasingly hostile for young people like him. One group of parents had sued the local school district over its trans-friendly policies, and another had managed to shut down a nearby library because it displayed LGBTQ books. Iowa’s governor had even made condemning trans kids a signature part of her reelection campaign.
People misgendered Sid at work, and teenagers posted mean comments on the TikTok page where he lip-syncs to “Pumped Up Kicks” and other pop songs. Even some of his fellow Christians were becoming more intolerant. Nearly 70 percent of White evangelicals think society has gone too far in accepting trans people, according to data the Pew Research Center released in the summer. That’s up from 61 percent five years ago.
“But Jesus was determined,” the pastor said. “He loves these people that will end up rejecting him. … Let’s have a prayer, shall we?”
Sid closed his eyes. He knew people thought you couldn’t be both Christian and trans, but as the country grew more divided, he found himself growing deeper in his faith. Maybe, he thought, he could do what Jesus had. He could move forward bravely in the face of danger, refuse to stop loving and spread a message of hope.

‘God does not make mistakes’​

Sid was 12 when he told his mom, Jess, he thought he might be trans.
He knew some people believed God didn’t accept queer people, and already parents across the country had begun fighting to limit transgender rights in schools, but Sid felt relatively safe. Iowa had been one of the first states in the country to legalize same-sex marriage, and Sid’s parents supported it.
Still, his throat tightened and his hands went sweaty as he approached his mom one morning in the bathroom while she got ready for work.
“I feel like a boy,” he said.
Jess told Sid she loved him. She said it was normal to question who he was, but she asked him to wait before socially or medically transitioning. He was too young, she thought, to fully know himself. What if he started testosterone and regretted it?
In retrospect, Jess wonders if she should have listened to Sid sooner. He’s always been an easy child, optimistic and kind to his sisters, but his mental health declined in the months after Jess asked him to wait. He developed hives when it was time to go to school, and he often felt anxious. Maybe, Jess thinks now, puberty blockers would have spared him that strife.
Instead, Jess asked him to spend time growing stronger in himself. The family joined a Methodist church when Sid was 13, and it became the center of their world. Jess taught vacation Bible school, and Sid volunteered to interpret sign language for services. They never skipped a Sunday.
Occasionally, someone at church described homosexuality as a sin, but Sid’s parents didn’t agree with them. The Highs are the kind of Christians who dig into etymologies and Greek translations, and the longer they studied Leviticus and Corinthians, the more they believed that translators had misinterpreted words to turn scriptures into weapons.
Sid looked, but he didn’t find any verses about trans people. The only thing he ever heard people say was that God doesn’t make mistakes. But if that were true, Sid thought, didn’t that mean God had created him exactly as he was — gender dysphoria and all?
He wasn’t sure. He’d never met another trans person, let alone a trans Christian, and he wasn’t sure if his life was acceptable to God, so he beat back his feelings with bright lipstick and the occasional frilly dress. When a voice inside said those costumes were wrong,

 
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cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
72,930
52,606
113
Sid reasoned with himself.
“This is just something you’re going through,” he told himself. “‘It’s because you’re going through puberty.”
He identified as a lesbian for a while, then, when he developed feelings for a guy, settled on bisexual or queer. Still, he didn’t allow himself to identify as a boy. His life would be harder, he thought, if he transitioned. Already, people left homophobic comments on his TikTok. An old classmate badgered Sid about his chest, and another threatened on Instagram to rape him.
Jess called the police, and Sid switched to home schooling. The comments died down, but the voice inside him that said “boy” never did.
In early 2019, when Sid was 15, the national United Methodist General Conference voted to adopt what was known as the Traditional Plan, a doctrine that reaffirmed the Methodist Church’s ban on same-sex marriage. Some Methodist churches rejected the plan, but the Highs’ pastor endorsed it.
A few weeks later, Sid says, the pastor, a woman, pulled Sid aside and told him homosexuality was a sin, and if he acted on it, he would go to hell.
Sid believed hell was a place where people were tortured forever, and as the pastor walked away, Sid’s throat tightened. Surely, he thought, the pastor knew the Bible better than anyone. Was he unworthy of God’s love?
Sid held back the tears until his mom picked up. He climbed into the passenger seat, then sobbed so hard his whole body shook.
“What’s the matter?” Jess asked.
Sid’s voice broke when he tried to speak.
“Am I going to hell?” he asked.
Jess looked at her kid, a skinny thing with big eyes and a gentle disposition, and she felt as if her heart had fallen to her feet. Sid was the kindest person Jess knew. He helped out around the house, and he volunteered at the library. He treated everyone, even those who discriminated against him, with love and respect. God had to love this kid, she thought.
“Absolutely not,” Jess told him. “God does not make mistakes. God made you perfectly.”

‘I respect your opinion’​

The Highs never returned to the Methodist church. Jess believed that fellowship could be an important part of faith, but she didn’t want people to damage her kids’ view of God. She’d gone through her own condemnation — the pastor had once told the church that Jess’s red and blue tattoos were “scratches from the devil” — and Jess refused to subject her kids to that kind of judgment.
Sid felt guilty, though. His sister Ava had a lot of church friends, and now she couldn’t see them. That was his fault, he thought.
As one Sunday passed, then another, Jess realized that if her family was going to heal, they needed more “spiritual food,” not less. Soon, they started talking about God at random moments — standing in the kitchen over a pan of Rice Krispies treats, or on a group hike in Wapsipinicon State Park.
Those conversations felt more complex than the ones they used to have at church. They went deep on Moses and Job, and they talked about Christianity’s role in current events. They prayed more often, too. Jess is a hairstylist, and she prays silently over clients as she washes their hair. When Sid got a job at Walgreens, he found himself praying for sick customers or others who came up short at the till.
Theirs was a God steeped in love and acceptance, and in the months after they left church, Sid decided he wanted to help others find the same safe space he had at home. That June, he helped organize his town’s first-ever Pride celebration.
He was 15, so he planned what he considered a family-friendly event. He booked the library for a few hours late morning, and he arranged to have face-painting and button-making booths. He invited two speakers: a state lawmaker to give the opening address, and a drag queen to read a princess book to kids.
Though the majority of Americans had begun to support same-sex marriage by 2019, conservatives were growing increasingly hostile toward queer and trans people, and libraries were often at the center of their ire. That year, a book about a trans kid was the most banned in the country, and seven others in the top 10 were challenged because of their LGBTQ-content.
As Sid’s event drew near, he said, people left threatening messages on the drag queen’s Facebook page, and they called the library to complain. A few days before Pride, Jess said, a woman came to her salon for a haircut. The woman told other customers she planned to boycott the library because Sid had invited the drag queen, and the woman thought the performer would sexualize children.
Worshiping at home had led Jess to believe that division was not the way forward for the country. And so, as Jess listened to the woman, she asked God to give her peace and strength. When the woman sat for her cut, Jess tried to convey empathy.
“I told her, ‘I’m here to have an open conversation where you can express your feelings and I can maybe share some of the details behind the event,’” Jess said.
The woman talked for a while, then Jess explained that the drag queen wouldn’t be doing anything sexual. She’d be dressed as a princess in a long pink skirt. She’d read the princess book, and that would be it.
“By the end, the woman was like, ‘Thank you so much for taking the time to explain this to me,’” Jess said. “It was this beautiful moment where I just spoke truth but also said, ‘I respect your opinion.’ She’s still a client.”
That Saturday, more than 1oo queer people and their allies filled the library. A handful of Christian protesters huddled outside. As Sid made his way past them, he prayed that everyone there felt the love of God, but when he took the microphone later that morning, he didn’t mention his faith.
He was anxious, he realized. Christians had already rejected him because of his identity. What if gay people judged him because of his faith?
 

cigaretteman

HR King
May 29, 2001
72,930
52,606
113

Embraced by God​

By early 2020, when Sid turned 16, he still didn’t know other queer Christians. But the pandemic made it easier to find like-minded believers. As services migrated online, the Highs began to watch LGBTQ-inclusive sermons on YouTube. And one day, on TikTok, Sid discovered Beloved Arise, a Bible study for LGBTQ Christian teens.
He started spending Tuesday nights on Zoom talking to other queer teens about Judas Iscariot and the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. The woman was a social outcast who’d had five husbands and lived with another out of wedlock. Still, Jesus confided in her.
The Bible was full of stories like that, Sid found. God often chose people who’d struggled or made mistakes. Even Jesus was accused of being evil.
The deeper Sid grew in his faith, the more he realized he’d been right about himself at 12. God had given him a boy soul, and if he wanted to live an honest life, he had to come out again.
Sid has autism, and sometimes it feels easier to lay his thoughts out in writing, so he worked his message out on Google Docs one afternoon in March 2021. He was 17.
“I’m still the same person,” he wrote.
He typed what he hoped was a helpful education on gender dysphoria and transitioning, then emailed the document to his mom and stepdad. Jess responded immediately. She told Sid she understood and accepted him, and later that night, at the dining room table, they spent a few hours talking about what might happen.
Sid has chronic illnesses, including a thyroid disorder, and Jess worried testosterone might mess up his natural hormones. But they made a plan to find good doctors, and later that week, Sid changed his Instagram bio to “he/him.”
He’d expected life would be harder as a trans guy, but it felt easier. He wasn’t lying anymore, and that meant his days felt less stressful. He could be more present in his own life. His relationships felt deeper and more true, especially the one he had with God.
“I think that’s because I wasn’t fighting with myself and trying to be someone I wasn’t,” Sid said. “It pleases God to embrace who I am. God doesn’t want us to be trying to please others. He wants us to be who God made us to be.”
Sid takes a break from reading emails as half sister Lucy jumps on the bed. (Rachel Mummey/for The Washington Post)

Trying to be a ‘light’​

This fall, after the remote church service concluded, the Highs said the Lord’s Prayer, then they split a few breakfast pizzas from Casey’s gas station.
They talked for a while about the lawsuit a group of parents had filed against Sid’s old school district. Earlier this year, the Linn-Mar Community School District adopted a policy to protect transgender students from discrimination. The national organization Parents Defending Education filed a suit claiming the policy infringed on the First Amendment rights of students who did not want to respect a trans student’s pronouns.
“It’s sad,” Sid told his family. “It reminds me of the fact that, like, even in the community we live in, people all of a sudden are just full of such, like, anger.”
“Humans need to feel that they’re worth something and they’re good and righteous and okay,” Jess said. “Just one person being that light in your life can change your whole world.”
The kids teased Jess about how often she used the word “light.”
“I feel like that’s your favorite word,” Sid said. “She always wants to give people light.”
He laughed, but the truth was that he also longed to bring light to people the world had forgotten or pushed away. In June, he’d become an ambassador for Beloved Arise, the LGBTQ Christian group he found on TikTok. He planned to start a book club for young queer Christians, and he’d recently started offering advice to young trans people who wanted it. He set up a Google form, then posted the link in a bunch of forums, and the response had overwhelmed him. Every week, dozens of kids asked for advice.
When he finished his pizza, he headed upstairs to work on this week’s replies.
Sid’s bedroom had all the makings of a young person approaching adulthood. He’d recently given his Harry Styles posters to his younger sister, and he’d painted the walls light green. His bookshelf held a mix of Jane Austen, “Heartstopper” and “The Gospel of Judas,” an ancient text that suggests Judas was not a villain, but rather Jesus’ chosen disciple.
Sid grabbed his laptop, a Mac plastered in stickers for the Human Rights Campaign and the emo band My Chemical Romance, then climbed into bed and loaded his email. Thirty-eight young people wanted advice.
Sid hummed as he read the first one: “No advice,” the person had written. “Just want to hear that someone can relate to my problems and care for me.”
“Okay,” Sid said, wrinkling his brow, “so they do want advice, but also not advice.”
He skimmed the others while he considered a reply. A few wanted book recommendations, and two asked for advice on looking more masculine. Though his own journey had felt confusing at times, the answers came easy now. His mom had taught him that hair can make all the difference, and she’d even introduced him to a website that pointed people toward trans-friendly stylists. He added the link to an email, then he explained what he called the “Doritos” look.
“Wear things that make you look broader on top,” he wrote. Baseball tees, for example, can make your shoulders seem wide and your hips look narrow, he explained, just like a tortilla chip.
He added a few links to trans-masculine workouts, then ended with his favorite scripture, Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you. Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”
He opened another email. An asexual teen had written to say her parents wanted her to get married soon and do everything her husband told her to do.
Sid grimaced. “Toxic vibes,” he said.
He read on, then drafted a response. “Please know you’re worth so much more,” he wrote.
Some of the messages made him feel sad. Queer teenagers across the country felt as if God and their communities had turned against them, and several told Sid they felt no one cared about them.
As his sisters jumped around the hallway, singing and playing with the dogs, Sid opened one last letter. A young woman’s parents had told her she was going to hell for wanting to marry her girlfriend someday.
Sid tapped his fingers on the keyboard. He thought of his former pastor, of the fear he’d once felt, then he remembered a verse from the book of Romans.
“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”
Sid cut and pasted the verse into an email, then he typed a few of his own words.
“God has your back every step of your journey,” he told the young woman. “He still loves you. He’s still sustaining you.”