By Stephanie Dorsey
*Content Information* – this post writes in the context of a behavioral health hospital and includes references to significant depression.
It is January 22. I have just been admitted to the behavioral health hospital. A few moments ago, I was weeping. I am a transgender woman, and among the many hoops I had to jump through for admittance was a “skin test.” This is a nice way of saying, “stripping down to your bra and underwear in the presence of two nurses.” This I dutifully did; with wet eyes I stood before then, my bulge, which I carefully kept hidden underneath my dress, as prominent as can be. However, it was not their intrusions that most oppressed me.
Now, I am at my first group – expressive arts therapy. We’re doing blackout poetry. Pick one background image. Pick one page. I gravitate to a beautiful birds-eye shot of a man carrying a golden plate in a mosque. I let chance dictate my page. I love this kind of expression. I decide to use this time as a prayer, a lament, more to the point. We each share our finished compositions. I’m still shy, having not yet learned the healing power of shared vulnerability. I read, “you have shown me contentment. / I fear the gleam of your sun-kiss. / It sparkled in the gloom! / I did my best. I came without rest. / So vain, you never thought. / ‘Hush!’ quivered all the voices.”
“What does it mean?”
“A big part of my story is I’ve been hurt by the Church.”
Sometime later, someone from the group asks me what I do for a living. “I’m a pastor,” I say meekly.
The cumulative toll of transphobic barbs, implications of “agendas,” and discrimination in hiring had become too much. I walked in the shadow of the valley of death for ages, it seemed. Now I was teetering on the entrance to it. It beckoned me, welcoming me like you would an old friend.
For days I take time for myself. I make friends. I read. Psalm 22. The Gospel of Mark. Just Kids by Patti Smith. I center. I pray. I make my way back to the shadow of the valley. It’s modest progress, but progress nonetheless.
Now, I am sitting on the floor. Patients are not allowed in one another’s rooms, so this is how I and my temporary chosen family chat. I talk with a young man, 19 years old. My depression score is 4/10. You train yourself to have that number ready at a moment’s notice. His is at a 9.
“May I talk to you as a pastor?”
“I feel like I need to get right with God.”
I go into my spiel. God does not require atonement from you. God is in solidarity with us, especially with us, we who are vulnerable and oppressed by forces beyond our control. Something within me twinges. It feels familiar and true.
“Do you want to pray?”
“I don’t know how.”
“Can I pray for you?”
He nods vigorously, his eyes shut though visibly wet. I pray. I pray for him. I pray for both of us. I pray that God our liberator lightens his load and mine, that They make a way out of no way and transfigure this desert time into a time of renewal, that we might find courage for the struggle ahead.
He weeps. For a long time, I wait.
“I saw the clouds part. I saw a ray of sunshine.”
A 19-year-old prophet, reminding me of my calling in his comfort. I think of Henri Nouwen’s Wounded Healer. I also think, no; that’s too trite. God is present with us in the vulnerable places, but it is not right that we should be wounded.
I resigned from my pulpit after coming home, though secure in my call.
“What do you do,” someone might ask me tomorrow.
“I am a pastor. And I am trans,” I will say with my head held high, as clear as a sliver of sunlight peeking through the clouds.
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Stephanie Dorsey (she/her) is a 2020 M. Div. graduate from Lancaster Theological Seminary. A native of the Baltimore area, she studied music at Towson University and taught music in the Baltimore Public Schools before going to seminary. She is a member of Christ Church UCC in Elizabethtown, PA, and served as interim associate pastor of Church of the Apostles UCC in Lancaster. Stephanie also served as the summer preaching fellow at Cleveland Park Congregational UCC in Washington, D.C. She has two boys, ages 2 and 5, and lives in Lancaster, PA.