Story Update: Gina Grahame: “Your heart is not wrong. This is not a sin.”

by Gina Grahame

Nathan: Welcome to this week’s Story Update. Today, we’re going to be speaking to Gina Grahame. Before we do, let’s take a look at her story.

Gina: Hi, I’m Gina Grahame, I’m from Detroit, Michigan. I came out as transsexual in 1992. I was 29 at the time. I always tell people that transitioning was my last resort, it was not my first choice. I spent a year examining, “Could I possibly just be gay?” y’know, and as I told my therapist, “If you can make me gay, I can deal with that.”

She’s like “Do you know anyone who’s gay?” and I’m like “No,” and she’s like, “Time you do.”

So I met some gay men, and it took about 5 minutes to realize I’m not a gay man. And when I met women who were transsexual, I was like, “That’s it. I am female.”

It was very early in my transition, my parents asked me to go speak to the minister. This is at the church where they still went, it was also the church I had grown up in. So this is someone I’d known since I was 14. I agreed I wanted to prove to them that I was firm enough in my beliefs that they could be challenged. And secondly, I thought if I could get this man to be an ally, I can get him on my side, he could be a tremendous help to my parents to help them understand. This is Southern Fundamentalist Religion called the Church of Christ. We always say The Church of Christ is a lot like Southern Baptist, just not as liberal. I knew I was in for an uphill battle. I went to the library to start studying up. I bought the Oxford companion to the Bible, and I read through that, and I highlighted what I wanted to know, and I took my King James Bible, and got all my notes together, and went to go see the minister.

When I went in, his first comment was, “You know what you’re doing is wrong in the eyes of God.”

And I said, “Actually, I think what I’m doing is perfectly fine in the eyes of God.” And I said, “Let me ask you a question.” I said, “Is the Bible the absolute truth word of God, or is it a story of metaphors?”

And he said, “No, it is the absolute true word of God.”

And I said, “So then, the garden of Eden would be the high point of God’s creation. That was His initial untouched creation.“

He said, “Yes,” and I said, “Then where’s the minister? There’s no minister or church in the garden of Eden.”

And he started to get quiet. And he goes to Leviticus, and he quotes, “A man should not lie with another man.”

And I said, “Okay, then what about shellfish, and pork, and tattoos, and wearing clothes of different fabrics. I don’t see any of these being taught or preached against.”

So then he goes to Deuteronomy, where a man shall not dress as a woman, or a woman dress as a man. So I said, “Okay, yes. Now, could that be a sense of controlling women?” And he began to get a little flustered at some of this back and forth.

So I said, “When we die and go to heaven, what do we look like? Do we have the body that we had when we were dying and old?”

He says, “I think you’re oversimplifying it here. It’s just your soul that goes to Heaven. There’s no body.”

And I said, “Right, exactly. I’m not changing my soul, so what’s the problem?”

He says, “Well you’re changing God’s plan for you. God made for you to be a man.”

And I said, “Ah. What about Brother Johnson, who had a heart transplant recently? God meant for him to die at age 45. But rather than get up and preach against that, you were praising God for allowing a surgeon to have the skills to give him more life. That flies directly in your argument of playing God.”

And he says, “I think you’re still — you’re just trying to find an argument around what you know is wrong.”

I said, “Not at all. We’re supposed to be New Testament Christians, so Leviticus, Deuteronomy, all this stuff is irrelevant. Jesus fulfilled that. So show me the New Testament, tell me why I’m wrong.”

And he says, “I can’t tell you why it’s wrong, I just know that it is.”

And I said, “Well that’s your personal opinion, and you’re entitled to that. But your job is to preach what’s in the book, so if you can’t show me in the book where this is wrong, then you can’t get up in that pulpit and preach that it is.”

And I was wrong, because two weeks later, he did exactly that. He got up, and he gave a lesson on a Sunday, preaching against evils of this, as my parents and my sister and my aunt sat in the audience and listened. It was illuminating, because I felt he wanted me to be repentant when I came in, a sense of asking for forgiveness and all of this. And actually, I was more defiant.

You can back up anything you want to believe in the Bible. You can find a verse to do that. If you choose to believe in slavery, you can find a verse to back it up. If you believe in misogyny, you can find a verse to back it up. If you choose to believe that God is all about revenge and fire and brimstone and damnation, and all this, it’s there. As is that God is all about love and forgiveness. Religion is too often used as this hammer against the LGBTQ community. And I want people to know that that’s not what the book actually says. It just breaks my heart to see so many people in the community have all this internalized shame because of what they feel the Bible is saying, and it’s just not true.

Within a year or two, that minister left, a new minister came in. Complete opposite. He was completely on board with my being transsexual, with my transition, and helped my parents through it. His first words to me were, “Hey, girl! Come on in here.”

And I was like, wow, okay. And we talked. Same way that I talked to him with the first minister. And he said, “Y’know, there are just some things best left to God, and it’s not our job to judge.” And he told my parents, “This is not a sin. Welcome your daughter, this is not a sin.”

That right there was all I ever wanted.

Nathan: Okay, Gina. Welcome back to I’m From Driftwood. How are you?

Gina: I am great. Thank you so much. It’s good to be back. Yeah,

Nathan: Yeah, it’s good to see you. So one – after watching your story again, there’s one thing that really stood out in my mind when you were speaking with the minister. He said, after you confronted him with all your knowledge and highlighted notes and quotes and information, he simply replied to you and said, “I don’t know why it’s wrong. I just know that it is.” And to me, that’s very revealing and kind of like he showed his cards and that’s not what you really want to hear from a minister.

What was going through your mind at the time?

Gina: A lot of what you just said. It… because it was not what you want to hear from a minister and it was not what I expected to hear from a minister. There was a part of me that expected, honestly, and I had a private expect him to say, “You know what? You’re right. And I’m not going to do that.”

I thought I had laid out my case and I thought I would get a… an acknowledgement. But that… that staying in his position was a little surprising. And, you know, but again, I left it as, “Well, that’s your opinion. So everyone’s entitled.” The real disconnect came, like I said, a couple of weeks later when he did get up and preach against this to the audience or to the congregation. I was not there, but I heard about it from family.

Nathan: Do you he did that because you weren’t there?

Gina: No, I think he did it because he could. And I think that he did it because he was not happy with our interaction. You know, like I said, in the beginning of the story, when I first showed up, I really believe he expected me to kind of come in with my head down and this sense of, I know what I’m doing is wrong and all of this asking for forgiveness and I was not having any part of it. And I think that that sense of defiance, if you will, kind of set him on a path to give him the last word.

Nathan: Have you experienced any other sort of transphobia from a religious figure or any church that you’ve attended or anything else in that regard that you had to kind of push back again… push back against again?

Gina: Not to that degree. But full disclosure, I don’t really attend a church regularly anymore. I did go to the unity church for a while and found them to be absolutely wonderful people. 100% welcoming. Had great experiences there. But you know, I have run into people that are conservative or religious that have, outside of a church, that have voiced their opinion, negative opinions toward me.

Nathan: If you met someone or let’s say someone’s watching this video even, and they don’t have all the homework or all the research done. They haven’t… they don’t have their highlighter out and circling things in red ink, and, you know, let’s say the… and they don’t have the, the, honestly, the motivation to do all that, but they are experiencing some sort of transphobia or homophobia or any sort of phobia at church. What would you… what would you tell them? How… how are they supposed to stand up to that? Would you say you’ve just got to go do your homework and go prepared? Or is there something else that they can do or say?

Gina: That’s really good question. You know, and I’ve had numerous people reach out to me that are in church, that if – either they’re going through this or they have a family member that is, and they’re feeling the pushback from the minister, from the congregation. And what I would say to them is knowing your heart this is not wrong. This is not a sin.

And if someone comes to you and tells you that it is, simply ask them to show you where. You don’t have to do anything more than that. Just ask them to show you. And then, you know, then I’m happy to have the conversation and say, That’s not what the Bible says. And if you look through there specifically, as we always say, you know, the little lines in red in the King James version of the new Testament, which is… are the quotes attributed to Jesus, you’re not going to find anything. So to know in your heart you are not doing anything wrong.

And then I come back to, I always reference back to: the body doesn’t go to heaven. It’s the soul. I’m not changing myself. So what’s the problem? And that’s usually the one thing that people gravitate and go Right, absolutely. And they seem to find some solace in that.

Nathan: That’s beautiful. I love that. And you know, I still like what you said is like, make them do the work, make them go do all the research and find where it says that. And they’ll likely find that it doesn’t say that .

Gina: They… I can almost guarantee they won’t come back

Nathan: Even better!

Gina: Yeah, exactly. Problem solved. It is heartbreaking to see, you know, there are a lot of people in the community that religion is used as that… that kind of hammer against. And it’s like, it’s just not there.

Nathan: Yeah. And just to… to highlight what you said again, it’s like, you know that it’s in your soul. Your soul is good. You know that in your soul, there’s nothing wrong with you at all. And that’s what people have really hopefully can just always go to, if they’re ever feeling conflicted or someone, is making them feel conflicted. You know, that there’s nothing wrong with you.

So what else is going on in your life these days? You know, what else are you up to?

Gina: Lots of good things have been happening. I am actually a lecturer now and communications coach at Stanford at the Graduate School of Business. And I’ve launched my own company on strategic communication. And I’m also teaching strategic communication at Google. Executive presence, overcoming imposter syndrome, issues like this. And I’ve been doing this now for the better part of the last two years, three years. So life is good.

And my partner and I, she is in the other room working right now. We are together. We’re looking forward to a wedding next year. So life is good.

Nathan: Wow. That’s all amazing. And it sounds like just the perfect job for you. You seem to have very clear and great and strong communication skills and know how to use them. So congratulations on all your success and happiness and your impending wedding and marriage. So thanks again for joining us and for sharing your story and for anyone watching, if you have any questions or comments for Gina, just feel free to leave them in the comments and Gina, maybe you can check back periodically and respond to some of them if you’re willing to.

Gina: Will do.

Nathan: Great. And besides that, we’ll be back next week. So y’all check back then. Thanks.

Gina: Thank you.

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