In the spring of 2015, Pam Jones’s husband of 24 years wrote her a letter explaining that they wanted to be known as Chrissie. Their rugged alpha male persona had been a mask, an act of performative masculinity to protect their true self, which was, and always had been, intrinsically feminine
As told to Jane Knoop
I held the letter in my hand and had this incredibly weighty feeling. It was as if the earth stood still waiting for me to respond. I knew that the first words I said would have to be so carefully chosen. It was so critical that I got it right. My instinct was to bring reassurance. I could see how incredibly vulnerable Chrissie was in that moment. So my words were simple. “It’s OK”, I said, repeatedly. “It will be OK.”
As I had read the letter I had no idea of the magnitude of what was ahead, or the road I would have to walk. I knew nothing of the brokenness and isolation I would be subject to, nor of the impending hope and profound love I would discover.
Before Chrissie’s coming out it was clear that they were beginning to unravel. For years, I’d felt as if I had been living with an unexploded bomb, and it all came to a head in that letter. In the following days and weeks, I was convinced that God would bring healing or that we would discover some hormonal treatment to restore Chrissie’s ‘male-ness’. It was God who had brought us together; surely he would bring resolution to the turmoil? But I was looking at it totally from my side; I just wanted my husband back. It didn’t occur to me for a moment that I might be praying contrary to God’s will.
That was the most painful time for me. Surrendering to the realisation that my definition of healing might not be God’s healing for Chrissie. While I prayed to get my husband back, I watched Chrissie healing in their feminity. The intensity we’d experienced in our home began to lessen; the bomb was no longer waiting to explode. I witnessed a person emerging from a place of torment, and flourishing into a fruitful, tender, deeply sensitive and compassionate individual.
At this point our paths crossed over. As Chrissie embraced authenticity and walked out of shame, I walked into it – in any social setting, and especially in church. Imagine walking down the street with your husband – who everyone knew as the hairy builder – now dressed as a woman. That’s beyond hard. People talking, laughing, judging. I was appalled at the degree to which I cared what others thought of me, of us.
For a time, I studied the semantics of my wedding vows. Surely I didn’t need to keep these promises? I’d committed to loving a man – did this not let me off the hook? Friends advised “moving on” and “finding happiness again”. It was a bewildering time.
I was angry with God. Why me – a firmly heterosexual, hot-blooded and passionate female? The cost felt so great. Why had he not chosen someone more open, liberal and able to adapt? or the one other woman I’d met whose husband was also transitioning to become female, the situation didn’t seem such a big deal. For me it felt cataclysmically huge. I was hurting like mad and needed to grieve all that I had lost. It was akin to a deep, long and lonely bereavement.
But my sacrifice, though significant, has been minimal. Whenever you surrender something to God you get so much more back. You can’t measure that.
Chrissie’s coming out has been a necessary catalyst in revealing the true depth and breadth of radical, unconditional love, which my 38 years as a committed Christian had only scratched the surface of. Relationship with God isn’t about me feeling better, safer, happier – aspects of my conversion at Spring Harvest in my 20s – but about receiving and giving love in the hardet of places. Before me stands a person more than worthy of my love and commitment. If I truly love Chrissie then I will want what’s best for them…whatever the cost for me.
God has opened my eyes to a kingdom without boundaries. Love, beyond the perimeters of my home and invading my comfort zone. It is not for us to judge and exclude – our role is to love and welcome others to the table. Inclusion and belonging have been themes throughout my Christian life. I have always been embraced, loved and accepted – I just happened to tick the right boxes! It felt like a foretaste of heaven. But since identifying with Chrissie, I have experienced being on the outside. I know what exclusion feels like now, and my eyes have been opened to people on the margins.
I want to be on the side of history that sees the emergence of a community of faith that radically loves the outsider
Looking back, I see how instinctively Chrissie always embraced those on the edge. Long before their coming out we’d be at church on a Sunday morning and, while I made a beeline for my clique of friends, Chrissie would be drawn to those who seemed lost, uncomfortable or unsure.
I have had to face my own deep prejudices. To my shame, I recall a time years ago when I dashed home from town with my children on hearing that a Pride march was taking place, explaining: “Something unpleasant is happening here, and I don’t want you to get caught up in it.” I know now that there is nowhere I’d rather be than caught up among the marginalised. In my judgment of others I created a famine of grace in my own life and in the hearts of my children.
We can be so afraid of people who are different; harbouring a desperate need to be part of the majority. I have great sympathy for anyone else who faces the same internal battles, learning to love and welcome a family member or friend who may be transgender.
Transgender, intersex and non-binary people may challenge the very core of what we’ve always believed to be right or true, and the deconstruction of our theological standpoints can be painful and utterly destabilising. My theology is finally beginning to reflect what I see in the Bible – an extravagant love that welcomes those once condemned by law and society.
Black and white theories are shattered as soon as we meet and truly listen to people who are different from us. Since Chrissie’s coming out, I’ve come into contact with many people in the LGBTQ+ community and I’ve wept as I’ve heard their stories. Not only are they dealing with a conflict within themselves, they are acutely aware of the shame that is imposed upon them by others, whether that is society, family or – sad to say – the Church. And the Church is often at the top of that list.
For me, it’s no longer about thrashing out theology. I want to be on the side of history that sees the emergence of a community of faith that radically loves the outsider.
Isn’t this what Jesus is asking of us? When I see him face to face, I doubt he’ll ask me about my beliefs, but rather whether I loved the people that he gave me.
Chrissie’s story of growing up with severe gender dysphoria and navigating identity and faith is told in Heaven Come down: The story of a transgender disciple, available at dartonlongmantodd.co.uk
If you’ve experienced something similar and would like to talk to Pam, or if you want to share your views and story, contact us by email: firstname.lastname@example.org