My role in life as a transgender activist stemmed from a presentation I made in the late ’90s, shortly after I had publicly expressed my identity as a transgender woman.
When I first came out, I struggled with finding a place that would welcome and affirm me as a faith-filled trans woman.
I found an LGBT church within a progressive denomination that was founded as a gay church but hadn’t had a transgender member until I walked in the door.
Shortly after I started attending services, I was asked to lead a session at the denomination’s National Gathering, speaking about my gender/faith journey and what it means to have a trans person in a congregation.
I was flummoxed by the invitation, because I was so newly out and newly involved with the church. But I realized that they needed to have this kind of conversation in order to truly live out their commitment to being welcoming to all – LGB and T.
Then I was asked to give my presentation in some form of dramatic style – singing, dancing, poetry, dramatic reading … anything but the traditional talking-head approach.
I don’t do those things, so I wanted to suggest they find someone else. The problem with that solution was that the conversation they needed to have probably wouldn’t happen.
I said yes.
I was introduced to the audience and came on stage as David – my guy self, short hair and all. I wore a long, black terrycloth robe and had a cosmetic bag and a stand-up mirror that I set on the cleared-off altar.
As I told the story of my gender journey, I started to put on my make-up. By the time I was done relating the decades of confusion, fear, guilt, shame and the eventual understanding of who I truly was, I had finished my makeover. I stepped back and took a wig from the table behind me, placed it on my head, dropped the long, black robe revealing a fabulous, long gown, and introduced them to: Barbara Satin.
The response from the audience was overwhelming – lots of cheers and applause – and to this day, nearly 20 years later, I still get comments from people gushing, “I was there when you made your presentation.”
The true impact of that event didn’t become clear to me until six months later, at a multi-church service when a woman said to me: “You changed my life when I saw your presentation. My dad is a cross-dresser and I had cut myself off from him because of it. As I watched you on stage and listened to your story, I realized that’s my dad up there. I reconnected with my dad and we have rebuilt our relationship. You changed my life.”
All I had done was tell my story – my truth – and it had changed somebody’s understanding of what it means to be a transgender person.
That series of events changed my life, too. I have striven to be as visible as possible so that more people could see and hear a trans person, and maybe experience that same truth and understanding, or at least realize that we are in their world and in their lives.
Barbara Satin is the assistant Faith Works Director for the National LBGTQ Task Force. www.thetaskforce.org