CHAPEL HILL - Second of two parts
On the road from rural North Carolina to the Boston suburbs, Sam Taylor has worn the shoes of a native son, student, soldier, and now, a young woman and religious leader.
In some ways, I dont see it as much of a change [but] as a continuation, said Taylor, who is a transgender woman.
Thats not to say the road has been easy.
Growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist community didnt allow much self-expression, Taylor said. Most of her family and friends didnt learn she planned to come out until she returned with the 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion from a tour of duty in Iraq.
If my dad had asked, I would have told him, she said. Ill admit I was really nervous, not because my dad is in any way a mean person or a bad person, but Ive just known so many people whose families have just absolutely rejected them when they came out.
Most people have been supportive. A few have said her decision was wrong, or started acting differently around her.
Taylor was living as a man in 2008 when she met Becky Smith. The Massachusetts Water Program coordinator for the nonprofit group Clean Water Action, Smith was Taylors mentor during a nine-month internship with the Micah Project, an Episcopal service mission for social and structural justice issues. They soon became best friends.
Smith said Taylor a sister of my heart was courageous in coming out.
I was really pleased that I had a friend who trusted me enough to be honest and trusted that I was a caring and thoughtful enough friend to be able to hold that information and still be the same friend that I was before I knew that, Smith said.
Sgt. Jason Kalarchik, who served with Taylor in Iraq, said he feels the same way.
I grew up in Montana, and I couldnt imagine. I try to put myself in his situation, and I just cant even
[the response] would be violent, I think, Kalarchik said. Hes got nothing to be afraid of from me. Im still his buddy. He can call me anytime.
Taylors circle of support continues to grow at St. Pauls Episcopal Church in the Brookline suburb of Boston. She will talk with her priest later this year about seeking ordination with the Diocese of Massachusetts and, if he agrees, begin a two-year discernment process. This is the time when candidatesreflect on whether to be a priest and talk about their plans with the parish priest, the parishs governing bodyand diocese officials. The process continues with up to three years at seminary before the candidate is ordained a deacon and, eventually, a priest.
In Boston, Taylor also found a mentor in Cameron Partridge, an openly transgender Episcopal chaplain at Boston University and a lecturer in Harvard Universitys Divinity School and the department of women, gender and sexuality.
Partridge transitioned as a man in 2002 and was ordained in 2005. He remembers struggling with a sense of isolation, but Partridge said he found a lifeline in the Episcopalian and Anglican group, TransEpiscopal, and learned the Episcopal Church had embraced the transgender community for more than a decade.
Partridge said Taylor was struggling when they met with her call to the ministry, her transgender identity and her military duty. They stayed in touch, and Partridges congregation read the newspaper columns from Iraq and prayed for Taylor. They were grateful when she came back safely, he said.
She managed to do it with characteristic authenticity, integrity, honor and unique boldness, Partridge said.
Some Christians say the Bible and literary history support transgender identity. Taylor pointed to the Ethiopian eunuch who accepts Christ in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts, becoming the first non-Jewish Christian, and to the male daughters mentioned in the Hammurabi code.
Partridge said the growing number of transgender youths in the church is a sign of the new realities emerging.
Not simply of the growing acceptance of trans people, he said, but of the growing presence of thoughtful, critically engaged young adults indeed, people of all ages who refuse to be boxed into neat and tidy categories.
Others say transgender lifestyles are contrary to biblical precepts.
Chaplain Kevin Winemiller is a 14-year Army veteran who now serves part time as a brigadier chaplain with the 60th Troop Command of the N.C. National Guard, based in Raleigh. While serving in Iraq, Winemiller said he never suspected Taylor, his chaplains assistant, was a transgender person. He found out when Taylor emailed him in February.
Winemiller said Taylor will always be his friend, but his opinion is that being transgender is against nature and can promote homosexuality as described in Romans 1 and Leviticus 18.
Of course, Im a little sad for him, Winemiller said. I think hes searching and may be confused, but he has to know that Im his friend, and Ill go the distance for him. Im not going to speak bad about him.
Being honest about her gender has given her a far greater sense of peace and led to better personal relationships, Taylor said.
If I had tried to go into family life as broken, dishonest, desperately trying to hide basic facts about myself from those that loved me most, I cant even imagine how much of a mess that would have been, how much pain my decision not to be right in the world could have caused my loved ones, Taylor said.
After nearly three years of hormone injections, Taylor is not considering gender reassignment surgery yet, because the idea of any surgery makes her uncomfortable, she said. She does acknowledge, however, that physical rightness is incredibly important to a lot of people.
Taylor spends her time writing books and playing an acoustic guitar she bought in Iraq. She works out every day an Army habit, she said.
One day, she would like to see a herd of little Taylors running around and being too smart for their own good, although the idea of children is a little terrifying right now.
She remembers her dad reading stories from the Bible and Greek mythology every night at bedtime.
She wants to do that with her own children, Taylor said, to show them the beauty and wonder and excitement of the world as I sometimes see it, and then learn what they find there, too.