JASON identified as a woman and was quick to point out how he would like to be addressed: “My name is Jason. But I’d prefer to be called Joanne. Or Jay.”
I held out my hand. “Nice to meet you, Jay.”
Jay looked relieved. I think Jay was expecting an argument about biology.
Now we could have had that argument because I don’t for a second believe that Jay is a woman. Jay is a man in a dress.
And I don’t believe surgery or prescribed hormones can turn Jay into a woman; though I’m sure treatment would help Jason pass himself off as “Jay” a little more convincingly!
But all of that was beside the point. Upon meeting Jay, I didn’t initiate a debate about chromosomes. I warmly shook Jay’s hand and, sitting down opposite him, said: “So tell me your story.”
This was my first gift to Jay. It’s called the gift of attention.
I listened intently to Jay’s story. How as a child he had thought of himself as a girl. How he grew up to marry his childhood sweetheart with whom he raised three kids. How in recent times, unhappy with life, he had decided to live as a woman. And how this decision had devastated his family.
Jay told his story with wit and self-deprecation that had me laughing and wincing – sometimes at the same time.
I found myself admiring his courage. Jay is a burly bloke. It can’t be easy to venture to the local shopping-centre in a dress; putting up with stares and whispered comments.
I also found myself despairing for Jay. It was clear that, though he claimed to be now living as his “true self”, he was far from happy.
As I listened to Jay, the thought occurred that he might be laying a trap for me. Perhaps Jay had come to our church specifically to provoke an argument so as to be offended and then slander our church in the media as a bunch of hateful bigots. Was our conversation being recorded?
I ignored those thoughts and decided to assume the best of Jay, taking him at face value. That’s the second gift I gave Jay. The gift of trust.
Our service was starting by the time Jay had finished describing his journey and so Jay didn’t get a chance to ask my perspective; if indeed he had wanted it.
Had Jay asked me, I would have explained that I don’t believe a man can become a woman. That would have been the gift of honesty.
I would also have explained that regardless of how Jay identified, if Jay was looking for friends, then Jay would find our church full of people who – whilst not agreeing about gender – would certainly welcome him.
When someone wondered over to meet Jay, I said: “This is Jay. Jay is at our church for the first time and I was just saying to Jay that Jay will find people here are very welcoming.”
It was a clumsy sentence.
It would have been easier to have said: “This is Jay. She is at our church for the first time and I was telling her that she will find people here are very welcoming.” But I didn’t want to use the female pronoun because to do so would have been dishonest. And honesty is one of the greatest gifts you can give a person.
I could have, instead, said: “This is Jay. He is at our church for the first time and I was just telling him that he will find people here are very welcoming.” But I didn’t want to use a male pronoun for a thick-set man wearing a dress and sporting breasts since that would have shamed Jay.
So I repeatedly used Jay’s preferred name rather than a pronoun because though I didn’t agree with Jay about gender, I didn’t want to shame Jay. This is called the gift of respect.
Jay continues to attend church. I’m believing that as we give Jay the gift of attention, trust, honesty and respect, the Holy Spirit will bring him to a point of healing and peace.