Other names enticed me. I tried in vain to get my family and friends to call me Jack, or Tony. The names never stuck, but my deep sense of knowing that I was a boy – that never went away.
North Carolina has always been my home. My soul thrills at the sight of these wide-open Carolina skies.
But the law which North Carolina passed last week – the first in the country that requires students like me and others to use bathrooms that match the gender on their birth certificate — sends angry storm clouds churning above my head, masking the beauty of my home state from view.
Public bathrooms, you see, are a place of fear and anxiety for many trans people, myself included.
I associated bathrooms with fear from the time I first started school as a young child. I quickly learned to feel shame about the boyish way I looked and dressed. I learned from my peers that being different was a sin, something to be punished. I learned to hide, waiting in the stall with my feet pulled up until the bathroom was empty. I preferred a reprimand from my teacher to the unpredictable punishments doled out in that cold, ceramic box.
Even today, as a divinity school student and as a trans person who is privileged to be able to pass as male, public bathrooms are still one of the scariest places I frequent on a daily basis. I open the door, praying not only for an unoccupied stall, but for a completely empty bathroom. Better to not be seen here at all. If I’m out of town or in an unfamiliar place and someone enters while I am in the stall, I wait until they leave.
I’ve seen the news stories, the police reports. Trans people – overwhelmingly trans women – are assaulted and harassed in public bathrooms on a regular basis. I have no desire to become one of those news stories.
And so I wait. I hide. And as I wait, I think about my school-age self. I tell him that one day, he won’t have to hide anymore. One day, he won’t have to be afraid. Except in the bathroom.
Regardless of what my state’s law now says, and regardless of the gender that appears on my birth certificate, I do not plan on frequenting any women’s restrooms now or anytime in the future. Doing so would guarantee two things: that I would be uncomfortable, and that the women sharing the bathroom with me could be uncomfortable. And so I will continue to use bathrooms that correspond with my gender identity.
If that is an act of protest, then let it be an act of protest. But personally, I just like to call it “peeing.”
I believe that we are all on a journey of becoming – a journey to find our true name. For many of our Biblical forebears, that name is different from the name we have been called our entire lives. Abram and Sarai were on a journey to become our patriarch and matriarch Abraham and Sarah. Jacob became Israel once he wrestled with God. In the New Testament, Simon made a journey to become Peter, and Saul to become Paul.
And I at last realized my own true name: not the name I was assigned two weeks after birth, and not Tony or Jack. It is the name I have heard all my life, woven into the tale of my birth. Adam. Adam. Adam.
In my journey, the voices of support have been mixed with a few powerful voices of condemnation. Early on in my transition, a pastor told me that his heart was breaking for me because of the apparent step I had taken away from God’s plan for my life.
As he was talking, all I could think was, “I’m sorry that your heart is breaking for me, but my heart is just beginning to heal.”
Those fragile pieces of my heart which I feared had crumbled to dust, leaving me as empty as I felt, were being brought to life again by a God I had never felt was this real or this close until She breathed life into a body that I never thought was mine.
As it turns out, this is my body. It’s gone through some changes – it has a few more scars than it used to – but they tell a story. My body tells the story of a God who formed me and saw that I was good. Not perfect, not a finished product, but good.
I and my fellow trans North Carolinians will hold onto that goodness we know is within us, as we continue this lifelong journey of becoming who we truly are. We will do this with or without the support of Gov. Pat McCrory and the state legislature.
But wouldn’t it be better if we no longer had to hide? If we no longer needed to feel fear? If we learned to embrace those we don’t understand and find that we are all human after all?
I am trans. I am a Christian. I am a North Carolinian. My faith is my own and the God that I know is vast enough to include every single one of us.
And my faith does not stop at the bathroom door.
Adam Plant is a graduate student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in North Carolina.