For the first 42 years of my life, I lived in fear; the fear my true self would be discovered. I had a special place in my Roman Catholic Latino family for I was seen as the oldest son and I grew up a good Catholic boy. As I got older, I worked hard to prove to everyone around me I was the man I was told to be. I prayed and went to mass and prayed some more: “Please Lord, make me the person everyone wants me to be. Please make it so.”
When my prayers were not answered, I pulled a Jonah and ran from my faith. For those who don’t know, Jonah is the prophet who ran from the Lord and ended up in the belly of a fish for three days. Me, I ran and end up in a sea of booze for almost a decade before I found myself lying on the floor in a detox center. I got sober and once again, I tried to be a man. I got married. I got a job in law enforcement; a real job for a real man. I put on a uniform and cut my hair cut high and tight. I learned how to walk and talk like the cops in the movies. My friends and family loved me and respected me because I finally became who they wanted me to be, but I was empty inside. It was like I played a part in someone else’s life and it took a tremendous amount of energy to fake my way through each day. When I put on the uniform, it was like putting on a façade; a façade that was sucking the life out right out of me. I was not surprised when my wife asked me for a divorce. I readily agreed for I blamed my emptiness on an unhappy marriage.
Unfortunately, being single didn’t help and within a few months of my divorce, I finally came to come to terms with the fact I was created a woman. I had no idea the easy part was done for my greatest challenge would be telling my family and friends who I really was. They thought they knew me. They knew where I came from and they knew who they wanted me to be, but when confronted with a new reality, the questions and accusations began. How could you do this to us? I was told I was selfish. I was told it was just a phase. I was pushed and prodded to be the person they wanted me to be, but when they finally saw the real me; when I dared to use my real name, Nicole, and presented myself to the world as the woman I was created to be, they were amazed. For the first time, they saw a real smile on my face; they saw me at peace. Some people rejected me. I shook the dust from my feet and moved on.
At the very beginning of my gender transition, I had a reawakening of my faith. I knew deep in my heart, I could not move forward in my life without my faith. I had grave doubts about returning to the church where I was raised; not necessarily because I was transgender, but because I was divorced. Through a miraculous set of events, I found myself in St. Paul Lutheran Church in downtown Denver.
From the moment I walked into the sanctuary, I was embraced with love as a transgender Latina. My faith was validated by the people who entered my life. My story of the rekindling of my faith and my journey as a transgender woman of color caught the attention of an organization called Lutherans Concerned/North America. Before I knew it, I was a member of the board of directors and was given countless opportunities to relate my story of faith in church halls and basements all over the United States.
It wasn’t long before I came to the conclusion I became a law enforcement officer to prove I was a man. It didn’t work. I decided a career change was in order. I moved into an administrative position at work and started graduate school to earn an MA in Counseling so I could walk with other people through their journey of self-discovery. Halfway through my master’s program for counseling, I discerned a call to ministry. I told myself I had to wait until I finished one master’s degree before I started another, but the idea would not go away, so I filled out the paper work and went through the process to enter candidacy in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Honestly, I thought I could put this idea of a call to ministry to rest when I was rejected because I was utterly convinced the church was not ready to ordain a transgender Latina. It would make for some great speaking material—I was called to ministry, but the church said…YES! I was granted entrance to candidacy for ordained ministry. I was flabbergasted. My out, however, was seminary. I could not possibly leave my home to attend seminary. You see, after my step-father died, I moved in with my mother as she needed help keeping up the house. As she aged, I knew she would need more and more help, so I wasn’t about to leave my mother. Plus, I was already in grad school. How could I possibly go to seminary?
This prayer was answered when I found a distributed learning program; a hybrid online/residential master of divinity program at Luther Seminary. I quit my job, became a counseling intern at CU Denver to finish that degree and took my first online seminary class. Greek. It was as bad as it sounds. I managed to pass Greek and then in 2014 I earned an MA in Counseling. I opened a private counseling practice and kept taking classes online and twice a year, I went to the Lutheran holy land, St. Paul Minnesota, to take intensive residential classes. On May 20, 2018, I earned a Master of Divinity. I am currently working on completing the final requirements for my candidacy committee in order to be approved for ordination.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor in Colorado, I must admit, only 10% of the work I do with clients is helping them come to terms with who they are as a gendered or non-gendered being. They know. Most of the time people only need validation. The hard work is navigating the process of coming out to the world. Ninety percent of my work as a therapist is helping individuals cope with the stress of being disrespected for daring to be who they were created to be. They need help creating positive coping mechanisms to deal with family members who keep saying they are trying to get your name right and then dealing with employers who suddenly discover an employee, who previously had outstanding annual review, had suddenly became an unsatisfactory employee and terminated.
Then there is the home where they prayed and worshiped. “All Are Welcome” does not apply to the transgender, non-binary, and queer members of the congregation. Church hurt is the worst hurt. That is where all of us in this sanctuary have to get to work. I refuse to let any human being tell me I was not created in the image of my Creator. I am a Lutheran because a rabbi who lived two thousand years ago tells me to love the Lord with all my heart, mind and soul and to love each as the Lord loves me. There are no conditions. There is no footnote with the exclusions listed. I am to love the people around me and treat everyone with dignity and respect.
It isn’t easy. Sure, I can love the people who love me, but the people who are different, well that is where it gets tough. I cannot truthfully say I get it right all the time, but I have to try. I have faith in the one who created me and I see my creator as a Christian, but I also believe in an almighty and infinite deity. My mind cannot comprehend the immensity of a creator spirit. I see my creator as the Holy Trinity, but I also realize the creator spirit is capable of reaching out to each and every one of you in a way you can comprehend. I believe the love of the Lord is infinite. There is no reason to worry about the Lord running short on love for there is plenty to go around.
Believe and have faith that the one who created you loves you just as you are. So many people have tried to condemn me for daring to be who I was created to be, but my faith persists. My faith has enabled me to help push open the doors of my church. My faith has enabled me to stand here and say I am blessed by my creator and I am proud to be a transgender Latina of tremendous and persistent faith. Stand with me and all my siblings in the transgender, non-binary, and queer communities. Lift up people of color in your churches, synagogues, temples and houses of worship for our Faith Persists and together we shall all Persist in Pride.
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego CA
Light Up the Cathedral—Keynote Speech—
July 11, 2018
Nicole M. Garcia, M.Div., M.A. LPC