I am not a religious person. There! I said it.
My parents were not religious either. They were first generation Americans born in 1914 and 1918 and grew up during the Great Depression struggling to get by in Brooklyn, New York.
I am a Baby Boomer, born in 1947, and really have no idea what life must have been like for them. I have no idea of struggling to get by. As a child, I had no idea I was not religious, because it was never present in my household -- there were no rituals, and therefore I was never "programmed" to have a sense of God and needing to follow some set of religious rules.
I was raised in the '50s and '60s and pretty much learned right from wrong by watching the early days of TV. Cowboys and Indians defined the good guys and the bad guys, right from wrong. It took many years to realize my programming was faulty.
In 1960, I was 13 and Bar Mitzvahed like all my friends in the neighborhood. This is the "coming of age" ritual for Jewish boys when they get to say, "Today I am a man!" Even at such a young age I knew this was a lie, but I dared not let anyone else know. I was already deeply in hiding and knew deep inside being a man was the furthest thing from my truth.
Fast forward: When it was time to send my children to Hebrew School, the rabbi thought I should go for conversion lessons, as I had no knowledge or sense of my religious "heritage." I declined. I was still deeply hiding.
Fast forward: In 2011, I transitioned my gender, and actually got to say, "Today I am a woman!" This felt right and true, and freed me up from hiding. Now there was so much reprogramming to do.
I am still not a religious person, but I know my life's journey has been full of blessings. I have no other words or way to articulate how I feel, so this brings me to my view of God.
I see God as a force for good... like a good parent, providing me guidelines of right and wrong and sending me out in the world to live my life and find my truth. God does not micromanage me and tell me what to do in every moment. The gift of life came with the basic program called free will and I must choose the best path to travel. Even when I face tough challenges or receive blessings that often come in very mysterious ways, free will calls me to make my own choices. Through the years I have learned it is much better to choose the path of love over the path of fear.
I see a loving God, not a wrathful God. I see a forgiving God and not a punishing God.
It seems to me that if you believe in a wrathful god you follow a path of fear and spend far too much time living in a place of hate. I never want to be in that place, yet many people are and since writing about my transgender life I've felt that hate firsthand. Right here, after my first blog appeared there were people who responded with a terrible lack of compassion and understanding of my journey to live my truth. This came from a place of hate. One person seemed to have more compassion for animals, than sensitivity for people who might be different than him. He condemned me for my choices in one breath, and in another proclaimed tenderhearted compassion for rescue animals in a series of posts on his Facebook page. He obviously reconciled the two. I may love animals too, but can't reconcile it like that.
The truth is that we are all "different" in some manner. In my teaching, I often say we are like snowflakes in that each of us is unique. I kept that in mind when I read those hateful comments. Yes, I was hurt for the moment, but I was more sad than hurt. Really, it was the others who chose to defend what I had written who restored my faith. I still only see a loving God.
I will never understand how, in the name religion, people can allow themselves to discriminate against LGBT people and then work to make it legal. I always thought that the Golden Rule, "Treat others, as you would like them to treat you" appeared prominently in many religions to teach us the definition of right and wrong.
Discrimination in any form does not come from a loving God, or a loving person. Discrimination occurs when people travel the path of fear. This path is not freeing, it is confining. It hurts both internally and externally. I know this from the decades of hiding my own truth and living in shame and fear of discovery.
My journey has taught me that being true to oneself is the only way to be free. Change is not easy, but it is possible. Acceptance, with or without full understanding, comes when we choose the path of love over the path of fear. We've all must choose the path we travel. My choice saved me and gave me the life I dreamed of living. If you are waiting to face your truth turn away from the path of fear. Take the path of love. You'll be amazed to see what blessings await you.
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. For more information about Grace, her work and her Gender Variance Education training visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/.