When the spirit moves: A love letter to Pentecostalism from a transgender man

The fervent thickness of tongues filled the sanctuary. “It sounds like the Titanic sinking,” my friend said. It sounded like Sunday night to me. A night spent chasing a spiritual high.

As a Pentecostal youth Wednesday, Friday and Sunday nights were spent with my hands waving in the air worshipping an invisible God. I fell madly in love with this invisible God and the Pentecostal religion at 9 years old. I stayed madly in love for years. The peace that comes with hours of worshipping can’t be explained.

Sunday nights were my favorite. I’d slip on my panty hose and whip my hair into bun. In the car we’d listen to Elvis gospel. The service would start with a few words – housekeeping things like announcements and the offering. Then the best part – the choir. Our choir had soul. They swayed, they sung. The spirit encircled us. We were all in one accord worshipping something bigger and more beautiful than we could imagine. Often when the choir was singing the spirit would move and we’d get lost in that moment. Spilling into the aisle and up to the alter. Crying, laughing, praying, dancing, shouting. We’d lay hands on one another – energy flowing between us. Emotion overflowing and it felt liberating. Even in my ankle length skirt, I felt free because when the spirit moves nothing else exists.

Early in my religious life, it was apparent that homosexuality was considered a grave sin. My religious ecstatic was contrasted by my overwhelming shame and guilt for loving women. I obsessively prayed the gay the away. The preacher would tell us if we just had child-like faith all things were possible in the Lord. I fully expected with my continual prayer I’d not feel an attraction to women. But I’d spend all Sunday praying the gay away and all Monday trying to get noticed by the cutest girls in school. The gay simply wouldn’t be prayed away.

Losing my religion was my first heartbreak. We’ve all had those relationships that weren’t sustainable. They may have felt good. We may have felt alive and free. But then they’d say something that crushed every piece of who you were. You’d crumble under the shame. As they breathed words of disgust in your direction. I broke up with Pentecostalism in 2001.

I started going out drinking, dancing, making out. I’d was surrounded by people searching for something I’d already had. They were all looking for a connection. I had a connection with something bigger, something more beautiful. There was an undercurrent that I had tapped into at an earlier age. Pentecostalism may not have understood me but I sure understood it. It was about that unknown, the great and mighty unknown that’s all around. It was about expressing all the emotions with complete abandon. It was about touching each other and letting the energy reverberate off the sanctuary walls. What I had learned growing up Pentecostal was to respect a world beyond this physical space. What I learned growing up Pentecostal was to embrace my spirit and move beyond my flesh. What I learned growing up Pentecostal is when the spirit moves, let it.


(we did not handle snakes… that’s a whole different Pentecostal)

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