I stumbled upon your website, Stories From the Watchtower World, a few years ago. I wished to write and inform you that the content has helped me a great deal in coming to terms with the loss of a faith that constituted my entire frame of mind. Technically I left the organization when I was 14 but I didn’t truly take back my heart and mind until around 20-21 years of age. I’m 23 now. Another reason I decided to write this letter is that I feel a need to tell my own story in the hopes that it might help somebody else come to terms in the same way the stories of others helped me.]
Growing Up As A Transsexual
In The Jehovah’s Witnesses Organization
When I was born my father was barely out of his teens and my mother was mentally ill so I was given to my grandparents to be raised. I lived with them from an infant until the age of nine, they were the only family I ever new. My dad was somebody who visited once a month. When I was six my dad moved near to us and I began to see him a little more, not enough however to prepare me for what was to come when I turned nine. He was a Jehovah’s Witness, he was therefore not allowed to be with a woman without being married. When his girlfriend broke up with him because she refused to become a JW for him he was very lonely. He married the first JW Woman who came along after that. She was, if I can be forgiven for my use of stereotypes, “trailer trash.” What I didn’t know at nine but later learned as I grew older was that the elders of the congregation began pushing my father to take over my care and be “the head of his house.” So after nine years of being with one family I was forced to simply move and live with another out of the blue. This was of course devastating for me. This was all a direct result of the Elder’s meddling. Custody battles ensued but the courts didn’t recognize my grandparents as having any legal rights whatsoever.
Now, I had been going to the congregation for a long time already at the insistence of my father and support of my grandmother who would for the next several years flirt with the idea of becoming a JW herself. My grandpa did not support this but didn’t feel the need to stop it. What I remember though, is that when I was younger my religion was a source of joy and comfort to me and once I had moved in with my father it became a source of extreme psychological pressure as I continually worried over the sins I was “committing every day and hurting Jehovah’s feelings.”
Now, to complicate my story a bit, I just so happened to be a transsexual. Our society in general has a hard time accepting people like me so I can’t fairly lay all blame for my life at the witnesses’ doorstep, however, my life did become a living hell. I would go to bed every night asking Jehovah to help me quit being such a bad person, such a freak, such a sinner. Every day I’d wake up feeling worse and worse about myself and being scared to death that somebody would discover my secret. By the age of 11 I was suicidal. I believed that God hated me.
At the same time I was dealing with these internal secret issues I was also trying to deal with a severely dysfunctional family with a father who drank too much and a step mother who abused all of us emotionally every day and twice physically. (I believe I escaped worse treatment only because my grandparents were constantly threatening legal action) So where were the Witnesses in all of this? Constantly counseling me to obey my father and my mother, constantly telling me through talks and private conversations that I was a sinner. “Why did I trouble my parents so? Jehovah wanted me to do what they said.” They also continued to shun my grandmother when she came to meetings simply because she was not baptized and was going against a baptized brother. (no matter that none of them knew the full situation) The elders set up an “impartial” meeting between my grandparents and my father to supposedly reconcile everyone. My grandfather grudgingly agreed to go while my grandmother blindly trusted the elders to be as fair minded and lovingly Christian as they claimed to be... Once I was older I discovered what really happened at that meeting, the elders spent hours berating, belittling, mocking, and condescendingly reading scriptures to my grandparents without ever listening to what they had to say. They had already made up their minds and were now counseling my grandparents to let my father fulfill his “Christian responsibilities.”
To further add to the horrors of my life with the witnesses is the fact that our congregation was considered, “spiritually sick.” Gossip and back biting ran rampant. Many children I went to school with were constantly being abused by their parents and being told that it was for their own good and that they needed to listen to their parents. One girl I barely knew who was an older teenager eventually killed herself. My dad had known her better than some and sometimes when he was drunk would tell me how the elders had treated her when she’d sought help for them to put an end to her father sexually abusing her. He believed that they had driven her to suicide by telling her that it was her own fault for leading her father on and that she needed to be a more chaste Christian woman and forgive her father for simply being a man... Marriages crumbled everywhere, hypocrisy ran rampant, many of my piers turned to drugs. Another man was arrested for abusing several children whom his wife used to baby sit over several years. Throughout it all I maintained myself as the perfect JW always praying for forgiveness of my sins, never daring to admit even to myself that I was a transsexual, never doing anything wrong, getting good grades, never even telling white lies, never cursing, always studying for meetings, going out in service... When I was told that my friends were “worldly” because they weren’t JWs (never mind that they were some of the most well behaved kids you’d ever meet) I began associating myself more with my piers in the congregation. (the ones doing drugs)
When I was 14 my dad and step mom finally got divorced after she had an affair with another man in the congregation. She was disfellowshiped but reinstated after only a three months because she told them everything they wanted to hear. My dad started seeing his ex girlfriend again who was not a JW. They came to the house and told him to leave her, he wouldn’t, they disfellowshiped him and he became shunned by the people that once so fiercely defended him simply because he was a baptized brother.
I was finally becoming very disillusioned with the entire organization. I was tired of keeping my severe gender issues a secret for fear that I too would be shunned by the congregation and all of my friends and family. I was tired of the lies and deceit passing for truth and sound advice. I began to wonder what exactly the society thought about transsexuals. Their stance on homosexuals was already quite clear but try as I might I couldn’t find anything that stated their viewpoint on this issue. Finally I found my answer in one of the bound volumes. It was a Watching Our World article in an old Awake! magazine from the seventies which I found in the glossary under “sex change.” The article was only two paragraphs long and simply stated that sex changes were happening around the world and that they were being sought after by men who wanted to get away with being gay by trying to become women! The article had no bases in scientific knowledge nor even were scriptures quoted that specifically dealt with the issue. It was all in all very arbitrary. There it was in black and white, Jehovah must hate me. I looked through the Bible looking for answers myself- far to scared to ask someone more knowledgeable for their help. I found nothing, the world transsexual wasn’t exactly written anywhere. (I didn’t know that what I sought would be listed under the word eunuch) So it came down finally to the fact that I couldn’t live my life anymore without being the woman God made me inside. I wanted to die, it came down to me or the JWs.
I was surprised to find that when I left I never received a phone call or “shepherding call” or anything. I called one of the elders on the telephone to inform him that I wouldn’t be giving the talk in their theocratic ministry school and that they should give it to someone else so that they had somebody speaking on the scheduled material that night. I was informed that they had already given my talk to somebody else. A month of missed meetings and I was already considered a lost cause I guess.
After that it still took years for me to free myself from a lifetime of control. For a long time I still felt like Jehovah was looking over my shoulder. My hands literally shook the first time I went to buy somebody a Christmas present. When I heard bad things about witnesses I still felt compelled to defend them. It simply took years to quit thinking of myself as a sinner and start seeing myself as somebody who was worthwhile and loved. I’m happy to say I finally escaped. I’m a well adjusted woman with friends and a real life now. I’m still a moral person, I’m still religious, but I can no longer reconcile myself with the stuff the witness teach.
Unfortunately my story doesn’t end there. Three years ago my grandmother finally quit flirting with the idea of being a JW and actually became one. She was baptized. My grandparents began arguing and finally split up because my grandpa couldn’t stand what she had become. This was perhaps the worst tragedy of all. At the end of my journey I’d survived only to see my grandparents split by the JWs. Of course there were other problems and to be fair I can’t place all the blame at the JWs feet. However, I firmly believe that they did much more harm than good to my family. When I came out I also found that much of my family who were still JWs no longer wished to be around me. The looks they’d give me and the way they acted were far and away from being model Christian behavior. My grandmother and I still get along and are closer than ever I’m happy to report. However, she still struggles to reconcile her JW beliefs with her love and desire to protect me. It frustrates both of us. She won’t abandoned me but she can’t bring herself to leave the JWs either. I’m afraid it will always pull her heart in two directions.
To conclude, I’d just like to say that I wish that the Jehovah’s Witnesses and other organized religions would put half as much effort into showing Christ’s love as they put into propagating and enforcing their own dogma and doctrines. In the end I‘ve found that witnesses are far more divisive than they are loving...
Written by Jessica Day December 6, 2005