by Charlie Cunningham, with Jim Cunningham
I am proud to be married to Charlie for 24 years now. Charlie’s transgender story began six years ago. In the fall of 2017, I was the Interim Pastor for Preaching and Pastoral Care at Church of the Redeemer in Westlake, Ohio. On the first anniversary of their vote to become an ONA congregation, I invited Charlie to share Charlie’s story. At the time very few people knew Charlie was my spouse. This is what Charlie shared and with Charlie’s permission I share it here.
Hi, my name is Charlie. I am a pretty average person…although many might disagree. I also live with an incurable chronic illness. About 5 years ago I realized, after a lifetime of suffering, that I am transgender. I was born Charlene, a girl who loved things like skeet shooting and motorcycles and cars. The doctor even told my parents before I was born that I was, indeed, a boy. However, Charlie is my legal name now.
Up until the moment I came to the realization that I was indeed a man, I suffered from treatment-resistant depression. For over forty some years, I was so depressed that many days I could barely function. After my discovery, the depression lifted immediately.
I started out as many transgender female to male transgender people do. I hoped that one day very soon I would be able to pass as a man. I started on my path of transition, beginning with a double mastectomy. Next were male hormones. I was on my way. After a few months on testosterone, it was very clear that I was becoming sicker and sicker from the testosterone. For a while I was even wheelchair dependent. My plans changed immensely at that point. I could no longer take the male hormones that would change my appearance and voice to that of a man. I would never have facial hair and my body would never take on the physical changes of a man. My bodily transition was over.
I have no breasts, but my features still look female. Due to this, I am under scrutiny and wonderment from the people in society that observe me. I have been embarrassed and bullied to the point where I fear for my safety at times. I have been asked to prove my gender on more than one occasion. In hopes of a smooth transition, I changed my name and also my gender on my driver’s license and Social Security. The U.S. government now recognizes me as a male. It is a paradox to look female, with no breasts and be recognized on paper as a male. I now consider myself gender neutral or non-binary. Somewhere along what is a spectrum of gender possibilities. I try to dress as ambiguously as possible to avoid further shaming and questioning glares and stares.
Inevitably people still wonder and stare and this is the life that I live. One of the only places I should feel totally safe in is the church. This is not always true, however. Even in some Open and Affirming churches, I am still judged. I have found a few wonderful churches that love and accept me just as I am and that means the world to me. Thank you for being an Open and Affirming church.
I ask myself, “How can we learn to look at individuals in this world without judgment? How can we just see a soul and a human being without sizing a person up and forming conclusions about that person?” I am still looking for answers to that question and it has taught me to view others in a whole different light…without judgment.
There is one person who has lovingly stood by my side throughout the journey. He has supported me unconditionally and taught me so much about what love should really be. I am so grateful for my husband. I can truly be myself and feel safe at home.
May we all learn to love without judgment. Thank you for listening, and now back to my dear husband, Jim Cunningham.