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Sharing Our Faith Stories: Jayden Jones

I think there’s something so cheeky and resilient in choosing passages that were weaponized against me to reflect on for my faith journey. I’ve had painful relationships with religion and God. This isn’t an easy story but I promise, there is light.

When I was growing up, “Home” was always God’s House. Weekly masses, Catholic schools, choirs, and altar serving. At one point I was called to be a Minister of the Word. As a Cradle Catholic, the Roman Catholic Church raised me. My parish praised me, told me they were proud of me. Proud. I didn’t hear that anywhere else. So, the Church was Home. It was safe. 

As I grew, I became perplexed by our faith’s assumptions: “Why do we call God ‘Father’? If God made men and women in God’s image doesn’t this mean God is both or neither?”[1]

I quickly learned the Church wasn’t safe. I ran from it like I did my childhood home.

Sometimes you need to leave everything you know to become whole.

Many LGBTQ folks know who they are quite young. [2] The problem is, by time we’re articulate enough to share, we’ve also learned living our truth means being rejected.

Rejection is painful. The root of the pain is a fear of being unlovable. When your community, your own family believes who you are makes you unworthy of love, it destroys you. They’re convinced who you are makes you unworthy. Even if they preach tolerance, what they really mean is that they don’t want you sitting at the table.[3]

I repressed myself, thought prayer and the Bible were the answer. I said, “God wouldn’t give me anything I couldn’t handle.”

My Black community complicated matters. Many African cultures were matriarchal once. Many saw gender and sexual diversities as something that just happens.[4] When White Christians colonized Africa, Black Societies were eroded. Families ruined by slavery. Matriarchies crumbled under the weight of a man’s “divine right” to lead. Entire peoples taught Black skin proved inferiority and diversities were abominations.

Black communities navigate this intergenerational trauma while severed from our roots. Sometimes we unintentionally help continue the cycle. In our spaces you’ll hear LGBTQ is a “Western un-African concept”, that “Nobody in the Motherland” was like that. Many Black LGBTQ folks feel forced to choosebetween our Blackness or LQBTQ identity.

“Blackness is inescapable.” I said. “Maybe if I pray more, the other stuff will… disappear. God wouldn’t give me something I couldn’t handle.”

I broke. Seventeen. On such a terrifying trajectory I wasn’t going to see twenty. If no amount of faith and prayer could save me, then everything seemed pointless. I went through the motions, planning when I would slip away.

I met one of my dearest friends. He came from a country where being himself was punishable by death. His resilience brought him to Canada and you could tell a weight was lifted. Joyfully, he grew into the man he knew he was. Watching him, I realized I had to face myself.

Sometimes you need to leave everything you know…

My friends helped by trying different pronouns. “He” didn’t quite fit,“they”[5] just clicked. I genuinely smiled again. I tried new names.

Something unexpected happened…my twentieth birthday passed.

I tried to reconcile my faith, but I didn’t believe “God is Good”, anymore. Why make people diverse yet condone hating differences? Twenty-one came. Twenty-two. I made it past twenty? How? I changed my name. I came out.

Very few of my Blood Family accept me, even today. Some are hostile claiming that will help me find God. Others claim they don’t “judge my choices”. It’s “tolerance” with a smile: where their welcome is tied to my silence. I’ve been cut out of teaching nieces and nephews about my identity. Skipped or ignored when it’s my turn to answer questions like “are you seeing anyone?”[6] Purposely Dead Named[7]. Any attempt to discuss gets reframed as me being unreasonable. Reluctantly, I’ve had to step away from many of them for my own sake.

Jerry was my light. He’s a father, a Christian and my ex-coworker. One day, Jerry found me on the stairs with my head in my hands. He sat with me. I told him I was just catching my breath.

“Your smile doesn’t reach your eyes anymore.” He said.

I explained I failed to change. I hated myself for being wrong, for making my family hate me.

“Just because we don’t understand someone’s differences, doesn’t mean they didn’t come from God.” Jerry told me. “I see God’s light in you. You’re God’s child. God loves you for being you.”

Later, Jerry gave me a book. ‘The Shack’.[8] He said it’s message was important. Read it when I was ready. I’ve tried to toss that book many times. It always seemed to return to me.

I was scared to acknowledge my family was using faith to justify bigotry. Scared to accept God loved me. So I ran. I stayed with someone who treated me terribly. I felt I deserved to be abused. That relationship left me more broken than ever and I had planned on not seeing my birthday that year. Yet, something kept whispering: “You are not wrong. You aren’t wrong.”

I rebuilt through things both tangible and intangible. Driver’s license. Processing Trauma. First car. Embracing myself. My first apartment alone. I’d pass by Parkminister and notice the Rainbow Flag. I missed having a community of faith, but I was terrified. I met Sue and she informed me Parkminister was an affirming church.

Last May, I finally found the courage to attend. Isobel greeted me at the door with a smile and sat with me so I wasn’t alone. I realized, for the first time since I was a child, I was in what I knew as God’s House and felt welcome.

I turned twenty-eight this year. I dream of what forty or fifty might look like. Eleven years ago, I didn’t even want to see twenty. What an overwhelming thought.

Sometimes you need to leave everything you know to become whole.

I have a message, to the seventeen year old me, to anyone who needs to hear it:

“Be perfect, just as God is perfect.”

Perfection isn’t performative.
It doesn’t come from rejecting yourself.

Or changing yourself to be what others believe God finds acceptable

Those are human expectations

Perfection is…

Accepting and appreciating others

Living and loving generously

Perfection is grace. Wholeness.

Being all you are,

Like the Creator is all that they are.
Knowing no part of you is unworthy.

Beloved, you are as the Almighty made.


Contextual Notes:

As this was written with the intention of being spoken, a lot of where my thoughts were as I reflected and wrote this had to be cut out for a clearer message during delivery. These notes below offer some more context for my thoughts and ideas presented for your further reading and understanding:

[1] We are made to understand that God is a being beyond our comprehension who is beyond humanity, being ‘Three in One’. I always took this to mean that a lot of the labels that we attach in our attempt to understand God do not hold the entirety of the truth and are by nature, imperfect, unlike God. I grew up Catholic, and so Catholicism holds some of the context of how I came to understand. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) #239 it states: “God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God.” I note even this understanding still includes “he” as a pronoun but I always saw this as a reflection of how limited our language and way of thinking about language was, not God.

[2] A lot of people like to say young people can’t know they are LGBT and they are confused. A lot of what is perceived as “confusion” is the growing realization as one matures that they are not going to be accepted and this will add considerable difficulty and pain to their lives. Humans as per our nature, dislike pain. Knowing something will add to the pain we’ll go through in life (for pain is part of the human condition) leads many to repress themselves for many years in hopes they will “get over it” and not lose people who are very important to them. From the outside this can look like someone is inconsistent and therefore doesn’t “really know”, but oftentimes this stems from fear of accepting themselves and what that means for their life moving forward. This is also what leads to a lot of mental health struggles.

[3] Many Christian faith traditions that preach being tolerant, or some variation of the concept “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin” say this is a loving act. Back when I was still in the Catholic Church I was made aware that LGBTQ folks were acknowledged as God made. However, they had “Distorted Desires” and to be right with God one must refrain from “giving in” and thus sinning if they want an opportunity of receiving Eternity. This means (according to my priest at the time) never having an intimate relationship, never getting married, never raising children, and going to confession whenever one has Same Sex Attraction. As you can probably take away from this, the message sent very clearly — whether intentional or not — is “your existence is inherently more sinful and you should be constantly apologizing for it.” It’s judgement, in short. Hence the metaphor of “not being wanted at the table.”

[4] Several African countries where being Gay illegal and punishble by death often cite that being LGBTQ is a “Western Import” sent to Black communities when they were colonized. The Caribbean is a little bit more malleable in this belief because it tends to be a melting pot of several cultures, but the Afro-Caribbean cultures will sometimes default to explaining this wasn’t something done in “The Motherland” to justify Homophobia and Transphobia in some islands. This often ignores that Homophobia and Transphobia came to our ancestors with Christianity. A good article for a little bit more insight can be found here. There were words describing LGBTQ people long before settlers came to the land. Unfortunately, because a lot of the pre-colonial histories of Africa followed an oral tradition, not much is written down and a lot has been lost.

[5] Part of what made my journey into accepting myself challenging was that, due to how and where I was brought up, I had a very limited understanding. I thought, at first, that “Trans” referred to those going from one binary gender to another, and that these were the only “Transgressive genders” so to speak. This added to a lot of my struggle as I had an understanding of what I wasn’t but no understanding of what I was. So when I realized that there were those of us for whom the labels “man” and “woman” didn’t seem like it was true to our Spirit, everything started to fall into place. When I reflect on this, I often wonder if this is how my Spirit connects to my roots: rigid, binary gender is a concept that is (relatively speaking) modern and Western. Many countries in the world, including countries in Africa had some understanding of a “third gender”, and that shifted post-colonization.

[6] It’s a common thing amongst loved ones to be asked questions beyond “how are you” and “how’s work”. Many of us take these questions for granted. We may even find them pestering at times. One thing that I always found so painful after coming out is how I am avoided when it comes to such conversations. It’s noticeable when you ask everyone in the room these things and yet skip over someone. The thing is, that person notices. They know in their heart why they are the only ones excluded from sharing. It’s often a sign of discomfort and often signals that you don’t want to know about their life because you don’t accept them and you don’t value the relationships in that person’s life as much as you value that of other family members. Sadly, this is one of the most common, and more subtle ways LGBTQ folks are ostracized in their families by blood if they are still in contact with them.

[7] “Dead Naming” is when someone uses a Trans person’s birthname instead of their chosen name (which may or may not also be their legal name). Slipping up when you have known that person for years is definitely understandable and can happen. Dead Naming is different. It’s done often on purpose to shame the person by invalidating their identity, and depending on the context, it can be done as a way to maliciously out someone as well.

[8] “The Shack” is a novel by W.M. Paul Young where a father loses one of his children and struggles with how God could allow this to happen. Jerry very graciously got me a brand new copy after our conversation on the stairs. It’s a little beaten up from my days of trying to “misplace” it, but I’ve had it ever since. In full disclosure, I still haven’t read this book in its entirety yet. One day I’ll be ready for it. 🙂

My conversation detailed with Jerry was distilled to just the most powerful few sentences we shared, but I hope this gives you an idea of what sort of person Jerry is and what his words mean to me. We were and are virtually strangers. That’s part of why his words struck me so strongly: here was this man who barely knew me treating me with such kindness in a time where I felt so truly alone. We only knew each other by “hellos” and “goodbyes” at work. He spent about twenty minutes sitting on those stairs with me that day. I remember when he saw the time and realized he was late, and I apologized profusely for taking up so much of his time. He just smiled at me and said he felt it was “what [he] needed to do, and so [he] listened to whatever told him that.”