Ellie Anne on Finding Community
Ellie Anne Dote is an openly Queer Transgender Christian woman. Her passion is to share her story with anyone who will listen.
Mother. Daughter. Sister. Designer. Business owner. Speaker. Sometimes activist.
Whatever title she wears, Ellie approaches each and every thing with a high level of transparency and honesty, keeping in mind the importance of the best title of all: friend.
To read more about her thoughts on faith and living authentically, check out her blog EllieDote.com
I have known that something was different about me for most of my life. One of my earliest memories is of a parent-teacher conference that was held in kindergarten in which the teachers expressed their “concern” to my parents that I wasn’t “socializing properly with the boys.” They were concerned that I wasn’t playing with the boys - and it was the first time that I would hear that there was something “wrong” about my natural gravitation towards all things feminine, pushing me into the closet at even that early age. I remember working hard to overcome those behaviors - the limp wrist, the swing in my hips, the emotional responses - all the while thinking that these were things that every boy needed to do. Even so, the kids on the playground knew something was up - the taunts of “gay” and “sissy” followed me for most of my elementary and junior high life, even on into high school.
Without a real place to belong (I couldn’t really feel comfortable with the girls I enjoyed spending time with, and I definitely didn’t feel comfortable with the boys), I decided I needed to find a space to exist in. And as weird as it may sound, I found that space in the Catholic Church I was raised in. I quickly rose in popularity as a musician in the Archdiocese, and by the time I was a junior in high school, I was helping to coordinate and play for an annual event at the Anaheim Convention Center - the largest annual gathering of Catholics in the nation. Yet the struggle remained. I only had made it harder to talk about.
During my senior year in high school, I had the opportunity to transfer from an all-boys Catholic school to a public magnet school for the arts - and on my first day, I made friends with Evangelical Christians who taught me about the importance of a relationship with God over religion. Thinking that this was what I needed to overcome my own struggles, I left the Catholic church - where I had a pretty sure career path - and joined a local Evangelical megachurch. I got married, started a family, and worked hard to try and deepen my relationship with God. I worked my way up in ministry, spent several years in full time ministry - until it was all too much. I burnt out.
I didn’t know where to turn. If I confessed to the church that I was struggling with this, I’d lose everything. If I turned to the LGBTQ+ community, I would get criticized and even kicked out - or worse - because of my involvement with the church. And so I turned to complete strangers to help me answer the question that had been haunting me for my entire life - “am I gay?”
If I confessed to the church that I was struggling with this, I’d lose everything.
I quickly discovered that I wasn’t gay - I didn’t have any attraction to men - but I still didn’t know what was going on. I fell into a deep depression, and it wasn’t until 2016… when I was dying of complications from the AIDS virus, that I was finally introduced to the transgender scene. For the first time in my life, I felt not alone. With each and every story I read, every documentary, every YouTube video… I knew this was me. And so I decided I needed to come out.
It’s been two years since I came out and began to embrace my life as a queer transgender woman. Even before that, it had been ten years since I had left my home in Conservative Evangelical Christianity with the thought that I’d “never be back.” Apparently one can’t just tell God how it’s going to be, as six months ago, I was invited back into that space by a friend who was planning on attending her church’s special women’s gathering.
A women’s gathering? Um, no - that wasn’t going to happen… or was it? To make a long story short, I ended up giving in and walking through the doors of the church on a Friday night in August 2018 for a night of worship that would forever change the trajectory of my life. Suddenly, I found myself thrust back into the space I had vowed I would never return. But the question then lingered - how was I to belong as a queer person of faith? I decided to try and find out.
Suddenly, I found myself thrust back into the space I had vowed I would never return. But the question then lingered - how was I to belong as a queer person of faith?
At some point in my journey to find a church home, I lost count of how many churches and ministries I had approached. Though I never really get used to asking the question - “am I welcome here?” - the answers are even harder at times to accept:
“Of course you’re welcome here… but as far as women’s ministry, no, I’m sorry. We don’t see you as a woman.”
“I appreciate your bravery in coming here, but I can’t allow you into the life of our church. You have to understand that the path you have chosen is directly in violation of God’s word, and until you are willing to repent of that, then we can’t allow you to be here.”
“Why don’t you try (insert name of liberal affirming church here)? Even though we don’t believe that you’re making the right choice, you might find someone over there that will help you connect.”
Some pastors were quick to point out that while they would welcome me and wish there was a place in the women’s ministry, my presence would be divisive at the very least, because people “just don’t know what to do with the issue of transgender.”
It’s not that I blame them completely for this. For a long time, the LGBTQ+ community has historically kept the church at an arm’s distance, and vice versa. The few times that the church and LGBTQ+ community have met publicly in the middle have been full of fire, heated arguments, and hurt. It’s not any surprise, then, that one of the common threads that I have found within every pastor I’ve visited is that they have never encountered a transgender person in their life. And because they don’t know the stories - because they have never encountered or listened to the pain - they have formed theologies and policies around an entire group of people that they don’t even know, let alone know how to do ministry with.
because they don’t know the stories - because they have never encountered or listened to the pain - they have formed theologies and policies around an entire group of people that they don’t even know, let alone know how to do ministry with.
I can’t help but wonder what Mary and Joseph felt as they began to announce that Mary was pregnant with the baby Jesus. Everyone knew they were not married. Everyone could see Mary’s baby bump as they travelled through the town. I wonder if they were allowed in temple to worship. I wonder what they heard from the temple leadership. If they found acceptance or isolation in their greatest time of need.
The Bible tells us that they went to the city of Bethlehem to register for the census because Joseph was of the house of David. Yet, they couldn’t find a place to stay. They went from door to door in a city that was supposedly full of relatives. And nobody had room. I might be reading into it too much, but I wonder how much of that was just because of the stigma that came from the couple expecting a baby outside of wedlock? That information followed Jesus into his adult life (John 8:41) - so it was pretty common knowledge. I have to wonder how common that knowledge was in the months prior to Jesus’ arrival.
One of my favorite stories of all time is Anne of Green Gables (hence the Ellie “Anne”). I remember how the town of Avonlea reacted to Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert taking in the little orphan girl - the sense of judgement, not only for Anne, but towards Matthew and Marilla for keeping and loving the little girl. Times don’t change. Thinking of Rachel Lynde (the town gossip for you heathens who don’t know Anne of Green Gables), I begin to get a clearer picture of how the news surrounding Mary and Joseph’s pregnancy spread throughout the region, perhaps even preceding them into Bethlehem. The redemption of the Green Gables story, however, is that Anne works her way into the hearts of the townsfolk, helping them to learn to embrace her quirkiness and vivid imagination - effectively changing the town by her presence.
All of that to say that when I found a church that embraced me as I am, everything changed. I had no clue how incredibly overwhelming that would feel. I wasn’t prepared for the floodgates of emotion to open, realizing that THIS. This is the Church, welcoming the stranger. Inviting in the weary traveller, just as they are. And who I was wasn’t an issue.
when I found a church that embraced me as I am, everything changed.
You see, as much as I said I didn’t mind going to churches that were welcoming, there was always a sense of concern and trepidation. Was someone going to say something? Would I be misgendered? Then there was the sense that, while I was invited to the main gatherings, I was left out of anything more intimate. The place where closer community happens. It’s much like the idea that if my family were to be having a picnic lunch at the park with everyone else, I’d be welcome, but when it comes to family dinner, well… sorry. That’s where the line is drawn.
I have to say that at some level I get it - theology for many Evangelical Christians dictates that when God created humans, He created them male and female. With that literal reading, the immediate reaction is that my biology states that I am male. A more thorough study of that section of Scripture brings up some major questions, which is where I reconcile my Biblical faith with my identity as a trans woman. First, the Bible doesn’t specify that he created men and women. It says that He created people, male and female. (Gen 1:27) This also takes place before the entrance of sin into the world. The sin that brought so much change - pain in childbirth, sickness, death…. (Gen 3:16-19) So then, the question becomes, within the context of sin, is it possible that God created me female, and that through sin, a chromosomal abnormality occurred which put me in a male body? And if that’s the case, my outward transition is only serving for me to draw closer to what God intended for me in the first place.
That being said, I do understand that this is a conversation that NEEDS to be ongoing. I do understand that not every congregation is ready to embrace the LGBTQ+ community in its midst. I don’t agree with it, but I also know that forcing an issue brings division, and division brings with it hurt and more anger. So before you go out to your pastors and ministry leaders demanding that LGBTQ+ people be let in, I would challenge you to pray. Pray for your leaders, because I honestly believe that God has raised them up to be in the places where they are. They have been entrusted with the shepherding of their flocks, and will answer to God for how they stewarded that responsibility. From there, I invite you to start a conversation. The most important thing, however, is that conversation brings with it a willingness to listen. A sense of humility. And a learning heart. Help your leadership to know that there’s a real person behind the labels we are so quick to generalize. And that person - whether they believe the same as us or not… whether they look like us or not…. No matter what. They are bearers of the image of God.
Oh - and one more thing? Opening the door, even just a crack, can help invite the reality of the presence of God among us into your churches. In the end, Joseph and Mary found shelter in a stable, and it was there that the Christ child was born. Even with that small gesture - no matter how crude it may have been - Christ’s presence was ushered into the world. Who knows what will happen when we even take one small step in faith to embrace those we don’t understand in our midst rather than judge. For when we talk about Christ coming to this earth, He truly came for ALL. (John 3:16-17)