True Story: I’m Transgender Priest

What's it like to be a priest? What's it like to be a trans priest? How do you deal when people inevitably quote Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? Today, Shannon Kearns answers those questions for us.
What’s it like to be a priest? What’s it like to be a trans priest? How do you deal when people inevitably quote Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13? Today, Shannon Kearns answers those questions for us. 

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I’m originally from Pennsylvania but have been living in Minneapolis, Minnesota for the past eight years. I’m 36. During the day I work at a Lutheran church doing education work with children and youth.

I also run queertheology.com, which is a website and ministry for LGBTQ Christians and their supporters and I am the founder and artistic director of Uprising Theatre Company  which does theatre around justice issues and then partners with community organizations already working on those issues to channel the empathy and energy created by theatre into concrete change.

I’m also a writer (playwright and essayist: ). Bottom line? I believe stories can change the world and I try to tell the best stories I can.

Growing up, what was your relationship to religion? 

I grew up very religious in a fundamentalist evangelical church. I was completely committed to my church even as I often felt like an outside in it. I never really felt like I fit anywhere. Growing up I had no idea that transgender people existed but I am positive that my church would have been against transgender people.

What I appreciated about my church is that it gave me the opportunity to be a part of something that was bigger than myself and to see what can happen when people work together.

When did you realize that this particular version of faith was no longer a good fit for you? 

It was a gradual realization but a lot of it went hand in hand with college (even though I was at a very conservative Christian college) and coming to terms with my sexuality and gender identity. I prayed for years that God would change me and yet the feelings I had didn’t go away.

Along with wrestling with my identity I was also reading deeply and realizing that there were a lot of really faithful Christians who had other interpretations of Scripture and God. It took a lot of years but gradually I deconstructed what I had been taught and reconstructed a faith that is life giving and leading me toward wholeness.

How did the people in your life react when you told them you weren’t interested in Fundamental Christianity anymore? 

I lost a lot of friends. Many people told me how wrong and misguided I was, that I was being led astray, that I needed to get back on track. But what they didn’t realize was that I have never been more at peace than I am now. I tried to remain friendly with folks, but for some of them I needed to cut ties and move on for my own health and well-being.

You’re trans and you’re an ordained priest in The Old Catholic Church. How is this different than the Roman Catholic Church?

The Old Catholic Church is an independent, progressive church that is not in communion with Rome. They broke away from the Roman Catholic church in the late 1700’s. The Old Catholic Church welcomes and ordains women, LGBTQ folks, and people who are married/partnered/divorced. 

We’ve all heard people quote bible passages that seem to be anti-LGBT. Do people ever reference those scriptures to you?

They do. All of the time. What I have learned is that no one is convinced by talking about what those passages really say (and there is loads of work that has been done about the historical context, the original languages, etc. etc. etc.). So I refuse to have those conversations because it’s a waste of my time.

Instead I tell my story and if they still refuse to listen then I walk away. I’ve done the work to understand those passages, I am happy to point other people toward the resources that have helped me, but I won’t do the work for them.

Are you a practicing priest right now? 

I am, although I don’t have an official parish. I do a lot of my work online with people who are living in communities where they don’t have access to affirming clergy. Much of that work is done through queertheology.com or through my personal website.

A day in the life looks like replying to email, counseling people via text message, writing, writing, writing, meetings in coffee shops, recording podcasts, and cuddling my kitties.

What books/tools/websites/resources have helped you on this journey?

The work of Madeleine L’Engle, Patrick Cheng’s book Radical Love, Robert Goss’ Jesus Acted Up, Justin Tanis’ book on Transgender issues and the church, and so many others.

What advice would you give to others who are struggling with their religion’s view on sexuality and gender?

Do your work: read books, talk to people (especially people who think differently than how you are currently being taught). But at the end of the day, God made you who and how you are. You are loved not in spite of your identity or sexuality but because of it. Click To Tweet It (and you) are a gift to the world. Trust in God, trust in love.

What something you’ve learned from this that ANY of us could apply to our daily lives?

It is absolutely worth it to be true to yourself. There is healing and wholeness when you live authentically and set boundaries with people who refuse to affirm who you are.

Thank you so much for sharing your story, Shannon. Do you guys have any (polite! respectful!) questions for him? 

P.S. True Story: My husband used to be a woman + True Story: I’m a nun

photo by Orrin Pratt Photography

7 Comments

Sarah Von Bargen

I actually found Shannon through my free site reviews! I’ve found 5-10 of my interviews that way!

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Stephanie Moulton

Shannon, thank you for sharing with us. I’m SO glad you found a faith community that loves you and accepts you, and so glad that you are able to minister to other people. Blessings to you.

Sarah, another great interview. Thank you.

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Caitlyn

This line really spoke to me: ” It took a lot of years but gradually I deconstructed what I had been taught and reconstructed a faith that is life giving and leading me toward wholeness.”

I think I managed the first part (deconstructing), but I’ve never really managed the second piece (reconstructing) and this is such a graceful way to describe this process.

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