Last Sunday, I tried to work up the courage to go to church. I did some Googling of the churches sprinkled around the Georgia county where I currently live. There are dozens; I could take my pick. But when I think about meeting a new congregation, I freeze. Do I introduce myself as trans? As someone who just got out of prison? As a registered sex offender? Or do I make up some story that’s easier?
In September I was released, after 13 years in Georgia Department of Corrections custody, into a rural part of the state I’d never been to, where I have no family or close friends. As a believer, as well as a someone who’s been ordained and holds a doctorate in theology, church is one of the few places I might actually be able to find community and form meaningful relationships.
But church congregations in the South already trend to lean right. Then the media feeds in hateful rhetoric around “trannies” who are “groomers.” And now, instead of the usual fictitious argument about some elusive trans woman sex offender—well, here I am.
People conceive of sex offender registries (SOR) as exclusively full of child predators. They don’t necessarily know that these registries include people with a broad range of unrelated convictions, and a cross-section of vulnerable communities. I know I’m not a danger to children, and that I’d be at church to go to church, but I have a paralyzing fear of being in proximity to children and families. Any parent might decide I don’t belong, and because I’m on parole it feels like the slightest whisper could send me back to prison at any moment. Freedom is a tenuous thing when you’re no longer innocent until proven guilty.
Maybe it’s best to get ahead of the narrative, by going up in front of everyone and disclosing my past in testimony. But which parts are safe to disclose, and what if I guess wrong?