By Nicole Garcia

I live outside of the binary gender system and strive not only think outside the box, but dare to stand on top of that box to reach for the stars. To describe how I do this, I will relate a small part of my story; is my own experience. I can only speak for me: a transgender Latina who has lived for 52 years. I am also a recovering Roman Catholic who discovered the reformation, in other words, I am a devout Lutheran. I have a few experiences to draw from. With that said, I will start at my beginning – my Faith. As a Lutheran, I firmly believe that I am saved by Grace through Faith. According to Martin Luther in his Heidelberg Disputation, Grace says, “believe in this and everything is already done. Grace means that the Lord gives us forgiveness, love, and life with God forever, as free gifts.” We only have to believe and we will be forgiven all our sins for God has faith in us. What? Yes, I am saved by the grace of God because God has faith in me. Very cool.

One of my earliest memories is kneeling on the kitchen floor with my grandma Celia as she recited the Rosary in Spanish. My mother, grandmothers, and aunts formed the core of my devotion to the church. It is common in Latino families for the spiritual center to be nurtured by the women. Papi, that’s the name I called my dad, hardly ever went to church. Mama, my two younger sisters, and I went to church every Sunday, but not papi. Mama didn’t drive, so papi would drop us off at church, but not go in. Mama planted the seeds of my spiritual core.

Growing up I had 18 aunts and uncles, and 45 first cousins; family gatherings were large and loud. I have often said that I didn’t have friends growing up. I didn’t need them, I had cousins. My babysitters and playmates were my cousins. I went on vacations with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. The world of my childhood revolved around my family. Then I grew up.

By 2002, I hadn’t been to mass for years. I didn’t feel welcome in church. I was so mad at the Lord. I prayed to be healed, to be made the man I was told I had to be. I wanted to be the man everyone else wanted me to be, but that wasn’t me. I heard sermons that condemned the feelings I had inside. I began to believe I was lying to God and was doomed to hell. My prayers went unanswered. It wasn’t until I was at the point of taking my own life that I screamed out to Jesus for salvation. I had a pint of vodka in me and a loaded pistol in my hand, trying to decide whether under the chin or in the mouth would be the most effective placement of the gun as a means of ending my miserable existence. I realized that I could not put my family through the agony of my suicide and could not take my own life. It was at that moment that I reached out to Jesus for help; I begged for forgiveness and salvation. Within a week, I was in therapy. Early in treatment I had a cathartic experience and came to the realization that I was a woman. In a matter of weeks, I began my gender transition under the supervision of a therapist who was trained to treat individuals diagnosed with Gender Identity Disorder. A requirement of treatment and transition was to live as a female when I was not at work.

It was in 2003 when I told a dear friend of my desire to find a spiritual home. She told me about a Lutheran church that was open and welcoming. Initially, I refused to attend a church of Martin Luther. I soon realized that I was asserting my will and not listening to God. I agreed to attend a service at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Denver; I was terrified when I entered the narthex. This was very early in my transition and I was sure that I looked like a man who had smeared make-up all over my face. I expected people to ignore me or point and laugh at the guy in a dress. Then the unexpected happened, I was approached and welcomed. The welcoming statement at the top of the bulletin said all God’s children were welcome at the table. I heard a sermon that celebrated the life, death, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Faith guided me to that church.

In 2004, I told mama that I was her daughter. At first, it was okay. Then a day passed and all hell broke loose. I remember many phone calls and everyone crying. I was asked to stay away. More calls – how could you do this? Is this my fault? Aye, aye, aye. I didn’t know what to do. I had a found a church that supported me, that helped so much, but I had to keep my distance from the family for about 6 months. Gradually, I was told I could come around, as long as I didn’t dress “like that”. I wore jeans, baggy t-shirts and no polish or make-up, even though I was living as Nicole every place else in the world.

Then one day it happened. I was at work when I got a call from my sister. Papi had cancer. He had been in a chemo session and had a really bad reaction. He was rushed to the hospital. The sister who called me was with dad and she didn’t want to leave the hospital to pick up mama. My other sister was a kindergarten teacher and she wasn’t in a position to leave for a couple more hours. I was able to leave work so I rushed to pick up mama. I was dressed very professionally in a knee length dress with a jacket, hose and heels. Mama took one look at me and said, “What is that you’re wearing?” I replied, “Its Dior, very expensive. Let’s go.” It was the quietest ride I had ever been on with my mother. It hadn’t been very long since I got the call to pick up mama, so the only person I expected at the hospital was my sister, but no, there were several family members in the room. I walked in and jaws dropped. I marched over to papi, knelt over his bed and said, “Papi, how are you?” He said, “Aye, mi hija, I’m not feeling too good.” With those words, “mi hija” – my daughter, he changed my life. No one could say anything because papi recognized me as his daughter. A few months later, when I was caring for him during his last days, I asked him why he called me his “hija”. He said he had never seen me happier. I wasn’t angry and depressed, I looked happy. Gracias, papi.

In the days, months, and years that followed, I blossomed into a strong, confidant, Latina with an opinion and I’m not afraid to share it. Sometimes I am amazed how far I have come and the experiences transition has brought me. In July 2008, I was elected as the Transgender Representative of an international organization, ReconcilingWorks: Lutheran for Full Participation. In July 2012, I was elected as a co-chair of the board of directors. As a member of the board of ReconcilingWorks, I have been invited to speak and present workshops throughout the United States on gender identity and faith. I have had the opportunity to meet and work with many powerful leaders of the secular and spiritual Transgender movement.

This time of year, I have to give thanks for the incredible experiences I have had as a transgender Latina, but remember the times when I feared for my safety. The world can be a very scary place for those of us who defy the gender binary system. I am fortunate to have only suffered through verbal attacks. Many of my dear friends have been physically attacked. I don’t personally know anyone who was killed for being transgender, but I am brought to tears when I read the news stories of the deaths of gender non-conforming individuals. What is shocking is the fact that transgender people are still being murdered in the United States! My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost their lives.

Many studies have shown that discrimination and oppression haunt the transgender community. The safety of a transgender person is always in question. For me, I cannot do anything but be me – no matter what. I am Nicole and no one can convince me that I am anyone but the person God meant me to be. God doesn’t make mistakes. I had to go through every experience in my life to be the person I am today. God intended me to be a strong, confidant Latina. It was quite a journey to get where I am. I am really looking forward to what the next 52 years have in store for me.