Sunday 29 August 2021

Interview with Chrissie Chevasutt

Monika: Today I am honored to host Chrissie Chevasutt, an inspirational woman, writer, and transgender advocate from Oxfordshire, England, the author of the recently published biography "Heaven Come Down: The Story of a Transgender Disciple" (2021). Hello Chrissie!
Chrissie: Hello Monika!
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Chrissie: I'm 62, married, and have two lovely daughters aged 23 and 25. I've worked in graphic design and illustration, catering and hospitality, the building industry, and the church. I've been a missionary, pastor and preacher, and teacher, but my heart is to love, serve, pastor, and create a safe space for the vulnerable and marginalized. My lifelong passion has been cycle racing and riding.
Monika: Why did you choose Chrissie for your name?
Chrissie: My family surname is French in origin, deriving from the monasteries in the 11th century. I've been trans all my life but never had a name for my trans self until I came out. I chose the name Chevasutt to honor the beautiful woman who helped deliver our two daughters, the richest gift of our lives, and Chrissie just seemed to fit, sit and roll off the tongue.
Monika: What inspired you to share your intimate life moments in your biography?
Chrissie: I encountered Jesus whilst lying in a gutter, dying in Old Delhi, India. It felt like a miraculous series of events that enabled me to escape death, and I fell into the conservative evangelical church after going through withdrawals from opium addiction, cold turkey, and a total mental, emotional and physical breakdown. My testimony meant I was endlessly paraded at the front of the church to tell my story.
People were always deeply moved, many would sit and quietly cry as I described how Jesus had broken, softened, and transformed my heart and life, from a drug dealer, a petty criminal, and a deeply embittered and violent young man. So often people would come up to me after services and tell me I must write my story, write a book about it.
I told my story at the front of the church, so many times, but every time I told my story I was lying. Not deliberately, I was in total denial about my transgender identity, gender dysphoria, and dysmorphia. For thirty years or more I tried to be the very best 'Christian' I could be, the best witness, husband, father, and friend, but it was all a mask, an act, a charade, to cover my guilt and shame. I dare not look too deep within myself, it was too painful. I lived for fifty years with permanent suicidal ideation that haunted, tormented, and oppressed me, but I did not know why.
My business required me to use the Internet, so I bought my first laptop. Instantly I fell in love with writing, crafting words, and set about telling the story everyone had told me for thirty years to write. It took a few years, writing in my spare time, editing, revising, and reworking. Eventually, it was finished, and yet I knew there was unfinished business, a missing chapter, so I left the book on the back shelf, languishing in my computer drive, gathering dust.

Available via Amazon.

Monika: This is how you discovered that you were transgender?
Chrissie: A couple of years later, seeing Laverne Cox on the cover of Time magazine, reading about Caitlyn Jenner, the word Transgender entered into my consciousness, I didn't know what transgender meant, but I instinctively knew it was me. I watched the documentary, Lady Valour, Kristin Beck"s story, and I wept the whole way through, I finally understood who I was and had been all my life. This new knowledge triggered a second breakdown, my coming out as transgender at the age of 55. All of a sudden, I knew what the missing chapter of my book was, the truth I had been denying my entire life.
I had to rewrite the entire story, with total honesty, piecing together the fragmented, fractured memories of my inner and lifelong battle and desire to 'change sex'. In this time of coming out, it seemed the whole world had turned in hate against trans people. I was involved pastorally in families and with friends who had lost trans children or partners to suicide. My heart was broken wide open by what I was seeing, hearing, and experiencing within the trans community. The conservative evangelical church seemed to be leading the hate campaign against us.
I had attempted suicide many times as a pubescent and adolescent child, tormented and brutalized by my own masculinizing body. I had spent ten years trying to kill myself and yet survived. I understood the pain in the transgender community. I wrote my book as a love letter to the trans community.
The passion and fire and love in my heart for my trans friends, but especially for vulnerable trans youth became my motivation and strength to write the book, tell our stories, and hopefully, maybe, change the world, one person, one heart at a time.
Monika: Why is God so merciless towards transgender people, placing their minds in the opposite gender bodies?
Chrissie: Here I'd have to say that this is only one perception of 'God', albeit it is a common one, and it depends to a large extent, upon which God we are talking of. Most of us in the western world suffer the oppressive nature of Christian Conservative Evangelical influence, with its myopic attitudes and influence. We tend to construct our arguments as a reflection of this fundamentalism, and our ideas and arguments are often, consequently, a mirror reflection of them.
Yet there are many beautiful traditions even within Christianity that see beyond such a capricious, wrathful, judgmental, mean spirited God, such a God reflects more the heart of man, than a transcendent beautiful infinite God that many of us see, experience, love, and trust, even as transgender.
I don't believe for a moment that God either creates us transgender to cause us some kind of torment or that God is merciless, to anyone. I believe the suffering comes far more from a world, society, and church that judges, vilifies, and demonizes us for being transgender.
Monika: Then what is it? God is generous in this regard?
Chrissie: The Hijra of India are a eunuch community who exist as male to female, many transitioning through surgery. The Hijra can be traced back to the earliest written records, the Ramayana, (5th century BC), the Mahabharata, and the Puranas all describe transgender gods, communities, and individuals.
The Jewish Talmud and Mishnah reveal the Jewish obsession with the gender binary, but there are hundreds and hundreds of texts within them that are totally preoccupied with the problem of those we would now call Intersex, so I think some cultures are more accepting than others.
The natural world is rich in sex morphing and nonbinary sexed creatures, a wonderful diversity, which if we are going to attribute creation, and our creation to God, suggests that God wanted and revels in diversity. No, I don't think God ever wanted our being transgender to be a source of pain and suffering, I think it is a broken and fallen world that has caused that. I think God celebrates and rejoices over our being transgender.

"To be honest, for fifty years I thought and felt my
trans existence was a curse, a misery, and a torment
until I came out at the age of fifty-five and experienced
the overwhelming love of God for me, just as I am."

Monika: So you have never questioned why you are transgender?
Chrissie: To be honest, for fifty years I thought and felt my trans existence was a curse, a misery, and a torment until I came out at the age of fifty-five and experienced the overwhelming love of God for me, just as I am. It was the most powerful encounter of my entire life. I was standing in a dressing service studio for transwomen, having just had my first ever professional makeover. I was a husband, father, builder, had been a missionary and a Pastor, I felt like Jonah in the belly of that whale; I had run as far away from God as I thought possible, and I assumed I was under God's wrath and judgment.
What happened next, as I stood there, looking in a full-length mirror, waiting for the owner to take some photos for me to treasure. All of a sudden I was washed in a pure liquid love that flooded over me, through me, and all around me. The Holy Spirit whispered into my heart, "Chrissie, I love you, just as you are." In those precious moments, I knew I was being set free from fifty years of self-hatred, guilt, shame, and suicidal ideation. For fifty years I had suffered almost continual thoughts of suicide, I had been alcohol dependent, a drug addict, and even after recovery remained a driven, obsessive, compulsive, and addicted athlete and workaholic.
All that has gone, and most of it was washed away by God's spirit as I stood there as my true, real, authentic, and honest self in that studio. I haven't suffered from self-hatred, guilt, shame, or suicidal ideation since, and that was seven years ago. So, no, I don't think God is merciless or makes us trans to torment us, I think it is a hostile world that is the source of all our grief, gender dysphoria, and dysmorphia. Now I see my transgender identity as a precious gift, a 'superpower', lol.
Monika: Was your wife surprised by your transition, did she accept it?
Chrissie: I told Pam when we first met before we married that I had struggled all my life with transvestite 'sin', but that I knew God was going to 'heal' me. We had no knowledge back then of transgender identity. For twenty-five years I repressed, suppressed, and tried to crucify myself, or kill the transgender part of me. Obviously, we now know that repression and suppression only turn things toxic, I was a volcano of self-hatred and guilt, that spilled out into our marriage in outbursts of anger and prolonged periods of despair and misery, but I/we were so deep in denial about my feminine personality, I had become a toxic male, driven, workaholic, outwardly successful and 'happy', but it was all a mask.
When the breakdown came, it was sudden, almost overnight, and took us both by surprise. Pam embraced my truth and my trans identity, but it caused her huge pain, and the loss of her hairy husband is a source of continual grief. After twenty-five years immersed in the conservative evangelical church and soaked in its values and beliefs, we have gone through a total deconstruction of our religion, but somehow, our faith remains and is probably stronger.
Because of very serious family issues, I was not free to transition, the pain of that was crushing, and still is. Our National Health Service is broken and trans youth in my own town have told me they face a seven-year wait to access care. I cannot afford to go private. I am stuck as a transwoman in a male body. I'm learning how to manage what can be at times crippling gender dysphoria and dysmorphia that almost paralyzes me with anxiety, but, for all that I am peaceful and genuinely happy for the first time in my life. Pam is still coming to terms with who I am, our marriage remains strong, maybe stronger than it ever has been, because I am able to love her more fully, now that the self-hatred, guilt, shame, and suicidal ideation is gone.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, we lose our families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out?
Chrissie: I have a number of friends who have come out, transitioned, and kept their marriages, families, friends, and jobs. Many haven't, and as you say have paid the ultimate price. My own situation was difficult as we had a serious illness in the family which meant I had to look after dependents and had no choice but to shelve any idea of transition. To pursue transition with family members facing a life or death situation was not even an option. So I guess the price I paid was that of being unable to transition. Since then things are much better in the family but now our health service is unable to provide care for transgender people. We don't have the money for me to transition through private health care, so I am stuck.

"I would transition tomorrow if I could, with
no hesitation or second thoughts."

When I came out as transgender my family and friends pulled around me, were incredibly affirming, and whole-heartedly supportive. The hardest thing about coming out was to discover how judgmental the church is of transgender people. My own church leaders had written a letter to the House of Bishops, demanding the Bishops withdraw their warm welcome to us as transgender, which cut me deeply, still hurts, and I feel they treated me appallingly and were less than honest in their dealings with me.
Whilst I can't transition for the foreseeable future, which at the age of 62 feels a bleak prospect, I enjoy a deep peace with God and experience real joy for the first time in my life. I find great comfort in my role and work of advocacy for trans youth in the conservative evangelical church, though my patience with them is wearing perilously thin, and I love being pastorally involved within the trans and LGBTQIA community. The first few years of pastoring in the trans community, I was living and working with so many families and individuals in the aftermath of suicides and suicide attempts, it broke my heart, but I knew I'd finally found my place in the world, my family, my people.
I would transition tomorrow if I could, with no hesitation or second thoughts.


All the photos: courtesy of Chrissie Chevasutt.
© 2021 - Monika Kowalska

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