A Joyful Christian Coming Out

Tiger Veenstra — crushing it

I have known Tiger Veenstra for the last five years, since our boys were in preschool together. I loved our conversations — full of sharp insight, laughter, great advice. Tiger is a psychologist, as well as a devout Christian who affiliates with the Presbyterian church. Tiger actually (and so generously) agreed to come to a Relief Society meeting when I was teaching one day to share some insights on navigating relationships. It was a huge hit.

Tiger and I haven’t hung out as much the last couple of years, but a few months ago when I saw their coming out post on Facebook announcing their new name and pronouns, I was nearly moved to tears. The joy! The confidence! The security in their connection to God! I could not have been happier for Tiger. Here’s an excerpt (shared with permission) of their coming out post.

Hi friends! Good news! My name is Tiger and I’m living my best life!

Thank you to all of you who have been so loving and supportive during the last 41 bumpy years or the last few as I’ve really started to blaze a new trail to finding a home within myself.

Why, how, where Tiger you ask? I’ve been really working on listening to myself and checking what I hear against what I hear from God, mostly as I have been reading the Bible cover to cover this past year or so. (If you’re interested, try the Immerse Bible. It’s a very different read and it’s blown my mind and revolutionized my faith. Turns out it doesn’t say what I thought it did.) So I’ve been listening. And I’ve been realizing that the name given to me at birth, like the gender I was assigned, just wasn’t working for me anymore.

In the process of rethinking their gender, Tiger began to rethink their birth name. I love how they describe the moment of hearing someone accidentally call them Tiger for the first time. I wish we could all experience moments like this — a “tsunami of awesomeness and aliveness” as we embrace new journeys, new paths, new identities that fit us and feel so right.

In the process of discovering that I FEEL SO MUCH BETTER using the pronouns they/them, I also wondered if a new name might level me up as well…. But at the same time, how does one name oneself? The process just seemed too self indulgent and dramatic for me. I wasn’t even considering it really. Until one day a stranger made a mistake and addressed me as Tiger. There was an earthquake in my soul. And it triggered a tsunami of awesomeness and aliveness that I can’t deny, and without good reason, refuse to stop.

So that’s it my friends. My name is Tiger. My pronouns are they/them. And I’m crushing it.

Tiger goes on to say that they don’t mind if people joke and snicker about the new name. They say:

My whole life I’ve felt really horrible inside while managing the outside which has led to a lot of success. For most of my life I’ve been telling myself “no” so that I could present myself in ways that would make others say “yes” to me. Now I’m saying “yes” to myself and to a dynamic relationship with God, and if people want to tell me “no,” it just doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore. Peace to you all, even the ones who snicker and roll your eyes. I have deep deep love for you all!

I loved everything about this post. My heart exploded with joy for Tiger when I read this. I am thrilled Tiger has found theologies, Bibles, and religious and familial communities that have supported them in this transition. These theologies and communities have enabled them to retain their affiliation, Christian devotion, and family relationships.

books Tiger has found helpful on their journey

But that joy was shadowed with a bit of sadness as I thought about LGBTQ folks in my own Mormon community. LGBTQ Mormons don’t have theological or ecclesiastical structures and systems in place to support them coming out with such joy and confidence. Mormonism, unfortunately, embraces a strict gender binary and takes heteronormativity to a new level in the theological realm, actually cementing it in the Mormon concept of an anatomically male God the Father married to an anatomically female God the Mother. The theology and the church seem to not know what to do about LGBTQ folks who don’t fit into the binaries, identities, and orientations it promotes as eternal.

I think it’s time for the church to stop focusing so much on gender roles, orientations, and heteronormative family patterns. Instead, how many more people could the church help, love, and nurture if it focused on people as individuals, in all their wonderful unique identities, presentations, and orientations? How much richer would our communities be, as we love and embrace difference and learn to love people as individuals?

Tiger’s journey is a model to me. A model of what joyful coming out can look like when supportive, inclusive structures and theologies are in place. Thank God for those structures and theologies. And I pray, God, let our tradition evolve to sustain and support all God’s children.

(For more about Tiger, visit their professional website. )

 

Caroline

Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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19 Responses

  1. Trudy says:

    Thank you for sharing Tiger’s story. I’m fascinated by names, and by how we often are called by several different ones throughout our lives.

    I’m reminded of the Bible stories of how when people have an encounter with God or who go through some other major transformation, they get a new name – Jacob became Israel, Abram became Abraham, Sarai became Sarah, Saul became Paul, Naomi became Mara and then became Naomi again. I wonder if they had a similar experience to Tiger of hearing their name and feeling its truth viscerally.

  2. Violadiva says:

    There is something so freeing and liberating to cast away belief about what we can or can’t do in order to just be who we are! I love Tiger’s story for this – that the most important person we need to please in our life is ourself! And the decisions around who we are are ours to make. I wish lds theology and practice created more space for individuals to be empowered in their life decisions like this. Hopefully someday we’ll be able to carve out that kind of inclusivity in the church our children attend.

    • Caroline says:

      “There is something so freeing and liberating to cast away belief about what we can or can’t do in order to just be who we are!” Yes! This is one of the things about LDS discourse that I don’t understand. If gender roles are eternal and innate, why does the church insist on training people into these roles so explicitly? Instead, let’s just let people embrace themselves and become their best selves (whatever that looks like in terms of gender, gender roles, identity, etc.) and love them along the way.

  3. Wendy says:

    Tiger’s story is inspiring. I love how they demonstrate radical self-acceptance and courage in living their authentic life and finding a religious space that validates their experience and journey. I got chills as I read this:

    “I’m saying “yes” to myself and to a dynamic relationship with God, and if people want to tell me “no,” it just doesn’t seem like a big deal anymore. Peace to you all, even the ones who snicker and roll your eyes. I have deep deep love for you all!”

    I echo your wish, Caroline, for a he LDS Church to embrace each person as an individual and to broaden doctrine to be inclusive of all genders and orientations across the spectrum of sexuality. May it be so!

    • Caroline says:

      I got chills when I read it too, Wendy. Sometimes you read something that is so wise and right, and it just resonates on a deep level. I’m so glad that Tiger allowed me to share their wisdom with this community.

  4. Emily Clyde Curtis says:

    There is true palpable joy throughout your friend’s announcement and your celebration of their new way of being. Would that all Sunday morning spiritual reading be this uplifting!

    • Caroline says:

      Thanks, Emily. Yes, Tiger’s post makes me think that I really need to read more journeys and insights outside the LDS tradition more often. I need more uplifting in my life. 🙂

  5. Chiaroscuro says:

    Hallelujah! I can feel your friend’s joy and freedom in this journey. We have so much to learn in becoming more ourselves and loving each other more wholly and honestly. Nice to meet you, Tiger!

  6. Aimee says:

    “There was an earthquake in my soul. And it triggered a tsunami of awesomeness and aliveness that I can’t deny, and without good reason, refuse to stop.” If that doesn’t fit the description of revelation and extravagant divine love, I don’t know what does. Tiger’s words will stick with me forever. Thank you for introducing us all to them, Caroline.

  7. Em says:

    I love the joy in embracing a new name. It feels so brave to me, mostly because I really want to do it but am too overwhelmed at the level of work and confidence it would take to just tell people to call me something new. I live in my hometown. People have known me since I was given my original name. I’ve never really made a fresh start anywhere. I don’t hate my name, it’s just that there are a zillion Emilys and there are other names that feel more meaningful. I never knew the Emily I was named for and what I have learned has never made me feel like we’d be kindred spirits. Anyway. Good for you, Tiger. That is wonderful and awesome!

    • Caroline says:

      I also really admire people who choose new names that feel right. I know a couple young couples that have combined their last names to make a brand new last name. Awesome. Wish I had thought of that 20 years ago! (Not that Mike would have gone for it.)

  8. Heather says:

    This makes me so happy. When people are living their life without shame or fear it’s transformative. God bless Tiger and bless you Caroline for sharing their journey.

  9. Spunky says:

    This joy is contagious! I wish we all felt so happy in being our true selves. I am so glad for Tiger. Thank you for sharing their joyousness with us!

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