A Joyful Christian Coming Out
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.
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. )