Transphobic: having or showing a dislike of or prejudice against transsexual or transgender people.
The short answer to this question is yes. I am sixty-four years old. My upbringing, political identification, and my Fundamentalist religious beliefs all led to me adopting transphobic, homophobic, and racist ideas. To some degree, I was a product of my time. But I refuse to dismiss my past beliefs with a wave of the hand, saying, hey, it was the 60s and 70s. I can point to my parents and how they raised me, religious indoctrination, and social conditioning as mitigating factors, but I still must own the fact that I was not a good person when it came to what I believed about LGBTQ people. What I am today bears little resemblance to what I was as an Evangelical pastor. If there is anything redemptive in my story it is this: true moral and ethical change is possible. Yes, change is hard, and all of us are resistant to making fundamental changes in our beliefs and practices. But just because change is hard doesn’t mean it is impossible.
I spent much of my life as someone who was:
- Born again Fundamentalist Christian
- Bible Literalist
- Christian Nationalist
- Detroit Tigers fan
- Green Bay Packers fan
Today, I am:
- An Agnostic Atheist
- Democratic Socialist
- Cincinnati Reds fan
- Cincinnati Bengals fan
Family, friends, colleagues in the ministry, and former church members who knew me in the 70s, 80s, and 90s are often shocked by what I have become. How is it possible that Pastor Bruce Gerencser, a defender of True Christianity®, Bible Truth, Christian Nationalism, and the Culture War, is now a Bible-denying Atheist, an Anti-War, Liberal, Commie, Socialist? How can these things be?
My beliefs began to change in the 1990s, first when I stood against the first Iraq War, and later when I publicly rebuked notable Evangelical culture warriors (those who followed in the steps of Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority) for abandoning the gospel for the sake of raw political power. In 2000, I left the Republican Party, voting for my first Democratic candidate for president. It would be eight more years before I left Christianity and embraced atheism.
Clearing my mind of transphobia was a long, slow process. Earlier this year, I wrote a post titled Meeting My First Gay Person. Here’s an excerpt from this post:
As a card-carrying-member of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church movement, I often preached sermons condemning homosexuality. According to my infallible interpretation, the Bible condemned homosexual sex. Being the faithful Bible preacher that I was, I thought it important to preach against man-with-man, woman-with-woman sex. Never mind the fact that I did not personally know anyone who was gay. Well, I had my suspicions about several people — Polly’s late uncle comes to mind — but as far as actually knowing someone who was gay? Not one. I would learn years later that several of the students in our Christian school were gay or bisexual. Consider this statistic. I was a raging homophobe who railed against homosexuality and sexual “sin” in general. Yet, one-third of the students in our school were either gay or bisexual. Add to that the students who likely engaged in premarital sex, and I think I can safely say my preaching did little to change hearts and minds on sexual identity and activity.
In March of 1994, I left a church I had pastored for almost twelve years and moved to San Antonio, Texas to co-pastor Community Baptist Church. This move proved to be a disaster, and in the fall that same year, we packed up our belongings and moved to Frazeysburg, Ohio. With the help of Polly’s parents, we bought a newish manufactured home — a $25,000 upgrade from our previous mobile home.
We lived in Frazeysburg for six months. Needing immediate employment, I turned to restaurant management. I was hired by Charley’s Steakery (now called Charleys Philly Steaks) to be the general manager of their franchise at the Colony Square Mall in Zanesville. I continued to work for this restaurant until March 1995, when I assumed the pastorate of Olive Branch Christian Union Church in Fayette.
The restaurant I managed had a drink refill policy for mall employees. If employees stopped at the restaurant with their cups, we refilled them free of charge. Some employees would stop every day they worked to get their large plastic cups refilled. One such employee was a man who worked at a nearby store.
This man was in his twenties. The first time I personally refilled his cup for him, my infallible, never-wrong (I am joking) gaydar went off. I thought, “OMG, this guy is gay. What if he has AIDS?” Quite frankly, I am surprised he didn’t see the disgust on my face. Maybe he did, but ignored it. I dutifully put ice in his cup, filled it with pop, and handed it back to him. After he walked away from the service counter, I would quickly run to the kitchen and thoroughly wash my hands, fearing that I might catch AIDS.
Over time, this man and I struck up casual conversations. He was quite friendly, and truth be told, I liked talking to him. As I got to know him better, I found that I no longer was disgusted or worried about getting AIDS. I even stopped washing my hands after serving him. What changed?
My theology didn’t change. And neither did my irrational fear of gay people. Coming to where I am today, a supporter of LGBTQ rights with numerous gay and transgender friends, took years. What needed washing was my proverbial heart, not my hands.
I spent much of my life in a political, theological, and social bubble. Sure, I was a kind, thoughtful, loving man, but make no mistake about it, if asked what I believed about LGBTQ (for a time I refused to use the word gay) people, I would turn into a smiling, hateful bigot.
It was not until I began leaving the Evangelical bubble that I was able to see a world outside of my own. The Internet opened up a whole new universe to me, forcing me to confront and deal with my deep-seated prejudices. And then came this blog (in all its iterations), a wide-open door to a wild, wooly world. I now have LGBTQ friends, but more importantly, meeting people different from me has forced me to come to terms with how I viewed them. Again, actually meeting, knowing, and befriending transgender people changed how I viewed them. I can’t emphasize this enough. Exposure to people different from us is the first step in rooting out hatred and bigotry from our lives.
I am not one who says that I am free of all past prejudices. I am not. A lifetime of indoctrination and conditioning is not easily overcome. All I know to do is try to be a better person today than I was yesterday.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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