Below is an excerpt from the chapter “Dancing with a Limp” by Reverend Louis J. Mitchell, from anthology Surviving Transphobia edited by Laura A. Jacobs.

Reverend Louis J. Mitchell (he/him) is a Black trans man and the co-founder of Transfaith, “a multi-tradition, multi-racial, multi-gender, multi-generational organization working to support transgender spiritual/cultural workers and their leadership…[believing] that the experiences, spiritual vitality, and leadership of people of transgender experience make our communities stronger and more vibrant.” He was ordained as a minister of the United Church of Christ in 2018.

I eventually learned that the hugs and support were conditional.

I learned that I needed to hide parts of me that weren’t deemed.holy.

I learned that there was much about my life that was outside of that tiny box.

I couldn’t figure out how we partied together and had sex on Saturday, but I was the only one who was queer on Sunday morning when they turned straight and eagerly rode the gay-hate bandwagon in public.

I didn’t even know what trans was. I didn’t have that language. I just knew I was different. I called myself a lesbian because that’s what someone was called when they were in a body like mine and were attracted to women, but that never felt quite right. I would ask my partners if they’d still love me if I was a boy. They thought the question was weird and didn’t usually answer. Eventually I stopped asking.

I hated my body. I hated the attention it got from straight men. I also knew that one of the things I was running away from was having to pretend that I liked boys/men. I wanted to be them, not to be with them.

I am an alcoholic and an addict. I have done sex work. I have been a thief. I’ve lied and connived. I have done whatever I needed to do to survive. If you’ve ever made choices that were from both survival and a complete lack of concern about the consequences, you’ll understand what that was like. I felt courageous and I felt like shit.

Take a moment, friend, and think about feelings of frantic desperation and immutable grief—the feeling that who you are is wrong, that you’re the only one who has ever felt this way, that no one can ever love you. I truly didn’t want to live further into adulthood. I saw no point.

I wanted so much to be a guy, to be one of the guys. I hooked up with a group of trans women who were sex workers and drag queens. I became their “man.” We dreamed aloud of having sex changes and getting married and being a “normal” couple. What we really did was sell sex, rob johns, and get drunk and high to avoid reality. I tried to believe that I could love, but the closest I came were the fantasies I’d had with the drag queens I dated, drunken visions that amounted to nothing. After a brief stint in jail for not paying a shoplifting fine, I went back home to Los Angeles to see if I could put my life on a different track.

[But] I didn’t know how to stop wanting what seemed impossible, and I didn’t know how to dissociate from my body when sober.


I was lonely, desperate, confused, and still wasn’t convinced that I wanted to live. All the advantages of my upbringing and my innate intelligence were going to waste, but I didn’t care. I didn’t see how anything would help. I couldn’t assemble my life in a way that made sense…

In this journey—long, arduous, funny, dangerous, sad, thrilling, and mundane—I have landed in a place of unexpected wholeness and gratitude.

I learned about resilience and community. I learned that some folks in my beloved Black community may never find it in their hearts to love me. They don’t understand me and they don’t want to, but these are far fewer than most people think. I’ve heard over and over how communities of color are especially homophobic and transphobic. I haven’t found that to be true.

As an ordained pastor, I also must acknowledge the truth about the harm that Christianity has done. I won’t run from that history because it is part of my job to own it and to make amends in whatever ways I can. I’m also accountable for the ways that I move in the situational privilege I’m afforded as a man who is able to blend in as cis/het, as an elder, and as Christian clergy in a society that elevates those positions over others.

Dear reader, I believe that every one of us has something to give. I invite you to take time to find your superpower! We need you! We’ve been waiting for you, your singular, unique, beautiful, and amazing self. While we may or may not have similar stories, we are each distinct and bring our own value to life and this shared community.

I want to read your story. I want to know what’s challenged you and what has brought you joy. And hope. I want to hear about your losses and how you’ve managed to get through to today. I hope that my story is an encouragement to you. I’m certain yours would be for me.

I want to read your story. I want to know what’s challenged you and what has brought you joy. And hope. I want to hear about your losses and how you’ve managed to get through to today. I hope that my story is an encouragement to you. I’m certain yours would be for me.

And still, I dance! Despite and because of all that I’ve experienced.

As Miss Major says, “I’m still fucking here!” I’m an out Black queer trans man in recovery, in love and awe with the Divine Source, can you believe it?

This is an invitation to dance with me!

Surviving Transphobia is available September 21, 2023.

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