If I tried to tell you my whole faith story in this short blog, we wouldn't get very far. It could be a book, a long conversation, a lifetime of words and thoughts and feelings.
And so, I am going to tell you about a part of my journey. About being called by name. Our God is, after all, a God in whom people can find their true names. Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter and Saul becomes Paul, just to name a few.
My name, Alex, means warrior or defender. And I did fight to find my name. I did have to defend my right to use it. I have had to find a certain kind of strength in the God who calls me by name.
I chose my name. I won't tell you my old name outright, but I will tell you that it means 'fresh green shoot'. And I suppose that is where my story began. Perhaps it is where all stories begin.
A fresh green shoot is full of life, potential, the possibility of being beautiful. For me, being a fresh, green shoot meant that I was fragile, breakable, full of fear.
I didn't know it then, but I am transgender. There was a name, a person, a set of possibilities inside me that, in retrospect, I feel that God was calling me towards. But me? I had my fingers firmly in both ears. I was not listening. I was not ready to be moved or to grow. A path from female towards male was stretched out in front of me, but I was not ready to step out onto it.
And so, the fear. There was very little that I was not afraid of when I was living with a different name. It all started with sickness, emetophobia, which, according to the professionals is rooted in a fear of letting go or losing control. And then there were the other, smaller fears: dogs, darkness, being alone, certain types of food, drunk people, wasps and bees, water, wind, touch. Basically, I was terrified of life.
It got to a point, when I was around 16, that the sound of God calling my name was deafening and yet, I was stuck. I got lost in a deep sea of fear and depression which left me in a seriously dark and difficult place.
Part of the reason that I am telling this story is that it is Trans Day of Remembrance this Friday. Over 1,700 trans people have been murdered because of their gender identity in just the past 7 years. This doesn't include those who have harmed or killed themselves due to the stigma, isolation and judgement that is often piled on trans people.
I could have been a statistic, but God called me by name, God called me to transition and helped me to find the strength to step out onto the path. My faith story is like a giant puzzle full of names with wonderful people and groups of people holding up and holding together the pieces at various times: the first trans person I met; the ministers and youth workers who helped me to come out; the doctor who prescribed my first testosterone injection and the nurse who administered it; the person who encouraged me to read Genesis again, and again and again...and to listen. To wait. To actually be open to hear God whispering my name.
And the journey, the sentence, continues now in a very different place. I like the image of the semicolon that marks a choice not to end the sentence, or the art of kintsugi, which takes the broken pottery of our lives and fills in the cracks with gold, recognising the beauty held in brokenness.
I am at the beginning of a new phase of the journey, of calling, of growing into my true name. As I started this new phase I tried to cover over or hide the golden cracks. I wanted to, or thought I should, try to turn the semicolon into a full stop. To start a new sentence. But that is not how journeys and stories work. We are all broken people and I for one am starting to realise and to accept that I am not called to hide my brokenness.
In the midst of pain, death and destruction, perhaps it is time to allow God to break us wide open, to shine through our cracks. My name is Alex - defender, warrior. I have heard, and fought for, and earned my name. And yet, there is a fresh, green, fragile, fearful shoot within me, listening for and witnessing to the voice of the One that calls all things into life.
Alex Young is an ordinand at Westminster College, Cambridge. 20 words about Alex (in his own words): student, harpist, writer, lover, singer, composer, son, follower of Christ, called, journeying, musician, ordinand, transman, Scottish, whisky-drinker, reader, popcorn-addict, friend, listener, thinker.