You know how sometimes when you’re in a group of friends and you start to tell a story, one friend interrupts and says, “but wait, you gotta tell them this first! The story won’t make sense without this part!”? Well, that happens in theology as well. I started this story with the transfiguration and a friend said to me, “that’s not where the story starts! You gotta tell them about this part first!” and she was right. So we backtrack a bit. It’s the chapter right before the transfiguration. Two things happen in this chapter that are really important. The first is here:
Matthew 16:13-20: Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
Jesus decides to test the waters a bit with his disciples. He asks them what people are saying about him; how are people seeing him? What are the rumors going around? The disciples answer with a bunch of different things they have heard. Then Jesus pushes a little harder, “but who do you think I am?” It’s a personal question. I wonder what he was thinking when he asked it; if he was prepared for their answers. What prompted him to be wondering what his disciples were thinking of him? And it’s Peter who answers with the answer that Jesus was hoping for, the answer that speaks to the truth of his identity. Jesus responds with effusive praise and even gives Peter his new name. In this moment Jesus is recognizing that Peter gets it and because Peter gets it Jesus puts his hope on Peter being his rock, on being the support that Jesus will need to get through whatever is to come.
Maybe this is the moment when Jesus started to believe the truth about himself. The moment when he realizes that people are asking questions about him that he wasn’t able to articulate about himself. And in asking these questions he seems to get a bit of strength for what is to come. But at the same time, here is the demand for his disciples not to tell anyone. He’s not ready for people to know who he really is. He needs to keep it just between them for a while.
There was a joke told by a lesbian comedian Elvira Kurt. She said that the way coming out goes is that everyone else knows, then you know, then your parents know. She said that many people come out and their friends say, “FINALLY! We’ve been waiting for you to figure it out!” Sometimes we need permission to admit the truth to ourselves. When we can test the waters and know that we have the support of friends it allows us to figure things out for ourselves. It allows us to take the first steps on our journey.
There were definitely moments like this in the beginning of my journey. I asked my friends what other people thought of me; I asked them how I was being perceived. What do I look like? Do people think I’m male? What about you? Who am I? What is my identity? I remember telling people my truth and having them be like, of course, that makes so much sense. I thought that I had been hiding it all so well.
It was my partner who first asked me, “Do you think you might be trans?” The first chink in the armor I had constructed for myself to keep my feelings about my gender at bay. I needed someone else to echo the truth I knew about myself. I needed to test the waters a bit before I was ready to tell the world. I needed to see if my friends and partner would support me if I was honest about who I really was. It was my partner’s question that enabled me to begin to ask questions of myself. I was able to do the research that I needed to do. I was able to start experimenting with elements of transition; seeing if I felt more comfortable binding my chest or packing with a prosthetic.
In turn we rename the people who support us; we call them our rock or our biggest fan. We say that they are the ones who are to credit for what comes next. They are the ones that gave us the courage to live into our identity. Jesus says that Peter will be the rock upon which he builds his church. In that moment Jesus is depending on Peter to give him the courage that he needs.
I wasn’t necessarily ready for the world to know, but this was still an important part of my journey. This was the beginning. Even more than my coming out, this was the event that started me on the road to Jerusalem.
*Has anyone ever asked you a question that allowed you to speak a truth you didn’t even realize was true?
*In your own coming out (whether as queer, transgender, Christian, or any of the other moments we all need to come out about) what were the things that gave you courage to begin your journey?
*Who have been the Peter’s in your life? In what way?