I stayed in the church and in the theatre and never felt fully at home in either. Where was the space for a visibly queer kid? Where were the roles for someone who didn’t fit into traditional notions of gender? Where could I be at home? Be myself? Yet, even as I grappled I couldn’t let go of either Christianity or the theatre. There was something in the Jesus story that wouldn’t let me go: a story of a man who made a space for the most marginalized. A man who was an outsider. A man who traveled around and told stories so that others on the outside could feel their worth. In theatre I found a community who let me be weird and quirky. I felt something holy happening when we sat in rooms together and asked hard questions. I couldn’t give up either of these sanctuaries even as I wasn’t sure how to find a place in them.
It was in reading other people’s stories that I was able to name myself: first as gay then as transgender. I became the first openly transgender man ordained to the Old Catholic priesthood. I continued to tell stories. I continued to enact rituals on church altars and on theatre stages. For a while I tried to keep these pieces of my life separate, but they continued to bleed into one another and so I am now embarking on the great work of integration.
Yet I still feel the lack of stories that represent myself and my community. Stories of transgender men. Stories of religious queer and trans folks. Stories of trans people with rural backgrounds.
See, I exist with all of these strange worlds inside of me. I will always be the kid from rural Pennsylvania. I will always feel the angst of spending so many years of my life not fitting in and not being able to name my identity. I will always be queer and trans and hold that legacy of stories in my body. I will always be captivated by silent churches and lofty words and dreams of a new and better world right here and now.
This is what my writing is trying to capture: space for people like me to exist. And not just exist but also to thrive. To no longer be the outsiders but to be the ones centered. To tell our own stories, to name ourselves, to continue to ask questions and find our own answers.
In case you want to see if I’m legit, here’s my official bio:
Shannon TL Kearns is a transgender man who believes in the transformative power of story. As an ordained priest, a playwright, a theologian, and a writer all of his work revolves around making meaning through story.
Shannon’s first book “In the Margins: A Transgender Man’s Journey With Scripture” is available now from Eerdman’s Books.
Shannon is a recipient of the Humanitas New Voices Fellowship for 2022, a Playwrights’ Center Jerome Fellowship in 20/21 and he was a Lambda Literary Fellow for 2019 in playwriting and in 2022 for screenwriting. He was a Finnovation Fellow for 2019/2020. He is a sought after speaker on transgender issues and religion as well as a skilled facilitator of a variety of workshops.
Shannon co-founded QueerTheology.com with Brian G. Murphy. Since its start in 2013, this work has reached more than two million people all over the world through videos, articles, and online courses and community. Their Queer Theology podcast is the longest running LGBTQ+ Christian podcast.
Selected recognition: Winner of the ScreenCraft Pitch competition, finalist for Bull City Film Festival for his pilot Transformed. Winner of the New Hope Film Festival for best premium/tv script. He’s been a playwright in residence at the Inge House, participated in the Seven Devils’ Playwright Conference and the Great Plains Theatre Conference. He was a semi-finalist for the O’Neill and a finalist for the Blue Ink playwriting award.
Shannon’s plays include Laughing, Flexing, Dying, The Stories We Tell At The End Of The World, Body+Blood, in a stand of dying trees, Line of Sight, Twisted Deaths, The Resistance of My Skin, and Who Has Eyes To See.