My physical form is a chapel


I grew up in a tradition with damaging teachings on the body.

I was taught that the spirit is holy and the flesh is evil, so when I began to hate my body it seemed like the right thing to do.

As a transsexual man (I transitioned from female to male) I have had a complicated relationship with my body. For a long time I tried to pretend my body didn’t exist. I hid it behind extra-large T-shirts. I slumped my shoulders to hide my chest. I was always fully clothed, even when I was completely alone. I had no language to express my deep discomfort with my physical being. My body wasn’t a safe space, it was a battleground.

I was in my twenties when I first read and saw myself in the stories of other transgender people. I wasn’t sure if I could transition, though. I worried that I would lose my relationship with my very conservative family, I worried about barriers to my ordination, and I worried that my partner might leave me, but the pain had become too much. Something had to give.

So I embarked on a journey to reclaim my body. I transformed myself through medical intervention, but the change was more than physical; my spiritual self came alive as well. For once I wasn’t just a soul without a body: I was working toward wholeness. There was a sacredness beneath my skin. I liken my transition to a crucifixion and resurrection experience. It was awkward and messy and painful, and yet I emerged on the other side a new creation. For the first time I was wholly alive, born again.

I took my body back from a world that said I could only be one way. I reworked the chapel of my physical form with the chisel of a needle filled with testosterone. I knelt in my own skin and for the first time was able to call it holy. This skin, this flesh – this is sacred ground.

Shannon T.L. Kearns has a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary. He lives and works in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He writes about transgender theology, Christian anarchism and more at

Issue 23

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 23, Fall 2011, Sacred Space.

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  1. Beautiful story, poetically told.

    Amber September 21st, 2011 10:25am

  2. Wow. I wasn’t expecting that to make me cry! Beautiful, friend. What a blessing it is to know you. <3

    oliver danni Norristown, PA September 21st, 2011 2:20pm

  3. I am so sad that you learned to hate your body at church. Sad/horrible that churches do that, as Jesus loved everything about the material world, ate and drank with gusto, touched, spat, cried, and lifted up our physical world. Thanks for the beautiful story.

    Amy McCreath Boston October 20th, 2011 11:52am

  4. What an inspiring story! I have always steered clear of churches (and christians) because of my sexuality. I can’t imagine all the extra issues you had to deal with that I don’t have. I’ve stayed away out of fear and you went and took control of your circumstances (to save your soul?). Wonderful :) (your story made me cry too LOL). I would be proud to know you if we ever met.

    rob October 24th, 2011 2:39am

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Issue 23, Fall 2011

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