Chris and Lindsay Kinman worked for a Christian ministry in jobs they absolutely loved… until people there found out they had a trans son. The Kinmans had to decide what meant more to them: their religious principles or their transgender child. They chose their child.
That’s the summary of what’s supposed to be a heartwarming story by Mark Wingfield in Baptist News Global. Earlier in the piece, we’re told, “This is a story about the power of parental love.” But after reading the whole thing, it’s hard to come away with a smile.
The Kinmans both grew up in the Pacific Northwest and attended (separate) Christian camps when they were kids. After they were married, Chris became the director of a similar kind of camp while Lindsay worked as a midwife nearby. Things were going well. They had a child who was assigned female at birth and appeared to be following in their religious footsteps.
When that child, Jay, was 10, he began acting out when he was asked to do traditionally feminine things:
That morning, “Jay had a tantrum that was otherworldly,” Lindsay recalls. “It was very out of character. I asked him to put his dress on, and it made him come undone in a way I had never seen. In the car, I stopped and pulled over and looked at Jay and I committed the sin of all sins: I groomed my child. I said, ‘Do you think you were born in the wrong body?’
“He looked at me and got really quiet. He said the answer he was supposed to say: ‘No, Mommy, God doesn’t make mistakes.’ We continued driving. But I just knew. Her prayer was that her daughter was “just” gay.
The wording choices there may sound bizarre. As if asking about the possibility that Jay might be transgender was an act of grooming. As if praying that Jay was “just” gay would look better in God’s eyes. But it’s hard to fault Lindsay for honestly recollecting what she was thinking at the time. She was raised in a Christian environment that was rabidly anti-LGBTQ, which means she didn’t necessarily have the right language to use for that situation. It happens to a lot of us. She was still trying to reconcile her faith with her daughter’s identity.
It wasn’t until Jay was 17 (but still not openly identifying as trans) that someone at the Christian camp Chris ran began outing Jay to anyone who would listen. It took a toll on the entire family:
“The firestorm that was kicked off by this outing was unbelievable,” Lindsay said. “I became like a crazy person because I couldn’t get in front of it. I would find out the next person they would tell and go running to them, but they would be two more people ahead of me. It was frantic, frantic. I wanted to say, ‘Could everyone please stop talking? This is our child.’”
But it didn’t matter. The damage had been done.
“It got to the point of everything being on a controlled burn,” she explained. “Everyone knows, but no one knows what to do about it. And then Jay comes to me and goes, ‘Mom, I need to talk to you: I’m transgender.’ And I just went, ‘No, no,’ … I reacted so poorly. It was too much.
Before long, the other camp leaders turned on Chris:
“How are we supposed to deal with this on a public stage when we haven’t had 5 minutes to deal with this on a private level?” Lindsay asked. “I’m going around and being crazy, and as a result I’m no longer the quiet submissive wife. … Then they said if Chris can’t control his home, he’s not able to run the camp. I listened to men I had known for 30 years talk about me as some witch who needed to be burned.”
Chris was given a choice: publicly denounce his own son… or resign.
He looked for work elsewhere in the state… but the Kinmans eventually concluded that their best bet was leaving the area completely and starting a new life in New Zealand. They moved just before the pandemic lockdowns began worldwide, which at least gave everyone around them something else to think about. Jay remained in the U.S., not because of any conflict with his family, but because he had a college scholarship and was working with doctors who could assist with transitioning.
“For a lot of people COVID has meant death,” Lindsay acknowledged. “For us, COVID was an answer to prayer. We had been asking for the world to stop, and it did.”
One of the things Chris and Lindsay still needed to figure out was their own views on gender and sexuality and the Bible. Nothing they were experiencing matched what they had been taught as children in evangelical homes.
The couple has engaged in lots of counseling, and they freely acknowledge the strain the last three years has placed on their relationship. But they’re working hard on it, and they love their new life in New Zealand.
The bottom line is that the Kinmans are doing well, Jay is doing well, their relationship is solid, and all of them are still Christian. (Progressive Christians, but still Christians.)
“We lost everything,” Lindsay explained. “We lost our home. We lost our sanctuary. We lost our friends. The ticket back into the kingdom was renouncing our child, making some public statement that we didn’t agree with Jay. And we weren’t willing to do that. It just didn’t compute.
You can see why this is meant to be an uplifting story. They learned to accept their trans son despite what their religious institutions were demanding of them.
The story fails for me, however, because the Kinmans refuse to point any fingers at their religion itself. They never condemn the people espousing the bigotry. They never say those people are misguided, hateful, or wrong. They say they’re still trying to reconcile their “theology of sexuality and gender” today, hoping to find a broader Christian umbrella that covers trans people. Chris even raves about one particular book that changed everything for him because it “gave him permission to love Jesus and love his kid.”
That’s one way to do it. If it works for them, that’s really all that matters. But I’m left wondering what the Kinmans would have done if they couldn’t reconcile those two worlds.
If they really had to choose between a kind of evangelical Christianity that excludes open and proud and (dare I say) sexually active LGBTQ people… and their own child… what would they have done?
Why not consider the possibility that Christianity itself is part of the problem? What would they urge other families to do when faced with the same situation? Not everyone can pack up and move around the world. Should they abandon their conservative churches? Should they push back against religious leaders? Are they better off without a church home? Should they send a message to their kids, purposely or not, that remaining in the closet for years is the best option?
This story is supposed to be heartwarming because the Kinmans found a way to love their trans child without abandoning their faith. But it completely avoids the bigger issue of what the hell our society is supposed to do about the vast majority of the white evangelical Christian crowd who openly condemn gay and trans people and vote against their civil rights.
Instead, all we get is a version of We moved to a different continent because our Christian tribe kicked us out, and we’re all better now—and we’re still Christian!
It’s not as helpful as it seems.