A man identifying as a woman has become the U.K. Methodist Church’s first transgender minister, physically transitioning changing his gender to female after four decades of dressing like one.
Joy Everingham, a 46-year-old chaplain at University of Kent Canterbury and father of two, announced to his congregation that he had fully accepted his identity and would transition to wearing women’s clothing full-time and begin taking cross-gender hormones, according to Telegraph. Everingham first discussed his plan of transitioning to senior church leaders, who gave their full approval, before announcing his plans to his congregation. Everingham, still married and living with his wife Ruth and their two sons and ordained as a Methodist deacon, is the first transgender minister accepted by the Methodist Church in the U.K.
“People sat down and started reading it [the letter in which he announced his transition], and then I could see them looking up and around,” Everingham said, according to Kent Online. “I was scared to death, but people kept coming up to me and saying ‘well done.’ A couple of people didn’t speak to me for a bit, but they had to work it out for themselves. I was expecting it to be a long hard trek to justify who I was, but it’s not been like that.”
Everingham said that he has struggled with his identity since childhood when he found it felt unnatural to act “boyish” and experienced the desire to put on makeup and wear his mother’s clothing. Everingham suppressed it for years, became a Christian at 15, and married Ruth at age 22. He led a double life, hiding women’s clothes and wearing them in the attic unbeknownst to Ruth for eight years. Everingham finally confessed to his wife after a visit to a transgender nightclub convinced him that he would never be rid of his desires to be a woman. Ruth chose to stay and help her husband explore his feminine inclinations, but threatened to leave if he transitioned.
Everingham and his wife decided after the birth of their second son in 2002 that he would live full time as a man and gave away all of his women’s clothing. Manic depression and suicidal thoughts ensued, and Everingham, then 35, was referred to a gender clinic where he was diagnosed with gender dysphoria. Everingham felt that the diagnosis further confirmed that he truly was a woman trapped in a man’s body. He then decided to be a minister at age 41.
“People talk about callings, and it was that. It’s a very similar thing, in a way, to the transition,” he told Kent Online. “It’s a pull and I tried running away from it, but I couldn’t resist it any longer. Sometimes I felt like God had cursed me, but I had to trust in a god that loves me, whatever I am.”
Ruth eventually agreed to support her husband’s desire to transition to female after hearing a radio host come out on air as transgender.
“Ruth loves me for who I am, but she’s still attracted to men,” Everingham told Telegraph. “I’m not sure she is really attracted to me sexually anymore, but we’re still in love and we’re still best friends. She still sees me as the same person, I just look a bit different.”
Everingham now has breasts and his voice has softened. He is not the first transgender minister to be accepted in the Methodist Church at large, as the United Methodist Church in the U.S. ordained Rev. David Weekley in 1985, who transitioned from female to male in 1975 but kept it secret until 2009, and Rev. M Barclay June 4 as a non-binary transgender deacon.