What My First Marriage Taught Me About Acceptance

by | May 24, 2021 | 9 comments

What My First Marriage Taught Me About Acceptance


Even though we weren’t married long, my first marriage taught me about acceptance. Doug, my first husband, was a smart, funny, kind person; a man of deep faith, and a lawyer by training. He had a heart of gold. He served as a guardian ad litem in the court system for children in precarious situations.

But Doug had a persistent, hidden pain.  He couldn’t reconcile his inner spirit—his gender identity—with the body he was born into and the gender he was assigned.  He wrestled with it from the time he was a small child and carried this pain into adulthood. Many years later, after our brief marriage dissolved, Doug finally transitioned into the life of a female and became known as Danyel.

While this decision came with a deep sense of relief, there was also a great price to pay. While Doug was beloved, Danyel was disowned by a sister. Other friends couldn’t hang in there either.  But even through all her personal changes, Danyel, who has since passed away, continued the professional work of  advocating for the dignity and safety of children.

Challenging Topics for Leaders

I don’t pretend to understand what it feels like to wrestle in this way.  Or even why some people experience gender dysphoria. However having personally witnessed a slice of the searing journey Doug took to become Danyel, and the peace that at last came with it, I have nothing but respect for the courage of trans people.

Over the years I have come to know a handful of other men and women with similar stories. Each of them, interestingly, has been a professional person with deep convictions about their calling in life. While I don’t know Rev. Megan Rohrer, the newly elected bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, it sounds like she shares a similar journey to the folks I have known.  She is the first openly trans person to be elected Bishop of a mainline denomination.

As a leader, you may be asked to comment on the connection between Bishop Rohrer, the Bible, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. While her election doesn’t directly impact the United Methodist denomination, it does give you a chance to reflect theologically and personally on what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God, to be a beloved child of God, and to experience grace.

I don’t know what you will say, or even how you feel about this. But I would like to offer some questions for you to consider how to frame challenging topics.

How to Frame Challenging Topics

1) How to disagree without demonizing?

How can you talk about experiences like this that fall outside the norm, the expected, in such a way that you do not demean, demonize, or dehumanize people? Neither the people in favor of it, nor the people against it, nor the people who don’t understand it, or don’t care? Truth is, most people have their own inner conflicts. Hearing how you address this topic will help them consider their own unspoken concerns that may fall outside the norm or the expected.

2) How to dialogue rather than jump to judgement?

How can you draw people into dialogue or inquiry rather than making snap judgements? Adding to the culture wars ethos so prevalent today doesn’t help us come together. SO many things are immediately set up as a “for or against” proposition. Taking a reasoned thoughtful approach helps people think rather than react. Also, you may have people wrestling with gender dysphoria in your congregation.  Choose your words carefully.

3) How to think theologically?

How can you use the tool of the Wesleyan quadrilateral to help people think theologically?  It’s okay for people to arrive at different decisions.  Teaching people how to think theologically is more powerful than telling them what to think. The quadrilateral also allows for people to flex and change their mind, rather than harden into a set position.

In the end, I’m grateful for what my first marriage taught me about acceptance.  I have found that telling my own story—without making others wrong—and then listening—really listening—to their story, is a powerful way to approach sensitive subjects. It allows people to be heard, and to discover something new from each other. Best of all, this approach helps us to experience the grace of God and each other’s inherent humanity in such a way that we each get to express our true selves.  That’s a gift we can give each other in the midst of challenging times.

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  1. Sharon Cochran

    Following a year of being engaged my senior year of high school, my fiancé came out as homosexual. My self esteem was already shattered from my childhood so I believed that I was so disgusting I turned him off all women. Thank goodness for good therapists. I know now he truly loved me enough to not let me live a lie. Today we are dear friends. My child came out as bi in 2018, queer in 2019, and non-binary two months ago. They are scheduled for top surgery in November. My experience in high school prepared me to accept my child unconditionally. The blessing for me is understanding their life is not a choice. I’m thrilled my child is living their authentic self. I raised them to be strong, independent, and I received everything I prayed for.

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Sharon, you are an awesome Mom! Thank you for the unconditional love you are showing your child.

      It’s amazing how our life experiences secretly, quietly, unexpectedly equip us to deal with new circumstances we never could have imagined!

      Bless you.

  2. Leigh Goodrich

    Thank you for your courage sharing this. My son came out his junior year of High School, not necessarily intentionally. He left some emails open on our family shared computer. Fortunately, I found them first. I loved him unconditionally, and accepted his decision, but my now ex-husband could never find peace, hoping that my son would “change his mind.” My younger son was his brother’s protector, becoming an advocate for not only LGBTQ folk, but for all persons marginalized by the church and society. I also became an advocate for my LGBTQ siblings. I was public about my message, received threatening emails and calls, and still do. My son’s partner is an Episcopal priest today, but Steve refused to go through the UMC ordination process after getting a M.Div. from Harvard…it is the denomination’s loss, not Steve’s. I give thanks everyday for my eldest son. He is strong, witty, smart as hell, and a great gift to the world. A count him and his partner among my best friends, while also being “mom” to them both.

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Leigh, it is surprising how much courage it DOES take to share one’s very own life experiences. It did take me courage.

      These unexpected life experiences is one reason I appreciate the Wesleyan quadrilateral so much. The Spirit speaks to each of us a in variety of ways…and you sorta can’t argue with that. Weaving that personalized experience through the rest of the quadrilateral to arrive at a sound theology takes honesty, grace, nuance, and perseverance.

      I am so glad that you and your younger son have stood by your eldest. My former husband had that level of support from most of the family. It made all the difference. But D’s father and younger sister weren’t able to extend that same acceptance. Such a challenge for all involved.

      Thanks for your witness of grace and courage, Leigh.

  3. Dennis Shaw

    Listening – ‘really listening’ – is something, if we ever did it well, has been lost.

    We talk over each other so much, hanging onto our own version of the truth, attempting to shout down in contempt those we neither understand nor wish to engage where they are. Sad.

    Good piece. Good reflection. Sage wisdom.

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Dennis, you make good points. I agree. The ability to listen to people of increasingly different backgrounds, outlooks, and life experiences requires of even the most grounded person an uncommon generosity of heart.

      Appreciate your weighing in.

  4. james

    Leviticus 20:13 ESV / 479 helpful votes
    If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.

    • Rebekah Simon-Peter

      Yes, James, I am aware of that scripture. It is part of an entire code of acceptable relations that include people who must be stoned to death, the specific kinds of food one must avoid eating, and who to cut off from the community–most of which the Christian community does NOT follow, thankfully. Even Orthodox Jews, who have the greatest loyalty to obeying the commandments to the letter, have gracious ways of interpreting these laws and codes that make them livable.

  5. Erin Thomas

    What My First Marriage Taught Me About Acceptance

    Rebekah…fabulous storytelling. Thank you for sharing. We have to remember
    the struggle that trans people have lived with for YEARS before they decide
    to transition. It is so personal, and yet, they get dragged through the mud by
    stranger and loved one who just can’t imagine having that struggle.
    As Christians (and especially pastors) we are called to be
    compassionate people like Jesus, who encountered all sorts of folks with
    all kinds of struggles. And he loved them all in the midst of their struggles.
    I am glad your former husband was able to complete his journey into the
    gender he felt at home with. And to enter eternal life as the beloved of God.



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