Transgender ex-soldier finds a ‘far greater sense of peace’
BY TAMMY GRUBB, CORRESPONDENT
CHAPEL HILL - Second of two parts
On the road from rural North Carolina to the Boston suburbs, Sam Taylor has worn the shoes of a native son, student, soldier, and now, a young woman and religious leader.
“In some ways, I don’t see it as much of a change [but] as a continuation,” said Taylor, who is a transgender woman.
That’s not to say the road has been easy.
Growing up in a conservative Southern Baptist community didn’t allow much self-expression, Taylor said. Most of her family and friends didn’t learn she planned to come out until she returned with the 1-130th Attack Reconnaissance Battalion from a tour of duty in Iraq.
“If my dad had asked, I would have told him,” she said. “I’ll admit I was really nervous, not because my dad is in any way a mean person or a bad person, but I’ve just known so many people whose families have just absolutely rejected them when they came out.”
Most people have been supportive. A few have said her decision was wrong, or started acting differently around her.
Taylor was living as a man in 2008 when she met Becky Smith. The Massachusetts Water Program coordinator for the nonprofit group Clean Water Action, Smith was Taylor’s mentor during a nine-month internship with the Micah Project, an Episcopal service mission for social and structural justice issues. They soon became best friends.
“I was really pleased that I had a friend who trusted me enough to be honest and trusted that I was a caring and thoughtful enough friend to be able to hold that information and still be the same friend that I was before I knew that,” Smith said.
Sgt. Jason Kalarchik, who served with Taylor in Iraq, said he feels the same way.
“I grew up in Montana, and I couldn’t imagine. I try to put myself in his situation, and I just can’t even … [the response] would be violent, I think,” Kalarchik said. “He’s got nothing to be afraid of from me. I’m still his buddy. He can call me anytime.”
Taylor’s circle of support continues to grow at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in the Brookline suburb of Boston. She will talk with her priest later this year about seeking ordination with the Diocese of Massachusetts and, if he agrees, begin a two-year discernment process. This is the time when candidates reflect on whether to be a priest and talk about their plans with the parish priest, the parish’s governing body and diocesan officials. The process continues with up to three years at seminary before the candidate is ordained a deacon and, eventually, a priest.
In Boston, Taylor also found a mentor in Cameron Partridge, an openly transgender Episcopal chaplain at Boston University and a lecturer in Harvard University’s Divinity School and the department of women, gender and sexuality.