Journeys to Humanism: Humanism Compels Me to Do Good

Journeys to Humanism,’s regular series, features real stories from humanists in our community. From heartwarming narratives of growth, to more difficult journeys, our readers open up about their experiences coming to humanism.

Sarah Ray

I was born and raised in a small Illinois town with a population of 1,400. There were no chain stores or restaurants, no stop lights—but nine churches. Everybody went to church. I went to what I call a vanilla Christian church, the First Christian Church. You sat quietly to listen to the message, sang when it was time to sing, and then sat quietly again until the next song. For a time, in my teen years, I fancied myself on the path to seminary. I would have told you then, adamantly, that this was a calling from God. I was leading a Bible study group at school that I had started, wrote some sermons and even presented them at church a time or two.

During this time, I was also starting to feel different. Sure, puberty makes us all feel pretty weird and different, but this was… different…er. I became obsessed with the idea of my gender. Why wasn’t I a girl, like I should have been? Something wasn’t right. I spent countless nights wishing that I would just wake up in the morning in the body I knew I should have been. I did what many young people in my situation did, I explored gender expression by borrowing clothes from female relatives. And I would get caught, feel ashamed, promise myself I would forget about those feelings, and repeat. Later this would present itself as a common “purchase-purge” cycle that many trans folks experience.

These two components of my life, Christianity and gender dysphoria, never really crossed paths. I never really had to deal with how my god belief viewed my feelings of gender. Culturally, ‘gay’ was still a word we whispered in the Midwest in the early nineties, and trans people were jokes on the Jerry Springer Show: “I didn’t know my wife was a man!” I moved into my own apartment after high school, and exploring my femininity became easier. I hid this part of my life from everyone, and being on my own made it a lot easier to hide and explore. Not having the much more nuanced language we have today, I identified as a ‘crossdresser’ for a long time.

Meanwhile, in a completely separate compartment of my life, I started attending a Church of God. This was worlds apart from the “sit quietly” church I had grown up in, yet it wasn’t long before I had my hand proudly in the air, feeling the spirit, shouting the occasional “yes!” or “amen!” and just as quickly found myself playing in the praise band. The band leader was our youth pastor, a portly younger man with a hip nickname. He asked me to do 1:1 Bible study with him because if I was going to be “on stage”, they needed to be sure I was setting a good example. I studied and tried very hard to fit the mold, but it just wasn’t me. And the more I read, the less I believed. This Bible study with a pastor brought the house of cards crashing down and I started backing away from that church. It was the last church I attended.

As easy as it had become for me to put all of my feminine feelings and things into a box and ignore their existence for a while, I tossed my Christianity in a box, too, and largely forgot about it. The difference, however, was that the gender dysphoria persisted while my god belief turned into apatheism. I forgot about it. It didn’t affect my life at all. Maybe a god exists, maybe not, but I wasn’t living my life in any particular way because of it. “Be a good person” was my religion. I got married, my first wife knew about my gender struggles and was tolerant but not necessarily supportive of it. We moved from Illinois to Florida, drifted apart, and got divorced. I remarried and we had a child, she knew of my struggles and was pretty supportive, and we settled into family life.

In 2015, feelings that I buried again resurfaced, but this time was different. The world had changed around me, and for the first time, the idea that I could transition and live my life as the woman I knew myself to be actually seemed realistic. No longer just a dream. I entered therapy, both alone and together with my wife, and started hormone replacement therapy. I started coming out to everyone and slowly adjusted my dress and other appearance. I didn’t experience a lot of negativity in this process, thankfully, as I know many do. I started advocating for others. I launched a podcast to talk about my transition experiences. And then North Carolina happened.

North Carolina passed HB2 in 2016 in response to a local anti-discrimination ordinance. HB2 effectively limited people to only use a restroom which matched their gender as assigned at birth. It made me more vocal, more engaged, and launched my so-called “angry atheist” phase. I was furious at the constant attacks on GSRM-identified people in the name of Jesus, and those attacks being blessed by the U.S. and state governments under the guise of “religious liberty”. This led me into organizing and activism, where my anger started to subside. I came to realize that atheism is a bit useless on its own. Atheism doesn’t compel me to fight for the marginalized and minority, my humanism does. I started a local atheist nonprofit with some new friends, and while we chose to wear the “Scarlet Letter” in our name, most of our work is humanist. Sure, sitting around with like-minded people scoffing at supernatural beliefs has its place, but putting humanism first—actively working to better the lives of those around us—is where we make a real difference.

Now I’m pushing those boundaries for myself, our team, and others even further. Our organization, the Atheist Community of Polk County is an American Humanist Association affiliate and we’re a Foundation Beyond Belief Network Team. We helped launch a novel food pantry delivery program in response to the novel coronavirus and we work to address food insecurity among students and their families in our public schools and among the local homeless populations. I produce and host a YouTube/Podcast show called “Freethought in Florida” which helps promote humanist ideals. Most recently I became a Humanist Celebrant and joined the board of the Humanist Society to help further advance humanism and make a positive impact in the world.

We all have our own stories of how we came to be humanists, and we want to hear yours! Fill out the form here to be featured in this series.