It’s not often that you hear a happy-ending to a story about being raised in a fundamentalist Christian home and coming to the realization that your husband is transgender. That’s probably why Melissa Reyenga’s blog has been getting so much buzz.
In what reads like a modern-day fairy tale, Reyenga says she first grew up homeschooled in the Quiverfull movement, and married her spouse before even dating—they’d only had a brief, parent-supervised courtship. After years of marriage, Reyenga says, her husband at the time finally told her that he was transgender and identified as a woman. Instead of urging him back into the closet, she told him to be the person he wanted to be.
This wasn’t received too well by their faith community. Reyenga says that their church eventually delivered her partner—who was a pastor there—an ultimatum: stop acting increasingly feminine or leave the church and his position. The two chose the latter.
“I started to wonder how it was God-honoring to be the way God made you to those extremes when everything else inside of you is rebelling against it,” she says.
Quiverfull theology [on which RD associate editor Kathryn Joyce literally “wrote the book” – ed] demands that women submit to their husbands’ desires and have large families to fulfill their God-sanctioned purpose as mothers; some Quiverfull families have 12 to 13 children. “I talked with women who did wish that somehow they could be in an accident and be done with having kids, because they were exhausted. Their bodies were worn out. And they wanted to keep honoring God and keep having babies but they couldn’t physically imagine doing it anymore.”
Meanwhile, Reyenga says her partner battled the same hope for a tragedy—“wondering, like, ‘Is it possible that some sort of car accident could happen where… I won’t be producing testosterone after that?’ Or, ‘Maybe I’ll get testicular cancer or something.’”
“It got to be bizarre to think about. How is it God-honoring if you’re secretly hoping that some natural (act) will end your misery?”
It’s an exhaustion that fellow ex-Quiverfull blogger Vyckie Garrison is familiar with. “My decision to leave was pretty much a desperate act,” she says. “I got to the point where I was cracking up under the load of trying to fulfill that role as a godly wife and mother and it had become overwhelming.”
Garrison describes Reyenga as “my hero.”
“It’s the daughters in the Quiverfull movement who are paying the price for the Quiverfull lifestyle,” she explains. “They have their whole life prepackaged and handed to them… their choices are very limited.”
Because of the black-and-white nature of the Quiverfull movement, stepping away—no matter what the reason—means leaving for good. Cheryl Seelhoff became a feminist after she was excommunicated for getting a divorce.
“Generally speaking, you either are ‘Quiverfull’ or you aren’t,” she explains in an email. “Quiverfull is a lifestyle centered around specific beliefs about the Bible, and if you stop believing or if you are shunned for sinning, as I was, by definition you are no longer part of the movement (although arguably you could go back if you changed your mind or repented to everyone’s satisfaction).”
So when Reyenga left, she says, she set her faith aside too. She and her partner weren’t “really interested in trying to get into a more liberal denomination right away,” Reyenga says. “We just felt we needed a break from it.”
Garrison also had little interest in trying to keep one foot in the church when she left the movement. “I was just glad to throw off the yoke.”
But Garrison and Seelhoff say that other women’s choices are more nuanced.
“I don’t think I’ve ever known of a Quiverfull woman who left Christianity completely right away, though most seem to over time,” writes Seelhoff. “Quiverfull women are usually deeply spiritual and that doesn’t change because they are no longer ‘Quiverfull.’”
“Everyone is so individual,” Garrison counters. “Everyone who comes out, their faith is radically modified—and a good percentage of people drop it all together. But there are some people who do sort of hold on.”