Toni: Only Deceiving Myself

I am the youngest and only girl of five children. I was named by and after my father, who wanted a fifth boy—that is how I got the name Toni!

I remember not feeling welcome at home at an early age. My brothers were jealous of the gifts and attention I got from other relatives who were happy to welcome a girl into the family. So, they treated me roughly, just like “one of the boys.”

There were always lots of people coming in and out of our house. My dad had lots of parties, and at a young age I was sexually abused by two of my father’s friends and an uncle.

I viewed femininity as weak and a target for sexual abuse because I had weak female role models. Men seemed to have all the power, and I didn’t like being a victim! On the other hand, my brothers seemed to be stronger, happier, and able to protect themselves. Life wasn’t as complicated for them. I wanted to be just like them.

I didn’t feel safe and wanted to hide and not be desired by men. After being a victim a second time, I promised myself I would take my own life. I felt like there was a target on my head announcing: “Abuse Me!” When I was molested a third time the depression was so deep I attempted to take my life by overdosing. It didn’t work, and the depression didn’t go away. I was desperate to be held and loved and cherished; not to be abused and discarded like trash. Being a female left me uncovered and unloved. I hated being a girl!

Eventually, I discovered I wanted the safety and confidence of manhood. So, I covered myself in men’s clothing. It felt so good, so safe. I felt like I was hiding and more confident. Finally, my sense of fear was gone.

Going Through the Motions

I left home the fastest way I could. Conflicted about my identity but trying to please everyone, I ended up marrying a man to get out of the house, and eventually became pregnant. Going through the motions of my marriage, hoping it would all workout okay, I felt unsafe with my husband because he was a man! I struggled immensely with chronic depression, anxiety, and PTSD with constant triggers from unresolved childhood abuse. It was difficult to cope with a child and my constant feelings of inadequacy, and I became emotionally unavailable to my son, like my mother was to me.

My husband’s touch reminded me of the men who abused me. His caring looks reminded me of the men who constantly stared and stalked me. All of his behaviors and actions were normal and healthy, but in my mind, I connected them to my abusers. My brain was in a constant fight or flight mode. Anxiety and fear were my constant companions.

I felt so empty inside. And so needy for acceptance from my parents, especially for my mom’s affection. I would imagine my Mom being affectionate towards me. Then I would come back to the reality that I’m no longer a child, so in order to make those imaginations more realistic I imagined myself as an adult spending quality time with my Mom, but I knew in reality she was still closed off emotionally. So, I had these fantasies of being emotionally and physically intimate with women.

So Needy

I was so needy; I didn’t think that I could ever get enough. The devil came with suggestions that if I was to live with a woman like how I lived with my husband all these years, I would get all the “safe” love and affection I desired. My heart leaped in excitement! I left my husband and son and RAN into the gay culture with a plan to experience love, safety, and acceptance where I felt neglected, unseen, and unheard. And because I knew that comfort from a person wouldn’t bring the healing from the sexual trauma and emotional neglect I so desperately needed, I decided I would still take my life, but not before living with a woman.

As soon as I left my husband, I felt uncovered. I went to Walmart and bought male clothing to “transform” myself into a man to feel safer and to have a sense of confidence. I didn’t think anyone had the capacity or desire to truly understand my pain and I also knew my new lifestyle choice was not a lifestyle God would want me to have, so I cut off every Christian I knew to avoid conviction from God. Temptations to go further and get a man’s haircut, tattoos, dress more masculine (down to my underwear) eventually overwhelmed me, and I gave in.  

After my husband and I divorced, I married a woman. Finally, I felt safe! I’m off the radar now from abusive men and I’m getting a break from the depression and anxiety that was keeping me on edge all the time. By dressing as a man, I got the respect I’d always wanted.

Only Deceiving Myself

I responded, “I’m not dressing like a man; I’m just dressing ‘comfortably.’”

“C’mon mom,” he said. “I can tell you want to be a man.” At that moment I knew my response was a failure; even my own son knew the truth!

My son’s compassion and love were never without question, and it broke my heart to disappoint him. I had attempted to deceive him, and it bothered me that I was confusing him by my own delusion. I never wanted to be a part of confusing children like I had been as a child. My eyes were opened—I was only deceiving myself.

“God was speaking through my son”

It was obvious I had a hard time accepting who God created me to be. God was speaking through my son, and I felt convicted. God had already been ministering to my heart for some time which helped me to be able to invite him to help me embrace my femininity and lean on Him for protection at all times. He answered quickly. It was and still is a process, but almost immediately I felt strange and uncomfortable dressing like a man. Suddenly, I had an indescribable desire for women’s clothing like never before! God was saying to me, “I see you and I love you, and will protect you.”

After some time, God started reminding me of His promises, laws, and abilities— how He could be trusted and how He still cared for me. He won me with His compassion, relentless love, and kindness. I was still amazed that I wasn’t too far from His love and mercy in the midst of my sins. As I claimed Christ’s forgiveness, I found it easier to forgive my parents, brothers, and those who had abused me. What a relief to let go of all that pain!

I invited God to close the door to my relationship with my ex-partner because I knew I couldn’t do it on my own—and He did it. Within two weeks we were separated  and in two months we were divorced!

Journey with Jesus

I was excited to be out of the lesbian life, but I was terrified to be alone. As I tested then realized I could trust Jesus more and more, He addressed the pain slowly, at a pace I could handle. I wasn’t perfect, but I cooperated with him for my healing, one step at a time. I was further drawn in by his understanding of all my choices. He never condemned me, only wanted to heal and love on me.

God affirmed that He not only loves other people, but He loves me too, even when I was a lesbian and left my family! As I was falling in love with Him, I gave Him my heart and allowed him to start my journey of healing following his lead. There were still many things from my childhood trauma that needed to be addressed and he would bring truth to every lie believed.

In time I realized that the One who created me ultimately knows how to fully satisfy me even more than I do! I also realized that the whole time I was truly seeking for HIS love, acceptance, and safety. The God of the universe wanted to not only deliver me from bondage and addictions but also shower me with His presence, love, and compassion! It wasn’t easy at first to let Him into my heart but it sure was life changing when I did! Many verses moved from head knowledge to my heart, including “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my steps.” Psalm 40:2 

A Constant Reminder

To support myself, I had been driving a truck for about a year when my son invited me to attend an event at his Adventist school. I didn’t know until I arrived that it was a “Mother’s Day” luncheon. Even though I was in my work clothes— jeans, t-shirt, and sneakers—my son was exhilarated when he saw me and ran to give me a hug! We had a wonderful time! He didn’t care what I looked like; he was just so glad I was there.

After the lunch, the pastor’s wife came up to me and invited me to lunch at her house the next day after church on Sabbath. All my church clothes were in storage, and I grabbed my son by the hand and said, “We’ve got to go get my dress before Sabbath!”

We found my church clothes, but I needed some proper shoes to go with my outfit, so we ran to the store to get some shoes just before the sun went down. While there, we were desperate to find the shoes quickly but there were none in my size. I will never forget the look on my son’s face as he rounded the corner holding a pair of shoes in the air and shouting, “Mommy, look! I found some!”

When I compare my son’s reaction to helping me find clothes fit for a mother, versus when he saw me in men’s clothing with a man’s haircut, I realize he is a constant reminder of who I am in Christ Jesus. I am a woman who was fearfully and wonderfully made, and I gave birth to a child who was given to me by a God who loves me and redeemed me, and I thank Him every day!

God continues to bring healing and restoration in my life and helps me daily to walk out the calling he put on my life from the beginning and it is my prayer to continue to cooperate with Him as I know that he truly loves me and can be trusted. 

Images: AI-generated

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