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At age 41, campus pastor Linda Seiler believes God is going to bring a husband into her life at the right time. Yet it's taken much of Seiler's lifetime for her to reach that conclusion, as she struggled with confused gender identity.
"I never experienced an attraction to a man -- until recently," Seiler says.
As part of her ministry, Seiler tries to teach Christians to compassionately understand the plight of transgendered people.
"From my earliest memories I had a desire to be a boy," Seiler says. "It was the driving force of my life."
In her case, Seiler believes she experienced an "emotional deficit" in childhood stemming from not feeling completely affirmed in her gender. Consequently, in early adulthood, she sought unhealthy nurturing relationships from women as a means to connect with the feminine she sensed lacking in herself.
"For some reason, there is a breakdown in our identity, and the God-given connection with our same gender never happens," Seiler says. "In adulthood, that emotional deficit becomes sexualized."
Seiler says in certain cases gender confusion and same-sex attraction can be the result of a breakdown in the parental relationship because of divorce, abuse, or death. In her situation, she says rejection happened subtly, and involved perception more than reality.
As Seiler grew up, her parents had no clue of the depth of her profound sexual ambiguity issues. They made no connection between her tomboyish appearance and behavior with her discomfort as a female, and they figured she would outgrow the phase.
Starting in fourth grade, Seiler says, she began contemplating sex reassignment surgery as the way to relieve her sensations of being a female trapped inside a male body. Still, such a radical notion bothered her.
"Intuitively I knew those desires were wrong -- even though I hadn't read Bible verses saying so -- since the law of God is written on our hearts," Seiler says. "Because the conscience is so strong, people have to be talked into believing such desires are OK."
Years later, Seiler heard the gospel for the first time and thought a turnaround would happen after she accepted Jesus as Savior during her junior year in high school.
But without relational discipleship and emotional healing, Seiler's sexual fantasies didn't disappear. She prayed over and over for relief, but kept gravitating to nurturing females with whom she had become emotionally vulnerable. Although she sensed a calling to ministry a year after salvation, Seiler didn't feel safe in sharing her struggles with anyone in a church setting.
In college, Seiler led a double life. She led Bible studies, served on a leadership team, and led worship with Campus Crusade for Christ at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Yet at the same time, she sank to the depths of loneliness and despair, harboring secrets that drove her to the brink of suicide. She loathed herself because of sexual addictions that included overactive fantasies and habitual pornography use.
Seiler never fully embraced the gay lifestyle. Like most people who call themselves transgendered, she didn't have a sex reassignment operation. But because transgendered people have a strong desire to be the other sex and a persistent discomfort with their own bodies, they usually make the transition in their minds, and that means they will dress and wear their hair like the opposite sex. They may or may not be homosexual.
During her senior year of college in 1994, Seiler summoned the courage to confess her sexual sins with the Campus Crusade for Christ director at the University of Illinois. Rather than view her as damaged goods, the pastor explained God could set her free.
It didn't happen overnight. Seiler distanced herself emotionally from Christian women in an effort to avert improper romantic entanglements.
In 1999, Russell and Nancy Trahan took over as pastors at Crossroads Campus Church, which Seiler had joined after college while working as a high school teacher. Seiler credits the Trahans with helping her through some of her darkest hours.
"On the outside she seemed to have it all together as an intelligent professional," Nancy Trahan remembers. "But in her physical being I discerned something amiss, an emptiness that didn't match her external confidence."
Seiler soon divulged her gender confusion and same-sex attractions to the couple. Nancy Trahan began a weekly discipleship process based on sanctification of spirit, soul, and body as outlined in 1 Thessalonians 5:23. Trahan provided much-needed mentoring to help Seiler form appropriate boundaries with female friends.
Trahan calls the discipleship process lengthy, messy, and draining -- but worth it. Trahan recruited several other solid Christian women to come alongside Seiler for emotional support to prevent Seiler from fixating on Trahan.
"If someone wants to be free, no matter how emotionally off-kilter they are, God will intervene," says Trahan, who now is an Assemblies of God minister based in Geneseo, Illinois. "And Linda knew she wanted to be free."
In an effort to experience sexual wholeness, Seiler read books, attended conferences, prayed, and fasted. Despite outward appearance changes, she still struggled inwardly.
Eventually, Dale Crall, who spent 26 years as pastor of the Chi Alpha group at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, helped Seiler through the final stages of the healing process.
"I was amazed at her compelling level of truthfulness," says Crall, who spent two years discipling Seiler. "God can set anyone free from anything if that person is really humble and really honest."
Overall, the arduous healing journey took 11 years, and included sessions with counselors and ministers who said they never had seen transgendered people set free before. Seiler ultimately experienced healing at the age of 32 as she says Jesus enabled her to forgive those who had hurt her and she repented of her own sinful responses. As a result, her attractions to females and desire to be male disappeared.
"I never thought I would be 'normal' enough that I would be a heterosexual woman attracted to men," Seiler says. "But the goal isn't heterosexuality; it's holiness."
In 2014, Seiler first started telling her story in churches and on university campuses, including Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana, where she has served as Chi Alpha director since 2007. Chi Alpha is the campus ministry at secular colleges under Assemblies of God U.S. Missions.
Elsewhere, Seiler has held workshops on a biblical approach to sexuality and engaged in panel discussions with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) representatives.
"Emotional brokenness can become sexualized with experimentation and because of the normalization of homosexuality in the media," Seiler says. "The Church must know how to demonstrate compassion without compromising what the Word says. My story is proof that Jesus came to set captives free."
Christians shouldn't treat the transgendered or homosexuals as a special category of sinners, Seiler believes.
"All sin is a form of brokenness," Seiler says. "We need to love them in the same way we would a co-worker who is sleeping around or who indulges in binge drinking."
Seiler now has an excellent, transparent relationship with her parents, whose love and support played a significant role in her healing process.
In May 2014, Seiler's parents attended her graduation from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri. Her master's thesis was "Compassion Without Compromise: A Christian Response to Homosexuality." While serving as a U.S. Missions Chi Alpha director Seiler is pursuing a doctorate at AGTS, with a planned dissertation focused on further equipping churches to respond biblically to LGBT issues.