Christian pastor: The day dad told me he was a woman

Seven years ago, Tim Shiels’ father sat him down and told him he was really a woman.

Thursday, 30th January 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Thursday, 30th January 2020, 11:03 am
Omagh pastor Tim Shiels

They went on to have a sex-change operation, and to legally change their gender.

Tim, today a 44-year-old father of four, and pastor of Omagh Community Church, has now spoken publicly about the turmoil this caused for all concerned, and about his struggle to keep Christian love at the heart of his relationship with the person he still calls ‘dad’.

Tim wanted to emphasise one point above all: that despite their disagreements, this person remains his “hero” to this day.

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Pastor Shiels preaching to an audience

The whole remarkable story was revealed in a talk given at a public meeting in Belfast Bible College, which was streamed online.

Throughout the talk, Tim did not name his parent in question, and the News Letter is abiding by this wish.

This is what Tim told his audience (edited by ADAM KULA):

EYE TO EYE

Prior to the day my dad came and had a conversation with me, my understanding of the transgender community and my understanding of gender dysphoria was limited to what I saw on Coronation Street with Roy and Hayley Cropper [the latter of whom was a male-to-female transgender character].

My dad called me, and he sat down. He looked at me straight in the eye, and said: ‘Son, I’ve got something that I need to tell you. It’s incredibly important. But I feel like I can’t go on with my life any more without actually sharing this information with you.’

So we sat down at my kitchen table. We were eye to eye.

He said: ‘Tim - for all of my life I have felt like a woman trapped in a man’s body.’

I don’t claim to be deeply theological. I’m feet first, mouth first, brain second.

Its a very odd moment in my life, where I actually stopped and I paused - and I said: God, what would you have me do in this moment?

And I just felt this sense of compassion. And I felt a sense of love. And I felt something inside of me say: I need you to hold his hand. I just need you to hold his hand.

And that has been the defining moment in my relationship with my dad ever since.

I gotta be honest with you. It’s incredibly difficult at times. There are times when I look at him and I want to punch him in the face. I want to kick him in the shins. I want to poke his eyes out.

But I always come back to this thing, this heart, this desire, which is one of compassion, and the fact God said: You’ve got to hold his hand.

‘HE TOLD ME HE WAS LEAVING MY MUM’

He began to say that for all of his life he always felt different. He’d always felt like he was on the outside, like he never fitted in to any social group, and he found ways to cover that up - by being successful in business, successful in many different arenas and areas of life.

He said: ‘I wake up every morning, I look at the mirror, and what I see doesn’t compute. What I see doesn’t make sense.’

And so I got a little bit angry with him, I got a little bit frustrated with him, because he told me he was leaving my mum.

I was fearful of the impact that was going to have on me as a ministry leader, as somebody engaged in life in the church, and how that would reflect on me and how that would look.

I was afraid of how it was going to impact my children, who at that stage were all under the age of 13. What’s it going to be like for them in school? Grandad is now granny, and so on and so forth.

And it was just this really really complex set of emotions, really. As a son I felt I was grieving the loss of a parent - that I was grieving the loss of my dad essentially because what I was now being presented with was what I believed to be an impostor.

Now what I’d say is all of the characteristics that I admire in my dad still exist. He is incredibly generous, he is incredibly compassionate, he is incredibly loving.

My dad was my hero. And my hero still exists today.

And I think it’s really important for us as a church to remember those things. Whilst somebody might come and they might present themselves in a way that we think is foreign to how they should present themselves, the characteristics - the things that God put in them when they were born - have not disappeared.

‘MUM THOUGHT HE COULD BE CURED’

And so in my conversation with my dad and as we were unpacking stuff, I recognised and I realised that for 34 years my mother had been aware of the fact my dad was cross-dressing, that he had been struggling in this area of our life, and both of them together went to get some help from the NHS.

When they presented themselves in front of the NHS, my mum thought they were going for a cure. What actually happened [was] the journey ended with my dad having an operation.

I made an appointment to go and see the consultant that had approved my dad’s operation. And I sat down in his office, and I looked him in the eye, and I said: ‘Can you please tell me why you took my dad from me?’

He said: ‘Tim, we’ve done research and we’ve seen that there’s a male portion of the brain and a female portion of the brain. And for somebody who’s struggling with gender dysphoria what has happened is what we believe medically is that if its your dad the female portion of his brain is more developed than the male portion of the brain.’ He said it’s like a cooker standing in the mirror and seeing a fridge.

In the midst of all this and as I’m unpacking it, and as I’m kind of getting to grips with it and all of those things, I’m coming back to: I’ve got to hold his hand.

And here’s what’s really important to remember: that just because we accept something as somebody else’s reality, it doesn’t mean that we have to approve of it...

The journey for us has been one of has been one of anger, the journey for us has been one of has been one of pain.

Not only have I had to minister to my dad and his point of pain, but I’ve also had to minister to my mum, and I’ve had to minister to my wife, and I’ve had to minister to my children, and I’ve had to minister to my church.

My mum believes that her husband was robbed. She will look at you and say: the so-and-so left me for another woman - himself! She’s just incredible and sometimes humour is just so helpful. But what I had to witness was my mum fall apart because of a decision that my dad made.

Now I don’t blame my dad for that decision any more. I’m less angry with him for that decision that I was in 2012. But the reality of it is that that decision ripped the heart of my family out.

FATHER’S DAY?

I don’t know what to do on Father’s Day, so I run a mile.

Do I send him a Father’s Day card or do I wait til Mother’s Day and send him a Mother’s Day card?

My dad sent me the most beautiful text message.

He said: ‘Hey son, I’m so proud of the father that you’ve become. I love looking at how you love your children, what your children are becoming and what they have become, and I love you so much.’

And he signed it ‘dad’. So he doesn’t even know half the time what to be saying!

And this is the reality of the conversation around gender dysphoria. Most of us haven’t a clue what to say.

But the reality of it is this: that Jesus came full of grace and truth.

I think in the church we think that there’s a ‘truth’ camp, and we gotta give them the Bible and we gotta give them the Word - and we do. It’s the mandate, the blueprint for life.

But then there’s the other side where we think ‘oh we’ve just got to love one another and it’ll be ok...’. And we forget about the Biblical mandate.

The reality is that Jesus came in equal measure: grace and truth... And so when we’re investing in relationships, when we’re journeying with people, when we come to that heart of compassion, and we hold hands with the broken and the lost, become full of grace and truth. And that’s the reality of my journey with my dad.

• This talk was delivered by Tim last summer, and streamed online by the Evangelical Alliance.