“Do you mind if I join you?”
The face he turned my way was the fullest epitome of misery I had ever seen; black runnels outlined his nose where mascara had run with his tears and ugly smears of makeup showed where he had wiped them away.
“Why would you want to sit with an abomination?”
It didn’t look like he was going invite me, so I sat anyway. I had two mugs of tea with me and I pushed one his way. The café was empty except for the two of us and the proprietor, who was looking daggers at the man opposite me, obviously blaming him for the empty tables around us.
He was a heavily built individual with a strong jawline and a growth of stubble that it seemed no amount of shaving or foundation would cover entirely. He was wearing a floral print dress and a pink cardigan and looked utterly ridiculous.
“You know your Bible it seems?” I ventured.
“I know that bit of it at least. It’s been pointed out to me more than once.”
“Harsh words for a harsh time. Do you know they also had laws about stoning people for breaking the Sabbath, blaspheming against God and even for children disobeying their parents? If we still followed everything that was written in the Old Testament, our civilisation would be nothing but a pile of stones.”
He looked up at me, the bitterness fading a little from his eyes. “So why do you want to sit with me? No-one else wants to.” He waved a manicured hand at the empty tables around us and the angry stare from behind the counter.
“I want to understand, and to help if I can. The God I serve never turned His back on anyone who was hurting, and I can see at the very least that you are hurting.”
I sipped my tea and waited as he stared into his own mug. I was beginning to wonder if he would respond when eventually he raised his head and looked at me.
“I’m not sure I can explain it,” he said. “It started so long ago I can’t even remember why I did it in the first place. I just remember it being exciting, probably because I knew how shocked my family would be if they caught me looking like that. But there was another aspect to it as well. It was like something inside me that had been crying to be let out found its release in wearing a dress.
“Over the years I felt compelled to do more - get dressed more completely, try makeup, go out in public - in order to feel the same thrill, and always afterwards there was this overwhelming sense of shame and guilt.
“I never set out to upset anyone, and I know I look like a freak, even when I’m not a total mess like I am now. I just can’t seem to help it. There’s a part of me that needs to express itself this way and the more I try to keep it bottled up the harder it is to contain.
“I’ve prayed for God to take it away, but it doesn’t seem to matter how much and for how long, it keeps on coming back. I was in a church just now praying for forgiveness and for help. All I got was judgment and rejection - even the preacher couldn’t keep the disgust from his face. It felt like God was rejecting me.”
The anguish in his words tore at my heart. If I was certain of anything it was that God’s love for him was as no less than it was for me. A passage from Romans came to mind.
“The apostle Paul had similar struggles. I mean I don’t think he ever put on a dress, but there’s one bit where he says this:
“‘For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.’
“I know this much. God does love you, and He sees the way you’re struggling with this and for that alone He is proud of you.”
His tears began to flow again, but this time there was the beginning of healing in them.
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