Chris and Lindsay Kinman landed their dream job in Christian ministry and thought they had no greater heights to scale. And then they gave it all up for the love of their son.
This is a story about the power of parental love — especially the fierce love of a group of women known in some quarters as “mama bears” and in others as “mama dragons.” These are parents who chose to love their LGBTQ children despite the tremendous cost.
For the Kinmans, the cost was nearly everything else they held dear.
“We lost everything,” Lindsay explained. “We lost our home. We lost our sanctuary. We lost our friends. The ticket back into the kingdom was renouncing our child, making some public statement that we didn’t agree with Jay. And we weren’t willing to do that. It just didn’t compute.
“I kept saying to people over and over again, ‘Until you have crawled across the carpet praying and God has not answered your prayer — God did not answer Jay’s prayer and take this away — you don’t understand.”
“Until you have crawled across the carpet praying and God has not answered your prayer — God did not answer Jay’s prayer and take this away — you don’t understand.”
Jay was born a girl. But as with virtually all transgender people, he sensed from a young age that he was a boy trapped in a girl’s body. And like most young transgender persons, he didn’t have the language to express what he finally would come to understand about himself as a teenager.
It is traumatic for nearly all families when a child comes out as transgender. But imagine being the head of an evangelical Christian ministry — largely working among people who believe being gay is a sin and being transgender is merely being confused — as your child wrestles with this identity. And imagine some people outside your family being so determined to enforce their view of God’s will that they seek to destroy your family in the process.
That’s what happened to Chris and Lindsay Kinman. And it’s one of the reasons they fled their home in the Pacific Northwest and have resettled in New Zealand. That move was necessary to save their sanity and their marriage, but ironically it separated them geographically from the son they sought to defend.
United by a love for Christian camping
The Kinmans’ story begins in their own childhood, when each of them attended a nondenominational Christian camp in the Pacific Northwest. Although they did not meet there as children, they each had similar experiences there that shaped their lives and fostered a call to Christian ministry.
Five years after the couple married, Lindsay gave birth to a daughter. Chris and Lindsay already were working in Christian camping and they gave little notice to the fact that their daughter as a preschooler always wanted to be the boy when playing. He would paint on a mustache and insisted on being the prince, not the princess, when role playing fairy tales.
“You don’t know what you don’t know, but you do know what you were indoctrinated to know,” Lindsay said. “We thought Jay might just be a tomboy.”
But when Jay was 8 years old, the self-harming started.
Lindsay’s mother kept her grandchildren one weekend and reported back to Lindsay that Jay had asked her to help him “pray the bad thoughts away.”
“He didn’t have the language,” Lindsay understands now. “He just knew that what he was feeling was not the way he was supposed to be feeling and could God take it away. He had accepted Jesus very young and was on fire for God.”
Here’s a wrinkle in the story: Jay, as a young girl, was a persistent evangelist.
Chris recalls: “He came home from school one day and said, ‘Dad, I’ve been praying for my friends to become Christians. And on the bus home today, they prayed and now they’re Christians.”
‘The fiery torment’
Yet along with this zeal that would warm any evangelical parent’s heart came what Lindsay calls “the fiery torment.”
Along with this zeal that would warm any evangelical parent’s heart came what Lindsay calls “the fiery torment.”
Soon, she began to suspect her daughter might be gay. Chris was in total denial and “was not even thinking about it,” she added. Jay and Chris spent a lot of time together doing what some might consider “boy” activities.
Then came the mother-daughter tea.
Jay was 10 years old. He and Lindsay were to attend a traditional kind of event for young girls and their mothers, one that required getting dressed up in the girliest of girl clothes.
That morning, “Jay had a tantrum that was otherworldly,” Lindsay recalls. “It was very out of character. I asked him to put his dress on, and it made him come undone in a way I had never seen. In the car, I stopped and pulled over and looked at Jay and I committed the sin of all sins: I groomed my child. I said, ‘Do you think you were born in the wrong body?’
“He looked at me and got really quiet. He said the answer he was supposed to say: ‘No, Mommy, God doesn’t make mistakes.’ We continued driving. But I just knew. Her prayer was that her daughter was “just” gay.
As insensitive to transgender persons as that thought may sound, it’s where her mind first went, realizing the culture her family lived in and depended on for an income. It would be easier to hide a gay child than a transgender child.
“It would be easier to hide a gay child than a transgender child.”
Still, none of this made sense that day on the way to the mother-daughter tea. “The concept (of Jay being transgender) was so foreign to my brain … because we were Christians and Jay went to Awana and memorized all the verses. He wasn’t abused. He had a stable relationship with parents. It couldn’t even translate in my brain. … Because of the depth of the indoctrination, we just kind of put it all down.”
Invitation to paradise
In time, the Kinmans got an opportunity to move back to the camp where they had first fallen in love with Christian camping. Chris became the assistant director and then the director.
“Our dream had been to move back there and work and die there,” Lindsay said. “That was the pinnacle of our ministry dreams.”
She is trained as a midwife and was able to open a practice in the town adjacent to the camp.
“We had arrived,” she said. “All we wanted to do was serve in camping ministry together and die there. We had friends of 20 years, mentors of 30 years, a real deep friendship community that stretched back to when Chris was 7 and I was 10. It was heaven. It was everything.”
Jay, now 14 and still presenting as a girl, began learning how to be a camp counselor and was shaping up to be what his parents called “a little evangelical.” As a teenager, he sat himself in front of his school — in the cold of winter — and asked fellow students, “How can I pray for you today?”
Yet internally, what Jay was hearing in his evangelical culture and what he was experiencing in his own body didn’t line up.
Doubts and secrets
One day on a walk together, Chris recalls, Jay said, “I don’t know if God is real. I can’t reconcile what I’m feeling.”
Chris gave his child permission to doubt, thinking this was just a phase that would pass.
Soon after, Jay outed himself as a lesbian. Yet with the help of another friend at summer camp, Jay did not abandon faith in God.
But Chris and Lindsay were in a bind now. Chris wasn’t sure if he could keep his own child on as a camp counselor.
Lindsay regrets what they did next. They told Jay: “You know what this will do to your dad’s job. We just needed to keep it quiet. There’s no reason to be talking about sex or sexuality.”
“We asked a 14-year-old child to hold the secrets for her dad’s job.”
Now she confesses: “We tuned out 20 years of camping ministry and what happens during late-night talks in cabins across the country. The number of formative conversations that happen. It was just malicious on our part. We inflicted pain unintentionally. We asked a 14-year-old child to hold the secrets for her dad’s job. We said, ‘We love you, we love you, we love you, but if you could hide here in this corner that would be awesome.’”
Hot tears fall from Lindsay’s face as she remembers this conversation today. She and Chris both are angry with themselves for what they said, how they harmed their child out of what they thought was love.
For the next few years, though, the family managed to keep the secret. Eventually, Jay confided in one friend here and another friend there. And before the family knew what was coming, one person who would set out to destroy them learned the family’s secret.
When Jay was 17, living quietly in a nonbinary identity and not yet identifying as transgender, this one person outed him to every staff member at the camp Chris ran.
‘This is our child’
“The firestorm that was kicked off by this outing was unbelievable,” Lindsay said. “I became like a crazy person because I couldn’t get in front of it. I would find out the next person they would tell and go running to them, but they would be two more people ahead of me. It was frantic, frantic. I wanted to say, ‘Could everyone please stop talking? This is our child.’”
But it didn’t matter. The damage had been done.
“It got to the point of everything being on a controlled burn,” she explained. “Everyone knows, but no one knows what to do about it. And then Jay comes to me and goes, ‘Mom, I need to talk to you: I’m transgender.’ And I just went, ‘No, no,’ … I reacted so poorly. It was too much.
“Then I stopped and we talked and I said, ‘I love you.’”
What Lindsay wants other parents of transgender children to understand is that when a child gets the courage to come out as trans, it is not a decision made lightly or on the spur of the moment. “If they move through all the letters before they get to T, they’ve been living with it their entire lives. It’s been a long journey for them, but it feels fast to us.”
“If they move through all the letters before they get to T, they’ve been living with it their entire lives.”
From here, the story gets blurry. So much happened so fast that it’s hard for Chris and Lindsay to remember the sequence. They remember the events vividly; it’s just remembering the rapid order of events that gets tricky.
At one point, a younger camper sensed that Jay might be different, might understand her own secret, and asked for help. Soon, news got back to that camper’s pastor that a counselor had answered this child’s questions about being gay.
Chris ran to find Jay and demanded to know: “What have you done? You’ve shared the secret. You’re welcome to work at camp, but you can’t talk about being gay.”
Chris got called before leadership of the conservative church to give account of what he was doing in leading such a camp.
“They got their hackles up and were saying you can’t be gay or trans and be a Christian. They said, ‘If you’re going to have gay people at your camp, we’ll have to pull out.’”
In the midst of this, Jay came out to his own church youth group as transgender.
That prompted another request for Chris and Lindsay to appear before the elders at the already upset church where they were not members. That church supported the camp by giving money and sending campers but had no formal connection to the Kinmans.
“Do we live in the 1700s where the elder board of a church you don’t attend can bring you in for a disciplinary hearing?” Lindsay said in recalling the request. “The lines became very blurry on who has authority. It went in very rapid succession. When we declined to go to a meeting before the board, they wrote a letter and their mission team made a decision no longer to support the camp.”
“Do we live in the 1700s where the elder board of a church you don’t attend can bring you in for a disciplinary hearing?”
Eventually, as head of the camp, Chris went to a second meeting at the church. He soon realized, however, that he was there wearing two hats: one as executive director of the camp and one as Jay’s father.
A strain on the marriage
This all unfolded so rapidly that the elders of the church the Kinmans didn’t attend were asking Chris to give account for things he and Lindsay hadn’t had time to comprehend themselves.
“How are we supposed to deal with this on a public stage when we haven’t had 5 minutes to deal with this on a private level?” Lindsay asked. “I’m going around and being crazy, and as a result I’m no longer the quiet submissive wife. … Then they said if Chris can’t control his home, he’s not able to run the camp. I listened to men I had known for 30 years talk about me as some witch who needed to be burned.”
All this put strain on the marriage. Things were really tough, both Chris and Lindsay confess.
Then the church where the Kinmans weren’t members called a meeting of its membership to discuss the Kinmans’ family situation, the couple said.
“They were going to discuss our parenting choices. That was the only conversation topic,” Lindsay said. “We don’t attend this church. Our friends do. I drove past the parking lot, seeing it full of cars, knowing that they’re talking about us.
“Two things happened at that meeting: My child was the topic of conversation for ridicule and circus amusement, like a car accident. There were people there who had no interest in the camp. The other was we had friends of 20 years who went to that meeting, who knew us very well, and no one stood up for us. Even though in private they said, ‘We are so sorry these things are happening to you.’
“Now I realize the sin of silence. And how complicit you are. You may not have held the match, but you didn’t stop them from lighting it.”
“Now I realize the sin of silence,” Lindsay said. “And how complicit you are. You may not have held the match, but you didn’t stop them from lighting it. I’m still dealing with that.”
The accusations spilled over to Lindsay’s private business as a midwife. People who were not her clients popped in to the clinic at all hours to try to get her right with God, she said. “I would be in the middle of a birthing, and they would want to pray for me.”
Initially, the camp board of directors supported Chris. He knew one of his board members had a gay son but never talked about that. “Because if he did, then he would have to step down. This brought it up, and we started talking about it. … Then the pressure got to be so much that we started talking about resignation. … Eventually they wrote a letter for me for my resignation.”
Chris was told all this could go away if he would just write a public statement denouncing his own son. That was something he refused to do.
Chris was told all this could go away if he would just write a public statement denouncing his own son.
Meanwhile, Jay was still active in church, leading a children’s ministry at a local Lutheran church that was inclusive. Eventually, what happened to his family drove him from the church entirely, however.
A new chapter
Without success, Chris applied for 26 jobs all over the state where they lived. All kinds of jobs. He hired a head hunter. Lindsay started looking for other places that would accept her licensure as a midwife.
One of those places was New Zealand. The pressure at home was so great — including the person who first outed Jay still dogging them — that they needed a fresh start somewhere far away.
The Kinmans and their two younger children arrived in New Zealand on March 2, 2020. Three weeks later, the entire world went into lockdown due to COVID-19.
“For a lot of people COVID has meant death,” Lindsay acknowledged. “For us, COVID was an answer to prayer. We had been asking for the world to stop, and it did.”
One of the things Chris and Lindsay still needed to figure out was their own views on gender and sexuality and the Bible. Nothing they were experiencing matched what they had been taught as children in evangelical homes.
The couple has engaged in lots of counseling, and they freely acknowledge the strain the last three years has placed on their relationship. But they’re working hard on it, and they love their new life in New Zealand.
The greatest grief is that Jay decided to stay in the States because he had a college scholarship, he had a job and he had established relationships with doctors who have helped him begin to medically transition from female to male.
One of Lindsay’s greatest heartbreaks is that she could not be there for Jay’s top surgery. But even talking on the phone and via the Internet, she sees the transition happening in her son, and she is pleased.
‘I’m finally starting to see him again,” she said. “He’s back to himself.”
Lindsay has found work as a midwife in New Zealand, and Chris has been hired as director of a Christian camp where everyone knows he has a transgender son. The conversation isn’t over, though, because churches in New Zealand are just now starting to discuss their response to LGBTQ inclusion.
“We are triggered all the time,” Lindsay said.
One way they’re working through their own theology of sexuality and gender is by reading voraciously. Chris jokes that Lindsay singlehandedly has kept Amazon in business.
The single most influential book they’ve read is Embracing the Journey by Greg and Lynn McDonald. The McDonalds, who are evangelical Christians from Atlanta, wrote about how they made every mistake possible when their son came out as gay. They now lead a national network of support groups for Christian parents of LGBTQ children.
“Embracing the Journey was the shift,” Lindsay said. “That book saved our marriage. That book altered everything for us because Chris was finally able to find traction in the conversation. It gave him permission to love Jesus and love his kid.”
Why being transgender is not a sin | Opinion by Mark Wingfield