Never Lost, Always Found: Ashton Colby

The number of places of worship nationwide is decreasing, but faith remains. What role does faith play in the modern world? We asked five Ohioans to share what it means in their daily lives.

Ashton Colby is a trans spirituality advocate, keynote speaker and the founder of Gender YOUphoria, a social enterprise on a mission to shift the global and interpersonal disempowering narratives about transgender people. He lives in Columbus, Ohio. 

I found pure joy in the trees and lakes at various nondenominational Christian summer camps, from Ohio to Virginia to upstate New York. Each summer from elementary to high school, you could find me in cargo shorts and tie dye, singing songs about Jesus led by the acoustic guitars our college-age counselors carried around.

I was born in a girl’s body. But I loved those cargo shorts, which were from the boy’s section at Kmart. I could talk my mom into buying them if they were for a week spent hiking the woods at church camp.

The summer between 7th and 8th grade, I stole my dad’s Speed Stick deodorant to wear to camp. Twice a day, I would rummage through my duffle bag under the bottom bunk and pop off the minty green cap. I’d apply it to my underarms, inhale deeply and exhale a sigh of relief.

I felt like I was wearing a superhero’s uniform under my clothes, one that only I knew about. I was energized to spring into action at a moment’s notice, like Clark Kent in pedestrian clothes.  

For me, it was a rite of passage to smell like what I learned men smell like—much like a hug from my dad in his crisp white dress shirt, softened by a long day of working at the office.  

Today, at age 31 and now 11 years into my physical gender transition, I see the man I have always known myself to be staring back at me in the mirror. I’m finally living my childhood dream. 

I buy my own men’s deodorant, my own men’s clothing. And it still brings me the same sigh of relief I experienced when I was 13.  

Because despite being a young girl in the eyes of others back then, the feel of my cargo shorts and the smell of that deodorant were potent reminders that I knew who I was.  And I knew God loved who I was.  

Of course, over the years and increasingly so today, the very same teachings I learned at summer camp are often used to try to separate me from God and the wholeness I felt in those quiet moments.  

As a trans advocate and a person of faith, I’m often met with disdain. Sharp words about my gender transition, like abomination, test my resolve and threaten my peace. They tell me I’m lost, or that I’ve strayed.  

It’s a strange thing—the constant pressure to prove God loves me when I already feel God’s love. I watch the same people questioning my salvation search and strive for joy, peace and a sign of God’s acceptance, and I know I’ve found it. I still feel it with my entire being.  

I found it at 13, as a kid singing praises in cargo shorts and my dad’s deodorant. And I find it today, living as a man and praying to a God that transcends gender.   

In fact, I’ve never been lost. I’ve always been found.