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He Was a Stone Wall, I Was Water: Gender and Fluidity at Margarette Falls

Evie Bates - Margarette Falls

The rusted undercarriage of my 1992 Honda Civic Hatchback protested the last half-mile of potholed, single lane road to a house in Greeneville, Tennessee. On that late-summer day in 2017, I drove to spend time with Michael Carducci, senior speaker and co-founder of Coming Out Ministries. The organization’s website describes him as someone “freed from the chains of homosexuality”. . . “living proof that God changes lives.” 

My parents begged me to make the appointment with Carducci just a few weeks before. I already knew him well. I called him Mike. My day with him was a last-ditch effort to resolve my decade-long “gender confusion.” I hoped he would give me the magic words I needed to feel certain I was the man God made me to be.

Mike opened the door and welcomed me in. The house was neat, a little light filtering through the windows. He told me his plan for the day: drive out of town, take a hike, and then talk.

The hike was to Margarette Falls, a 2.5-mile trip to a tall waterfall and pool. Mike told me he liked going there to cool off. He said I should be prepared to get in the water.  

“That’s okay, I brought jeans and hiking boots,” I said. “I’ll just enjoy the views.”

That was nonsense, Mike told me. He had swimming trunks I could borrow. He brought out trunks four sizes larger than I was, and insisted I cinch them up and wear them. I protested. I have never felt comfortable wearing men’s swim trunks, even less so when going shirtless. 

Mike was relentless. He convinced me to at least wear them under my jeans in case I changed my mind. 

There are memories from this day I cannot fully grasp. They appear in momentary flashes like reflections in a car window. I couldn’t tell you what we talked about driving to the trailhead. I don’t believe he gave me advice. Not yet. It is easier to talk about vulnerable things after talking about nothing for long enough.

I was nine years old the first time I had the conscious thought that I did not align with the gender I was assigned at birth. I didn’t have any words to define myself. My education sheltered me from knowledge of LGBTQ identities beyond the fact that some men liked other men in a romantic way, and that was disgusting and perverted. I had no exposure to gender nonconformity. For all I knew, no other people felt the way I did. 

I knew, though, in the deepest part of my being. 

This caused no small controversy in my home. I made my first declaration of personhood perched on the bathroom counter with my mother fussing over me because I had tried to pierce my own ears.

“I’m a girl,” I said. “I know you don’t think that’s possible but one day I’m going to be a grown-up, and you won’t be able to keep me from being a girl.”

In the following years, I experienced a tangle of internal turmoil and external pressure to accept masculinity. I saw the world’s unkind treatment of people like me. 

By the time puberty hit, I felt hopeless. I didn’t want to be the way I was. I would have done anything not to feel disconnected from my body. I wanted to be a man, if only to avoid the pain and confusion of dysmorphia. 

I would fully commit to godly manhood. Maybe then my feelings would go away. Maybe then I would find peace. 

I saw my true face in the mirror at age twenty. Though studying at deeply traditional Weimar College, I knew I could no longer survive in the masculine facade I had maintained since adolescence. 

Autumn rain fell as I spent a day dressed as myself a few cities away where no one would recognize me. Wearing women’s clothing did not make me transgender. It did, however, confirm who I was—who I would be one day.

Not long after, I returned to North Carolina to live with my parents. The clothes, makeup, and hope came back with me, buried in the bottom of my suitcase. They reminded me that someday people would see my true self, externally and internally.  For months they lived in the bottom of my drawer. 

Then one night I came home from work to find my parents away at a church event, and my secret, vulnerable belongings arranged on the kitchen counter.

Instead of hiding or lying or running, I came out to my parents that night. 

My father, the pastor, paraded around the kitchen haphazardly wearing a wig, face twisted in fury. “Do I look hot now?” He yelled, and used profanity to ask if I wanted to have relations with him. In this emotional, traumatizing environment, after I stood immobile in the kitchen for hours attempting not to cave to alternate sobs and screams, my parents begged me to speak to Mike Carducci.

Coming out meant losing housing, community, and safety. I wanted what Coming Out Ministries promised: freedom from what in aggregate they call “the gay lifestyle.” If I could free myself from that, life would be easier, happier. 

Coming Out Ministries claimed—and still claims—to offer “restoration and liberty to those struggling with sexuality, identity, or brokenness.” This means telling gay and lesbian individuals their feelings are temptations, and they must live celibate lives. It means calling bisexual individuals “confused” because of past trauma; they must simply choose heterosexual lives. It means telling transgender individuals that identifying as trans means saying God makes mistakes. Gender-nonconforming people must simply repent and accept the person they were made to be—cisgendered, secure in their birth-assigned sex. 

In part, I believed this for myself, but I knew that my mind and my body were not the same. Mike could end my internal war. He could explain and resolve my dysmorphia.

I found it odd that Mike took so many pictures of me at the waterfall. I already felt uncomfortable, dreading the vulnerable conversation I knew we would have later. Setting boundaries and advocating for myself was foreign to me, so I remained silent. I wonder what reason he would have given if I had asked why he took the photos.

When we returned to his house, my visit’s main purpose loomed. We sat in his living room, silence swelling, waiting for words to fill it. 

It’s been almost seven years, and despite the gravity of that conversation—that turning point—I can’t remember the exact words he used. Still, there isn’t a universe in which I could forget what he told me. When he was young, before his redemption, while he still “lived in sin,” Mike questioned his gender, too, he told me. It was 1980s California. He had some transgender friends or friends who did drag—one an identity and one a form of artistic expression. He viewed them as the same.  

He said it was only because he identified as gay. Because he was filling the woman’s role in a relationship. If he had acted as the man he was made to be, Mike said, he would never have questioned his gender. Since he played a woman in bed, he began to think he must be one.

He told me I shouldn’t transition because I would look like Caitlyn Jenner. He said I would spend thousands on hair implants, plastic surgery, augmentation, and more. He wanted me to know that she was still unhappy after spending all that money. She could never feel happy trying to be a woman because she would never be one. She was filling a hole in her life that only the peace of Jesus could fill, Mike told me. He consistently misgendered her.

The conversation ranged from severe criticism of transgender people to pleas for me to repent and let God replace what I lacked. He referenced a recent movie that poorly, sometimes offensively, portrayed a transgender woman. The movie argued that she never struggled with her gender until she put on women’s clothes. Mike believed because she modeled a dress once, she thought she was a woman.  

He told me I would never be happy with my face in the mirror if I transitioned. It could never be enough, because no matter how hard I might try, I would always be a man, he said. He called my thoughts sinful, and told me to surrender them and repent.

My day at Mike Carducci’s house ended in his bedroom, where he held my hands. With his thumbs, he stroked the backs of my hands while he prayed that God would make me the man I was born to be.  

I left, still not a man, still conflicted, even more confused.

I was confused because I had never been attracted to men, and he believed transgender identity comes from homosexual attraction. I was confused because I had known I was a girl a decade before I had the opportunity to dress as one, but he believed wearing women’s clothes made me question my gender. I was confused because the best argument he could give against transition was that I would be ugly.  

Only one thing changed that day. 

I drove home knowing that God doesn’t make mistakes and didn’t make a mistake when setting before me a journey of radically transforming my exterior to reflect my heart.  

Mike spoke with solid, immovable authority. He left no room for nuance, interpretation, or debate. He spoke as if the exact words he used to justify his belief came directly from scripture, though they didn’t. But if he was a stone wall, then I was water. I was fluid, adapting, responsive to my reality. Rocks of fear and shame could not confine my view of God’s image and the tenderness and love with which God confers that self-image. 

Mike made strong arguments for why I shouldn’t and couldn’t entertain gender nonconformity, but even as I drove away, grace began eroding his constructs.

I don’t have a unique story of discomfort, pressure, and predation from Coming Out Ministries. Their directives, given in private settings and on public stages, have led to numerous psychiatric hospitalizations and death by suicide. These are stories I know personally, but are not mine to tell. Many people of my generation, when asked why they are no longer Seventh-day Adventist, or even Christian, point to Coming Out Ministries.  

My story has a happy ending. In September 2020 I came out again as transgender, this time publicly. I knew in the moments leading up to that admission, that declaration, that I could never make a list of reasons long enough or scary enough to justify hiding who I am.

I am a woman. God made me a woman and gave me the tools to discover that. I look in the mirror and see the face I always saw when I closed my eyes before—no wigs, hair implants, or plastic surgery required. My body feels like home.

Many people affected by Coming Out Ministries do not have happy stories to tell. The organization’s reach continues to expand. They claim to offer a message of diversity, equity, and inclusion, while isolating their targets and filling them with shame and hopelessness. The pattern of predation and manipulation spans the stories told by all those who have received Coming Out’s interventions. Despite attending numerous presentations by the organization, I have yet to encounter a true Coming Out success story. Churches willingly invite them to speak because they hear that people like me are an issue that needs solving. Coming Out Ministries makes appealing claims of compassion and hope.

Coming Out dangles a delicious solution to the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s vexing “LGBTQ problem”. They offer punishment dressed in redemptive clothing. They offer isolation disguised as friendship. They offer atonement for sins no one has committed. 

As long as Adventists hide behind Coming Out’s dogma to excuse smiling and turning away holy souls at the door, the damage will continue. People will die because they believe their attraction or identity is a fundamental, permanent flaw. That is not hope. That is not healing. That is not compassion. That is actual evil.

Editor’s note: Before the publication of this article, Spectrum reached Michael Carducci for comment. Carducci recalled meeting with the author and said he had photographs from that day. He also acknowledged that swimwear was “provided as an option,” but denied that any of his actions were inappropriate. “I’ve taken many friends up there and we’ve gone swimming,” he said.

When asked questions about his counseling qualifications and education, Carducci described himself as a high school graduate with some college education. He cited Jesus’s lack of education compared with the Sanhedrin and King David’s lack of experience before becoming king.

“So I looked at that, and I think to myself, you know, I don’t know that a college degree is necessary when you’re talking about spiritual things, and spiritual things are spiritually discerned,” he said. “I certainly don’t talk of myself as somebody that’s educated in the world standards, but I have spent 24 years studying the Bible and my own personal experience. And that’s really what I share. And that’s all we offer.”

Carducci confirmed that the physical contact occurred but defended it as not sexual. 

Carducci was invited to share any photos described in the author’s account and any current Coming Out Ministries policies concerning appropriate contact during counseling sessions, but he did not respond by the time of publication. 

Evie Bates

About the author

Evie Bates is the first transgender EMS supervisor in North Carolina history. She holds certifications in prehospital critical care and oversees crisis intervention and stress management at her agency. She spends her rare free time with her partners, her dog, and her two cats. Evie calls Asheville, NC home and takes full advantage of the mountains. More from Evie Bates.
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