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Jonathon Thunderword | Oral History

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Interview

Biography

Jonathon Thunderword is a theologian, a scholar, and a free thinker. He identifies as a Black transman. He was born on April 20, 1949 in Suffolk, Virginia. He was adopted at 13 months of age by his biological aunt and her husband, whom Jonathon affectionately calls father. He was raised as an only child, though his biological father had a total of 39 children. Jonathan has very fond memories of his childhood. He knew he was loved and cared for by his parents. He learned integrity and responsibility from his father. He spent countless mornings with his father where they would stand in front of the mirror and lather shaving cream into their palms and spread it over their grinning cheeks. Jonathan’s father would make sure to take the blade out of Jonathon’s razor before they began to shave. His father knew that he would be a boy at an early age and also wanted a son. At an early age, Jonathan knew, as well.    

Jonathan started to experience some learning challenges in elementary school. He had a hard time reading and comprehending letters. He later found out that he had Asperger's Syndrome. Educators did not receive training in assisting students with learning disabilities during this time, therefore leaving him to teach himself the basics of reading and writing, but at a slower pace. Due to his learning disability, he dealt with depression and he always felt like he was behind his peers. During this time, he was also exploring his gender identity and sexual orientation. 

By the age of 14, in 1963, Jonathon was committed to a mental hospital for electric shock treatment. He tried to abide by the standards of what God wanted. But he knew he was attracted to women, and believed the homeopathic ideals that the church taught. He ended up in the Exodus International Ministries, where they attempted to deprogram him using electric shock. From there, the plan was to grow up to be in a nice heterosexual relationship and to be pleasing in God’s eyes. After spending 8 months at this camp, Jonathon underwent 26 electric shock treatments on a very high dose. He later found out that the leader of this organization went back to his male partner. 

Soon after leaving the Exodus International Ministries, Jonathan found MCC Church. This church taught gay and lesbian people that they were loved by God. During services, if they found scriptures that condemned homosexuality, they used Queer Theology to move forward with their lessons. He learned under Carl Bean and took to heart when Carl said, “God made me this way.” He was a part of that ministry for 15 years. He left that church because he was a strict black or white person. He liked rules and regulations and felt that these structures were the way to live by. Structure was important to him. The MCC Church was not structured enough for him; there were still expected standards that he wanted to live by, whether gay or otherwise. At present, he lives in the gray and welcomes flexibility. 

Around the age of 34, and after 27 tries, he successfully received his GED. This was a great accomplishment for him since he did not have the educational support for learning disabilities that he needed. Throughout this time in his life, he moved back and forth from Virginia to California several times. California was the only state he found that provided educational support for adults with learning disabilities. After earning his GED in 1983, he moved back to Virginia and attended Thomas Nelson Community College. While there, he took special education courses and spent several semesters there. He did not gain a degree from Thomas Nelson Community College, but felt that he had more control over his education. He returned to California and attended City College of San Francisco and earned a degree in Alcohol and Substance Abuse in 1996. 

Though he was finding his way through his educational goals, he still had time to find love. He married several times in the 60s and divorced several times, as well. He finds pleasure in being married and making commitments. He gave birth to two sons when he was married to his first husband, Larenza. Darryln was his first son and has since passed. Michael is his second son and is still living. Jonathan has a very strong relationship with Michael. Out of the six marriages Jonathon has had, he gained several children by marriage and still has strong ties with all of his children. He loves his big family and lives in Texas, which is where his son, Michael, and his family also reside. He is a wonderful father and grandfather. He and his current wife and amazing assistant, Triptta, currently live on 50 acres in an Ashram community. They have lived with this community for 3 years. Their duty is to take care of the land, which they do willingly and lovingly. 

The legacy that Jonathon would like to leave behind are these Golden Rules: Above all, read. And after you read, don’t believe everything you read; Think for yourself and question everything; and The only thing there is is unity and one human race. There are no gender or religion boundaries. Love all. He wants others to learn as many religions as possible. He does not prescribe to one religion. To close, Jonathon is an omni-faith, multi-spiritual practitioner who is a part of Mata Amritanandamayi Center. He is an ordained minister, founder of Finding Another Right Road Authentically and Holistically (FARRAH) and founder of By the Way Ministry in Virginia. He is also affiliated with National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Faith Network, Pacific School of Religion (alumnus), Lehrhaus Judaica (Hebrew student), Black Trans Men International, and Brothers Rising (Oakland, CA). On April 22, 2020, right after his 71st birthday, Jonathan Thunderword published his first book, From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Transgender Elder

Starting transition in 1993, here with son. 

Blessing a couple as their trans pastor in 1994 

First Norfolk area support group in 1993. 

(This biographical statement provided by Jonathon Thunderword.)

Biography Date: October 2017

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Tags

City of Refuge | Black | AIDS | Clergy Activist | Racism | Trans activism | Thunderword, Jonathon

Citation

“Jonathon Thunderword | Oral History”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed September 24, 2021, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/oral-histories/jonathon-thunderword.