As both a transgender woman and an experienced Anglican priest, it is highly disappointing to hear of the recent resolution of the Anglican Synod of Tasmania about what it calls ‘Biological Sex’. This betrays all the faults of what was a very late ‘motion without notice’: being ill-considered, under-informed and divisive, especially in its lack of attention to Anglican and other transgender people’s own well-substantiated experiences of faith and identity. For both Tasmania and the Anglican Communion are blessed with many wonderful transgender people who continue to enrich our communities and bring new life to others. What a difference it then makes when we are listened to and engaged constructively. For my own experience is that, in affirming rather than denying our authentic God-given (not human labelled) gender, transgender people are indeed so much more fully incarnate, at peace and flourishing in our skins, biology and divine purpose. Denying this not only helps maintain unnecessary suffering but restricts the love and joy we have to share within the Church and wider world. After all, St Paul (in 1 Corinthians 12) encouraged the Church, as the Body of Christ, to value its members that are weaker and shamed. This kind of action however feels more like being freshly beaten up and an attempt to cut off transgender members, our families and friends. That is not the message of God’s love that Christians have to offer the world.
The resolution also seems to reflect a recently constructed approach to the Bible which narrows God’s colourful and dynamic kaleidoscope of creation to simplistic black and white binary categories. This does not do justice to how mainstream Anglican theology has typically sought to value the rich and varied textures of the scriptures and the best of evolving human reason. Nor does it sit well with increasingly trans affirming developments in many Anglican dioceses, and other Christian congregations, schools, and agencies across Australia. I hope therefore that Anglican leaders in Tasmania will think again and not encourage their parishes, schools, and other agencies to take such an unhelpful path. The same Synod passed other resolutions making a continuing welcome commitment to addressing environmental challenges and supporting people with disabilities. These are just two of many ways in which Tasmanian Anglicans contribute positively to their communities. What a shame transgender people are not yet regarded as worthy of similar full respect and engagement. For neither trans people nor people of faith benefit from perpetuating today’s unnecessary culture wars, especially those of us who are both. Human beings have genuine differences but, as St Paul also put it, we are called to be one in Christ, in whom ‘there is no longer male and female’. We can be, and do, so much more together.
The Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin was ordained in the Church of England in 1986 and has served in many capacities in Anglican dioceses in England and, since 2001, in Australia, as well as an officer of the National Council of Churches in Australia for several years. She is an associate lecturer in the University of Divinity, a member of the global network of Trans and Non-Binary Clergy of the Anglican Communion, and the current Minister of Pitt Street Uniting Church in Sydney.
Firstly I acknowledge the Wurundjeri people as the traditional owners of this place, their elders past and present, and all First Nations peoples here today. I also particularly give thanks for this gathering to Garry Deverell, who, like my fellow speakers, so ‘gets’ where trans people are coming from and the urgent need for stronger intersectionality for love and justice.
The great Black feminist lesbian writer and activist Audre Lorde, put it well: ‘there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle, because we do not live single-issue lives.’ Therefore, ‘we share a common interest… you do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside one another. I do not have to be you to recognise that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities.’
In the run up to Sydney WorldPride, SBS On Demand 'The Feed' were kind enough to produce a short feature on my wife Penny Jones and I,, which we hope may help and encourage others.
Many thanks to Dr Meredith Lake and Rohan Salmond for inviting Penny Jones and I to share in this episode of ABC's Soul Search, exploring queer theology and its expression in World Pride. It was a great joy, including sharing with such delightful co-interlocutors and friends as Dr Peter Kline and Benjamin Oh.
How do you regard dragonflies? In one of his great poems (As Kingfishers Catch Fire), the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins not only encourages us to be like them, but, in so doing, to be like Christ. Not everyone has always agreed however. In early colonial Australia for example, white fellas tried to kill dragonflies, just as they/we tried to kill so many other life-giving things that they/we did not understand. Those early colonialists saw dragonflies flying around and landing on their valuable horses, and they saw the horses moving and flicking their tails. So they thought the dragonflies were biting and making them crook. The colonialists were making things worse. The dragonflies were actually eating the mosquitoes and the gnats that were troubling the horses. They were life-givers, saviours even, not devils in disguise. In so many positive ways, dragonflies are thus evocative symbols for transgender people today. For, on this Transgender Day of Remembrance, we do well to attend to how bearers of light have been treated as embodiments of darkness. We do well, as our Gospel today (Luke 23.32-43) reminds us, to remember how Jesus was not crucified alone, and how others are also crucified today. And above all, we do well to affirm that it is only in recognising the light, in strange places, that we find salvation and hope for us all…
Recently I was part of SBS Insight's program on what is happening to faith in Australia (link here). It was moving, and sometimes challenging, to hear of the pain and disillusionment so many now feel - and with which I also identify. When will faith bodies wake up as a whole and share the human dignity others offer? It was lovely to share some good news, and sit next to a beautiful friend from Muslim Collective who puts it so well..
One day I hope Australian Churches (and all elsewhere) will actively celebrate, support and promote gender diverse people - essentially passive, patchy ‘inclusion’ is so not good enough (as the UCA and the best parts of the ACA really should know by now). In the meantime, I encourage those who will, and can, to use the resources trans and other gender diverse people are producing - and personally, for the upcoming Trans Day of Remembrance this year (a Sunday - so no excuses church folk - 20 November) this year, I offer two new hymns (to well known traditional tunes) and a couple of the prayers I’ve created in the past
(a few more bits too here)
- but hey, this is an opportunity to talk to trans and gender diverse folk and do the work of catching up with our gifts and genius, including so much that is life-giving in published form - Tina Beardsley, Austen Hartke, Shay (Shannon) Kearns, Rachael Mann, J Mase III, just to name a few for a start. Celebration and solidarity with trans people is part of the transformation and liberation of us all :-)
One interesting contemporary term I’ve found helpful recently is ‘onlyness’ - in both its negative and positive aspects. ‘Onlyness’ certainly speaks to my experience both practically (in negotiating the deafening demands of ‘sameness’ and ‘togetherness’ in world and church) and spiritually (in seeking sources, connections and pathways to flourish).
Negatively, as this week’s inaugural LGBTIQ+ Leadership Summit in Sydney highlights in its introduction, despite significant advances (especially for L & G folk - T & I have a little more to see) queer ‘onlyness’ continues to be an issue in business and public life (even without including church spaces) and it is still hard for so many of us in simply pursuing our careers and vocations:
‘A 2020 McKinsey report identified that LGBTIQ+ staff are more likely to encounter microaggressions, experience sexual harassment (especially women), and become disengaged within their organisation due to “onlyness”. Despite the overwhelming ethical and financial business case for LGBTIQ+ inclusion, it simply hasn’t happened. It is reported too often that LGBTIQ+ staff are excluded from promotion, are overlooked by superiors, and concerns regarding their gender and sexual orientation are dismissed.’
Being queer in the Church (even more tolerating and passively ‘inclusive’ spaces) sometimes feels like such ‘onlyness’ with bells on (sometimes the sort of bells tolled perhaps to warn people of the plague?). In the best of our mainstream Churches the obsessions with institutional ‘unity’, limited ‘brand’ identity, and not ‘rocking the boat’ also militate against receiving the gifts of ‘onlyness’ - even though they are an essential part not only of the continuing features of spiritual health in Churches but are also pathways forward if they were fully received.
The reality is that ‘onlyness’, spiritually speaking and in many manifestations, has always been essential to positive life and change in secular and faith spaces. A key saving grace of both my native C of E (Anglican), Reformed ‘liberty of conscience’ and wider Christian tradition has always been those who have lived into and out of their ‘onlyness’ - for it is from the depths of spirit, inner truth, our authentic dreams and stirrings, that true flourishing comes.
We are most certainly created to be social creatures, and our onlyness bears fruit and is enriched in mutual relationship with others, especially where they seek to honour and share their own ‘onlyness’. Yet so much remains, and rises afresh, to work against this - not least sadly in so many Church spaces - as organisations, communities and individuals settle for conformity and complacency (as well as coercion at times), resting on outdated assumptions and harmful stereotypes, unchanging inherited or ‘functional’ structures, and suspicion, or worse, of ‘onlyness’ (even in some faith traditions which speak of ‘conscience’ and being ‘prophetic’).
The LGBTIQ+ Leadership Summit puts it clearly:
‘LGBTIQ+ leaders have a strong legacy of driving positive change – even in the most difficult circumstances. In the 2020s, an era of the socially aware and responsible consumer, large organisations cannot afford to merely provide lip service to LGBTIQ+ inclusion.’
The same might be said of other leaders among us who lead from out of their ‘onlyness’ - not least the extraordinary First Nations leaders who have walked with, inspired, and strengthened me in singing new life in faith spaces (and without whom I’d have given up long ago) Like ‘onlyness’ however, such people not only need honouring, but supporting and releasing into greater life.
One of the major challenges for both Faith bodies, like Churches, and for the wider society is taking marginalised people seriously in their/our own right. 'Inclusion' is for example a frequently used term among those who express some interest and support of transgender people. Yet perhaps, as Marcella Althaus-Reid outlined, it is recognising the voices and bodies and socio-economic realities of 'indecency' in people's lives that is the real faith gift and challenge. Too much 'inclusion' keeps the frameworks in place, coopting a few individuals or making a few, sometimes quite superficial, changes. As with meeting the challenges of race, 'cheap grace' is all too easy. Theologically however, was Jesus however about 'inclusion', or constantly speaking, acting, and embodying 'indecency'?
There is simply no healthy future for faith and spirituality without trans (and other TLGBIQ) people - because we are not only central to their future (it is after all ours!) but as we are already present to it and waiting for others to catch up (with patience when we can, but too often with continuing deep frustration). Sadly there are times (too many of them) when it is very tough - not so much to cope with the obvious enmity (though that is hard enough), but, for Christians, the 'polite silence' and 'passive' inclusion of parts of Churches who say they are, or trying to be 'inclusive' and 'affirming'. It does often feel like 'shouting into the silencing vacuum'. Thank God for those who really get it, and who are with us and, actively, help us into speech. Let those who have ears, hear...
As Melissa M.Wilcox put it, in 'Religion is Already Transed: Religious Studies is Not (Yet) Listening':
'Many of us, in various ways, have had the experience of shouting into the silencing vacuum of active ignorance: the practice by which others actively ignore, and thereby choose to remain ignorant about, our lives and the lives of those who struggle.
Sometimes, the vacuum is incomplete; enough air remains in the space to carry the sound waves of our speech and allow us to be heard. Sometimes, eventually, we may even be celebrated for our efforts. But such work can come at great cost, and for every one of us who kept standing there, shouting into the vacuum, at least five others have walked away...
We must stop the polite silence and gentle questioning that still attends the preaching of transphobia...
We have an obligation, all of us, not only to listen for the voices shouting into the vacuum but also to actively disrupt the anti-trans, anti-genderqueer, and blithely cisnormative voices that created the vacuum to begin with. We have an obligation not to be those voices and not to let them go unchallenged. We have an obligation to fill the vacuum with air so that even a whisper can be heard.'
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: