As my wife Penny and I approach our 35th wedding anniversary next month, we are increasingly aware of how our marriage has become one of God's delightful little prophetic jokes to prompt deeper loving awareness. The other day, for instance, we went to a shop in Brisbane to see if we could buy some dresses for our upcoming renewal of vows event. I found a splendid one I liked quite quickly and the shop assistant asked me if it was for a special occasion. 'Yes', I said, 'Penny and I are renewing our vows in a few weeks time. It will be our 35th wedding anniversary'. The assistant was very professional and just murmured 'how lovely'. For the next few minutes however it was very evident that the cogs were whirring in her brain. Clearly I 'passed' more than well enough for her to be considerably puzzled how two women could be marking 35 years of official marriage. Maybe she wondered if we came from some country she hadn't heard of which had quietly adopted marriage equality decades before others. Perhaps she pondered if there was some special lesbian rite she had never imagined. Whatever the case, as for others in society, and certainly within church circles, our fully sanctioned and richly flourishing marriage had stirred the pot. Once again Penny and I were a gentle loving challenge to preconceptions and an invitation to more expansive relationships and celebration of life...
I've written about J.K.Rowling's work before (see here), and, in a little booklet - 'Defence Against the Dark Arts' (free to download here)- used some of it to help dispel trans (and wider 'queer') phobia and enlarging the mental health and life of others. So it is highly disappointing to see her write an essay recently in which she develops her anti-transgender views. Tragically, she both conflates her own personal history of earlier life mental health struggles with young people's quite distinct gender dysphoria and uses her own awful experiences of abuse to justify exclusion of many trans female people from women's spaces. Such arguments coming from such an influential person are disturbing and only add petrol to the destructive fires of renewed attacks on transgender people in cultural and legal-political arenas. Thankfully this week's judgement by the US Supreme Court re-points us to the way forward for all. For J.K.Rowling seems sadly to be currently trapped by the too pernicious, and too common, notion that the safety and freedom of one oppressed group depends on curtailing that of one or more other oppressed group. What however is so badly needed today is not simply fighting for our sectional interests, but also a coming together of all who have been oppressed, abused, or silenced, So, whilst they disagree profoundly with her views on gender, it is so good to see leading trans activists this week 'standing alongside J.K.Rowling' against the latest misogynistic attacks by the UK tabloid newspaper The Sun (see, for example, articles here and here). For as Nim Ralph, the coordinator of the open letter says:
“I was as hurt as the next trans person by her essay. But our struggles are connected.. We have always been here in the fight against misogyny and gender-based violence; we will always speak up against it and fight back where we see it. Patriarchy is our shared oppressor.”
Shocked by the media exposure of details of the writer's past experience of abuse, the letter is a call on all who suffer from oppression of various kinds to rise beyond our differences to support one another in each of our struggles and to create a society which fully values every person. To do so, means recognising that none of us are truly free until all of us are free. We will all remain vulnerable, and worse, unless we let go of the idea that freedom is a competition, or a limited good rather than a source of growth for us all. Billy Bragg expressed this powerfully in his song 'Never Buy The Sun' - You Tube recording here - reflecting on the way in which Rupert Murdoch and powerful empires exploit and create misery in all kinds of people's lives. Instead, we need the human solidarity which the people of Liverpool (the 'Scousers' of the song) displayed after the terrible Hillsborough football stadium tragedy. Instead of turning the blame on victims and survivors of abuse, as The Sun did then and have done again this week with J.K.Rowling, we must together reject the purveyors of fear and hate, challenging their destructive power and enlarging our own. As Billy Bragg put it:
Tabloids make their millions betting bullshit baffles brains
And they cynically hold up their hands if anyone complains
And they say: "All we're doing is giving people what they want"
Well, they're crying out for justice, people crying out for justice
In the corridors of power they all sit down to sup
With the devil and his minions, and they ask for his opinions
And the politicians wring their hands and cry: "What's to be done?"
But the Scousers never buy the Sun...
I'm hugely grateful to Dr John Wallace, film-maker Rachel Lane and her wonderful team, for bringing to fruition the short documentary Faithfully Me, sharing part of the stories of myself and Rhett Pearson as transgender people of faith living into our authentic selves. This was shown on ABC Compass on 24 May, and is available on iView here until 23 June, and afterwards will be shared by Equal Voices and others on YouTube and through other channels. We hope it will be a blessing to many, sharing further light and understanding, and affirming gender diverse people in churches and wider society. In this project I am particularly grateful as ever for the support of my wife, the Revd Penny Jones (who also shares some of her journey with me in the film), and friends and colleagues from St Francis College & St John's Cathedral in Brisbane (both of which, by kind permission respectively of the College Principal and Dean, were part of the locations filmed).
This photo was taken, earlier this year, from my bed of healing in a delightful unit in St Kilda (Melbourne), I had just had genital reconstruction surgery, thanks to the excellent skills of Andy Ives and his wonderful team at the nearby Masada Hospital, and I was in my first stages of recovery 'at home'. When the night's darkness began to lift, the new light of day brought this beautiful dawn. My eyes opened to the glorious gift of nature's renewal, and, with it, to the wonder of human participation in the joy of existence and work of re-creation. For across the sky, just above the treeline, floated a series of hot air balloons, beautiful expressions of fresh lightness and delight (you may just be able to spot two of them in the photo - as small circles to the left of the centre of the light, adjacent to the word alleluia).. At the same time, the sunrise further gorgeously illuminated the cranes working on the building of the exciting development of the Victorian Pride Centre, visible a couple of streets away across the rooftops.
This experience was, as might be imagined, for me, a vision and harbinger of resurrection. It did not take away the struggles I was going through. The surgery itself was very successful, and there was not a subsequent shred of regret (so much the reverse), the days to come also saw pain and discomfort, particularly with an awkward infection and slow completion of healing due to sensitive skin (part of the joy of being a particular kind of natural redhead?!). The struggles of gender & sexually diverse people are also hardly over, despite such welcome living symbols of resurrection as the Pride Centre. Yet that dawn was not only a moment of special grace, but also a deep sign of hope and loving transformation, not simply for myself but for so much else about which I care. For resurrection, at least in this life and time space, is always betwixt and between...
A short video reflection for the Trans Day of Visibility (31 March)
Hi, I’m Josephine - an Anglican priest in Brisbane and a transgender woman.
Visibility for me is a sacrament of transformation, with three particular aspects to it.
First of all, it’s about displaying the glorious diversity of life and creation, particularly in trans people: that we are fearfully and wonderfully made - just like me.
Secondly, it’s about dispelling the fear and the shame and the pain that often gender diverse people experience, and that’s through the power of love, beginning with loving ourselves.
And thirdly, it’s about dispersing that love, dispersing, giving that light to others so that the darkness of others can dissipate.
So may that power of visibility create and redeem and enlighten all people this day, and in the future - a blessing for all.
Recently I created a 're-membering' blessing ritual for a transgender female who was approaching genital reconstruction surgery. It was custom-made, reflecting aspects of her character and spirituality, not least her commitment to feminist transformation and Celtic spirituality Not all of it may therefore suit others. With her agreement, I offer it however - download a PDF copy here, or see the liturgy below - as a contribution to the development and encouragement of others. I also warmly invite constructive correspondence on this subject. For it is right and proper to mark vital thresholds in our lives as times of spiritual transformation - a point beautifully expressed by John O'Donohue in one quotation used in this liturgy. It is to the great shame of most received institutional spiritual forms that they have been so slow, or actively unwilling, to respond to such needs and joys. Such spiritual intentionality is a gift and invitation to fuller life, both for the person at the centre and for everyone else involved (as our group of friends who were involved in this liturgy experienced)
This particular ritual employs Christian themes and language in a contemporary framework, using and adapting other helpful resources. Such readings are examples and may of course be replaced by others more suitable. A key element is re-membering: the re-membering involved in the honouring of time and change (past, present and future), relationships, and the body (personal, communal and ecclesial), As such, as on the particular occasion of its use, an eucharistic celebration is also appropriate. This ritual also owes considerable inspiration to Jewish transgender ritual, particularly in the use of water - for whilst the mikveh, as a feature of significant Jewish transgender reflection, cannot be simply adopted by others, it points us towards depths of mystery and meaning. Other readings, such as those which speak of the transformative powers and thresholds of water within Christian scripture, might also be creatively employed.. A further element to be considered are appropriate colours, fabrics and symbols, including those which reflect the senses, In this case, reflecting Celtic connections, it was helpful to use candle lights and (en)circling. The ritual thus took place with friends gathered in a circle, later around a table for the eucharist, and, for the main part, around a deliberately placed rug. As the photo here shows, this represented a form of mandala, the different layers of a person's past and continuing journey, and ripples or waves of life and love surrounding and enfolding them. At the centre, as a focal point and for the washing, was an 'imperfect' bowl, deliberated shaped as such, representing the nature of creation and the transgender (and every human) life and body. For, like the work of creation, salvation and resurrection as a whole, we are sculptured by grace, which seeks not false ideals of perfection but ever new flourishing through love and healing. With my particular thanks to those who shared in this ceremony and every blessing to others on re-membering pathways. The liturgy follows below (click on Read More below the photo), or is downloadable here...
As we begin a new year, the need for a renewing transforming spirituality is ever more evident, particularly in the face of much 'traditional' religion which continues to choose death over life. One expressive icon is that of the dragonfly, which, literally and metaphorically, I have personally encountered richly recently. For dragonflies are extraordinary creatures. No wonder they have become powerful symbols for transgender people. The picture above is thus a little creation of mine from a silent retreat I took in December, pointing to some expressive elements for everyone.. For whilst these have particular resonance for transgender people, they can also speak helpfully to others, as and when we open ourselves to more life-giving spiritual pathways for our communities and planet...
'I will not be silent, nor hidden forever. For I am a transgender woman and I will come to birth. Though my birthing is painful, messy and rocks the cradle, it offers tidings of great joy, and a more just, diverse and beautiful world. It overturns powers and principalities, lifting up the lowly, ransoming my people from darkness, silence and death.'
- so begins the reflection below, entitled I Am That I Will Be: for the transgender Christa who is coming to birth (after Marcella Althaus Reid). I wrote this recently on retreat, pondering the great themes of Advent (particularly regarding Mary and the birthing of Christ(a)) in the context of the continuing struggles of transgender people to come fully to birth in our world, in its secular and religious spaces. It is an affirmation of transgender strength and joy in the midst of current birth-pangs, and of the promise contained in the liberation of gender diverse people. It is, in part, a tribute to Marcella Althaus Reid, for her contribution in opening up the way spiritually, not least through her proclamation and call to Indecent Theology. Just as she encouraged us to rework our received ideas and symbols by embracing the experience of the despised and marginalised, so my own cry is for the liberating story of Mary and her child to be revisited and reshaped by transgender experience. It is thus partly a protest against the taming, and spiritually over-decorous confining of Mary and her child, in the transforming spirit of the Magnificat and the renaming and reordering of God and world. It is not intended to dismiss the life-giving insights others find in traditional readings of Advent or aspects of Mariology. It is however a contribution to greater light and generative life in this season and beyond...
‘I didn’t marry a gender. I married a person.’
- this has always been a truth of our marriage, before and after Josephine came out as a transgender woman. Just as God ‘looks on the heart’ not ‘outward appearance’ (1 Samuel 16.7), our gender and sexuality are not the core of our lasting relationship. What matters is the love we have for one another, part of God’s greater love. In that way, ‘rainbow marriage’ is also a gift for all...
I speak today as both a proud member of our LGBTIQA+ community, and also as a dedicated person of faith, indeed as an Anglican priest. I do so, because people like me are typically erased, our lives and voices ignored. Yet we queer people of faith do exist! - and we are increasingly seeking to be visible. For our very existence gives lie to the monstrous misuse of religion for political ends. We suffer particularly profoundly from religious discrimination. We do not want religious exemptions which hurt us and others, and betray the heart of who we are. We also know that the majority of our fellow Australians of faith agree with us, as we saw in that dreadful postal survey. So we’ve tried to lobby, spoken to Government inquiries, sought to be part of desperately needed change. Yet, as queer people of faith, our rights to religious expression are seldom recognised...
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: