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 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've spent some of the night crying. For yesterday a beautiful trans man who has just come out thanked me for 'showing that I wouldn't lose God when I transitioned.' Part of me is so grateful, as sharing that truth is one of the reasons I remain, and rejoice to be, a priest. Part of me however is cut, beyond the heart, to the depths of my soul. Indeed I'm somewhat distraught, and, justifiably, not a little angry. For I've been where my friend has been traveling and it hurts. It really hurts. It is like journeying in the depths of hell. Some of us never make it through and our cries of pain continue to echo. My friend's words voice this so often hidden reality. For how dare anyone, any faith, any spiritual group, plant the thought that some of us can be cut off from the love of God, simply for being who we are created to be. Only slowly is the depth of this appalling spiritual abuse beginning to be revealed. It must not be allowed to continue. May our tears help swell the rivers of compassion and set us all free...
Some days we can glimpse why we were put on this earth. Yesterday was one such moving moment for me, as I led a short rite for a soul friend preparing for gender affirmation surgery. We made no extra special great fuss about this. Nor should we have to, for such signs of grace for LGBTI+ people are really very natural, if our world would but allow itself to know it. Yet it was profoundly significant in the journeys we are making at this time. For today's sea-change of understanding gender and sexuality not only brings healing and hope to specific individuals. It also offers vital hope and healing to tired aspects of our society, not least to religious groups and their members. In a profound sense it is thus sacramental: helping to reveal what has been hidden, opening up and helping to sustain fresh pathways of life and transformation. Our short rite yesterday was like that. It publicly honoured deep movements of life and spiritual wrestling which have not only been unacknowledged and unsupported, but often tragically dismissed and disastrously resisted. It also proclaimed that new life for all of us is to be found in the tender solidarity of us all, in the mystery of God's extraordinary and abundant grace and diversity. Our 'transgender' rite was just a small part of our usual Milton Anglicans Sunday parish eucharist. As such however, it was no 'hole in the wall' secret ceremony, but a truly grounded and open affirmation both of a remarkable sacred particular person and of our growing sense of what it means to re-create community and 'church' today. It felt like a renewing movement of spirit for our community, certainly for my own sense of priesthood, and a re-presentation of what it means to be differently ordered bodies together in the body of Christ. It also made us wonder why such things are not expected in the life of all spiritual communities...
I wonder how many sermons you’ve heard about eunuchs? Not many I would guess. Yet is actually quite extraordinary how many eunuchs are mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps the story from Acts of the Apostles (chapter 8 verses 26-end) might be one we do recognise. Many others however are simply passed over. Jesus for example spoke positively about eunuchs and his words are recorded in Matthew chapter 19. Very little is ever said about that and some people do not even know those verses are there. Even the story we hear today is also usually interpreted without too much attention to the specifics of the person baptised. This is all very sad. For it misses out some very powerful messages for us, for the Church, and for the world, not least those, like the Ethiopian eunuch, who are quite different kinds of people to many expected norms. It is one of those very many ‘queer’ stories in the Bible which speak of a very ‘queer’ kind of God and mission…
How often, I wonder, has a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender Christian been attacked as a religious, moral, or logical 'impossibility', 'a contradiction in terms', a living oxymoron? Pretence and deceit are certainly themes which hover around gender diverse people and discussion of our lives and sense of being. Spiritually speaking, such features are typically regarded as unhealthy. Whilst, for instance, there are some positive stories of trickery in the Bible (notably in the case of the patriarch Jacob), these are usually the sign of a wayward, scheming, selfish or misdirected person. Later transitioning religious people are thus frequently caught in certain traps as they become the more 'authentic' selves God calls them to be. On the one hand, we may be called people of pretence and deceit by those who refuse to accept the realities of our identity. On the other hand, we may be attacked for hitherto seemingly living lives that were not true or misleading. At the very same time, we may also be dealing with our own shame, guilt, and confusions about what we may have 'pretended' to be. Yet, as we are reminded in both the powerful scriptural text of 2 Corinthians 6, and a just published book Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Christians: Queer Christians, Authentic Selves (by Bronwyn Fielder & Douglas Ezzy, Bloomsbury Press 2018),, we may be 'treated as impostors but are true' (2 Cor 6.8b)...
(This post was written for the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2018 - check out others' posts here)
As I have frequently affirmed. I profoundly agree with John O'Donohue that:
once we see God as an artist, everything changes
Each of us is an artist of our days; the greater our integrity and awareness, the more original and creative our time will become
(in To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings).
I also continue to hold that, at its best, the church (in the words of the great Catholic Modernist Fr.George Tyrrell) is an 'art school of divine-majesty'. In other words, as a human being, I am both a creative force myself (in the image of God the great creative) and a product of arts of living, belonging and believing which have brought me forth and shape me afresh. In particular, as a trans woman in 'transition', I am an unique art-work. So what kind of 'art-work' am I?...
Transitioning - the 'reason for the season'? Reflect on it... and rejoice...
Christmas is such a radical upsetting of so many supposed 'norms' that it really shouldn't need anyone to point out how extraordinarily 'queer' it is. Richness in poverty, light in the darkness, new life from the margins, wisdom with the outsiders, God's home among refugees: and all with such gorgeous elements as angels, a sparkling star, shiny gold, special perfume and healing oils. Above all, the core of the story is divinity transitioning into humanity, God becoming enfleshed in the evolving body of creation. After all that, what is male-female, female-male, or non-binary transition? - spiritually speaking, are they not other particular expressions of the gospel truths of incarnation, renewal and flourishing? How strange it is that some Christians have difficulty with gender diverse people! May God bless all seeking the fullness of authentic life and the transforming power of love.
(with thanks to enfleshed for the picture and inspiration)
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: