With thanks to the terrific Fr Peter Maher, it was good yesterday to share in our national Equal Voices' welcome of Pope Francis' support for 'same sex' civil unions (see our media release below, and here) - in itself a very small step of LGBTIQ+ affirmation, but historically highly significant and very important within the largest and most powerful Church in the world's largest religion. It is also a small ray of light in the face of reaction (not least recently in the Anglican Church of Australia).
I have to say however that I do remain quite frustrated, not only by the slowness of fuller Christian affirmations, but also by the continued use of the outdated binary term 'same sex' - which has been unhelpfully extended by many (like the leading Anglican Australian bishop aka Primate) to cover relationships like my own 'same gender' marriage. Trans and non binary relationships need to be recognised properly, not just lumped in with binary 'same sex', whilst transphobia is at stake in religious limiting of relationships too. It is multi-dimensional 'equal marriage' we're seeking everywhere, for the diversity of loving human relationships who seek this - not other clumsy conceptions. However one step forward is better than nothing :-) ...
In the face of wider societal backlash, a fellow transgender Anglican priest in Australia (the Revd Sorèl Coward - pictured with my wife and I above) has been refused a license to officiate - this at a time when trans people need all the help we can get, and when we were explicitly excluded from national church ‘same sex marriage’ discussions (the ostensible reason for Sorèl’s rejection), This is such a confused decision by the Archbishop of Adelaide (who is also the Primate, i.e senior Australian bishop, of the Australian Anglican Church) that it is hard to know where to begin or end with the questions it raises. But now it is in the public sphere, I at least will ask some of them - and I hope as many people as possible will do so too. It is a direct consequence of official Church refusal to engage appropriately with the complexity of human gender and sexuality, and how little gender and sexually diverse people are even allowed to contribute our expert wisdom and experience. It is potentially another step to narrow sectarianism and such sad treatment of a lovely person who, ironically, has both the professional expertise and personal experience to help the Church grow in these matters. The affirming model of trans care is clearly vital to anyone with the eyes to see - and this certainly doesn’t involve using people’s long established loving marriages (blessed in Church for God’s sake!) against them. It is more than time for the Church and others to do all that is possible to address the deficit of transgender care and celebration.
Initial coverage of this novel problematising of transgender Anglicans can be found here and here. My wife and I, as married Anglican priest in good standing, have written today to the Archbishop of Adelaide - a letter which can be found below (or downloaded here).
I've done quite a bit of speaking, teaching, preaching, Zoom conferencing, writing, and other ministry in recent months, but it was particularly lovely today, in our parish marking of the Season of Creation, to be back behind the altar - or (holy) table (depending on your theological outlook). It might have happened earlier but COVID Safe issues have restricted opportunities. It was only afterwards however, reflecting partly on why I was so moved, that I realised something else. This wasn't just the first time I've personally presided at the eucharist after my surgery earlier this year, but it was almost certainly the first time that a post-GRS transgender woman had ever publicly presided at the eucharist in Australia with full canonical order (there are others, treasured by me, who have gone before, but in different ways). Maybe transubstantiation or scholastic ‘real presence’ were not involved, but it was definitely about really present love and substantially transforming - bodily and spiritually breaking open to new creation for all. One more step along the way... 😻🙏🦋
#transinggod #miltonanglican #eucharistisforall
One of the most encouraging aspects of the Australian theological scene is the work of the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies. Based at the University of Divinity, Melbourne, this vital network has considerably inspired and supported me in recent times and will, I hope, continue to grow in strength and influence. From a transgender perspective, it is certainly a very positive community in which to be a part. Personally I am already thankful to this project and its leaders to have an essay (entitled 'From Footballs to Matildas? - Gender Diverse People and Theological Game Change') included in the forthcoming book Contemporary Feminist Theologies: Power, Authority, Love - part of Routledge's 'Gender, Theology and Spirituality' series. I am also pleased to share in the Horizons series of online conversations which the Collaborators run on a monthly basis. This month, I am myself a focal point, chatting with Dr Cath McKinney about intersectionality, not least the challenges and opportunities of gender diverse people within feminist developments (link to event here). Here below - and at this link - is a short reflection to stimulate thought and discussion, trying to move well beyond fruitless destructive controversies such as that recently stoked by J.K.Rowling. Our times, and people of all gender identities, call for genuine depth of greater connection, contemplation, and creativity...
The more I grow older, and hopefully a little deeper in understanding, the more I am aware of how religious traditions have wrestled with sexuality and gender in all kinds of extraordinary ways. For sexuality and gender have always been such powerful aspects of human lives and spirituality has therefore necessarily engaged with them as vital features of revelation and relationship, as well as repression and resistance. Sadly. so many 'sanitised' and narrowed readings of the Bible and religious traditions have significantly contributed to human distancing from intimate, celebratory and mature sexuality and gender identities. These are typically those which have much airplay today in wider media as well as conservative and fundamentalist circles. When however we look afresh at scripture and tradition, particularly through lenses of 'queer' experience, we find something very different. Some features can be quite confronting, even profoundly disturbing, full of extraordinary violence and subjugation. Some aspects can also be very different from our our contemporary contexts. Yet there are others, rightly viewed, which can help us face up to our own opportunities for growth towards richer sexual and gendered lives. They can be quite challenging but offer considerable liberative potential. Among these is the story (in Genesis 32.22-31) of Jacob's wresting with the divine, their wounding and blessing...
One of the most profound things about being a priest is sharing in great transition times in all kinds of people’s lives. Sometimes these are also marked in special ways at special times and/or places. Sadly, whilst they were much better at this in former ages (including adapting ‘pagan’ practices), Christians recently have often narrowed, and even exclusified, our human ‘rites of passage’ - with beautiful exceptions, like Dorothy McRae-McMahon, who have actively explored words and symbols for a much greater range of vital human experiences. In one sense ‘holy holding’ of transgender experiences is part of this, though particularly gorgeous! 😻🧚
I've shared in other similar occasions in recent times, but I’m really looking forward to this coming Sunday - partly as a contribution to the renewed unfolding of divine presence and naming, encouraging others to the same (seriously its not hard to do!), but above all for the opportunity to lead our parish in celebrating a beautiful person (and increasingly beloved friend) in our Milton Anglican community. The eye shadow may or may not be on show - and glitter is sadly out due to COVID-19 - but there will certainly be dancing in the heart of God. 💃🙏🦋
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...
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: