They say it is the hope that kills you. Every so often a Christian body does something to lift your heart and make you truly proud. A statement is made, a commitment displayed, a sign of genuine understanding revealed about the lives, faith, needs and gifts of LGBTI+ people. You begin to believe it is possible that we will move forward, together. Then you look around and what was written is qualified or changed, what was committed to is downgraded, what you thought was understanding is shown to be so partial and obscured. It happens again and again, as it just has, so clumsily, with the Church of England bishops' backflip on transgender Christian liturgical affirmation. Back in rushes the anger, the frustration, and the deep soul-seeking about whether it is worth persisting: all coupled with a renewed sense of betrayal and lack of integrity. How long O Lord?..
The other evening I did something usually considered unwise: I read the comments on a video by a transgender person on Facebook. This is usually something to be avoided by anyone, especially if you are gender diverse. What might seem almost worse, I even responded to some of the less than helpful contributions! However the exercise proved helpful in a number of ways and has deepened my sense of how we are all travelling together. (The video 'What it means to be transgender' was by writer and military veteran Charlotte Clymer, speaking out about coming out and transitioning, and was on the UK's Channel 4 News: more information here)...
As I complete another full year of my own life, and in the wake of the celebrations of the nativity of Jesus, I have been pondering what it means to be born, spiritually speaking. For birth, like life itself, is easily taken for granted. Actually it is a great mystery, in the best sense of that word. Like gender, it is not simple or straightforward, as many assume. Rather, it is a continuing revelation and developmental process. Indeed I am currently very struck by how my baby grandchild is changing every moment, in response to every encounter and their growing awareness of self. It feels like they are being born afresh, in new ways, every second. Their 'birth' was clearly not finished at their literal entry into this life. Nor is it ever complete for any of us, at least in this life. Rather, each of us, as Bob Dylan once wrote in a notable lyric, is either 'busy being born or busy dying'. Perhaps this is also part of what transgender people have to share with the world in our own (re)birthing?...
When I worked in a hostel for ex-offenders, one of our residents was a young man whom his family routinely called 'rat boy'. Little wonder perhaps that he became a delinquent glue-sniffer and ended up in juvenile detention. Most of us know how great a lie the infamous saying is:'sticks and stones may break my bones, but cruel words can't hurt me.' How we are called, and the consequent image we have of ourselves, shapes us greatly. In contrast, the power of a name, and the process of renaming, can enable amazing flourishing. for individuals and communities. Such is part of the gift of transgender naming. It certainly is for me...
"So how do you cope with your enemies?', asked my spiritual director recently. I laughed, with a mixture of emotions. 'Well, I certainly realise I have plenty now', I replied! For you don't have to be paranoid to recognise when some people are out to get you. It is particularly sad however when they are part of your own faith tradition...
Just when some trans people and their families might have hoped it was safe to start going back in the water of ordinary life, the ABC stir up the dangerous waves again. Coming on top of the extraordinary 'no' campaign assault on gender diversity during the postal survey, its seems mainstream media seek to learn few lessons. Last night's showing (27 November 2017) of the BBC documentary Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best? was a striking case in point. Its initial showing (in the UK in January 2017) was strongly opposed and then vigorously criticised by many authoritative voices in the UK, including Trans Media Watch who made a formal complaint to the BBC questioning whether it had breached its own code of conduct. Such protests rightly raised a plethora of issues, not least the alarmist commentary and space given to isolated and pernicious 'experts' whose views have long been discredited by their peers and left behind by modern medical, psychological and pastoral authorities and practice. Knowing all this, why then did the ABC repeat the BBC's own mistakes in the face of a transgender community still reeling from recent affronts? Was it a false sense of 'balance', perhaps justified in some strange thinking of ABC minds by the repeat showing of another BBC offering immediately beforehand in Louis Theroux's 2015 documentary Transgender Kids? Whether yes or no, it reflects major problems with media handling of transgender issues today...
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: