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...
it's time to face up to spiritual abuse
What we have begun glimpsing today of the spiritual abuse of gender diverse people is like the tip of a massive, tragic, iceberg. Some of this is emerging in the revelations of 'conversion therapy' and other religious change efforts, even though so much of that research and those stories are still too often exclusively about gay and lesbian rather than transgender people. Some of it is highlighted by the staggeringly disproportionate statistics (even compared to other LGBTI+ people) of suicide, mental health issue, physical suffering and social exclusion of many gender diverse people. So much of it is still so hidden from sight, being deliberately or unconsciously obscured by the continuing provocations, defensive posturing and pathetic pretences of so many religious groups.
people not problems or principles
As a transgender priest, who daily encounters these things, my tears are firstly for the devastating losses which are involved and for the blinding betrayals of love itself. For I do not quite know how old was I when I imbibed some of the horrendous heresy that I, and those like me, were not made in the image of God. The teaching of 'pelvic orthodoxy' is so pervasive. Its toxic impact is hardly recognised in so many religious places and by many otherwise good and loving people of faith. The 'gender defenders' who hurt us are not only the obvious ones, but include those who seem kind but are still so unreflective.. Instead of listening and learning from us, they continue to prattle on - too obsessed with their own preconceptions, preaching, principles and 'processes' - ignoring us, or treating us as problems, not as persons. From Jesus, I have learned to try to pray 'forgive them, for they know not what they do'. For many do not know what they do. Forgiveness however is not only not about forgetting. It is also a pathway to grace and action. It is about letting go of negative energy so that dynamic healing, within just relationships, can be found.
losing God and finding true reality
Of course, my friend would agree, we never actually 'lose God' in transitioning. We may undoubtedly lose disastrous idols and misconceptions of God. Alleluia for that! We may lose our religious, and wider, families. We may lose so much of what we thought was faith. Yet we cannot lose what is ultimately real. Rather we may finally find ourselves genuinely encountering 'the way, the truth and the life', however, religiously or otherwise, we choose to name it. Some of us are fortunate in that. In my case for instance, the pervasiveness of Christian transphobia was never wholly devastating, because I grasped, somehow (perhaps not least through other Christians 'on the edge'), that God is so much greater and more loving than anything any religious group teaches and embodies. Without God indeed, I might also have been dead years ago. Many secular people fail to grasp that reality. For the truth is that, for some of us, faith is sometimes all that keeps us alive. It is no less core and intrinsic to our identity as our gender or sexuality, race or other God-give characteristic. Yet, for all that, it comes broken and scarred. We falsely absorb shame (such shame!), which creates barriers and blockages in our relationships, with others, our own selves, and God in God-self.
gender diverse people as bearers of 'good news'
My tears are certainly also tears of immense pride and joy. For it is such an honour, blessing, and source of strength, to share in the lives of gender diverse people. Indeed, as a body, in the face of all that has been inflicted upon us, we are truly magnificent,. In many ways we are astonishing living miracles of resurrection and wondrous witnesses to that ultimate power of life and love which transforms suffering and creates extraordinary new life. As such, all gender diverse people have the capacity to be priests of healing and justice for others, bearers of 'good news', bringing 'recovery of sight for the blind' and 'setting the oppressed free'. In this, my friend and I also talked yesterday of the gender euphoria trans people can feel and exhibit. We should be warmly affirmed in this by religious groups, not classed as 'broken', 'defective', sinful, or even worse. Yet the costs remain great, and often grievous, not least for those of us who are people of faith. Some days I feel we need the equivalent of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse to name and help religious, and other, bodies address the scandal of transphobic, biphobic and homophobic, abuse. The need for religious recognition, repentance and redress is so evident for many of us. As with child abuse, without the pressure of others, I fear too little will change, and too slowly. Thank God therefore for the continuing emergence of our gender diverse champions, our growing allies and the dawning realisation by the wider LGBTI+ community that maybe LGBTI+ people of faith may have particularly onerous concerns - and, still more, terrific contributions to make to the flourishing of all. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear...
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: