In times to come it will be extraordinary to imagine that some Christians insisted on married transgender people divorcing if they wished to claim their full identity. How scandalous a betrayal of God's love and Christ's teaching this is! It has been a long journey to address this in secular law in Australia and, sadly, the battle is not over in some religious quarters as well as in many parts of the world. Queensland, in which I now live, thankfully finally changed its law last night (with only four votes against, from the fringe Katter and One Nation parties). Hitherto, married transgender people have had to divorce if they changed their birth certificate to their true gender. I rejoice for friends and others who will directly benefit from this. For I know the pain this law has caused and have personally therefore lobbied hard for change. It will also be an encouragement for other necessary steps forward and for more religious people to come to their senses and renew their understanding both of marriage and of people of gender diversity.
I write this with feeling, as well as after deep reflection on these subjects. For the status of my own marriage is under question in some slowly moving and blinkered parts of the Church, even in Australia itself. A leading member of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney for example has even gone so far as to challenge both my marriage and the ministry of my wife and I as 'living contrary' to the doctrine of Christ - see further transgender and the doctrine of marriage in Brisbane. Of course, in that instance, the aim is a distinctly political one: to attack my archbishop, my diocese and the mainstream pastoral approach and unfolding theology of the Anglican Communion as a whole. Yet such 'stop the world, we want to get off' thinking will not work. The ground is shifting in religious spheres too, as the actual lived experience of transgender people and their loved ones is gradually being revealed. Anglicans and other Christians across the world are responding, if sometimes hesitatingly, burdened as we are too much by our often exacting processes and the frenzied reactions of some. The Church of England for example, the church of my birth, has declared that it fully welcomes me and other transgender people, at every level of its life. As its leadership have expressed it (with my emphasis):
The House of Bishops welcomes and encourages the unconditional affirmation of trans people, equally with all people,within the Church, the body of Christ,and rejoices in the diversity of that one body, into which all Christians have been baptized by one Spirit.
My concern however is not with politics but with the love of God in people's lives. For, in some ways, in the face of such great odds, transgender people are still 'living miracles' even to exist at all - and some of us, tragically, do not make it. Our relationships are also always challenged, and sometimes shattered, by becoming more fully the people God has created and called us to be. The misery of rejection some of my gender diverse friends endure cuts me to the heart. So why would we not seek to strengthen those relationships which have not only worked through demanding change but have emerged stronger? In my case, and in others I know, my marriage is so much deeper for the full truth we live together. My wife could long see that we were suffering unnecessarily for years: 'where has Josephine gone?' she would say when I struggled to come to terms with myself. She knew, better than I, what I, and we together, needed. No marriage is 100% perfect, and I do not pretend to be a moral paragon in my relationships in the past or present, but it is insulting, as well as disappointing, when fellow Christians cannot recognise that my marriage, of 33 years to date, is not a rich example of God's sacramental love to the world (nb. that is my wife and I above in case such a picture is needed).
In transitioning, I and others have not chosen (as has been alleged) 'to challenge the Biblical view of marriage' or to place my archbishop, or any one, 'in a difficult position'. Rather, we have simply sought to respond more fully, faithfully, with the whole of our being (as human beings, Christians, and priests), to the love of God for us. Of course, this means that we need to renew some aspects of received understanding. That however is the history of Christianity, as well as that of humanity as a whole, as we have developed our theology of marriage over 2000 years: working through inherited patriarchy and polygamy, rejecting women's subordination (and, for most of Christian history, lack of legal rights), developing compassion and legal recourse for those trapped in violent or unhealthy marriages, and embracing what is good in companionate relationship. Moving beyond the pressing past survival and scarcity preoccupations which informed obsessions with procreation and cis and hetero-normativity, our liturgies today increasingly reflect the wisdom we have gained and the love to which we aspire. There is a desperate resort of late to seeking proof-texts, such as Genesis 1.27 and Matthew 19.5, which may turn back the waters. However, apart from the inability of such texts to be bear the strain (even when isolated from their context and the weight of scholarship), this only confirms such Christianity as a latter day Canute, fruitlessly resisting a sea-change of love and affirmation.
I therefore urge all people of faith similarly to affirm unconditionally the lives, marriages and loving relationships of transgender people. Rather than be anxious, never mind put stumbling blocks in our lives (or worst still 'conversion' therapies), why not work with us at providing appropriate pastoral resources to strengthen our relationships? We certainly need them. Listen, educate, and above all hear and affirm the love and faith we have to share. It is astonishing to me that Christians would not want to see healing and the renewal of such love for others. Marriage, like the sabbath, as Jesus might have said, is not made to subjugate the wondrous diversity of human life into a constricting bed of pain. Marriage, at least for Christians, is made for God's renewing of humanity.
It was a delight to share with Transfaith co-author The Revd Chris Dowd in a podcast conversation with the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Peter Catt, and producer Dom Fay on the subject of transgender identity and faith. This can be accessed from the On the Way - Transgender Identity and Faith link here. Our hope is that this is a further contribution to shedding light and enabling an increasingly warm welcome to gender diverse people, our gifts and insights.
“On the Way” itself is a series of recorded conversations (podcasts) exploring the deeper mysteries of faith, meaning, and beauty that people from all over the world are able to listen to on smartphone or computer. These invite others who are also “on the way” into conversation; seeking a transformative spirituality and inclusive faith that speaks to real issues of today. Together in dialogue and storytelling the aim is to discover meaning and articulate a Christianity that expresses the liberating and life-giving message of the Gospel in our time. It sits so beautifully with the journey I and so many others are making
Links to the other published podcasts, and further information about this Cathedral project may be found here.
Some days I am staggered at how demented (I use the word advisedly) and upside-down our world is! Three of the greatest mental illnesses of our day, for example, are homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. How strange it is therefore that it the victims and survivors of them who are often tarred with the mental illness brush. Indeed it is not so long since being trans was listed worldwide as a mental ill-health condition and today there are still requirements of seeing psychologists and/or psychiatrists and/or other doctors for some treatments. Rarely however do we see calls for treatment for those who perpetrate such outrageous transphobic, biphobic and homophobic comments and actions. To some of them we even give status and attention, as leading politicians, religious and other cultural leaders. Increasingly therefore we need to continue to work on what, borrowing from Harry Potter imagery, we may call 'Defence Against the Dark Arts'. This, for me, is part of what is represented by IDAHOBIT (the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia), marked each year on 17 May. Our task together, on this and every day, is to call out the Dementors of our world and nurture the 'divine magic' of compassion and creativity in us all..
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…
It is appropriate that this year's Transgender Day of Visibility is also Holy Saturday in the Western Christian tradition. For Holy Saturday is easily passed over, sitting awkwardly as it does between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, between pain and joy, shame and liberation, death and new life. Yet those themes are central to the experiences and journeys of so many gender diverse people, and of course others. Indeed, reading and experiencing the Passiontide narrative and Paschal mysteries 'with transgender eyes' can shed positive new light on the Christian Gospel, as well as strengthening and deepening life for many of us. Like Holy Saturday, gender diverse people are easily regarded as awkward and passed over. However our own border crossing, interstitial, and boundary transforming existences are essential parts of the whole and powerful reminders that profound transformation typically appears in the threshold times, parts and people of our lives and world. This involves much, even deep, pain, but also tremendous hope and vitality...
Today's transgender visibility has not come out of the blue. It is not a modern fad but achieved through profound struggle. For gender diverse people have of course been found throughout history, but, throughout so much of Western 'civilisation', we have been forced underground. It is such a delight therefore to see the publication of a new book which tells the story of Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows. For it seeks to provide us with a comprehensive account of the landmark events which shaped the British transgender community over the last five decades, told through a series of essays by leading transgender people who have lived through this tumultuous time. It places our own struggles today in context, giving our individual lives a fuller, social, narrative. Crucially, it provides us with stories which allows us to appreciate and honour the extraordinary lives and efforts of those who have gone before us, upon whose giants' shoulders we stand. In doing so, it provides a more grounded encouragement and hope for the future...
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?...
I am writing as a member of a group of people who are often hidden and ignored in conversations about the relationship between LGBTI+ rights and ‘religious freedom’. For I am an openly transgender female Anglican priest, in duly regarded paid and active service in my religious community. Like other LGBTI+ people I experience the same needs for freedom and opportunity to love and serve. Yet I, and others like me (some whom have to hide publicly), also have to cope with being caught in the crossfire between certain types of LGBTI+ activism and reactionary Christian calls for greater ‘religious protection’. Often this debate is conducted without any reference to people like myself and measures are proposed which do not help our freedom or livelihoods. In writing, it is therefore my hope that the current Religious Freedom Review may pay proper attention to us and ensure that nothing is proposed which makes our often marginalised situation more problematic...
DLT has happily released a downloadable sample liturgy to publicise materials in the forthcoming book TransFaith and as a response to English church developments. At the same time, others have also been stirred to share or create as part of an increasing stream of life and love.. A good friend and fellow Brisbane Anglican colleague Cathy Laufer has for instance recently written a draft liturgy for a potential renaming ceremony for me, and other friends, like the St Brigid Community at Vancouver Anglican Cathedral, and one of The Sibyls (Christian transgender spirituality support group) leaders Susan Gilchrist, have also kindly shared their work with me - check out my prayer and worship resources section for several examples (and do let me know if you write your own!). There are many such seeds slowly beginning to germinate. It is good to see and a sign of the Holy Spirit moving afresh. For one of the sure indications of the Spirit moving is the renewing of prayer and worship in the light of new understandings and revaluing (especially of that which was been previously marginalised). This was striking during the campaign for women's ordination in which I was closely involved in England, and in other journeys of struggle which I have supported and been a part. So much creative, re-enlivening scholarship and imaginative prayer and worship emerges. A similar feature can now be seen among trans Christians and their allies as prayers, liturgies and other essential spiritual aids are emerging. Some of this is still a groaning of the Spirit, seeking expression. Yet it has a powerful, engaging, appeal. Even setbacks, like the recent Church of England bishops refusal to produce General Synod asked-for liturgy for trans affirmation, cannot hold it back. In fact, such controversies actually feed the Spirit! For these developments are grounded in the needs of God's children and the empowering of them to share their gifts more widely for the glory of God and the healing of others.
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: