A short video reflection for the Trans Day of Visibility (31 March)
Hi, I’m Josephine - an Anglican priest in Brisbane and a transgender woman.
Visibility for me is a sacrament of transformation, with three particular aspects to it.
First of all, it’s about displaying the glorious diversity of life and creation, particularly in trans people: that we are fearfully and wonderfully made - just like me.
Secondly, it’s about dispelling the fear and the shame and the pain that often gender diverse people experience, and that’s through the power of love, beginning with loving ourselves.
And thirdly, it’s about dispersing that love, dispersing, giving that light to others so that the darkness of others can dissipate.
So may that power of visibility create and redeem and enlighten all people this day, and in the future - a blessing for all.
Recently I created a 're-membering' blessing ritual for a transgender female who was approaching genital reconstruction surgery. It was custom-made, reflecting aspects of her character and spirituality, not least her commitment to feminist transformation and Celtic spirituality Not all of it may therefore suit others. With her agreement, I offer it however - download a PDF copy here, or see the liturgy below - as a contribution to the development and encouragement of others. I also warmly invite constructive correspondence on this subject. For it is right and proper to mark vital thresholds in our lives as times of spiritual transformation - a point beautifully expressed by John O'Donohue in one quotation used in this liturgy. It is to the great shame of most received institutional spiritual forms that they have been so slow, or actively unwilling, to respond to such needs and joys. Such spiritual intentionality is a gift and invitation to fuller life, both for the person at the centre and for everyone else involved (as our group of friends who were involved in this liturgy experienced)
This particular ritual employs Christian themes and language in a contemporary framework, using and adapting other helpful resources. Such readings are examples and may of course be replaced by others more suitable. A key element is re-membering: the re-membering involved in the honouring of time and change (past, present and future), relationships, and the body (personal, communal and ecclesial), As such, as on the particular occasion of its use, an eucharistic celebration is also appropriate. This ritual also owes considerable inspiration to Jewish transgender ritual, particularly in the use of water - for whilst the mikveh, as a feature of significant Jewish transgender reflection, cannot be simply adopted by others, it points us towards depths of mystery and meaning. Other readings, such as those which speak of the transformative powers and thresholds of water within Christian scripture, might also be creatively employed.. A further element to be considered are appropriate colours, fabrics and symbols, including those which reflect the senses, In this case, reflecting Celtic connections, it was helpful to use candle lights and (en)circling. The ritual thus took place with friends gathered in a circle, later around a table for the eucharist, and, for the main part, around a deliberately placed rug. As the photo here shows, this represented a form of mandala, the different layers of a person's past and continuing journey, and ripples or waves of life and love surrounding and enfolding them. At the centre, as a focal point and for the washing, was an 'imperfect' bowl, deliberated shaped as such, representing the nature of creation and the transgender (and every human) life and body. For, like the work of creation, salvation and resurrection as a whole, we are sculptured by grace, which seeks not false ideals of perfection but ever new flourishing through love and healing. With my particular thanks to those who shared in this ceremony and every blessing to others on re-membering pathways. The liturgy follows below (click on Read More below the photo), or is downloadable here...
As we begin a new year, the need for a renewing transforming spirituality is ever more evident, particularly in the face of much 'traditional' religion which continues to choose death over life. One expressive icon is that of the dragonfly, which, literally and metaphorically, I have personally encountered richly recently. For dragonflies are extraordinary creatures. No wonder they have become powerful symbols for transgender people. The picture above is thus a little creation of mine from a silent retreat I took in December, pointing to some expressive elements for everyone.. For whilst these have particular resonance for transgender people, they can also speak helpfully to others, as and when we open ourselves to more life-giving spiritual pathways for our communities and planet...
'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 speak today as both a proud member of our LGBTIQA+ community, and also as a dedicated person of faith, indeed as an Anglican priest. I do so, because people like me are typically erased, our lives and voices ignored. Yet we queer people of faith do exist! - and we are increasingly seeking to be visible. For our very existence gives lie to the monstrous misuse of religion for political ends. We suffer particularly profoundly from religious discrimination. We do not want religious exemptions which hurt us and others, and betray the heart of who we are. We also know that the majority of our fellow Australians of faith agree with us, as we saw in that dreadful postal survey. So we’ve tried to lobby, spoken to Government inquiries, sought to be part of desperately needed change. Yet, as queer people of faith, our rights to religious expression are seldom recognised...
I've loved kaleidoscopes since I was a child. The first time I looked into one I felt my eyes were opened to so many new possibilities. For, in the days before computers and digital design, they were the nearest thing to re-shaping and re-colouring a child's world. Telescopes, and microscopes, could be fun too, but kaleidoscopes were the real magic. After all, a telescope, or microscope, can help focus, examination and perspective, but a kaleidoscope opens up the imagination. Whereas a telescope, or microscope, is essentially binary, and, at best, three dimensional, a kaleidoscope is full of changing elements. A telescope, or microscope, can indeed also disclose amazing aspects of the heavens or the tiniest details of life. A kaleidoscope however can open up the soul, nurturing engaged wonder in the interaction of eye and hand, and the power of human creation in the play of perception and desire, In other words, In its glistening, altering patterns and creative transitions, it can become an icon of spirituality, constantly re-defining identity. It is, if you like, a symbol and means of transfiguration. For a little child like me, knowing I was different, it certainly helped me sense that the world could be much more diverse and colourful than the bounds of simplistic explanation offered. It also encouraged me to realise that, as with a kaleidoscope, I might come to change the patterns of my world, and perhaps even - who knows how - my own body into a more glorious expression...
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...
There is much more than property at stake in current Sydney Anglican developments, For ultimately, suppression and distortion of the mind and soul is so much more destructive than that of the body. This is a transgender truth which continues to be violated in so much conservative and fundamentalist Christianity. Much response has thus, rightly, been made to legal, property based, moves by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney to repress religious freedom within its ranks. This includes suppression of what its leadership has termed, but not defined, as 'transgender ideology'. Yet, in its 'Gender Diversity Initial Principles of Engagement' it brings forward its own transgender ideology this week. This, and the guidelines it proposes (outlined on pages 68-73 of its Standing Committee's Annual Report), represent a powerful, but not to some immediately obvious, attack upon gender diverse people, their families and friends. For whilst it is laced with language about compassion, it is a typical master of misdirection, based on outdated understandings and a priori convictions about gender diversity and its relationship to human, not least spiritual, growth. It displays little or no meaningful engagement with the expertise of those engaged in enabling gender diverse people to flourish, never mind the lived experience of transgender people as a whole (even the increasingly visible and articulate gender diverse Anglicans and Christians) themselves. It reflects a form of misapplied compassion; caged in narrow, false and controlling 'biblical' preconceptions; seemingly wholly ignoring the realities and insights of intersex and non-binary people in particular; and essentially treating gender diverse people as sick, broken and disabled from knowledge or agency of their own health and freedom. Such views are not those of the Sydney Anglican diocese alone but widespread in certain types of vocal Christianity and in broader society. Codified as they are in the Sydney diocese's work however, they offer a disturbing model of practice which will not only harm the lives of gender diverse people within the diocese's own reach but, if taken up elsewhere, will have negative effect more widely. As a potential vehicle of spiritual abuse, it thus demands critique, opposition, and transformation into something wholesome.
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: