What does remembering mean for gender diverse people and the body of Christ? I ask that question because, on this All Saints Day, we begin a period of remembrance in both church and world: not least of saints, heroes and role models; of loved ones departed; of the destruction of war; and (in the Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20 November) of transgender and gender diverse people murdered across the globe. My sense is that these things are not unconnected and that they come together because (whatever kind of spirituality we have) all human beings need some dedicated time and space in the cycles of the seasons to engage in what is the 'sacred' task of re-membering. November works, globally, for us all in this: for in the southern hemisphere it marks the drawing to the close of the working year and, in the northern, it marks the coming of the darkness of winter. Not for nothing have human beings also traditionally begun preparing for a mid or end of year festival of light and celebration (known variously but to most today as Christmas). To do that properly however - particularly where death, violence, loss, grief and/or family separation are still real - we need to re-member. So what truths, healing and fresh purpose are we seeking to affirm, and receive, in this, as gender diverse people?...
I deliberately use the word re-membering in its hyphenated form because a true holy remembrance is far more than cementing an existing myth or identity, never mind simply not forgetting, For genuine re-membering helps enable active redemption and recreation. This is vital for those who are suffering, oppressed or marginalised in any way. Re-membering means that we - and our often troubling and uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and experiences are recognised, honoured, and provided with possibilities of reconciliation. These things, which can continue to eat away at our very bodies, lives and world, are not forgotten but made sources of potential transfiguration. We are no longer dis-membered, dis-located, and dis-morphic. We are made whole.
The significance of re-membering for transgender and other gender diverse people is huge. It involves immense challenges. For to recall past and present hurts can be incredibly painful, particularly when these are so obviously and intimately bound up with our bodies and deepest identities. Understandably, many transgender people therefore prefer not to recollect past aspects of their lives and relationships. It may indeed be poisonous to do so, destructive of health and even life itself. We are wise to seek safe space and company in all we do, not least in remembrance. That is also part of why it is so important for gender diverse people to be known by our own names and pronouns and not those which were assigned to us which may bear memories of profound pain and alienation. Yet each of us, as part of the working out of our own salvation, needs to find times and means of re-integration which leads to wholeness. This is part of our soul making and renewal.
Some of what re-membering involves is simply letting go. This is part of what the practice of forgiveness offers us. We cannot change what we have or have not been. Nor should we disregard the hurts and hates which have been inflicted upon us. Yet we can enable them not to hold us in unnecessary continuing captivity, in order that we can be what we are called to be. For forgiveness is a central spiritual pathway to flourishing. We begin with acknowledging and forgiving ourselves, in order that, as we are touched by the deep source of compassion and transformation within us, we can be freed to live more lovingly with all that we are: with our selves; with our past, our present and our possibilities; with others who love us, and with those others who will cross our paths. In doing so, re-membering is thus about re-creating our lives. Indeed, if it connects with the often 'hidden history' of those who have gone before us, and the stories of liberation in faith and world, then it draws upon the 'subversive memory' which can set us free, In doing so, we are literally and metaphorically, re-shaping our bodies and lives into peace and joy, rather than pain and dislocation.
Almost all of Jesus' healing miracles were about overcoming the dis-memberment human beings experience in different ways. For illness or distress are not simply, or even often primarily, physical realities happening to individuals in discrete physical bodies. They are typically, and vitally, also social realities. Thus, for many transgender people, to suffer gender dysphoria is not simply to feel alienated from our own body and its members. It is also to experience alienation and dis-memberment from the other bodies to which we belong: be they the bodies, and their members, of families, social groupings, and society as a whole. True holy re-membering is thus about being recreated, restored and renewed. It is not an act, but a process, in which events such as the Transgender Day of Remembrance can play their part.
So how might the wider Body of Christ respond? Two important things come to mind. Firstly, the wider Body of Christ needs to begin to find better ways to offer accompaniment to gender diverse people in our re-membering, recognising that what we do in this is truly holy work. This might include participation in, and hosting of, events on the Transgender Day of Remembrance on 20 November, and in the Transgender Week of Awareness which precedes it - not, it has to be said, as token or one-off occasions, but as specific moments in the spiritual journey of transformation for everyone. For, secondly, and most vitally of all, the wider Body of Christ might reflect, and take action, on its own dis-membering: its own dis-connection and dis-connecting of its members, potential members and life. The reasons for the increasingly feelings of dys-phoria felt by Christians and others towards the institutional Body of Christ, in most of its different denominational manifestations, are increasingly glaringly obvious. Re-membering the Body of Christ, in that sense, is an urgent imperative. As the prominent former Baptist pastor and counsellor Matt Glover observed (in his recent powerful address to the Equal Voices national gathering in Sydney), the Christian Church, as a whole, is in desperate need of developing inclusion (what I would term re-memberment), but this involves a more profound transformation which it cannot bring about itself. It requires re-membering LGBTI+, and all the suffering and marginalised, people with whom it struggles. For it is in the re-membering that LGBTI+, and other suffering and marginalised, people offer that the Body of Christ may itself find greater forgiveness, healing and life.
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: