Everyone can benefit from life-giving spiritual practices. This is no less true for transgender people who are typically bombarded from birth with stories and socialisation and destructive spirituality which can wreak havoc upon health and fruitfulness. For healthy spiritual practices enable us to let go of false illusions and to find the true ground of our being and becoming. They can alleviate stress and anxiety, help dissipate or manage fear (real and imagined), and give us a deep sense of love, peace, confidence and joy. They help us find and develop our love and identity, providing rhythm, balance and purpose to our lives. They assist us in flourishing. For, as John O'Donohue observed, 'each of us is an artist of our days': something transgender people again may know and need to realise more than most.
the hard reality of spiritual betrayal
No one spiritual path fits everyone and it is helpful to have others to accompany us on the journey - this is a major reason for the creation and existence of faith communities, which is why it is so devastating when they betray their purpose by denial, fear and even hate, towards transgender people and our realities. My experience in sharing with other transgender people is that there is therefore considerable reluctance among many of us, even active dislike, about considering many traditional patterns and vehicles of spiritual life - such has been the pain, shame, rejection and violence inflicted by much organised religion. That is a hard truth many people of faith are yet to receive, never mind to respond properly. It means that many transgender people will, understandably, find themselves seeking other less traditional spiritual paths.
Fortunately there are spaces we can find - within and beyond organised spiritual and religious channels - which can enable us better to deal with our pain, struggles and grief; find joy, peace and deeper fulfilment; and, generally, experience something of what Christians call the grace and love of God.
Here are a few pathways which are often of assistance...
Finding out true self and true voice - prayer and meditation We do not, of course, need a religious institution to pray to and/or with the source of our being. All we really need to know is that we are loved - more than we can ever know - and that, as we let go of our hurts and hates we can be transformed by 'amazing grace'. Certain techniques of course can also then help when we grasp that... * Simply sitting still and learning to breathe freely - harder than it sounds, it is true! - is immensely cleansing and renewing. Some like to let go of pain and heartache as they breathe out, and breathe in peace, love and strength as they inhale. Others like to recite a sacred or beloved word which can help centre us in unconquerable love and peace. * Singing a song or a simple chant can also be life-giving (indeed, St Augustine of Hippo called singing 'praying twice', such can be its impact), alone or with others (a powerful way of connecting and finding solidarity - check out some of the great Pride Choirs around for instance) - and for trans people literally owning our voice can be a great challenge: see the wonderful work of the Trans Choir of Los Angeles below,.. * Using candles, icons, incense, or other prayer aids, can be helpful to provide focus and a space for the Spirit to work * Reading and reflecting can be greatly enriching - which is why people of faith use sacred scriptures
Movement and the arts A particularly powerful source of healing and discovery for transgender people is movement. For where bodies can be problematic, using them creatively can bring fresh embodiment and joy. Dance and drama can be particularly effective, as I know from my own experience and that of other transgender people. Walking labyrinths or making pilgrimages (ancient or modern) can have similar recuperative effects. Meanwhile the arts in general are splendid sources and vehicles of spiritual healing and growth - perhaps for this reason, partly as a means of pent-up expression and of living somewhat 'slant' to others lives, we find many talented transgender people with a variety of wonderful gifts in arts, media and wider creative public life.
Spiritual communities Today we are blessed by so many different options of spiritual community which offer options for transgender people. Check out some of these among the affirming religious groups I highlight elsewhere on this website. In recent times I have also been supported and encouraged wonderfully by a range of different communities (including the Metropolitan Community Church Quakers and some of my Anglican communities locally and across the world). Sometimes these have been well established communities. Sometimes they have needed to be purposely created. What is essential is that they are 'safe spaces' for all. It is a very bumpy journey but my sense, as this website attests, is that progress is slowly being made in many quarters. In the meanwhile, trans support groups are often 'little churches' in the very best sense of those words.
Spiritual accompaniers Sometimes known as 'spiritual directors', there are gifted people who can accompany us in our spiritual journeys. However we may find others who can be 'soul friends' to us - sometimes people we might least expect! Again, perhaps we may need to open our eyes and our ears to surprising people - just as historic religious groups might find that trans people may often be precisely the 'soul friends' they need.