Comments: General Synod: motions on Sexuality and Gender

Some questions, issues, comments on affirmation of trans people in church and church community:

1. If there is no theological consensus within the Church of England about the identity and status of trans people, is the Church in a position to commend official liturgical materials?


Is there, for example, a 'Unity in Diversity' approach that is viable here, allowing official liturgy for those churches that are willing to use it? Or will opposition imply that 'Unity in Diversity' is an unpalatable approach with regard to trans-affirming liturgies, as it is with regard to liturgies affirming gay relationships?


In short, 'what would the Bishop of Maidstone think'?

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 24 June 2017 at 7:20pm BST

Continuing my contributed thoughts of transition liturgy:

2. For the local church to affirm and bless a person's gender transition (or non-binary expression of identity) would undoubtedly offer profound encouragement and communal support for members of a marginal group, at the particularly vulnerable time when they embark on transition; and help make them feel comfortable and welcome when they come to church - a sense of belonging (and 'radical inclusion') in contrast to the hostility and abuse they may face on the street, at work, within family, or in the world at large.


Having said that, an individual's transition cannot just be about 'me, me, me' in reality: for example, transitioners often have partners, who may also go to the same church. These partners sometimes affirm the transition, but sometimes it will be the opposite: they will feel their own identity and sexuality has been publicly embarrassed and demeaned; they may not have signed up for a lesbian or a gay relationship; their sexual orientation may make continued partnership unconscionable; they may feel betrayed - 'why did you marry me in the first place?'; they may feel devastation and hurt; anxiety for their children; deep insecurity; anger; sadness. And in this pastoral context, a public liturgical affirmation, in their own church, of the transition they feel has violated them and pulled their lives inside out - may further make their lives feel ridiculed and subverted.


In these cases, is there a stronger case for private prayers and blessings for the trans person - or a blessing in a different church?

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 24 June 2017 at 7:32pm BST

Young trans people:

3. I am encountering more and more trans/gender-fluid young people in schools. For some this may lead to lifelong transition to an affirmed gender identity; for others it may be in a state of flux, reflecting gender fluidity; for a few, it may be an exploration, a passing phase, even a copycat fad. We need to tread carefully on a number of fronts. But we also need to act pastorally, aware of the huge isolation many LGBT people experience.


At what age should the Church consider celebrating and affirming a person's transition or gender identity, if at all?


Additionally, it is usually a matter of respect these days to acknowledge an individual's expressed gender identity by referring to them with congruent pronouns. What should be the Church's practice if parents are hostile to the young trans person's assertion of who they are and how they feel?

* * * * * *

The issue of marriage (tin foil hats on):

4. Is a person's gender psychological or genital? Should the Church's rules on marriage allow a trans woman with a vagina to marry a man? Or a woman? Or remain married to a man? or a woman? And what about a trans woman who does not have genital surgery, but who is also recognised in law as female, when they are awarded a Gender Recognition Certificate... the very Gender Recognition Certificate the Lord Bishops did not oppose and some of whom supported? Does a person's love and marriage suddenly become illicit in the Church when one of them transitions... even though they are still the same people who may have been married for years?


When a marriage becomes two women at the point of transition, or two men, is the Church of England willing to celebrate that transition, or does it get tangled up with the decades-long debates about marriage?

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 24 June 2017 at 7:47pm BST

Tina's whole article is fantastic and excellently informed and supported by literature and research. It deserves reading right to the end, if only to help the reader understand the predominant academic consensus in the medical and psychological communities, not to mention the NHS, the law, the police. Trans people are recognised as bona fide. They have societal standing today, even if they face hostility on the street. Being trans is rarely a 'lifestyle choice' - that is risible and uninformed: few people would choose to face street abuse, loss of jobs, refusal of housing, breakdown of family, isolation, marginalisation... just for the 'lifestyle' fun. Transition is often the resolution of deep psychological conflict, and the terrible dis-ease of incongruency between sex and gender. It can be a desperate storm to pass through, frightening and lonely. It is not simply a joyride. I've detailed some of the serious problems transition involves in the health context in this little academic piece here:


5. I was part of Chris Dowd's study of trans people and spirituality, which Tina Beardsley mentions. I really commend it. It is a raw and personal insight of the Christian trans experience. Many tears were shed in its production. We were invited to explore the spiritual dimensions of transition; the isolating impact if a church treated you as a doctrinal threat and biblical renegade; and the profound spiritual opening up to God that may accompany transition. In my own experience, opening up to my gender and opening up to God went hand in hand. Indeed, in the rawness and crisis of transition, I was thrown into the all-comforting, mothering, loving arms of God. The transition experience, in all its vulnerability and dependency, was a baptismal experience: of cutting loose, of storms on the open seas, of being held by God and dependent on God, of new life breaking free and bursting out, and deep peace and deep joy, most of all because of the company of God.


The God who is 'with us' in the storm. May more and more churches take the decision to be 'with us', alongside, and cogniscent that beyond all gender, a trans individual is a person - a person known and treasured by God and full of potential and calling.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 24 June 2017 at 8:09pm BST

And concluding:

6. In my opinion, although God may transcend gender, God also fully feels, understands, recognises gender in each person, in the opening up of who they are, and the liberation that comes from that - whether male, or female, or non-binary, or gender-fluid, or agender. God gets it all. In this context, gender identity is a profound part of 'who' many people are, pregnant with psychological unfurling, and need for expression; for fulfilment of who they are as people and recognition of who they can become.


Still faced with significant societal hostility and street abuse, there is a very strong case for the Church to take a lead in welcoming and recognising trans people - not telling them who they 'ought' to be, but listening to them, and openly loving them for who they discover they are, for their opening up, their gifts, and potential. For the Church to affirm a person's 'coming out' in the gender they have longed to confess, it is a shame if all it can offer is toleration. If it decides to act defensively, using only existent generic liturgy, I think it would fall short of the best that it could do. Rather, if there is to be liturgy, it would be better if it was warm, celebratory, affirming, recognising, full of hope and a future. A trans person can experience deep loneliness, despair, suicidal ideation; can be yelled at and abused; may be beaten up. And yet trans people are not there for pity: they are here for kinship, for co-existence, for service, for life.


Jesus walked alongside the socially marginalise. And a community of acceptance can offer a haven, a platform, a family - and start the shift from vulnerability and fear to flourishing and the works of love and grace.

Posted by Susannah Clark at Saturday, 24 June 2017 at 8:28pm BST

"Should the Church's rules on marriage allow a trans woman with a vagina to marry a man?"

If you simply equalise marriage such that any couple can marry, you don't have to have any rules about genitals: it simply doesn't matter. Two people say they love each other, take the vows of marriage, they are married. The end. It doesn't matter what their genitals, chromosomes, birth certificates or recognition certificates says: the love and the vows are the definition of marriage. It's only when you want to start discriminating against people that you need precise rules. Equality and openness is better.

Posted by Interested Observer at Sunday, 25 June 2017 at 11:16am BST

I have very belatedly discovered that an article was written in reply to King and Song, linked above, as long ago as 5 July. Although the debate to which it refers has now been held and the outcome known, I'm adding a link here for the sake of the historical record.
The article is written by Glyn Harrison and Andrew Goddard, and published here

Posted by Simon Sarmiento at Saturday, 15 July 2017 at 9:09pm BST
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