One of my great theological heroes is Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, who sadly died recently. Virginia was such an inspiration to me over the years - beginning from when I was ridiculed by male students at theological college for promoting her landmark book on the Divine Feminine - apparently they couldn’t think of ‘images of women’ except pornographically (and ours was a ‘liberal’ college)! Later, her work Omnigender, and her own gender identity journey, was important in my own realisation of my authentic gender. In this short video she speaks of aspects of her feminist journey, as she accepts the first Mother Eagle Award (to the 2017 Gay Christian Network Conference). The Mother Eagle Award is presented jointly by Christian Feminism Today and the Gay Christian Network to honour women who have taken the lead in courageously advocating for LGBTQIA equality in Christianity (for more information, please visit https://eewc.com/mother-eagle-award/.)
Virginia's message is an enduring one which I strongly echo:
‘Please, please, transcend your fear. Work with me and the cosmic Mother Eagle in the creation of social justice, stirring up our best, fluttering over our young, and spreading our broad wings’
I'm hugely grateful to Dr John Wallace, film-maker Rachel Lane and her wonderful team, for bringing to fruition the short documentary Faithfully Me, sharing part of the stories of myself and Rhett Pearson as transgender people of faith living into our authentic selves. This was shown on ABC Compass on 24 May, and is available on iView here until 23 June, and afterwards will be shared by Equal Voices and others on YouTube and through other channels. We hope it will be a blessing to many, sharing further light and understanding, and affirming gender diverse people in churches and wider society. In this project I am particularly grateful as ever for the support of my wife, the Revd Penny Jones (who also shares some of her journey with me in the film), and friends and colleagues from St Francis College & St John's Cathedral in Brisbane (both of which, by kind permission respectively of the College Principal and Dean, were part of the locations filmed).
I first formally joined the (UK) Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in 1990, the year that the World Health Organisation removed homosexuality from the Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems, and IDAHOBIT - the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Interphobia & Transphobia - began. May 17 (IDAHOBIT) marks the anniversary of that significant WHO change, and since then considerable advances have been made by LGBTIQ people across the world and in many key sectors of life. The original gay and lesbian focus has also been widened and deepened to acknowledge the rich diversity of human sexuality and gender: IDAHOBIT thus started as IDAHO, without bisexual, intersex and transgender engagement, just as the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, to which I still belong, has broadened as One Body One Faith. The need for IDAHOBIT is still nonetheless massively apparent, particularly in many countries of the world. Under the cover of the COVID-19 crisis, some, such as Hungary and Poland, are also moving backwards in respect and affirmation. In countries such as Australia, understanding and support of bisexual, intersex and transgender people still lags behind progress for gay and lesbian people. As the International Day reaches 30 years old however, it is also a time for appropriate celebration of remarkable positive developments in so many places and areas of life. When, and how, however will Churches, and other religious groups grow up to their own mature humanity, 'to the measure of the full stature of Christ' (as Ephesians 4.13 puts it)?...
This photo was taken, earlier this year, from my bed of healing in a delightful unit in St Kilda (Melbourne). I had just had genital reconstruction surgery, thanks to the excellent skills of Andy Ives and his wonderful team at the nearby Masada Hospital, and I was in my first stages of recovery 'at home'. When the night's darkness began to lift, the new light of day brought this beautiful dawn. My eyes opened to the glorious gift of nature's renewal, and, with it, to the wonder of human participation in the joy of existence and work of re-creation. For across the sky, just above the treeline, floated a series of hot air balloons, beautiful expressions of fresh lightness and delight (you may just be able to spot two of them in the photo - as small circles to the left of the centre of the light, adjacent to the word alleluia). At the same time, the sunrise further gorgeously illuminated the cranes working on the building of the exciting development of the Victorian Pride Centre, visible a couple of streets away across the rooftops.
This experience was, as might be imagined, for me, a vision and harbinger of resurrection. It did not take away the struggles I was going through. The surgery itself was very successful, and there was not a subsequent shred of regret - so much the reverse, with deeper inner peace. Yet the days ahead also saw pain and discomfort, particularly with an awkward infection and a slow completion of healing due to sensitive skin (part of the joy of being a particular kind of natural redhead?!). The wider struggles of gender & sexually diverse people are also hardly over, despite such welcome living symbols of resurrection as the Pride Centre. Yet that dawn was not only a moment of special grace, but also a deep sign of hope and loving transformation, not simply for myself but for so much else about which I care. For resurrection, at least in this life and time space, is always betwixt and between...
One of the reasons I was happy to be part of the trans faith film Faithfully Me (premiered tonight) was film maker Rachel Lane's track record of assisting in sharing the voices of other typically marginalised groups, not least Aboriginal ones. For one of the challenging invitations of our time is nurturing intersectional relationships which enable justice and fullness of life for all - for too many, otherwise very necessary, 'identity' struggles are weakened by restricted commitments and groups which tend only to include their own kind. Over the years, many Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander leaders have pointed me to a better way, supporting the needs and hopes of others even, at a cost, when their own are so outstanding. We 'progressive' white folk haven't always reciprocated well.
Here, below, is a little excerpt from Secret & Sacred, an example of Rachel's earlier work, a glimpse of the deep wisdom of the Badjatala people (whitefella Hervey Bay & Fraser (K'Gari) Island region), but a snippet of the neglected ancient but very much living wisdom of this land. With particular thanks to Glenn Loughrey and Dianne Langham, Canon Bruce Boase, and Aunty Rose Elu for their continuing personal inspiration to me in sharing solidarity - and to other friends, like Tony Robertson and Johnny Valkyrie, who respond so beautifully and model how the liberation of any of us is entwined with the liberation of us all. This is so absolutely contrary to today's right-wing 'religious freedom' push, and central to authentic catholic faith, as so powerfully expressed in John Donne's Meditation 17: for the bells which toll, toll for us all. The chimes of freedom - human rights and flourishing - are indivisible - so let's ring out our different bells in a harmony of joy :-)
Timing eh? If I were a comedian I’d be sacked! Sadly, I’m not able to be physically present, although this premiere is so much on my heart tonight. Unfortunately, this clashes with leave that Penny and I had planned over a year ago, with some special family commitments. However, this film is truly timely, speaking something of the 'word' that is transgender people of faith's gift to church and world...
Beyond Religious Privilege and Segregation: Becoming Good Neighbours as LGBTIQA+ and religious Australians together
Sometimes Parliament is seen as a soap opera. If only it were! For though it remains so white and suburban, even TV’s Neighbours has just included a transgender character. It is a positive sign of the times but makes recent political developments all the more incongruous. For whilst the wonderful Georgie Stone enlivens Erinsborough High, in politics a green light is being given to repression. Why are we rushing towards religious discrimination laws when we’ve not yet even sorted our schools issues? So the question I want to pose is this: what kind of neighbours do we want to be as Australians together?
Current parliamentary discussion is failing trans people - not least those of faith - in both process and specific proposals. Hence Equal Voices calls for postponement, into at least the middle of next year, to enable genuine consultation with those who will bear the greatest cost. The proposed Religious Discrimination Bill is a move towards enshrining disturbing forms of religious privilege and segregation which can only corrode our pluralist culture...
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 remember vividly the day Elton John came to my little town. It was like a breath of life from another planet. For, let's face it, in Market Rasen, it was akin to a hundred big events in one, but with unprecedented glitter. Indeed, in the 19th century, Charles Dickens said that you could fire a cannon down the main street at 10 pm on a Saturday evening and you wouldn't hit anyone. Not much has changed, even now. Sadly Elton didn't stop to say hello to the little kid I was. He still left an impact though, just as his songs were an integral part of the soundtrack of my youth. For Elton was in Rasen for a wedding of Bernie Taupin, his close friend and lyricist. Bernie was, in part, 'one of us' - born a Lincolnshire 'yella belly', spending part of his own upbringing locally, and attending Market Rasen Secondary Modern School. Some of Bernie's lyrics reflect this, including the song 'Saturday NIght's Alright for Fighting' (partly an anthem to the experience of the Aston Arms and other places of Market Rasen 'entertainment'). Linking up with Elton was Bernie's way out, and maybe, somewhere in my consciousness, their story was a promise of an alternative pathway for myself and my childhood friends. Was stepping on 'the Yellow Brick Road' possible for us too? The concluding tour of Elton's career, and the release of the film Rocketman brings this back. There's much I owe to this influence - particularly in learning, so slowly and painfully, to sing 'Your Song' as my own song...
Trans Spirit Flourishing is the name of a new website I have produced, which seeks to shed light on transgender life & spiritual understanding and to help develop support and encouragement for trans people in our varied journeys. For spirituality is essential to human beings but we have often used it ignorantly.
The unnecessary and deeply hurtful Australian postal survey on marriage equality has sadly demonstrated how many Christians are still not aware of the devastating damage which has been done and which continues to be inflicted on LGBTI+ people by ideas and practices which we desperately need to leave behind. As a result the deep spiritual life and insights of so many LGBTI+ people is often neglected. For transgender and gender nonconforming people this is a particular tragedy as our journeys are so much bound up with exploring and expressing our deepest identities. Things are changing however, even if some of us will no doubt continue to bear the pain of the struggle. Trans spiritual flourishing for some sections of religious faiths may never happen, but who knows - God is amazing in surprises! However trans spirit flourishing can begin, or develop further, right and here and now, for everyone .
My hope is that this resource can add, and point, to sources of light and encouragement - both, and above all, for those struggling with gender identity themselves, and for allies and those genuinely seeking understanding.
We are living through challenging times, with many demanding issues of ecology, reconciliation, peacemaking, poverty, and care for refugees and other vulnerable people. Gender diversity has so often been a battlefield. May we make of it a source of grace for the larger journey of healing and wholeness for all.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.