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.
Isn't it amazing how, even though we may not knowingly prepared for it, we can often enter a space set aside for intentional spiritual growth and be caught up, affirmed and transformed by it? This was again my experience this week as I put the finishing touches to a new website I am creating - which will share something of the growing spiritual resources and reflections being produced by transgender Christians across the world, together with others of my own. Focused on thoughts of this, I made my way to the beautiful Chapel of the Holy Spirit here on our college site. What I encountered brought fresh joy to my soul, placing in greater profile and context the purpose of that work. For it was a powerful reminder to me, as a transgender person, not only that, in the words of Psalm 139, I am 'fearfully and wonderfully made', but that all of us, whoever and whatever we are, exist in a mystery which is both far beyond our understanding (certainly more than straightforward binary ideas of good and evil, male and female) and yet also closer to us than the identities we have or for which we struggle. Such is the gift of loving spiritual intention, in people, place and prayer...
A great deal of my life has been spent as a border crosser, on so many levels A number of factors have no doubt given rise to this, including life contexts and personality. It is also however a key element in being both a priest and a transgender person. Much has been written about this from the point of view of priesthood. Whether lay or ordained, all Christians also share in the ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5.17-20 and elsewhere). Yet perhaps one of the under-recognised gifts of transgender people is the capacity many of us have to work across the borders of identity and difference. After all, we have to negotiate this more than most in our very selves. No wonder that, across the world's cultures, gender variant people have therefore always exercised sacred roles as priests, mediators, go-betweens, and other reconciling figures, in so many aspects of human existence. No wonder too that some like myself have been drawn into Christian priesthood and border crossing work as a means of finding life for ourselves and others, even when our own transgender identities have been outwardly submerged or suppressed. As transgender people become more visible and accepted as equal and positive contributors to human life, it will be lovely to see such ministries increasingly more explicitly affirmed, celebrated and nurtured. To be a border crosser, whatever your gender identity, is typically both an uncomfortable but wonderfully rewarding vocation. So if you are, or know, a border crosser, say a prayer and raise a glass of cheer and comfort! We are vital, for ourselves and for others. As Kathy Galloway put it, in a favourite poem of mine (entitled 'Cross-border peace talks'), it is a holy place to be:
Better late than never? Today I am coming out fully as a transgender person. It has been a lifelong journey to this point and I am sure there are more struggles to come of a different nature. Tonight however I feel the deepest sense of joy and freedom - like that of Paul in his letter to the Galatians (more reflections about that and other wonderful trans affirming parts of the Bible and Christian Tradition in due course) - and I know that I now stand more clearly in the imperishable image of God in which I am created. I feel greatly blessed by this moment and all who have inspired, gone before, supported and/or stood by me. Thank you to anyone reading this who has been part of that :-) For my coming out has profound spiritual dimensions for me which I believe are sources of healing, strength and renewal for us all. Like my little grandchild cradled in my arms in the photograph (see left) I feel more intimately part of God's 'new creation', a little child cradled in the love of God.
Below is the letter sent (with the kind support of my archbishop) to my fellow clergy today in the Anglican Church Southern Queensland, together with just a few resources which may help our mutual understanding and growth. Together with the archbishop and my college principal, my loving partner and I pondered and prayed hard about the best way to share my news, aware both of the current contrasting levels of knowledge and care in our churches and also seeking a path of healthy transparency without causing unnecessary reactions in some quarters. I therefore hope and pray that this may be part of our continuing journeys into wholeness and joyful life for us all...
This week I received an email from a lawyer and Anglican working for the human rights of LGBTI people in Jamaica. It was a reminder of how far we still have to travel together as a world and of the urgent need for solidarity. Whatever other differences they may have, Anglican world leaders have frequently called on governments to decriminalise private consensual same-gender intimacy and this is surely something all Anglicans must seriously consider supporting actively, for example in signing the following online petition here...
Lovely this week to receive copies of the recent book 'This is my body: hearing the theology of transgender Christians'- a welcome boost for transgender Christians (and for transgender people in general in changing awareness). Edited by Anglican priest and hospital chaplain Christina Beardsley and writer, lecturer and advocate Michelle O'Brien, this includes contributions from many associated with Sibyls, the UK based confidential spirituality group for transgender people & allies. It marks an important step forward for visibility of transgender Christians and transforming Christian negativity. For as another notable Anglican transgender priest, Rachael Mann, puts it, this 'announces the growing confidence of trans Christians and our refusal to be treated as second-class and welcome under sufferance.' Of course there is a long way to go, but it is an insightful and readable contribution to the journey.
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.