cradled in God's love - becoming more truly who I am: a transgender female priest
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...
Saturday 22 July 2017
(feast of St Mary Magdalene)
I am writing to tell you about a matter that is essentially personal but will result in some changes in my life and ministry. You may have noticed some alterations in my appearance over the last few months and it is now time to explain what is going on.
I am a transgender person. I have always been so. However I have fought this reality for most of my life and have done my very best to make my life work with my male-assigned body and roles. In particular, I tried to bury my true sense of self when I came to Australia 16 years ago, pouring my energies into rebuilding life, relationships, work, and, crucially, the health of my then ailing family. Alas, despite many outward joys, my inner discomfort only increased over time, and, after Easter last year, I entered into expert counselling to explore my options.
With the support of a specialist GP and a leading psychologist in this field, I was soon diagnosed with gender dysphoria, the treatment for which includes psychotherapy, hormonal treatments and/or various surgeries. Accordingly, following the established best practice, I have been working through treatment guidelines and their implications. At the same time, alongside the challenges, my spiritual life has deepened and my theological personal and pastoral understanding has been greatly enriched.
Outside of work, I have been increasingly living as a female and confiding in family and close friends. I am in the process of changing my name on all official documents to Josephine McDonnell Inkpin and my driving licence will show me as female. Throughout I have had the unstinting love of my wife Penny, who has shared this journey most positively from very early in our happy marriage and with whom I have grown even closer in this process over recent months.
The bishops and senior leaders in the Anglican Church Southern Queensland have been very supportive and have assisted in arrangements for enabling my public recognition of gender. I therefore plan to begin working as Josephine (Jo for short) from this time on. It is a huge delight to be able to take this step towards personal wholeness whilst staying in a ministry which is so rewarding. Indeed, I know that this will help make me a better priest and I hope that you will find me less distracted and more content. This process entails a gradual evolution, rather than an abrupt change. I am also an older person so changes are less dramatic. You can however expect to notice some increasing physical changes to my face and body, and to other aspects such as voice. I want to reassure you that I will still be the person you have worked with and known. This means you can still count on my professionalism throughout my transition journey. Please realise that this has been a difficult path for me to walk, and I truly appreciate the support you provide.
Some of you may not understand the changes I am undertaking. I will be happy to answer questions or direct you to additional information. Some of you may even not approve of what I am doing and you have that right. The likely varied response of myvery large family of the Church and other wonderful groups of which I have been a part has indeed weighed heavily upon me for too many years. Our generation is also involved in a sea change in understanding these issues and I am very conscious of the confusion this might cause some. However our calling is to the truth which will set us all free and I have to come to believe strongly that being who I am will bring great healing to all, not least those who are struggling desperately to find meaning and value in their own gender journeys. Indeed it has been a great blessing to me to be in direct personal contact with other Christian transgender priests and lay people across the world in recent weeks, and to be encouraged by the recent affirmation of transgender people by the General Synod of the Church of England in which I was born and nurtured, baptised, confirmed and ordained. Whatever we feel, may we treat one another with essential human respect as these are ultimately holy things we handle.
Henceforth I ask therefore that you call me Josephine, or Jo, and use female pronouns (she, her) when referring to me. I know this will take a little time to get used to, and I know that mistakes will happen at first. All I ask is that we respect with respect and care for each other as we continue to share God’s journey together.
Some resources related to transgender people
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care available at this link, addresses psychological, scientific, and medical issue. These Standards are supported by the major bodies active in transgender care in Australia, including the Australian Psychological Association - see the APA's transgender affirmation here
The Transsexual Person is my Neighbour: Pastoral Guidelines for Christian Clergy, Pastors and Congregations. Brighton: Gender Trust by the Revd Christina Beardsley, a former hospital chaplain and one of the first Anglican priests to transition in 2001
This is my body: hearing the theology of transgender Christians, edited by Beardsley, C., & M. O’Brien, (2016), Darton, Longman & Todd, London a recent book produced by the Sibyls - a Christian transgender spirituality and support group.
Changing Channels? A Christian Response to the Transvestite and Transsexual, by David Horton (1994), Grove Books, Nottingham. Available to download for a small cost here.
Dazzling Darkness: Gender, sexuality, illness and God. by Canon Rachael Mann, Wild Goose, Glasgow. Autobiographical, theological reflections by a poet-priest who is also a trans woman.
Out of the Box - http://www.integrityusa.org/ootb -- a short documentary, with study guide
Changing Sex: transsexuality and Christian Theology by Helen Savage - which devotes a section to exploring biblical texts and how we might read them.
and the engaging short documentary Out of the Box, produced for the Episcopal Church of America (Anglican) for its own reflections and support of transgender people. This is also available for viewing on YouTube and here below...
23/7/2017 03:34:37 am
Dear Josephine and Penny. Thank you both for your honesty, courage love and your care for each other. It was a real pleasure to meet you both recently and I know for myself and on behalf of the Sibyls that our best wishes and support for you both will always be present in your journeys of life
23/7/2017 03:39:08 pm
Thanks so much Susan - meeting you and other Sibyls members was a great joy and encouragement - thank you again for your wonderful work and presence
23/7/2017 03:00:50 pm
My friend Deborah posted your weblog. I am writing to say Thankyou for this gift to many , being open and letting others know some of your life story. I am heartened that the Anglican Church has been encouraging and supportive. As with a great moral test, 'What would Jesus have done?' Just this I am sure.
23/7/2017 05:23:15 pm
Congratulations and Thank You! There is so much I want to say to offer encouragement, peace, love. But, you offer it all so much more expansively - I find that I am receiving God's infinite love.
24/7/2017 05:56:42 pm
Thanks Johnathan - I have (gradually!) learned so much from others too and discovered how, as my spiritual director puts it, 'God's gaze' is so gentle, loving and undemanding. So many people and so much of us still live as if 'God's glare' (demand, law, judgement etc) is real. No need to hide from mercy?
24/7/2017 05:07:08 am
24/7/2017 06:00:45 pm
Thanks so much Dorothy
24/7/2017 05:22:17 am
You know Josephine that as your Uncle and God father, I have always been so proud of you and your life I am even more proud now Thank you for making this tortuous journey and the witness it is to us all You, Penny and all the family are much in our thoughts and prayers We love you very much David
24/7/2017 03:42:22 pm
24/7/2017 06:02:22 pm
Thanks Ann-Maree - those early days at the NCCA (and I remember your kindness in the very first days) were amazing for me
24/7/2017 04:33:36 pm
Dear Josephine and Penny,
24/7/2017 05:58:50 pm
Thanks Ben :-) Paddington Uniting Church also has some wonderful memories for me - please do so with my love and thanks too
24/7/2017 05:56:27 pm
Megan O'Hara Sullivan
24/7/2017 10:08:11 pm
All the best Jo. I hope people treat you with the dignity and respect you have always shown to others.
24/7/2017 11:16:37 pm
Blessings Jo. I haven't travelled your journey but had a very dear friend Cathy (RIP) who had, who introduced me to her beautiful trans friends and community and who taught ne so much.
Keith and Helen Weavers
25/7/2017 10:15:39 am
Blessings on your journey Jo with love to you and Penny. We have fond memories of your time with Wellspring in Newcastle and the Central Coast. Our time at Uluru was a special highlight.
Val & Norm Bennett
25/7/2017 01:34:57 pm
GOOD ONYA GIRLS !
25/7/2017 02:49:56 pm
We are a blessing to God when we live truly as we were created to be.
Bill and Ruth Thomas
25/7/2017 03:43:02 pm
25/7/2017 08:06:03 pm
Jo, it's great to read your letter, and I feel very grateful for what you are giving the rest of us through your honesty and sharing. Don't ever underestimate that. You're a gift, and so is Penny. May your own journey of liberation continue to liberate others.
26/7/2017 09:02:31 am
Jo, your bravery will be a shining light to others who feel the pull toward a life of integrity and courage. May God give you the strength you will require to put up with the haters and the doubters. I am honoured to know you and be counted a member of the clergy along with you.
27/7/2017 11:32:08 pm
Dear Jo and Penny, I remember being inspired by you many years ago at a Wellspring Gathering, I think in Alice Springs in 2003. Thankyou both for your enduring courage and honesty which you have shared with us so generously. May god continue to bless you richly as you continue to inspire others. How wonderful to have a baby grandchild. I have a one year old granddaughter who fills our lives with great joy too.
28/7/2017 07:22:43 am
Dear Jo and Penny,
30/7/2017 08:25:11 pm
Dear Jo and Penny,
31/7/2017 03:48:40 pm
22/8/2017 12:02:00 am
Dear Jo and Penny, this is a line of love to you both today as
24/8/2017 09:51:18 am
17/2/2018 12:50:52 am
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Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.