Back in late April I was one of the participants of the first round of Shared Conversations for the South West region. Two excellent reports on those discussions by Rose Grigg and Erika Baker are already published on the CA website, and my experience largely mirrored theirs.
Nevertheless I may have been the only trans person present at Woolacombe, and so I was asked to write some thoughts on the process from the transgender perspective.
It’s been a long time now since I transitioned – over 17 years – and I forget sometimes that I have that background. In conforming quietly to one side of the gender binary I manage to place myself within most Christians’ comfort zones.
So how did I experience the Shared Conversations? As far as I can recall, I only mentioned my gender history on two occasions. The first was when, in small groups of three, we were invited to share our personal history of how we came to our particular understanding about human sexuality. My two interlocutors were largely in the ‘accepting’ camp on the topic of sexuality and were fascinated to hear my own experience which they attended to entirely non-judgementally, even inviting me to continue talking well into the subsequent break.
I found myself wishing I had been able to share with a larger audience, and perhaps with some of those who took a more essentialist view on gender and sexuality. The mediators clearly felt that such personal stories should not be shared too widely, since our standard group sizes up to that point had been eight strong. My story, though heard deeply by two individuals, therefore went no further and was not able to inform the wider discussion from that point on.
The second occasion I mentioned my gender history was to an ordained woman during lunch. I can’t remember how the topic came up – it’s not something I particularly seek to interject into a conversation unless it has direct bearing on the matter at hand. The woman in question asked me the now classic question: “Do you feel that God made a mistake?” I always consider this question is asked in ignorance rather than unkindly, and so I gladly answer it, speaking of the trans experience as a medical issue not a moral one.
These days, activists may argue that the difficulty is in society’s need for clear gender boundaries rather than in the trans or gender queer person, but in my day it was all about getting safely from one side of the binary to the other.
Aside from these two moments, I wasn’t able to bring much if any of the transgender experience into the discussions. I do feel that this was a missed opportunity. Whereas in the area of sexuality, the great beasts of theological reflection – scripture and experience – are locked in a death struggle on the edge of the cliff of irrelevance, I feel that the irenic wisdom of the trans experience has yet to be heard.
How does God see the transgender person? Does it offend God that despite having XY chromosomes I live in western society’s modern female role? What if I share life with a female partner? Does God condemn us? Is my sin in being trans or being gay? Or am I perhaps a eunuch in God’s sight? And, if so, which Scriptures convey God’s attitude towards me – Deuteronomy 23:1 or Isaiah 56:4? What must a post-operative trans person do to be saved?
For the trans person who loves God, there are no black & white answers, and that, I think is the wisdom we most have to offer. What does our transgender experience tell us about God? That he makes mistakes? No. It tells us that God created life to be very diverse and complex and he loves that which he made.
Trans people are always outside the rules. Indeed, we are a reminder to all Christians: do not call profane that which God has made pure, nor disdain the fruit which comes from an encounter with God’s love, even when it resides in apparently unclean vessels.
I met so many kind and loving people during the Shared Conversations, several of whom would leave the Church or abandon their ministry if same sex relationships were blessed or if same sex marriage were permitted in church. I wish they would glance up from searching their Scriptures to see God’s Spirit at work in us – the same Spirit that works in their own hearts.
By our fruit we should know and love each other.