I am delighted to announce that my book, Transgender. Christian. Human. will be published next month. Structured around the story of my life so far, this book also contains exercises, prayers and theological understandings. I hope that it can be a help and a comfort to trans and non-binary people and their families, as well as all of those who would like to learn more.
I felt honoured that Canon Rachel Mann wrote a forward for my book. Here are her words:
‘The first time I met Alex, over half a decade ago, it was obvious I was in the company of a very smart, creative and talented person. They were someone who had clearly negotiated the profound inner and outer pressures of being transgender in our often uncomprehending church, as well as a hostile wider world. They had faced challenges many could barely comprehend. In the midst of their wounds and exciting personal discoveries, they had begun to live the kind of authentic life which changes other people’s lives for the better. I shall never forget the power of their personal testimony both in private conversation and, on one memorable occasion, delivered in front of several hundred youth workers at a Youth Work Conference. The audience gave them a spontaneous standing ovation, and I felt honoured to share a platform with them. When I heard that Alex was exploring ordained ministry in the United Reformed Church, I was both delighted and unsurprised. Their intelligence, sensitivity and character were obvious. Since then Alex has continued to grow into a sophisticated theologian and serious leader.
Transgender. Christian. Human. represents, then, a culmination of lived wisdom and honest wrestling with the joys and traumas of embodying God’s call; not just God’s call to ordained ministry, but God’s invitation to live our bodies, our lives and our very being as fully as we can. For Alex this means celebrating being trans, Christian and human. In a church culture that is still inclined to act as if anyone under forty is little more than a child, some who read Alex’s book may be surprised by the depth and honesty of their insights. They should not be. There is a kind of wisdom and knowledge that only becomes available when one goes back, with determination and hope, to the sources of pain and grace.
Alex knows what it is to have faced those sources. The details of their experiences are, on occasions, searing, disturbing and shocking, but Alex handles them with skill and intelligence. In doing so, their particular experiences offer space for people with quite different lived experiences to see the world afresh. Transgender. Christian. Human. is not always an easy read, but it is a sensitive one, which negotiates the facts of a life without prurience or flinching.
There have been many memoirs by trans people over the decades, including my own Dazzling Darkness, also published by Wild Goose back in 2012. In one sense, Alex’s book is part of that tradition. However, it represents a fresh departure as well. Many memoirs have been written by those trans people like me who – for whatever reason – have felt very comfortable fitting in to existing gender binaries. Newer, fresher voices like Alex increasingly question the easy distinction between ‘male’ and ‘female’ and have brought insight into ideas of gender and identity. They have thereby shaken up the trans community, into the bargain. Alex’s voice, formed through rich Christian and theological accents, speaks up for a biblically nuanced and culturally dynamic understanding of gender. I suspect some who read this book will find this very challenging. I hope so. It is usually out of honest wrestling with tough, well-formed ideas and lived experiences that new ways of going on emerge.
There are several outstanding features of this book. Firstly, it exists as a kind of holy workbook centred on gender, faith and compassion. Alex is – as a pastor and teacher – unafraid to encourage their readers to search and go deeper in a quest for understanding. This makes the book so much more than a memoir and brings leaven our anxious society desperately needs. Alex is a helpful guide in a world where trans kids and wider trans identities are mocked by those who wish to use trans people as a whipping post.
Furthermore, this book takes the risk of allowing some of the significant others in Alex’s life to speak and share their experiences of walking with Alex. This is terrific and rare stuff, in which Alex’s wife Jo and their mum Pam speak with moving honesty and authenticity. Both take us to the joy, delight and real cost of recognising otherness, within and without, as part of God’s gracious economy.
Finally, as a minister, Alex is unafraid of prayer. In one sense, this is hardly surprising. If anyone should be comfortable with prayer and its possibilities it should be pastors and ministers (though too often this is not so!). This book is threaded through with it. Prayer, at its best, acknowledges mystery, gift and grace. This is certainly the case in this book. Prayer really matters in Alex’s journey (as in so many deeply honest ones) because to live well is to dare to live in mystery and gift. It is a way of going on that entails a work of recognition – that we are not the source, only God. That is the heart of Alex’s story and wisdom as I read it: they have discovered that their fundamental identity as transgender, Christian and human flows from the Living God. It is inspiring, hopeful and real.
Canon Rachel Mann
St Augustine’s Day, 2019′