Time and time again, anti-lgbtq+ groups and media outlets have told people that they are standing up for biblical truth. And yet, a striking omission from their articles is… Well… Truth! Truth is a Christian norm and yet…Personally, I have had lies spread about me on a number of occasions, as have many other LGBTQ+ Christians. But it’s some of the bigger, widespread, twisting of truth that’s really frustrating to me.
It is repeatedly reported that LGBTQ+ advocates are fighting against Christians, when the advocates referred to are, in fact, Christians ourselves. It is frequently stated that said advocates target churches solely for speaking out against same sex marriage. We don’t. We ask people not to give resources to churches that support or offer so-called conversion therapy – which is abusive and condemned by every major psychiatric body. The claim is repeatedly made that we are against prayer, when most anti-conversion therapy advocates spend much of our time praying with people who have been hurt by this so-called therapy! We are for prayer, but also understand that there is a nuance and careful consideration is necessary where the lines between prayer and spiritual abuse blur.
The appeal to ‘free speech’ and ‘freedom of religion’ is often particularly problematic. No LGBTQ+ advocate is campaigning for an end to free speech. We want free speech. But free speech does not mean that there aren’t consequences to what you say. Nor does it include the freedom to abuse another human being. It never has. You are free to practice your own faith, and to speak about it. You are not free to do so without allowing others to respond, free to abuse people, or free to compel others to live according to your beliefs. The law is very clear about this.
The common defense is ‘the biblical understanding’ but this is belied by the fact that there is not one, unified biblical understanding’ of LGBTQ+ identities. The idea that all Christians think the same thing, and interpret the Bible in the same way, or else ignore it, is yet another lie, and fuels negativity towards Christianity. If you truly want to defend or spread Christianity, tell the truth about its diversity and it’s values based on grace, truth and love.
Dialogue relies on truth. So until the lies stop, it’s really hard to even consider dialogue, never mind unity. It is time to stop the lies. It is time to speak truth to power in love. God loves all people. That is the truth. Speak it.
The church takes the cross seriously, but only in the context of a trajectory towards new life.
The church must take peoples’ suffering seriously, but only in the context of a trajectory towards hope.
The church must take dissonance seriously, but only in the context of a trajectory towards reconciliation.
Research released this week showed that 9/10 trans and non-binary folk who were subjected to so-called ‘conversion therapy’ experienced anxiety and depression and almost half attempted suicide. I am part of the 47%. After attempts at conversion prayer led by conservative Christian youth workers I experienced severe mental illness. This has to stop. This is not about the freedom to pray – it’s about psychological manipulation and spiritual abuse that is literally killing people.
How do we make sense of this in the midst of Easter?
This is not new life, this is the cross. This is not hope, this is suffering. This is not reconciliation, this is enforced dissonance.
New life is when trans and non-binary are supported in the ways that we ask to be by our families, friends and allies. Hope is when steps are taken towards making conversion therapy illegal. Reconciliation will only begin to be possible when people stop equating abusive practices with prayer. The dissonance trans and non-binary people experience will only be healed by enabling us to take steps to live authentically as the diverse people that we are in mind, body and spirit.
This Easter, bring hope to trans and non-binary people by taking steps to bring an end to conversion therapy today.
I have made a vlog with some of my friends and colleagues for trans day of visibility. So much thanks and credit to all of those who helped me to put this together, but any blame for error sits solely with me as editor! Please do give 15 minutes of your time to this today.
Here’s some of what you can find in the video:
Sarah Hobbs – Co-chair Open Table Network – speaks about what TDOV means to her
Poem – God is non-binary
Ash Brockwell introduces transverse
Lee Gale writes about Trans Bare All: ’10 Years, Still Here’
Adam Jack Holcroft writes about Rainbow & co.
God is Non-binary
God is non-binary God is not a male name
God is fluid and free God is not rigid and caged
God escapes punctuation God is not a full stop
God is love God is not hate
God is a seahorse New life bursting forth in a celebration of creativity
God is a gnarly tree Scarred with the passing of time and the stretching of flesh
God is the stars Explosions that seem to twinkle outside of time
God is glitter and ash Gritty hope interwoven with suffering
God is glittery ashy explosive stars and tree-bark and seahorse skeletal skin stretching and love and escapism and fluid and free and…
God is non-binary Mirrored in you Mirrored in me.
Here are the links that are shared at the end of the video:
I can still picture the first census that I filled in, a decade ago. I was in the early stages of transition and identified strongly as male. I sat in the kitchen of the tiny student flat that I shared with two others, my pen hovering over the boxes. M…F…M…F… At first I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to tick. Then, with a sinking feeling, I realised that the word ‘sex’ was probably used very intentionally… But could I really tick F with a clear conscience? And why should I?
This issue, which is an issue not only of dysphoria, emotion and identity but also of integrity, good data, and the essential governance skill of managing diversity well. This year, the census gender/sex dilemma has hit the mainstream media and it’s fair to say that our leaders have missed the mark, not only for trans people, but for all of us. The reason that the question has been raised is because of confusing government guidance, which was challenged by an anti-trans campaigning group. However, as a conversation with a trans person awaiting their GRC this morning reminded me, the question of how data about sex and gender effects women and trans people alike, and a more nuanced form could have easily resolved the difficulties and captured data sensitively and accurately.
You might wonder whether or not this is a real issue. It’s just a tick box on a form, surely? It doesn’t really matter, does it? The thing is that it really does matter, and it is a whole lot more than just a tick box on a form. Census data is used by the government to plan and run public services. As such, it is essential that census data accurately reflects the demographic make-up of the UK. Any room for error impacts the way in which identity groups that are already marginalised are served by our government. This is a massive social justice issue.
Both trans and cis people need this data to accurately reflect a) sex and b) gender so that services are funded, and run, appropriately for all. Just one reason that this really matters is the level of healthcare inequality that trans people experience, which is effected by both sex and gender. The current system, and the way in which it inter-relates with the Gender Recognition Act also means that the way in which findings represent the number of trans people in the U.K. will be inaccurate.
Jesus famously instructed his disciples to “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” The problem is that identities crosses psycho-social-spiritual-legal boundaries. Identities are deeply personal and spiritual matters which, nevertheless, are lived out in the social sphere and effect – and are effected by – legal and governmental decisions. Many feel deeply called to respond to God authentically by refusing to hide or lie about our identities. And yet, we are provided with a governmental form on which we are legally required to lie.
There is no easy answer or solution. What we can do is consider a) What we are legally required to do this time, b) how we might pastorally reconcile this tension, c) what sort of changes should we be campaigning for in advance of the next census.
This Census – What to Do?
This is an attempt to straight-forwardly describe how trans people are expected to answer sex and gender questions in the current census. It it not intended to imply agreement with this reality, which leaves me, and many others, very frustrated! Some people may choose to answer more authentically. I can not, and will not, tell you what box to tick. All I can tell you is what the guidance suggests is ‘expected’.
a. The Sex Question
If you do not have a GRC, you are expected to tick the box which aligns with your sex assigned at birth.
If you do have a GRC, you are expected to tick the box which aligns with your GRC/revised birth certificate/gender.
b. The Gender Identity Question
This question comes later in the form and is voluntary.
Some trans people will wish to indicate their trans identities here, others will not.
This decision is deeply personal, and there is no right or wrong answer.
This does, however, create a statistical difficulty.
Reconciling – How to Move Forward?
For those required to tick the box, very near the start of the census, that misgenders them, there will be a level of emotional pain involved. It may be helpful to spend some time engaged in an activity that affirms your sense of self, or to have a chat with someone who sees you as you are. It may also be helpful to spend some time in prayer. Here’s a simple one that might help. Consider leaving silence for reflection between each line.
God, Creator, Created, Creative…
I know that you see me as I am.
You feel my frustration with the inauthenticity required by this flawed system.
Help me to let go.
Help me to move forward.
Help me to shape change.
Here I am, you have called me by name, I am enough.
Next Time – Campaigning for Change
The fundamental problem, here, is that the results of this census will not accurately represent a) gender b) sex and c) trans identity. This will contribute to a continuation of significant social justice issues for all sorts of people, and may also be used to downplay the number of trans people in the UK. This is simply not good enough. There is an urgency to this issue that means we cannot simply wait for the next census. Those with the ability/power/networks to commission or work towards more nuanced statistical data should do so as soon as possible. It is important that the census is fair and accurate for everyone. At present, this is presented as a binary debate as to whether the form should include sex or gender. The solution must complexify this polemic and prioritise accuracy.
There is also, however, a real need to challenge those designing the census to do better next time. Potential improvements include moving the sex question to later in the form and including separate questions about sex, gender, and trans identities, although a nuanced and evidence based approach is essential, and will take time and thought to develop. Further, this difficulty has shown the real flaws in the GRA and highlighted, yet again, the need for urgent reform.
If filling in the census is difficult for you this year, please prioritise your self-care. I am here for you, if you need to talk. If filling in the census is easy for you, consider working alongside trans and non-binary people to enable change. Trans stats matter. We must do better.
I was due to write, in March, about relationship equality for trans people. I have brought this forward a little, to focus on Marriage Equality, given current discussions about this topic.
There are five key problems that I would like to explore here:
Current U.K. marriage law is based on sex, rather than gender.
Current marriage practice in U.K. denominations often seems to be based on appearance and gender, rather than sex.
This means that trans people are discriminated against regardless of sexuality and contrary to our rights under the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and the Equality Act (EA).
Many ministers do not have adequate knowledge of a) law and b) pastoral concerns in this area and, as a result, are unable to respond adequately to couples that include trans people.
There is sometimes a tendency in research/writing/campaigning regarding ‘equal marriage’ to either a) ignore these problems or b) use language around sex, without consideration of gender.
This post will, necessarily, be quite long and complex. If you would like to skip the evidence and find out what you can do to help, feel free to jump to the last section! The bottom line is that we all must take care that attempts to provide for same sex marriage for cis couples do not contribute to the violation of trans rights. Rather, all equal marriage campaigners should take trans experiences and rights seriously.
Sex Based Law
The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act (2013) is based on sex, rather than gender, although in law the two terms are often used interchangeably. It gives same sex couples the right to marry under a separate act and with separate requirements to opposite sex couples. The contracting words of a marriage are ‘I (your full name), take you (your partner’s full name) to be my wedded wife/husband.’ There is no provision for the gender neutral term ‘spouse’. Nor is there provision for the words ‘wife/wife’ or ‘husband/husband’ to be used for ‘opposite sex’ couples. What this means is that where one partner is trans and does not have a Gender Recognition Certificate*, or where one partner is non-binary, they are normally* mis-gendered during their marriage ceremony. This is unacceptably painful for many, and often leads to couples delaying their marriage to avoid this indignity.
Legally, whether a marriage is same or opposite sex is based on the sex on a person’s birth certificate. However, because of their exemption from equality laws, denominations can also make provisions in order to avoid marrying trans people, regardless of the sex on their birth certificate. In the Church of England, a minister may refuse to marry a couple if they believe one of the parties to be trans. What this means, in practice, is that, rather than asking to see a person’s birth certificate, which is the legally standard, some ministers look at a person, assume them to be trans if they do not have passing privilege, and ask intrusive questions which, whilst they might be more tactful, essentially amount to asking people what their body looks like underneath their clothes. This is clearly abusive and should be a serious safeguarding concern. It also means that trans people with passing privilege are more likely to access church marriage than those without. Further, this creates a confusing loophole whereby some marriages that some people may see as same sex marriages in the Church of England are legally permissible and some opposite sex marriages are not. Whilst other denominations do not document similar practices, the lack of guidance means that they are likely widespread.
The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) and the Equality Act (EA) should stop the above abuse from occurring. Whilst there is no relevant case law re the GRA to my knowledge, it is assumed by many that religious exemptions from equalities laws mean that these do not apply. I believe that all religious exemptions from equalities laws are unjust and inherently discriminatory. Where the GRA is concerned, these exemptions are also oppressive and present clear safeguarding risks. The GRA is supposed to make it possible for a trans person to live entirely in their true gender. This means that they should not have to disclose their trans identity. It is illegal, under the GRA, for anyone who has learnt in a professional capacity that someone is trans to disclose this information. It is unclear whether religious exemptions include allowing such disclosures. Whilst ministers are allowed to disclose trans identities for their direct supervisors, the wider disclosure that is commonplace is questionable. It is clear that current practice means that some ministers are requiring trans people to disclose their identities and are then disclosing these to others. This is important because the GRA exists in part to protect trans people from discrimination, oppression and danger. Current ecclesial practice regarding trans people and marriage does not only bar trans people from equal marriage but also poses considerable safeguarding risks.
Due to a lack of understanding of the above complexities, not to mention the added difficulty of the spousal veto, the vast majority of ministers in all U.K. denominations are not properly equipped to pastorally care for trans people or to offer us appropriate advice with regards to getting married in Church. Many also lack understanding regarding the pastoral and practical consequences of their espoused theologies and doctrines and actual practice regarding marriage and gender identity. From a slightly different angle, I also wonder whether ministers should be more concerned than they appear to be about whether their practices are lawful.
Here are some tips for making your research/writing/campaigning for equal marriage trans inclusive.
When doing research and writing about equal marriage consider asking a trans person for their views, and ensure that you have adequately understood and addressed the implications for trans people of your argument or the topic about which you are writing.
Ensure that you use the words ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ accurately and not interchangeably. Where law and church practice differ on these, note this.
Make sure that you understand the denominational, legal and pastoral complexities as well as is possible before offering marriage advice or pastoral care to trans people.
When referring to ‘equal’ marriage, consider critiquing the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, and avoid implying that once marriage in all church denominations is possible marriage will then be equal.
When curating forums (magazines, newspapers, campaigns, blogs, etc.) where equal marriage is a key concern, ensure that trans+ and bi+ voices are heard. Consider prioritising them.
Whenever you hear someone say that equal marriage and/or same sex marriage is not about trans people, correct them.
*On receiving a Gender Recognition Certificate a person is legally recognised as the sex that correlates with the gender determined by that certificate. Such a person’s birth certificate is re-issued with a new sex marker. It is important to note that it is very difficult to get a GRC.