Trinity: Go and Sin Boldly

This Trinity Sunday, an inspired friend posted an image of a trinity knot with the words,

‘Trinity Sunday: Our annual reminder that G-d’s pronouns are they/them’.

Inspired myself, but slightly less brave, I posted the words,

Happy Trinity Sunday. If you can accept that God is 3-in-1 then you can surely accept that my pronouns are they/them (and perhaps God’s are too).

The complexities of speaking and writing about the Trinity reminded me of the amazing writer, researcher, friend and ally Michael Jagessar’s blessing,

‘Go and sin boldly’.

There are things about which people in churches are afraid to speak, for fear of heresy or sin. I wonder if the real sin is when people with power make the people who they hold power over afraid to speak about God authentically, creatively, experimentally, and joyfully. I wonder if the real sin is limiting God, who is surely beyond human limits, to formulaic, binary, normative certainties.

As a non-binary trans person, I am all too familiar with things that people are afraid to talk about. In churches, people often avoid talking about LGBTQ+ identities. This avoidance limits theology and causes real, tangible harm to the many LGBTQ+ people who attend churches where we are not really welcome for months or even years before learning the truth, often in painful, damaging, and abusive ways.

It’s not just churches, though. In the UK, today, it has become divisive and challenging to embody, talk, or write about trans identities and rights. The government, media, and so-called ‘charities’ that are in fact anti-trans lobby groups have set up a polemic, binary debate in which everyone loses. Speaking at all about being trans leads to being labelled as a trans ‘activist’ and our experiences, opinions, and expertise are discredited as ‘ideology’. I have received hate mail and threats from both anti-trans people and supposed ‘allies’ when my words have fallen over on one side or another of the tightrope that I, and many of my peers, walk every day.

Heresies aren’t only used to control faith and spirituality, they are the oppressive norms that control every aspect of every person’s life, every day. In reality? Perhaps there are no heresies. Well, apart from all that which leads to hatred and harm. There is no one correct way to think, to identify, or to be. Speak your truth. Enable others to speak their truths. More importantly, listen. We can all be heard, and recognised, and loved.

Go and sin boldly. Amen.

Statement re Church of Scotland GA

‘The Iona Community LGBTQ+ Common Concern Network welcomes the proposals being brought to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland which would bring the possibility of solemnising same-sex marriages one step closer. We call for all people of good will to hold the Church of Scotland in prayer. We particularly pray for all who are involved in the General Assembly, and those whose lived experience means that these conversations are particularly challenging. We long for equality for LGBTQ+ people, and for peace and reconciliation for all of those who have been harmed by inequality.’

Launching QtL

For pride month, a time in which many centre and celebrate LGBTQ+ identities, I am delighted to launch a new series of Churspacious content, Queering the Lectionary (QtL)! This series will centre LGBTQ+ identities and queer lenses as we explore the set lectionary reading for the week. It is our hope that, as well as giving the Churspacious community food for thought and conversation starters, these resources will help other churches and communities to raise awareness, celebrate LGBTQ+ people and work for social justice. If your church or community would like to access the QtL pack to use in your own context, get in touch!

The next seven weeks (June-mid-July) will be dedicated to Queering the Lectionary, followed by one QtL week per month from now until the start of advent. Want to know what’s coming up? Here’s a sneak peak.

Comment for Changing Attitude

This statement was originally posted in: Living in Love & Faith (LLF) to reconsider gender identity and transition — Unadulterated Love

Alex Clare-Young, trans minister and former member of the LLF co-ordinating group, says that:

‘It is vital that churches listen to a wide range of trans and non-binary people to understand our identities and our experiences of church. I am concerned, however, that discussions about the need for a working group on gender identity and transition have not included consultation of either of the trans people who were members of the LLF co-ordinating group. There is an urgent need for clarity regarding the aims of this group and its membership. At the very least, the group should include a wide range of trans members, including transfeminine, transmasculine and non-binary people and must not be yet another source of polemical debate between those with lived experience of oppression due to gender identity and those who falsely equate theological opinion or position with said lived experience. Trans people are the current targets of misinformation, hatred and oppression in public, political, and ecclesial discourse. It is vital that organisations, including churches, begin to listen to trans people, instead of debating the validity of our authentic, God-given identities.’

Taking the Piss: Toilet Troubles in the UK

I was 13 years old when I was first attacked in a public toilet. It has been obvious that it was going to happen for months. Every time I went into the toilet that was designated ‘female’ a gang of girls followed me, shouting abuse and climbing on toilets to spy on me. I didn’t identify as trans at the time. I was simply perceived as different. I kept asking my guidance teacher if I could have a key for the accessible toilet, but she said it would be unfair for the one wheelchair user in the school if I ‘monopolised’ her toilet. One lunchtime – the most frightening part of the day for self-professed geeks and freaks everywhere – it all came to a head. I was sitting on the toilet, trying to pee, when something landed square in my underwear, followed by the sound of giggles from above. I looked up into the face of a sneering fifth-year, who exclaimed, ‘Looks like your packing meat, wierdo’. I looked down and, to my horror, saw a raw chicken breast in my underwear. In revulsion and panic I slid my legs out of my clothes and hunched up into a ball on the toilet seat, my fingers in my ears until I thought they had gone. When I finally exited the stall, I was pelted with more raw meat. I ran straight out of school and sat in the local park for the rest of the afternoon, trying to calm down. Of course, to add insult to injury, I got a detention for skiving.

I now know that I am not alone in these experiences. In 2010, research found that 40% of girls avoided school toilets. By 2015, both media and school governors were discovering that non-gendered, open plan toilets, with floor to ceiling privacy, unsurprisingly reduced bullying and improved levels of school attendance. I was relieved to find that difficulties like those I had experienced were being taken seriously. It seemed as though gendered toilets were gradually becoming a thing of the past. I was glad. Not because I am trans, but because I know from experience, conversations, and research that multi-stall gendered toilet blocks are not safe. Back when I was at school, the answer was “wait until you get home, or go use the public loos”. I was so pleased that things were changing.

Fast-forward to 2021 and, following the American ‘toilet wars’ – in which cis women were pitted against trans people, forced into tired roles of victim and assailant respectively, the United Kingdom has taken a massive step backwards for the safety of all. Less than two months after the latest school to introduce safe school toilets cited gendered toilets as a cause of ‘bullying, fear, and mental anguish’, sources have leaked news that the latest inquiry, sorry consultation, into whether or not the U.K. should treat trans people with dignity, respect and care, could lead to a legal requirement for gendered toilets in public buildings.

In a continuation of an emerging toxic pattern which pits oppressed groups against each-other, this consultation rested on the assumption that ‘most women want’ gender (or sex) segregated toilets. There is little unbiased evidence, however, that this is the case. There is also a clear question here as to which women’s voices are being heard. Many women have experienced bullying and harassment in gendered toilets, including Eloise Stonborough, whose story you can read here. Like Eloise, my experiences of harassment and abuse in female toilets increased the more that I presented in an authentic way. By the time I began my transition, I had lost count of the amount of times that I had been attacked in – both verbally and physically – and forcibly removed from female toilets. Notably, these incidents often culminated in women finding a male security guard, and asking them to enter the ‘female’ toilets in order to physically remove me. Once, in a toilet with no locking stall doors, women encouraged said male security guard to enter the stall to remove me whilst I was peeing.

What’s my point? My point is that the politicised fearmongering of the anti-trans groups arguing for segregated toilets is not based on safety, it’s based on transphobia. Gendered, multi-stall toilets with flimsy half-height doors and oft-broken locks do not keep anyone safe. In fact, they endanger the lives of all people, including women, both trans and cis. They are particularly dangerous for young girls, the very people that the instigators of so-called toilet wars claim to protect.

If you would like to protect both the young people who are experiencing bullying in gendered school toilets at this very moment and the trans, non-binary and gender-nonconforming people who experience daily harassment and abuse, have a think about how you can make a difference. Does your workplace have safe toilets? If not, how can you influence change? Whilst the consultation on public toilets is now over, you can still make a difference. You can write to communities secretary Robert Jenrick, as well as your own MP, to make sure that your views are considered.

My personal opinion is that safe, private, single-stall non-gendered toilets for all is the best way forward. If that is a step too far for you, however, you could consider advocating for mandated non-gendered toilets as well as gendered toilets. It doesn’t need to be either/or. We don’t need to be divided. Let’s work together to create a better, safer world for all people.