Non-binary awareness

This week is non-binary awareness week. On Wednesday, the Times released this mini-documentary about me. I am thankful to Kasia and the Times for this sensitive and beautifully-shot film.

Whilst this film focusses on a presentation of trans identities that is made uncontroversial for a particular target audience, it does introduce non-binary visibility to viewers. The film opens with the words, “I’m Alex Clare-Young, I’m a transmasculine non-binary minister. I believe that everyone has spiritual needs and spiritual wellbeing and that, to a certain extent, the church has failed some communities.”

At the end of the film, over archival footage of me playing the clarsach (folk harp), aged 15, I say that when people ask, “But how did you know?” I answer that, “It’s an internal sense of knowing. We just know. It’s something completely innate.” For some trans people, the juxtaposition of my speaking now as a transmasculine non-binary person with a video of me playing the clarsach and presenting in a much more feminine way may seem uncomfortable. Each of us has the right to see our past in the way that we choose and some trans people choose not to see, or have other people see, pre-transition images.

For me, this juxtaposition speaks powerfully to my own sense of being non-binary. In the TV series “Feel Good” Mae Martin explains that they don’t feel like a boy, or a girl, they just feel like Mae. That is my sense of myself, too. I’m just Alex. How do I know? I just do.

Non-binary is an umbrella term which is used by some people whose identity a) sits outside of, b) sits between, or c) contains elements of both male and/or female. Every non-binary person will have a slightly different sense of what that means for them. For me, being non-binary means that I am “just Alex”. I also use the word transmasculine to explain that I have transitioned towards male and am masculine-of-centre. My gender presentation varies a lot and I enjoy playing with gender and my sense of being queer more broadly when I can.

Here are some simple tips for creating more accessible and affirming work, community, and faith spaces for non-binary people. These are a starting point, if you would like help to audit your space and make meaningful changes, get in touch.

Names and pronouns
Use the correct name and pronouns for everyone (the ones they ask you to use), and make sure that there are regular opportunities for people to indicate their names and pronouns. For example, you might use table place-cards in meetings for this purpose. On video-calls, email signatures, and social media accounts, encourage all attendees/users to display their name and pronouns.

Spaces
Make sure that there are safe, non-gendered spaces accessible to all. This should include secure, private, non-gendered toilets and changing spaces. This does not mean that all spaces have to be non-gendered. When someone asks for directions to a space, e.g. a toilet, give them directions to all of the spaces, not just the one that you assume to be most appropriate.

Clothing
Do not have uniform or dress code policies that are divided by gender. Do not reject candidates based on gendered clothing norms. For example, a shirt and tie should not be required to indicate a ‘smart’ dress code.

Don’t assume
Don’t assume whether a person is non-binary, male, or female based on appearance alone. Organisations often tell me that they don’t have any non-binary employees when I know this to be untrue. If in doubt, ask! “Hi, it’s great to meet you, could you let me know the name and pronouns you would like me to use, please?”

Celebrate, don’t problematise
If you only ever talk to a non-binary person to a) ask them questions or b) suggest that their identity is a problem, they will not feel comfortable with you. Celebrate a person for the complex, intersectional person that they are. For example, instead of saying, “Bob in HR really doesn’t understand non-binary people, so you’ll just have to be patient with him”, consider saying, “You are so articulate and creative, could you write something for our HR blog this month?”

Conflict and Creativity Beyond Binaries

I passionately believe in breaking down narratives of problematisation and binary debate. One of the most troubling of these narratives today is the polemical polarisation of trans and female lived experience. Beyond the reality that trans women are, and should be respected as, women, and that trans and non-binary people have valuable insights into misogyny and inequality, it is also true that social justice is most achievable when people work well together across all sorts of difference. Genuine dialogue that recognises the interwoven nuances of diversity and prioritises both and, rather than either or, is the key to transforming our communities, our organisations, and our world.

So why does conflict emerge, and how can we move forward, together? Hint: Fighting with each-other on social media is not the answer, as cathartic and satisfying as it may be. (It’s a habit I frequently fall into!)

Conflict can often look, and feel, like an irresolvable battle. When different understandings and experiences of life and work clash, the arising disagreements are often intense and painful. Separation might seem like the only option, if it seems that the parties involved are unable or unwilling to resolve their conflict. Whilst this may ultimately be necessary, it is possible to ensure that conflict does not reach this point.

When analysed by someone who prioritises equity and social justice, it can seem clear that one party in a conflict has more power than the other. Analysis based on the principles of equity and social justice is clearly important. It is also important to realise, however, that power dynamics are complex, intersectional, and often not clearly visible. Care needs to be taken when analysing power dynamics, and professional analysis can be vital.

These are two versions of popular conflict resolution models:

Both of these examples have positive and problematic elements. They recognise that differences or disagreements will be a part of any group dynamic. However, they treat conflict resolution as a single, straightforward process, which is far from the messy lived reality!

The first (red and black) image shows a process of emerging conflict escalating to the point of pain, requiring negotiation and settlement. Whilst this may be an accurate description of much conflict resolution practice, it ignores the systemic, power-related elements of conflict and problematises the individuals involved, implying a binary debate in which an agreement or settlement must be reached.

The second (green and brown) image shows a process of noticing emerging debate which escalates into conflict necessitating a practice of transforming relationships, and building capacity to manage similar conflicts in the future. This process is slightly more realistic, recognising some of the nuances of conflict and highlighting the need for systemic change. It still, however, just looks a little too easy!

In reality, the only way to live together well in all of our diversity is to recognise each person’s humanity, understand and carefully negotiate power and oppression, listen to those whose voices are marginalised or unheard, and work together creatively to transform or disrupt unjust systems. I feel that Jane Leach’s work in pastoral theology is relevant here. Leach suggests that attending well to diverse voices is central to safe and equitable pastoral practice. I believe that the points Leach raises are also foundational to effective conflict resolution in society and in a range of organisations:

Building on Leach’s model of pastoral attention1, I have created a cycle of conflict transformation (above) to show the multi-sector relevance of active listening. This cycle begins with hearing diverse voices and perspectives. It then moves to the lifting up, or seeking out, of voices that are not yet heard. Thirdly, it continues towards active listening, listening with an intention to understand, rather than debate, with the aim of building policy and practice. Finally, it enables organisational change, before the cycle begins again! This constant cycle of transformation will not, of course, end all conflict, topple all unjust systems, and bring about perfect harmony. It will, however, keep lines of communication open.

When people are unheard, misunderstood, and separated from processes of change that they are an intrinsic part of, the result is apathy, at best, or violence, at worst. It is time to start listening. It is time for transformation.

1Leach, J. (2003). Pastoral Theology as Attention. Cambridge: Wesley College.

LGBTQ+ Equality in the UK

Reblog from whatthetrans.com

“Michelle Snow from whatthetrans.com has provided a list of the Government’s moves on LGBT+ equality in order of when they happened (This is not an exhaustive list):

September 2020 – They abandon long promised reform of the Gender Recognition Act (after the public overwhelmingly came down in favour of reform in a public consultation)

December 2020 – Liz Truss, The Minister for Women & Equalities announces that the Government Equality Office are shifting their focus away from “identity politics” and will no longer listen to “specialist groups” who focus on “trendy” issues like racism and homophobia. She also lambasted “the Left” for failing to protect equality, citing child grooming gangs, anti-Semitism and ‘failing to protect single sex spaces’ as examples of their failure. She clearly meant failing to protect single sex spaces from Trans people.

March 2021 – Three members of the Government’s advisory panel resign. All three cite the Governments disinterest in what they had to say and their ‘hostile’ attitudes towards Trans equality as reasons.

April 2021 – The Government disbands their LGBT+ advisory panel entirely. They claim this was due to the panel’s contract expiring. Meanwhile the Charity Commission registers the homophobic & transphobic LGB Alliance as a charity. Their founding members hold views including being against LGBT+ clubs in schools; that it is fine to work with far Right homophobic groups like the Heritage Foundation, and surrogacy for gay people should be banned.

May 2021 – The Minister for Women & Equalities gives evidence at a Parliamentary Select Committee hearing. She signals that the LGBT+ Action Plan has been binned in favour of focusing on a conversion therapy ban, which may have a religious exemption and will be subject to a public consultation starting in September, and hosting an international LGBT+ conference next year. (The LGBT+ Action Plan was a 75 point plan for the Government to advance LGBT+ equality. It was partially the result of a survey of over 100,000 LGBT+ people whose needs will likely go completely ignored). She went on to announce that there will be a new Government LGBT+ panel, whilst revealing that one of the reasons for the original panel being disbanded was because she disagreed with them. Good luck to this new panel if they dare disagree with her on LGBT+ issues. She was asked if the pro-conversion therapy/anti-LGBT+ Evangelical Alliance will be involved in the planned International LGBT+ Conference. She neither confirmed nor denied their involvement. The conference’s tagline is apparently going to be “Free to be me”. Earlier in the month, the new chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission defended transphobia in The Times. The EHRC are an independent public body who are supposed to ensure the Equality Act of 2010 is enforced. The Government is responsible for appointing people to its board to oversee this. The Government have chosen to pack this board with members who have a history of anti-LGBT+ sentiments and beliefs.

June 1st 2021- The beginning of Pride Month. The Times reported that the Minister for Women & Equalities is seeking to disconnect Stonewall from working with Government departments. She justified this by citing recent ‘unreasonable’ behaviour by Stonewall. That behaviour? Standing up for the Trans community.”

Are you concerned about the erosion of LGBTQ+ rights, inclusion, and diversity? Get in touch to find out more about how we can change things together.

Trans Voices in Inclusion and Diversity

As a trans person who specialises in inclusion and diversity, the current media storm that has been stirred up against Stonewall is yet another worrying sign that there is a targeted campaign against trans and non-binary inclusion in multiple sectors in the U.K. Stonewall’s response to the claims against them can be read here.

The debate about Stonewall centres on the question of whether or not the Equality Act (2010) includes protection of people who hold trans identities. Whilst I am not a lawyer, it is clear that a plain text reading of the Equality Act (2010) section 7 includes a wide range of trans people, referencing intention as well as process. This is woolly language for a legal act, and could certainly be improved, but that does not nullify it for the time-being1.

Stonewall’s opposers would clearly like the protection of the Equality Act to only extend to those who have undergone a physical process of genital surgery. Thankfully, this is not the case. Many trans and non-binary people do not undergo surgery, for a range of reasons. We, too, are valid. Further, the safeguarding concerns raised by the implicit suggestion that a person’s genitals must be checked in order to allow equality are extensive!

I am one of the many inclusion and diversity specialists who provide content and run training that focuses on the equality of all people in the workplace, including those who are at risk of marginalisation or discrimination as a result of their age, disability, neurodiversity, mental health, gender identity, sex, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, faith, belief, and/or sexual/romantic identity. This expansive understanding of equality legislation and best practice is not only lawful, it is vital.

The whole field of inclusion and diversity is deeply needed and it is much of this field, not only one organisation, whose practice is under attack. Please support us to offer content and training that is based on evidence and fact, and that recognises diversity, complexity, and intersectionality.

1The Act refers to protection ‘if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex’ and references ‘physiological or other attributes of sex’ (Equality Act 2010, 7(a). ‘Other attributes’ suggests processes of social transition. ‘Proposing to undergo’ is a reference to intent, which is incredibly difficult to prove.

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.