From the beginning…
This section is called ‘True’. It is called ‘True’ because I use the phrase ‘true gender’ to describe a transgender person’s gender identity, contrasting it with their birth-assigned gender. The journey of a person who is trans is towards that true gender, the gender that their whole being is crying out for them to inhabit and express. I use the phrase ‘true gender’ to refer to a trans person’s gender identity in which they most naturally feel themselves. This is also known as ‘gender identity’ but I use ‘true gender’ as I want to express the sense of feeling at home with oneself.
Those who identify with the term ‘transgender’ more colloquially may use the word ‘trans’ to describe themselves (e.g. a person who is assigned male at birth but is female in gender would describe themselves as a trans woman) and I will use that term too from this point onwards. And while I am explaining terms, ‘cisgender’ is an adjective that describes someone whose personal identity and gender correspond with their birth-assumed gender.
In setting out to write this I have tried not to label people or focus on ‘issues’. This is for people rather than about them. It is for those who want to try to understand more about the relationship between people who are trans and the Christian faith. Some who read this may be trans or are wondering if they are. Some may be friends or relatives of those who are trans. Some will be those who are trying to work out how they and their church can be as inclusive as possible while maintaining what they see as their ‘biblical integrity’. Some may be struggling to make that sort of reconciliation in their heart or mind.
There will be places where I will offer some suggestions or ideas. These are not intended to be the way of doing things. Some come from experience and lessons learned. Some come from reflecting on conversations I have had with people who are trans and their families and friends, or ministers of churches. Some come from personal accounts I have read in the books I have studied to prepare for writing this book.
I am not an expert. I am simply a follower of Jesus who has spent some time prayerfully reflecting on some of the issues that are raised.
My own process of growing understanding has been gradual. I am not very experienced in pastoring transgender people and did not knowingly meet a person who is trans until about 2013. I had never previously asked or been asked about what Christians might think about people who are trans. I probably would have been described as ‘welcoming’ (See the description of different approaches in the ‘What sort of church?’ section). That changed when I met Anne. (This is not her real name. I have not used any person’s real names other than when referring to authors).
I had been a minister in a church for about five years when a member shared with me that she was transitioning to be a trans woman. I was introduced to Anne and, with a few trusted others, journeyed for a season with her and her wife as we worked out how best we would share this with the church and try to support them. I had to try to understand what Anne and her wife were going through, gain a working knowledge of the medical issues and work through my theology at the same time as seeking to care for this precious couple. It was a steep learning curve. I am so grateful to Anne and her wife for the courage and faith they showed in sharing part of their journey with me. I didn’t get it all right and deeply regret how some of my naïve approach caused Anne and her wife further pain and hurt, but I learnt a great deal from them and through them. Anne very graciously shares some of her story with us at the very end of this section of my blog.
The journey of understanding has continued since then until 2019 when what was mostly theoretical became intensely personal. In May 2019 I discovered that I am the father of a trans woman who is at the beginning of the gender correction process. My previous experience and understanding have been such a blessing to me as I have sought to embrace my daughter and support her through this incredible time. Her experience has informed some of what I have written here and motivated me to explore this further.
I write this after having read about people who are trans and the Christian faith. I have spoken with some people who are trans and their families and shared this text with some of them for their observations. I have not named anyone with whom I have spoken as there is still an unease about how they will be received, but I am incredibly grateful to them all for sharing their story, advice and experience with me – they know who they are.
For all these reasons as I write this I will try to tread softly as I am on very sacred ground.
I write this as a cisgender heterosexual male Christian Baptist minister whose conviction is that if there is ever a place where people who are trans ought to be welcomed, included, supported and loved it is church. So much grace is needed by all as someone who is trans begins to share their true gender with their friends, family and wider world. So a church, which is founded by the True Source of grace, ought to be a safe place for this to happen. Yet my reading, limited experience and observation tells me (with a deep sense of sadness and shame) this is far from true. People who are trans have experienced rejection rather than welcome, suspicion rather than embrace and even hate rather than love. But this must change. We (the Church) need to repent of such actions and attitudes. We must, and can, do better. Which is why I am writing this.
This is still a work in progress, as am I. Please bear with me if my use of language is clumsy, I promise that is unintentional. And feel free to contact me via the blog if you would like to discuss anything here. Any ungracious or inappropriate comments will be ignored and deleted.
(At the bottom of each page is an option to select the next page or jump directly to a page, there are 6 sections in total.)