Christians and Gender Transition

Christians and Gender Transition
Eleven of us gathered on Zoom to hear Rev Jayne Taylor talk about Christians and gender transition. Jayne explained to us that she was born with DSD (Disorders of sex development) and that as an infant she underwent surgery to change her intersex condition into male. She remembered that at the age of 4 she had asked her parents if she could be Jayne instead of James but they did not entertain that idea. After university she went into neurobiological research where she studied sexual development.

After becoming a Christian she joined an evangelical church. She made the observation that it is not unusual for LGBT young people to be drawn to evangelical churches, a product perhaps of their self-loathing, hoping that if they prayed hard enough the feelings would go away. Jayne felt a vocation to become a minister and trained to be a URC minister. While she hoped that this might put the lid on any ideas of changing gender, it did not and eventually, faced with severe depression, Jayne decided that she had to accept who she was.

Initially she found it easier to tell gay friends who understood about hiding part of themselves but eventually she told her congregation, a year ago. Reaction was mixed, the more progressive members of the congregation were on the whole accepting while those on the evangelical wing less so; one believed her head was full of evil spirits and advised her to seek deliverance ministry.

Having been the church’s minister for 10 years, Jayne decided it was a good moment to move on. She is one of only two trans ministers in the URC. Even including other denominations the numbers of trans clergy are small. Dispersed around the country, they are in touch online. Jayne said this was helpful since those outside the trans world, while wishing to be supportive, rarely understand. Up to now Jayne has applied to three or four churches for a new appointment. She has been turned down twice but has recently received an ‘invitation to preach with a view..’ from one church.

On the subject of inclusion Jayne said that the most important requirement of a church is respect. She said she can quickly tell where people are coming from. One of the most disrespectful reactions is to refuse to call her Jayne which some of those who’ve known her as James have done. Having been Jayne in her own self for 50 years she found this reaction invalidating of who she is, something that really stung. Newspapers regularly print transphobic articles and J K Rowling has used Twitter to make trans people the last minority that it is OK to be prejudiced against. The use of ladies’ toilets is said to be under review as the current government has hinted it might re-evaluate the Equality Act of 2010 which allows trans people to choose which toilet they wish to visit.

Jayne said that another example of a genderised society is in retail such as toy and clothing shops. It is so demarcated that it feels like there is a force of gender police. She recounted that some time ago, while looking for female clothes in a store, a store assistant tapped her on the shoulder and told her she needed to be ‘over there’ ie in the men’s’ department. Jayne added that nowadays she no longer gets mis-gendered.

Hilma asked what Jayne had found special about being female. Jayne replied that she had noticed how often she was talked over or talked down to as a woman. But she also said women related to her with much less reticence than before; it is as though a wall has been taken down.

Nicky said she had transitioned a year ago and that she too had found women much more ready to open up to her after she transitioned. She noticed it both out on the street and in deeper conversations. Nicky also said that taking oestrogen had brought about changes in her emotional psychology.

Jayne spoke about the way trans options had developed over the years. In her youth, the only options appeared to be Transvestite, someone who was sexually aroused by wearing women’s clothing, and Transsexual, someone who had had surgery. Jayne said she identified with neither of these. There was no suitable example to get hold of, no role model.

Nicky agreed the examples were either sexual like drag queens or humorous like the pantomime dame. In her case she now chooses to identify as non-binary and trans feminine.

Replying to a question from Hilma, Jayne said her youth felt like lost years in the wrong gender. She would love to have been a trans teenager.

A visitor to the group, from Wolverhampton, said Eddie Izzard has spoken of gender neutral bathrooms and how the level of bullying there is less. She added that gendered spaces were not necessary and were based on the idea that ‘men ruin it.’ She felt that the notion that ladies’ toilets were safer from male abuse was not true.

Jayne mentioned three cases where natal women who were rather masculine in their appearance had been accosted by other women in a ladies’ loo.

Nicky said that there was a 5 years wait to receive advice and treatment on the NHS and that she had gone to a private clinic. Jayne had done the same. Nicky commented that taking oestrogen reduced libido, which rather undermines the argument that transition is driven by sexual motives.

Andy wondered whether age had any influence on what treatments were possible; for example if transitioning in later life was having an operation no longer an option?

Jayne said that asking about surgery was an inappropriate area to stray into.

Nicky said the question could be answered in general terms. She listed various options available; the purely cosmetic, such as treatments for hair growth and hair removal and make-up; or the gender affirming hormones, (eg oestrogen or testosterone), or surgery. She said some trans people were happy with the more cosmetic level and some wanted to go further and might seek hormone therapy or surgery.

Janet said that while we may be naturally curious to know about more intimate aspects of transitioning, we should not ask a trans person directly because for them this is not an academic question but a deeply personal one. It would be preferable to use the internet or other authority to find out. Nicky added that when getting to know trans people there are good questions and bad questions. Asking about which pronouns they prefer to be known by is a good question. It is not a good idea to ask about what surgery they may or may not have had just as you wouldn’t ask a woman if she had had a hysterectomy.

Andy thanked them for providing this guidance which it was important for those wishing to create an inclusive and welcoming church to know.

Jayne added that putting up a notice that says all are welcome is not a useful guide to whether a trans person will be welcome. It may be a case of ‘you are welcome provided you change to be more like us’. A better sign was when a church appears on the Inclusive Church database.

Maureen started a conversation about the ‘God made them male and female’ verse in Genesis. It was agreed that people had interpreted many verses in the Bible to suit their prejudices.

Pamela spoke about her positive experiences of trans people during her career as a nurse.

Nicky spoke about her sailing club. She had been concerned that the members might find her transitioning difficult. However, nearly everyone had been accepting and affirming. She added that there are always lines which people find it difficult to cross. An example in the sailing club was the changing rooms. The ladies changing room was now being adapted to include a family changing room, which would make it easier. Nicky also spoke of her local church which she had been attending for six months, but where, due to the lockdown, she had not been able to chat to people and therefore there have been no introductions. They just see a tall woman coming each week. She added that before starting to attend the church she had spoken to the vicar who had been very supportive. She feels positive about being accepted and hopes to have a ministry there as a retired clergyperson in due course.

Jayne said that churches should name the categories of people they welcome. A church which says it welcomes LGBT people on its noticeboard and website is like a church that says it has wheelchair access. Just as a disabled person knows they knows they have been thought about, so a trans person will feel more confident.

Answering a question from Hilma, Jayne spoke briefly about her family situation. Nicky also gave a brief account of how transitioning had affected her family. Both had some family members that were more positive than others.

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