Gender Varying Faith:  Our Genders – Our Stories

CSCS Annual Conference 2013 & Sibyls

Presentation by Christina Beardsley

Preparing an earlier version of this presentation a song came to mind:

Getting to know you
Getting to know all about you
Getting to like you
Getting to hope you like me

Getting to know you
Putting it my way but nicely
You are precisely
My cup of tea

T for trans! This conference has been planned to provide information about transgender people by trans people. If Trans hasn’t been your cup of tea we hope that today will change that.

Many of us have been brought up with very rigid stereotypes of gender. Trans people appear to undermine that. But few of us are 100% masculine or 100% feminine.

How many people here have knowingly met a trans person (in the course of work/socially)? You may have done so unknowingly.

Some people ‘pass’ in their ‘acquired’/ ‘confirmed’ gender: men and women with no signs of their trans history.  Some retain tell -tale signs – they should not be stigmatised for that. Maybe they are in the early stages of transition. Maybe they are happy to combine aspects of the masculine & feminine.

In this presentation you’ll hear some of my story. Born male but, as a child, given to girly play. I grew up in chilly West Yorkshire, so appreciated my liberty bodice – a gender neutral foundation garment. Cowboys & Indians? I identified with the Indians because they wore their hair in plaits.  I didn’t know then that North American Native culture, like many traditional societies, in the past & today, recognised and honoured ‘two spirit’ people – people recognised a link between gender variance and spirituality: in those cultures gender variance denotes transcendence rather than transgression, e.g. the Hijras of the Indian subcontinent.

Western history too has many examples of gender variant people – when taking round the collection plat at Mass the Abbe de Choisey reckoned people gave more when he was cross-dressed; also shown fencing – he spent the first half of his life as a man and the second as a woman – diplomat and spy the Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont: – hence the older term Eonism for cross-dressing & the Beaumont Society the pioneering UK support group for transvestite and transsexual people.

But the gender binary has always been strong. My favourite Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, whose teaching is all about controlling one’s passions, went uncharacteristically ballistic when approached by a young student of rhetoric whose hair was somewhat too elaborately dressed and attire highly embellished!

Sunday newspapers at this time told exotic tales of cabaret performers, like April Ashley, who went to Casablanca for ‘the operation’, performed by Dr Georges Burou.

Aged 16 I read I Want What I Want by Geoff Brown about someone who wanted to ‘change sex’.  Early on in the book, the hero is sectioned in a mental hospital just for saying he is female. That scared me.

Trans is about gender identity not sexual orientation. Trans people can be straight, lesbian, gay, asexual. Sometimes sexual orientation changes post transition. (Masculine and feminine varies in everyone). If you feel at home in your gender identity you are a cis gendered person and unlikely to have experienced the discomfort. Trans people feel with their birth gender and how imperative it can become for us to align our appearance/bodies/lives with our gender identity.

Intersex conditions are physical. So of course is brain sex. Trans diagnosis presupposes one is a normal female with male gender identity but sometimes atypical sex characteristics are present as well.

The shift from trans (implying crossing), and sexual, to gender identity was appropriate. The additional term ‘disorder’ was not.

December 2012: DSM-V: Gender Identity Disorder is replaced by Gender Dysphoria (the opposite of euphoria) in response to consultation: emotional distress rather than mental disorder.

The term “gender variance” which you’ve used today is good. Trans/transgender includes everyone, not just those who transition permanently. Re-assignment could suggest you have changed gender. Realignment & confirmation implies everything else has been brought into line with your innate sense of gender identity. Sex change is a no-no. F2M, M2F etc.

In the UK gender variant children receive specialist care at the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust.

Medical intervention began a century ago. Clinicians like Hirschfield recognised that they were dealing with a distinct and real phenomenon.  Gillies had pioneered plastic surgery on the casualties of war. Dillon, born a girl had 13 operations between 1946 and 1949. He served as a ship’s physician but was outed. Later he lived in a Buddhist monastery in Tibet.

Kinsey referred Benjamin his first trans patient. An endocrinologist he pioneered the use of cross-gender hormones which has been highly therapeutic.

The emphasis today is not so much on the causes (or aetiology) of being trans but on people’s wellbeing so that they can get on with their lives like everyone else. The success rate for treatment is incredibly high: 90s%.

Government is so concerned about trans inequality it has recently produced its first Transgender Action Plan.

Health & employment are the two main areas where trans people encounter problems. Delay in accessing treatment and health professionals’ lack of understanding being key issues.

Being Trans is not a life-style choice. Research shows that it probably begins in the womb. It can’t be ‘cured’ by psychotherapy. There is probably no single ‘cause’

I may identify as a boy but look like a girl. I may identify as a girl but look like a boy.

About 1 in every 11,500 people are transsexual. The number of [presenting] trans people in the UK was estimated at 6000 (2009).  March 2008 – 2,366 had applied for Gender Recognition Certificates (& 3% only were refused). The numbers of people likely to present is rising & likely to increase. Charing Cross Gender Identity Clinic, West London receives 500 new referrals each year & has 2000 people on its books

 Gender balance – more MtFs than FtMs but the gap is closing

Many Trans people chose not to take these steps or to postpone doing so, but some do.

The standards of care are being updated all the time in response to reflection on clinical practice. Some clinicians put people on hormones as a diagnostic. So-called ‘cross-gender living’ without hormones can be very trying as it means you might be read easily and abused.

Testosterone has a powerful effect on trans men and they often pass unread.

Testosterone often has powerful effects on males who have undergone puberty – it is harder to undo them and hence the need, in some cases, for FFS.

Some trans women have bulked-up or taken on highly masculine roles in an attempt to deny their female gender identity, only to find they can no longer postpone transition

I felt real regret when I read this aged 31 and wished I’d transitioned at 17. I would be in my 40s before I began to transition – but that’s average for trans women.

Not everyone who transitions seeks hormones or surgery. Many Trans men have not, until recently, chosen phalloplasty – the surgery is more successful now. Some androgynous/gender non-conforming folk are assumed to be trans (but would be covered by current equality legislation – and targets for the same abuse!)

More children seem to be articulating their gender variance than ever (or perhaps we just hear about it now) and at an earlier age. Many will grow up to be gay. Some, though, will be trans. And some, like me, will identify as gay until they’re ready to accept themselves as trans. This is, or was, often true of Trans men. Most trans women, however, are heterosexual, and many will have married.

Trans Media Watch has developed a good practice charter for broadcasters and journalists: it also monitors programmes and portrayals and advises documentary makers. As a result of its submission the Leveson Inquiry called for better standards of reporting about trans people, most of whose stories are not in the public interest. . On Twitter and other social media trans women in particular are fighting back when radical feminist journalists seem to imply that we are not real women.  Images: Suzanne Moore & Paris Lees.


Many trans people around the world are murdered – Transgender Day of Remembrance

But I’m finding that younger trans people really question the gender binary and what transition might mean for them. Get over it!

Sadly, trans people are still susceptible to problems of depression, and very frequently attempt suicide. And at the same time they are dealing with all this many trans people are trying to maintain relationships with spouse/partner/children, strained by their transition.

I had a not so good experience – from the born again Christian CEO (wish I’d had Barbie!) – in the NHS Trust where I was working when I said I was intending to transition; but an excellent one in the Trust where I transitioned. My line manager was incredibly supportive. But even with legal protections in place employers can find excuses to dismiss Trans people.

When I transitioned I was able to change all my documents but not, at that stage, my birth certificate. This option was still a few years away.

Prior to Corbett v Corbett (1970) – the April Ashley case – birth certificates were not changed. Mr Justice Ormrod, also a medic, insisted sex/gender  was essentially chromosomal and  Ashley was still male. People in transition could legally change their name and amend passports, bank accounts etc. but not the sex/gender on their birth certificate

Marriage equality would remove the painful demand that married people must divorce in order to obtain full gender recognition. Remaining married means the birth certificate remains as before. It’s a legal matter; the person has ‘fully transitioned’ even without that.

Some religious people admit that trans is not their cup of tea – whether the churches should be seeking such exemptions is debatable

In Changing Attitude, England we have 3 Trans Trustees to ensure that our needs are not overlooked: a trans woman, a trans man and a transgender woman. The Sibyls was once a refuge for Trans people who were rejected by their churches. Nowadays congregations are better informed and more welcoming.

The Bible celebrates human equality. Elaine will talk about why Deuteronomy 22:5 might not apply to trans people! The first Gentile convert was a eunuch – some Trans people identify with eunuchs of the ancient world.

Like many trans people I found the transition journey to be a roller coaster – outed to the press; employment issues – subsequently, I’ve found meaning in the Joseph narrative in Genesis with its dramatic highs and lows. Later, I learned from performance activist Peterson Toscano that it is a Trans narrative – that Joseph’s splendid coat was actually ‘the robe of a virgin daughter of the king of Israel’ in other words, a princess dress, and that it was his femininity that explains his brothers’ hostility. In Egypt he is just the same, dressed to the nines in his robes, he forgives them all.

Theologian Virginia Ramay Mollenkott, has written ‘Seven lessons Religious Congregations Can Learn from Transpeople’. Here are three of them:

2. Help overcome gender stereotypes that alienate men from women & from their own bodies & oppress women & girls the world over.
3. Trans people are constant reminders of human diversity and that our language about diversity needs to be diverse
4. As we noted at the start, traditionally the shamans/priests

You learn most about transgender people from those trans people who are your colleagues, clients, family members or friends.

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