Reflections from the Transgender Theology Conference

I attended the first day of the Transgender Theology Conference from home via Zoom. The Zoom quality was excellent, making it very accessible to me as someone with an energy limiting condition. The premise of the conference, “The pastoral care of transgender, intersex, and non-binary people” seemed very timely to me, as a non-binary person just starting to explore a call to ministry. And so, I was looking forward to a day of enlightening talks and learning. I had a word document all set up on my laptop to take notes, like the good little student I am.

And then the opening address hit me like a wave. Wow. I listened to this speaker affirm the validity of trans existence in God’s creation and the tears came, a storm of relief, and grief, and joy. I was not expecting such an intense emotional experience. Whilst I’m no expert, I’m not a stranger to the concept of transgender theology, and I’ve been participating in SCM’s Trans Theology Group workshops for most of the year. I assumed, emotionally and spiritually, that I could “handle it”, and that this conference would be more of an intellectual endeavour. I was wrong.

My notes from the talks are disjointed, unfinished. There’s bits of quotes, people to look up, scraps of our queer history and culture. Half-finished sentences as I scrambled to record my impressions of the main points between crying. I’ll show you some of them:

Chrissie Chevasutt: “Love people. It’s not complicated – but boy, is it difficult.” --- Pastoral care = something we do for others; but need to look after selves too in a hostile world. How to pastorally care for oneself? --- The deepest part of a transgender person’s journey is the spiritual transition and transformation. More important than how we look, if we pass, if we are feminine or masculine enough. --- “Jesus was quite the queerest of them all. And they crucified him.”

Jack Woodruff: In reaching out to one minority group, we scoop up others. We are not single-issue people. --- Trans people are trying to survive, and the media and the church debate our existence, spread misinformation, and restrict our rights. --- Trans liberation. Trans people should not aspire to be equals in a world that continues to be capitalist, injust, and patriarchal. Instead, we aspire for justice for all. --- Right to privacy: just because someone is trans doesn’t mean they want to be at the forefront of change.

Jay Hulme: “'Be gay, do crime' isn’t just a meme.” – we can go to churches who don’t want us, make them uncomfortable. --- “You may as well do the things that Jesus would do, and only piss off one group of people, rather than picking the middle ground and pissing off everyone.” --- “And if this church wants to pray for persecuted people of faith, they’d better be praying for the queers.”

Dr Nicolete Burbach: Transvestites (the old name for transgender ppl) were left behind by the gay rights movement. Many were homeless, sex workers, destitute. A group was set up to support homeless queer youth. --- Look up STAR --- “I have never met a trans person who is not even slightly traumatised.” --- Look up Lee Edelman, and Cruising Utopia by José Esteban Muñoz

That was as far as I got. There was another talk to go, as well as the sharing of poetry and spoken word finalists, but I was done. There were enough ideas and emotions swirling around in my brain to last me at least a week, and knew I couldn’t cope with any more input. In the best possible way, I was overwhelmed. I’m still not sure I can fully convey the impact of this conference on me as a trans and queer Christian. I do know that I would strongly recommend coming next year to anyone interested in theology, whether trans or cis. I also know I’ll be thinking about the things that were said for quite some time. And I know that trans people belong in the church, in all the church, exactly as God has made us.