Three books inspired by and containing the voices of Sibyls, have changed the way that transgender people are seen within the church. All based on personal experiences and detailed research of trans Christians, they provide a theological grounding and practical guidance to churches and congregations. Please buy the books, share with others and encourage others to buy them.
This is My Body: Hearing the Theology of Transgender Christians
Editors Christina Beardsley and Michelle O’Brien
For many years we have been concerned (and annoyed) that other religious people wrote things about us while our own experience as transgender Christians was nowhere represented. Members of Sibyls felt what we needed was a publication of our own. In it we would tell our stories and set the theological record right as far as being transgender was concerned. In it we would tell our stories and set the theological record right as far as being transgender was concerned. That’s how the idea of the Sibyls Book was born. Sibyls members gradually wrote contributions and the editors wrote chapters and assembled the book. But would anyone publish it? The book was accepted by the internationally-respected religious publisher: Darton, Longman and Todd, and reached Number 1 of the top 35 LGBTQ Christian books of 2016.
Part One includes Jay Walmsley describing the early days of Sibyls, Jasmine Woolley on the social construction of gender; Mercia McMahon on Trans Liberating and Queer Theology. Michelle O’Brien (co-editor) explores intersex perspectives on identity and spirituality, while Tina Beardsley (co-editor) provides a theology of transgender, and discussion of the Sibyls’, Gender, Sexuality, and Spirituality workshop. In Part 2, Sibyls members tell their own powerful stories of faith and personal journeys. Elaine Sommers ‘Faith, Gender and Me’ describes her experiences within her church, while Helen Belcher ponders how transition can lead to loss of faith.
In the foreword, theologian Dr Susannah Cornwall says the book contains “….a series of narratives which testify to the breadth of experiences – some uplifting, some justly angry, some heart-breaking – of trans people navigating their relationships with the Christian Church. It is my hope that the book will become a landmark text and testify to the many theological possibilities that full acknowledgement of a diversity of bodies, genders and sexes brings to life together.”
‘Announces the growing confidence of trans Christians and our refusal to be treated as second class and welcome under sufferance.’ Rachel Mann
‘I read these essays with a growing sense of excitement. Here is a highly readable theology rooted in the experience and faith of trans people’. Professor Adrian Thatcher
£14.99 Available from Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/this-is-my-body/christina-beardsley/michelle-obrien/9780232532067
Transfaith: a Transgender Pastoral Resource
Chris Dowd, Tina Beardsley, Justin Tanis
This is the second book produced with the support of Sibyls.
A resource for ministers and congregations who want to begin to understand and/or welcome transgender people into their congregations. It provides insights into the pastoral needs of transgender people, their families and friends. The book describes pioneering research into the experiences of trans Christians in the UK, and provides a theological and biblical framework by which ministers and congregations can begin to appreciate transgender people’s perspectives. It offers liturgies and Bible studies that can be used by ministers and congregations exploring the needs of gender variant people.
£14.99 Published by Darton Longman and Todd. Available at Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/transfaith/chris-dowd/christina-beardsley/9780232533118
Trans Affirming Churches: How to Celebrate Gender-Variant People and Their Loved Ones
Tina Beardsley & Chris Dowd
We are all aware that there remains a lack of knowledge and understanding about trans people in the church, and how we, as trans people who are religious, can experience bias in our faith communities. With the help of their many years of experience working with trans people negotiating their relationships with religious institutions, the authors (one of whom is trans) have created this accessible, valuable guide that will educate and improve churches’ relationship with trans people. Combining first-hand interviews, Chris and Tina’s own experiences and scripture analysis, this thought-provoking guide uses this combination of ancient and contemporary stories to outline a theology that welcomes and includes all people whatever their gender identity or sexual orientation. Written from this inclusive Christian perspective, the book answers questions about trans people that are specific to church communities.
£19.99 Published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Available from Waterstones: https://www.waterstones.com/book/trans-affirming-churches/chris-dowd/christina-beardsley/9781785925320
A Road Map to Inclusion – Supporting Trans People of Faith
by Shaan Knan, edited by Rev’d Christina Beardsley
The Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) has developed this important guide on supporting trans and gender diverse people of faith. It is intended to serve as a companion to the charity’s previous successful booklet ‘Inclusivity – Supporting BAME Trans People.’ The guide can be downloaded from https://www.gires.org.uk/a-road-map-to-inclusion-supporting-trans-people-of-faith/
by Rachel Mann
Rev’d Rachel Mann considers the implications of sexuality, gender and illness. Drawing on insights from desert spirituality, queer theology, Greek tragedy and philosophy, Dazzling Darkness seeks to give an account of the ‘dark side’ of God which escapes the usual negative associations with the word ‘darkness’. Published by Wild Goose.
Gender: The Inclusive Church Resource
by Rosemary Lain-Priestley and Bob Callaghan
The Inclusive Church Resource book series are resource books for churches. Each book has an introduction, theological reflection, stories from lived experience and a practical resource section The book series include:
- Gender by Rosemary Lain Priestley
- Disability by John Hull
- Sexuality by Susannah Cornwall,
- Mental Health by Jean Vanier and John Swinton.
- Poverty by Susan Durber,
- Ethnicity by Michael Jagessar
The introduction to the book on Gender is by Dianna Gwilliams, chair of Inclusive Church and Dean of Guildford Cathedral. Along with the theology of gender, the book contains four stories of lived experience by Hilary Cotton, Natalie Collins, David Monteith and Rachel Mann. The resource section is by Ronni Lamont. The book also includes an article by artist and broadcaster Grayson Perry. Published by Darton Longman and Todd.
More Perfect Union?
by Alan Wilson
In this important and timely book Alan Wilson argues that allowing gay people to marry is a moral purpose. Wilson says: ‘I asked myself “what does God want for gay people?”. After re-revisiting the Bible, and more importantly getting to know gay people of all types and varying backgrounds, he decided the answer was that God wants for them the same as everyone else – flourishing faith, hope and love, involvement and inclusion. Meanwhile, from a scientific perspective, More Perfect Union? asserts that homosexuality is part of a wide range of human sexual longing and expression, not an anomaly, a sickness, not merely a lifestyle choice. The vast majority of people Wilson encountered on his journey toward being in favour of same-sex marriage were not anti-gay, were ‘just trying to love
Crossing Over: Liberating the Transgendered Christian
by Vanessa Sheridan
Published in 2012, the first book to discuss gender variance within the context of the church, surely an important and overdue milestone. Intended to help convince some transgendered folk that there is a place for them, at least within some liberal mainline churches.
Sheridan dispays a passion about the challenges and lay out what transgendered people need from the church, and what the church needs from the gender variant and their special gifts. She shows that being transgender and a Christian do not have to be in conflict. It provides biblically based information to educate those who are transgender and those who are open to the truth. The book offers many practical ways that Church communities can embrace our little known group.
Changing channels?: A Christian Response to the Transvestite and Transsexual
by David Horton
David Horton’s 1994 book is now out of print but may be bought on line as a pdf at http://www.grovebooks.co.uk
A Light in the Dark
by Stephenie Robinson
Stephenie writes: “Many male to female transsexuals are very aware of their gender at a very young age. Some play with dolls, wearing dresses, trying Mum’s make-up, this cannot be said for Steve Robinson, A husband, a father of two boys but ill, suffering from what appeared to be hyper sexuality, violence and real aversion to both bath water and sunlight which would bring his skin out in hives and make him sick.
In 1979 after years of suffering, going to different hospitals and being turned away for they did not not know how to threat Steve, finally a Dr. in a Gender Identity Clinic worked it out, Oestrogen therapy cured the condition but left an awful legacy the long term effect of feminisation. The book titled ‘A Light In The Dark’ charts the history and how through innovative inspiration and a lot of help from God, that small still voice saying go this way, go that way eventually became the girl that would save his very existence”.
Exploring the Interplay: The Sibyls’ Gender, Sexuality and Spirituality” Workshop”
In Theology & Sexuality by Christina Beardsley, Michelle O’Brien, J Wooley (2013)
This is an account of an interactive workshop which builds on trans, queer and intersex perspectives. An exploration of identity, role and practice, it requires honesty and attentive listening from participants. Produced for a day conference at St Anne’s, Soho in 2007, it has been offered (and developed) with LGBT Christian organizations, the LGBT Health Summits 2010 and 2011, and the York Spiritual Directors’ Course in 2012 and 2013. Originally a trans-led workshop, at more recent events leaders have identified as lesbian, gay, and trans, and ‘spirituality’ has always been broadly defined. This article outlines the background to the workshop, its genesis and contents, before discussing the major themes that emerged on these occasions. The authors commend the carefully-managed group listening exercise, and the ‘interplay’ model of identity-role-practice, devised by Michelle O’Brien, as templates for the wider listening process in the Anglican Communion in the hope that it will include gender identity and spirituality in addition to sexuality.
Access the paper online at: http://essential.metapress.com/content/2167298w6x912084/
Research and writing by Susan Gilchrist on Transgender
Susan is a long-standing member of Sibyls, an Anglican and a pastoral and academic writer about transgender. This website contains several deeply researched papers relevant to the transgender community.
The Transsexual is my Neighbour: Pastoral Guidelines for Christian Clergy, Pastors and Congregations
by Christina Beardsley.
Articles and information for use by clergy and congregations when welcoming transgender and LGBT members into church fellowship. This information also gives a greater understanding to people who have concerns about offering a welcome, and to those who do not know what to expect.
Faith, Gender and Me
by Elaine Sommers.
This article gives a perspective on gender identity and Christian faith from the point of view of a transvestite or cross dresser rather than a transsexual. It is presented as a question and answer interview with a single person but it describes experiences of many. It illustrates the concerns someone might face with their church leader and congregation.
Transvestites and cross dressers, now rather loaded and problematic terms, generally do not seek gender reassignment, but know a deep and enduring affinity with the cross-gender identity that they possess.
This text is also reproduced in This is My Body
You Are Mine: Reflections on Who We Are
by Alison Webster (2009)
This is a subtle and sophisticated exploration the importance of the divine gift of individual identity. Accepting our intended and glorious ‘one-offness’ we can then stretch out to an intimacy with others, thereby alighting the passion of God. Exploring seeming contradictions (unique and like others, consistent and in flux, etc.) that may better be seen as paradoxes, this essay in relational theology will speak to those for whom conventional religion has become stale.
Cracking the binary code
by Benny Hazlehurst
This paper offers a critique of the ‘binary’ nature of much biblical interpretation and ethical belief in the Church, rejecting simplistic ‘either-or’ approaches to both. Instead there is offered an interpretation of key biblical texts through the lenses of circumstances, needs and motivation. It is argued that, when these factors are taken into account, even for Evangelicals, there is no longer a substantive biblical case against the acceptance of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships and the development of a positive Christian ethic for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. At the very least, the complexity of the interpretive task must lead to greater openness to and acceptance of those from whom we differ.
The web link for the publication is http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/anv.2014.30.issue-1/issue-files/anv.2014.30.issue-1.xml
Church views on sexuality: the middle ground
by Savriti Hensman
It is clear that Christians hold a spectrum of views on sexuality and marriage. However, the popular idea that there are two warring blocks that may be labelled ‘traditionalists’ and ‘revisionists’ is simplistic and can be misleading as well as unhelpful.
Current tensions could be reduced and reframed significantly if more church leaders acknowledged the extent of common ground in the middle of this continuum, allowed limited flexibility of practice, and enabled their communities to develop practices of discernment oriented towards the “grace and truth” (John 1.13-15) that lies at the heart of the Christian message.
Savitri Hensman identifies seven widely held positions on sexuality. She suggests that those with supposedly diametrically opposing views often have more in common than they may at first think.
Equally, she argues, in Christian terms, that coexistence among those sharing a ‘middle ground’ is not about weak compromise, but instead reflects an approach both deeply rooted in Bible and tradition and open to change as a living community led by the Spirit.
Living it Out: A Survival Guide for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Christians and Their Friends, Families and Churches.
Edited by Rachel Hagger-Holt and Sarah Hagger-Holt (2009)
As its title suggests, this has been written for anyone who is questioning their sexual identity or is looking for advice, guidance or support over whether or not to come out and where or with whom. One of its many positive attributes is that it draws on the lived experience of over fifty individuals belonging to every denomination from the Salvation Army to high church Anglican. Whatever the spiritual journey of the reader, they cannot fail to be encouraged by the practical, positive help on managing relationships with God, the church and other people. This is one of the few books I would feel confident to place in the hands of a young person – or his/her parents and friends.