Brett Watson

Why the Church needs trans Christians — and why its leaders don’t want to admit it

Brett Watson
Why the Church needs trans Christians — and why its leaders don’t want to admit it

We’ve been taught for so long to see our bodies and our physical pleasure as sinful or shameful. The body is only an earthly thing, we’re told, and the earth is only something lowly that’s trodden beneath our feet; we should always be looking up to Heaven. This is how we come to forget that we are all children of earth and water, as well as air and fire. We deny our ‘Mother Earth’ while we exalt the ‘Heavenly Father’; yet both are aspects of the same Divinity.

As trans and/or non-binary Christians, we often carry a double or triple burden of body shame, over and above other people’s. Society tells us either that we’re in the ‘wrong’ bodies, or that our inability to accept our ‘God-given’ bodies means that something is wrong with our brains, or sometimes both. The small daily rituals that we adopt to face the world as something that looks, and feels, a little closer to our true selves — binding, packing, tucking, make-up, hormones, or whatever they might be for each individual — often feel like dirty secrets that can’t be spoken aloud, and especially not in church.

We fear ‘not passing’, and dread being exposed as fakes. But who are we to imagine that we can hide anything from our Creator? We are seen; we are heard; we are called by name; and we are valued and loved more than we can imagine. When we’re among friends who walk the same path, why shouldn’twe speak of these body-centred acts? Shouldn’t the House of God be the place where we feel most at home, rather than yet another place where we feel forced to hide our real selves away? And are these rituals of ours really any more shameful, or any less acceptable, then the insulin taken daily by the diabetes patient or the hip replacement for someone living with arthritis?

The Christ we follow is a Christ of the real and the practical: a Christ of everyday survival strategies, and the determination to keep on getting up from the floor. To us, Death-and-Resurrection is not merely a miracle that Jesus ‘performed’ for us at Easter, but a ritual that we keep on re-enacting day after day after day, as we keep coming out of the tomb of the false self that we once pretended to be. The emergence of a resurrection-body that even our nearest and dearest might struggle to recognise — just as Mary Magdalene knew the risen Jesus only by his voice — is, for us, no abstract ideal.

We will rise again, we tell the trolls and the TERFs and the enbyphobic bullies and even those who resort to physical violence to keep us down. And again, and again. You can hate us or despise us, but you can’t put out our light…because our light is Divine.

The Christ we follow is a Christ who sat down to eat with people on the margins of society. It’s far easier to envision him listening with compassion to his diverse collection of dinner guests, looking at them with loving eyes and sharing their joys and sorrows, than to imagine him monopolising the conversation or shaming them as ‘sinners’. Yet the Church that many of us grew up with is a place where we feel obliged to conform to the social norms of appearance, stay quiet, listen to one individual talking at length without interruption, and give generously to a faceless power structure without regard for whether we can afford it. We’re put down all too often, and told of our worthlessness, our powerlessness and our sinfulness. Isn’t this the opposite of what Jesus would have wanted? Didn’t he come so that we might have life in all its fullness?

It’s probably no accident that the Church that many of us grew up with is becoming an empty shell, attended only by a few people in their seventies and eighties who cling on for the sake of tradition. Within the next two or three decades, most of the churches currently in existence in the West must either adapt or die.

Disturbingly for those in power, to adapt might mean embracing Jesus as the radical, the rebel who broke the Sabbath and ate with sinners, the overturner of tables, and the wanderer in the wilderness. It might mean escaping the ‘death cult’ of the cold, damp building with its uncomfortable pews and its dated hymns, and inviting people in — the LGBTQ+ and non-binary people, the asylum-seekers and refugees, the people from gypsy and traveller families, the homeless people, the people with piercings and tattoos and unconventional hairstyles, the people with addiction problems, the people who listen to animals and talk to trees, the people with controversial views about God (and/or Goddess), and the people who aren’t willing to sit down and shut up and do as they’re told.

Let’s face it: the Church needs people who are brave enough to speak their truth, whatever the cost. People for whom pretending to be someone they’re not, just to tick a box or meet someone else’s expectations, is not an option. People who accept the possibility of radical transformation, and understand that where miracles take place — and where the Resurrection happens — isn’t in the middle of anyone’s comfort zone. It’s at the rough, messy edges, where taboos are constantly being broken and prejudices challenged, that Jesus shows up in people’s lives and changes them forever.

But for someone with all the trappings of power, that’s not an easy message to hear…

Ashley Jay Brockwell

Non-binary artivist, songworker, Timeweaver, author and consultant; Founder and CEO of Reconnecting Rainbows — Transforming LGBTQ+ Mental Health

Read more of Brockwell's work here: Medium