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Scarred — and not by surgery

27 May 2016

The pain in this book rebukes Christians, says Robin Gill

This is My Body: Hearing the theology of transgender Christians
Christina Beardsley and Michelle O’Brien, editors
DLT £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50

THIS is a book written and edited mostly by Christians who are themselves transgender. Many recount the way in which they have been thoughtlessly hurt by other Christians and often unsupported by church leaders. They seek to dispel the ignorance of many of us about the different forms of transgender lives and the social and domestic challenges that they frequently face. They lay bare some of the cruder ways in which scripture has been used to attack them.

Alongside some critical scientific and theological accounts of different forms of transgender lives, there are also deeply moving personal testimonies that show just how cruel congregations can be.

Why on earth do we find transgender issues so vexing? Why, for example, are we so offended by those who cross-dress in public? Fundamentalists will, no doubt, quote Deuteronomy 22.5; but the contributors here point out that we do not follow much else in that chapter (least of all 22.24), and goodness only knows whether 22.5 is really concerned with cross-dressing in the modern sense.

And when it comes to Genesis 1.27, even our bishops over the past decade or so seem to have become fundamentalists. A binary distinction between “male and female” appears to have become fundamental to their opposition to both same-sex marriage in society at large and the ordination of those in a sexually active same-sex partnership. Yet several contributors again note that the conjunction in 1.27 is “and”, not “or”, and that God’s creation spontaneously produces some people whose DNA, sexual organs, or brains do not match a clear binary distinction.

Or perhaps it is sex/gender reassignment surgery that gives us qualms (qualms that are shared by some of the contributors themselves). These are not explored in any depth in this book. Nevertheless, some of those giving personal testimonies write about their huge post-operative relief after years of suicidal agony. We need to tread gently even here. Few of us, I suspect, are remotely qualified to pass judgement on such surgery.

This is not a profoundly theological or systematic book. The style and technical expertise of contributors is very varied. It is also quite repetitive, as well as dogmatic about what terms are allowable or not in this context — some not wholly intuitive. Sensitivities are clearly still very raw. But it is a necessary book. It allows transgender Christians to speak for themselves. The rest of us need to listen.


Canon Robin Gill is the editor of Theology and Emeritus Professor of Applied Theology at the University of Kent.

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