IT HAS been a mixed year for transgender people. Within the Church of England, there was widespread rejoicing when, in July 2017, the General Synod voted unequivocally to welcome trans people in the Church, although that delight lessened when the House of Bishops declined to offer a new service of welcome for transgender people. At the same time, in the wider world of social and traditional media, many trans people have felt under constant critique and threat by a troubling alliance between conservative Christian and essentialist feminist commentators. It has been a very mixed 18 months.
This resource book, then, is more than welcome in a Church and wider culture that — despite growing understanding about transgender people — often sends mixed messages. Between them, Dowd and Beardsley have considerable pastoral and academic acumen, the former having written a Ph.D. thesis on trans people’s experience of the Church, and Beardsley being a trans woman who is ordained in the Church of England. The addition of a short contribution from Dr Justin Tanis about the US trans scene brings a wider non-UK perspective to bear.
Transfaith breaks up its pastoral and theological work into a series of clear, intelligent, and helpful chapters. If it is very much intended as a workbook for individual, church, and community use, Transfaith is no mere manual on “how to be nice to trans people”. While it does offer clear guidance on how non-trans people can be trans allies, it also offers substantial biblical, theological, and pastoral reflections on how transgender people are clearly part of God’s economy of salvation. Indeed, part of the joy of Transfaith lies in its recognition that trans people are ordinary members of God’s diverse creation.
In terms of the advice and guidance, Transfaith offers a most welcome glossary of terms which explains the self-descriptors trans people use for themselves. In the midst of the ever-shifting sands of gender-based and sexed language, Dowd and Beardsley have done a great job of providing terms and definitions that will aid comprehension and build deeper relationships between trans people and their allies.
Another highlight of Transfaith is its willingness to engage with the biblical corpus. Its analyses of texts in Genesis, Acts, and Job are excellent, and address some of the concerns that trans people have posed themselves about being over-identified with biblical eunuchs. If the authors do not seek to break new ground in biblical analysis, their work will be energising for both trans and non-trans people who wish to think through the biblical good news for trans people.
For those concerned that the Church of England’s decision not to develop a new service of welcome for trans people was a misstep, Transfaith includes a series of striking liturgical resources. In addition to a renaming rite, there are words for both a reaffirmation, as well as relinquishing, of marriage vows. For some, these rites may be too bold, but they gesture towards a brave new world that the Church must wrestle with. Trans people are here to stay, and their existence presents exciting as well as intriguing challenges in marking ritually the seasons of life.
Ultimately, what makes this an essential book for anyone serious about the reception and celebration of trans identities in faith communities is its generosity, pastoral acuity, and tenderness. Each section typically ends with a series of questions that can be worked through by individuals and groups. These offer space for people in differing theological places to reflect and move forward together. Most of all, it does not treat trans people as secondary, weird, or inconvenient. Transfaith reveals how, without trans people, the Body of Christ will be diminished.
Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and Visiting Fellow of Manchester Met University.
Transfaith: A transgender pastoral resource
Chris Dowd, Christina Beardsley and Justin Tanis
Church Times Bookshop £13.50