Transgender and The Quiet Lives Project

The Quiet Lives research project being undertaken by Jennie Barnsley

Trans* is an umbrella term that refers to identities across a range of experiences of genderedness.  It includes people who self-identify as transgender, transsexual, cross-dresser, genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, genderless, agender, non-gendered, third gender, two-spirit, bigender.  This list grows and changes as self-identities grow and change. In this article Trans* (with an  asterisk) serves to indicate that there is a wider group of gender variant people than often assumed in the term ‘trans’.

In her recent PhD research, Jennie Barnsley (Hardshaw and Mann Quaker Meeting) asks two main questions:

  • is gender as simple as the two-box system of Women and Men that we think we know so well
  • and if it’s really more complex than that, how might that complexity shape the way we think about the Divine?

Her response to the first question is that gender is far and away more complex than we think it is.

Her response to the second is to use life stories given to her by Trans* people (the Quiet Lives of the project’s title) to think about how living the complexities of gender might illuminate the complexities of the Divine, filling those quiet lives with Light.

Jennie uses the term ‘GODDE’ to represent a Divinity who is neither or both Female/Male.  And by using capital letters, she shows that, for her, GODDE exceeds both her thinking and her writing in infinite degree.

She says, ‘My work is driven by my commitment the Quaker testimony to equality and a desire to see all expressions of gender recognised as fully expressions of that of GODDE. I argue that, in order for social justice to be available for Trans* people, we need for an open-hearted, non-judgemental, astonished wonder rather than the World shrunk to fit outworn measurements.

Without this, our Trans* siblings remain on the outside un-honoured, uncelebrated and unsymbolised.  It is as a contribution to this that I have drawn on the quiet lives of Trans* people to explore three metaphors for the Divine; using Trans* stories in this way contributes to the honouring, celebrating and symbolising of Trans* lives, filling these quiet lives with Light.’

‘Knowledge of recent theories of gender that speak truth to the power of the binary by complicating our assumptions as to the ‘reality’ of the two-box gender system, and exposure to the real world experiences of people who live these complexities, all contribute to the quest for justice for Trans* siblings.  This project supports that quest for justice by encouraging Friends to think more deeply about our commonly-held beliefs on gender.  Some of the aims of this project are, therefore: to promote understanding of Trans* issues; to catalyse debate around the complexities of gender; and to stimulate further formal and informal study of these issues within the Society.’

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