Quakers and gender identity
This is a page about gender identity. Whatever our sexuality, gender is a part of our personal make-up that we either take for granted or find endlessly baffling. Sometimes troubling, often socially out of sync, variant-gender identity is not easy to live with, but sometimes liberating and enriching. As part of our human nature, and as part of our whole personal identity, it is part of our spiritual life. Quakers believe we become closer to the divine by knowing and accepting ourselves. Many gender-variant people find it difficult to feel comfortable in some faith groups.
Whether we relate to the term transgender or not, whether we are private or out, Quaker Meetings can offer a spiritual home. There are Quaker members and attenders who are unsettled by, or accept their variant gender identity – but who can bring their truth to silent worship without shame or guilt. Some however struggle with faith, as well as work and family; some are transitioning, or want to transition, or can’t transition. There are those who are in-between, whose sense of self is non-binary, neither female or male. There are those who have secret lives and dual-lives. As well as the challenges of gender identity within faith groups, there is also a spiritual richness.
The Quaker testimonies to simplicity and integrity, to peace and to equality provide a solid foundation for faith and our service in the world. They also help us to strip away the confusing language and media representations of transgender to find our own spirit.
Articles on this website
Have a look in the posts for a short report about the Manchester gathering in October 2015, about transgender and faith. Transcripts of the talks will follow.
In the Articles section, you will find a few topics of interest.
Quakers Tabular Statement and gender identity
The annual census of Quaker members and attenders has of many years recorded each person as male or female. For a small number of Friends this was not comfortable – while in everyday life, we all identify ourselves in tick-boxes with titles and gender, not always exactly what we feel, in our Quaker Meetings and in our spirituality and worship, our gender is not relevant or doesn’t fit either male or female truthfully. After this was raised at Britain Yearly Meeting in 2015, Friends House was quick to respond. The annual form now includes ‘Other’ and Friends can choose to be neither male nor female, for whatever reason.
Transgender lives and interfaith fellowship
Stonewall After a long and turbulent hesitation, Stonewall has embraced transgender and is steaming ahead with campaigning and education relating to transgender lives. Stonewall have formed a transgender panel to steer their activities. We were pleased to have two of these panel members speaking at our Manchester gathering – Helen Belcher and Surat-Shaan Rathgeber Knan. Stonewall have also embarked on interfaith activities, with their first interfaith seminar in late February 2016.
Twilight People The Twilight People project assembles oral history accounts of transgender people of faith. It held a major exhibition in March 2016, in Islington London. Large photographs of individuals with diverse spiritual practices were accompanied by biographical notes. Enlightening, uplifting and affirming, the exhibits show people who bring their gender identity to a deeper spiritual practice and service to others. The exhibition will travel to Manchester in the summer.
Trans and faith symposium Related to the project, a Trans and Faith Symposium will be held on Thursday 5 May at Warwick University. Go to http://www.twilightpeople.com/announcing-trans-and-faith-symposium/ This Symposium is to set a platform for the much-needed dialogue across religious/spiritual and LGBTQIA+ communities to meet, share experiences, and discuss trans and non-binary gender issues in a faith context.
Visible, invisible, out or private
It is the hardest thing to carry – to be unsettled by the conventional world, the expectations of gender role and gendered assumptions about interests and sensibilities. When we know our personal reality is different but cannot tell anyone. Even if we were willing to tell someone, where do you start? What words do you use? How do you describe something so intangible? How do you cope with something so personally natural translated to something embarrassing?
If you are a member or attender of a Quaker meeting in this situation, do feel free to email in confidence if you would welcome a chat with someone who shares experience of gender variance within a worship group. Email yvonne-wood at outlook dot com
Christian transgender and spirituality group
The Sibyls group is an informal network of transgender people within Christian faith groups, their partners and their supporters. It offers companionship along the journey, and information/advocacy to churches. It was set up by individuals recognising the reality of transgender experience amongst people of faith and the misinformation, prejudice and rejection by the Christian church. This group meets occasionally in London. Go to http://sibyls.gndr.org.uk for more information.
This Is My Body – new book
Fifteen years ago Sibyls members were displeased with what the Evangelical Alliance had to say about trans people in its so-called report, Transsexuality, and then, just three years later, there was similar disappointment with the Church of England’s fence sitting, contained in Chapter 7 of its report on Some Issues in Human Sexuality. Other religious people kept writing things about us while our own experience as transgender Christians was nowhere represented in this literature.
We needed a publication of our own to tell our stories, outline the latest scientific evidence, and set the theological record right as far as being transgender was concerned.
That’s how the Sibyls Book was born. This Is My Body: Hearing the Theology of Transgender Christians is a book edited by the Sibyls with contributions and chapters gathered from many people. The book is published by Darton, Longman and Todd.
You can order copies here: http://sibyls.gndr.org.uk/literature/SuF1123b-SibylsBookOrderForm.pdf