On Sunday 20 November it is Transgender Day of Remembrance. TDOR began in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honour the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. TDOR is a time to remember all who have lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence. Many places and communities mark this day by lighting candles, displaying the trans pride flag, offering prayers for hope and justice, and reading of names of people who have died because they are trans and non-binary.
It is a time to cry out for an end to violence against trans and non-binary people, and a time for rejoicing and delighting in who transgender people are and the gifts they bring in the authenticity of their being and the lives they are living, in times of sorrow and in times of joy. Each trans and non-binary person is unique, beautiful, and cherished by God who is beyond gender. Every time we remember the pain of injustice and the fatally dangerous reality for so many trans people in the world, we commit – as we do on Remembrance Sunday each year – to be peace-builders who are open to the reality of each person’s infinite worth. In a world in which all are free to truly be themselves with full and radiant authenticity, there would be no need for a Transgender Day of Remembrance, because, to put it very directly, people who are transgender would not be murdered for being who they are.
In October at St James’s the transgender artist Jesse Darling produced Miserere, an installation that filled the church with sculpture and sound. ‘Miserere’ means ‘Have mercy on me’. The poignancy of that longing for mercy can weave its way into the depths of the aching heart.
The programme for Jesse’s residency at St James’s included an interactive soundbath performance by Trans Voices, the UK’s first professional trans+ choir. They describe their work and wisdom as a ‘joyful act of resistance’. You can find out more about them here, and you can watch their event at St James’s on our YouTube channel.
The trans and non-binary people in the congregation and wider community at St James’s, whether out and proud or exploring their way of being in the world more quietly, are at so many different stages of life and all that life can bring. St James’s is in the process of building a home together where every person can and does belong. That means that for cisgendered people and those who do not identify as trans or non-binary there is a responsibility and an expectation to learn, to listen, and to walk alongside them in solidarity and hope.
One of the most compelling and creative transgender voices in the UK today is the poet Jay Hulme.
This is his poem, ‘Beatitudes for a Queer Church’:
Blessed are the outcasts;
the ostracised, the outsiders.
Blessed are the scared;
the scarred, the silent.
Blessed are the broken;
For they are not broken
Blessed are the hated;
For they are not worthy of hate.
Blessed are those who try;
Those who transform, who transition.
Blessed are the closeted;
God sees you shine anyway.
Blessed are the queers;
Who love creation enough to live the truth of it,
Despite a world that tells them they cannot.
And blessed are those
Who believe themselves to be unworthy of blessing;
What inconceivable wonders you hold.
If you would like to learn more about transgender and non-binary theology, these are good places to start:
Christina Beardsley et al, Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource, 2018
Christina Beardsley et al, Trans Affirming Churches: How to Celebrate Gender-Variant People and Their Loved Ones, 2020
Patrick S. Cheng, Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology, 2011
Rachel Mann, ‘A Trans Woman Meets a Queer God’, Nomad Podcast, 2017 – Rachel Mann – A Trans-Woman Meets a Queer God (N137) – (nomadpodcast.co.uk)
Jack Woodruff, ‘Trans and Christian?’ in Victoria Turner, ed., Young, Woke and Christian: Words from a Missing Generation, 2021
Our panellists were:
Alex Clare-Young, Minister of the United Reformed Church
Chrissie Chevasutt, Author, Advocate, & Facilitator of Transgender Church
Harrison Knights, Artistic Director & Creative
Jules Cunningham, Artist
Nicolete Burbach, Social Justice Lead at London Jesuit Centre