by the Revd Dr Tina Beardsley, retired healthcare Chaplain, researcher and co-author of This is My Body and Transfaith
As I write this I’m on my way to Basingstoke to give an after-dinner talk to the Southern Federation of the National Association of Funeral Directors. They’ve invited me to address how to ensure a deceased trans person has the funeral they would have wanted. The reason for the invitation, sadly, is that some trans people don’t.
Just occasionally, the deceased’s family refuses to honour their loved one’s transition. At the funeral the deceased is referred to by the name they were given when they were born, not the name they adopted at transition. This is known as “dead-naming” but can happen to trans people in life as well of course.
At these funerals the deceased is referred to by the pronouns applicable to their birth-assigned gender, not the pronouns appropriate to their transition. This is called “mis-gendering” and again that doesn’t just happen at funerals. It can happen to trans people in life. Like dead-naming it’s considered extremely disrespectful.
Trans people can take steps when alive to prevent this from happening. Should it happen, a memorial service can be arranged at a later date when the person can be remembered in their integrity. What pleases me is that funeral staff, like many professionals, are keen to be informed about trans people and our needs.
Trans awareness training, usually led by trans people, is standard nowadays in most educational and professional settings. Would that it were a higher priority in clergy training. Reading the recent Response to the Church of England’s House of Bishops’ Guidance on using the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith it seems that many clergy have much to learn.
I wonder if readers of the Response have noticed that it never once speaks of trans people – the term that trans people themselves usually prefer. Instead, it begins with the term ‘gender dysphoria’, a medical diagnosis that describes the distress that some but not all trans people experience. The medicalisation of trans people, which began in the early twentieth century, made hormonal and surgical transition possible.
But the therapeutic consensus today is that being trans is a human variation, not a pathology. This is the position of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health’s Standards of Care (Version 7). This document is the gold standard in the field, but again never mentioned in this Response. The recent UK consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 took place precisely because the medical model – which often stigmatised trans people, as if they had a mental health problem – is no longer considered appropriate.
It is simply untrue, as the Response claims, that ‘the evidence [about gender dysphoria] from the medical and social sciences is often conflicting’. If it were, the NHS would not have been enabling trans people to transition for the past half century. Nor would the UK therapeutic bodies have signed the Memorandum of Understanding (Version 2), opposing conversion therapy (which advises trans people not to transition or, if they have, to de-transition) for trans people.
Signatories to the Response need to be aware that such advice is proposed or implied in some of the resources appended to the Response, and that the majority of healthcare professionals consider it not just ineffective, but potentially harmful.
The Response then refers to ‘controversial new theories about the relationship between biological sex and gender and the social meaning of gender’ and their links to gender dysphoria, but since it doesn’t define these theories it’s hard to grasp the point being made here.
The next paragraph says that ‘many ordinary parents and teachers’ are expressing concern about these new theories. No evidence is provided that this is the case, nor is it any clearer what the theories might be and whether they are relevant to the spiritual care of trans people, which was the subject of the Bishops’ Pastoral Guidance.
The Response then raises the spectre of the premature introduction of under-researched interventions but presumably is not referring to the care of trans people: Magnus Hirschfeld’s magisterial study of trans people appeared in 1910; Harry Benjamin’s pioneering use of cross-gender hormones began in the late 1940s; surgery has been available in the UK’s NHS from the early 1970s.
Astonishingly, the Response states that, ‘our guiding principle should be “first do no harm’’’, when the uncertainty it is promoting about trans people’s experience and treatment would itself be regarded as harmful by professionals in the field. I’m presuming that the Response was not discussed with the senior gender identity specialists at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust.
The House of Bishops are then described as ‘well-intentioned’ in issuing Guidance that is said to lack ‘serious theological analysis to address the philosophical, anthropological and social issues in public discourse.’ Here and elsewhere there is a problematising of trans people, contrary to the spirit of the Blackburn Motion which led to the Guidance and passed in General Synod with a huge majority.
At Point 4 the drafters are keen to uphold what they refer to as ‘sexual dimorphism’. Leaving aside their claim that this is ‘an almost universal biological reality’ I’m struck by the sentence which precedes it: ‘the possibility of celebrating gender transition appears to be based on the rejection of physical differentiation between male and female’. Trans people who transition are not rejecting the differences between male and female. It’s simply that our experience is different from people – the majority – whose gender identity and birth sex align. Trans people’s experience should not be construed as undermining other people’s reality simply because it’s different.
Last Sunday I joined my ninety-two year old mother at her church where the vicar, who is Evangelical, was the preacher. His theme was unity not uniformity. He reminded us how the variety of nature and people shows God’s love for diversity. We, he observed, try to play down diversity and make everyone the same, whereas God rejoices in it. Then he added, very movingly I thought, that God’s love alone can hold all our rich variety together.
Photo by CHRISTAHOLKA2015@TWILIGHTPEOPLE.COM