Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Windsor Baptist Church, Martyn Joseph, my wife and God

Back in October I went along to a barn dance organised by St Mary’s Church in Ash Vale.

In a convoluted kind of way this led on to something new, and surprisingly wonderful, for me.

Sally, my wife, asked if I’d like to go along to a Martyn Joseph concert at Windsor Baptist Church.

I’d been along to a few of his concerts before, and wrote about one of them here. But  that had been as Andy rather than as Andrea.

When Sally asked me I said, well maybe I could go as Andrea. And she said yes, why not?

So that’s what I did.

Overall the evening was remarkably moving for me.

Sally knew quite a few people that were planning on going. Andy knew quite a few people. The quite a few people had heard of Andrea. But none of them had met her.

So in a way, for me, it was another step along the path of coming out. Being free to be myself.

And, perhaps, in a way for Sally as well.

There was scope for nervousness for us both.

People didn’t seem to bat eyelids.

As I sat there just before the music started, one of the people that go along to the church came over and said “I just came over to say hello and to give you a kiss.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I can’t put into words how it feels in my heart for you to be here”.

I had met her before, and chatted a little bit. It was a special welcoming moment.

The music, the lyrics were great.

I talked with people that I already knew and they began to get to know me again.

From a spiritual perspective I was surprised.

I really don’t know what to make of God. I remember that evening listening to the music, and the lyrics. And looking up at the words on the wall at the front of the church. It says God is Love.

I sat and wondered. What is love?

These are questions that I thought I knew the answers to.

Talking with Frank and Jane during the interval about churches and people and experiences. Not all of them good experiences. I think it was Jane that said, really it’s only about that … pointing to the front of the church. The words. God is Love.

I went to get some drinks. The girl serving the drinks asked me what nail polish I was wearing as she liked the colour, and helped me carry the drinks back to our seats.

Once the music was over I helped clear the chairs away. High heels don’t make that any easier.

I went to thank Martyn for the evening. He smiled and hugged me. We talked a short while and said goodnight and hugged again.

For me the evening was special. There was the music. And first hand experience of more people who are involved in a church that don’t have hang-ups about a person that is trans.

It gives me with a sense of hope.

In a way it should all be an unremarkable thing. Why should people have hang-ups?

But in fact, many people do.

And it brightens my day to meet people that don’t.

It makes a difference to me.

So thank you to people at Windsor Baptist Church and St Mary’s Church in Ash Vale. To Sally. To Martyn Joseph.

For opening up the world a little bit more to me. And for making the possibility of God more possible.

Quiz nights and Café Rouge

A few weeks ago Linda, Chloe and Chelle who come along to Surrey Swans went along to a quiz night organised by people at St. Mary's Church Ash Vale. They had a great time and were made to feel really welcome by people there. I had hoped to go, but wasn’t able to. Not so long ago Chloe, Rosemary and myself went along to a barn dance organised by the church.

I’ve often-times mentioned my own mixed-up views on religion and, more specifically, Christianity. But I have been greatly encouraged by the openness and acceptance shown by people in the Ash Vale area.

Last week I spent a lovely evening with Tina and Julia at Café Rouge in Windsor. There weren’t many other diners, but the food was excellent as was the service.  And here we are, Julia, Andrea and Tina:


Wednesday, 2 November 2016

A magazine, an article and a barn dance

Way back in April I received an out-of-the-blue email from Rebecca, the editor of The Parishoner, the Parish Magazine for Ash Vale. Ash Vale is right next to Ash, where Surrey Swans meet. 

This led to the publication of an article which reads, petty much, as follows:

Just people …

As I sit and write this, the State of North Carolina has been in the news. Even here in the UK.

In connection with this, I read that Ted Cruz has raised the question: “Should a grown man pretending to be a woman, be allowed to use the women’s restroom?” (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/ted-cruz-accuses-donald-trump-of-political-correctness-over-transgender-bathroom-controversy-a6996666.html). I’ll leave you to work out what his answer to that question is.
Is that a reasonable characterisation of transgendered people? Men who pretend to be women so that they can get away with using the lady’s restroom? Or perhaps women pretending to be men so that they can use the gents? Or boys pretending to be girls and girls pretending to be boys.
And does it matter anyway?
To me it matters, because at its heart this is an issue about people. How we understand them and, ultimately, how we come to accept them or reject them.
The issues of gender and trans-gender can be complex and here isn’t the place to attempt a detailed analysis of the biology, sociology or psychology of it all. Nor do I have the qualifications to do that.
However, I do know many people that identify themselves as being trans. And that’s how I see myself. There’s even a social group that meets together regularly in Ash.
I’m happily married and have two grown up daughters. For a long time, my “trans-ness” was a private thing. It took over fifty years for me to reach a position where I could accept myself, be myself and begin to let the secret out. There have, of course, been challenges along the way since that time. But the people that matter to me … family and friends … have batted few eyelids. I feel accepted and loved. I also have a whole lot of new friends.
So, who do I think trans people are? And why are trans people the way that they are?
Well, of course it is possible to attach labels to us. The box of labels might include little stickers that say things such as transsexual, transvestite, crossdresser, bi-gender or genderqueer.
But in reality, each of us is an individual with our own unique life-story. And as with people everywhere, little stickers are never really adequate and they often lead to misunderstanding and injustice.
It is a fact that none of the trans people that I know believe that what they are doing is playing dressing up games or games of pretend.
When asked “why?”, I find that people are much more likely to respond with something like “it’s who I am” than they are to give a list of reasons “why”. And no one has ever told me that they are who they are because they want to use a different washroom.
It isn’t so long ago that people who said this were disbelieved and stigmatised. And sometimes, in some places, this stigmatisation still happens. Thankfully there are also places where things, attitudes and people are changing and the words trans and acceptance are not mutually exclusive.
I believe that changes like this begin when people meet each other, talk, and listen to each other. Thus begins a process of understanding and recognition which can lead on to reconciliation and acceptance. Of course, the acceptance isn’t inevitable. But if the process of communication never begins then it’s almost certain that the acceptance will never take place.
Most of all, a trans person is just that … a person. We have no need of special treatment. Just the need to be unmolested, allowed to live and allowed to be people.
Once upon a time I wrote a letter to the student magazine of the university where I studied. The letter was an attempt at explaining why a marginalised group of people were wrong in the way that they lived. At the time, I thought that I had good intentions. But it shames me to think that I wrote a letter like that without ever having taken the time to talk with any of the people that I was writing about. All that I’d really done was read books.
The irony is that trans people have a history of being stereotyped, misunderstood, marginalised and stigmatised.
From a trans perspective, I believe that to begin to get beyond this we need to see the word trans as representing something more than a set of things or issues. It’s actually all about people. And really, the only way to begin to understand what trans means is to get to know the people.
And I believe that knowing the people would help answer questions like those raised by Ted Cruz in a way that treats people as people rather than as issues.
So, I’d encourage all of us, everywhere, that before we put pen to paper, fingertips to keyboards or words to mouth, to think about the people rather than the issues.
Of course this doesn’t just apply to the way we deal with trans. A lot of other words come to mind as well. For me, all those years ago I allowed words that I had read to cloud my vision of people. And each day I have to challenge myself to watch the news and to think of people when I hear words such as refugee, migrant, homeless, Islam, Christian. 
For more background on trans-related issues you could begin by looking here: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Gender-dysphoria.
And I can be contacted here: andrea.wright@hotmail.co.uk


The article was published in August.

Rebecca suggested that it might be good if some Surrey Swans would be able to get to know some of the parishioners, and vice-versa.

So, as an outworking of that, Chloe, Rosemary and I went along to a barn dance at Ash on October 22nd.

We had a great time.

Although I don’t have much in the way of “faith” at the moment, it’s encouraging to see that a church is OK with people that don’t know what the answers are and also isn’t claiming to have all of the answers to all of the questions.

The vicar took the time to ask how the church could be more welcoming to trans people. I think in the end he summed it up well in saying that there’s maybe some educating and then forgetting. In the sense that it’s about people looking at someone and not being especially concerned about them as being trans … or anything else … but just accepting them as people.

An especially good thing about the evening for me, was that I felt that’s what people did. Dancing, talking with people, visiting the loo. No one seemed worried.

I mentioned a conversation I had with some very close family friends when I “came out” to them as being trans. I remember them saying that a church house group that they led at one time had a trans person that would come along. I said I thought that was great that they could do that, but the thing I found difficult was that I suspected that although the person was allowed into the group, most people would be praying for them to be healed of their trans-ness. At that point it had taken me a lifetime to work out that my own trans-ness was about who I am, and accepting … even being happy … with the fact that it didn’t need healing. The vicar asked if the real healing began when I was able to begin to accept myself as myself. And yes, I thing that it did. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

Quite a few years ago my wife Sally and I used to go along to a local Baptist church, at the same time as a couple that moved to Ash. We knew that they went to an Anglican church there. Also, we knew that if “the article” included a picture of Andrea and Katie (our younger daughter), that they might not recognise Andrea, but might well recognise Katie.

So … when I saw them arrive at the barn dance … I went over to say hello.

They didn’t recognise me … which, I must admit, I was relieved about. Then, as the penny dropped, there was a bit of a feeling that their jaws dropped. But only a bit.

Later in the evening I had a chance to spend some time chatting with them both, and that was great.

It’s odd though, that I don’t know how they felt about the idea of Andy also being Andrea. I hope they were as un-phased as they seemed.

So, the barn dance was part of the ongoing story of my own life and the people that I know. And that means a lot to me.