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?” ( 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:
And I can be contacted here:


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.

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