The Gender Agenda

About this event

Gender identity, fluidity and transition are complex issues – this day aims to discuss how to make services more inclusive and supportive.

A conference to explore the inclusion of transgender people in Education, Faith Communities and the Workplace’

The Gender Agenda conference will bring together Transgender pioneers and their allies to consider transgender issues and how best to support people identifying as being in transition. 

We will look at the journey that a trans or non-binary person and their families face, the importance of support and how this can happen well. This will be considered in the different ways that this can take place in schools, communities, faith organisations and employment. 

The interactive programme will be led by people who identify as trans and their allies, including Rachel Mann (Anglican priest, poet and feminist theologian) and the Rev Paul Bayes (Bishop of Liverpool), and Steve Chalke (author of ‘The Gender Agenda’) and there will be a chance during the conference for participants to explore areas of specific interest (education/faith/employment).

The logo for Oasis is the circle of inclusion; not a solid circle, but one made up of several strands. Like a rope made stronger by twisting together different filaments, our ‘circle of inclusion’ makes our organisation stronger. Our ethos, embodied through the 9 Habits, aims to address the barriers of class, gender, orientation, ethnicity and faith by drawing these threads together under the banners of inclusion and equality.

From the blurb on Eventbrite

The event was held by Oasis Community Learning, who are ‘one of the largest Multi-Academy Trusts in England, a family of 52 primary, secondary and all-through academies in five regions across the country’.

Oasis’s director of safeguarding had organised the meeting.

The panel

Steve Chalke, Baptist Minister, also Founder of Oasis. I actually attended a sermon with Chalke aimed at young people about 30 years ago and my lasting memory was that he told the women, if she was standing next to a man, to ask if he had a worm. The men standing next to me were not amused. The full title of his book is The Gender Agenda: Towards a Biblical Theology on Gender Identity, Reassignment and Confirmation and is only 29 pages long (2018 version). So yes, I read it.

Rachel Mann, is a trans-identified male vicar, the blurb above leaves out that little fact, preferring the epithet ‘feminist theologian’.

The Bishop of Liverpool, Paul Bayes. He has spoken out against gay conversion therapy.

A bit about Steve’s book

It is straightforward transgender propaganda and there are no surprises. In terms of theological debate, Steve offers us the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, which he describes as the:

first fully Gentile convert to Christianity is not only a dark-skinned African but also from a sexual/gender minority

paged 16, The Gender Agenda

Steve tells us that the fact of being a eunuch in those days would be ‘shocking’ (pg 14) but, according to the story, the eunuch was a courtier in charge of Queen Candace’s treasury and therefore an educated and trusted member of the establishment. Within the context of the times, a eunuch would not have been regarded as ‘a sexual or gender minority’.

Steve informs us that being male or female, isn’t about ‘hormones and chromosomes’ (pg 19) and reassures us that although there are lots of binary states mentioned in the Bible (night and day, sea and land, etc) there are also ‘beautiful half-ways of lakes and rivers and dawns and dusks’. Oops, who wants to tell him?

The ambiguities of sea anemones are praised, as is the female Asian Sheepshead Wrasse Fish, who – you’ve guessed it – can change sex. That’s because they’re hermaphrodites, but no one let Steve know. In fact, Steve thinks the existence of the fish proves that:

Gender transition is clearly not a ‘western fad’.

Page 19, The Gender Agenda

That’s before going onto talk about ‘intersex’ babies. And that’s enough of that already.

Welcome

Over 200 people were on the call and the celebrity couple with three non-binary identified children, David and Carrie Grant, were on hand to give it a lovely warm sheen. Carrie told us they wanted to be the best allies they could be to their trans-non-binary children. There’s still a lot we don’t know, lied Carrie.

Chat and microphones had been disabled and if you wanted to ask any questions these would be scrutinised privately by the moderator.

David told us that there was a lot of wisdom in the room and that we could learn from shared wisdom.

Then the odious Steve Chalke appeared, a sort of cross between Gordon Brittas and a Sunday morning TV presenter, but on steroids, who told us that the O in Oasis was ‘messy and complicated’ and I began to feel the first of my brain cells of the morning fizzle out.

Steve told us that a report had just been published by a European organisation which had said that the UK had high levels of transphobia, alongside Turkey, Hungary and Russia.

Session 1: My lived experience with Rachel Mann

Rachel told us that he transitioned as a 23 year old and that he shouldn’t really speaking at the conference today. He continued this fake self-deprecation with an anecdote about the time he gave a talk about his book Dazzling Darkness (available on Amazon peeps). He was confident that everyone would lap up what he had to say but instead they looked at him in bewilderment. The reason? Well, Rach is stuck in the binary past. Why are you so binary? they asked him, the future is genderfluid.

Now it was time to rejoice in the journey that trans people had made from the binary now to the zany world of the non-binary. It made him happy to see the ’emergent confidence’ of the community.

No more do we trans people need to be boxed in by second rate medical categories, by language that has been forced upon us to describe ourselves.

Rachel Mann

Rachel got swivel-eyed when he talked about the threats of violence, claiming that trans-identified people were more likely to be killed. The most powerful way to deprive someone of their humanity, Rachel told us, was to deprive them of language.

So, dare, dare, speak up for the emergent languages of trans people.

Dare to discover the riches of non-binary.

Dare to discover what God might be up to.

Rachel Mann

Rachel then used the word ‘articulacy’ a lot and that the journey into articulacy was a mystery. God is queer because he is three, yet also one, and Jesus is the only true human being. Finally Rachel told us he knows what it’s like to have death threats (you know what these CofE congregations are like).

Session 2: The Role of Allies in creating Trans Justice with the Bishop of Liverpool

Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, dished up the second helping of idiocy. Describing himself as a ‘white cis man’, he quoted from Shon Faye’s book and told us that we needed it for our ‘soul’s health’ to allow the trans community to decide whether or not we were real allies. It was not for individuals to identify themselves as such.

Paul had sought the advice of four people in his flock who are trans-identified to guide him on this matter. Firstly they wanted him to acknowledge that he had unconscious bias. He should create space and then stand back from the space (for it to be colonised). Say ‘TMAM and TWAW and NB are people’ and start from the position that this was non-negotiable.

Paul wants to push back against ‘so-called Gender Critical activists’/’transphobic hate groups’ (another piece of advice from the flock).

Other ways to help were to apologise and move on if you got someone’s pronouns wrong, donate to transgender causes, and very specifically a married man had told him to be sceptical about the idea that ‘transitioning’ was traumatic in the context of a marriage.

Q&A with Rachel Mann and Paul Bayes

Steve popped up again to remind us of the report that had been released which said that the UK was one of the most transphobic countries (sadly he didn’t link the report or tell us how we could look it up). Steve had been at Labour Conference with David Lammy the night before and that now Lammy was being viciously attacked by transphobes on Twitter because he had supported trans equality (what he had actually done was infer GC campaigners were ‘dinosaurs’ who wanted to ‘hoard rights’).

What is it about the UK and transphobia, asked Steve?

Rachel said that justice couldn’t be found through a keyboard and that if you know a trans person personally it converts you. Bodies wanted to be around bodies.

Paul went for the year 2016 (i.e. insinuating Brexit but not saying it – bet his flock voted Leave) and Trump coming into power.

What about the jump the trans community had made from the binary to the non-binary?

Rachel said this was a ‘Copernican shift’ and that Judaism had five genders.

Question from floor: Is there a more constructive word than ‘transphobe’ to describe people who ask questions seeking to understand?

Paul said it was accurate because it was about fear. People who ask questions genuinely should be allowed to, but those who do it ‘contentiously’ should be labelled transphobic.

Rachel didn’t want to add to that and repeated the importance of being in personal contact with people face to face. He would be happy to discuss the matter with JK Rowling but only if it was in person.

Question from floor to Rachel Mann: Please explain more about how feminism has hurt your transgender identity.

Rachel whined that in the 70s feminism didn’t recognise – what would have been defined as transsexual men at the time- as women and that sex was the definition, but also bizarrely it was:

to do with a category in which women are essentially used, and abused often, by men

Rachel Mann

Steve worked in another mention of the now fabled anti-trans report just released, and asked which countries do it better than the UK?

Rachel – Ireland has had self-declaration of gender for ages and they have had no problems.

(This is a lie and the most shocking recent case is that of ‘Barbie Kardashian‘ who has a pattern of violence towards women, including his mother, now housed in a women’s prison.)

Session 4: Life in transition with Mermaids

Krystyna Hebbs, manager of the helpline at Mermaids was there to tell us her inspirational story. This was: when her son was 9 years old he texted her (a 9 year old with a mobile?) and told her ‘I’m not a boy, I’m a girl’. He transitioned a year later and had to change schools due to bullying, the final straw being shot at with a pellet gun. Krystyna was a churchgoer and found only affirmation and positivity from the congregation. Not so the staff at her son’s school, but of course Mermaids had helped with that. In fact the LGBT group at her church ‘had Susie Green’s direct phone number’ – O what a happy coincidence!

The next phase was going to the Tavistock. Krystyna emphasised how long and thorough it all was. Visits to the Tavi had been ongoing for the last six years, the most recent period being affected by the ‘legal stuff which is going on’ (no one mentioned Keira Bell’s name you won’t be shocked to learn). Her son is affected by stuff he sees on social media, and the kids at school won’t let him forget that he is transgender.

David Grant told Krystyna that he had just listened to a harrowing story and then invited Ryan, a 23 year old woman who started receiving ‘help’ from Mermaids aged 16, to speak.

Ryan told us she first thought she might be transgender having watched a TV programme and then found youtuber Alex Bertie (who has over 285,000 followers) which cemented it.

Ryan told a pastoral care teacher that she thought she was a man and wanted to transition and the teacher advised her to identify as a lesbian instead. This upset Ryan and she didn’t do anything further until aged 15 when she told a few more teachers and some friends. She went to the GP who told her to come back in two weeks if she was still serious and then a referral to a gender identity clinic could be made. Once the referral was made, Ryan texted her mum to inform her. Her mum said they would discuss it in the morning, but that discussion never took place. Mum struggled at first but is now her biggest supporter.

Now Ryan lives life ‘as a man’ except for all the surgeries and medicine she has to take. Ryan found a way to navigate around the long waiting lists to be seen by accepting care up in Nottingham rather than more locally.

Mermaids gave her a lot of support during this time and crucially it sounded like it gave her an opportunity to make friends.

David Grant asked Krystyna how common it was that parents and children did not discuss the issue. She answered it was 50/50 and that rejection was common and many face no home support.

David Grant asked them what their best advice was. Never lie to yourself about who you are, came the answer from Ryan. Krystyna advised people to arm themselves with as much information as they could.

David then asked how people could help the situation. Krystyna said that wearing a lanyard with the rainbow colours would let pupils know you were an ally (which contradicted the earlier advice given by the Bishop that you should never dare identify as an ally). Put policies and procedures in place. Also, there was teacher training.

David: Do you offer that? (straight face)

Krystyna: Yes, we do!

Fancy that!

(Bear in mind that most of the participants will be staff from the Oasis school academy chain.).

This gave Ryan the chance to agree that teacher training was needed and bring up the egregious incident with her teacher again.

Session 5: Q&A with Mermaids

Not so much of a Q&A really but a further chance for both Krystyna and Ryan to repeat the things they said before the coffee break, namely that therapy should be led by the child and no difficult questions asked. Steve Chalke told them both that their stories were moving.

In particular, the Mermaids employee was keen to stress that if the child was Gillick-competent there was no need for the school to inform the parent that pronouns, etc, had been changed. Krystyna said that some parents who had found out and disapproved took their kids ‘out of the country’.

Steve threw the ‘hardball’ question himself. Yes, puberty blockers had been challenged in court and was now reversed. Yes, some girls reject femininity because they live in an over-sexualised culture and chose to be a boy as an escape route – what about that?

Ryan said this was a ‘bunch of rubbish’ and that no one would willingly medicalise themselves. It was not a choice and being ‘cis’ would have been much easier.

Next Steve broached the subject of Mermaids militancy. Of course, Krystyna was well prepared for the question and simply smiled her way through the answer, since she knew fine well Steve was not going to press her. No, she said, we are not militant, we always give people options and only offer support. The reason for the bad press is because we are the voice for parents and children.

Steve then told Ryan that she had ‘enormous courage’, a remark badly received by Ryan, who clearly knew she was being patronised and lied to. She said it had simply been a matter of ‘life or death’.

Carrie Grant then popped up asking if Steve had any resources to share. Guess what? He did and these would be circulated post-meeting.

Session 6: Workshops

I flitted between the three workshops. God they were boring.

Transition and Education

The Pride Trust did a sales pitch for the mainly teacher audience on the Rainbow Flag Award.

Transition and Faith

Moderated by Steve Chalke with two trans-identified clergy (one male, the other female). Steve started by telling us that many Christians regarded him as fast and loose with theology and I’m inclined to agree. A woman at a recent memorial service had asked him: Do you fear God?

Steve dominated the session, over-sharing his limited intellect with us. No one able to shut him up.

When I rejoined the conversation about 20 minutes later, Steve was still gabbing away that the Bible was a collection of books. He felt the need to tell us that the Bible isn’t a novel (no one, but no one, thinks this). It’s all about inclusion (because of all the different voices in all the different books). Did you know that the Bible has many different authors? I shit you not.

Transition and Employment

The trans expert in this room was a man who had recently transitioned and worked as a sales assistant at a nationwide department store. A woman spoke encouragingly to him throughout, as if he were a recalcitrant teen, and we learnt that it was an entirely easy thing for him to transition at work. There had only been a month from him informing his line manager to his ‘go live’ date of using his new name, etc.

What hadn’t been helpful was the squash club he was part of, which was based in a school, had been more standoffish about him using female facilities.

The workshop host wanted to know had he been a victim of his employer ‘over thinking’ it.

He told us that people are more productive when they’re allowed to be themselves. He also told us that he had to put customers in their place sometimes if they persisted using the wrong pronouns with him (forgetting of course this would not be possible in direct conversation).

He has since appeared in the company’s training video.

Session 7: A parent’s experience – Interview with Carrie and David Grant

Limping towards the end now. It finishes soon. Promise.

Remember this celeb couple have three trans-identified children.

David shared with us how their 10 year old announced to the family that they wanted to be called Ian and wanted to be a boy. The family thought the name Ian was naff. Sorry to any Ians out there, they corpsed.

Steve wanted to know if it was a shock. Carrie tried half-heartedly to make it sound like a surprise and said each child had been on their own journey. Parents should ‘shape shift’ around their kids. Another child had informed Carrie via a slip of paper. When the third child came out Carrie decided to do some research.

David said all three children had slightly different permutations of non-binaryness (e.g. masc and fem, and presumably pure NB). He tried to ‘transplain’ things to the kids (think he meant ‘dadsplain’ – bless). He had finally learned why he had ears on the side of his head and one mouth. Also David: ‘My children’s story is their story’. And, ‘You can’t go back to what you never were’ – I checked- it isn’t a quote by Scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz.

Thanks and goodbye

It ended with Carrie endorsing Steve’s book The Gender Agenda, she read it in one sitting and Steve telling everyone it was journey which never ended (it certainly felt like it). The safeguarding lead being thanked for organising the session allowed us the final roll of our eyes.


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