Category Archives: Randomness

One World Week – On Seeing Things Differently

Following on from my previous post, I’ve been giving some thought to what it means to be the Church in a messy world and turbulent political landscape. The following is a sermon (so quiet on the Tory-bashing, alas!) for One World Week (the texts are Micah 6:6 – 8 and Luke 4:14 – 30):

 

I’m a big fan of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ for my sins, and I’m there on a Saturday night, week-in, week-out, glued to the television. One thing I dislike about the programme, though, is that they always seem to invite one or two people to take part who seem to be there basically for people to laugh at. Apparently, after the first show of this series, in which the contestants were paired up with professional dancers, one of the judges told Robin Windsor, dance partner of Emmerdale actress Lisa Riley, that they had no chance, presumably as she’s a larger person. Thus, when she proved that she can really dance, it was fantastic to see; just like when Susan Boyle wiped the smug smile off Simon Cowell’s face when she began to sing, that first dance challenged lazy stereotypes and forced people to look at things in a fresh way. Our two readings today are, in their various ways, about Israel being challenged to look at things in a different way, to re-think what being God’s people in the world was all about.

When Jesus had been baptised in the river Jordan, the same river that Israel crossed to enter the Promised Land, the Holy Spirit told him that he was God’s beloved Son. Immediately after, he was thrust into the wilderness by the same Spirit to face up to what that meant – he was Israel’s Messiah, and his mission was to re-define what it was to be God’s people, breaking down national barriers, among others. That was bound to lead to trouble, because it would mean challenging not just the ideas of ordinary people, but also the powerful religious and secular authorities of the day. After this time of preparation, which brought together all those years of prayer, thought, studying the Scriptures and wrestling with God, he was ready to begin his ministry.

Jesus returned to Galilee and went about preaching in the synagogues, gaining quite a reputation for himself. One day, as he’d done many times before on the Sabbath, he stood up in his home synagogue in Nazareth and began to read, this time from a scroll of Isaiah’s prophecies. He went straight to the place where it said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to tell the poor the good news. He’s sent me to announce realise to the prisoners and sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free”. When he’d finished reading, he gave back the scroll, sat down and declared, “Today, this is being fulfilled right in front of you”, to the amazement of the congregation. These were words of complete and utter grace, pure and simple. However, the good mood wouldn’t last for very long…

A work colleague of mine supports Manchester City – I suppose somebody has to! – and just before the last match of the season, he fully expected his team to lose and so throw away the title. His experiences of many years had taught him that City had a habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. At first glance, it might seem that Jesus managed to do just that in the synagogue that day. He’d had the crowd in the palm of his hand when he said that he knew they were all waiting for him to perform a spectacular act, like they’d heard about from his time in Capernaum. One can imagine the buzz of anticipation among them. However, he talked instead about prophets not being accepted in their home towns, and God choosing to rescue Gentiles through Elijah and Elisha when he could’ve helped Israelites. The people were furious – so furious that they chased him up to the mountain top on which the city was built and tried to throw him off, but he managed to slip through the crowd unnoticed. What was going on?

Well, expectation was rife in Jesus’ day about the coming of the Messiah, whom they imagined would be a sort of military leader who would violently shake off the rule of the hated Romans and plant Israel firmly at the top of the pile. Given the nationalism that underpinned most people’s thinking, it’s not surprising that the crowd reacted very badly to Jesus’ words. In the face of their hopes and dreams, he was telling them that God wasn’t just interested in one nation, but in the whole world. His message was about grace for everybody, rather than violent judgement for everyone outside of Israel. In quoting Isaiah 61:1 – 2, he was pointing to a broader vision of the Messiah’s role, and ultimately he was laying the foundations for the counter-cultural world of the Kingdom of God. Israel was going to need to think again about who it was and what it was for – what did it mean to be God’s people living God’s way?

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One World Week is both an exciting opportunity, in that it’s a chance to come together and explore key issues in our world, and a deep challenge, as it asks hard questions about the Church. Are we a people who seek to break down barriers, to welcome all into God’s family, to shine the light of hope into the world’s dark places? By the way we live our lives, do we help to free the prisoners, give sight to the blind and bring liberty to the oppressed? This isn’t an easy business; after all, it ultimately led Jesus to the cross. It involves being willing to take risks and build relationships with people who’re in some way ‘different’ to us, which can be scary, but that’s the challenge that God lays down to us. Just like Israel, the Church cannot hope to be all God made it to be if it turns inward and becomes a kind of exclusive club, but instead it needs to look outwards for signs of God’s Kingdom work, role up its sleeves and join in.

Our Old Testament passage offers a vision of what it means to live God’s way. Micah was one of the minor prophets, and his ministry took place mostly in the latter half of the eighth century BCE, before the Northern Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrians; his writings thus span six decades of God’s people struggling with their calling to be a blessing to the nations. In our reading, Israel is represented as a worshipper wanting to know how to please God, and assuming that this can be done through sacrifices and offerings. However, sacrifices were meaningless if the life of the people didn’t reflect God’s life; unless their actions and words matched up, it was empty worship. Micah was trying to point Israel back in the right direction; true worship means seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God.

Bringing this all together shows that God’s deep longing is for his people to take the risks required to make his Kingdom visible in the world through the quality of our living, individually and as a community, and in doing so to break down the barriers that prevent there really being ‘one world’. There’s no point in gathering together every week for worship if that worship isn’t the catalyst for lives lived seeking justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. Here are three thoughts on what this might look like in practice:

Firstly, Jesus did perform spectacular acts that gained him a reputation as a miracle-man among some, such as the crowds in today’s reading, but actually, most of the stuff he did was pretty small-scale. Much of his ministry was comprised of lots of little acts, the power of which cannot be underestimated. It’s easy when faced with big problems like those we see on the news every day, to give into despair and allow ourselves to be overwhelmed. However, we follow a Messiah who was prepared to be vulnerable and who made his selfless love known primarily in the small things of life. Never underestimate the power of small acts of kindness.

Secondly, Jesus wasn’t afraid to ask the big questions, and challenge those in authority. He unsettled the social and religious ‘status quo’, not just by meeting people’s immediate needs when he could, but by pointing out the underlying structural issues that caused those needs to arise in the first place. In our day, it’s the equivalent of asking why food banks are needed, rather than simply being pleased they’re there. This does mean getting political, though not necessarily party-political, and whether it’s getting involved in campaigns for social justice, going on protest marches, letter-writing, spending your money ethically or simply thoughtfully exploring the issues, it makes a difference.

Thirdly, Jesus made sure that he took time out to rest and to be with God. There’s always the danger of both burnout and of losing sight of God. Jesus’ relationship with God was the catalyst, inspiration, source and end point of everything he said and did, from the powerful and dramatic to the small and subtle. A living faith means putting things into action, but it’s still a faith – we need to depend on God for strength and energy, direction, and hope when the going gets tough, as it will.

Social action matters because God and all he has created matters. There’s no such thing as a waste person in the Kingdom, but there is light, hope, love and the possibility of transformation. One World Week is as good a time as any to begin put this vision into action…

Reflecting on Pride and Naming

This weekend was a big weekend for me – on Saturday, it was Milton Keynes’ first ever Pride event, and on Sunday, I had my naming service at church.

                               The Faith Tent (c) Karl

At said Pride, we (TractorGirl, our local Venture FX pioneer minister and I) were running a faith tent, providing space for people to chill out and offer a positive witness, trying to show that being an LGBT person and having faith are not incompatible. It was a team effort; TractorGirl had the idea, which was taken on by Rob (the aforementioned pioneer minister) and I had the idea for the content, which the others refined to produce a great chillaxing space. We all gave out leaflets on the day and had some great conversations, and it was very cool to be part of a team helping to break down barriers, one step at a time. More than that, it was great how well the whole Pride event came together, and it was a huge credit to the folks who gave up so much of their time to make it happen.

 

 

I’ve now been in Milton Keynes for a little under two years, and it’s been exciting to reflect on how things have changed during that time. When I first arrived here, I hated it on sight – it seemed like an endless mass of carparks and soulless buildings. As time has gone on, however, I’ve got used to the oddity of the place and got involved in various things, making some awesome friends that I hope will, like many of my university friends, be friends for life. When I first arrived, if someone had told me I’d find myself running a faith tent at Pride, I’d have laughed in their face! I guess it’s a mark of how much more comfortable in myself I feel that those parts of my life (my faith, gender identity and sexuality) are very closely integrated, and I can happily deal with meeting people in the territory where they intersect. Moving here has done me so much good in many ways.

That brings me nicely onto my naming service. The idea came about when I attended a baptism at my church. It occurred to me that I’d made the promises one makes at baptism and confirmation in my ‘old’ name, and that actually, one’s name is a big part of the liturgy. I wanted to have the chance to come before God and re-commit myself to him, but this time as I really am, in my new name, Karl. For me, it was really important that this happened as part of a Eucharistic service, as I believe that in Holy Communion, the Church is really fully being the Church, fully present to God, who meets us, fully human and fully God, in the bread and wine. All are welcome at the table and all have an equal place. There was a very deep sense in which this felt like me taking my proper place in God’s family.

The litugry we used for the naming part of the service was shamelessly stolen from Nadia Bolz-Weber, whom I first came across at Greenbelt last year, and thought was cool. As part of the service, I gave my testimony, which I’ve reproduced below:

 

A little over six years ago, I was confirmed in the beautiful surroundings of Bath Abbey. That evening, I made for myself the promises my parents and godparents had made on my behalf at my baptism, when I was just a baby. It was a hugely important occasion for me, as I’d been an atheist throughout my teens, and had only recently come to faith. This was me saying, ‘Here I am, God. I’m yours’. That day was the start of a journey with God that’s taken me to some interesting places, not least the accident and emergency department of Bath’s Royal United Hospital, as the Bishop of Bath and Wells injured my knee, but that’s another story!

At the time, I was doing my best to be what I thought I was expected to be – I was living as a woman and had a long-term boyfriend, despite the nagging doubts at the back of my mind saying, ‘this isn’t me’. The relationship was somewhat unhealthy to say the least, and I finally found the courage to kick him out about a year later. A couple of months after that, I had a bit of a breakdown, which sounds grim and at the time was, but which forced me to stop trying to cope with life by bottling things up, and actually begin to come to terms with both my past and who I was. There began, with the support of amazing friends, a very patient minister and an excellent counsellor, a process of forgiveness and healing, in which God has cropped up in some very unexpected places.

Along the way, I found myself falling head over heels in love with Sally, who thankfully felt the same way! I therefore had to come to terms quite quickly with my sexuality, which wasn’t too bad, as I felt able to be quite bolshy about it – ‘I’m here, I’m queer, get over it!’ seemed to work quite well! However, I knew that this was still not the real me. In due course, I left Durham, graduating a few months later, and moved to Milton Keynes. A fresh start was just what I needed; both proving to myself that I could do it and enjoying my job helped to build my confidence. Gradually, I began to realise that I couldn’t go on pretending to be something I wasn’t indefinitely, and that led me to come out once again, this time as transgender. You see, despite having a woman’s body, I am very definitely emotionally and psychologically male. I’ve felt like this since I was four, and the feelings have only intensified as I’ve got older.

Coming to terms with this was rather harder than sexuality had been, partly because this was at last the real me and so it felt achingly vulnerable, partly because of the hormone treatment and surgery I’ll need to undergo for my body to finally match my brain, and partly because I was scared stiff of other people’s reactions. It was bumpy at first, and still can be very painful, but this latest part of my journey with God has already been hugely life-giving. I’m finally able to be something like the person God has made me to be. That’s why I’m here this evening. I want to thank God for all he has done and continues to do in my life, and to come before God, this time not as Katie but as Karl, a transsexual man, to say the same thing I did at my confirmation – ‘Here I am, God. I’m yours’ – and to commit myself once again to love God and others with all that I am.

 

The naming service was a real rite of passage; I now feel I can take my place at the table as Karl, an unashamedly transgender man. The love and acceptance I’ve found from many in the Church, which I dreaded would become an impossible place, has been deeply healing. That isn’t to say that I’ll never encounter people who have an issue with it all, and I reckon my incredibly supportive superintendent ministers may have dealt with more hassle, or at least confusion, than they’ve let on to me. However, it does mean that I feel confident to not let my gender reassignment process get in the way of whatever I want, or more to the point whatever God calls me, to do. Whether that proves to be in the Church or the bank or some other path altogether, I know that I am as much a child of God as the next person, as are all my LGBT friends. That’s all that really matters.

Forgiveness and Families

Recently,  I came across this article on the Guardian website.  It’s an interview with Danu Morrigan, whose mother was a narcissist, which means she needed the whole world to revolve around her would viciously put down other people, mainly her children, while appearing all ‘sweetness and light’ to the outside world. In the end, the only way Danu could cope was to cut contact with her mother completely. Reading some of the comments, it seems that respondents were divided between those who had experienced similar situations and taken similar action, and those who couldn’t understand why one would want to break contact with parents.  My own parents weren’t narcissists, but did have various issues that made my own childhood somewhat difficult, and this article got me thinking…  How should one react to people within one’s own family who behave abusively? It’s notable that most people would tell someone with an emotionally, physically or sexually abusive partner to run for the hills for their own safety, but many don’t take the same view about family. After all, blood is thicker than water, right? I don’t claim to have definitive answers, but I wanted to reflect on my own experiences.

My earliest memories are not exactly happy. Both my brother and I have, I think, suffered from the fact that mum was too busy either cleaning or recovering from cleaning (this used to be a six days a week, every week, thing  – she had OCD) to play with us, and physical affection was non-existent. We were told we were being good if we were basically invisible. Now, I’m not pretending I was an angel and was never a precocious brat, but the way things were was pretty horrible. My dad was very short-tempered and mum was so panicked about ‘mess’ that I felt I was always walking on eggshells.

Going into adolesence, things got worse, for the most part because my brother, who is autistic, got ill and my mother struggled to cope, my gender dysphoria was getting far worse as I went through puberty, and I struggled at school as I stuck out like a sore thumb. I had caring responsibilities that I was scared to mention to other adults in case the dreaded social services swooped in, so I didn’t go out much. Add to that the fact that I was doing well academically and I got a pretty hard time from some of the other kids.  Thus, both home and school life were troubled and tense. Things got to the point that at fifteen I was suicidal; if I did something well I was told not to be big-headed (not that I was – I was pathologically shy!) and if I did something wrong I’d be reminded for days on end . Leaving home at 18 was a complete relief.

One of the things about being in an emotionally violent environment is that often the things that happened would have been in isolation pretty trivial, but the point is that it was like a dripping tap, a constant addition of more and more till it was overflowing. I deliberately haven’t gone into specific incidents, as much as anything because it can be hard to convey to others what it was like and be taken seriously, but I can certainly understand what Danu was getting at with the story about the handbag. Like many others who’ve come from such environments, I made bad choices when it came to relationships, and my ex was emotionally, physically and sexually violent. Getting out of that relationship was one of the hardest and best things I’ve done. A few months after that, I had a breakdown, and from there have gradually been able to rebuild my life. God has done some pretty amazing healing.

Thanks to some amazing friends, a fantastic and incredibly patient minister, some great counselling and the love of my partner, I’ve been able to start on a journey of forgiveness, and have learnt that people who say ‘I love you’ do not all turn into abusers. It’s been tough, and though the scars have healed significantly, they still twinge sometimes. I wouldn’t wish the breakdown and depression on anyone, but they are (thank God) largely in the past now. It’s taken five years, but I’m getting there, slowly but surely.

Deciding to forgive (and it was a conscious decision) wasn’t easy. For a long time, I held onto the anger I felt, partly because I got it into my head that if I didn’t stay angry then it meant that what happened didn’t matter, and partly because I was convinced no-one liked the ‘real me’, but they might feel sorry for me. That’s not easy to admit, but for a long time it’s how things were. Letting go involved taking the risk, on myself – am I lovable for my own sake? I guess that I’ve gradually learnt that the answer is ‘yes’, and as much as anything else, getting to the point of being able to begin gender reassignment is a result of this journey of self-acceptance.

A key part of that journey has been learning to see my parents and my ex as human beings, if that makes sense. It’s easy to blame one’s parents and to forget that they had a huge amount of shit to deal with and had been through a lot of pain themselves. Reading the article helped to make a lot of sense about why my ex was like he was; his mother sounds like a classic narcissist, and I suppose growing up with leaves its scars as much as my experiences of a less bad situation did to me. She certainly scared the crap out of me while being deeply concerned that the rest of the world thought she was wonderful. I suppose it’s no wonder he was so messed up.

None of the above is to excuse what happened, but learning to see those people as human beings and not simply monsters, as well as accepting that I made mistakes and was a prat sometimes, has really helped me to let go of the anger. I reckon (though have no proof) that I’m not the only one to have had therapy, as while when I went back up north a few months ago some things were as crazy and dysfunctional as ever, so much has changed for the better.  I now have a reasonable relationship with my parents, though having clear boundaries is essential. I can see why someone might make the choice to cut off their parents; I thank God that I haven’t needed to do that, and have been able to focus more on the good stuff that happened in my childhood alongside the bad. Having said that, I want nothing to do with my ex ever again.

I suppose it comes down to the fact that one has to make  a judgment about how to maintain sanity and safety. I can have a relationship with my parents and with God’s help, try to focus on making the ‘now’ good rather than letting the past take over.  The barriers would be just too high with my ex, and I fear I’d be putting myself in danger. It’s not a case of blood being thicker than water, so much as reconciliation of a sort not always being possible…

Coming Out

There’s an article kicking around on the Guardian website at the moment about a book written by a palliative care nurse that lists the most common regrets people express on their death-bed. Apparently the regret people most frequently expressed to her when she counselled them in their last days was that they’d wished they’d had the courage to be true to themselves, rather than living according to the expectations of others. This is something I imagine most people have felt at some point in time – a regret that they’d tried so hard to be what they thought others expected or wanted, maybe struggling to be ‘normal’. Sometimes, however, we reach a crisis point, and putting on a façade or continuing to try to fit into others’ ‘boxes’ no longer works.

Over the past four years or so, since I had a bit of a breakdown, I’ve been doing a huge amount of coming to terms with who I really am, instead of what I thought I ought to be. This process has at times been incredibly painful, but also immensely positive. I feel I’ve gone from being unable to process or talk about difficult things in my past for fear of rejection and the consequences of opening the Pandora’s box, to being a fairly confident (which if you’d met me then is huge progress!) and basically happy person. This journey has brought me to a place where I need to acknowledge something fundamental about my identity that will mean making huge changes to my life, some of which bring sadness and uncertainty because of how they might impact people close to me, but which I hope will ultimately mean I am freer to be myself than is currently possible….

I’m transgender.

Transgender (often shortened to trans) is an umbrella term for various things, but in my case what it means is that I have always experienced a profound mismatch between my brain and my body, in that emotionally and psychologically I am very definitely male, even though my body is female. I’ve been aware of this for a long time, though it’s only recently I’ve acquired the vocabulary to be able to express my feelings, and the confidence to admit to myself, and so to others, what has been going on beneath the surface.

My earliest memory of realising I was ‘different’ dates back to when I was four and had started reception class. It was the first time I’d realised how differently boys and girls are treated. Suddenly I had to wear a skirt and was expected to be interested in ‘girl’s stuff’ and to want to spend time with the other girls, all of which felt completely wrong. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t being treated like one of the boys, which is what I felt I was, and while I don’t remember much from that time, I do clearly remember the disorientation and confusion I felt about what was happening.

That feeling didn’t go away as I got older, despite being allowed (though not without a few battles with my mother) to be a complete tomboy until I hit secondary school, when the gender distinctions if anything got even sharper, and being as boyish as I was resulted in bullying. I did have pretty short hair, and was ‘read’ as male on occasion, so it was very hard dealing with being called a boy in a skirt, as much as anything else because that’s how I actually felt and was scared others would find out.  I suppose it’s the stage of life when children start to become sexually aware, and in a hetero-normative setting, that means clear boundaries between the sexes. Anyway, as time went on, having to put on a show for the world and ‘act girly’ felt increasingly oppressive, compounded by hitting puberty and my body beginning to develop in ways that were quite contrary to what I wanted to be happening. The result of all this was deep unhappiness and discomfort, which I dealt with by attempting to ignore my feelings as much as possible and trying to fit in with what I thought I ought to be. Bear in mind that Section 28 was still law then, and I had no outlet to be able to discuss being attracted to women, let alone desperately wanting to be a man on the outside, as well as the inside.

As I said earlier, over the past few years, I’ve learnt to be honest with myself about who I really am, and a big part of that journey has been embracing my gender identity. Just being able to acknowledge the body-brain mismatch has already been a liberating and healing experience, but in order to be really happy in my own skin, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to embark on a process of gender reassignment; that is, I wish to ‘transition’ from being outwardly female to being outwardly male, so that body matches brain. This is not a decision I’ve come to lightly, and not without thinking long and hard about its implications and talking it through with my partner and closest friends. If there was an alternative, like therapy, that would allow me to be happy and whole, I’d jump at it, but there isn’t.

This means I’m going to undertake the NHS process to change my body; it’s a prolonged process that will last a number of years and eventually (it can be over eighteen months from seeing a GP to getting an initial appointment at a Gender Clinic) result in it being impossible to tell if you stopped me in the street for a chat that I wasn’t born with a male body. The NHS should pay for the testosterone shots I’ll need to take for life (and which, to pre-empt some comments, cost less to buy than the prescription charge, so the NHS makes a profit!) but I know I’m almost certainly going to need to pay for the surgery to remove my breasts, which could cost over £5000. Thus, it’ll be a while before there are any physical changes.

In the short term, however, I have to begin what’s called the ‘real-life experience’; that is, I have to begin living, as far as is possible, as a man. As such, my name has changed informally and soon will officially (by Deed Poll) and I’d appreciate it if people could refer to me using male pronouns (he, his, him, etc.). I know this will take time to get used to and there will be mistakes at first; I’m not going to jump down people’s throats if they accidentally slip up. However, if folks could try their best, then I’d be grateful. Doing this is a condition of further treatment, so it’s a hurdle I have to clear and not an optional thing.

Well, there you go! No doubt reading this sparks various questions, and given most people so far have asked me the same sorts of things, here’s a brief FAQ about transgender issues, followed by some useful links:

  • The best analogy I can think of for what it feels like to be trans goes something like this: imagine for the sake of argument that there’s a language called ‘male’ and another called ‘female’, within which there are different dialects and accents, but which are pretty distinct, at least to someone who struggles with languages. I’ve had to pick up the odd phrase of ‘female’ in order to be able to survive, but try as I might, I’ll never be fluent, or able to manage more than a few sentences even, whereas ‘male’ is my natural language and I can chat away in it quite happily given the chance. Anyone who’s ever found themselves in a foreign country not knowing much of the language may have experienced some of the inability to express themselves and resulting vulnerability that brings; it’s like that for me all the time. However, being stuck with a female body means I’ve never had much chance to practice my ‘male’ and so have a lot to learn about the grammar and syntax of the language, how it works, and much vocabulary to absorb. Transition is that learning process.
  • Being trans is most definitely not a choice. Various scientific studies have shown that hormone levels present during foetal development, and the foetus’ sensitivity to said hormones, can create a situation where the brain develops in one direction and the body in another, resulting in the mismatch trans folks experience on a daily basis. Moreover, as I’ve already explained, the process of correcting this is costly, painful and scary, for others as well as for me, and that’s without the stigma attached to not fitting in with social conventions surrounding gender. Yes, transition is a choice, but it’s a choice between a lifetime of being miserable or being whole. It’s as stark as that.
  • The process will not fundamentally change who I am. I will still be the same person, with the same personality, same abilities and faults, same likes and dislikes, same values, same faith. It’s a gender reassignment, not a full-blown personality transplant!
  • Some people have asked me why I want to bother, as I hardly strike them as the lager-swilling, football-mad skinhead type. Others have suggested that transition and the desire to ‘pass’ (to be perceived as male) only serve to reinforce an unhelpful gender binary. It’s true that people who do not feel they fit into either ‘box’, gender-queer people, suffer discrimination and sometimes struggle to deal with social constructs around gender. For what it’s worth, I think gender is a spectrum and can be fluid, something I occasionally experience too. However, I don’t see that the process I’m going to undertake makes this worse, as I’m not trying to conform to a particular stereotype; the point is that I’m figuring out what it means for me, a unique individual with a particular history, to be male and perceived as such. It’s about being fully myself, not conforming to someone else’s idea of what I should be.
  • For my Christian friends: I don’t know where God is in all of this, but I do know I’m loved and known completely by the same God who became human in Jesus Christ. That’s enough for now!
  • Language like ‘tranny’ or ‘gender-bender’ is really offensive. Please don’t use this about or to me.

 

Here are the links I promised:

Leaflet (which has been made into an official NHS document) on what being transgender is all about, an explanation of its probable cause and some definitions:

http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/gdev/gender-dysphoria.pdf

Guardian blog written by a trans woman (someone changing from outwardly male to female) that has many parallels with my own story and articulates the challenges of transition really well:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/series/transgender-journey

Stonewall Scotland’s very helpful leaflet about supporting trans people in the workplace:

http://www.stonewall.org.uk/documents/changing_for_the_better.pdf

Website of the Gender Identity Research and Education Service, which works closely with the NHS:

http://www.gires.org.uk/

Website of the Gender Trust, which contains useful information around terminology:

http://gendertrust.org.uk/glossary

Afternoon Tea at Tiffeny’s, and other randomness

It’s been a busy couple of months, but as I now have the internet working at home and the rare luxury of  a free evening, I’ve decided that it’s about time my blog came back to life again, so here’s an update on life:

 

  • I think I’m over my mini crisis of faith, and have actually found a degree of settledness and peace. I guess I’ve finally grasped that it’s ok just to be me, and not to try and push myself into other people’s boxes, because it doesn’t work. I can’t pretend I’ve got my prayer life magically sorted, but I feel relaxed with God, which is a huge step forward.
  • I’m now a graduate of he University of Durham. The day was amazing, and it was great to be able to enjoy it with my partner, parents and friends. I still can’t quite believe I finally made it, and how different I was when I started the whole thing compared to where I am now. I’ve changed so much for the better…. God is very good.
  • I’m now a Methodist Local Preacher – don’t ask me how that happened! I had my first service early last the month, which went very well, and I’m off out with my mentor in Stony Stratford in a week and a half. It’s exciting and scary, but mostly it just feels very right and very ‘me’ somehow. The bit that scares me is the way the whole ordination thing seems to be inching its way back onto the agenda at unexpected moments…
  • The banking world is pretty much the same. I’m now at the stage where most of the stuff from my predecessor has been gone through, documented and tidied up, and I can begin working on my own projects, which is  a good thing.
  • I’ve almost (finally) finished two papers based on my PhD thesis, which I hope to send to my supervisor soon, and then to get published. I miss the world of maths, and want to keep the door open for getting a post-doctoral research position. It’s been nice getting back to grips with it all 🙂
  • I’ve joined a gym, and am seriously working on getting fit.
  • Most importantly of all, Tractorgirl and I have now been together for eighteen months, and I love her more than ever.

At the weekend, I went on a retreat with some friends from Bang! and had a very random dream about a friend of mine directing and presenting a daytime television show called ‘Afternoon Tea at Tiffeny’s’. I might float the idea to the BBC one day…  In the meantime, here’s a couple of graduation pictures:

Me with my parents
Tractorgirl and me chilling after the graduation dinner

Merry Christmas!

I’m spending Christmas loitering on the Essex/Suffolk border with TractorGirl and her family. The aforementioned TractorGirl landed in MK on Tuesday, and I’ve really enjoyed having someone to come home to after work. Yesterday, we travelled to the lands of chavs and turnips (nothing like crude stereotypes, is there? 😉 ), with a surprisingly smooth journey given all the recent weather issues.  We’re staying in a pub-come-hotel in Sudbury, which is pleasant enough, and have checked out the local Chinese takeaway, which was alright. This morning, we went to a quaint little parish church in Bures, and post Christmas dinner, am chilling on the sofa, next to TractorGirl, drinking Weston’s Organic cider. Good times 🙂 Oh yes, and the Queen was funny!

Update on life

I haven’t been able to blog since the move (no landline yet and internet at work is severely restricted) so while I’m at a friend’s house, here’s an update on life.

I successfully made the move to MK just over three weeks ago now. My house is lovely and I’m just about sorted now; just awaiting the arrival of my new sofa in a fortnight, and need to buy one or two more small bits of furniture. It’s been good on the whole to have my own place, but also quite lonely sometimes to come home after work to an empty house. I think I’m getting used to that, but do find it hard, especially as TractorGirl and I, with all that her life has involved recently, haven’t seen each other for a while. I do miss her loads.

Work has been going well. My first couple of days were a bit dull until my computer log-on got sorted out, but soon after, things got quite busy. Along with my boss, I am taking over a load of mathematical modelling work from someone who is leaving for a job with less of a daily commute, and so my first three weeks have been the handover period and trying to get to grips with where things currently stand. It’s been a little daunting to say the least, but I now have more of an idea what’s going on. It’s a nice place to work; I’ve had one or two jokes made about my ties, but all light-hearted (and it’s nice to stand out in an office dominated by men in open-neck shirts in various dull pastel shades…) and think that given time, I’ll fit in well. Quite out of the blue, the other day I was offered a job in Durham (a little too late, alas) but I’m pretty sure I’ll stay put.

Milton Keynes itself is an odd place. I live about a twenty-five minute walk from work along the redways (which are quite confusing when one is not used to them) but there are no local shops in the village, so getting food in involves wandering into town. I’ve joined an amateur drama group, an astronomy club, found a bible study and hopefully some LGBT stuff to fill my time, and am using the weekends when I don’t get to see TractorGirl to explore the region around MK. So far, this has involved trips to London (and a wonderful concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields) and Bath (for a GCN gathering), and in a month’s time I’m off to Brighton for some shopping

Finding a church has been rather harder going. I went to my local parish church and it was like Monty Python-meets-Alpha! It was without a doubt the oddest place I’ve tried in a while. The parishioners I’ve spoken to are friendly enough, but after a comedy moment (involving jumping back and shrieking) when, after a discussion over tea with Mrs Vicar, I decided I needed to be honest, with where the conversation had gone, about my sexuality (I swear some people think lesbianism is a disease they can catch!) I think it might not be the easiest place to settle. Besides, I can’t be doing with being bombarded with over-simplistic evangelical cliches and vapid songs. Christ the Cornerstone in the centre of MK seems a better bet, so I will have to get used to getting up slightly earlier on a Sunday.

Overall, my first few weeks of ‘real adulthood’ have gone well, but been hard in various ways (I haven’t mentioned the whole trouble I’ve had getting a bank account (a condition of employment) because it makes my blood boil). I miss TractorGirl, but am beginning to settle in.

Rubik’s Cubes (and other strange ambitions)

There is an article in this week’s New Scientist that says that some mathematicians, harnessing the power of Google and symmetries, have shown that any arrangement of a Rubik’s cube can be completed in twenty moves or under. Apparently, “God couldn’t do it faster”. I find this sickening as solving mine even the once has still eluded me!

Owning and finishing a Rubik’s Cube is one of the ten ambitions I have in life, of varying degrees of sensibleness (and in no particular order), some of which go back to childhood:

1) Have tea at the Ritz

2) Talk philosophy with the Speaking Clock over a glass of wine

3) Own and finish a Rubik’s Cube

4) Ride the London Eye and streak at the top of the circle

5) Get to the top of the Eiffel Tower without a nose bleed

6) Go paragliding without an instructor

7) Have tea on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament

8 ) Meet k.d. lang and give her a kiss

9) Have a book (either fiction or serious science) published

10) Own enough ties to have one for every day of the year

One of these is impossible. I have done two of them. Guess which…

A brief update on life…

I’ve had a mad three weeks or so and therefore just haven’t found the time to blog, so here’s an update on life at the moment:

I am now Dr TOH, as of 8th June. I have just minor corrections and thankfully not many of them, so the thesis should be all done soon. However, I doubt I’ll make July congregation because of the rest of life…

I have been up and down the country looking for work. Had a few interviews since I last wrote anything. One will take a fortnight to get back to me and I’m not convinced I want the job anyway. One would have been great but turned me down – since when has talking through in detail the planning of the final two chapters (representing a year’s work) of a PhD thesis been an insufficiently strong example of planning an activity? The interview I had in Manchester today seemed to go well and I’ll hear tomorrow. The company seemed great so I’d really like to progress to the next stage. All in all, with job applications, life has been hectic.

I had my first experience of the dismalness of benefit claiming this month. One now has to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit by phone, and they want to know one’s entire life story. Then I had to go for an interview with Jo, an advisor who slavishly followed her computer system (which couldn’t cope with the concept of a graduate looking for graduate jobs) and talked to me as if I am a particularly stupid monkey with a particular reason to be stupid. She refused to listen to me and the system couldn’t cope with the types of jobs I’m applying for – management consultant wasn’t on the list, so such jobs can’t exist… I’ve promised to be a good girl and look on the Jobcentreplus (plus what, exactly?) website twice a week, which I intend to use to find the most bizarre jobs going and blog about. I have to go back Monday for my fortnightly humiliation. Prayer please – felt very down after the last time.

TractorGirl has been on a pioneer missioner adventure. Whatever comes of it, I hope it gives her the confidence to explore the Diaconate when the time comes. Can’t deny it hurts, though, watching her being encouraged when the Church of England gives one no room to pursue ministry with integrity.

We have had some sunshine at last, and I now have a tan of sorts. In other news, Prince Phillip is still alive. Oh yes, I may have solved my impending housing issue and last week I bought a new tie 🙂