The Transsexual as Witness

Revd. David Horton

C of E, Chaplain to the Gendys Network,
Gendys Conference, 2000

David Horton's book Changing Channels is now out of print but may be bought on line as a pdf at

Over the years I have been given a warm reception at these conferences. In some ways I find this strange, since religion, or organised religion at least, has not always been a friend to those with Gender Dysphoria. Having Father Warwick speaking already is fine. To quote Maureen Lipman "He's got an 'ology!'" And Vicky, of course, was a psychiatrist long before she developed an interest in theology. But I make no claims in that respect. I am an ordinary old-fashioned pastor - reaching out to God for people and to people for God. Some aspects of what I do probably haven't changed much in six thousand years.

So I want to preface my remarks with three personal experiences which have formed my conviction that God is very much on our side. The most recent goes back to October 1987, to a young man in his late twenties who opened my eyes to the anger and pain of gender difficulties. Before that I think back to my own first experience of God in November 1965, when I was given a vision of the world as a marvellous tapestry on which I had been scribbling graffiti, and the choice to work with God to restore my part of the universe. Finally I think back 25 years to the death of my daughter, and the experience my wife and I shared of feeling God was hurting worse at our loss than we were. These three points in my life have been at the heart of what I have tried to do among you.

I understand that in Anglo-Saxon times, in many instances the only acceptable judges of a situation were those personally involved - the witnesses. If this is true then it seems to me that there would be some advantages over our current system of adversarial point scoring. For a start it would have informed the legal debate of the last three decades. More light and less heat would have been welcome.

In this sense, with the publication of the report of the interdepartmental working group on transsexual people we owe a considerable vote of thanks to the witnesses from this community who have worked so hard to make our voice heard. I note that almost all the annexes to that report come from our witnesses, to the extent that the open-handedness and balance of the report is seriously undermined! So to Press for Change, and the many other groups that have worked on our behalf I say thank you.

As a Christian minister I believe that the transsexual can also be a Christian witness to the wider society around us, as well as to the churches. I take as my starting point the early part of the 43rd chapter of Isaiah, and in particular the phrase "You are my witnesses, says the Lord." I want to point out four ways in which I believe God wants to speak through us.

Firstly, the witness is not a volunteer. She or he hasn't decided to speak out, but rather has been put into that position by God. I believe, and you may wish to challenge this, that God has put the transsexual into this position. That's not easy or comfortable, but neither of these are actually considered a virtue in the Bible. If you like, this life is portrayed as being like a nursery school or kindergarten in which we are battered and bruised, but where we learn to walk and cope with others. Being transgendered is one way in which our decisions and choices can allow us to grow. Our choices are important. Equally I believe that this condition is not a lifestyle choice by the individual, as some would claim, but rather a call from God.

Secondly, the transsexual witnesses to God's approach to life. God creates diversity, and God creates individuality. The transsexual is a witness to that diversity, and the physical and social processes that create it. Whereas Israel in the Old Testament was chosen so it could be a challenge and hope to other nations, the pattern of chosen races in the twentieth century has been one of racial superiority and conformity. However poorly, and often very poorly, the Church has been multiracial, multi- cultural and transgendered. So at its best is the transsexual community.

Thirdly, as a consequence of that, the transsexual witnesses to the need of society to be opening and welcoming of diversity and difference. Historically, one reason for Britain's success in the world has been its ability to attract outsiders with needed skills and expertise. An open and flexible society can respond better to challenge, of which our generation has more than enough. The progress in recent years should help us move from being seen as a problem in our culture to being a contributor to the strength of our society.

Fourthly, the witness of the transsexual is not just a matter of words. Who can assess the price many in this community pay for their condition? The courage with which some face mindless opposition, the devotion which members of our community bring to others by the support groups, and public advocacy, the risks endured in surgery and medication to achieve a degree of wholeness go far beyond words. Every society needs the strength of those who rise to its injustices and its challenges.

The progress of the last few years lead me to point out a continuing consequence for the transsexual. Even when and if the transsexuals' quest for justice and understanding is achieved, there will still be a need for transsexual witness. Out of a personal history of suffering and growth, the transsexual has a duty to speak out for those who are still helpless and needy. And if history teaches anything it is that prejudice and hate and hurt always find a target. The shackles may have been struck off but there is still slavery. Women may have equality, but too often it is an equality that must balance impossible demands.

We, perhaps uncomfortably to some, owe a debt to gay campaigners who were prepared to extend their search for justice to another disadvantaged group. The way we can repay that debt is surely to follow its good example, perhaps even before our own victory is won. After all that is true citizenship - of heaven, and of this country and beyond.

It is not entirely comfortable being a chaplain. In 1990 when I took the Royal Navy chaplain's course, I believe one reason I failed, was the dichotomy between the Navy's need for a proved resource in morale-building and crisis counselling, and my calling as a priest to be a challenge. I was very cautious about Alice's attempt to persuade me to act as chaplain to a growing group of transsexual people. At first my activities were almost entirely pastoral, but with the continuing support of my diocese I have become far more involved with challenge. How successful I have been I do not know.

Certainly my continuing correspondence with the Evangelical Alliance has left me with the feeling they are making unsustainable assumptions about transsexual life, while they seem to regard me as theologically soft. Yet I become more convinced as the years pass that transsexuals are an integral part of God's challenge to society, and not just some biological mistake. My experiences with you have made me wiser and more caring. I give thanks for my friends in this community, and for their courage and love, qualities I believe are desperately needed in our technological age, and which have greatly enriched me.

Citation: David Horton, D.,(2000), The Transsexual as Witness, GENDYS 2k, The Sixth International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
Web page copyright GENDYS Network. Text copyright of the author. 04.05.02 Last amended 16.11.03