Sep 25

Christina Beardsley, a Trans Minister, Speaks on the Bible

Christina Beardsley is an ordained priest in the Church of England and she is trans. There is much we can learn from her. Thanks to my good friend, Vivienne Marcus from New Zealand, we are bringing you an extensive interview with Dr Beardsley which Vivienne also has posted on her blog Bluestockingblue. So in Vivienne’s words.

Vivienne Marcus

Vivienne Marcus

It’s been a while since I considered religion as a topic, but it’s been in my mind a lot lately. I was raised in a strongly Christian family, but have been increasingly critical and questioning of much of that for many years now. I have nonetheless experienced quite a considerable amount of existential guilt about exploring my gender identity. Not all of that relates, of course, to religion, but it all fitted together: religious views of sex as dirty, impure and shameful featured large in my upbringing, and there was no tolerance whatever of any idea of homosexuality or transgenderism.

The Old Testament contains stern and forbidding passages like this one:  He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD. —Deuteronomy 23:1.

Ouch! Make sure you look after your stones! Some people view transgender behavior as inherently sinful. As you know, I don’t agree. I believe that this is the way I was created: a man with a generous spoonful of woman in the mixture. In addition, I think that Jesus went out of his way to befriend the marginalized people in his society: lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors and whatnot. These days, if Jesus were among us, I think he would (among others) be befriending transgender people–and no doubt attracting the same scorn and criticism for doing so, as he did back then.

Christina Beardsle

Christina Beardsle

We seem to be in the midst of a landslide in transgender acceptance, where transgender people seem to be everywhere: in the media, in sports, in politics, in the military, in entertainment, in the arts, and so on. So what of deeply religious people, those in ministry? Are there any transgender clerics out there? The answer turns out to be yes, although they are not easy to track down. I wanted to talk to them: to ask them about their own journeys; how their gender conflicted (or perhaps not) with their faith; about how they face up to those disapproving biblical passages. And I was delighted when I was able to make contact with the Rev. Dr. Christina “Tina” Beardsley, an ordained woman priest in the Church of England, who happened to be born a boy. Tina has been in ministry for nearly four decades, and worked as a hospital chaplain in the UK for the last 15 years, and has recently retired. She is the author of several books, and a blog (see the end of this article for details).

Not only did she kindly agree to submit to my battery of interview questions, she provided detailed answers. I hope you will find those answers as interesting and enlightening as I did. She taught me that priest can be used as a verb, and she can spell medieval, and I learned a whole new (and somewhat wonderful) word: transcestors.

Can you tell us a bit about your trans journey? (A potted life story, if you will).

It’s tempting to compartmentalize our lives, and when communicating to others one might have to focus on the trans aspects of the journey, but I see my life as a whole, and am glad that you reframe this question by asking for a potted life story.

I’m 65 years old now so that’s a fairly long life history. I was born in West Yorkshire, in the north of England, near an industrial town, but grew up in a small town on the edge of the Peak District. I am the eldest of two, and my brother was born when I was 6. My family was working class – I come from a long line of miners on my father’s side (though my dad did not work down the pit) and country house (the home of industrialists) gardeners on my mother’s side. I was the first person from my family to go to university.

My childhood was relatively happy but my gender presentation was problematic to my father in particular. I once overheard him complaining to my maternal grandmother how unhappy he was that I was ‘so effeminate’ which came as something of a shock, though it shouldn’t have, as I can recall many occasions from my earliest childhood when he expressed disapproval with my gendered behaviour. My grandmother’s response was that he should not worry and that it was something that I would ‘grow out of’. Through therapy I have learnt to appreciate that I was feminine rather than effeminate and that my femininity is something that I have ‘grown into’, though not without a struggle because there were many years of denial and suppression before I was able to accept myself.

You said that you were “feminine rather than effeminate”. Can you unpack what that means exactly?

Effeminate is a pejorative term arising from the hierarchy in which the male is considered superior to the female and feminine boys/men whether or not they turn out to be trans are taunted with all sorts of unpleasant names. To see oneself instead as feminine reclaims and owns one’s behaviours or gender expression as fitting, appropriate and nothing to be ashamed of.

Like many people who are not understood within their family I found escape in study, and when it was time to go to university I went to Sussex University in Brighton, a city that has always had a liberal, even naughty reputation. That was 1970-73 and while at university I met the man who would become my husband. In my mid-teens I had begun to realize that I was attracted to males, but there was also ‘something else’ going on–cross dressing–which I was not able to talk about, and which I also associated with the childhood shame of being ‘effeminate’. I was very fortunate in my partner because he preferred feminine men and told me that was one reason that he found me attractive. We certainly talked about drag, and one of my fantasies while preparing for university, had been to join a drag entertainment collective (like Bloolips) and maybe not change back into male clothes, but I knew it was a fantasy

Christina BeardsleyCourtesy of the State I was receiving a wonderful education in the study of religion, medieval philosophy and church history, and when I graduated I had the opportunity to go to Cambridge to do doctoral research. That kept me occupied for the next three years, and even though I was vaguely aware of another student who was in transition in Cambridge, and was intrigued, I didn’t see that as being for me at that time. Despite being in a loving relationship I think my self-awareness about being transgender (though that wouldn’t have been the term used then) was poor and my emotional intelligence still fairly limited.

I had experienced a call to ordained ministry when I was about twelve years old (in a small wood near the church) though I also had a strong sense that I should teach, and it wasn’t clear which of the two would have priority – today I realise that one could do both! I was accepted for ordination training and went to theological college, which meant another two years of study, followed by three years as an assistant curate (assistant minister) in a city parish in Portsmouth. My college principal, the bishop who ordained me, my training incumbent and the parish leadership were all aware that Rob was my partner and very affirming of us both. Sexuality was the dominating issue in my life at that point, rather than gender identity, though of course that had not gone away but, hey, there were plenty of other things to think about and to do.

When it was time to move on my training incumbent asked me to stay on in the parish to look after one of the daughter churches, which I did for another four years before leaving the city to become the vicar of two rural/suburban parishes, where I was even busier, but it was here that the Holy Spirit broke in and ministered the divine love to my heart.

By the late 1980s I had been vicar of the two parishes for four years. It was just as the AIDS epidemic struck the UK and was a very bad time for gay people in the Church, especially gay clergy. Remember that gay and trans were still blurred in the 1970s and 80s; this was 1989. I woke in the night knowing I must include these words in my sermon the next day: ‘God loves me, including the fact that I’m gay.’ It wasn’t a good career move, but I felt an imperative and as if this was ‘meant to be’.

A few days later the Sunday School leader came to see me about something else. ‘It’s wonderful that you came out’ she said as she left, ‘It’s such a good role model to see a gay man in a caring profession.’ And I thought to myself, ‘But I never said that I was a man!’ That was when I knew, definitely, who I was, and that, however I might have appeared on the outside–and by this time testosterone had begun to masculinise my features–I was, as I began to express it at the time, ‘90% to 100% female on the inside’, though I can appreciate that may sound strange to some people; nor was I clear what it would mean for me at that stage. I’m aware that this is becoming a long answer, so let me say more about this episode and about what happened next as I try to answer the next question.

How did that overlap with your spiritual life? I know that you were ordained before you transitioned. Did you think that ordination would somehow prevent you transitioning? Or did you consider that you might pursue transition at some point post-ordination?

In terms of gender awareness I had always been intellectually committed to the ordination of women, and after ordination became a member of Priests for the Ordination of Women. It was apparent to those around me that I was a feminist. The ordination of women as priests in the Church of England proved a much longer struggle than any of us had anticipated, but when it eventually happened (the successful vote was in 1992) I was not as elated as I had expected to be.

christina beardsley

photo by Christa Holka

When I was ordained in 1978 Church of England priests had all been male, and later, in therapy, by which time women were being priested, one of my dreams suggested that this dynamic had been going on in my mind: ‘priests are male; I am a priest; therefore I am male.’ Once women were ordained though, this stasis was undermined and I was forced to reframe it: ‘priests are male and female, I am a priest, therefore I am … female’. So, although it occasionally occurred to me that I might transition post-ordination, especially after seeing the landmark BBC programme about Julia Grant in 1980, I always found reasons why this was not appropriate – some of them to do with natural law and living with one’s given body – and just hoped this was something that would ‘go away’. The green light for women’s ordination made me face up to my gender identity.

Did you pray to God not to be transgender? (I know I have, many times).

Once I began to recognize that I had ‘a problem’, yes, I did pray that God would take it away permanently – on one memorable occasion I was driving along a dual carriage making this my earnest prayer… and one of the tires punctured! It was a dramatic sign, but what did it mean?

It took time to sink in, but it looked as if God was not going to magically remove this aspect of my personality, and that, just as with my sexual attraction, my gender identity was also loved by God, and I would need to learn to love it too. You see, those words about God’s love that had formed during the night in 1989 had come out of considerable pain, following the death of my training incumbent, and had set in motion a train of events during which, as a friend remarked, I appeared to have faced my demons. I had certainly felt as if I was experiencing death and resurrection and I knew, just knew, that Paul’s words were true, that nothing, nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God. This was to give greater depth to my work as a priest and prepared me for the intensely pastoral role I would begin a few years later as a hospital chaplain.

A new spiritual practice that developed from that ‘coming out’ in 1989 was that I immediately began to dance – circle dance with friends, then movement classes in Skinner Releasing Technique, and later still contemporary dance classes at the Brighton Natural Health Centre on my days off. This practice helped me to relate to my body – I seemed to have spent so much of my life in my head avoiding the body – and alongside other women. Occasionally there would be men in the class but more often the other participants were women and I felt wholly at ease. Eventually my dance CV was extensive enough to gain me an interview as a part-time research supervisor at the Laban Centre of Contemporary Dance, but I was not appointed. This was in the late 1990s, by which time I knew that I needed to transition and that I might not be able to work for the Church, but I am a priest and it seems I was not meant to be anything else.

How did knowledge of your transition go down with your parishioners? And what about fellow priests and bishops? Did you meet any hostility or rejection? Is that still going on sometimes?

In 1997, roughly seven years after the ‘coming out’, I was planning a long overdue sabbatical from the parishes, and given my interest in dance, I assumed that I would be attending a dance academy, but when I applied not one was able to take me during the months I was available. Again, it was in the night that it came to me that I must use the sabbatical to address various ‘unfinished business’, one of which was my gender identity. Just prior to the sabbatical I took part in Diane Torr’s five day workshop ‘Gender in Performance’ at the Chisenhale Dance Space in London’s East End, and I knew after that that I did not want to be sometimes male and sometimes female – like Diane who is a Drag King – but that I needed to integrate my gender identity, though how I would do that as a parish priest was not at all clear.

christina beardsley

photo by Christa Holka

I was not aware of any transgender role models for clergy: the one clergy person who transitioned at this time did so on retirement, nor did I think it was fair to the parishes where I worked to land them with another coming out! They had been affirming in 1989 but I did not want to impose ‘my stuff’ on them again; and in any case, after fifteen years in post, I was ready for a move. In my annual ministerial reviews it emerged that I ought to work part-time (in my mind to deal with the rigours of transition), that I should work in a non-parochial role (to establish better boundaries between work and home) and that, ideally, I should live in our own home. This would happen in 2000 when I was appointed to a very part-time post as a chaplain at a hospital ten minutes’ drive from our house.

By this time I’d been on hormones about six months, was living as a female, and working as an androgynous male. Five months later, in November 2000, I met with my manager to raise the possibility of transition at work, and was on the point of discussing this with the acting bishop when the press began to track me down – I had been outed to a journalist by another trans person who was also a Christian. (This seemed a catastrophe at the time, but in retrospect it was a blessing as it would open up many opportunities for me, but I was unaware of this then and it was all rather terrifying.)

Although I was not named in the press at that stage it made my discussions with the bishop extremely strained as there were huge anxieties surrounding possible press exposure. I’d like to think that the bishop might have been more understanding had we not been meeting in this fraught context, but his opinion was that he could not support me and that I should surrender my licence, which I needed to continue as a chaplain in that particular hospital. This was one of the most painful episodes of my life, but transgender people were not well understood at that date, and with the support of the human rights organisation Liberty, I held my ground.

I also began to look for work elsewhere because it was apparent that, whatever the outcome, I was not being supported and I didn’t feel safe. I was now presenting as female all the time and had three job interviews in a row, and it was after the last one that I was appointed to the hospital where I have worked for the past fifteen years and from which I’ve just retired. My new bishop was cautious about my status to begin with and I was under his direct supervision, but after three or four years it was obvious to him that there had been no ‘issues’ and that I was in my element as a chaplain – well of course, because I was now at last able to be myself.

Prior to taking up my new post the press did try to ‘expose’ me but my former hospital’s press officer was ready for that, and my story in my own words was sent off to the Press Association to prevent the newspaper concerned claiming an exclusive. Prior to transition at work I wrote to friends, former parishioners, and the priest who had succeeded me in the parishes, explaining what I was about to do. Most people were supportive.

Do you know other transgender clerics? Perhaps even those of other faiths? How do they get along?

In 2000, while I was working towards transition, my clinician informed me that another priest was transitioning. He could not tell me who it was of course. When the news broke in the media it turned out to be Carol Stone with whom I had been at theological college. Carol was supported by her bishop and her parishioners, remaining as parish priest until her untimely death last year. Later I would meet the priest who transitioned on retirement. I was next in line to transition after Carol.

christina beardsleySome of those who followed me were less fortunate. One was given an ultimatum – give this up or resign: she chose to resign and is no longer in public ministry. Another was told to withdraw from her parish until her transition was complete: it would be a decade before she returned to ministry. Those who were ordained after transition – I am aware of two such clergy and of others currently in training – seem to have a better time. Another friend lost her public ministry because of transition.

My impression is that trans clergy and ordinands are better supported now than when I transitioned although the Church of England still lacks a policy for clergy who transition – something that I and other Changing Attitude, England trustees have urged the Church to do.

I have networked with trans clergy and laity in the US and attended the Episcopal Church’s General Convention in Indianapolis in 2012 when three trans inclusive resolutions were passed. Yes, I do know of trans clergy from other faith traditions – one of my friends is a rabbi – not least through Twilight People: Stories of Faith and Gender Beyond the Binary.

I am sorry to nail you down to this, but I am curious about your interpretation of some Biblical passages, which are sometimes used to justify trans-exclusionary views. The first is obviously Deuteronomy 22:5. Can you let us know what your thoughts are about that passage? (You might say that you are now a woman, and I would agree with you, but other people, as you know, might disagree, and say that you were born a male and therefore remain one).

The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.

The Deuteronomy verse troubled me a little as a child but even then I realised that the New Covenant was more gracious than the Old, and studying biblical criticism soon clarified that this verse was not about twentieth century cross dressing. Indeed, the text begins with a prohibition on women wearing men’s clothes, in particular armour, so it appears to be about prescribing gender roles and avoiding a mixing of categories that is completely broken down by the ministry of Jesus and the work of Christ.

And my second passage is Matthew 19:12. What do you suppose Matthew was talking about here when he was talking about “eunuchs”? Do you think he meant intersex people when he talked about “people born eunuchs”? Can you give us your interpretation of that passage? (As you know, some people interpret scripture very literally, so I am trying hard to get a scholarly viewpoint).

For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of [by] men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

It’s a fascinating passage. Just as St Paul thinks that it is better not to marry, because the end times have begun (1Corinthians 7:25-31), here Jesus seems to be saying that the arrival of the kingdom means that some people (his apostles) are to be entirely focussed on its concerns rather than procreation, marriage and family, which were strongly emphasised under the Old Covenant, and, one could add, are once more in modern Christianity.  The early Christian tradition too favoured virginity over marriage.

In this passage it seems likely that Jesus was referring to those we would describe as intersex people, and also to the eunuchs who played such an important mediating role in ancient societies, and who do appear to have represented a third gender. I can relate to a theological essay like Lewis Reay’s chapter ‘Towards a Transgender Theology: Que(e)rying the Eunuchs’ in Trans/formations (SCM 2009) which regards the biblical eunuchs as our ‘transcestors’, but can also appreciate the criticism that this could imply undue focus on surgery, and that other biblical frameworks might be more appropriate – my current collaborator Chris Dowd is working on this.

Like the virgins and infertile women of the Old Testament, the eunuchs were ‘barren’ but God seems to choose these unlikely people to demonstrate that God alone is the arbiter of fruitfulness, as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 56) and as the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:26-end) illustrates.

Are there any Biblical passages which you consider supportive to trans people? I guess I am asking which are your personal favorites?

I have learned of many such passages from my friend Peterson Toscano, especially his show Transfigurations –Transgressing Gender in the Bible and by reading some of the scholarship that lies behind it. The gender variant people in the Bible he performs or refers to in this show are the Judge Deborah (Judges 4 & 5), Joseph in the Genesis (Chapters 37 onward) narrative (whose supposedly colourful coat is probably ‘a princess dress’), the eunuchs in the Book of Esther, the ‘man’ (though the Greek word used is for human being rather than for a male) carrying the jar of water, a woman’s role, (Mark 14:13, Luke 22:10), and a female disciple interpreted in the light of verses from the Gospel of Thomas.

Ichristina beardsleyn the Old Testament my favorite passage is the Joseph narrative in Genesis, not least because there God turns disaster into blessing, as God seemed to do for me following the attempted outing during my transition. My New Testament favorite is Galatians 3:28:

There is not Jew nor Greek, there is not slave nor free, there is not male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus

…and my favorite New Testament book is the Gospel of John which is astonishing, powerful, utterly beautiful, and yet profoundly earthed in first century culture, the Word made flesh indeed. In this gospel Jesus sits at the well with the Samaritan woman, and we observe his affection for the family at Bethany: Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus.

What do you think about the Biblical role of women? It certainly seems to me that the Bible seems to regard women as being subservient to men, and many female figures (I am thinking about, say Eve, or Delilah, or Salome, or Jezebel, or the Whore of Babylon) are depicted as temptresses, adulteresses, and moral corruptors of men; while all the heroic figures (Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon, Jesus, the Apostles) are all men. (Of course there are exceptions on both sides).

The Bible could be read as highly misogynist were we to focus on the women mentioned here, although feminist and queer readings are questioning such interpretations by examining the way editors and redactors have shaped the material. These readings highlight the strength of biblical women, and let’s be clear, there are plenty of examples of men – even those chosen by God – behaving badly!

I love the way it is now common to name the matriarchs as well as the patriarchs: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah are constrained by patriarchal conventions but also subvert them. When my chaplaincy role was based mainly in the women and children’s division, including maternity, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Anita Diamant’s take on Jacob’s wives and midwifery in her novel The Red Tent. The early church’s emphasis on virginity has affected traditional interpretations of Mother Mary and Mary Magdalen but there are plenty of feminist readings of both, and I loved Carlo Caretto’s Blessed are you who believed (Burns & Oates 1982) which locates Mother Mary in her middle eastern setting, and the deconstructive reflections and  poetry of Nicola Slee’s The Book of Mary (SPCK 2007).

Can you talk more about the Sibyls? Are they an international organisation? What other organizations exist which are supportive of transgender Christians?

Sibyls, Christian Spirituality for transgender people, is a UK organisation, but it has had members from further afield, including as far away as Hong Kong.

It was founded as a support network by Jay Walmsley in 1996, at a time when trans people were being turned away from their churches if they came out or transitioned. Churches are much more inclusive today, but in those days Holy Communion was celebrated at every meeting as people were being denied this sacrament in their own churches then.  Sibyls has always held meetings in both the north and the south of England (and in Wales) and the pattern has been two retreat weekends a year, plus social gatherings. People talk to one another on the retreats – conversations with other transgender Christians being vitally important – and there are prayer times morning and evening, free time, and a film or home-made entertainment (the latter was usual in the past, and intended to help people gain self-confidence). There is now a London meeting every two months, which begins with Evening Prayer at St Anne’s, Soho, and then members go out dinner together. Sibyls’ members are involved in educating the churches about transgender people through workshops, research, speaking engagements and writing.

christina beardsley

photo by Christa Holka

The Sibyls is the main organization for transgender Christians, but LGBTI Christian organizations like Changing Attitude, England (which had three trans trustees at one point) and the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), whose former CEO identified as genderqueer, (these two organizations are about to merge) are supportive of gender variant people and campaign on their behalf, as does the LGBTI Anglican Mission, Inclusive Church, Accepting Evangelicals, Diverse Church (aimed at younger people) and others beside.

What is your relationship status currently?

I was married in 2006, following Gender Recognition and the issue of an amended birth certificate thanks to the passing of the UK Gender Recognition Act 2004.

Your husband presumably fell in love with you when he thought you were a gay man. How did he handle you becoming a woman?

Well, as I’ve said in the narrative I never fully saw myself as a gay man – gay yes but not really male and on reflection Rob has said that he can see now that I always was a woman looking back, for example, at the times that we were n holiday, sitting each side of a table, and irrespective of how we may have been perceived by others.

Which famous person would you most like to meet, and why?

A fun question and one I rarely get chance to think about. Recently, though, I was sad to discover that my dance heroine, Gabrielle Roth, had died five years ago and that I had left it too late to try to visit her in New York. The Five Rhythms practice she developed has been important for me and I would have loved to have heard about it directly from her rather than from her books and videos though her ‘voice’ is strong in both. I’m a big fan of the BBC television programme Call the Midwife, and as a chaplain have tended to see my better self as the rather wonderful sister superior, Sister Julienne, while knowing deep down that I am probably more like the ancient Sister Monica Joan, who is sadly teetering on the brink of dementia, but remains profound and wise, and is always raiding the biscuit tin. Tea with the two actresses who play these characters – Jenny Agutter and Judy Parfitt – would be lovely!

May I ask one last question? What advice would you personally give to people who feel a powerful conflict between what they feel their gender to be, and what their religion teaches them?

That’s a big question in that it could cover so many varied experiences and, as I said in another interview, I’m not supposed to give advice, but since you ask … I think it’s wonderful that we have the internet which we didn’t when I was exploring these things, so, researching via the internet, reading books on the subject and networking with other gender variant people of faith would be my initial advice.


With all my interviews, I like to reflect on a few points. Clearly there is a lot to talk about, and since this article is already very long, I might save some of it for the next time.

First, this interview only reinforces my idea that transgender people are everywhere: in every walk of life. You need only look, and there they are; and in fact, as has often happened before when I talk to someone, I realize that not only are there transgender Christians (including some in ministry and the religious life), there are a lot more of them, being a lot more active, than I had previously thought!

It doesn’t surprise me that transgender clerics exist: Jesus chose only male apostles (which has long been used as justification for keeping women out of ministry). But a lot of Jesus’ behavior is what we might associate with femininity: nurturing, avoiding conflict, kindness to the sick, the elderly and children. Therefore men who (like me) relate strongly to that aspect of Jesus’ work might easily possess a strong feminine side.

I had hoped that Tina might provide some resources to those of you who might be struggling with a conflict between what your own heart tells you is your gender, and what your religion tells you is your gender. And I am delighted that she has provided several resources to consider. As someone who has been a priest for many years, she clearly has reliable credentials to draw upon. If you are questioning, or worried, or ashamed, or guilty, it’s clear that you are not alone; others have walked the same path, and there is plenty out there to inform, support and guide you.

In terms of what Deuteronomy forbids and permits, I must say I don’t put much store in any of that. The same chapter describes that you must build a parapet on your roof in case someone falls off it; that you must not plough your field with a donkey and an ox together; that you must not wear a garment woven of two different fibers (such as wool and linen); and that you must make tassels for the four corners of the cloak you cover yourself with.

Many of the old Testament books contain prohibitions against all kinds of things. It makes sense (to me) to advise people to build a parapet on the roof to stop somebody falling off. It makes sense if you see one of your brother’s sheep straying, for you to bring it back if he is not around. It doesn’t make sense (to me, at least), to prohibit wearing of garments made of two or more fibres (this practice is in any case nearly ubiquitous these days). Deuteronomy 21:15 warns of the scenario where a man has two wives, one loved and the other unloved: a man must treat his first-born son with honour, even if he is born to the unloved wife. Bigamy is illegal in the Western world, though Deuteronomy talks about it as if it’s not unusual. So Deuteronomy discusses activities which are now illegal on the one hand, and near-ubiquitous on the other (for a humorous and powerful discussion along these lines, take a look here). Therefore I cannot use it, in isolation, as any sort of useful rule book to live by.

The wonderful BBC programme The Why Factor has an episode devoted to cross-dressing. The presenter, Mike Williams, talks to consultant psychiatrist Dr. James Barrett, from London. Barrett points out that this is evidence that cross-dressing probably happened even in Old Testament times: why bother to prohibit something if nobody is doing it anyway?

To those who would argue that being transgender is inherently wrong or sinful, I would point to Tina, who has shown that one can be transgender and live a life in Christian ministry at the same time.

I hope that this article provokes more conversation on the topic of transgenderism and religion. Comments from other faiths apart from Christianity are especially welcome (though I propose to talk further about other faiths in a future article).

My thanks to Tina, for taking time to answer my questions so fully, and for providing the photos which I have used to illustrate this article.


Tina is co-editor, with her long-time collaborator, Michelle O’Brien, of ‘the Sibyls’ book’ This is My Body: hearing the theology of transgender Christians. She also wrote, The Transsexual Person is My Neighbour: Pastoral Guidelines for Clergy, Ministers and Congregations, to which Michelle contributed an Appendix on Intersex people. Published by the Gender Trust, it is now out of print but is available online here or here or here. Tina is now working with Chris Dowd on a transgender pastoral care manual, which is due for publication in 2018 by Darton, Longman & Todd, and is based on Chris’s research into transpeople’s spirituality.

Tina is sole author of a biography of a notable Victorian preacher, Unutterable Love: the Passionate Life and Preaching of FW Robertson (Lutterworth 2009). Robertson was preoccupied, both personally and theologically, with the relations between the sexes, or as we would describe it today, ‘gender’. Follow this link for the book’s contents and free access to its Preface, Introduction and the 2nd Chapter.

Tina has also blogged for some time about transgender people and faith here. You can also read her interview with the Cambridge Festival of Ideas here.



Sep 11

All About Face Shapes

Knowing face shapes is essential to finding your most flattering hairstyle for that fabulous look.

face shapes

We are hard-wired, for survival, to recognize faces from the moment we can see. When we’re older, even if we don’t remember a name we may recognize the face of someone we’ve met before.

Since others spend so much time looking at our face it makes sense to present it in the best light possible!

When you know your face shape you can choose your most flattering hairstyles, hats, eyeglasses, sunglasses and earrings.

 Determining Your Face Shape

There are a few approaches to this. You will need…

  • A mirror large enough to see your whole face
  • It may help to have a photo of your face. Pull your hair back away from your face and make sure the photo is taken square-on to your face, so you can see both sides. If you’re taking the photo yourself, for example with a cell phone camera, make sure the camera is far enough away that you don’t get a distorted, fish-eye effect!
  • Or, it may help to draw the outline of your face, with your hair held away from your face, on the mirror (make sure whatever you use — for example, whiteboard marker, eye-liner pencil, lipstick — will wipe off later!)

Ok, now you’re ready to find the shape of your face by answering the questions below…


You may also try the Hairstyler Face Quiz for a quick assessment or the watch video below

You may discover it’s not as easy as you’d think to categorize the shape of your face. Each of us has a unique face length-width ratio, jaw, jaw-line and front-on outline. So it’s not always a cut-and-dry decision as to which face shape category to choose.

For example, if your face length is definitely longer than wide and you have a broad, square jaw-line then, using the questionnaire above, you will come out as a rectangle. However, if, when looking at your front-on outline (the sides of your face), your jaw is the widest part of your face the triangle category may be a better choice for you. It will depend how definitely your face is longer than wide, do you see your face length first? Or is your jaw more obvious than your face length? Another approach is to combine the recommendations for both shapes.

If, after doing the questionnaire above and looking at the pictures below you’re still having trouble determining your face shape ask me to tell you your face shape here.

Descriptions and Pictures of the Face Shapes

SHOP OUR WIG BOUTIQUE by hair length and face shape

Use the descriptions below to verify your selected face shape or adjust your choice if needed.

Select the link on your face type to see recommendations for your most flattering hairstyles, eyeglasses, hats, makeup and earrings

Triangular Face Shapes – Characteristics

triangular face shapeYour face shape is triangular!

A triangular face shape requires haircuts, styles and makeup that will flatter and help minimize the bottom-heavy appearance of its shape.

If you have a triangular face shape then you’ll recognize the following characteristics:

  • Your face is longer than it is wider.
  • Your jawline is wider than your forehead.
  • Your chin is square and/or flat in shape.
  • Your jawline is broad and strong.
  • Your cheekbones are straight and taper from your jaw to your forehead.
  • Your forehead is narrow.
  • Your face is widest at your jawline.

All of these characteristics add up to unique face shape which can be flattered with the right hairstyle and makeup choices.

To find out exactly what will work for your triangular face shape when it comes to styling your hair and applying makeup, we recommend taking a look at the following links:


Oblong Face Shapse (includes rectangular)  – Characteristics

face shapes tx-059-EsotericaStudiosIncYour face shape is oblong!

An oblong face shape requires haircuts, styles and makeup that will help to flatter and minimize its long length and narrow features.

If you have an oblong face shape then you’ll recognize the following characteristics:

  • Your face is obviously longer than it is wider and has a narrow width.
  • Your forehead and jawline are a similar width in appearance.
  • Your chin is pointed.
  • Your cheek line and the sides of your face are straight.
  • Your forehead is tall and wide and may be round at your hairline.
  • Your face is widest at your forehead.

All of these characteristics add up to face shape that is one-of-a-kind and can be flattered with the right hairstyle choices.

To find out exactly what will work for your oblong face shape when it comes to styling your hair, we recommend taking a look at the following links:

And browsing our range of hairstyles for looks that will suit an oblong face shape.

Square Face Shapes – Characteristics

face shapes Folicle-Salon-Model-G_003Your face shape is square!

A square face shape requires haircuts, styles and makeup that will help to soften the strong angles that are the trademark of the shape.

If you have a square face shape then you’ll recognize the following characteristics:

  • Your face is very equal in regards to length and width.
  • Your forehead and jawline are a similar width in appearance.
  • Your chin is noticeably square and/or flat.
  • Your jawline is strong, broad and obviously square in appearance.
  • Your cheeks and the sides of your face are straight.
  • Your forehead is broad and most likely straight around your hairline.
  • Your face is widest at your cheekbones.

All of these characteristics add up to strong looking face shape that can be flattered with the right hairstyle and makeup choices.

To find out exactly what will work for your square face shape when it comes to styling your hair and applying makeup, we recommend taking a look at the following links:

And browsing our range of hairstyles for looks that will suit a square face shape.

Round Face Shapes – Characteristics

face shapes Casal_013Your face shape is round!

A round face requires haircuts, styles and makeup that will help to reduce the roundness and create a more flattering shape.

If you have a round face shape then you’ll recognize the following characteristics:

  • Your face is pretty much the same width and length, creating a circle like shape.
  • Your forehead and jawline are approximately the same width.
  • Your chin is rounded in shape with no hard lines or angles.
  • Your jawline is round and full in shape.
  • Your forehead is wide and round at your hairline.
  • Your face is widest at your cheekbones.

All of these characteristics add up to face shape which is very much symmetrical and usually features high cheekbones, that when combined with the roundness of your face, create a youthful look!

To find out exactly what will work for your round face shape when it comes to styling your hair, we recommend taking a look at the following links:

And browsing our range of hairstyles for looks that will suit a round face shape.

Oval Face Shapes – Characteristics

oval face shape“An oval face shape has long been regarded as the ideal face shape…”

Your face shape is oval!

An oval face shape has long been regarded as the ideal face shape, simply because its proportions and balance allow it to pull off practically any haircut, hairstyle and makeup look with ease.

If you have an oval face shape then you’ll recognize the following characteristics:

  • Your face is slightly longer than it is wide.
  • Your forehead and jawline are approximately the same width.
  • Your chin is rounded in shape with no hard lines.
  • Your jawline has a slight roundness to it.
  • Your forehead is slightly broader than your jaw.
  • Your face is widest at your cheekbones.

All of these characteristics add up to a balanced face shape which features no areas that are more dominate than another (your forehead is not noticeably larger than your jawline, for example). This allows you to wear a large range of looks when it comes to styling your hair and your makeup.

To find out exactly what will work for your oval face shape, we recommend taking a look at the following links:

And browsing our range of hairstyles for looks that will suit an oval face shape.

Diamond Face Shapes – Characteristics

face shapes E_098-Edies-StylingYour face shape is diamond!

A diamond face shape requires haircuts, styles and makeup that will bring out the best in the narrow and full features that combine to create its unique shape.

If you have a diamond face shape then you’ll recognize the following characteristics:

  • Your face is longer than it is wider.
  • Your forehead and jawline are a similar width in appearance.
  • Your chin is noticeably pointed.
  • Your jawline is long, narrow and tapers into a point.
  • Your cheeks are high and pointed.
  • Your forehead is narrow.
  • Your face is widest at your cheekbones.

All of these characteristics add up to stunning face shape that closely resembles the shape of the gem it is named after! A diamond face shape can be flattered and its great features highlighted with the right hairstyle and makeup choices.

To find out exactly what will work for your diamond face shape when it comes to styling your hair and applying makeup, we recommend taking a look at the following links:

And browsing our range of hairstyles for looks that will suit a diamond face shape.

Heart Face Shapes – Characteristics

face shapes K_041-Kathy-Adams-SalonYour face shape is heart!

A heart face shape requires haircuts, styles and makeup that will help to flatter and minimize the width through the forehead and bring balance to the narrow jawline and chin.

If you have a heart face shape then you’ll recognize the following characteristics:

  • Your face is longer than it is wide and has a wide width.
  • Your forehead and jawline are a similar width in appearance.
  • Your chin is noticeably pointed.
  • Your cheek line and the sides of your face taper into your jawline.
  • Your forehead is wide and round at your hairline.
  • Your face is widest at your forehead but your cheekbones are also wide and pronounced.

All of these characteristics add up to face shape that is small and sweet and can be flattered with the right hairstyle and makeup choices.

To find out exactly what will work for your heart face shape when it comes to styling your hair and applying makeup, we recommend taking a look at the following links:

And browsing our range of hairstyles for looks that will suit a heart face shape.

Sep 10

A Visual History of Sexy Lingerie

What makes lingerie “sexy” isn’t always easy to pin down. What does it cover? What does it expose? Is it nostalgic and old-school or more edgy and fashion-forward? All those elements (and more) come into play when trying to understand the intention behind a woman’s sexy underwear which research shows has been a “thing” in the western world for centuries, albeit in very different forms.Here, to illuminate how sexy lingerie has changed over time, we take a tour of the whalebone corsets of the 1700s We see 60 “sexy”ears of women’s foundation wear in this brief visual history of lingerie 1900 to 1970 through the whale-tail thongs and slip dresses of the 2000s.

Here’s a revealing video history of women’s underwear. It’s about an hour long.

It takes the stage in this talk by H. Kristina Haugland, associate curator of Costume and Textiles at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The history of feminine undergarments—corsets and drawers, bustles and brassieres, stockings and shoulder pads—reflects changing ideals of women’s figures and societal roles, and reveals that ideas of beauty, hygiene, modesty and respectability are both remarkably transitory and enlightening. Drawing from works of art, advertisements, cartoons, literary sources and surviving garments, this generously illustrated lecture enhances the understanding of past and present attitudes and aesthetics. Supported in part by the Art Institute of Indianapolis.

Then we take a closer look at specific garments in each era.

1700s Stays/Corsets

lingerie 1700s stays and corsets

Stays – otherwise known as whalebone corsets – were everyday wardrobe staples for proper woman of the 18th century. Yes, these garments don’t look like the sexy bustier-corsets of today but they were essential in molding the ideal body form: a tiny waist and pushed-up breasts

Late 1800s Corset

lingerie corsets - late 1800

The S-curve corset, made popular in the early 20th century, pushed the breasts forward and arched the chest back to accentuate the hips. These Victorian corsets were extremely restrictive, but constructed in beautiful, intricate designs — women with the financial means were encouraged to shop for these undergarments with as much care and thought as they did with their outerwear.

1900s Sheer Nightgown

lingerie 1900s - sheer nightgowns

Bridal Trousseaux always involved sheer nightgowns, sometimes with low backs that more than hinted at the bare body underneath. Trousseaux weren’t just for the pleasure of the wedding night though – the more elaborate and extensive they were, the wealthier the bride’s family was supposed to be.

1905 Corset

lingerie 1905 Corset_Originating from England, this s-curve corset made with floral brocaded silk, silk ribbon, and elastic. The Edwardian corset rested low over the bosom and extended down over the hips. The straight-front, when laced up provided the infamous s-curve which pushed breasts out, stomach in and back arched. Although pioneered by female corsetieres, this style was very restricting and though visually appealing as a silhouette, was not so good for a woman’s health. Pass the smelling salts !

1910 Closed-Crotch Drawers

lingerie 1910s closed-crotch drawers

In the 1937 black-and-white comedy, Topper, Mrs Topper (played by Billie Burke) is boring, sober, and predictable which endangers her marriage. Her husband, Cosmo (played by Roland Young) presents her with a pair of lacy, closed-crotch underpants, the height in fashion in lingerie at the time. (To put this into context, pre-Victorian era women wore open-crotch drawers, not because they represented sexual availability, but because only men wore closed-crotch underwear at the time). Thus the introduction of closed-crotch underwear into the Victorian women’s boudoir symbolized sexual availability to her husband because it broke from tradition and was clearly meant to be seen.

Here’s a preview of what is to come in these later eras.


1920s Slips

lingerie 1920s - slips

While fashion designers like Paul Poiret and Madeline Vionnet were changing the ideal shape of the women’s body from hourglass to boyish and straight, the lingerie worn underneath had to change too. Just imagine the popular flapper dress. There was no longer a need for tight corsets, and undergarments had to be constructed to be as invisible as possible. Slinky slips, long and short, were worn underneath these tubular dresses

1923 Silk Pants and Bra

lingerie 1923 Silk Pants and BraFrom circa 1923 – a stunning embroidered set of silk tap pants and bra,this came as part of a lingerie set, with slip and nightgown

1924 Camiknickers

lingerie 1924 Camiknickers_

By the 1920s, lingerie had evolved considerably, ushering in loose comfortable and soft fabrics. Gone were the restricting boned foundations of the Edwardians. From the Titanic era, through the First World War and onward, the new lean silhouette encouraged slimmer lingerie. Camiknickers were made from light delicate fabrics, with a sleek silhouette that could be worn under the new gamine, knee-length frocks of the mid 1920s.

1930s Open-Crotch Drawers

lingerie 1930s open-crotch drawers

Yes, open-crotch underpants were actually worn by middle-class women as early as the 19th century, but that’s only because this feature distinguished their knickers from the men. By the 1930s, however, open-crotch drawers (in this look, there would be a slit you-know-where) were en vogue more of a way to signify sexual availability and erotic desire.

1935 Corset and Slip

lingerie 1935 Corset and SlipThe 1930s returned to more close fitting and tubular designs, with skirts and dresses extending to the ankle. Foundation wear, like this corset with suspenders was designed to mold and smooth the contours to fit this silhouette.

1941 Corselette

lingerie 1941 Corselette

With the scarcity of material in England during the Second World War, rationing encouraged manufacturers to produce garments to fit restrictions, like this charming corselette by Twilfit

1942 Bra and Girdle Set

lingerie 1942 Bra and Girdle Set

From America 1942, this Nina Fey bra and girdle set, using plastic for closures and stays instead of metal due to war restrictions.

1943 Short Slip

lingerie 1943 Short Slip

To the left, we have a short rayon chiffon slip with black and white Schiffi lace. Worn with matching panties, this was worn under your typical short 1940s frock or utility dress.

The 1950s New Look

lingerie 1950s - New Look

Christian Dior’s trendy “New Look” collection centered on dresses, skirts, and coats that had super-full skirts and created an hourglass silhouette. Beyond full petticoat half-slips, the bust was also a prominent part of the look, which meant bras became wired and structured to push up and form decolletage set against plunging necklines.

The 1950s Pin Up Advertisements

lingerie 1950s - pinups

The pinup girl  was a common motif in intimate apparel advertisements in the mid-twentieths century. The model on the poster would always have a suggestive pose, with hips and chest jutting out, submitting to the viewer’s gaze, and communicating loud and clear: you bought these corselets and bustiers to have them seen, not to hide them.

The 1954 Corselet

lingerie The 1954 Corselet

helped nip the waist to create a rounded feminine contour. The strapless design was for wearing under evening gowns with underwire cups lifting and emphasizing the breasts.On the right; Warners 1957 “Merry Widow” corselet helped reduce the measurement of the waist.

1954 La Perla

lingerie 1954 - La Perla

Corset maker, Ida Masotti, founded La Perla in 1954 focusing on bright silks embellished with lace trim. Masotti would package the luxury items in velvet boxes, like pieces of jewelry – an apt choice given that perla means “pearl” in Italian. To this day, Perla is still a prime example of how sophistication and sexiness are not mutually exclusive.

1957 Corselette

lingerie 1957 Corselette

Part of a Wedding ensemble from 1957, this Berlei pink corset of nylon and lace represents all the glamour of the 1950s era.

The 1960s No-Underwear Underwear

lingerie 1960 No-underwear underwear

In 1965, fashion designer Rudi Gernrich introduced a no-bra manufactured by Lily of France, that was not only transparent but also promoted the braless look of the sexually liberated 1960s. This minimalistic bra had no metal or wiring, and was only available in A or B cups as it didn’t provide much support.

1965 Bra and Half Slip

lingerie 1965 Bra and Half Slip

By the mid 1960s, lingerie had returned to the simplicity of the 1920s, with this wireless bra by Rudi Gernreich. It adapted to the natural shape of the breasts and came in sheer nylon. The half-slip here, also by Gernreich was perfect for wearing under a miniskirt.


1977 Victoria’s Secret

lingerie 1977 - Victoria's Secret

Victoria’s Secret was founded by Roy and Gaye Raymond of San Francisco in 1977. Roy told Newsweek that prior to founding the store, “When I tried to buy lingerie for my wife, I was faced with racks of terry cloth robes and ugly floral-print nylon nightgowns, and I always had the feeling the department store saleswomen thought I was an unwelcome intruder. In the 70s and 80s, women typically bought two kinds of underwear: plain and dowdy foundation garments in department stores, and more expensive pieces for special occasions, like honeymoons. When Victoria’s Secrets entered the market, it brought affordable lace thongs and padded satin bras to middle-class consumers in the familiarity of their own malls, and made sexy lingerie more of an everyday thing.

1980s  Teddies

lingerie 1980s - Teddie

The one-piece teddy was recommended for sleepwear in the 1980s. Additionally, classic lingerie styles became popular again after going out of style in the mod 1960s. Career women who wore menswear-inspired power suits with giant should pads to work often wore sexy, lacy underwear as a reminder of their femininity.

1983 Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

lingerie 1983 - Star Wars - Return of the Jedi_

In her role as Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher wore an iconic metal string bikini made of a patterned copper bra and a bottom made of copper plating in the front, and a red silk loincloth in the back. Fisher had complained that the loose-fitting robes were hiding her physique — little did she know that the bikini costume would become a sex icon by itself. Phillip Chen at Wired wrote:”No doubt that the sight of Carrie Fisher in the gold sci-fi swimsuit was burned into the sweaty subconscious of a generation of fanboys hitting puberty in the spring of 1983.” But this costume wasn’t just a nerdy pinup: Princess Leia was powerful and strong-willed and a hero to many girls.


1990 Madonna’s Jean Paul Gaultier Cone Brassiere

lingerie 1990s - Madonna's cone brassiere

During her Blond Ambition tour, Madonna unveiled many iconic ensembles including her Jean Paul Gaultier Cone Brassiere which sold for $52,000 in 2012. Her satin top with her conical breasts made a sharp statement against the ideal of feminine softness – of course Madonna was sexy in her light pink brassiere but her sexual identity was rooted in her own agency and no one else’s.

1994  Agent Provocateur

lingerie 1994 - agent provocateur

In 1994 Agent Provocateur opened its first shop in London – a combination of sexy, retro-inspired lingerie with designer price points and aspirations. Co-founder Joseph Corre, the son of rock ‘n’ roll fashion fetish pioneer Vivienne Westwood, was clearly motivated to make Agent Provocateur as much about sex  as much as it was about foundation garments selling whips alongside bikini bottoms – but the high price point of the brand kept it aspiriational.

2000s  Lingerie Tops

lingerie 2000s lingerie tops

Kristin Cavallari (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)

It was not a special occasion without the addition of impromptu lingerie masquerading as the greatest outfit the world had ever known. And the reason was this: not only could you claim you weren’t too dressed up if pairing said corset/lingerie shirt with jeans, you could dress up the aforementioned top with black trousers and heels for dinner events and then accessorize with oversize pearls because you were sure that’s what they’d do on “Sex and the City.” (Or: other conversations I had while getting ready with my friends.) And listen, we were all half right: slip dresses are back in all their glory for 2016. Even though none of us would’ve thought about them for a second if presented with the chance.


2005 Mr. and Mrs. Smith

lingerie 2005 - mr-and-mrs-smith-angelina-jolie_

Angelina Jolie wore a costume latex dress making her the ultimate femme fatale, as if that wasn’t already established before. The dominatrix-inspired ensemble, complete with fishnet tights, was whimsically softened by pastel pink bows.Jolie fell in love with Brad Pitt on the set – and yes, that’s one of the greatest romances of all times. We’d like to think that this outfit had something to do with it.

2010  “Easy A”

lingerie 2010 - Easy A

Emma Stone, in her role as virginal Olive Penderghast, decides to embrace her rumor-induced reputation as the school tramp by wearing a black-laced bustier with a scarlet “A” on the chest in homage to the Scarlet Letter. One wonders what was more scandalous, wearing underwear as outerwear in high school, or wearing a scarlet letter. Either way, the bustier top symbolized Penderghast’s refusal to become a wallflower – if people wanted to talk about her sex life, she was going to dress the part too.

2011  Sucker Punch

lingerie 2011 - sucker-punchYou’d think this film was just about women in lingerie holding weapons, which is as ridiculous as it sounds, but it’s actually a fantasy action film about fantasies of young women, abused by their stepfather, befores she commits to a mental institution. In one of her fantasies, Babydoll imagines she is in a brothel and befriends four of the other dancers. They wear fishnet stockings and vintage-inspired lingerie.

2016  Slip Dress

lingerie slip dresses

In 2016, some of the biggest fashion houses took underwear as outerwear up a notch by focusing on the slip dress. If you still need convincing that wearing just a slinky, spaghetti-strap dress is both sartorially and socially acceptable, follow the lead of celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Rihanna, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, all of whom are key supporters of the trend. These dresses look and feel sophisticated and sexy, and they can be worn in countless ways. They are the ultimate femininity in women’s clothing.

From Glamourdaze and Elle magazine.

Sep 03

The Battle Over What It Means to Be Female


The battle over what it means to be female has reached unprecedented proportions. This war of words between the feminists versus the trans women continues unabated and is not likely  to end any time soon.

Patriarchy, across the globe, plagues humankind. In some regions female fetuses often are aborted because they are considered less valuable than male fetuses. Girls are sometimes smothered in infancy. Many women and girls are sold to men as rape and breeding slaves. Many endure genital mutilation. Many are trafficked and forced into prostitution. Many are denied abortions and access to birth control. Many, to survive economically, sell their eggs to donors or hire their wombs out to couples who cannot produce babies. In some countries, including Saudi Arabia and parts of India, women are considered the property of male guardians. There are villages in India where women have only one kidney because their husbands have sold their other one. Women are often denied education and, even in industrial countries, are paid less for carrying out the same work as men.

How, in an age in which some born with male bodies self-identify as women, can those born female define their unique oppression based on their experience? As laws in Europe, Canada and the United States are rewritten to broaden the definition of what it means to be female or male, how will such change affect the struggle for equality by those born as females?

The debate over gender identity pits the trans narrative against radical feminists. It is one of the most bitter and acrimonious battles on the left. Radical feminists are castigated by many on the left as reactionary for their insistence that those born female hold a unique and separate identity as an oppressed group, one that requires them to form protected spaces and organizations.

“Freedom of association is especially important to the oppressed,” Alice Lee, a co-founder of Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution, said when I reached her in Vancouver by phone. “It is absolutely necessary for oppressed people to be able to group together. It allows us to dare to identify and vocalize our shared experiences and find ways to effectively strategize to overthrow our oppressors. The formation of such civil rights groups, anti-racism groups, women rape crisis centers and shelters, caucuses, clubs, associations and religious organizations is a hallmark of a democratic civil society. Decisions about group membership must be a process of self-determination. Having the criteria dictated to us by the state, or by those who belong to the oppressor groups, means defeat at the outset.”

“The neoliberal approach centers on individual feelings and choice at the expense of shared group experience,” Lee continued. “It is a deliberate strategy to prevent the development of any effective challenge to male supremacy, white supremacy, heterosexual supremacy, and rule by those who control capital. Forcing us to open our groups to those who do not share the basic experiences of our reality cuts off the potential for revolution at the root.”

Many members of the trans community strongly disagree. One is Misty Snow, a Utah Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in last November’s general election and the first transgender woman to run as a nominee for such a seat. [Click here to read and hear an interview of Snow that Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer conducted for his KCRW podcast, “Scheer Intelligence,” in October 2016.] She recently announced her candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives.

When I spoke to Snow by phone, she said: “The argument that the inclusion of trans people in spaces traditionally reserved for girls and women somehow infringes on the rights of girls and women presupposes a collective sisterhood that does not exist.”

Women of color, who have long been marginalized by white feminists, face different forms of oppression, in the same way trans people face different forms of oppression.

This recycles the old feminist argument from the 1950s when women of color were excluded from the feminist movement. A lot of this is about privileged women, especially white women, clinging to the status quo.

The equal rights of girls and women in the United States are protected under Title IX, but new laws are blurring the lines of what it means to be female. Feminists say these laws, passed in the name of inclusivity, amount to an erasure of what it means to be female. They charge that such change is a gift to patriarchy and the corporate state, which seeks to turn everyone, especially the most vulnerable, into disempowered, atomized commodities. As societies break down, it is girls and women, along with children and the elderly, who bear the worst abuse and violence. The need for collective strength, given the global unraveling of civil society and the rise of authoritarian and protofascist governments, is vital, these feminists say.

“Patriarchy is a millennium-old system of male supremacy by which male-bodied people are exploiting female-bodied people for reproductive, sexual and domestic labor,” feminist MaryLou Singleton told me during a conversation in New York. “When power and property are held by men and passed to the heirs of men, men need to police and control women’s bodies to know who their heirs are. Now it’s global in scope, where women don’t have control over their own reproduction and are dependent on men in terms of having and raising our children.”

The consumer culture grooms women through female socialization, which it defines as gender, to participate in their own subjugation. Prostitution and pornography, for example, are sold by patriarchy as liberating and empowering for women. Those who meet the rigid standards of female socialization are rewarded and celebrated. Those who do not are dismissed, marginalized and often attacked.

“Capitalism thrives on promoting extreme individualism and this idea that we are all separate, unique individuals,” Singleton said. “We are at a point in late-stage capitalism where identity is for sale. People take on consumer identities. I believe this particular [trans] identity is being marketed to our young people who are at an age where they experience a lot of questioning naturally about their identity. It’s always been acknowledged that children and teenagers and young adults question who they are and what they want to be.”

Trans activists, however, dispute the idea that being trans is a manufactured identity.

“Being transgender is not a consumer identity pushed on us by a capitalist system,” Snow said. “Transgender people have existed long before capitalism and will continue to exist. Pushing the narrative that trans identities are simply a ‘consumer’ rather than an authentic identity only reinforces rigid standards of what it means to be female. Trans women are often dismissed, marginalized and attacked for failing to meet these rigid standards of what it means to be female. So-called ‘feminists’ who wish to label trans identities as being inauthentic are actually doing the patriarchy’s work of enforcing rigid standards and ideas of what it means to be female.”

There is a billion-dollar industry built around gender reassignment surgery. Pharmaceutical companies provide drugs and hormones that block puberty and the secondary sex characteristics of children. In our courts we do not try children as adults, recognizing that they do not have fully developed brains, yet children are permitted to ingest potent drugs that will affect them for life. Those who change their minds about a gender identity decision often must cope with permanently altered bodies.

“Pediatric medical gender transition is being pushed extensively in the medical field,” said Singleton, who is a nurse practitioner. “Every conference brochure I get has something about transgenderism. It’s a huge money-making experiment on our children, where children as young as toddlers are being diagnosed as being in the wrong body and taken to these gender clinics where they are first socially transitioned to live as the opposite sex. I find that problematic too. I think children should be able to do whatever they want [without having to make gender decisions]. What does it mean to live as a boy or live as a girl, other than sexism?”

“After social transitioning, when those children get close to puberty, they’re placed on very strong drugs that suppress puberty,” she said. “They’re called puberty blockers. Those drugs have many long-term dangerous side effects that we already know about from children who have been put on them in the past. Once they hit young adolescence and their peers are starting to go through puberty and they still have a child’s body, the pressure is to give them cross-sex hormones. If you give a child puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones before a natural puberty, that child will never develop normally as the sex they are. They will be permanently sterile and permanently dependent on synthetic hormones because their ovaries or testes never developed and cannot make their own hormones.”

Is there such a thing as a “female brain”? Or do men and women—and girls and boys—act differently because society has conditioned them to behave according to male and female stereotypes? Is a boy who dresses as a girl and plays with dolls a girl, or simply a boy who dresses as a girl and plays with dolls?

“The idea that transition-related care is being pushed on people to simply make money is absurd,” Snow said. “Capitalism has actually been a barrier and not a promoter of transition-related care. Throughout most of the 20th century and even into the 21st century, transgender people have struggled to get even the most basic transition-related care due to many doctors and hospitals being unwilling to treat transgender people for fear that it could harm the reputation of their practice and hurt their business. Furthermore, there have been, historically, lots of restrictions on who is even allowed access to such care, with mental health professionals serving as gatekeepers often delaying or denying transgender people the care they need. Transition-related care is not some ‘money-making experiment’; it is treatment that has been proven to be effective for those who have gender dysphoria. It is not treatment that is prescribed by doctors on a whim or pushed on people in the interest of making money.”

“Children and young adults are not deciding they are trans because it was ‘marketed’ towards them,” she went on. “There is a lot of science that supports the fact that male and female brains are different and respond to hormones differently, and children are often innately aware of the fact that they are different as soon as they are able to tell the difference between male and female and will start to identify with the sex they know themselves to be. Far too often assertions from a child about their gender identity are ignored by parents and other trusted adults, which leads to shame, confusion and depression in the child. These children often feel the need to hide their true identities to avoid disappointment of their parents and bullying by their peers. When they reach adulthood, only then do they feel they have the freedom to live an authentic life. However, by then it is often too late, as their bodies have already experienced the ravages of puberty that made irreversible changes to their body. This is why it is very important for transgender people to have the love and support they need to express themselves authentically starting in childhood. As they approach the teenage years it’s very important that they are able to access treatments that will allow them to avoid the terrifying experience of going through the wrong puberty and allow them to develop secondary sex characteristics that are typical of their gender. Denying these treatments to children is cruel and can leave them with lots of regrets when they reach adulthood and a feeling that they were robbed of their childhood and ever being able to live a normal life.”

Laws passed to protect trans people from discrimination often do so by expanding the legal definition of what it means to be a woman. The trans community unquestionably needs legal protection. Transgender people commonly are bullied, suffer violent attacks, including by the police, and are discriminated against in much higher percentages than the general population. The transgender community also has much higher rates for attempted suicide, poverty and homelessness. But, some feminists argue, these new laws, however well intentioned, effectively eradicate girls and women as a uniquely oppressed group.

“There are two primary vehicles [for cutting back on women’s legal gains] being explored right now,” said attorney Maya Dillard Smith, who was pushed out of her position as the head of Georgia’s ACLU chapter when she questioned the decision by the Obama administration to allow male-born trans people to enter women’s restrooms. “One is through Title IX. Title IX is a 1972 legislative act that essentially prohibits all schools that receive federal funding from discriminating against folks on the basis of sex. One of the ways in which the law is attempting to be converted is, under the Obama guidelines that were issued last year, it basically reads into the prohibition against sex discrimination [that] someone who self-identifies as male or female should be extended the same protections as someone born a woman. That means, in the context of schools, sports, housing, bathroom and locker room facilities, that [trans] individuals would have access to those facilities.” [Editor’s note: In February of this year the Trump administration rescinded the Obama guidelines.]

“However,” Dillard Smith continued, “in 1975, Justice [Anthony] Kennedy essentially said that sex, like race, is an immutable characteristic. An immutable characteristic [means that], by no fault of your own, just by an accident of DNA, you’re either born with melanin in your skin, like me as a black woman, or to be female or male with your sex organs. There is nothing that can mutate that.”

“Another vehicle is through ‘equal protection,’ ” she said. “ ‘Equal protection’ is the [constitutional] basis on which this notion of immutable characteristics first arose. It arose to protect African-Americans against race discrimination. There’s now a term called trans-black or trans-race that is being highlighted, particularly by the white woman Rachel Dolezal from the Northwest who passed as a black woman and [was] a leader in the NAACP, and now identifies herself as trans-black or transracial. So the implications of the law will have the greatest consequence to the advancement of rights for women but also have deep consequences on the advancement of people of color.”

“How do we explore these rights for transgender folks in a way that does not undermine the rights of women or people of color?” she asked. “There have to be accommodations. But how do we do that in a way that does the least harm to the rights of others?”

Most trans activists reject the analogy between being trans and defining yourself as a member of another race.

“Bringing up Rachel Dolezal to make a point is a false equivalency that has no relevancy when talking about transgender people,” Snow said. “Gender dysphoria is a very real and documented condition with a biological basis and very specific treatment guidelines and a long history behind it. Transracial and trans-black are terms with no history that Dolezal made up and cannot be equated with the experiences or realities of transgender people.”

Dillard Smith, returning to the intense issue of restroom access, said, “It’s really unfortunate that we’re starting an entire national narrative around bathrooms. But let’s just start there. There are a lot of folks who say that not allowing trans people to go into the bathrooms of their gender identity is creating ‘separate but equal’ facilities. They equate that to the ‘separate but equal’ facilities that existed before the civil rights movement where we segregated bathrooms on the basis of race. To which I say, when bathrooms were separate on the basis of race, it was done so purely for discriminatory purposes. The difference in terms of single-sex bathrooms, bathrooms for men and bathrooms for women is that the implementation of Title IX specifically permitted these things to protect the privacy and safety rights of women. In providing them you have to provide equal accommodations. There was a legitimate justification that was not discriminatory.”

Singleton said, “Women have sex-based protections under the law. Under the U.N., there are certain sex-based protections. Female prisoners deserve to be housed separately from men. If a prison contains both sexes, the women need to be as far as possible from the men. That’s international law. That’s also U.S. law. Now we have a situation where any male criminal can self-declare himself as a woman even if this is a serial rapist. These men are being transferred to women’s prisons. There is a lawsuit in California where women are feeling unsafe with these violent male-bodied people in prison.”

“Our crime statistics are changing,” Singleton went on. “Men who identify as women rape women with their penises, and these crimes are being recorded as committed by women. Those are examples. If a woman seeks shelter at a women’s shelter, there may be male-bodied people there. There have been attacks in those shelters by male-bodied people on female-bodied people.”

Snow rebutted the assertions of Dillard Smith and Singleton: “Trans people suffer more bullying, discrimination and violence than almost any other segment of the population. These feminists seek to portray trans people as aggressors, which is factually untrue.”

It is not that there are no criminals in the trans community. There are. But using these criminals to characterize the entire trans community is no different from white racists who use black criminals to characterize the entire black community.

We as trans people need to be included in [women’s] spaces because when we enter male spaces we are harassed, threatened and sometimes attacked. The charges these feminists make have no basis in reality.

Transgender people have the same needs as any other people, and they need access to restrooms as much as anyone else. If a transgender person is not allowed access to the restroom, how can they go to work? How can they go to school? Banishing a transgender person from a restroom, in essence, bans them from them from being able to participate in public life.

Dillard Smith said, “My life’s work has been about defending the rights of all people. In so doing I am called to balance the rights of all people. What I’m exploring in raising the questions I’ve been raising is how do you create accommodations for trans people at the same time that we don’t overly or unnecessarily infringe on the rights of others—like women, or children, or parents? It’s a delicate balance. To achieve that balance, we must engage in healthy discourse and agree to disagree to come up with the best public policy possible.”

Singleton said, “I am fully supportive of the rights of transgender people to be free of discrimination. Like Maya, I think we need a national conversation on where those rights end and where women’s rights begin. From what I can see, the transgender narrative very much reinforces patriarchy. In our culture, gender is a synonym for sexism. It’s the behavioral caste system that says how men behave and how women behave. It has no basis in material reality. It’s completely based on sexual stereotypes. I’ve never heard a trans narrative that does not rely on sexual stereotypes to explain how someone knew they were actually born in the wrong body. I’d like to return to the old feminist war cry: Start a revolution and stop hating your body.”

Snow said the issue is not about hating one’s body. Rather, she said, it is about allowing male-born people who internally are female to be who they truly are.

“So-called ‘feminists,’ ” Snow said, “are upholding a very patriarchal [idea] of what a woman is. Protecting the rights of trans women and allowing them to access women’s spaces does not infringe on the rights of women. These fears are unreasonable and unfounded and are more about protecting the privilege of certain women than protecting the rights of all

Original article in