Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Divine Call to Be Myself: Anglican Transgender Women and Prayer

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Divine Call to Be Myself: Anglican Transgender Women and Prayer

Article excerpt

I prayed frequently to have this desire taken away or to wake up as a girl, but each morning I'd wake up and nothing would have changed. - Hope

These are the words of an English Anglican transgender (often shortened to "trans") woman talking about her prayer life as a child. They are words which echo the prayers many of us remember from our own childhoods: prayers that God would change things to make us happy, that we would wake up prettier or more popular or with a pony waiting in the garden. But they are words which also bear a depth of dis-ease with ones own self that is particular to those who were assigned a gender at birth, based on their embodiment, which does not reflect the gender they know themselves to be.

I know something from my own experience (limited though such experience is by my own race and class and gender identity as a white, middle-class, straight cisgender1 woman), as well as from my life as a priest and from my academic studies, of what it means to pray as a woman. What I know little of is what it is like to pray as part of the journey from living as a man in the eyes of others to becoming the woman one knows oneself to be. In order to learn more I have talked in person, via Skype, and by email with six Anglican trans women from Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States who generously shared with me the way that their journey of transition affected and was affected by their prayer journeys.2

These conversations were rich and wide-ranging. Each womans journey, both spiritual and physical, was unique to her, and there was no one way of praying as a trans Anglican woman that was common to all. However, there were a number of themes that I believe speak to all of us in their call for authenticity and openness as essential components of our relationship with God in prayer.

One of these themes is honesty. Tina, a priest in the Church of England, spoke about the deadening effect not being able to be herself had on her spiritual life: "Secrecy-it is the secrecy that's such a problem and leads to so much pain-so much spiritual pain." The women expressed that the secrecy with which their own identity was shrouded in their life in the world had a considerable impact on how honest and open their prayer life could be. This is not to say that prayer wasn't happening; Tina, for instance, has had a regular discipline of prayer that fed and grounded her from long before her transition. Yet for many women there was something constrained, something partial about their prayer: in Tina's words again, "I wasn't a complete person for a long time, not firing on all cylinders. Part of me was at home and part of me was away."

Tina spoke of the harm of secrecy, and Robyn, a lay woman in the Church of England, spoke of the delights of eventual honesty in prayer, as well as in fife in general. Her prayer life expanded after she had moved into transition: "And that was the point at which I could then be honest with myself and then be honest with God. That was really the point at which transition and my faith blossomed together. One could not happen without the other. So both of them have grown exponentially alongside each other." Robyn's newfound integration of her inner and outer realities-of her knowledge of herself as a woman and living as a woman-brought about a profound shift in her ability to pray. She could now bring her full self into her fife of prayer, feeling confident for the first time that God would accept her for who she is and would call her as a true follower of Christ: "That was the point at which I really thought, I can actually now come before God and be open before God and be sure of my place that is given to me. I could follow Jesus. I'm not hiding anything now, not holding anything back."

Along with a newfound honesty in prayer a number of the women spoke about a new spaciousness and a sense of peace. This was how Rebecca, a Canadian lay Anglican, spoke of the stillness that she found within herself one morning not long after she had started hormone therapy: "One morning I woke up realizing that I was just still inside, that I was calm. …

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