I'm happy to announce the publication of Trans/formations, a major new volume in SCM's Controversies in Contextual Theology series edited by Marcella Althaus-Reid and Lisa Isherwood. It was one of the last projects on which Marcella worked before she died in February 2009, and I hope she would have been pleased by its broad and imaginative outworking. Fittingly, the collection itself transcends genres, including personal testimonies, liturgy (designed for the Trangender Day of Remembrance by Malcolm Himschoot), and a one-person play by Jo(hn) Clifford, as well as more classically academic theological accounts.

My own essay is entitled “Apophasis and Ambiguity: The ‘Unknowingness’ of Transgender”, and critiques the notion that transgender people should have to take on the role of queering binary gender roles more than non-trans people do (since trans is often accused or reinscribing narrowly dualistic norms). I argue that homonormativity might be just as damaging as heteronormativity if imposed on transgender people, and that whilst it might be appealing to hold to an eschatological vision where gender has disappeared, our interim realm still seems to require it. Transgender people are therefore just as entitled to "gender safety" as anyone else is during these between-times. I use the notion of apophasis (and its utilization by Gregory of Nyssa, Clement of Alexandria and Pseudo-Dionysius) to demonstrate that, just as it is not possible to know what God is but only what God is not, so it might be possible only to know what transgender is not.

An excerpt from my essay:

"Much of the value of apophasis for reading transgender, then, may lie simply in its capacity to endorse multiplicity even where this is discomfiting. For those who have rejected a narrative rooted in binary gender, the desire of some transgendered people to “pass” can be disquieting. It may seem utterly antithetical that one should endorse the “heteronormative” expressions of gender so desired by some transgendered people whilst simultaneously suggesting that it would be better if a binary-gendered system did not exist – and that there may be a hope for a future where such a system in fact no longer holds reign. But there is many a precedent for querying an ideology from the “inside” in order to bring about its downfall more effectively. In Alan Paton’s short story “Debbie Go Home”, set in 1950s South Africa under apartheid, the local Mothers’ Club organizes a Debutantes’ Ball where young black girls will be received by the white Administrator and his wife.

Jim de Villiers’ teenaged daughter Janie has been invited and her mother wants her to go, but de Villiers and his militant student son, Johnny, are not in favour. In fact, Johnny and his friends are planning to picket the ball. However, Mrs de Villiers persuades Johnny that Janie should be allowed to go to the ball even though Johnny will be protesting there – in order that she might have just “one night, in a nice dress and the coloured lights … And for one night the young men will be wearing gloves, and bowing to her as gentlemanly as you like, not pawing at her in some dark yard” (Paton 1961: 16). It is de Villiers who has to give permission for Janie to go, however, and anxious not to upset his mother any more, and in an apparently radical turnaround, it is eventually Johnny who makes the bargain with his father, agreeing to help him write a speech to give at a union meeting only on condition that Janie be allowed to attend the ball.

“‘All right, she can go,’ [de Villiers] said, ‘on one condition. Tell me how you justify it.’
‘Rock-bottom necessity,’ said Johnny. ‘If I boycott American food, and I’m dying of hunger, and everywhere around me is American food, then I eat American food.’
‘You eat American food so you can go on boycotting it,’ said de Villiers.”
(Paton 1961: 21)

One eats American food so one can go on boycotting it; perhaps it is sometimes also appropriate that one echo “heterosexual” patterns in order to carry on critiquing them. And in the meantime, in the “passing”, one might be treated with more respect and dignity than those who differ in more actively oppositional ways. However, it is also important to acknowledge that such safety may be only temporary – may be only “one night” of dresses and dancing and lights – and that it may be only a preliminary step on the way to more drastic change in social and political systems. But given that apophasis fundamentally gives space to not know, to have not reached our “destination”, this allows us to tread a path where such diversity and “at-once-ness” – such apparent contradiction – does not immediately have to be resolved. Apophasis reinforces the provisionality of all human gender constructs, shedding light on an aspect of the Christian tradition which can be read as profoundly valuing process over telos, journey over arrival." (pp.35-37)

Other contributors to this collection include Hannah Buchanan, Krzysztof Bujnowski, Marie Cartier, Jo(hn) Clifford, Malcolm Himschoot, BK Hipsher, Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, Lewis Reay, Elizabeth Stuart and Siân Taylder. It's an honour to be among this company of both established and up-and-coming scholars, many of whom speak from a place of embodied trans experience which I don't share myself, but which the Church needs to hear about. Go and buy the book!