The gender agenda: a multiplicity of matters

Over the past week, I’ve been aware of a number of happenings that point to the continuing shifts within the Christian church relating to the matter of gender. Some of these events have been encouraging. Some have been disappointing. Some raise serious questions. Others offer occasion for great joy. Together, they point to the gender agenda, which continues to agitate the churches. It’s something that involves a multiplicity of matters.

This week has been Transgender Awareness Week. On Sunday evening, the Rainbow Christian Alliance met at Tuggeranong Uniting Church in Canberra. There was sharing, as there is always is, but with a particular focus at this meeting on the stories of transgender members of the group. It was a rich time, celebrating the way that people have been able to be “true to themselves” and express that inner reality in the ways that they dress, relate, and function within society—and, indeed, undertake the daunting process of hormone replacement therapy and even surgery to fully assume the actual gender identity as a manifestation of their inner, real person.

I have reflected on the week in my blog, at

On the same weekend, the Baptist Union of NSW and the ACT held one of their regular gathering of representatives from across the state and territory, at which the issue of gender was to the fore. Specifically, discussion was held and then a decision was made, that Baptist pastors and churches which were agreeable to marrying couples of the same gender would be asked to affirm “the traditional understanding of marriage”—that is, that marriage involves always a male and a female—or that they leave the association of Baptist churches.

There is a blog by one Baptist pastor who feels that he is unable to affirm that “traditional understanding of marriage”; he has described the experience of that all-day meeting as being akin to “a casual crucifixion”—a searingly potent, and deeply saddening, description.

The blog by Will Small is at

There is also a fine article by Erin Martine Sessions, another member of the gathering, at

The Baptists, sadly, have taken an approach to this particular issue of same-gender marriage that has recently led to a split in the United Methodist Church; see my reflections at

I have also written a series of blogs exploring how such an aggressive approach to the gender agenda has been prosecuted—unsuccessfully, fortunately—within the Uniting Church in Australia.

My posts on these various groups are at


It is sad to see the same divisive development taking place within the Baptist fellowship.

An event that took place during the week was the funeral of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Peter Maher. This was noteable for various reasons; for a start, there were three bishops and many priests in attendance. I’ve known Peter for five decades, and can attest to his valued ministry and important contribution to the consideration of the gender agenda within the Roman Catholic Church in Australia.

Peter was a strong advocate, throughout his ministry, for “the least and the lost”, and especially, in recent decades, for members of the LGBTIQA+ community. His weekly Mass for rainbow people, held at St Joseph’s Church in Newtown, attracted people and was the basis for the formation of a wonderfully extensive community of people of faith who identify with sexual or gender diversity.

Peter’s funeral signalled the lifetime of work devoted, in various ways, to the gender agenda—affirming, supporting, counselling, encouraging, and advocating for, the many people of faith (and of no faith) within the broad LGBTIQA+ community. There have been many tributes to Peter posted online, which I have canvassed in a blog post at

A fine tribute to Peter is at

And then, on Friday night, a celebration of 30 years since the Anglican Church ordained women as priests was held in St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Brisbane. The issue of the ordination of women was a focus of intense debate and discussion throughout the Anglican Church for many years. Most dioceses throughout Australia came to a view that this was a most reasonable course of action; a few renegades, spurred on by the sectarian leadership in Sydney, dug their toes in and resisted at every step of the way.

But the truth of the Gospel shone through, and women were ordained in Goulburn—Canberra, Brisbane, and Perth Dioceses, in 1992, and the in many other places in the ensuing years. The celebration in Brisbane recognised an important step forward in addressing the gender agenda in the Anglican Church. An exhibition marking this step forward can be seen at

It would be tempting of me to end this review of recent events with a smug, self-satisfied comment about the ways that the Uniting Church in Australia (and, indeed, its three predecessor denominations) has been a trailblazer in many ways relating to the overarching gender agenda—ordaining women, female quotas to ensure diversity, ordaining gay and lesbian ministers, marrying same-gender couples, and so on.

However, just this past week, I was part of a conversation in which I observed that the particular Uniting Church Congregation, throughout the whole 45 years of its existence, had had a string of white male ministers in placement with them. In that conversation, I was told that before the current minister was called, one key person in leadership in that Congregation advised the Presbytery, “we won’t accept any minister other than a white male”.

So we, too, have work still to be done. The gender agenda remains a live concern. The gender question remains firmly on our agenda in the Uniting Church. There is still much work to be done.

See also

Transgender Awareness Week

Every year on 20 November, we pause for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The week before that day is designated as Transgender Awareness Week. Individuals and organizations participate in this week to help raise the visibility of transgender people and address issues members of the community face.

My own awareness of Transgender people (the T in LGBTIQA+) has been a slow and gradual process of increasing awareness and understanding. Whilst trans people have been a reality in humanity ever since when, the public discussion of such people has been slow to emerge, only picking up visibility in the public arena in recent years.

In considering the sexuality of people, we have become familiar with the terms “gay” and “lesbian”—male and female people, respectively, who are attracted sexually to people of the same gender as they are—as well as “bisexual” (attracted sexually to people of either gender) and “asexual” (people who have no feelings of sexual attraction to others).

Alongside the terms that relate to our sexuality, there are terms that relate to gender. To put it simply (perhaps to oversimplify), if sexuality is about how our feelings of attraction are expressed, then gender is about how we identify ourselves, in terms of being male or female, the traditional terminology used over the centuries.

Often the genitals found on a person determine how gender is assigned. Think the classic film scene of a woman giving birth—after the mandatory cry from the baby, to assure people present that the newborn is breathing, the next matter is, “is the baby a boy or girl?” A quick look at the genitals—is there a penis or a vagina?—usually provides the answer to that question. Although, these days, for an increasing number of births, the gender of the baby has been explored and determined by means of ultrasounds, so more and more, parents already know the gender of their child.

However, as we have become aware in recent times, not everybody is born as clearly identifiable as either male, or female. The vast majority of people are; but for a significant minority, they may have been born with both male and female genitals. A superficial inspection may mean that answering the question, “boy or girl?”, can’t be readily answered. Such people are identified under the letter I , LGBTIQA+, I being short for Intersex.

For other people, whilst the genital determination of their gender is straightforward, the actual sense that such individuals have of their own innate gender is more complex. The deepest meaning of gender, is that is describes who you really are; what you feel, inside yourself, that your actual identity is. It is far more internal than it is external.

For the majority of people, they are cis-gendered—that is, their assigned gender correlates exactly with their physical body and their innate sense of who they are. (The prefix cis- comes from the Latin word which means “on this side of”; it is the opposite of the Latin word trans, meaning “on the other side of”. ) However, for others, these feelings may not necessarily fall into the assumed, “natural” category that is conveyed by their genital configuration. These are people who are referred under the letter T, standing for transgender.

In short, someone who is transgender most likely does not feel that “who they are” on the inside matches their assigned gender on the outside. This is quite different from intersex; it is a matter of personal psychology and self-understanding. Indeed, more recent scientific studies indicate that there may be differences in the white matter tracts in the brain between cisgender (agreement between gender and sex) and transgender men and women. See

The transgender flag, created in 1999, uses the stereotypical colours, “blue for boys, pink for girls”, and splice in the colour white, signalling those undertaking transition from one gender to another. With the T and I colours, they have been added to the now-traditional rainbow flag, representing LGB people, along with black and brown stripes, to represent marginalized LGBTIQA+ communities of colour. It is an ever-evolving symbol!

One important aspect of the recent discussion about transgender people relates to the emotional cost that comes with living in a body that does not correlate with the realities of emotions and experiences that they have. This is often called “gender dysmorphia”; the Mayo Clinic defines this as “the feeling of discomfort or distress that might occur in people whose gender identity differs from their sex assigned at birth or sex-related physical characteristics”. See

Those who are closely related to people who are experiencing such “gender dysmorphia” would do well to take careful advice about how they can support people through this process. See

Transgender people may choose to undertake a slow, lengthy, graduated process of transitioning from their assigned gender, into their innate gender. This may start with a time of sharing with people closest to them about their inner feelings. They may then adopt the clothing and grooming habits of their desired sex. Some may change their name at this point, or later.

The availability of hormone therapy means that transgender people who are transitioning are able to assist their bodies to take on the various characteristics of the gender to which they are transitioning. Likewise, they may decide to proceed with surgeries to modify their bodies to reach an external expression of the gender they are internally. Both hormone therapy and surgery are undertaken in close conjunction with counselling sessions from appropriately qualified people, to inform, guide, and support people through the transitioning process.

Such processes must, surely, be emotionally challenging and personally costly for transgender people. However, as I have been learning from friends that I know who are transitioning or who have transitioned, the deep-seated inner sense of “this is who I really am” is the primary factor that drives the complex process of transitioning. Empathic and patient listening, embedded within a non-judgemental attitude which is open to hearing and learning new things, is the best gift that a cis-gendered person can give to a person who is undergoing, or has competed, transitioning.

Being true to oneself is a virtue that has long been lauded in our society. “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man”, says Polonius in Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet. In Ancient Greece, a well-known saying connected with the Adelphi Oracle was “know thyself”. The famous existentialist philosopher, Sören Kierkegaard, advised that “Not to be one’s self, as God created you, is despair”. There is plenty of good philosophical and ethical consideration of the importance of being true to oneself.

For myself, there is a strong theological affirmation that also undergirds this issue. It comes from the opening story of scripture—the story of creation. When God created Adam from the earth, God breathed the breath of life into the human, and Adam became a nephesh, a living being (Gen 1:30; 2:7). All human beings—indeed, all living creatures—are given life by God’s spirit and share the essence of a nephesh (Ps 104:24–30; Job 12:7–10). That is the fundamental feature of all of God’s created beings.

This is what God first declared to be good (Gen 1:21, 24)—indeed, to be very good (Gen 1:31). So, as human beings, how we were made (straight or gay, identifying as male or female, or sensing that our biological gender does not match our inner sense of gender) is good; God made us that way, we are called to be true to ourselves, honest about our identity, comfortable in our own skin.

Transgender Awareness Week is a week when transgender people and their allies take action to bring attention to the community by educating the public about who transgender people are, sharing stories and experiences, and advancing advocacy around the issues of prejudice, discrimination, and violence that affect the transgender community. It is a good thing for each of us to make sure we are aware of the reality of Transgender people, and to ensure we relate sympathetically and encouragingly to such people when we uencounter them.

See also