One of the most difficult debates facing General Synod when it meets in July arises not from the main business agenda, but from a diocesan motion from Blackburn Diocese, which will be proposed by Revd Chris Newlands:
That this Synod, recognising the need for transgender people to be welcomed and affirmed in their parish church, calls on the House of Bishops to consider whether some nationally commended liturgical materials might be prepared to mark a person’s gender transition.
I was approached to discuss this with Chris on last weekend’s Sunday programme on Radio 4, and if you want to see how complex and challenging this debate is going to be, then you can listen to our discussion on iPlayer starting at 30 minutes into the programme. The difficulties start (as is often the case in such debates) with the language; the question here is less about ‘gender’ (that is, socially constructed roles of men and women) but ‘sex identity’ (that is, whether someone is a biological man or woman) as is evident from Chris’ own language. That is why, in informed discussions, the situation we are faced with is described as ‘gender identity disorder’ or more commonly ‘gender dysphoria’. Chris is right to emphasise the serious and distressing nature of the pastoral issue—but unfortunately my agreement with him on this, and my explaining my personal experience of that amongst friends and family was edited out (the discussion was pre-recorded) in order to create a sense of ‘liberal pastoral care’ versus ‘traditionalist dogma’ on the programme. There is no doubt at all that this is how many will seek to configure the Synod debate.