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Ritual and the Trans Body in the Church of England

McIntosh, Esther ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1819-8353 and Jagger, Sharon ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3012-4755 (2022) Ritual and the Trans Body in the Church of England. Journal of Contemporary Religion. (In Press)

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According to Victor Turner (2008 [1969]), rituals can shift people from one identity to another, often resolving liminal states and dispelling ambiguities. Ritualised words and actions may also generate ontologies (Bell, 1992) that fit into regulatory systems of taboo and sanctification (Rappaport, 1999). In this article, we argue that ritual in the Church of England is used to both affirm and police trans identities. The Church’s recent process to approve the guidance accompanying renewal of baptismal vows as a liturgy of welcome for trans people, and the accompanying backlash, highlights the role of liturgy and ritual for trans belonging in the Church and the ways power over liturgical words and praxis is overtly wielded. The marriage rite has established ontological meaning for trans bodies on condition they support heterosexuality. Yet there is a subversive access to meaning-making in both these ritual contexts. As part of a research project exploring chaplaincy support of trans and non-binary people, we interviewed several trans people of faith, including two prominent priests in the Church of England. The lived experiences shared with us reveal the ways in which trans bodies have become sites onto which anxieties about gender are projected. Church-sanctioned ritual can provide an unambiguous ontological gendered identity, but there are questions raised about how expansive gender categories need to be, a discussion raised by Katharine Jenkins’ (2016) in a critical discussion on feminist ameliorative inclusion. The Church’s ritual life seeks to underpin heteronormative binaries, ensuring that trans bodies are used to reproduce fixed meanings around sexuality, sex, and gender. We explore the extent to which, whilst ritual might support inclusion, the Church’s ritualised meaning-making lands heavily on the bodies of trans people, through a process that places abstract theological and doctrinal objections onto individual embodiment. We argue that the focus on trans bodies operates within the affective economy (Ahmed, 2004) and requires emotional labour from trans people in negotiating the meaning-making of rituals and the opprobrium this attracts from groups within the Church of England.

Item Type: Article
Status: In Press
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BJ Ethics
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
School/Department: School of Humanities
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/7404

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