Church, Gender and Sexuality

Well there’s a title which does exactly what it says on the tin.

Anyway. Yesterday I went to a night hosted jointly by the LGBT society and SCM, the Student Christian Movement. There was stew and crumble and things and then there was a talk and discussion with Sarah Jones, the parish priest in Ross-on-Wye. Who, if you didn’t know, which to be fair you probably didn’t, used to be a man, and spent most of her twenties coming slowly to the realisation that actually, mentally, emotionally, she felt more like a woman. So she had a sex change before becoming ordained as a priest.

So for all sorts of reasons she had a lot to say. About coming to the realisation that she was transgendered (she asked us, ‘how do you know that you are the ‘right’ gender?’, pointing out that it’s a hard thing to think about, really, it’s not as simple as ‘just knowing’), about how people think transsexual and imagine some kind of panto-dame/drag-queen overly-made-up-and-coiffured caricature, when actually she was a perfectly ordinary, quite plainly dressed woman, with no make-up and sensible Ecco shoes.

She also talked about how her Bishop is quite conservative and yet was happy to see this as a medical problem; what he can’t get his head around is the fact that she is also gay, and this does then mean that she cannot whilst in this particular parish have a sexual relationship with another woman, because she would just lose her job, straight out, while in other parishes this might well be overlooked.

She praised the open-minded-ness of the Church of England – believers within the church of England really do fall on a massive spectrum between those who point accusingly at Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and those that say more forgiving things, quoting the story of the eunuch in Acts or the centurion and his friend/servant/lover in Matthew. It’s a church which can, with surprising ease, welcome those who believe (like me) that civil partnerships should be honoured in church and that gay marriage should be possible within the church of England and can’t really understand how you can make any other argument on that score, and can also welcome those who still believe that women shouldn’t be allowed to be priests and that homosexuality, let alone gay marriage, is a sin against God.

She talked also about being outed, about how one day the Daily Mail rang up seemingly out of the blue, and how she had rounds of press conferences to give and of course how then her whole parish knew and how they gradually came to terms with this, how it does now mean that literally everyone in her town knows and how in some ways the worst thing to bear is the children who have called her names in the past; but then she also talked about how she sat them down and gave them a good talking-to and how now when she passes them in the street they’ll cheerily call out, ‘morning, Vicar’, which I think is nice, because that’s a sentence I struggle to imagine any thirteen-year-old lout on a BMX uttering in most normal places, but then I guess Ross-on-Wye is probably a bit like the town where I grew up and that probably wouldn’t have surprised me too much there.

What I really liked about her was her absolute and utter honesty – she really was happy to talk about more or less anything that we wanted to ask her. Perhaps not the course she would have chosen in life – it’s like me having to spend the entire rest of my life with everyone knowing that I Used To Be Depressed, except more so – and you don’t really want that to be the defining feature that everyone knows about you – but I guess once that is why you are known, she has stood up to the plate and stood up for her cause and got on with it, and, well. I was inspired. I was really glad to have met her. And she made me realise that actually, if it annoys me so much that people make assumptions about me and about depression, then I bloody well need to step up and say so, rather than just…lying about it. Or rather, omitting the truth. I can’t carry on saying, when people ask me what year I’m in, ‘oh I was ill last year’ and leaving it at that. I always feel guilty when I do that but at the same time it does seem like sharing a bit too much (apparently I do have at least a shred of that English reserve, after all).

Anyway that’s definitely not what I came here to say. Also the food was delicious. Also I then went to the pub with some of the people who were at the talk, and then I went to meet up with the debating lot in the Union, and things got rapidly more insane from there until A and I left for chips. Oh, chips. How glorious. And then I went to bed at two and why-oh-why did I wake up at half past seven in the sodding morning? Bleh.

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4 Comments

Filed under Food, Happenings, Life, Relationships, Religion, Sex, Society, Women

4 responses to “Church, Gender and Sexuality

  1. I went to a fascinating, fascinating talk on Faith and Sexuality during our LGBT week. I have a long post about it sitting in my drafts folder which never quite made it up.

    It’s such an interesting topic, and it brings up so many questions. What I actually think is that while this was obviously a discussion of a specific context, and I have no wish to deprive the LGBT community of that, a lot of the issues being addressed – about identity, about belief, about relationships – could be applied equally to the heterosexual community, but no’one’s ever quite brave enough to start the discussion.

    Oh, and I found out that one of my close friends was, in fact, female. He hadn’t told me ‘cos he wanted to people to relate to the person he is, not the person he was – which is exactly what you’re saying here.

  2. Jenny

    What Sarah said is that trans-sexual isn’t something she is, it was a stage she had to go through, it’s sometihng she was. So yup.

    What do you think specifically needs discussing within the hetero community then? I’m not saying I disagree, I just want to know…where you’d start, I guess.

    xxx

  3. I don’t know. Just a lot of the questions being brought up I felt could be really pertinent. Like, to what extent are [romantic] relationships defined by a physical relationship? How important is our sex/ gender (no, I’m not defining those to be the same thing, incidentally) to our sense of self? If we believe in some form of god, how do are relationships with humans affect our relationships with it? Why do we seek ‘exclusive’ relationships? That sort of thing.

  4. Jenny

    I see. Those *are* interesting questions indeed. So you should definitely write a blog on the subject when you’re less busy :), I dares ya. xxx

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