Category Archives: Future plans

One Year Later…

On Thursday, I was preparing for my first appointment at the Gender Identity Clinic (GIC) and gathering together the papers that demonstrate that I’ve been living as a man, openly and publicly in every aspect of my life, for some time. I came across a letter I’d asked my then boss to write for me, containing the date on which I came out at work and so began my ‘official’ real-life experience. My appointment happened to be one year on exactly from that day, which is quite a coincidence. Following this, my first experience of the GIC and the suggestion of a friend on Facebook, I’ve decided to reflect a bit on what this year has brought along and where I’m at.

Prior to coming out to my colleagues, I’d told a few people but otherwise kept things secret. Knowing that transgender people have been hounded out of jobs and faced discrimination, I was very nervous about how people would react to me. On the whole, I needn’t have been. The vast, vast majority have either been overtly supportive, or just quietly got on with using the right name and correct pronouns without saying anything specific about it all. I’ve had to deal with a couple of idiots outside of my department and some guys being jerks when it comes to my using the gents’ loos, but that has been very rare, thankfully. It’s been a similar story with church and the rest of my life down here in Milton Keynes.

Being able to be completely open about who I am has been an incredibly liberating experience, which has freed me from having to pretend all the time and repress part of myself. I think I’ve grown in confidence and am much more settled as a result. I’ve now got a whole new wardrobe and very few of my ‘female clothes’ have survived the cull. When I’ve got the money, I’ll get a new suit, which is really the last big purchase; the rest of my stuff is either from the blokes’ sections of stores, or as near as damned it. This outward change, together with my new hairdo (short and spiky) has helped me to feel more settled as Karl and again boosted my confidence.

In terms of everyday life, little has changed, though there are specific issues which were previously uncomplicated but now take thought:

  • Toilets: which to use and when. When it’s safe to do so, I use male toilets, but that’s not always practical. For example, in busy public places like the shopping centre and the cinema, I worry I’m more likely to encounter a member of the public with ‘Daily Mail views’, and get a hard time. This is more of a fear in places where alcohol feeds in, and not all pubs have an easily accessible disabled toilet. Wetherspoons pubs are particularly bad for this, so I have to find strategies when I go there. Generally there is the back-up option of a disabled toilet elsewhere, but I’m always worried I’m stopping someone with a disability from using it, and so it gets complicated.
  • Changing rooms. These are even more awkward, due to the lack of privacy and need for nudity. I don’t want to use the female facilities, can’t yet use the male ones, and some disabled changing rooms are rubbish. I’m yet to find a gym where this isn’t a problem.
  • Clothes shopping: trans-friendly stores. My early experiences of trying to buy men’s clothes were complicated by not knowing my sizes, and also by not passing, which meant store staff often didn’t know how to deal with me. One shop (BHS) accused me of shoplifting because I tried on a men’s shirt. Another (H&M) wouldn’t let me use the male changing rooms or take men’s clothes into female changing rooms. I do wonder if I should’ve just changed in the middle of that store to make the point, but I didn’t dare! (Probably for the best!). Now I’ve learnt that stores like House of Fraser are very good and let me use the right changing rooms without hassle, but as I know my sizes, I can usually get away with trying things at home with the reasonable hope of them fitting.
  • Dealing with the NHS. In the absence of being able to get my paws on testosterone, I’ve been taking female contraceptives to stop my menstruation. My GP practice have been fine with this, but I am amused by always getting the lecture on safe sex, as if Tractorgirl could be the source of a sort of virgin birth part two! People just don’t get LGBT relationships sometimes… Moreover, one has to be the expert most of the time – my GP had never met a trans person till I walked in – and one of the nice things about going to the GIC was being able to be the patient for once!
  • Being allowed to leave the country. To get a new passport with the correct gender marker, I’ve needed a letter from my GP. Not a problem, but another little thing that makes transgender life more …. hard work/time-consuming/bureaucratic. There are also places such as Canada where travel can be complicated for someone like me who is yet to begin treatment, which is a bugger when planning a honeymoon!
  • Telephones. As my voice still sounds female, I sometimes have trouble getting people to believe I am who I say I am over the phone. For example, one time at work someone was convinced they’d got the wrong number, even when a colleague grabbed the phone and told them otherwise! More recently, I had a phone call from a recruitment consultant who refused to believe I was me, and asked what name to call me despite having my CV in front of him with ‘Karl’ looming up at him! Clearly his firm need better diversity training.
  • Inane questions. Most of the time, when people ask me about what being transgender/transsexual means and is like, they’re genuinely interested and do so sensitively. As I reckon it’s best they hear what it’s all about from me rather than the Daily (Hate) Mail, I’m happy to chat and share my experiences. However, questions about my genitals are not acceptable – would you quiz anyone else on what they’ve got in their trousers? No. Well, mind your own business when you’re talking to me then! It is odd how one’s body can be viewed as public property as the NHS is the gatekeeper of gender reassignment…
  • Transgender media coverage. Some of the rubbish written about trans people of all shades can be quite hard to deal with, especially when it filters through to the popular imagination (see above). For example, in the week I came out, there was a big fuss being whipped up by the Sun about a trans man giving birth, and I remember hearing some vicious negative comments at work. Hopefully having to deal with a real live trans man has helped dispel some of that nonsense and prejudice, but it made me feel scared. I imagine this is even worse for trans women, who in the early stages of their transitions are usually more visible than I’ve been – chatting to others suggests they do get more flack, not helped by the press portrayl of us.
  • Correcting people on pronouns. Trans men at this pre-hormones stage often get mistaken for women and have to spend time correcting people. 95% of stuff shouted at me in the street has been homophobic, not transphobic, and I understand this is other people’s experience too. I suppose it’s a product of the much wider range of gender expression which is usually considered acceptable for women that people look at me and assume I’m a woman, and sometimes think I must be a lesbian. However, for me, it’s a pain in the backside, and means I spend a lot of time telling people off for making assumptions. Getting my chest binder has given me more confidence to do so.
  • Waiting lists. Going forward, I need to go through a second assessment at the GIC, this time with two shrinks, before I can start hormones. At least this time I have a date for my grilling. The uncertainty of the waiting and not knowing has been tough on both of us, especially with the move to GP commissing and worries about funding. It has felt at times like living in limbo.

That’s just a few of my niggles! It’s important to stress though that this has been an incredibly positive year on the whole, despite the above. Looking to the future, I can begin to see the end point, at which I’ll be able to live as a normal bloke, post second-puberty, chest operation and hysterectomy. I do worry whether Tractorgirl will still find me attractive when all is said and done, which is miles scarier than anything a surgeon could do, but we’re taking it day by day (cliche time – sorry!) and getting there. I take comfort from the fact we wouldn’t be getting hitched if she wasn’t, like me, willing to give it a bloody good go! I think we’ve also grown closer through this and having to deal with our feelings when they’ve risen to the surface, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

So. that’s year one in the life of a transsexual man. I’ve run out of things to type now, so I’ll stop!

Afternoon Tea at Tiffeny’s, and other randomness

It’s been a busy couple of months, but as I now have the internet working at home and the rare luxury of  a free evening, I’ve decided that it’s about time my blog came back to life again, so here’s an update on life:

 

  • I think I’m over my mini crisis of faith, and have actually found a degree of settledness and peace. I guess I’ve finally grasped that it’s ok just to be me, and not to try and push myself into other people’s boxes, because it doesn’t work. I can’t pretend I’ve got my prayer life magically sorted, but I feel relaxed with God, which is a huge step forward.
  • I’m now a graduate of he University of Durham. The day was amazing, and it was great to be able to enjoy it with my partner, parents and friends. I still can’t quite believe I finally made it, and how different I was when I started the whole thing compared to where I am now. I’ve changed so much for the better…. God is very good.
  • I’m now a Methodist Local Preacher – don’t ask me how that happened! I had my first service early last the month, which went very well, and I’m off out with my mentor in Stony Stratford in a week and a half. It’s exciting and scary, but mostly it just feels very right and very ‘me’ somehow. The bit that scares me is the way the whole ordination thing seems to be inching its way back onto the agenda at unexpected moments…
  • The banking world is pretty much the same. I’m now at the stage where most of the stuff from my predecessor has been gone through, documented and tidied up, and I can begin working on my own projects, which is  a good thing.
  • I’ve almost (finally) finished two papers based on my PhD thesis, which I hope to send to my supervisor soon, and then to get published. I miss the world of maths, and want to keep the door open for getting a post-doctoral research position. It’s been nice getting back to grips with it all 🙂
  • I’ve joined a gym, and am seriously working on getting fit.
  • Most importantly of all, Tractorgirl and I have now been together for eighteen months, and I love her more than ever.

At the weekend, I went on a retreat with some friends from Bang! and had a very random dream about a friend of mine directing and presenting a daytime television show called ‘Afternoon Tea at Tiffeny’s’. I might float the idea to the BBC one day…  In the meantime, here’s a couple of graduation pictures:

Me with my parents
Tractorgirl and me chilling after the graduation dinner

Faith, doubt and Advent

I’ve been making a serious effort this Advent to address something I know is a bit of a problem – my prayer life. I find it really hard to get into the habit of setting aside regular time simply to pray, whether using a daily office or simply sitting with God, not trying to do anything.

I started out with the best of intentions – I was going to say evening prayer every day, having realised that however much I try to be, I am just not a morning person and setting my alarm earlier doesn’t work as I just doze through it. That lasted two days before life got in the way and having let it slip once, it just vanished into the ether.

Part of the problem is, I think, that if I’m going out of an evening, I’m often on a very tight schedule. I often don’t leave the office till gone 5.30pm (sometimes it’s more like after 6pm) which isn’t by choice but reflects the volume of work I have on, and it takes 30mins to walk home. I’ve then got to cook myself dinner, which if making something nice from scratch can take anything between ten minutes and an hour, eat it and do the washing up. By the time I’ve done that, got changed out of  my suit and run out of the door again, I’m often running late as it is.  Time to pray feels like wasted time in the rush to get back into town. Even that doesn’t really wash as an excuse, though, as days when I’m doing nothing other than flopping in front of the television in the evening are still devoid of a daily office, mostly due to sheer fatigue after a long day’s problem solving.

I have realised that I’ve hit several walls at once:

  • Until about four months ago, I lived in Durham with a Cathedral on my doorstep and was able to go to a daily Eucharist and Evensong. I’m so much better at going to something scheduled like that and am much better at praying with others. There is no real equivalent in Milton Keynes and I miss it.
  • I find it hard to read the Bible because my inner academic kicks in and worries about hermeneutics and context and differing interpretations and doctrine and it forms a kind of mental wall. I worry I’m ‘not doing it properly’ and there is no point if I don’t. In short, I’ve lost the art of devotional reading of the Bible.
  • A year of undergraduate-level theology and biblical studies in Durham raised far more issues than it solved. For example, I had to write an essay on how to read the first eleven chapters of Genesis and in researching that came across so many different perspectives and opinions that apart from being sure what I didn’t like and the pre-existing theological bias driving that, I just wasn’t sure how to evaluate these. On what basis could I compare the thoughts of people far more knowledgeable than me and fluent in the original languages? It left me not sure what to think anymore. I think this sort of thing is the cause of point two.
  • Last year, I lived with someone who placed a great deal of emphasis on the use of daily offices, seeking the intercession of the saints and theological reading. This wasn’t a problem in of itself but his habit of making me feel guilty for not persuing these things with same zeal was. It seemed to me that all this stuff and the full-blown conservative Roman Catholic devotional life could easily be used as an excellent way to hide from God, or at least to keep her at arm’s length, and my trying to have an altogether simpler devotional life was ‘just not good enough’ and was frequently criticised. I also found it very hard having my beliefs attacked regularly and having to defend and justify myself all the time, and I don’t think I’ve entirely ditched this person’s baggage.
  • I’m still struggling to come to terms with leaving the ordination process. This might sound an odd thing to say given that it was several months ago and I’m about to embark on the adventure of becoming a Methodist local preacher. However, I think before then I’d had lots of doubts and questions floating around my head that I didn’t dare let surface. The pain of leaving the process and feeling distanced from the church removed that barrier and released a lot of stored-up anger with God, all of which has brought into question several theological assumptions that I suppose I simply accepted without examining them.
  • Further to the previous point, I am sick to the back teeth of church politics getting in the way of real encounter with God in so much of the Church of England. I’m not just on about women bishops and homosexuality and the covenant, but all the stuff about things being done a certain way because ‘we’ve always done it that way’ or ‘that’s how Father likes it’, and liturgical trappings of vestments, acolyting etc becoming so much more important than the God to which they are supposed to point. I JUST DON’T CARE! YOU DON’T EARN BROWNIE POINTS WITH GOD FOR DRESSING UP LIKE ELVIS-MEETS-THE KKK AND WALKING IN RIGHT ANGLES!!! I should add that the forced jollity of charismatic services and the usual evangelical cliches also drive me round the bend these days. Enough of the formulae, I want God!
  • I miss having a spiritual director to hold me to account.
  • I have a massive lazy streak.
  • I find maintaining my own routines and structure difficult.

So where does that leave things?

I’m not 100% sure.

What I do know is that God has been working in my life in the last few years to bring about a lot of healing and through particular things that have happened and the people he has brought into my life, especially TractorGirl, I’m so much more like the person God made me to be and infinitely more comfortable in my own skin. I know that whatever happens, I am loved from top to bottom purely and simply because I am. It’s not about achieving things or never messing up. It’s about pure, unearned, freely-given love. What’s more, that’s true of every single person and every single part of creation. The challenge is to live in the light of those two things and to make time to enjoy God for her own sake.

There’s a great quote from a former Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, which I can never quite get right but goes something like this: knowing God, and being known by God, doesn’t depend upon, nor does it guarantee, being right about God. I think this needs to be my motto over the coming weeks. My last year in Durham made it difficult to hold onto this, but I now see that it’s key, because it not only leaves room for the inevitable errors we all make when thinking about God or reading the Bible, but it also leaves room for doubts and questions and being able to say ‘I don’t know’. Having room for grey areas rather than feeling pinned down to only black or white is something that has been missing for a while now in my faith. That isn’t to say that truth doesn’t matter, but is simply to admit that I don’t have things sorted all the time and like TractorGirl, recognise I need to engage openly and honestly with my doubts.

In practice, I think this will mean having to figure out a way of giving my prayer life (in whatever form) the time it needs and so engaging with scripture, but also finding time, however ad hoc (and ad hoc may well be the best thing at the moment), just to enjoy God. Not having answers is hard for me as a scientist who likes to have things well-defined (which I know is ironic giving how much of science is really groping in the dark) but also as someone who likes to be in control. It feels vulnerable.

That brings me back to Advent, which is my favourite time of the Christian year. God didn’t come into the world on clouds descending, in a blaze of glory and power and might. Instead, God in human flesh was born as a small baby, entirely dependent on his parents, themselves very ordinary and at the mercy of the political situation of their day. which made them forced pilgrims and refugees. It’s an enormously vulnerable position fraught with risk, with the risk of loving all of us so much as to give up the thing that matters most.   God in the vulnerability, the mess and the ambiguity of the world is the only God that makes sense to me in my vulnerability, mess and ambiguity. Sometimes it’s all I can hang onto.

Update on life

I haven’t been able to blog since the move (no landline yet and internet at work is severely restricted) so while I’m at a friend’s house, here’s an update on life.

I successfully made the move to MK just over three weeks ago now. My house is lovely and I’m just about sorted now; just awaiting the arrival of my new sofa in a fortnight, and need to buy one or two more small bits of furniture. It’s been good on the whole to have my own place, but also quite lonely sometimes to come home after work to an empty house. I think I’m getting used to that, but do find it hard, especially as TractorGirl and I, with all that her life has involved recently, haven’t seen each other for a while. I do miss her loads.

Work has been going well. My first couple of days were a bit dull until my computer log-on got sorted out, but soon after, things got quite busy. Along with my boss, I am taking over a load of mathematical modelling work from someone who is leaving for a job with less of a daily commute, and so my first three weeks have been the handover period and trying to get to grips with where things currently stand. It’s been a little daunting to say the least, but I now have more of an idea what’s going on. It’s a nice place to work; I’ve had one or two jokes made about my ties, but all light-hearted (and it’s nice to stand out in an office dominated by men in open-neck shirts in various dull pastel shades…) and think that given time, I’ll fit in well. Quite out of the blue, the other day I was offered a job in Durham (a little too late, alas) but I’m pretty sure I’ll stay put.

Milton Keynes itself is an odd place. I live about a twenty-five minute walk from work along the redways (which are quite confusing when one is not used to them) but there are no local shops in the village, so getting food in involves wandering into town. I’ve joined an amateur drama group, an astronomy club, found a bible study and hopefully some LGBT stuff to fill my time, and am using the weekends when I don’t get to see TractorGirl to explore the region around MK. So far, this has involved trips to London (and a wonderful concert at St Martin-in-the-Fields) and Bath (for a GCN gathering), and in a month’s time I’m off to Brighton for some shopping

Finding a church has been rather harder going. I went to my local parish church and it was like Monty Python-meets-Alpha! It was without a doubt the oddest place I’ve tried in a while. The parishioners I’ve spoken to are friendly enough, but after a comedy moment (involving jumping back and shrieking) when, after a discussion over tea with Mrs Vicar, I decided I needed to be honest, with where the conversation had gone, about my sexuality (I swear some people think lesbianism is a disease they can catch!) I think it might not be the easiest place to settle. Besides, I can’t be doing with being bombarded with over-simplistic evangelical cliches and vapid songs. Christ the Cornerstone in the centre of MK seems a better bet, so I will have to get used to getting up slightly earlier on a Sunday.

Overall, my first few weeks of ‘real adulthood’ have gone well, but been hard in various ways (I haven’t mentioned the whole trouble I’ve had getting a bank account (a condition of employment) because it makes my blood boil). I miss TractorGirl, but am beginning to settle in.

Rubik’s Cubes (and other strange ambitions)

There is an article in this week’s New Scientist that says that some mathematicians, harnessing the power of Google and symmetries, have shown that any arrangement of a Rubik’s cube can be completed in twenty moves or under. Apparently, “God couldn’t do it faster”. I find this sickening as solving mine even the once has still eluded me!

Owning and finishing a Rubik’s Cube is one of the ten ambitions I have in life, of varying degrees of sensibleness (and in no particular order), some of which go back to childhood:

1) Have tea at the Ritz

2) Talk philosophy with the Speaking Clock over a glass of wine

3) Own and finish a Rubik’s Cube

4) Ride the London Eye and streak at the top of the circle

5) Get to the top of the Eiffel Tower without a nose bleed

6) Go paragliding without an instructor

7) Have tea on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament

8 ) Meet k.d. lang and give her a kiss

9) Have a book (either fiction or serious science) published

10) Own enough ties to have one for every day of the year

One of these is impossible. I have done two of them. Guess which…

Milton Keynes

Last week, I went on a trip to Milton Keynes with TractorGirl to find a house ready for starting work in September. I can’t say I was in the best of moods when I arrived, and grim weather never makes a place look inviting, but my first impression of MK was of a thoroughly miserable collection of car parks and concrete monstrosities. It seemed to consist of car park after car park after miserable bloody car park, and some of the worst examples of 1960s breezeblock I have ever seen.

The imfamous concrete cows of Milton Keynes

The first place I went to look at was in the Hub, a fancy new development surrounding the restaurant district (MK is designed in blocks, ‘districts’) with nice, shiny glass buildings. The flat was a studio flat, but even by the standards of those, it was tiny. It was very pretty, but little bigger than a shoebox! I can see that it would be perfect for someone coming to the UK from abroad to work for six months with only a couple of suitcases and the clothes they were standing up in, but it wasn’t much good for a TOH!

The second place was a nice two bedroom place in the ‘much sort-after’ area of Bradwell Common. I seriously considered that, as it was in a good location relative to work and shops, but I only realised that on a second look, as by that part of the day I’d be dragged through more car parks than I could take, and just needed a coffee.

The next day, I saw a total dump of a flat with rising damp, cracks in the walls and lots of broken stuff. How can they get away with asking £550pcm for a health hazard? Later that day, I saw a nice one-bedroom flat with everything I needed despite the ‘granny’ decor, but thanks to a useless estate agent (avoid Anglo-American Lettings, they make bad customer service into an art form!) I got beaten to it, as he wouldn’t let me do the paperwork, and wasn’t even going to tell me it had gone, despite promising to phone.

This necessitated a second trip down south on Tuesday, and the realisation that furnishing a flat would open up so many more options. The result is that I will now be living in a very, very nice and brand new house that is well within my budget, rather than paying over the odds for an average place, so the bad agent did me a favour in a way.

In the sunshine, even MK didn’t seem too bad, and having discovered that the shopping centre has my favourite three shops in, that the theatre has some really good stuff (and a Friends group that I will enjoy), that there is an ecumenical church where my being an Anglican-Methodist mixture would be seen as perfectly normal and that I could afford to join a really nice gym and work on losing my belly (of which I am sick of the sight) made me feel much better. It seems to have great places to go eating and drinking, and there is an amateur dramatics group I can join that doesn’t do musicals, which is the reason I’ve never done that before.

All in all, it was a worthwhile few days. The other noteworthy thing was the B&B we stayed in. The owner was a very lovely, camp eccentric called Shaun who went out of his way to be helpful. I think he likes looking after people and solving all their problems, and as TractorGirl noted in her post, has the kind of lack of awareness of personal space one usually expects from church ladies, meaning several enthusiastic hugs. If you can deal with that, I would really recommend it as a place to stay should you ever find yourself in MK.

Life is good :D

In the last week, three very cool things have happened to me: 

1) My PhD thesis is now handed in, and I have a copy on my shelf to cheer me up when I feel miserable. 

2) I will be moving to Milton Keynes in roughly four weeks to start my new job as a Credit Risk Analyst for a high-street bank. They seem lovely to work for and I think I’ll be happy there. 

3) I am now engaged. I got down on one knee and asked TractorGirl if she would do me the honour of being her civil partner, and she said yes. It’s the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done – makes a PhD viva seem trivial! 

My remaining time in Durham will be a bit mad. This Thursday and Friday I’m dragging TractorGirl down south to help me flat hunt, which will be great because I’ve found student houses by word of mouth and have never had to deal with a letting agent before. It seems like there is a never-ending list of things to do, but it will be worth it 🙂 

The engagement ring being all shiny!

 

My PhD thesis!

Happy news :)

Just a brief note, as the library shuts in a few minutes!

Yesterday, I was given the go-ahead to get my PhD thesis printed. On Monday, when I get back from the short break in London I’m about to take with Tractorgirl, I’ll be able to hold the finished thing in my hands. It’s a bit hard to process, but I’m really looking forward to that.

At the same time, I’ve been offered a job with a bank down in Milton Keynes doing Credit Risk Analysis. I had a really good interview for a similar role with another bank today in Leeds. If the second makes me an offer, it’ll be a tough decision. Both seemed really nice to work for and the jobs would be stimulating and worthwhile. I can’t deny that it’s great to know I’ll be somewhat nearer to TractorGirl either way, and not be sent to work away from home for long periods.

I may have bugger-all money, which is still an issue, but I am one of the luckiest TOHs ever. I will have a good job, I’ve finished my thesis, I have a wonderful partner (watch this space for news on that front… ), a loving family and great friends. God is very good today 🙂

Honesty is always the best policy?

Life got even more ludicrous today.

I’ve been waiting for my Jobseeker’s Allowance to come through and it’s taken nearly two months to discover the problem – my theology course. I need this sorted to have the piece of paper to take to the council to claim my housing benefit, so it is very important.

When I first signed on, I made the mistake of being honest about doing my theology course. The rules say that anything involving sixteen hours or more study time per week constitutes full-time study (which seems silly to me – a bit like adult prices starting from age twelve) and thus would mean one is not entitled to benefits. Now, my course involves one (at its peak two) evening classes a week of two-and-a-half hours each. Even then with private study hours matching contact hours, I have only been doing ten hours per week study at most.

However, as I discovered recently when trying to use a computer in a postgraduate-only room in the university, they (Durham University, who validate my theology course) have registered me as an undergraduate (despite me technically still being a postgraduate, though as I have been viva-ed already, I’m not any more). What’s more, they have me down as a full-time student.

Therefore, I find myself in a fix. What counts in the eyes of the law is the title, not the reality. Thus, being registered as a full-time student, I officially do sixteen hours plus in a week, by definition, even though this does not match the reality. The implication is that the money I was hoping to get paid will not appear as the course only finished yesterday and it’s only from today that I am not a full-time student, not when I made my claim after my PhD viva.

It seems crazy to me that a desire to be honest and upfront could cause so many issues. I stand to lose about £400 in JSA and another £310 in housing benefit as a result of this. The theology course people are refusing to send a letter to the Job Centre explaining the reality of the situation, or that seemed to be the gist of the phone conversation I had this morning. I don’t know if the Job Centre will accept there was an honest misunderstanding, or whether I’ll now be accused of making a false claim.

Moreover, this was money I was planning to use for a deposit on a flat when the time comes to move to start my job, whichever one that ends up being. I’ve already taken out a loan from my bank, so I don’t think borrowing more is an option, so if I need to find a deposit and first month’s rent, plus meet the cost of moving, I could be up shit creek without a paddle unless maybe my employer can help, but of course they have no such obligation. My parents may be able to help, but that’s also a case of ‘wait and see’. I would have been much better off and had far less stress if I had lied, which surely is wrong!?!

Ever feel the walls are closing in? There’s only one thing to sing at a time like this, on the basis that anything is better than a nervous breakdown:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1loyjm4SOa0[/youtube]

Time for a re-think?

I spent the weekend on retreat with a group from GCN at Buckfast Abbey, which is near Totnes in Devon. It’s only the third GCN event I’d been to, and I was nervous that I would be stuck spending my weekend with deeply irritating camp blokes or people all too like some folks I’ve known in Durham who aren’t very comfortable with their sexuality and act like jerks to hide the fact. Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong about it!

The first evening we had a lovely meal, much wine and a talk about 1 Peter from the priest leading the weekend. On the Saturday, TractorGirl and I led a session looking at the prologue to St John’s Gospel in the morning. As a couple of people requested it, I’ve added the text of my talks. We had a nice lunch at the Abbey’s cafe, which does extremely tasty-but-bad-for-you puddings. In the afternoon, one of our members talked about his experience of the ex-gay movement and we had a good discussion about being gay in the church. That evening saw us decant to the pub for a lovely meal (or at least it was when my food finally got there!) and I spent the Sunday morning chilling while TractorGirl went to mass.

For the most part, the weekend gave me much-needed space to relax, to catch up with people (though some all too briefly – methinks some travel might be in order) and make new friends. It did me good to get out of Durham for a while, and I got to spend some quality time with TractorGirl which I really appreciated and was lovely.

So far, so good. However, God was also doing his thing of unsettling things. One of the people on the retreat was an Anglican priest and after hearing me preach, told me he thinks I am a natural preacher, teacher and pastor and that in his belief, I am called to some sort of ministry within the church. This wasn’t the first time someone has told me that – it has happened several times after preaching and when getting to know people in the church – but what scared me a bit was his certainty.

Now, since I left the ordination process in Durham Diocese, for what I think was a sensible and principled reason, I’ve been doing a certain amount of re-assessment of my faith and place within the church. I had initially concluded that Anglican ordained ministry was not for me and that I would be better giving up altogether or looking at switching denominations. However, in the last couple of months, I’ve been wrestling with all of this and the jolt over the weekend confirms my initial thoughts:

  • Within my remaining time in Durham, I would like to keep worshipping at the Methodist Church that has become ‘church family’ and who have loved and accepted me unconditionally. The Cathedral is lovely and I will still go there sometimes, but I’ve had enough.
  • Joint Anglican-Methodist membership is something I would like to do purely for its own sake, because it does express my journey and theological roots. However, I don’t think I’d pursue local preaching unless after the move I end up in a Methodist church. First and foremost, I am an Anglican. The Church of England, despite its many faults, is my home and I love it very much. I feel deep down that it’s where God wants me to be, and after all, it won’t change if everyone who struggles in it flees.
  • Leaving the process hasn’t lessened my desire to serve God in the church as well as the world of work. I don’t think full-time parish ministry is for me, but NSM or reader training do appeal, and I need to stop running away and look at them.

In short, the conclusion I’ve come to is that God doesn’t seem to want to give up on me in ministry in the church of some form. The task now is to discern the right expression for that. This means dealing once again with the thorny issue of sexuality and after the weekend and sharing my story and, far more interestingly, hearing from others, I just about feel in a position to do that. I will have to get better at ‘playing the game’, but I think stepping back for a while and talking to so many encouraging people has helped me see how that might work.

I think, through all the ‘ifs, buts and maybes’ of the last few weeks, what has emerged through much prayer, thought, wrestling and tears, is a sense of the need to step out, take risks and use my gifts to serve God. I can’t really talk about the other part of my life where the need to take a leap of faith and just live with the uncertainties has become apparent and I hope I’m responding appropriately, but in both cases, I’ve realised that I can either carry on running away, or take the risk of love. It’s very scary, but I honestly believe I’m doing the right thing in both cases.

There’s a clip from one of the best films of all time, in my humble opinion, ‘Good Will Hunting’, about taking risks. I couldn’t find the specific clip I wanted, but the end of this illustrates my point about safety nets and the need to risk getting hurt to find love:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VAF8zRUdp18&feature=related[/youtube]