Category Archives: Homosexuality

Reflecting on Pride and Naming

This weekend was a big weekend for me – on Saturday, it was Milton Keynes’ first ever Pride event, and on Sunday, I had my naming service at church.

                               The Faith Tent (c) Karl

At said Pride, we (TractorGirl, our local Venture FX pioneer minister and I) were running a faith tent, providing space for people to chill out and offer a positive witness, trying to show that being an LGBT person and having faith are not incompatible. It was a team effort; TractorGirl had the idea, which was taken on by Rob (the aforementioned pioneer minister) and I had the idea for the content, which the others refined to produce a great chillaxing space. We all gave out leaflets on the day and had some great conversations, and it was very cool to be part of a team helping to break down barriers, one step at a time. More than that, it was great how well the whole Pride event came together, and it was a huge credit to the folks who gave up so much of their time to make it happen.

 

 

I’ve now been in Milton Keynes for a little under two years, and it’s been exciting to reflect on how things have changed during that time. When I first arrived here, I hated it on sight – it seemed like an endless mass of carparks and soulless buildings. As time has gone on, however, I’ve got used to the oddity of the place and got involved in various things, making some awesome friends that I hope will, like many of my university friends, be friends for life. When I first arrived, if someone had told me I’d find myself running a faith tent at Pride, I’d have laughed in their face! I guess it’s a mark of how much more comfortable in myself I feel that those parts of my life (my faith, gender identity and sexuality) are very closely integrated, and I can happily deal with meeting people in the territory where they intersect. Moving here has done me so much good in many ways.

That brings me nicely onto my naming service. The idea came about when I attended a baptism at my church. It occurred to me that I’d made the promises one makes at baptism and confirmation in my ‘old’ name, and that actually, one’s name is a big part of the liturgy. I wanted to have the chance to come before God and re-commit myself to him, but this time as I really am, in my new name, Karl. For me, it was really important that this happened as part of a Eucharistic service, as I believe that in Holy Communion, the Church is really fully being the Church, fully present to God, who meets us, fully human and fully God, in the bread and wine. All are welcome at the table and all have an equal place. There was a very deep sense in which this felt like me taking my proper place in God’s family.

The litugry we used for the naming part of the service was shamelessly stolen from Nadia Bolz-Weber, whom I first came across at Greenbelt last year, and thought was cool. As part of the service, I gave my testimony, which I’ve reproduced below:

 

A little over six years ago, I was confirmed in the beautiful surroundings of Bath Abbey. That evening, I made for myself the promises my parents and godparents had made on my behalf at my baptism, when I was just a baby. It was a hugely important occasion for me, as I’d been an atheist throughout my teens, and had only recently come to faith. This was me saying, ‘Here I am, God. I’m yours’. That day was the start of a journey with God that’s taken me to some interesting places, not least the accident and emergency department of Bath’s Royal United Hospital, as the Bishop of Bath and Wells injured my knee, but that’s another story!

At the time, I was doing my best to be what I thought I was expected to be – I was living as a woman and had a long-term boyfriend, despite the nagging doubts at the back of my mind saying, ‘this isn’t me’. The relationship was somewhat unhealthy to say the least, and I finally found the courage to kick him out about a year later. A couple of months after that, I had a bit of a breakdown, which sounds grim and at the time was, but which forced me to stop trying to cope with life by bottling things up, and actually begin to come to terms with both my past and who I was. There began, with the support of amazing friends, a very patient minister and an excellent counsellor, a process of forgiveness and healing, in which God has cropped up in some very unexpected places.

Along the way, I found myself falling head over heels in love with Sally, who thankfully felt the same way! I therefore had to come to terms quite quickly with my sexuality, which wasn’t too bad, as I felt able to be quite bolshy about it – ‘I’m here, I’m queer, get over it!’ seemed to work quite well! However, I knew that this was still not the real me. In due course, I left Durham, graduating a few months later, and moved to Milton Keynes. A fresh start was just what I needed; both proving to myself that I could do it and enjoying my job helped to build my confidence. Gradually, I began to realise that I couldn’t go on pretending to be something I wasn’t indefinitely, and that led me to come out once again, this time as transgender. You see, despite having a woman’s body, I am very definitely emotionally and psychologically male. I’ve felt like this since I was four, and the feelings have only intensified as I’ve got older.

Coming to terms with this was rather harder than sexuality had been, partly because this was at last the real me and so it felt achingly vulnerable, partly because of the hormone treatment and surgery I’ll need to undergo for my body to finally match my brain, and partly because I was scared stiff of other people’s reactions. It was bumpy at first, and still can be very painful, but this latest part of my journey with God has already been hugely life-giving. I’m finally able to be something like the person God has made me to be. That’s why I’m here this evening. I want to thank God for all he has done and continues to do in my life, and to come before God, this time not as Katie but as Karl, a transsexual man, to say the same thing I did at my confirmation – ‘Here I am, God. I’m yours’ – and to commit myself once again to love God and others with all that I am.

 

The naming service was a real rite of passage; I now feel I can take my place at the table as Karl, an unashamedly transgender man. The love and acceptance I’ve found from many in the Church, which I dreaded would become an impossible place, has been deeply healing. That isn’t to say that I’ll never encounter people who have an issue with it all, and I reckon my incredibly supportive superintendent ministers may have dealt with more hassle, or at least confusion, than they’ve let on to me. However, it does mean that I feel confident to not let my gender reassignment process get in the way of whatever I want, or more to the point whatever God calls me, to do. Whether that proves to be in the Church or the bank or some other path altogether, I know that I am as much a child of God as the next person, as are all my LGBT friends. That’s all that really matters.

Film 2010!

Since moving to MK, I’ve got back into the habit of going to the cinema on a regular basis, and last week decided to treat myself to Cineworld’s offer of paying a fixed amount to see an unlimited number of films a month. Cineworld are pretty good at showing movies one wouldn’t always get to see without an independent cinema in town, such as quirky British films or niche market movies, but they are very expensive, to the point where if I see two films a month, I get more than my money’s worth. I’ve realised that given my job can be quite exhausting, and I do sometimes get very lonely with Tractorgirl not being about very often, treating myself is a good thing. I’ve also overcome my anxiety about going to the cinema on my own, as when I first moved to MK, if I didn’t go alone I wouldn’t be able to go at all!

The result is that I have seen three movies recently. The first of them is ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, starring Julia Roberts as an unhappily married woman who, having dropped her husband and leaped straight into another unsuccessful relationship, goes on a round-the-world trip to ‘find herself’, as seems to be the custom with a certain type of American! She ends up in Italy, where she eats lots of pasta and pizza and makes a lot of friends, for three months. She then moves on to India and the shrine that her now ex-boyfriend was keen to one day visit. This is by far the best section of the film as she is forced to face up to the reality of her life and has some moving encounters with local people and other pilgrims. Finally, she heads to Bali (and, yep, you guessed it!) falls in love. The sweetest character is the old man she visits and copies books for, who is very huggable indeed. Overall, it’s a fun bit of escapism but suffers from predictability and being somewhat cliched 5/10.

The second is a film I found about from Diva magazine, about a lesbian couple with two teenage children who seek out the sperm donor responsible for bringing them into being. ‘The Kids are All Right’was an eye-opener for me, as someone who finds themselves, rather reluctantly, with a teenager suddenly appearing in their life. Nic and Jules have been married for over twenty years and, while they love each other deeply, feel the spark has gone out of their marriage of late. Jules, who is trying to start another new business, as a landscape gardener, ends up being more than a little attracted to Paul, the donor, when she works on re-designing his restaurant’s garden. Paul is a happy-go-lucky guy who initially takes to fatherhood, but antagonises doctor Nic by not recognising the challenges when you’re not ‘the cool new guy’ on the parenting scene and by muscling his way into the family. It all ends badly when Nic discovers the affair, and the latter half of the film takes place against the backdrop of this and the daughter Joni (named for the wonderful Joni Mitchell) preparing to go to college.

I found the film funny and moving in equal doses. The challenges of dealing with teenagers and some of the issues around step-parenting (of a sort!) are explored. I wasn’t expecting an instruction manual, but still felt a little miffed that I came away feeling more uncertain about how best to handle various aspects of that role, such as negotiation of boundaries. Maybe I learnt a little of how not to do it! The film also shows all too well how easy it is to hurt the ones we love, and how hard it can be to put the pieces back together again, which resonated deeply with me, though here is really not the place to go into all that, sufficed to say that God has a way of popping up in the most unexpected places! A good film, well worth a watch 8/10.

The third and final movie was ‘Another Year’, starring Jim Broadbent (in my opinion one of the best character actors out there) and Lesley Manville, and directed by Mike Leigh. It’s about a middle-aged couple coping with a very odd bunch of dysfunctional friends, including lonely alcoholic Mary who has a crush on the couple’s son Joe, and Ken, a civil servant dreading retirement and with a host of health issues. Doesn’t sound very jolly, I know, and apart from a few belly laughs, isn’t really. It’s one of those films where one should really have a box of tissues on standby! I did enjoy the film, especially the saga of Mary and her car, but mostly I just felt sad for Ken and Mary, both of whom are the kind of characters we can all recognise in some of our friends (or maybe ourselves!). A very well-acted and moving film, but one which would have benefited from more of a conclusion 7/10.

Right, that’s the movie world out to rights!

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]

It’s what I do!

I see there is much discussion about who will be the next person to take up the now-infamous See of Southwark, following the retirement of Dr Tom Butler, who I met with my banana after a rather bizarre lecture on science and faith. These rows about homosexuality in the Church of England make me very sad. Jeffrey John (pray for him – it cannot be easy being a political football. I ‘ve met him briefly and he seemed lovely) is celibate but in a committed, loving relationship. Why should gay people have to be lonely and miserable, Mr Sugdon? It makes me glad I am not in the ordination process, if even abiding by the rules of  ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ is not enough for some people, but living a lie and the subsequent damage to one’s mental health is perfectly fine. Sigh! I don’t want to get on my soapbox today, mostly because I feel slightly fragile and need a hug, not a row, but it has done me a great deal of good to be honest about my sexual orientation, both to myself and those I care about, and being with TractorGirl makes me feel alive, whole, complete in a way that being with a man, however lovely, could never do. Being told this is wrong hurts – it feels to me like this life in all its fullness that Jesus talked about…

Anyway, on a lighter note, the weekend was somewhat interesting, as TractorGirl’s post explains. I was actually really glad to be able to be there for both TG and Third Party, and hope it goes some way to demonstrating to the latter that I do care and am going to be a trustworthy and reliable presence in her life, and not there to take mum away. I’ve found the ‘compartmentalisation’ very hard, because I really do care about TP, and want to build a good relationship, so I hope this can be the start of that 🙂

Self-Made Man – Mind the Gap!

I’m currently reading ‘Self-Made Man’  by Norah Vincent. It’s about her experience, when using some clever make-up and body-building techniques, she figures out how to disguise herself as a man, ‘Ned’, and goes undercover in various contexts to try to understand the world from a male perspective. I’m about half-way through the book now, and it’s been a very thought-provoking read thus far, in large part because of s0me of the connections with hers and my stories.

Norah took the name for her alter ego from her childhood nickname, as she was always, from a very young age, somewhat of a tomboy. In later life, she is a lesbian and muses upon how the signs of this were there at an early stage. Her desire to write the book was not, apparently, about being a transvestite or transsexual, but follows an experience of going out in New York in drag one night with a friend for a laugh, and noticing the very different reactions she got from men when they thought she was a man.

When I was young, I was always very much a tomboy. Apparently, when my uncle tried to give me a ‘very nice’ doll to play with when I was about three, I threw it back at him in disgust. I never wanted to do the girly stuff at school, and would much rather have been playing football with the boys. I did frequently pinch my ickle brother’s toys, and would never have been into dressing up and make up and that sort of thing. In fact, as long as I’ve remember, I’ve hated ‘girly’, ‘frilly’ things and thought of myself in a very male way, if you see what I mean.

As an adult, I’ve become aware of my sexual orientation and am very comfortable with it.  It was odd yesterday, though, bumping into my old form teacher and head of year from high school, now a married couple, in the middle of M&S (only in Durham!) and thinking about my teenage self. With those kind of conversations, it’s like being in an odd time-wrap. I was aware of my orientation back then, but social conditioning and fear of being bullied and of parental disapproval meant I did my best to bury it, so successfully at times that I wondered if there was something wrong with me because I didn’t fancy boys.  It’s one of the reasons I ended up going out with a man although I never fancied him, certainly never felt the kind of ‘butterflies in the stomach’ I do when I look at TractorGirl. I did love him in a way, but I was honestly never ‘in love’.

I guess the point of all these musings is to wonder about the extent to which sexual orientation and gender are a given and how much is to do with social conditioning. I posted a little while ago about liking to wear shirts and ties. I always have been attracted to dressing in a male way and actually used to do this both as a child when it was ‘cute’ and as a teenager in secret in case anyone found out and thought I was weird. Since it’s become an everyday part of my waredrobe it no longer has an overtly sexual dimension, but it does feel very natural, expressing something of who I am. Simultaneously, aspects of my femininity, such as my hair, are also important to me, and so doing ‘feminine butch’ seems  a good way of capturing both parts. I am not a man trapped in a woman’s body, but more like a mixture of a man and a woman jostling for expression.

Reading Norah Vincent’s experiences of taking ‘Ned’ to a men-only bowling league, on dates with various women and to strip clubs has been intriguing. There is clearly a sense in which what is considered ‘appropriate’ behaviour for men (and by extension women) is socially defined and passed on from one generation to another. The father-and-son in the bowling alley show this only too well. The sense of needing to hide deep pain and make a joke of it, only being able to express feelings to a limited depth to another man, was there in Jim’s story, with his much-loved wife dying of cancer. Once he knew Ned was Norah, he felt able to open up in a way he couldn’t to a man. A fear of being thought homosexual was quite strong, and there was a sense that the sexual needs of a man can never be fully met within marriage, that ‘baser’ desires that don’t fit with the model of civilised man and therefore would be shameful to tell one’s partner about, need to be satisfied in strip clubs, with much physical but absolutely no emotional intimacy at all, as if physical satisfaction is everything.

That chapter was by far the saddest, as I realised that it is not only the women who are degraded by all this, but very much the men too. The chapter on dating pulled me up short. Ned encountered a lot of hostility from women who lumped all the faults of their exes onto him just for being a man, and the women often wanted someone both sensitive and delicate and also macho and ‘traditionally’ strong, something that seemed to require multiple personalities… It made me think about the extent to which I have been unfair to men as a result of the way my ex was, and also what my expectations are of a partner. It’s so easy to not communicate these properly, or to be unaware that our expectations maybe can’t be met by the other and that we need to deal with past pains.

I have always felt things very deeply and been an extremely emotional person, for whom that emotional depth and its expression, particularly by touch and sexuality as a way of articulating that which is too deep for words, is very important. I know I haven’t always expressed this very well to TractorGirl and sometimes it can be a lonely place to be. It’s this thing of being with a crowd of friends or even in bed with a partner you love and being so close, yet feeling totally alone. This can be hard as a woman, with expression of emotion being more ‘acceptable’; how much harder must it be for men? I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book to see how it pans out for ‘Ned’ and those he encounters.

Confusing categories

Me in my favourite tie in a characteristic pose

Just a little moan really to distract me from preparing for my viva (on the 8th June – prayers much appreciated!) and applying for jobs.  

I like to wear ties.  

Lots of people seem to assume that doing that is about trying to make a statement about my sexual orientation or gender identity. However, for me, it’s really not about that at all. Yes, I can’t deny I enjoy messing with people’s heads a bit because gender stereotypes and what is considered ‘appropriate’ for each of the sexes seems to be so ingrained, but wearing a tie doesn’t mean I have a deep-seated longing to be  a man. I don’t – I’m perfectly comfortabke with my gender. Nor is it an expression of my sexual orientation – I started wearing ties before I got around to the ‘being honest with myself’ about all that.  

Originally, I got the idea from Kate on ‘The Apprentice’. I thought she looked good and thought I’d give it a try. I wore one to Church one Sunday, and apart fr0m one person (who has a strange gay-guys-don’t-like-lesbians thing going on), everyone complimented me on looking smart (and in one case, sexy, apparently), so I’ve stuck with it.  

I suppose how one dresses does reflect something of one’s personality (or, at points in the past, bank balance and Northern tightness!) and so I guess one could say it is an expression of my eccentricity, but really it’s just because I like them. I like the smart look and it brightens up a shirt. Ok, so with some advice from TractorGirl and others, I’ve got better at choosing ones that look more feminine and coordinate with my shirts, but I still don’t even see the problem if it looks a little masculine. To put it bluntly, I have feminine hair and, ahem, a rather large chest. I don’t think I can really be called stereotype butch. Even if I did, so does k.d. lang, and she still looks sexy.  

Rant over, now to apply for another job and get back to work… oh, and here’s a fun interview with the aforementioned k.d. lang. Enjoy!  

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nW7HLqOgM20[/youtube]

A Little Light Relief

My last two posts have been quite heavy, so here’s a little light relief:

I went to see Joan Armatrading with TractorGirl at the Sage on Thursday. I enjoyed what I can remember of the concert, but she was going for the stadium effect and so there was a screen with Media Player-style visuals as well as very bright lights and especially loud music, so it all got a bit much for my synaesthesia and apparently I fainted! TractorGirl’s blog tells of how I mistook Joan Armatrading for Joan Armitage for Simon Armitage, a middle-aged male poet. I’m special!

Earlier in the day, I had been to the Baltic to pass a few hours. While there, I bumped into a friend from undergraduate days who was there on a works do, which was random but lovely. In terms of the art, on the ground floor there was a series of three videos by Jordan Baseman about a woman who likes nature and flowers and all that, a man talking about his life of crime and a gay man discussing his first sexual experience in the days when homosexuality was illegal in the UK. I found the latter very moving but didn’t really rate the other two. The rest of the art was bizarre; some bright flashy lights and texts from Iraq war files by Jenny Holzerand something completely random and unintelligible by Raqs Media Collective, which I think was meant to be about falling in love, but just seemed unfinished.

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Gordon Brown has had an unfairly hard time in my opinion for calling Gillian Duffy a ‘bigoted woman’ when being driven away from a walkabout. I think her views on immigration and on Eastern Europeans were bigoted (where are they all coming from – Eastern Europe of course, silly old bat!) It has made me more inclined to support Brown; at least he said what he thought! After the hustings, I think my local Labour candidate is a good bet, so that settles the question 🙂

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‘The Cellar Door’ is one of the multitude of Italian restaurants spread throughout the centre of Durham. My previous visits there have been somewhat of a let-down. The service was slow, they never had the wine I wanted and the food was ridiculously greasy. Well, things have changed! I went there with Stewpot yesterday for dinner and it was much better. The food was edible and I didn’t feel I was about to lose ten years off my life. Service was better as the man who always wears a shirt that is too small wasn’t there and the wine was ok. I would now recommend it.

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Finally, life is a bit mad at the moment. I have two job interviews coming up in the next week that would see me doing something rather different to maths PhD work but would both be interesting in their own ways. Prayers for those (Thursday 6th and Tuesday 11th) would be appreciated 🙂 I am doing a science and theology talk on Thursday as well, it’s election day and at some point I have to write an essay on Mission-Shaped Church for my theology course. In addition to all the busy-ness of the next few days, I am absolutely sick of hearing stuff about homosexuality. These last two blog posts have opened a can of worms, and so if anyone talks about it to me, they are liable to get this kind of reaction:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w1Zl1stDsUI[/youtube]

The ‘Christian Hustings’

Following on from an earlier post, last night I went to the ‘Christian Hustings’ hosted by ‘Christians and Candidates’ with TractorGirl. Chairing the event was the former Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, and the Labour, Lib Dem, Tory and UKIP candidates were there. It was held on my home territory, in Elvet Methodist Church, and all the downstairs and about a third of the balcony was full of young people, a remarkable sight given I’m used to seeing a mostly empty church. The organisers had a clear agenda, to address what they considered to be vital issues for Christians, namely freedom of speech, homosexuality, the family, abortion, embryo research and euthanasia. As one can see from the links above, the view taken on these issues was mostly a conservative evangelical one, with which I often find myself being deeply uncomfortable.

I was not impressed with the UKIP candidate, Nigel Coghill-Marshall. He came out with some sexist gems like working women “have their Gucci handbags, now they want a child” and some of his other views were racist. TractorGirl tells me that he was articulate and thoughtful for a UKIP candidate, which is worrying.

The Conservative candidate, Nick Varley, is a twenty year-old local lad and I have to admit I was impressed by him. He talked sense and while I don’t share all his views, was impressed with his integrity, how he handled disagreeing with the vast majority of the audience and dealt with the Bishop’s questioning. He was against section 28, which is important, as I’ll explain later.

The Lib Dem candidate, Carol Woods, came across as very nervous and uncomfortable dealing with a religious group with whom she disagreed. I was uncomfortable with her statement that religion and politics should be kept separate in public life and her desire to see the bishops removed from the House of Lords. Having said that, the rest of what she said was good stuff and I liked her, even her focus was perhaps too ‘town not gown’ given the audience.

The Labour candidate, Roberta Blackman-Woods really impressed me. I admired her for sticking to her guns over the Equality Bill and other issues like abortion, and I felt that she cared about representing all of her constituents. She seemed a genuinely warm person and handled the disagreements with the Bishop and audience members well.

For the most part, the debate consisted of a grilling of the candidates by the Bishop, who was genuine, gracious and fair. While I struggle with the assumption that the conservative evangelical view is the biblical view, he did, in fairness, give me the opportunity to take the mic when TractorGirl and I were the only ones applauding Nick Varley’s disagreement with Section 28 in a church with about 400 people in it!

I felt it was really important to challenge the idea that there is only one Christian view on issues like human sexuality. Before the debate began, TractorGirl was nervous of introducing me to a fellow Streetlights person as her partner, and this confirmed to me the need to speak out, even though I must admit that given 95% of the audience disagreed with me I was terrified, and there were cameras there for some sort of Christian TV channel.

When given the unexpected opportunity, I explained that I am both a Christian and gay, that Section 28 was a bad thing because ‘no promotion of homosexuality’ was interpreted by my school to mean ‘no discussion of homosexuality’, which left me feeling that my sexual orientation was a dirty secret to keep hidden (not least to avoid being bullied any more than I already was – I was different enough already!), and that where I am is a painful place to be as one gets a hard time both from the gay community (who often assume conservative Christians are homophobic, which is mostly not the case) and from the Church (I’ve been told I’m going to hell several times and either insulted, humiliated or at best just blanked by people). The Bishop was very gracious in response to this, and we had a lovely chat afterwards. I collected another picture for my ‘Me with Bishops’ collection of photos (an odd hobby of mine), which I’ll post when TractorGirl gets it developed.

The evening has convinced me that I will vote for Roberta, despite my reservations about some aspects of Labour Party policy, which has moved so far to the right as to be vastly different from the ‘democratic, socialist party’ on my old membership card. I had been worried the candidates would be bullied into submission, but they all held their own and liberal Christians like me will hopefully have a representative who listens to their views as well as engaging with more conservative folks. I was upset a bit by the nasty looks some people I know from Christchurch gave me as I left, but I think I did the right thing in standing up for what I believe, while doing my best to respect others.

In response to a discussion on Facebook, I’ve got some book and website suggestions:

Rowan Williams, ‘The Body’s Grace’

Gene Robinson, ‘In The Eye of the Storm’

Michael Vasey, ‘Strangers and Friends’

Daniel Helminiak, ‘What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality’

Robin Scrogg, ‘The New Testament and Homosexuality’

Kim Frabricius, ‘Ten Propositions on the Church and Same-Sex Relationships’

Homosexuality and Elections

A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook their reasons for not signing the Westminster Declaration which is currently doing the rounds with the election looming and the perceived threat of Harriet Harman’s Equality Bill to Christianity in Britain. It’ll be pretty obvious to anyone who knows me that I won’t be signing and have profound issues with it, not just relating to sexuality but the whole idealisation of the nuclear family. It got me to thinking about various encounters I’ve had with people in the Church in the last few months:

Person A is heterosexual and, due to the teaching of the church they belong to, believes that sex is wrong outside of heterosexual marriage.

The range of responses I’ve had when coming out to such people goes from ‘I don’t think it’s God’s plan for your life’ to ‘you’re going to hell’, with various in-between views. What I find difficult here is not disagreement itself, as healthy dialogue helps everyone to be better informed, but the lack of respect and willingness to listen inherent in some people’s responses (though liberals (including me, for which I’m sorry) have also done this to more conservative Christians).

Person B is side B and has been deeply hurt by their experiences of the gay scene, which they have found to be exploitative and dehumanising. They share A’s belief but hold it with much greater vehemence than most.

The person I’m specifically thinking of is a good friend of mine and maintaining the friendship in these circumstances has been deeply costly for both of us. While I want to be understanding and there to support them, (partly because I respect their integrity but mostly because I love them) it is painful because of their unwillingness to acknowledge that part of the reason I’m a happier bunny these days is because of being honest with myself about my sexual orientation and being in a loving, faithful, committed relationship. I think admitting this would be too threatening to the religious view that allows this person to move on from their past, and they have been (almost uncertainly unintentionally) very hurtful in how they express their views. Tied in with this is their opposition to the ordination of women.

Person C used to be side B because of the teaching of the church they were in but gradually has become side A. They consider it crucially important that the views of A and B are respected and will go out of their way to avoid offending them.

On the one hand, I agree with this. The command to love one’s neighbour as one’s self does not just apply to those who agree with my own views on issues of human sexuality. On the other hand, there is a fine line between respecting opposing views and compromising integrity. While being ‘in your face’ is not helpful, neither is hiding away. Further, this view can be naïve about how some people will appeal to the Bible or ‘nature’ to justify their existing prejudices. Hatred is hatred, whether or not there are Bible verses to back it up (re. the BNP’s claim to be authentically Christian).

Person D is side A and attends the Metropolitan Community Church. They cannot understand why anyone would want to belong to a mainstream denomination that can make life hard work for gay and lesbian Christians.

I have some sympathy with this as the ordination process in the Church of England makes sexual orientation a defining characteristic (where as I have finally(!) realised that actually it is a very small part of who I am) and reduces relationships to what happens in the bedroom. It can be very difficult to be in a mainstream church and I know people who attend MCC because of their experiences and how much it hurt them. My experience of it is of a loving group of people who made me very welcome. On the other hand, for me, mainstream denominations are not going to change if all LGBT people jump ship, and this does make sexual orientation pivotal, which I am uncomfortable with doing.

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My reason for pondering these encounters is the upcoming election hustings in Durham, chaired by the former Bishop of Rochester, which as the links in TractorGirl’s post on this show, has a definite agenda in terms of the Equality Bill. According to some of these folks, because of my relationship, I am not a real Christian. It seems to me that homosexuality is being used as a set piece issue for people who are struggling with the lack of automatic deference in a post-Christendom age, and is something about which they feel they must ‘make a stand on’ over and against the wider culture.

All four of these encounters, especially that with B, have been difficult as they highlight the loneliness one can experience being Christian, female, gay, in a committed, loving relationship and in a mainstream denomination. I am happy to engage with and hope I manage to respect those whose views are different to my own within the C of E and the wider Church. However, I often feel that I am treated with very little respect and am expected to bend to the opinions of others. Having said that, the churches in Durham of which I am a part have been wonderfully supportive and my sexual orientation is much, much less important than the fact that I am happy.

I’ve drafted this e-mail which I attend to send to the Labour and Lib Dem candidates (as realistically our next MP will be one of them):

Dear Candidate,

I am writing to you about the forthcoming election hustings at Elvet Methodist Church on Friday 30th April. As is clear from my research into the motives of the organisers, there is an agenda in terms of opposition to the recent Equality Bill and a sense that issues like homosexuality are forcing Christians to act against their consciences. Some of the language implies that gay Christians in relationships are not really Christian at all. As someone in this position, I hope that you will bear in mind that there are many Christians who are gay and in committed, faithful and loving relationships, which is a very lonely place to be, given the hostility one sometimes encounters from both the Church and the gay community. The message that the Equality Bill sends out is, in my opinion, very important as it affirms the value of LGBT people in society. While clashes of this with individual conscience are difficult to resolve, please do not forget that those of us stuck in the middle often have the hardest time of all. I pray that instead of getting bogged down in such discussions, these hustings give an opportunity to discuss the issues that really matter, like care for the poor and disadvantaged, climate change and care for creation, and human rights and dignity, which are so central to the Christian Gospel.

TOH