Tag Archives: Integrity

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.

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’