This post is my contribution to the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2013. The topic for this year’s synchroblog is “Queer Creation” and is rather open ended in terms of what it covers. In this post I am speaking from a Canadian Anglican perspective and this reflects my own views, observations and experiences.
For me queer theology is also very much a practical theology that we are creating as we learn, grow and experience faith in our own ways. On a very practical level my own view of faith and theology changed as I went through my transitions. When I began my transition one of the people I went to for support was the priest at the church I attend. It has become clear to me over the past four plus years that support for those who come out as trans, lesbian, gay, bi etc. is very ad hoc in the Anglican Church and is highly dependent on which church one is a member of. It’s also my impression that this is the case in other denominations and faith traditions. In many cases faith communities do harm, often irreparable harm, to those who come out in their communities.
So, what does this mean from the perspective of one who is studying theology and is concerned about the pastoral care that people receive?
First and foremost it comes down to education. Education for clergy, education for those providing pastoral care, and education for our faith communities. What does this education look like? It begins by providing a space that encourages people to open their minds, hearts and spirits to something new. While many Anglican churches see themselves as being open and accepting to those who are gay and lesbian, many are still struggling with the issue of what to do with gay and lesbian people who are part of the church. For these communities and people it is important to begin to work with them where they are at. Recognise that they are struggling with these issues and people within the communities are at different stages in their understanding, and have varying degrees of openness to learning about the issues.
When the issue of those who are trans comes up we are starting from a point that is noticeably lagging when compared to gay and lesbian issues. Thanks to increasing coverage in mainstream media of trans issues many people have some awareness, but it is in a secular context and not a faith context. What does this mean in a faith context? What does it look like? To discuss, and hopefully answer part of these questions, I am going to use my own experience transitioning as my primary example with some reference to what I’ve heard from others. It is my opinion that these observations and needs are not limited to one community, denomination or faith. There are lessons to be learned by all.
When I had my epiphany and began my transition my marriage also ended. This is not uncommon for those of us who are older when we realize that we really do need to transition and that it isn’t a choice. The priest at church was, naturally, my primary pastoral support. I had also been a member of the church community for less than six months and had only been in Ottawa for the same length of time. I did not know many people outside of work, and I had not yet begun to get to know people at church as I was still getting used to both Ottawa and the church community. The support I received from the parish priest was quite good. They were helpful in terms of my feelings toward God and affirming that it was okay to be angry with God. With regard to the church community I ended up mostly not attending on Sunday mornings. I isolated myself from the community and the only contact I had was with the priest. I do not recall any other contact from the community to find out how I was doing, even though I know that there were some who knew my marriage had broken up, but not necessarily why.
What would I like to have seen in order to make this time easier and more manageable for me during this part of my transition? What would the church community need in order to be more open to the needs of its trans members?
Firstly, more pastoral support than just from the parish priest, and in the case of some communities support from the priest may also be inadequate to non-existent. In order for this to happen we need to create educational tools for the pastoral care team to gain the knowledge and resources to work with trans people. There will be many issues that arise that are common to people in other situations as well as issues that are unique to the trans experience. Care must also be given to the friends and family of the person transitioning. This may include the trans person’s spouse and children. There are resources available to assist with these things, but as with most resources for pastoral care it is necessary to tweak them and alter them for use in particular settings, denominations and communities.
Secondly, some sort of support network for the person transitioning, as well as a support network for the families and friends of those transitioning. This may take different forms and needs to be a living structure that meets the needs of those transitioning. It should also include a wider list of resources outside one’s parish, particularly others who can provide knowledgeable support. This is probably one of the most difficult things to implement on a practical level. I don’t have a quick answer to this, and am certainly open to suggestions on what has worked in other contexts.
In the Anglican context the first step, in my opinion, is to actually engage in open conversations about trans issues both in the church. Currently it feels like it’s mostly okay to be trans, but discussing what that means for one’s faith and spirituality is off-limits. Likewise talking about one’s past and life prior to transition. This is an unspoken rule that feels very present. Yes, these are uncomfortable topics for many people. At the same time the message that is sent to trans people and other LGBT people when they are not permitted to discuss their experiences is that we do not count. We are not really members of the community.
It is when these discussions and education begins to happen that we will be creating a real queer and inclusive practical theology within our church communities and enrich the life of the church.