|Rachel speaking at the launch of The Risen|
Dust, Manchester Cathedral.
There’s a massive theatrical element to metal that appeals to me and I love its willingness to be playful with the concept of ‘darkness’. I wish more Christians would less afraid of the dark.
But I guess the interest in monsters, real and imagined, in my poems comes from my fascination with ‘the other’ and the way human culture typically represses the different. Growing up I always felt my trans-ness was this ‘monster within’ that had to be repressed. Thankfully I found a way to embrace who I am and was.
However, who we are, whether we’re cis or trans, is always an embodied matter. Identity emerges out of an extraordinary complex set of social, cultural and embodied relationships. I sense that God is intimately caught up in lived experience and reality rather than being some kind of Wizard of Oz pulling levers from the outside. If my hunch is right that means that God is as much trans as s/he is cis. In time society and religion is going to come to terms with this: that there is no normative reality.
On this view, Jesus is not just for the outcast – and we all know that trans people are so often unfairly treated as ‘freaks’ – but makes the ‘outcast’ the very starting point for a re-reading of who God is. God - on this picture - isn’t about making the outsider into nice, safe, ‘goody-two-shoes’, but exposing how the so-called outsider is the position occupied by God.
|Rachel at the ‘Mapping My Journey’ Exhibition,|
which celebrated trans life.
I came to faith post-transition and I remember my psychiatrist – an American – telling me that all the trans people he’d known who’d ever become Christians had de-transitioned. I think that says more about American religion than the Church of England. Nonetheless, the very many people who’ve got in touch with me after reading Dazzling Darkness to tell me about their experience of rejection in church tells me that the church is so often failing trans people.
At the same time I want to flag up that I’ve met a lot of very committed trans Christians over the years who have been welcomed and supported by their churches. But the horror stories are still far too common.
However, I will never forget reading about Jan Morris, April Ashley, and Caroline Cossey as a small child. The simple fact that I knew they were there was like a lungful of oxygen when I was sure I was going to drown.
|Laughter in Manchester after being|
filmed for training film.
However, in other ways, progress is always patchy. The Equal Marriage Act in England has perniciously affected trans people in existing marriages and this does need reform. Equally, the conversations I’ve had with trans people over the past few years indicate how dangerous it still is in many parts of the UK for trans people. Women are disproportionately affected by violence and trans women are subject to mockery, belittlement and verbal, psychological and physical abuse.
Yet, despite the challenges and the question marks about whether we’re a community at all, I still sense we’re stronger together. What I mean is that, despite the apparent progress in many countries for lesbians and gay men, all LGBT people are dealing with prejudices and exclusions. For political reasons as much as anything else, I want to encourage us to work together to challenge exclusionary structures and laws.
|In addition to being a priest, Rachel is a prolific writer.|
I’ve been called a trans and lesbian activist, but I’m not sure I’m worthy of that label. I feel especially called to challenge the church to be faithful to God’s unconditional love and welcome. This means standing up and speaking out for trans people, but I often think I’m a pretty feeble voice.
main function is to spur humans on in search of impossible relationships.
Then again, maybe I’m just saying that because I’m a loveless old crone ;-). I’m more interested in how ‘love’ calls us out of ourselves into something transformative and potentially sacrificial. Love in this sense is less about the individual and more about a community in which there is space for the other and the different. Oh dear. I sound like a miserable old bag, don’t I?