by Tara Gulwell
I was nine years old when I first learnt what lesbian meant. It was a word thrown at me as a measurement of depravity to which I should never want to sink. Little sweetheart notes I was trying to send to another girl were found and I was not-so-kindly made aware that that wasn’t natural. Up until that point, I had assumed, like every child does, that my way of experiencing the world was like everyone else’s. Lesbian, that dirty word tossed about on my playground, brought me out of the naivety that blinded me from realising I was different from my peers, and overshadowed my childhood at my Anglican, Church of Wales, primary school.
After I entered comprehensive school I didn’t think much about the Christian background I had been indoctrinated into, but the dirty word stayed with me. It crept into my dreams and nightmares until it over spilt into every interaction I had with the external world. Then when I hit thirteen, I felt myself being drawn back into the church, and something had to be done about the desires that weren’t going away. It wasn’t natural, after all. So I went – I became part of a congregation at a local Baptist church, did everything a good Christian girl was supposed to do and said my prayers every night, hoping that I would grow up to want to marry a handsome prince.
Now I’m twenty, and as you can imagine, I can quite firmly tell you princes are definitely not for me, I’m afraid. I left that church not long after I joined it following my pastor giving a sermon on the immorality of homosexuality. As much as he preached hating the sin and not the sinner it drove the shame in me to a crisis point in which I had to choose between acceptance or denial, and the latter had already proved itself to be a miserable existence. I came out to my parents, cut my hair into a no. 3 buzz cut and watched nothing but reruns of The L Word and Sugar Rush.
It took me a long time to come to terms with my sexuality, but it took even longer to reconcile my identity as a lesbian with Christianity. I only regained faith when I was around eighteen, coincidentally as I became more and more involved with left-wing politics and queer spaces. I’ve spoken to many people who see these aspects of my life as contradictory, but for me, rather than my religion or politics leading down divergent paths, they’ve both led me to one another.
I left that church not long after I joined it following my pastor giving a sermon on the immorality of homosexuality.
They mould and form one another, as only the two most personally explosive discussions to bring up at dinner tables can. My socialist-leaning ways are directly informed by the teachings of Jesus Christ and liberation theology as much as they are by Nye Bevan or Bayard Rustin. A fact that makes many on the left uncomfortable. I can understand the initial aversion, they may have had similar prior experiences with Christianity as I, but all too often I find a simple lack of understanding. Many have positions I’m more than willing to entertain, like those that argue that religion as antithetical to dialectics, objectivity and logical deduction through reasoning, but I’ve often been made to feel as though I’m some type of traitor when leftist or LGBT+ people find out I’m a Christian. Or perhaps that I must not be “queer enough” or “far left enough”.
Of course, these types of uncomfortable moments aren’t the most pressing religion-related issues within leftwing or queer movements we must address. Muslims and Jewish people have different experiences within these spaces than I, eradicating anti-Semitism and Islamophobia from any community should always be among the highest priorities. Walking through the world as a queer woman choosing to wear a cross produces much more benign reactions than a queer woman choosing to wear a hijab. So while I think left-wing and LGBT+ spaces need to make efforts to be more inclusive to people of faith, it would be dangerous to equate the experiences of being a white Christian with those who have more complex intersections of religious and queer identities.
If you’re a UEA student and would like to read about the great work being done to creative more inclusive environments on campus for students of faith, check out this blog post by your outgoing Welfare, Community & Diversity Officer.