Under the heading, “Feathers on the Breath of God” (a quotation from the doctor of the Church, Hildergard of Bingen), we will be focussing this year on questions of identity, gender and other. Conference workshops will be led by the trans Anglican priest, Rev Tina Beardsley, and so trans issues will be particularly prominent. This is welcome. After many years of neglect and public ignorance, the subject has recently been coming under a great deal of public attention, in the media and on screens.
But this is not something that affects only trans people themselves. A proper understanding of the gender spectrum can also provide insights into the lesbian and gay experience, the nature of patriarchy, and the problems for Catholics resulting from the Vatican obsession with a simplistic, purely binary understanding of gender and sexuality.
In preparation for conference, this site, and also the next issue of Quest Bulletin, will publish a series of articles reflecting on the problems of this binary understanding. To kick off, here’s a post published yesterday at “Queering the Church”, suggesting that in one way or another, we are all “Prisoners of Gender”.
In Fascinating Aida’s show “Charm Offensive”, there’s much to laugh at, much to delight. But when I saw it a few years ago, the highlight was something of a different order altogether: a number by Adèle Anderson which was intensely personal and deeply moving – “Prisoner of Gender”.
In it, she describes the childhood experience of feeling trapped in the wrong body – a boy’s body, which gives her the witty and appropriate title for her song. I suspect though, that it is not only trans people who will be able to relate to this image. From an early age, I never doubted that I was in fact a boy, but knew that I was somehow “different” from other boys, and often felt uncomfortable at being expected to enjoy boys’ activities and toys, but not girls’ things. I too, was a “prisoner of gender”, albeit to a lesser degree than Anderson. I am certain that many other gay men and lesbians will be able to relate in the same way, to some disconnect between who they are in their innermost being, and the expectations placed on them by gender.
More interesting, is that many heterosexuals, perhaps even most, experience to some degree, precisely the same disjunction. We all think we know the characteristics that society believes are typically feminine or masculine – but surprisingly few people, of any gender or sexual orientation, in fact claim to share every characteristic or interest usually associated with their biological sex. When I participated in a workshop on gender at the “Embodied Ministry” conference in 2014, it was notable that NO participants, gay or straight, trans or cis, reported fitting into all the assorted characteristics associated with their assigned birth sex. To a greater or lesser degree, we can all sing, along with Fascinating Aida, that we are “Prisoners of gender”.
It is a fact that worldwide, every society recognized distinct gender roles and forms of dress. However, societies do NOT all agree on what is distinctively male, or distinctively female, either in work or in clothing. In Europe, dairy work was traditionally women’s work (dairymaids, not dairyboys), but in many of Africa’s societies, anything to do with the highly valued cattle is reserved for the men. Scottish men may wear kilts, ie, skirts, Pakistani women wear trousers. For much of the twentieth century, men were expected to wear their hair cropped short, or be ridiculed as sissies – but centuries before, for the Vikings, men with pony-tails or pigtails were the norm.
In the Catholic Church, it is astonishing that there have in recent years, been strong objections raised to what is incorrectly described as “gender ideology” – and should more accurately be referred to as simply gender theory , an academic approach to understanding the evidence around gender and how it is perceived and constructed around the world. It is in fact the Vatican itself which is promoting a rigid gender ideology, insisting on a clear, universal distinction between what it is to be male or female in denial of all the available empirical evidence.
The annual Quest Conference for 2016, under the title “Feathers on the Breath of God”, will have a particular focus on issues of gender and sexual identity, with workshops led by Rev Tina Beardsley. Conference will run from 22nd to the 24th July 2016 at the University of Hull Scarborough Campus, where we were for 2014 – and which feedback forms showed was one of the most enjoyable venues we’ve been to yet. Book your place on-line, here, or download a paper booking form, here
Related Posts :
- Conference 2016: Feathers on the Breath of God
- Conference 2015 First Impressions: Claire and Paschal
- Conference 2015 First Impressions: Terry Weldon
- Conference Talks 2014: Fr Peter McVerry
- Conference Talks 2014: Pádraig Ó Tuama
- Conference 2014: Icon of Emmaus Workshop: Chair’s Address
- Conference 2013: “So hope for a great sea-change” (Quest at 40)