Monday, 17 December 2018

Being a bi trainee vicar on the frontlines

What does it mean to be an activist? To be struggling for visibility, equality, respect, change?

I have always felt called to the frontlines of the fight that bisexuals face every day, and this past week I had an encounter that reminded me of that calling. Many readers of this blog will know I am a Christian, training to be a priest in the Church of England, so that is my particular battle ground, and it was in a Christian context that I had said encounter.

And it's hard. I know Christianity gets a bad press, but most normal people on the ground do quite well at treating people decently, rather than the horrendous violence and bigotry we see in the news. Thank God, that is not the norm, though it is sadly not rare either. No, my experience is of Christian people and communities wrestling earnestly to do the impossible which we are commanded to do - love God, and love your neighbour, including love your enemy.

So in that environment, where I too am trying to do as I would be done by, to find antagonism, to hear views that discredit me based purely on who God made me, it's hard. To pray and eat and laugh with people, then be confronted with their irrational, and frankly un-Christian, views is heart-breaking and incomprehensible.

I'm not going to tell you what happened in this encounter. But I can tell you how I felt, and what it's made me think about.

I felt my body enter fight or flight mode, and it took a lot of will to do neither, but to act with integrity. Afterwards, I had that shaky feeling you get when the adrenaline stops spiking, and obviously, being British, I had a cup of tea and a sit down. However, I was not scared. I was right where I was supposed to be, doing what I understand to be living out my faith, what we would call 'being Christ to one another'. That means things like prioritising others, risking vulnerability, not giving up on anyone, but also challenging injustice; "exercise mercy without forgetting justice, and minister discipline without forgetting mercy".

I am in the process of figuring out what a bisexual activist priest looks like, and moments like this are informing that process. Moments when I see clearly how I must not over react whilst still defending my God-given right to exist, where the priestly part dictates my behaviour, and the bisexual activist part dictates the aims of that behaviour (though I think these aims also line up with what being a priest and Christian is about). I think most activists understand that you undermine your message if you throw a tantrum and treat those who oppose you like crap; but for a priest, that must never become a tempting option - I am following stronger motivations for ethical behaviour than just tactics.

I also felt exhilarated. We all know that nervy feeling and the shaky come-down, but usually in my experience I am immediately concerned that whoever is confronting me has a point, and I doubt myself, questioning my decisions. This time, I was completely confident, and sure of myself. I am so lucky to be in a position to be able to stand up and fight.

That seems to be a key element to what makes an activist. Someone who can. I can because I am not fighting chronic internalised biphobia. I can because I am surrounded by love and support. I can because I'm a gobby, confident risk-taker. And I want to. I do feel a sense of duty, but not enough if I wasn't also up for it. I have a duty to those who are wrestling with self-hate, those who feel alone and vulnerable, those who are quiet, reserved, maybe shy, maybe cautious.

I go to the frontlines so they don't have to, so they can live their lives and try and work out what's best for them and theirs without worrying about the 'cause' and the bigger picture. That's what I'm fighting for isn't it? So we can all get on with our lives - the hope that one day we won't need to have a cause, because we will be able to have the full lives we deserve.

Being a bisexual is hard enough in a world where we get shit from all sides; and I'm saying that aware of the privilege I have growing up and living in a country, and parts of that country, and a class in that country, where I have the chance to be out at all, where I can reach out and meet other queers, where I can date who I want. Even given all that, it's hard being a bisexual; and being bisexual is even harder living in a religious world.

For example, no one ever asks us how the same-sex marriage debate affects us. What happens to a future long-term relationship that I want to make permanent is dictated by the happenstance of what gender the person I fall in love with is. Somehow, people I admire and am called to work alongside think that there is something fundamentally different if it's not with a man, the opposite sex to me. I can't get equal opportunity to be blessed and celebrate if it's with a woman. (And let's not even look at how the church is seriously letting down God's intersex and genderqueer children).

Even up against that sort of nonsense, I am proud to be called to fight, and I hope I can do a good job. I hope I can be a good bisexual activist priest. I hope I have more encounters, even though they will be unpleasant, they won't all be exhilarating, and they could be downright dangerous. I'm a Christian, I follow a God who made themself vulnerable, and as a flesh-and-blood human being faced the oppressor with grace, foisted the yoke with humility, and showed those who are weak that they are actually strong. So I can only hope that a bisexual activist priest ends up looking like me.

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