Category Archives: intersex

A celebration of gifts

The Epiphany story tells us that the three kings brought three gifts to the infant Jesus: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

Gold is an obvious one and very useful to a poor family; frankincense seems a little odd but could be used as a perfume; but myrrh? What sort of a gift was that for a tiny child? Perhaps it foretold his death – a bitter gift which yet was a gift for us all.

What are your gifts – your gold, your frankincense, your myrrh? That is what we were all challenged at the start of the Rainbow Epiphany service held at St Mary’s, Quarry Street, Guildford, last week (January 10). We each had to write three gifts on slips of paper and put them in envelopes designed by Dave and Helena Walker from St Mark’s. Then we were asked to decorate the envelopes in whatever way we fancied, and keep them until it was time to offer them to God on the altar.

The gold gift was not so hard – talents such as art, music, being a great cook, a good administrator, a listening ear, you can think of plenty more. Frankincense was the gift of relationship, with God and others, the gift that gives fragrance to our lives.

Then myrrh. The bitter gift, the one we didn’t want. What that gift is for each of us differs. It could be a health problem; it could be a fallow period of life; it could be living conditions; it could be one’s sexuality, in a family or church which is not accepting; it could be being transgender. These are gifts which can cause pain and yet which may  turn out to be gifts of extraordinary power and worth. Such a gift is, in the words of one of the speakers there, “a strange, confusing, awkward, uncomfortable and very un-obvious gift”.

In the service we gave thanks for and celebrated the many gifts of the LGBTI+ community; gifts which enrich the church and the wider world, gifts given by God. It was a moving service and an affirming one, with uplifting music led by Julie Shaw, and one of both great joy and vulnerability, particularly when we heard from several individuals who spoke about their ‘myrrh’ gifts.

For many LGBTI+ people accepting themselves has been hard, and acceptance has been made harder still by the attitude of the church.  “After so many years of making myself unhappy trying to be a straight woman and suppressing many other aspects of my identity, it’s taken me a long time to figure out my identity and to realise that God made me to be the way I am,” said one person, one of the leaders of Kairos, a group which provides a safe space for LGBTI+ people, especially those who are Christian or seeking God.

They concluded: “It’s time to heal from the shame and become confident to love and worship and serve God as whole people, with everything he’s given us, not just bits of ourselves.” The gift of leading others to love, worship and serve God as whole people is a real gift to the church and world.

For Sara, who spoke at St Mark’s last summer, being intersex has been a myrrh gift. She said that the arrival of an intersex child may be treated as something unwanted, but such a child can also be a healing gift. “Our birth reminds all those who feel different, be it our ethnicity, mental health, social status, physical ability…..that we are all wonderfully made in the image of God. Our difference is our gift, like myrrh our presence can heal others, reminding all that being different is not a barrier to living to our full potential, or a barrier to love or to being loved.”

Brian spoke of the importance of us being God’s representatives of righteousness and truth, partnered with God’s love, which offers us that most radical message of all – that we don’t have to try to be loved and acceptable, we simply are: “In a culture which constantly harasses people that they need to ‘get things right’, it is hard for us to believe or accept that (God’s) love for us might not be at all conditional on us firstly having met all requirements of being an acceptably changed person.”

Rebecca, a transgender woman, said her trans journey, despite the difficulties it presents to her, “has also been an enormous blessing and a profoundly spiritual experience… Being a trans-woman is something you wouldn’t rush to choose; it is not a bandwagon you’d jump on because it’s apparently fashionable.  We, and many other groups, still have a loooooong way to go to achieve full acceptance and inclusion.

“But like all things in the Lord’s kingdom, it also comes with insight and blessing that you might not otherwise experience.  And whilst perhaps it is a two-edged gift, there are times when I am very grateful for what it brings.”

The message throughout the service was that God has created us just as we are and loves us just as we are, and there is nothing we can do to stop that love. Accepting ourselves as we are will allow us to thrive and be who we were born to be, and the joy and security that this brings will spread out to other people.  This will be a gift to the world.

There will be another Rainbow service in the summer. You can email us to find out more: news@badshotleaandhale.org

 

 

Picture by Chris Barbalis. Unsplash.

 

 

Being intersex in the House of God

On Sunday, August 5, Sara Gillingham, an intersex Christian, came to talk to us at St Mark’s in one of the first sermons in our inclusion series this month.

She spoke movingly on her experience of being intersex in the House of God. This is what she said:

Thank you so much for inviting me here today just to share some of my experience of Church as someone who is born intersex. Firstly, I want to share a bit of my own story, before I reflect on Church and faith.

Just to explain what ‘intersex’ is, as it is often confused with LGBT, particularly Transgender. “Intersex” refers to people who are born with any of a range of biological sex characteristics that may not fit typical notions about male or female bodies. Variations may be in their chromosomes, genitals, or internal organs like testes or ovaries.

About 1.7% of the population is born intersex, across a very wide spectrum. Much of the problem is that there is very little awareness about ‘intersex’, and the secrecy surrounding us is often shaming and stigmatising. Often children are subject to surgeries that are not medically necessary, simply to alter their bodies to fit others expectations. It may be that intersex children, like other children, also have medical conditions that do need treatment, so it is important we differentiate between the two. We now know from research how harmful these non-medically necessary surgeries are to children’s physical and mental health.

I am a survivor of non-consensual surgeries. I was of an age that I remember some of the surgeries and the times when I was recorded or examined in front of medical students. The nature of these surgeries was kept secret from me by doctors and family, despite my asking about them on numerous occasions throughout adulthood. It was only seven years ago that I retrieved my medical records, which explained the secrecy. I have grown-up with the knowledge of knowing that I was somehow different, often with a sense of stigma as the secrecy surrounding me suggested I was somehow shameful.

It is my faith that has helped me endure those ‘dark days’, by showing there is a light out in the darkness. I often drew upon scripture such as :

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 10 

Many Christians born with Intersex traits find solace in the stories about eunuchs, for instance the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 : 26-40 where God acts to include those previously excluded.

Also they may emphasis in Genesis 1:27 that “God created human beings in his own image…male AND female he created them.

I personally do not feel the need to identify myself so specifically in biblical scripture, as I feel like everyone else I was created in the image of God. I do frequently turn to Psalm 139 which I find very affirming :

“You it was who fashioned my inward parts….You know me through and through, my body was no mystery to you, when I was formed in secret, woven in the depths of the earth’.

However, I know there are others in the Church that have a very different biblical interpretation and who call upon scripture to enforce their binary understanding, and label such people as myself as having ‘a disorder’. This is label that leads to the stigmatisation and non-consensual surgeries I have spoken about. I have also been labelled as being the embodiment of sin, and have been told by Christians to my face and in social media just in this last month alone, as being possessed by Satan with calls to ‘repent’.

I was invited to share my story in the Regional Shared Conversations on Human Sexuality over two years ago, where many were challenged by my physical presence. I had one member of clergy, who led a large team in his own parish, avoid eye-contact and actively avoided just me when sharing the peace at communion. I had people after hearing my story start to pray uninvited, that I be cured. Some embarrassment followed when I asked what being ‘healed’ may look like. It is this hurtful response that brings me in to fellowship with many people who have physical and mental health challenges.

The belief that is core to my faith is that Christ healed by helping people escape discrimination by restoring them as equal members of the community, no longer being marked as ‘IMPURE’.

So Church can be an extremely painful place for me. But I feel called by “God” to try and make use of my pain, and for this reason I am now on Deanery and Diocesan Synods. It is something I find difficult to do, but also at times hugely rewarding and uplifting as people who have remained silent for some many years also find the courage to speak out.

I am currently working with bishops as they prepare a new episcopal  teaching document and pastoral guidance on human sexuality, which will also include ‘intersex’. This again is a bruising experience at present, but I hope greater understanding will reap fruit in the future.

Church can also be a very healing place, and it is important to me and my well being. My own church community at Holy Trinity in Guildford has become my family, and has enabled me to flourish. It is my faith and my church that have given me the courage to find my voice, and put my experiences to good use.

Also being invited today, to one of an increasing number of safe and affirming churches, is both moving and joyous. Most of all we must not lose sight of this, as for many this is what they understand as Church.

So thank you.

Amen

Sara Gillingham

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