By Tomos Wyn
The first lockdown forcibly removed me from the intensity of the renowned ‘Durham Bubble’ and gave me the space to start thinking about what I really believed. I spoke with friends of how, despite the issues I had with organised religion and its role in harming people on a global scale, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something out there.
I had the very specific feeling that love was the centre of everything. With how much religion speaks of loving and treating others kindly, it wasn’t much of a surprise when I began reading further into what religion meant for people and what kind of consolation it may offer me. I came to the conclusion that I do have faith – but how did that fit with the utter security I have in my identity as a Queer person?
I do have faith – but how did that fit with the utter security I have in my identity as a Queer person?
I struggled with this reconciliation. I was dissatisfied with the common “hate the sin not the sinner” mentality I often encounter. To draw upon the hit show Book of Mormon, I can’t place my queerness ‘in a box’ and go about my day. My queerness is fundamental to me. This abstraction of my identity did not in the slightest align with the love I have for, or the understanding I have of myself; my queerness took years to accept and I embrace and love it wholeheartedly. So… how do could I be Faithfully Queer?
Cue Queer Prophets. Curated by Ruth Hunt during her time as Chief Executive of Stonewall, the collection platforms Queer people ranging from those who have found solace in faith to those who have been traumatised by religion. With that knowledge, you can guess why the book was gifted to me by a dear friend upon my return to Durham in October.
The collection as a whole is breathtaking but Jay Hulme’s ‘How to Get God’s Attention’ tugged on my heart strings a little too much for me to not pay special attention to it. Hulme details an unwavering sense of being drawn to Cathedrals; the beauty of their structures along with the prettiness of evensongs led him to feel certain things. In the latter half of the paper he pays particular attention to Durham and its Cathedral. With the amount of times I stroll through town and randomly end up by the cathedral, I don’t blame him.
But there’s more to his essay and its effect on me than this surface-level relation. Hulme recounts a moment during Evensong at Durham Cathedral when he asked God (not very politely, mind) to make Himself known – if God was calling, He better do something more obvious than making him want to cry in nice buildings. Following evensong, Jay witnessed something he says “should not have been possible”. He felt as though God had responded to his call.
Collections like Queer Prophets … guided me to a path of loving myself in my entirety.
Jay’s anecdotal essay was particularly poignant as I remember experiencing something similar during my teenage years. I’ve struggled with my mental health for most of life, but on a particularly tough day, I spotted the red, faux-leather-bound Bible gifted to me upon my ‘graduation’ from my Catholic primary. Something about me was drawn to the book despite my lack of faith at the time. I remember telling myself – “God, if you’re out there, please tell me things will be okay.” I flicked through the book and landed upon Isaiah 41:10.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
This reassurance had a long-standing effect – it was the reason I was reluctant to deny God’s existence for so many years. Retrospectively, it feels like God answered a prayer. The tension this experience and my identity as a Queer person aware of the mistreatment of Queer people at the hands of organised religion is why I was so reluctant to engage with what I now accept as my faith.
However, collections like Queer Prophets, in addressing both my fears and hopes of this tension, guided me to a path of loving myself in my entirety. I am Faithfully Queer – unapologetically.
Illustration: Samantha Fulton