Peta: Faith is the Moving Centre

Peta is taking part in the project because they believe it is important to record stories of trans and gender queer people of faith especially at pioneering times such as now – histories should not get lost.

credit: Christa Holka

Peta grew up on a farm in a rural village of about 5 houses in Somerset.“There were boys, there were girls and there was me”.

After having a close look at the binary Peta now very much identifies as gender queer.

Their body has always been naturally androgynous and hence Peta has always felt quite happy with it. They feel that gender is an artificial construct and the whole issue of gender seems unnecessary to them. Peta thinks that the distinction of the two “packages” and the gendered expectations that come with it (hobbies, behavior etc.) of what is considered to be male and female are very artificial. For themselves they decided to only do what feels comfortable to them no matter what the gender implications are.

They speak about that people found it confusing to not know what they are because they don’t comply with the generally accepted social gender norms. This was especially the case when they were between 18 and 25 years old. Peta says: “Let them think what they think. It is not my problem. I don’t care anymore. And people found that a bit upsetting actually particularly at that period of life between 18 and 25. They find that very confusing […] that people don’t know what you are and I am like yes I know. What is your point? That coincided with me going to church so I think I got more pressure from that side than from anywhere else”.

“I always identified myself as sort of a boy but not like the other boys but definitely not like the girls either so just me and different and that was about as clear as I could be about it when I was smaller. And then I grew up and every now and again I ‘d go through a little phase and trying to fit in, maybe a month or so, and try and be a girl. Never worked and it was too much effort so I’d give it up go back to just doing what I did best and then that carried on until sort of 17 or so. I came out as lesbian because I figured well I never met anyone else who identified as lesbian but I figured it sounded a bit like what I had read so […] I was like well that is probably what it is and when I go to university I’ll meet more people and then I’ll know more. And I did that but again sort of when I got to university and I did meet other LGB people because I didn’t meet other trans people for a long time. It was like so I am still different but I am not as different. I met my partner then when I was 19, and we were together for the next 13 years and […], with her support and the support of the community, I started to explore transitioning. And then I felt almost a push to go further to go to a binary male identity and then I found that I was expected to be a heterosexual married man just like all the other married heterosexual men and I was like hang on no this doesn’t work either. We have gone too far guys. Stop trying to push me into just a different box. We new the first one wasn’t a good box this isn’t a good box either. And that ended with the breakdown of my marriage unfortunately for a lot of reasons but that was one of them and I then felt free to start completely choosing to express my gender however I wanted and went through a good three years of just experimenting with gender presentation and identity and just trying things on see out it fitted, how it worked out. And then settled very much where I started which is kinda guy but not like the other guys. But just not binary not part of that whole male female binary system and very very happy with which is more or less where I started.” 

“One of the really wonderful moments was when I changed my name not legally that was just the matter of paper work but officially I had a baptism ceremony with my church at the time which was down in Brighton and they created the ritual & ceremony for me [where] we held it in a swimming pool, St. Lukes swimming pool down in Brighton which we hired for the afternoon. A couple of other people were being baptized in the normal way and then I went down into the water with the minister and one of the deacon and she announced that I had entered the water as my old name but that when I came back up out of the water it would be as Peta and it would henceforth always be Peta and that I was baptized into that name and that identity. It was great because the first time I was properly addressed as Peta was when I came up out of the water with all this water pouring down my face and down my hair and she lifted me back up and she said ‘Peta I baptize you in the name of the parent, the son and the holy spirit’ and that was a wonderful moment because it really affirmed that name and the identity in a hugely symbolic and significant way. And of course the whole church was there to witness it which was great.”

At university they joined the Christian union, which just happened for the reason that that was where they found most of their friendships. It was there that Peta first got inspired and excited about their faith, it became something that mattered to them.  The Christian union, though, expected that Peta would become a normal heterosexual woman and were horrified when this didn’t happen, They asked Peta why despite reading the bible they were still queer, for being queer and being Christian was not acceptable. When Peta then got involved with a female leading member of the Christian union both of them were expelled from the Christian union and they were told to consider whether they would like to continue in the church, which was the hint for them to please leave. Peta was then also removed from their various roles in the church such as the choir. They describe this experience as quite a significant moment with regard to their faith because it showed they have always been an independent spirit.

“They said that I should think carefully about whether I felt able to share communion with them and take the bread and the wine on a Sunday. So I went away and I thought carefully and I prayed about it and I came back and I took the communion and they said ‘I thought we told you to go away and think about it’ and I said ‘well I did’,  ‘well’ they said ‘what did you think, what did you conclude?’ I said ‘I concluded this. We say and believe that we are one body sharing one bread with all other believers across the world and all that have been or will be and or are. That is the believe about communion that it is shared with everyone.’ So I said ‘wherever I break bread and drink wine I will be doing it with you so I will be doing it here where you can see me.’ They didn’t like that. “

Peta mentions that they were their brother and sisters, and while they didn’t have to like Peta’s conclusion it was true. They wanted them to see Peta’s conclusion despite them not approving. After staying as a visible witness to them and to the LGBT members of the congregation who were hiding for another year, though, Peta left because it was very tiring and unpleasant to be part of a community in which they weren’t welcome.

After university Peta and their partner moved to Brighton where they found an ordinary Church of England church. To their surprise this church was very welcoming. At the beginning Peta and their partner pretended to not be a couple, however, after three weeks they found out that the congregation was actually fine with them being lesbian despite being quite a traditional congregation overall. Peta also became a churchwarden a few years later which meant they looked after the building and church garden among other things.  When Peta announced their upcoming gender transitioning and change of name at a meeting of the people who ran the practical business of the church they were very supportive and excited and thanked Peta for telling them. Peta says that they could happily have stayed there but they found an

MCC (Metropolitan Community Church which is a predominantly LGBT church) just down the road of where they lived. Peta says that for them it was important to be ordained which was not possible as a non-binary gendered queer person being in a (what they considered) lesbian relationship in the Church of England at that point (about 15 years ago). Hence Peta was very happy when they found the MCC in Brighton. MCC was also very happy that they joined because even though they were running trans awareness courses and were trying to be as inclusive as possible the Brighton MCC didn’t have any transgender people in the congregation at that time. However, Peta adds that they actually didn’t publically identify as trans at the time of joining the MCC.

The MCC then created a baptism ritual for Peta when they changed their name and a ritual of blessing when Peta had their mastectomy operation. Peta talks about the MCC liking to create new rituals for LGBT people’s life moments and hence creating new traditions.

“I think apart from that one period at university faith was always an ally to my gender journey rather than being any antagonism and when there was it was from outside and it wasn’t in me. I knew that god was completely happy with me the way I was. I was always certain of that. When the church tried to tell me I was wrong I felt very free to say ‘No. I am not’ and I didn’t feel the need to be told what to think.”

In Peta’s opinion there is a certain kind of church, which appeals to people who like very simple answers, simple category, boxes and expectations. It makes them feel that they are safe and ok. There are no grey areas and one doesn’t have to think about it. This kind of religion doesn’t like LGBT people because they mess with their simple patterns and nice clear categories of life.

Peta mentions that one of their chosen names is Pererin, which is Welsh for pilgrim (Peta’s father’s family is Welsh).  They feel they are a journeyer with regard to gender and faith. “You have to have a centre that goes with you. You can’t be centered on a fixed gender identity, a fixed church or community because as a minister I go to the church I am sent to. It’ll be a new community, a new group of friends a new place to live. Obviously I couldn’t be centred on my family because they didn’t want to know except grandpa who is gone. For faith is the moving centre, the rock that goes with you, it’s the roots that move. So wherever you go you got that which I guess it means to be a pilgrim.”

Peta is now ordained as a pastor at the MCC.

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