Gender bending priest dazzles

Gender bending priest dazzles

Sande Ramage

16 November 2012

 

Rachel Mann is quite a package.  An elegant wordsmith, poet, theologian, philosopher, metal-head musician and internet savvy Church of England priest tweeting as @metalvicar.  But before all that cosmopolitan chic took hold she used to be a bloke.
 
Meet Nick, a wild living and self-indulgent atheist, not averse to a bit of Christian baiting to make his point.  So it was a complete surprise that, as Rachel began to be formed out of Nick, she developed a strong desire to pray.  
 
Inconsistency, darkness, doubt and a paradoxical certainty thread their way through Rachel Mann's Dazzling Darkness: gender, sexuality, illness and God.  
 
A tender memoir that reaches into your own life wounds through the sharing of hers.  It's an exhilarating read catapulting you from the intimacy of the confessional, onto what seems like the stage of Rachel Mann Live, to participation in animated dialogues between philosophy and theology.
 
Most of all though, it's about birthing a unique identity, midwifing its voice and visibility beyond social expectations, patterns of thinking and constructed belief systems.  The birth is tough.  
 
Beginning first as a boy, thrilled with a Tonka truck for Christmas in 1975 and rapidly moving to a teenager caught between gender identities.  Longing, she says in her poem Working it out, for the rolling flesh of a woman's backside that she can wield like a weapon.
 
With a few keystrokes she lays bare one of the secrets of womanhood that girls start copying almost before we can walk, make a habit of and turn into an art form.   Rachel eventually gets the hang of it.
 
There were going to be no easy solutions for a lesbian identified, transgender woman, also struggling with a debilitating and body altering chronic condition.  But somewhere in that confusion Rachel and God encounter each other in a transformative way.  
 
I beheld God, she said, encountered love and surrendered, which, she muses, didn't stop her becoming an overbearing kind of Christian.  A stage eclipsed on the way to priesthood, a seeming impossibility in the Anglican Communion so immersed in rows over gender and sexuality.   But somehow Rachel got there.
 
About here in the book I was beginning to struggle but not with her.  Great respect is due to this woman who has traveled a stripped down, exposed, naked journey to be born again.
 
Instead, I think it was the Christian certainty that made me wince.  'It is into this place that Christ comes, the Christ whose wounds never heal, though she be risen; the Christ - the God- who holds the wound of love within her very being.'  
 
I loved the gender bending Christ and the ideas contained within that theology, but the Christo-centric nature of Rachel's book may limit the readership to erudite Christian folk.  That would be tragic because this story offers food for the hungry in the marketplace of contemporary human suffering.
 
Where Rachel dazzles is in speaking out of what she calls the broken middle and where she says she is the most me.  
 
This is the universal spiritual quest we all have to go on, whether religious or not, as we seek to give birth to our unique identity within the vulnerability of existence.
 
A quest to find a way of being that is truly our own, not inhibited by the institutions and expectations that put a layer of silencing on our lives.  
 
Rock on Rachel. Sing it out.   Give it voice you dazzling diva.