by Yve, who has experienced both the very worst and the very best of the Church of England.
I first knew something was different about me when I was six, and first started wearing my mum’s clothes. From that moment onward, what could have been a potentially idyllic seaside childhood became characterised by bullying, acute discomfort with my birth gender identity, and a love that seemed strictly conditional.
Craving acceptance and security, I entered what quickly became a dysfunctional marriage. As always, I was too scared to talk about my feelings, feared the negative responses which occurred when I did, and never felt truly loved. I underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2012, but even afterwards, the loneliness and rejection remained.
This was all to change – or so I thought – in 2016.
Having been engaging with a notoriously conservative cathedral parish for 8 years and being largely ignored by the congregation, I was surprised when I was suddenly encouraged to get more involved in its activities. Feeling hopeful and included, I took up several volunteer and secretarial roles, joined a worship team, and accepted an employment offer as floor manager. It felt like God had placed me here to learn and grow as if finally in preparation for ordination, to which I’d felt called since 1994. For the first time in my life, I began to believe it was possible that my gender could be valued and accepted by a church.
I was soon to be disillusioned. Indeed, it wasn’t until later that I found that I’d be given this faux acceptance because of an edict that the cathedral community needed to be ‘more representative of the whole city.’
In reality, nothing changed. In my new roles, I felt continually measured against a heteronormative standard (e.g. my shirts and shoes weren’t considered ‘masculine enough’), and I was often the target of verbal abuse. When this had become a typical pattern of behaviour towards me I reported it, but nobody took my complaints seriously.
It became clear that despite all the training delivered to everyone and their desire to be ‘representative’, the dean and chapter didn’t take their safeguarding responsibilities seriously, or have any real interest in a truly inclusive community.
By late 2018, things came to a head. A new dean arrived who seemed uneasy about my continued involvement. Suddenly, once supportive colleagues became reluctant to swap shifts with me so I could fulfil voluntary roles. Then, a new and unprompted ruling that Chapter clergy shouldn’t interact socially with or give pastoral care to employees, effectively brought all voluntary roles to an abrupt and sudden end. I felt as if I was being slowly pushed out. Then, one day, I arrived at a meeting to discover someone else had been appointed secretary in my place, without any warning or prior consultation. I resigned from all my other roles with immediate effect. I felt set up to fail and distraught.
In early 2019, the cathedral had an S.C.I.E. inspection. I’ve seen less panic in a school pre-Ofsted inspection! Staff and volunteers were told what to say if spoken to by an inspector, and members of congregations carefully selected for interview by inspectors who ensured they wouldn’t say anything controversial. A banner installed by the entrance affirmed the dean’s commitment to providing ‘a safe environment for everyone.’ Knowing what I did, I found this laughable. So did the inspectors, but for a different reason: they perceived its message as unnecessary and ordered its removal. I felt deliberately blocked in my attempts to speak with an inspector. I was saddened, but not surprised, when the outcome for the cathedral turned out to be largely favourable. By now, I was numbed and deadened to the fact that people like me often had their voices silenced.
I suffered a complete physical, nervous and emotional breakdown. Although technically furloughed, I couldn’t face returning to an environment which showed such disregard for people’s safety, health and well being. Even the diocesan safeguarding officer wouldn’t help me. I’ve been made to feel that I can’t trust anyone there. I felt I received more love and support from a secular community trust than I did from my supposed spiritual home.
If this is the worst of the Church of England, during lockdown I unexpectedly encountered the very best. I’ve received an unconditional welcome through online worship, quizzes and study groups offered by certain truly inclusive churches in Liverpool and London. I still feel frozen out of life and pay for ongoing therapy but I thank God for what I’ve found among them. “A broken and contrite heart O God you will not despise” (Ps.51:17).