Monthly Archives: June 2012

Queer Bouncy Castles

Jay Clark

I am neither male nor female, and have identified as genderqueer for over a year. During that time, my gender expression has varied; sometimes I am more masculine, sometimes more feminine, sometimes entirely uninterested in those distinctions. The un-label of genderqueer has been useful to bind all this flux into something easier to understand, but my gender is still uncertain.

I find it worrying to admit that I am uncertain about my identity, because when most of society is oblivious to genders beyond male and female, and sometimes sceptical of or hostile to the idea, it would be really useful to have a rock-solid belief in my own gender status. I can say ‘I am genderqueer’, but I can’t tell you exactly what that means, I can’t say I have always been this way and I can’t promise to continue to be so; although ‘genderqueer’ sums up my gender at the moment, it’s possible that ‘male’, ‘female’ or another label might fit better in the future.

But despite this uncertainty, my gender is worth taking seriously. It’s important that people use gender-neutral pronouns for me when I’ve asked them to, and arrange sleeping rooms at events to acknowledge that not everyone is comfortable in either the men’s room or the women’s room. If seriousness is measured by stability, my gender does not pass (and unfortunately, stability is often the criteria – see the suspicion directed at bisexual people merely because they don’t chose one gender or the other).

So in order to have faith that my fluid identity is a real as any other, I have to assert the truthful uncertainty of my gender. By which I mean, I have to say that I understand my shifting and question-marked gender in as truthful a way as I can, and that that is the only evidence of authenticity I can give.

This has implications for creating inclusive organisations, because it takes more effort to accept people who have no recognisable trajectory, and can’t offer any assurance that their identity will remain stable. In a workshop at the Student Christian Movement conference a couple of months ago, Rory Dalgliesh compared faith to a bouncy castle; there is the potential to have a much better time jumping on a bouncy castle with other people (if they don’t push you over and pile on top of you), but they also make the ground more unstable.

If we as queer people jump on the bouncy castle of faith with other people, we make the ground unstable and if we are invested in continuing to take part in religious institutions, we want to advocate for ones that are committed to keeping the ground unstable, and letting in uncertainty.

They have to stay open to different people who understand queer identity in different ways, and to the same people who understand queer identity in different ways later on, and not create an exhaustive list of who is in, and who is out.