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St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Seventeenth Sunday after

Brisbane Pentecost
Pride Evensong
16 September 2018

© Peter Catt
Queering the City of God 1

As you may know as part of our Pride observance each year we

place flags representing various identities within the sexuality
and gender-diverse community in our Lady Chapel. This year
we added the asexual flag to that collection.

Tonight, I would like to introduce for our later conversation

over refreshments the idea that the flags are two-edged
swords. I offer these reflections as someone who has sought to
be an ally of the sexuality and gender diverse community for
some 35 years and conscious that I am offering reflections on
issues that do not affect me directly.

A two-edged sword or double-edged sword cuts both ways.

When used as a literary device the image points us towards the
fact that often times something that is a good, and provides us
with significant benefit, can also carry unintended
consequences; that the gift also contains a substantial, often
hidden-to-first-view, hazard.

The flags are a gift in that they honour human experience and
so give people a sense of being recognised, understood and
acknowledged. So, from its earliest days the Pride flag has
assured people who are same-sex attracted that their life-
experience is honoured and affirmed. The increasing number of
flags allows us to celebrate that humanity and human
experience is as variegated as the rainbow. Each flag is a
symbol of hard-won territory against bigotry, prejudice,
isolation, criminalisation and violence. The fact that we keep
adding to the number of flags reminds us that we are still on
1 Queering the City of God: W. H. Auden’s Later Poetry and the Ethics of Friendship by
Olivia F. Bustion, p.7. Doctoral Dissertation. University of Michigan, 2012
the journey that started over one hundred years ago in the
West; the journey from having essentially one gender, male
(the female being derivative), and one experience of being a
sexual person, to the reality we appreciate today.

Our journey of recognition has led to the burgeoning, and

unfinished, alphabet of designations: Gay, Lesbian and Gay,

Q for Queer, rather than questioning for which it can also be

used, has popped in and out of the mnemonic. And it this
appearance and disappearance of Q that provides us with an
insight that points us to the hazard, to the second cut of the
two-edged sword.

The term Queer was first used to refer to a person who was not
quite right. Later it became an insult, a term of abuse directed
to gay men, effeminate gay men in particular. But as is so
often the case it was redeemed and turned into something with
positive power by the very people it was designed to denigrate.
Gay activists in the 1990’s used the term to point us to the
dangers of seeing people through binary lenses; to remind us
that people are more than the labels we apply to them. Queer
thus came to be used for people who did not fit the approved
categories; people who transcended the limiting territory
created by labels. It was first used of gay people because they
didn’t fit the ‘established norm’. But as being a gay person
became an established and legitimised identity, the use of the
term Queer diminished. It is interesting then, that now when
we have so many established and legitimised identities - Gay,
Lesbian, bisexual, Inter-sex, transsexual, asexual and so on -
that the identity of Queer has reappeared. A reminder that
there are those who do not fit the established categories.

It is this re-emergence of ‘Queer’ that invites us to recognise

the second cut of the two-edged sword. For Queer serves to
remind us that no matter how many identities we describe or
allocate there will always be those who feel excluded from all of
them. It also reminds us that the downside of each identity or
designation is that they unintentionally set up another binary.
So, the asexual flag and identity can be seen to separate the
world into those who identify as asexual or experience life
asexually and those who don’t or aren’t. And by tying all of the
diverse expressions together into one community we set up a
binary between the ‘diverse community’ and the heterosexual
members of the population; a process that unintentionally
affirms the latter as the norm. Further all this seems to beg the
question of what it means to be part of a community that finds
its identity through being seen as different; a question we
wrestle with in so many ways because of the way we humans
so often organise ourselves.

I now want to add into the mix for our latter conversation two
insights from the Christian tradition that I hope will be helpful.

The first is Paul’s observation in the letter to the Galatians that

the Christian is not to understand their-self or others in terms
of the great binary classification that were applied to humanity
at the time.
There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.2
In the world that Paul knew, Gender, Slave or free, Jew or
Gentile were the means for slicing and dicing humanity; three
clear, binary classifications. Paul suggests that recognising
oneself as being in Christ, whom the gospel writers referred to
as the Son of Man, a term that can be translated as The
Human One3, invites one to transcend these three binaries and
to one’s identity through membership of a common humanity.

I think this one of the most profound insights found in the New
Testament, one which the church has rarely allowed to shape
its approach to people. The ordination of women over the past
thirty years has seen us struggling to get back to first base.
Paul highlights the three great divisions of humanity at the
time and as I see it this invites each generation to discern what
are the similarly great divisions of its day. For me, Paul’s
insight stands as an invitation to allow people to be people and

Galatians 3.28
See for example The Common English Bible
to love whom they feel called to love, if any one; to be
accepted as the person they are without having to be labelled
and differentiated. For our common humanity to be the source
of our identity.

The second insight comes from the Christian understanding of

the nature of God. We talk of God as being a Trinity: Three in
One. The Anglican Theologian Sarah Coakley suggests that the
fact that God is a Trinity trumps all our binaries. No binary is of
God. She also points us to the fact that Church fathers such as
Gregory of Nyssa held that there is gender fluidity within the
persons of the Trinity as they interact with each other; a
fluidity that fell away as the introduction of a patriarchal
hierarchy was introduced into the doctrine of the Trinity much

Coakley says that the more ancient understanding of the

Trinity comes to us as gift as it allows us to “resist the (ever-
seductive) lure back into patriarchal hierarchy.” 4 Frances
Young, suggest that this challenges us ‘to move beyond the
binaries of male/female, us/other, East/West, and even of
God/world. Three trumps two’.5 If you like, The Trinity is our
Queering principle, that which invites us to defy binaries and

One final reflection which I hope illustrates the point I have

been trying to make about the pursuit of our common
humanity. The pride flag is displayed daily here at St John’s
alonfg with our other welcome flags. As well as standing as a
symbol of welcome and affirmation to those who identify as
belonging to the gender and sexuality diverse community, it
has also acted as welcoming beacon to people who do not
identify as members of that community but who expect not to
be made welcome in a church for some other reason. The pride
flag has become a powerful symbol of inclusion; a magnet for
those who long for their membership of humanity to be
recognised in community.
Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’, Cambridge University Press, 2014, p.