Katecia (who mostly goes by Teash) enjoys tea, terrible/great puns, befriending all her neighbours cats and perfecting her date loaf recipe. She just completed her Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne with a double major in Anthropology and Gender Studies. She's thankful to have survived many existential crises during her studies. She plans to take the rest of the year off from study, before starting a Masters of Arts (Theology) next year. As a queer Christian, Teash is particularly interested in the intersection of faith and queer identities. She's comfortable with the labels queer, gay or lesbian.
So, Teash, tell us a little about yourself!
I just finished my degree - wooohooo! One of my favourite things I did recently was host a spontaneous dinner party. I really felt like cooking and being social one afternoon, thus, I threw out an open invitation for anyone to come eat dinner with me. A beautiful bunch of people showed up. It was actually a really great way of throwing a dinner party. Few cancellations because it was so spontaneous and I knew that I felt like it on that day. Also peoples' expectations are so much lower - they're just happy to be there! Basically, I'm advocating for spontaneous dinner parties to be a thing.
You're passionate about bridging the gap between the Christian and the LGBTQI+ community. How have you experienced or found your own queer identity in relation to your religious one so far?
I am passionate about bridging the gap between the Christian and the LGBTQI+ community. I've often felt caught in between the two communities, both of which I really love. If I can help bridge that gap and be one of many intersections where the two converge, that's a privilege I don't hold lightly. Currently, I'm super comfortable with holding both queer and Christian identities. However, I wasn't always, it took me years to come to terms with my queerness and many more to reconcile it with my faith. I once thought that Christians couldn't be gay and therefore, I couldn't be gay. I rationalised that the reason I wasn't attracted to a single man was because I hadn't met the one that God had picked out for me yet (to marry). It's a little embarrassing and laughable now. I didn't know any queer Christians growing up so I assumed they didn't exist. I met people who had been either healed or chose to live celibate lives if they were attracted to the same sex. By the time I'd realised that I was gay and that no amount of praying and crying into the carpet would change that, I had also decided that I'd never tell anyone. I planned to be celibate and single for life. I began to read a lot about the Bible and same-sex relationships. If being celibate was going to be my life I wanted to know all the reasons why and be firm in it. Being the nerdy arts student I am, I decided to be thorough and read the opposing view points as well. I slowly realised that maybe I had it wrong? Maybe my queerness (and others) wasn't a sin? It was a terrifying realisation, it was much more comfortable for me to remain in the closet and to stick with what I had always been taught. Coming to an affirming theology, one that accepted my queerness gave me a reason to come out. It challenged me but it also gave me a lot of strength and freedom too. I'd always been really comfortable in Christian environements growing up. They were always a safe and supportive place for me. Unfortunately, coming out changed that. (Many are still lovely). I'm not as accepted and comfortable in many Christian environments since coming out. This also caused me to think more about the many other people that we as a Church marginalise and oppress. These days I'm really comfortable with both these identities, it took time and a shit tonne of reflection though.
You took part in The Reformation Projects (TRP) Leadership Development Cohort earlier in this year, can you explain a little bit about what this is and what your experience was like?
The Reformation Project (TRP) is a not for profit based in the US that promotes LGBTQI+ inclusion in Churches. They are a beautiful grassroots organisation. They have and continue to do some amazing work. Part of the work they do is train and equip people to promote LGBTQI+ inclusion in their individual Christian communities. Each year they run a Leadership Development Cohort that people can apply to be a part of. They thankfully chose me to be a part of this year's cohort. It was three months of intensive study of both affirming and non affirming theology, community organising and racial justice. It culminated in a conference in LA where all 35 cohort members gathered (some of us from overseas, most were from the US) as well as leading theologians, guest speakers and TRP staff. It was one of the best experiences of my life. As clichéd as it is, I learnt a lot. I was so thrilled to meet so many queer Christians and dedicated allies. I'm endlessly fascinated and encouraged by how much queer people love the Church, when often we are given so many reasons not to. We just want to be a part of it, to give and to be fully included. We are resilient, we keep claiming and reclaiming our space, we are part of the Church. (A beautiful and amazing part).
You’ve also run several workshops recently. Are these aimed mainly at the queer or the Christian community? What do they entail?
I ran one at uni recently that was aimed at a very general audience. I'm running one in Wollongong as part of the Queer Collaborations Conference aimed at the queer students who attend. I'm also running one at the beginning of August held at my Church, it's open to all but aimed slightly more towards Christians as I think that is largely who will turn up. In general I probably have more conversations with Christians. I share some of my story to begin with, not because I think it's the most amazing story, but because I think stories are powerful and allow people to see things from a different perspective. Sharing some of my experience humanises a complex and sometimes contentious issue. Depending on the audience I spend some time defining terms whether they are common Christian terms or terms relating to the LGBTQI+ community. From there I launch into history. History and theology are incredibly linked. If you can't understand the time and place in which a specific text was written than we are setting ourselves up to interpret it terribly. Then I often talk about theology in relation to trans, gender diverse and intersex people. All to often we only focus on same-sex relationships, but I think it's important that we do more than that. Especially when people use the Bible to as an excuse to oppress LGBTQI+, not just people attracted to the same sex. Finally, I then launch into a discussion on various interpretations of the "clobber" passages. The "clobber" passages refers to about 6 or 7 texts that are most commonly weaponised against those of us who are attracted to the same-sex. Depending on the audience I might delve into ideas about why it's such an intense issue for some Christians and different ways conversations can be navigated. I usually finish with a little more personal story and leave plenty of time for questions and discussion. I love hearing what others have to say.
How have you found the response so far?
Really great! I've had some really great feedback from people who actually attend. It's often really new information for lots of people and that's awesome. Christians often respond with "wow I had no idea" or "why was I never taught that?". I think also non Christians, particularly queer ones have been encouraged to discover that many Christians don't hate the LGBTQI+ community. That in fact many dedicate their lives to challenging people and theology that seeks to oppress them. They've also found it empowering to have some knowledge that can help change the narrative that the bible and therefore Christians must be against them. Mostly I find people have lots of questions and find it really interesting, there's been so many good discussions that I've enjoyed listening to.
As a queer woman practicing religion yourself, what advice can give to other LGBTQI+ individuals struggling to reconcile their queer identity with their religious one?
I'm not sure I'm qualified but here is advice I would have found useful. Take your time and be kind to yourself. Don't feel bad if reconciling them doesn't happen overnight. It took me a few years. Occasionally I still have moments where I find I can improve. Years of conditioning and internalised beliefs don't disappear after reading one book or figuring out one thing. Be patient and kind to yourself. Know that so many have gone before you and you are not alone. Find your community whether online or in person, be encouraged by other peoples stories. There is an awesome hashtag called #faithfullylgbt that is used by queer people of many different faiths. Your queerness is beautiful and valid and you can hold on to that and your faith at the same time. Hang in there.
Where do you see yourself going next?
Hopefully completing a Masters of Arts (Theology). Maybe doing some research or further study after that or finding a proper adult job. Who knows? I'd also love to keep building bridges until hopefully no more need to be built. I think mostly my aim is to both educate Christians and share stories with them. I think stories are powerful and can break down stereotypes and change the way people think about and view others.