Today’s activist is Susannah Cornwall.
Tell us about yourself! Who are you and what do you do?
I’m Susannah Cornwall, Senior Lecturer in Constructive Theologies at the University of Exeter, UK, where I also direct EXCEPT, the Exeter Centre for Ethics and Practical Theology. In my current research project I’m working in partnership with the West of England National Health Service (NHS) Specialist Gender Identity Clinic on spiritual care for people transitioning gender.
Lots of people who transition find faith is a source of support for them, but others might face opposition from religiously-conservative family and friends, or worry that God will be angry with them for ‘rejecting’ their bodies. Trans and non-binary people frequently experience physical, emotional, spiritual and conceptual violence, including erasure in religious traditions that find it hard to conceive of gender as fluid.
My theological work on variant sex and gender also extends to intersex (variant sex characteristics), and I recently contributed to and hosted the first UK screening of a new documentary film, Stories of Intersex and Faith, produced by Megan DeFranza, Lianne Simon and Paul Van Ness, which follows intersex people of faith in the USA as they negotiate living in and educating their communities. This formed part of a series of events bringing together faith practitioners, academics, advocates and activists from groups such as Intersex UK, Liberal Judaism, the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) Sibyls, and OneBodyOneFaith to network and make new plans for co-created research on sex, gender, sexuality and religion.
I’m also currently contributing to the Church of England’s major new project on sexuality, Living in Love and Faith, which is due to publish its findings in 2020. I regularly provide teaching and training on gender, sex and faith in schools, churches, and activist conferences, and through professional training for groups such as teachers, clergy and medics.
In the year ahead, how will you contribute to advancing the aims and goals of The Shiloh Project?
In the coming year I will be doing further work on religion and transphobia, exploring how religious communities might interrogate their own traditions and recognize the diversities of accounts of human sex and gender that are within them. I’ll be working on a new book project on trans and Christian ethics and continuing to work with activist and advocacy groups. I’ll also be speaking on the importance of spiritual care for people going through transition at the forthcoming conference of EPATH, the European Professional Association for Transgender Health.
Religious traditions have enormous resources for overcoming homophobia, transphobia and gender-based violence, but need to get their own houses in order and recognize that they have often been part of the problem.