Hidden Perspectives

Bringing the Bible Out of the Closet

Interview: Sarah Thomasin

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photo (1)Can you introduce yourself to our readers and give us an idea of what you do?
My name is Sarah Thomasin. I’m a sexual health promotion worker and a performance poet, and the way those two intersect is that I’m a passionate LGBT rights advocate in both those arenas. I like to use poetry to talk about issues that are important to me.

How did you get involved with Hidden Perspectives?
I’ve known Cara Corden a few years through feminist and DIY culture in Sheffield.  I know a few of the other contributors personally, including my wife Chella Quint, and I heard so much positive buzz about the project from them that I wanted to get involved.

Do you have a personal story about LGBT and Religion/The Bible?
I wasn’t raised to be religious – both my parents had negative experiences with Christianity – however I was raised to have a knowledge of the Bible, which is quite odd, when I think about it! I was given a Good News Bible when I was 6, and I remember thinking there must be a Bad News Bible as well, and I’d be given that when I got a bit older! I guess I was raised to approach the Bible with a critical eye. I was drawn to Catholicism as a teenager: I still love the ritual and iconography of the Catholic Church – but as I emerged as a young queer feminist I realized that it was not the path for me. It’s so sad to me that Christianity – which has so much good stuff in it, gets hijacked as a way to legitimize prejudice, particularly homophobia and transphobia, but also misogyny.

Why do you think projects like Hidden Perspectives are important?
I love anything that reinterprets a text, whether it’s sacred or not! I think that if you see something as having only one possible interpretation, you miss so much! The fact is, we don’t know what the authorial intent was with the bible, so the more different ideas and, well, perspectives we can get on it, the better! I think looking at anything from an LGBT/queer perspective is an excellent exercise, if only because it lets non LGBT people experience an interpretation which is not about them! Feeling excluded now and again can help those with unexamined privilege to increase their empathy with marginalized communities.

Why should people get involved? 
I’m not going to say people should get involved – but if they do, I think they’ll like it!

What’s your hope for people who do get involved?
I hope that people aren’t offended. There’s a lot of discomfort around “messing” with the Bible. I hope that those with a strong Christian or Jewish faith see this not as an attack, but as a way to engage even more closely with their sacred texts. I hope that LGBT people of faith get some validation from it.

What has been your experience of the interaction between LGBT & Religion?
My experience is that while many (not all!) religious leaders use their platform to incite prejudice; the vast majority of people of faith that I actually talk to are accepting and respectful of my identity. There is so much written about love in the Bible I think most people I talk to recognize that that’s more important than a few lines in one infamous book; about what is and isn’t an abomination, (by the way, Leviticus is my favourite book of the bible by far! The guy is as mad as a fish. It’s like “Don’t sleep with other men! Or eat prawns! Or let your house get mildewy!” If that’s the word of God, I think we lost something in translation.

What are some of your hopes for the future of LGBT & Religion discussion? 
I hope discussion of LGBT & Religion continues. I don’t like the way the prejudice of some religious people is used as an excuse to “bash” the concept of faith. There are oppressed groups who are also religious, and of those groups, I think LGBT voices of faith are some of the least listened to.

When did you start writing poetry and how did you get into it? What was your motive, was it an outlet for you emotions or something you just loved doing?
I’ve always loved words, especially lyrics and poems. I like the rhythm, I find a really clever rhyme or word combination inexplicably satisfying. When the words fall into place just right, it just delights me!

Sometimes I deal with my emotions through poetry, but I find you can’t force that. It’s more that I’ll find that a poem has gone to quite an emotional place for me and it’ll be a surprise because I started out trying to write a comic piece – I never know how it’s going to turn out!
I’ve always written poetry, I can’t remember a time I wasn’t making up funny rhymes or putting my thoughts across in verse. I think I find it easier to work out what I think about an issue if I write a poem on it. It forces me to condense my hazy, distracted ramblings into something definite. Some of Iscariot was a shock to me when I came to read back through it!

What kind of things did you begin writing poetry about and how has your writing it progressed?
Ha! The first poem I remember properly writing was a sceptical piece about the fact that I didn’t think there was life on other planets. I’d have been about ten. I remember the line “Space is so eerie, silent and bare/So why do people want to go there?” and I wrote a political poem about thatcher when I was 12. I’d love to say I’ve progressed, but nothing’s changed in 22 years!

I love the concept of ‘100 days of poetry’ and was wondering if you had taken on a project of a similar time scale before and why the focus on current affairs which is an extremely broad topic?
This is my third year doing 100 days of poetry. I was inspired by Josie Long who advocates doing something that will make you a better person every day for 100 days. She talked to strangers every day and had loads of great stories. I decided to write Sestinas for 100 days, starting on my birthday, in 2011. This was because someone told me sestinas were impossible to write more than a couple of and I’m a stubborn person so I wrote a hundred! I love sestinas, they’re like a cross between sudoku and zen wisdom -but I was so sick of them by the end! So last year I did a different poetry form every day, which was great because now I know 100 poetry forms that I can go back and use.

This year I decided to use the news because I’m quite political, and the news often inspires me anyway. I’ve really noticed what kinds of stories inspire me. Stuff about health and education feature heavily – no surprise there, as I work in health education!

See https://onehundreddaysofpoetry.wordpress.com/ for “100 days of Poetry”

I love how straightforward your poetry is, it’s easy to understand and so easy to relate to. Was that one of your aims or is that just your style?
I was really inspired by Liz Lochhead who described poetry as putting things down in the plainest language possible. I don’t consciously go out to write “accessible” poetry, but I do have a horror of seeming pretentious!

Also I hear you will be exhibiting some of your poetry at the Hidden perspectives festival, what format will your work be taking, a display or live recital, etc.?
I’m going to perform it live, but I’m hoping to have slideshow in the back ground. I’m saying no more!

“Iscariot – A Love Story” sounds intriguing and unusual! Without giving too much away, what prompted this sequence of poems and where did you begin with writing them?
I’ve always loved the name Judas Iscariot, I thought that it was such a shame he was the baddie! Iscariot means liar, but it sounds like a term of endearment to me, like the welsh “Cariad”. Plus the guy is famous for kissing Jesus!

Slightly off topic, but interesting none-the-less is the picture you have chosen to display on the Hidden Perspectives website. Most Hidden Perspectives participants have displayed an ordinary face forwards picture. What made you chose a picture where very little of your face is visible?
Hahaha busted! I hate pictures of me, but that one I took by mistake on my phone – and I loved it!

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Author: Hidden Perspectives

A research project within the Sheffield Institute for Interdisciplinary Biblical Studies (SIIBS) at The University of Sheffield.

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