Our speaker for the 2017 Hidden Perspectives World Aids Day Lecture, which will be held on 4 December (14:00-16:00, G.03, Jessop West), will be Dan Nield from the University of Chester. His talk is entitled Promoting Joy and Exorcising Stigmatic Guilt: Reflections of a Queer Nun on Non-Heteronormative Shame, and the abstract will appear in our next post. Do please come and join us, for what promises to be an engaging and entertaining seminar.
Before we get any further, let us get to know a little about Dan and find out what inspires him to come and talk to us this year.
- Hello! Tell us about yourself…who are you and what do you do?
Dan Nield is a PhD candidate at the University of Chester working through the department of Theology &Religious Studies and Chester’s newly formed Institute for Gender Studies under Dr Dawn Llewellyn and Prof Emma Rees. Dan’s PhD is an autoethnographic exploration of his role as Sister Judy de Ryder – a 21st Century drag nun and member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence are an international order of 21st century nuns who operate under the mission to “Promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt”. Dan is exploring how manifesting as a drag nun affects his own theological and gendered positions as a gay Christian man and is on a mission to drag God out of the closet.
- What interests you about Hidden Perspectives?
As a gay Christian man, I struggled for many years reconciling my faith with my personal life. Religious ideas were a barrier to accepting myself for who I was and caused a great deal of heartache. Whilst it can be argued that both the gay community and Christian communities have come a long way since I began my journey of reconciliation back in 1997, I think there are many others who continue to struggle in the same ways I have. The work of Hidden Perspectives is therefore vital for continuing the dialogue of wider biblical interpretation and acceptance for many who feel marginalised because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identification.
- How does Hidden Perspectives relate to your work?
For me Hidden Perspectives‘ mission to open up biblical texts to underrepresented groups runs parallel to the mission of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. For me the mission of the Sisters has always been about encouraging people to feel comfortable in their own skin irrespective of gender, faith, or sexual orientation. When you manifest publically as a symbol of Biblical authority like a ‘nun’ you begin to realise very quickly the power of biblical authority over people and communities – even those who have seemingly rejected such authority. This rejection I believe is based on the assumption that certain lifestyles are in turn rejected by communities of faith. Whilst the Sisters in many ways parody organised religion, we simultaneously embrace elements of religious practice into our community mission through charity, listening and giving voice to those who feel marginalised. This is also very present in our translation of the Bible into Polari – the gay slang of “Round the Horne” that slowly fell out of use after the 1967 Sexual Offences Act decriminalised homosexuality. By using this translation and the image of ‘nun’ I would argue that the Manchester Sisters are literally opening up biblical texts to a marginalised voice and through our praxis of mission.
- You’re coming to lead our annual World Aids Day seminar in 2017. What will you be sharing with us?
For me taking up the veil as a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence was driven by the results of my Masters research at Chester. I was interviewing self-identifying Christian gay men about their experiences in sexual health clinics and any theological influences these men felt in that seemingly secular environment. Some of the themes emerging from this study included shame, guilt and gender. The assumed masculine heterosexuality of God seemed to be one of the driving forces for the shame and guilt felt by these men. In some instances it was so strong it hampered their ability to discuss their sexuality openly and even how often they attended screening. My current work concentrates on how the assumed Patriarchal Heteronormative God (as I have dubbed it) affects communities that fall foul of a divinely sanctioned sexual expression and subsequent forms of queer spirituality that might better fit 21st Century communities.
- How do you think bringing the Bible and religion out of the closet can add to discussion about HIV/AIDS today?
One of the most common greetings I experience as a nun is ‘Forgive me Sister, I have sinned’. For me this is symptomatic of a wider recognition that whilst it is perfectly possible to operate ethically without religious affiliation, there is an assumption that religion represents a moral order. Where any such order exists, a hierarchy of morality accompanies it. The invitation for forgiveness I encounter demonstrates this as Hepworth and Turner note – to seek confession is to acknowledge the power of a moral authority over you. In the context of the Sisters, this seeking of confession brings with it a sense of ‘sin’. This ‘sinfulness’ is too often expressed through the stigmatic treatment of HIV+ people and any group who is deemed to be at increased risk.
- What other projects are you working on and/or what is next for you??
I am currently organising an alternative Nine Lessons and Carols that will give voice to representatives from communities that are often silenced – the lessons will be theirs to teach.
The Sisters often feel like we are preaching to the converted, so we are working on possibilities to take our mission outside of queer spaces, to encourage greater interactions between different communities, including communities of faith.