deNYLE: Queerness and the Religious Imagination
I finally got my hands on Tan France’s Naturally Tan and spent my family holiday to Malaysia reading it (which, if you know me, you’ll know that I rarely read so this is a big thing for me…).
While reading Tan’s book, I found myself relating to his experiences as they were similar to my own. It did, however, make me realise the degree of privilege that I enjoy; I have never experienced the degree of racism that he and his family did (i.e. I’ve never quite literally been chased down the street…). It made me realise how much progress there has been in the time between he and I grew up and also, maybe, the difference between life in South Yorkshire and East London/Essex.
The parts that I related to the most concerned religion as well as small things such as my body placement. When you are trying to hide/ downplay an aspect of who you are, you become hyperaware of yourself.
France spoke about the simple act of crossing one’s legs. To me, I had always thought that there were two ways to cross legs; the men’s way where the shin/calf rests on the knee to create a right angle, and the women’s way where the legs cross at the knees. This plagued my mind so much that I couldn’t sit comfortably out of fear that someone will make comments and tell me to “stop sitting like a girl”. I mean, I had conformed to this so-called rule to the extent where I would sit there and judge men who would sit in the latter way or think ‘wow he’s really comfortable in his sexuality’ whenever it was a man who otherwise seemed heterosexual. However, when I had gotten to a certain point of developing deNYLE: The Book, I strangely had this newfound comfortability within myself and actually didn’t care how I sat. I crossed my legs the feminine way. It was quite a liberating feeling, I have to be honest. I would have never even considered that the mundane act of crossing my legs would free me so much.
At the beginning of my concept development for the project that would become deNYLE, I had my heart set on exploring the relationship between religion and fashion/sexuality. The previous Met Gala theme/exhibition had been Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination and I had been inspired by all the carpet looks. My father’s side of the family are Hindus and my mother’s are Roman Catholics. I had been Baptised, had my First Holy Communion and went to a Roman Catholic primary school. Then during the summers when I stayed at my paternal grandparents’ house in Upton Park I would learn the traditions and teachings of Hinduism. Learning about these two very different religions during my upbringing has made me, I believe, more open to learning about other religions and cultures as I think I have been able to look past the differences in terms of mythology and been able to see that fundamentally the religions preached more-or-less the same values.
When I was studying Philosophy and Ethics at A-level, my favourite topic was Sexual Ethics (i.e. contraception, abortion, homosexuality etc.) as the subject matter was something that I could have a real opinion on as it concerned my life and experiences that my friends may go through. I will say, however, it did make me question my relationship with the Catholic Church and is the reason why I ultimately didn’t go through with my Confirmation. How could I stand up in front of a congregation who viewed me living my life as a sin? I had always heard that Jesus’ golden rule was to “love thy neighbour” yet, Leviticus states that I’m an “abomination”? In all honesty, the thought that God does not accept me and that I will not make it into heaven still scares me. Even writing this I have slight anxiety, I really don’t know what else to say…
Okay, so here is how I feel about religion; I think I would be classified as an agnostic. I believe that there is something out there, yet I’m apprehensive to label it. The way that I get myself through this angst is to say to myself that my relationship with my interpretation of God is that they know my heart and my intentions. I do not go to church (except for weddings, family occasions and Midnight Mass) as my issue is with the people at church; they are the ones that are condemning me. I pray, not as much as I should do, but I pray. Jesus states that it is better to worship in private than to do it publicly as if it is some sort of spectacle. If I didn’t have religion to turn to in my time of need, when I didn’t feel comfortable confiding in family and friends, I’m not sure how I would cope. I find comfort in an eschatological answer. The concept of an afterlife allows me to stop grieving when a loved one passes and gives me hope that they are looking upon me and that one day we will be reunited.
As part of this project, I had planned on interviewing religious leaders (including my childhood priest) and well as those who are both queer and are affiliated with a religion. Even though I had my sights set on a publication that explored religion, fashion and sexuality, my tutors pushed me to explore my own identity and I am so glad that they did because it led me to writing deNYLE!