When Darkness Engulfs and Suffocates the Light of Life

Today’s scriptural reflection is from Dr. Claire Jenkins, a trans woman and convert to the Catholic Church. She was married with four children until transitioning from male to female at age 50, in 1999.  She holds a PhD from the University of Sheffield for her research into the effect of transitioning on the family members of transsexual people. Subsequently she has advised a number of research projects and has spoken at Catholic and university conferences. She is actively involved in the pastoral care to LGBT Catholics, coordinating a team of lay and ordained people within her diocese. She currently belongs to a small working group which advises the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales about transgender issues.  In May 2020 Claire was awarded a Senior Fellowship at Margaret Beaufort Institute, University  of Cambridge, where she is researching schools and transgender and gender non-conforming young people. 

Today’s liturgical readings can be found by clicking here.

Jesus asks in today’s Gospel (Matt 16:13-20) ‘… who do you say I am?’  Peter has faith in Jesus and declares that He is the Son of God.  Peter’s faith is  built on trust and hope. That faith can be quite shaken, though, through the experience of loss.

Loss might be conceived as being without something someone once had. COVID-19 has brought many losses as our world has been turned upside down. We may grieve the loss of a deceased loved one; freedom to enter the public space; a job; having friendly hugs; going to mass; or simply having a cup of coffee and laughter with friends. As we grieve these losses, we will experience some or all the feelings of pain, suffering, numbness, yearning, searching, anger, disorganisation, despair, reorganization, denial, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

Pope Francis recently described a classic experience of loss when he recalled how Aeneas, in Virgil’s ancient epic poem, had lost everything following defeat in Troy. Two paths lie before the warrior: to remain there, weep, and end his life, or to follow his heart and go up to the mountain, leaving the war behind.

Our current experiences of loss remind me of a choice I had six years ago after the end of a loving relationship I had with Dee, a cisgender woman. Dee and I are very different in many ways: she is black of Jamaican parentage and I am white Welsh, she is 42 and I am 66, she is intelligent but uneducated whereas I have six degrees. Our bodies are different: she experiences racism, I experience transphobia; she is a woman and I am a trans woman; I am Catholic and she is Pentecostal; and I had a good childhood whilst she didn’t.

I was frightened to bear the loss of Dee because of the many other significant hurts I experienced during my life. I felt that this heartbreak was the most painful I ever remember having suffered. I wrote a reflection at the time which I return to in this time of COVID-19 loss. The timbre of the short rapid sentences resonates with the fast and confusing feelings many people are experiencing now because of their losses, of feeling one’s life is out of control. I invite the reader to be plunged into my story.

It is scary looking into a dark well. How deep is it? What’s there? Is there a monster waiting to ambush your virgin body as it descends into the self? What will you find?  Will it be worth it? I need a light to show me the way, the path I am supposed to follow.  The descent has begun and the dark walls are flashing by as the fear accelerates toward the bottom, no break can stop it now, too late, the dark is engulfing and suffocating the light of life.

I did not just end up at the bottom of the well. I was pushed or fell, not sure yet, but not for the want of trying to know why.  I am struggling and gasping to keep afloat, to keep alive.  She has gone and I am left alone.  My heart has been ripped out and my compass, my soul has been annihilated. The black water is threatening to engulf me as it slowly rises.  What has happened to my life with her? Where are our dreams? Where have the laughing, the ecstasy, and the bloody passion gone? We used to pray to God entwined in our bed, but that’s gone, too.  We travelled and danced to countries and knowledge afar, journeys rich with desire, fever, song and tenderness.  The soul of two was nourished as one.  All has vanished sucked into the dark black hole of the well never to return.

Grief is a funny thing. It’s like riding on a whirling sycamore seed. Where is she? What is she doing? Why has she gone?  What could I have done to keep her? Was I wrong or had I been too right?  I am sad. I am lonely. I despair. My light has gone out. Help. 

Yet up there in the distance there is a little round light, far off.  How do I get there?  Panic.  Busy yourself and thrash about. That’ll sort it. Join a singing group.   Find more friends.  Do some art.  Sort out the Church and vanquish its homophobia. Psychotherapy and or confession – bless you my child.  Weed and prune my life or my garden.  Give away my accumulations, that’ll do it, it’s certain to make me righteous.  Fast for Lent and expose the atrocity for the need of Foodbanks.  Start a school and teach liberation.  Just keep busy, use plenty of energy three times a day for the next four weeks. Come back if you need more.

Climb out, climb out, climb out and struggle up those slimy, wet, mossy, dark, walls to a place of tenderness and warmth, a place beyond the present.  It not easy though because there is no route, no map if you are seeking intimacy as a trans woman. These days they say follow the route of celebrities: you must be positive, enthusiastic, committed and all the bloody rest of it.

I have decided. I will trust the round intimate little light remembering that we are always presented with choices in life.  To stay at the bottom of the well is an act of grief and despair, a hiding from the painful truth of what has happened.  I want to choose life and once more speak the truth to love.

I want to follow the path our Lord offers to live life fully with trust in my heart. I trust that after reading this digesting this reflection, you, dear reader, will better understand who I am as a trans woman.

Claire Jenkins, August 23, 2020

2 replies
  1. Soline Humbert
    Soline Humbert says:

    Thank you Claire for your sharing. As I read it, it reminded me of some of the Psalms, with their frank heartfelt outpourings…
    It was wonderful to meet with you a few years ago when you came to speak at a We Are Church meeting in Dublin, Ireland. Saluting your courage and integrity and sending you blessings of joyful hope. Soline

  2. Kieran Fitzsimons
    Kieran Fitzsimons says:

    Dear Claire, I’ve just stumbled across your powerful, eloquent, moving reflection. Grief is so unpredictable, staggering and unique. To coin a phrase, we’re broken deeper, mysteriously into our humanity – an unwelcome, dreadful process. Thank you for your courageous, prophetic witness.
    With love,
    Your brother, Kieranx ❤️ x


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