Some days I am staggered at how demented (I use the word advisedly) and upside-down our world is! Three of the greatest mental illnesses of our day, for example, are homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. How strange it is therefore that it the victims and survivors of them who are often tarred with the mental illness brush. Indeed it is not so long since being trans was listed worldwide as a mental ill-health condition and today there are still requirements of seeing psychologists and/or psychiatrists and/or other doctors for some treatments. Rarely however do we see calls for treatment for those who perpetrate such outrageous transphobic, biphobic and homophobic comments and actions. To some of them we even give status and attention, as leading politicians, religious and other cultural leaders. Increasingly therefore we need to continue to work on what, borrowing from Harry Potter imagery, we may call 'Defence Against the Dark Arts'. This, for me, is part of what is represented by IDAHOBIT (the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia), marked each year on 17 May. Our task together, on this and every day, is to call out the Dementors of our world and nurture the 'divine magic' of compassion and creativity in us all..
J.K.Rowling and the 'original sin' of homo/bi/transphobia
Now I am well aware of heartfelt transgender concerns about certain transphobic behaviour in J.K.Rowling herself (see here for one considered reflection). I am not so sure however that these should invalidate the powerfully queer friendly Harry Potter corpus. If anything, what they do is to point us to the continuing climate and underlying character of homo, bi and trans phobia in our societies. For despite advances in many places, we live, move and breathe with these dark arts. No wonder then that even a fine storyteller, advocate of the marginalised, and personal survivor of mental challenge, may become infected. Indeed, in part, this is also a manifestation of what Christians have traditionally called 'original sin': the reality that we cannot avoid being affected at some level by such destructive forces, raised as we are in environments where relationships of love are marred and respect for the image of God in everyone is tarnished. If most of us are honest, trans, bi and homo phobia also cling to all of us in some way. Some of us for example know how hard it has been to battle one or more of these forces in our own minds and hearts. Most LGBTIQ+ people also recognise we too do not fully understand other parts and people on our sexual and gender diverse spectrum and that we can sometimes be clumsy or even hurtful in our own words and actions. This is not an excuse for such behaviour. Part of IDAHOBIT is a call to unmask and challenge what is wrong. Yet it is above all a call for greater compassion and affirmation of our creative differences.
Compassion and creativity as antidotes
Compassion and creativity are at the heart of defence against the dark arts of repression, both external and internal. I recently produced a short pamphlet (downloadable here) for a recent workshop with trans people in New South Wales, as part of my own response to this deep challenge by which spiritual and religious practitioners are confronted. To do so, I drew on J.K.Rowling's work. For this was deliberately created by her, with many arguably Christian and other spiritual allusions, to tell a contemporary tale of the conflict between good and evil and of the power of true courage and solidarity among the supposedly weak and marginalised who claim what we might call their 'soul-power'. For as she has put it, 'if Harry Potter taught us anything, it is that no one should live in a closet'. Her inspiring characters are thus typically outsiders, including the central headmaster figure of Albus Dumbledore whom J.K.Rowling herself saw as a gay man. Like the great wisdom traditions of our world, her narratives are full of 'queer' events and happenings: transfigurations, shape-shiftings, revelations and comings-out, deep sufferings, joy, love and laughter. The Harry Potter corpus and J.K.Rowling's own rags to riches personal story is thus an encouragement to trust in the overcoming of the psychological and spiritual, as well as the legal, political & cultural, 'powers and principalities' of trans, bi and homo phobia.
Facing up to our Dementors and transformation
Significantly, one of the most striking images in Harry Potter are the Dementors. For as Remus Lupin describes them:
'Dementors are among the foulest creatures that walk this earth... they glory in decay and despair, they drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them... Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. If it can, the Dementor will feed on you long enough to reduce you to something like itself... soulless and evil. You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.'
Many LGBTI+ people, and allies, have had this experience at the hands of some supposedly 'religious' and 'spiritual' people. Modern day Dementors - and we can all name and picture them - can indeed 'consume a person's soul''. Like their fictional counterparts who guarded the awful prison of Azkaban, they can imprison with a terrifying grip. Indeed, like Azkaban, their powers of confinement typically work without walls, other than the life-denying and 'soul-sucking' barriers they create inside people's hearts, minds and spirits, rendering of them 'empty-shells'. So IDAHOBIT is both about re-commitment to the outer tasks of setting LGBTI+ people free and also about renewal of the fight against the 'Kiss' of our own Dementors and the inglorious 'Death Eaters' who have submitted to their own fears and spiritual emptiness. It is about creating spiritualities, lives and communities of compassion and creativity which - by their light, truth, beauty and goodness - will drive away the very real darkness, lies, ugliness and evils of homo, bi and trans phobia. For, as the main heroes in Harry Potter illustrate, even the worst that Dementors and evil can do is transformed by the cultivation of the light and love which lies deep down within, between and beyond us. Harry Potter, his friends and allies, sometimes called this creating a 'Patronus Charm'. As Remus Lupin, in his 'defence against the dark arts' teaching, put it:
"A Patronus is a kind of positive force, and for the wizard who can conjure one, it works something like a shield, with the Dementor feeding on it, rather than him. In order for it to work, you need to think of a memory. Not just any memory, a very happy memory, a very powerful memory… Allow it to fill you up... lose yourself in it... then speak the incantation " Expecto Patronum'."
In a powerful sense, what I call the Christ is part of my 'Patronus Charm'. Yet, whatever form yours takes, by whatever name you call it, or by whatever happy and subversive memories you are empowered, may we transfigure all phobias and turn the world the right way up, with paths of compassion and creativity for all, this IDAHOBIT and every day.
The Revd Dr Jo Inkpin: