Rev. Cameron Partridge, the religion scholar at Harvard Divinity School and Episcopal chaplain of Boston University. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky/courtesy Boston University Photography

The Rev. Cameron Partridge, religion scholar at Harvard Divinity School and Episcopal chaplain of Boston University. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky/courtesy Boston University Photography


This image is available for Web and print publication. For questions, contact Sally Morrow.

(Editor’s Note: The introduction has been revised after Partridge objected to the use of the pronoun “she.”)

(RNS)  The Rev. Cameron Partridge lives outside Boston with his wife and two young children in what looks like, to those who don’t know them, a typical suburban marriage.

While a student at all-female Bryn Mawr College in 1995, Partridge came out as gay and embraced a call to the priesthood. Partridge then graduated from Harvard Divinity School, transitioned from female to male, was ordained an Episcopal priest, got married and completed his doctorate. Today, he’s a religion scholar at Harvard Divinity School and an Episcopal chaplain at Boston University.

We talk to Partridge about his transgender and spiritual journeys, his discomfort with simplistic views of male and female, and feeling at home in Anglicanism. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Can you tell the story of how, transitioning from a woman to a man, you came to choose the name “Cameron” for yourself?

A: In a way, the name chose me. I was at a point in my life when my previous name (which I prefer not to publicly disclose) felt like it no longer fit. I wanted a name that conveyed some sense of gender complexity, since I consider gender in general and my own in particular to be less than straightforward.

At the same time, I had no desire to totally jettison the history — including the thoughtfulness of my parents — caught up in my birth name. Then one day when I was getting sushi takeout, the person behind the register “misheard” my old name as Cameron. 

It was a bolt from the blue. I thought, “I think I’ll take that to go too, thanks.” Eventually I looked it up. It turned out to mean something slightly askew: bent nose, crooked stream, or craggy rock. Years earlier I’d bought a button from a queer bookstore that said, simply, “bent.”

And I recalled being struck by a line from Ecclesiastes that I once heard the former Episcopal presiding bishop, Frank Griswold, preach in connection with the scandalous quality of the Christian gospel: “Consider the work of God: Who can make straight what God has made crooked?”

Q: You have said you are often put off by the “before-after” focus of portrayals of transgender people, which can be — your word — “invasive.”

A: For several years now there has been an effort in trans studies to complicate the before-after narrative frame. A great, accessible example is a film by Jules Rosskam called “against a trans narrative.”

I agree with these critiques that “before-after” narratives can have a way of boxing people in. Plenty of trans people don’t medically transition, and those who do transition do so in various ways — they may or may not identify as simply male or female. So “before-after” questions can sometime feel invasive for that reason — because they may unwittingly carry assumptions about how binary or not binary our identities may be.

Q: As a young woman attending Bryn Mawr, you came out as a lesbian, but also, in a way, as a religious person. How so?

A: When I got to college I’d been quietly wrestling with my sense of vocation for a few years. I felt drawn to academic work — ultimately in gender, sexuality and religion — but I also sensed a call to the priesthood.

The priesthood piece just wasn’t very common in either my high school or college contexts, so sharing that with friends felt like a kind of coming out. It was a fairly surprising thing to do. I love that now I know several fantastic Bryn Mawr grads who are also Episcopal priests. We’re like a tiny club.

Q: You’re married to a woman who was your partner when you both were women. And now, as a married straight couple, you’re a pretty conventional-looking family. But you don’t really like the designation “straight couple.”

A: On the one hand, I am read as a member of a heterosexual couple, and there are privileges that I receive because of being read that way. We are legally classified as married both at the state and federal levels, which — as the recent Supreme Court decisions have underscored — is huge.

At the same time, the inconsistency in how the states legally recognize trans people can leave us vulnerable. Ultimately the identity term “heterosexual” doesn’t resonate for me because it fails to capture my history and because I see both gender and sexuality as part of a spectrum, not simply as binary.

Someone else in my exact same position might identify in a quite different way. Here’s the bottom line — perhaps cliche but true: This is about love. I love my spouse and my children. I love being a husband and a dad. It’s truly the adventure of a lifetime.

Q: You found a home at Harvard Divinity School and in the Episcopal Church. What did each of these two institutions provide?

A: To me, HDS is a space of intellectual rigor, and of openness and empowerment to various identities and practices of ministry in multiple traditions. It’s a privilege to now serve in roles that open up that space for students there. 

Being Anglican is just in my bones. It was such a fantastic experience to discover in college that the tradition in which I grew up was the one I wanted to embrace as an adult. I love the centrality of the Eucharist, the fairly wide range of communities under our umbrella, our history as both reformed and catholic, our intellectual bent, and our increasing boldness to be about the work of justice.

But most of all I appreciate what’s called “Anglican comprehensiveness,” which often calls us to embody ambiguity. Sometimes that causes us discomfort, even conflict, but it’s at the heart of who we are as Anglicans. I love that.

39 Comments

    • Who is to say that a person of male gender born into a female body is a mistake? Perhaps there is a reason that you simply do not see. Perhaps Trans* people are God’s way of challenging us to see the person beyond the body.

      • The idea that personhood has nothing to do with the body isn’t Christian, it’s Gnostic. This person has a fully realized Gnostic understanding of self, but let’s not confuse that with Anglican Christianity.

      • Ann Frenning Kossuth

        We are all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all God’s children.

        Jesus said in John 8:7 (NIV): “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” …or him.

        Whenever you seek within your soul to find love and acceptance for “thy neighbor,” and love one another as He loved us, that’s where you find God.

        John 13:34-35 (NIV)
        34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

        This is what Christ commanded us. Love one another. It is that simple, and also that profoundly hard.

    • Before one attempts to define if God made someone male or female, one needs to determine what makes a person male or female. Is it simply the visible portions of the body? Is it their DNA? Is it their internal organs? For most of us, they all match. However, some of us have disconnects where their brain structures are of the opposite gender of their outward appearance. Some of us even have genes of one gender and organs of the other (e.g. XY females).
      So if your brain is that of a male and your body has female parts, what are you? If God made someone this way, why should the rest of us not accept the beauty that He has given us in all His glory. Cameron did not choose to be who he is. He has accepted what God has given him and is working to forward God’s work as best as he can. As hard as it is for our limited minds to understand God’s plan, we must accept it and love all men and women.

  1. As a transman/intersex individual who graduated from a small seminary in Maine,I live with the daily misunderstandings, subtle, and blatant bigotry surrounding my personal identity. These articles shed light on the often dark taboos of what it means to be a person of faith who has wrestled with what it means to be nonconforming to societal and medical norms. Therefore, whenever I read them I am thrilled to see the progress we are making, and I am afraid of the “comment” section where hatred continues to permeate the goodness that all of us as people of faith are called to live into. Thank you Cameron for sharing your journey, and to those who must antagonize and offer hate, please STOP and ask yourself if you want that same pain placed on you. Amen.

      • Thank God we all have Frank around to tell us what truth is! By all means, grand sage, please do continue explaining it all for us. (Or, are you just the smart one who has figured out what God says the truth is? Curious how often God’s “truth” turns out to be the same thing as what such grand sages happen to believe.)

        • You don’t need me to see the truth. God already has told us. God made them male and female be fruitful and multiply.

          If you notice those that cannot find scriptural support for their beliefs simply attack. After all if anyone wanted to provide scriptural support for homosexual behavior and gender change they wold be out of luck as it doesn’t exist.

          • Thank you, Frank, for being a voice of reason for insisting upon reality and fact in a world ruled more and more by fantasy and feelings.

            After reading the various comments posted thus far, the attempts to justify wishful thinking while dismissing empirical data are highly indicative of where society as a whole has gone and continues to go.

            One hopes there is merit in arguing facts with people unprepared or unwilling to acknowledge that their positions are founded upon contradictory statements which defy, for example, the fact that males and females are, disorders aside, genetically distinct from each other.

            The substitution of highly malleable terms such as gender for the objective genetic identity of an individual, for example, by impassioned individuals seeking approval of their artificial or cosmetic alterations, is further confirmation that reason is frequently made subordinate to and suppressed by baser instincts.

    • Transgendered people have no doubt suffered even more prejudice than other gay people, as much or more than people whose skin is darker than “white.” Even more than women. That’s a great deal of prejudice. Its continuation is a sad commentary on an age when the opportunities to learn have expanded enormously. It shows we are not taking advantage of those learning opportunities. Instead, we wallow in our ignorance and the prejudices that come from than ignorance. To say nothing of mean spirits.

  2. I know that there’s a lot more to this story than what I’m reading here, so I don’t want to be too hasty or harsh about things.

    But these are very dark days for America, and especially for American Christianity.

    • Does new knowledge and honesty in facing that knowledge make America and Christianity dark? If so, it’s because certain Americans and certain Christians have turned off the lights.

  3. Interesting. I remember Cameron and his wife from BMC, and it is nice to get an update on their lives. Sorry about the troll comments–I am not familiar with this website, but I would guess they post here often :)

  4. Deborah Weekley

    Stories about “before and after” are very important to MANY transpeople! Especially those that know they are transgender from a very young age. It does not mean the buy into ” The Gender Binary.” The Transgender Community, must learn to recognize and celebrate diversity within itself…or how then can the world do so?

  5. This story can make many “straight’ homosexuals realize that they might be as prejudiced toward those feeling the need for full or part transgender surgery as straights are prejudiced toward “queers.”. It can be an experience that brings home the realization that the lack of knowing and feeling the conditions in another person can cause prejudice even in those people who suffer great prejudice. All prejudice comes from feelings that are grounded in ignorance of one kind or another.

    For centuries, many gay people, perhaps a majority, who haven’t felt the need to act like the opposite sex, dress like the opposite sex, or, most of all, seek to rearrange their gender physically, have felt and displayed the same strength of prejudice toward their opposites as straight people have displayed toward them.

    It can be a valuable learning experience if used properly. It’s a matter of “people in glass houses not throwing stones.” Cameron Partridge is a perfect example. Gay guys have often made ugly fun of “nelly queens,” even when they’ve enjoyed their “drag shows” or made fun of their behavior. They laugh at them, they applaud them for their entertainment, but the prejudice is often there, and it’s something we need to consider very seriously.

  6. As an straight married Episcopal priest, I will start by saying that I am BOTH for full Creedal-Biblical-Trinitarian-Incarnational Orthodoxy AND for full LGBT inclusion in the Church. In fact, I think that following the God incarnate in Jesus, who destroyed death by his bodily resurrection, actually entails practicing the same type of hospitality he did (and isn’t hospitality a much better term than “inclusion”?). And this entails embracing “others” who have socio-biological identities that are not dealt with in Scripture.

    Many would argue (myself among them) that Scripture doesn’t come anywhere near dealing with same sex attraction, and when it does it is only in a half dozen places that are speaking of cultic prostitution and probably pederasty. Nothing is said of an enduring orientation resulting in a lifelong covenant relationship between two men or two women. In addition, the Bible says absolutely nothing about Transgendered folk and the issues they face. Period. We have to draw on inferences and Scriptural trajectories, in addition to insights from biology and psychology, to determine the best pastoral care for these sisters and brothers.

    Yet, in the person of the “Eunuch” we find that God fully accepts the “sexually other” on the basis of Covenantal Love and faithfulness to The Lord (cf. Isa 56; Mat 19; Acts 8). Just as we can find ample examples in the Bible of God accepting the righteous faithful who are married, single, and even in plural marriage, so also we find God’s acceptance of the closest Biblical analogue we can name for LGBT folk: The Eunuch. This is the most fruitful trajectory in Scripture we can follow in understanding how Jesus wants to unite us all into the glorious diverse splendor of what it means to be his Body on Earth.

    I have ministered with a handful of transgender folk, and I cannot claim that I understand what they are going through, nor am I naturally inclined to be very comfortable with their issues. The challenges they face are almost wholly alien to my experience. But I know Jesus loves them and walks with them through the challenges of their path. And I also know that the most Christlike response is not to bash them round about the head with our assumptions of gender normality. That does nothing but produce guilt and shame for them not having a perspective that is as totally alien to them as their perspective is to me. Rather, I listen to them, pray with them, care for them, and affirm all that is good, true and beautiful in their lives as they seek to follow Jesus. And I hope they will do the same for me and with me.

    • Jesus affirmed Gods created order for marriage and sexuality. Male plus female. Anyone who claims anything else has rejected Gods created order.

      Sad how people try and jump through hoops with scripture to support how they want to live their lives instead of following Gods Will for their life.

  7. Pastor Carol Vincent

    This quote from Ecclesiastes, “Consider the work of God: Who can make straight what God has made crooked?” It a total misquote and self interpretation of scripture. When you take a sentence from the bible and make it fit your way of life regardless of all the many other scriptures that are totally for one man and one women to marry and live in God’s ideal way, is just one of many that try to make God fit man’s values rather than mankind live in God’s values.
    This passage has nothing to do with gender or sexual orientation and so is she/he saying they were born ‘crooked’? And does God make people homosexual? Have we forgotten that mankind is sinful and this is not God’s making at all. We are all corrupt and the heart evil above all things. We are given the opportunity to choose God’s way or continue in the way of man’s viewpoint. It’s not about who is right or wrong here as far as we are concerned, but what does God say and he says ‘a man shall leave his father and mother and become one with his wife.’ When you read the word of God, be hearers and doers of it, not change it to fit what you want it to say to fit your corrupt minds. One day we will all have to answer for what we have done with his word. The truth shall set you free and that means only the truth, not a twisted perversion of it.

  8. Me, me, me. Look at me. Hear me. Condone me. Celebrate me. Learn from me. The reason that so many distance themselves from lgbt politics is the unmitigated narcissism of presenting your sexual identity to the world around you for approval.

  9. That last comment seems to betray a lack of awareness of gay and lesbian couples, or young people, or both. I’ve known many older gay and lesbian couples and they are as mature, as respectful, and as grossed out by over-the-top displays of public affection or sexuality as any straight married couple.

    And I’ve worked with students for about 20 years and I can say that narcissism is very much a product of youth. Young couples- whether straight or gay- are often grossly public in the way they display affection. Young people in general are very me-centric and obsessed with figuring out who they are, and then having others respect and honor that identity. It’s part of developmental psychology.

    Don’t believe it? Hang out after your local high school lets out sometime and watch the drama. But the good news is that they grow out of it. Most of them. There are immature narcissistic adults out there of all varieties: Straight, gay, lesbian, etc. But thankfully they are the minority.

    So, if you are uncomfortable with LGBT folks, I would not blame that on some hastily constructed, poorly researched generalization that “all LGBT people are like…” Instead, be honest about your own feelings. Say to yourself and others: Their sexual otherness freaks me out and threatens me and I don’t want to be around them. This is not as healthy as accepting them as children of God, but is probably healthier than constructing false rationalizations for your prejudice.

    As for there being a demand to publicly recognize one’s sexuality: This comes primarily from heterosexual norms. One major facet of the sacrament of Marriage is the public, Covenantal recognition that two people have chosen each other for sexual intimacy and the raising of a family. So if you are really turned off by public recognition of sexuality, I would start by boycotting weddings, which are the most numerous and public of such recognitions.

    • @natebostian. You hear what you want to hear and rewrite or marginalize what you dont agree with. I dont need you to tell me what i think or mean. you missed ‘lgbt politics’ and ran off to your own immature fantasy world, where everyone either agrees with you or is afraid of otherness. you and your ill are the ones who are phobic-fearful of the valid dissent that wont join your parade.

      thanks to you, the narcissism marches on, via the ongoing drumbeat that proclaims that all who have other allegiances-ones that are at odds with lgbt politics-simply dont get it.

      since you have introduced the juvenile tactic of telling me who i really am and what i really mean, try this on for size; you are gay (dont say your not) because you are terrified of otherness and can only bear to be intimate with something like yourself. your need for acceptance that arises from self-hatred causes you to be a cheap conformist, trumpeting all the trending topics in the hope that someone will include you or pat you on the head. You are probably also trying to use your comments to solicit money from a rich gay patron….because you are lazy. You respond to the comments of others instead of writing your own because your imagination has been exhausted trying to fit in.
      When you done feeding your addiction to substance and daytime TV, your Mom will make you dinner and do your laundry.

      • natebostian:

        I am an Orthodox Anglican layperson who is curious about your LGBT quote: “As an (sic) straight married Episcopal priest, I will start by saying that I am BOTH for full Creedal-Biblical-Trinitarian-Incarnational Orthodoxy AND for full LGBT inclusion in the Church.”

        What do you mean by “full LGBT inclusion in the Church”? How do you anticipate full creedal inclusion of bisexuals in the Church, consistent with Christian Orthodoxy? By “marrying” bisexuals and their partners sequentially, according to their current sexual preference? Or by “uniting” one bisexual woman with a man and a woman?

        I seriously want to know what you think. Today’s prevailing assumption is that we should conform our religious views and customs to our desires, urges, and impulses. Don’t you believe that we should instead seriously attempt to have God inform us about these issues? We read God’s inspired Word in Genesis about creating man and woman in the image of God, and that they are made for each other. We hear Jesus decreeing that a man and a woman should leave their families and become one flesh. Forgetting for a moment thousands of years of societal traditions throughout the world, why are you so willing as a priest to deviate from God’s ordained prescription for the family, which is the basic governing unit of society? Whatever else it may be, same sex attraction is an evolutionary dead end. On this God and Darwin seem to agree.

        Respectfully,

        Charles

  10. Thanks Gabriel for the comments. They are very illustrative of the point I was trying to make. I’ll keep them in mind when I call my mom who lives 600 miles away, when my wife and I feed our three kids with the fruits of my income, and when I work with my heterosexual supervisors at my job. You have taught me a lesson on being judgmental, and I will make sure to put in practice your words. Until next time, may the Risen Lord Jesus Christ fill your life with compassion, patience, hospitality, and love for those whom you disagree with.

    • @natebostian. NOW you take a sarcastic off ramp onto the high road. kudos. would that the lesson you learn from me is not to rewrite the words of another or reconstruct character into familiar profiles that you can then marginalize. it was you who saw fit to do so. the false paradigm that you and others present (either affirm my cause or you are an ignorant bigot) is childish and thankfully there are indications that it is collapsing under the weight of its own absurdity.

      i notice that you took the time to introduce facts (if they are so) to vindicate yourself in response to the broadsides of a stranger. why? dont like it when someone misrepresents you?

      dont hide behind Jesus now. his arch enemy is by definition a liar and accuser; reread your comment and tell me if that was representative of Christ. it is not; concerning me, it is just your lies and accusations, and representative of something else.

  11. i understand. civility is important to me too. i will discontinue participation in the discussion.

    it is regretable that rules of usage often permit incivilty so long as it is nuanced. I was accused of poor research, dishonesty, being freaked out, threatened, unhealthy, false, and prejudicial. I made no threats and used no profanity; i simply returned a heavy dose of these conversational liabilities to the person who introduced them.

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