Cameron Partridge Narrates a Journey of Gender and Religion
By Sophia Guida
Meet Cameron Partridge BMC ’95, who worked in Erdman and served on the Honor Board, who wore a duckbill to French class for Hell Week, who was a Customs Person in Brecon and had a relationship with the HA.
Meet Cameron Partridge, who is a transgender Episcopalian priest.
Reverend Partridge spoke in the Campus Center last Thursday as part of Religion on Campus Week. The event, organized by Interfaith Coordinator Allegra Fletcher ’12, drew students and some of Partridge’s former professors. They all settled into armchairs arranged in a circle and listened to Partridge’s remarkable life story.
“I went into the ordination process as a lesbian, and came out an F to M [female to male],” he said at the beginning of the talk, with a smile.
Partridge felt an affinity to the priesthood during his time at Bryn Mawr. One day in the library, he found a book titled "Womanpriest" by Alla Bozarth. The book showed him that his interest in feminism and religion could be combined. He felt he could see himself becoming a priest.
At the time, though, the Bryn Mawr community was not exactly open to religion. Partridge said that the campus seemed to feel nervous about faith, as if it clashed with rationality and academic rigor.
“Deciding to become a priest was like coming out,” Partridge said.
After graduating from Bryn Mawr with a degree in Religion and a minor in Gender and Sexuality Studies, Partridge moved to Boston to pursue a degree at Harvard Divinity School, while his girlfriend, Katiri – that Brecon HA – worked toward her M.A. in chemistry at Harvard. It was here where he began to question gender and labels.
“I wasn’t exactly comfortable saying I was a woman,” he said. “But what the heck does that mean?”
Even his name, Katherine, began to feel confining. He wanted a name that could go either way, not one that reinforced a black-and-white concept of gender. So he began to search for a name that he felt he could “inhabit.” One day he went to pick up an order of take-out sushi, placed under his name, “Katherine.” The clerk misheard him and said “Cameron?”
“No, Katherine,” he said.
But “Cameron” piqued his interest. Later he learned that “Cameron” meant “crooked or bent.” He thought it would be perfect for one who did not believe gender followed the straight and narrow.
Shortly thereafter, he began hormone therapy and embarked on his journey to alter his gender. He felt he had to make peace with labels being placed on him, no matter what his body looked like. He needed to figure out how to work with what he had. He could not be in the “woman” box anymore.
“I resist either-ors in every area of my life,” he said. “Gender and sexuality are more complicated than man-woman.”
Even though Partridge now identifies as a man, he still wants to honor his history as a woman.
“I always say I went to Bryn Mawr,” he said proudly. “People see me now at alumnae events and think I’m a very committed husband because I know all the lyrics of the college songs and chants.”
Most of the people around him were supportive of his journey. His ordination advisor let him take a year off to adjust to the changes. He and Katiri also managed to stay together. Partridge said that the world sees them as a straight couple, though that that is not how they see themselves.
“I guess it speaks to the experience of having the world see you one way, while you see yourself another way,” he said. Biologically, he felt like he was “experiencing adolescence all over again.” He found that he cried less and started to carry body weight differently. And yes, his libido increased. He and Katiri married in 2005, and last fall she gave birth to their son, Gavin.
Partridge believes his journey can help other transgendered and genderqueer individuals feel they have permission to explore how spirituality comes into their gender journeys.
“There is incredible variety in creation, as well as ambiguity,” he said. “And change and transformation are all a part of the Resurrection.”
Eventually he wants to tell his son about his experience, when the time is right. He wants Gavin to know that there are all sorts of families in the world and wants him to grow up respecting them as members of the larger community.
“It all goes back to the community—the people we know and the people we love,” he said.