Sarah Jones was outed as transgender in the national press after she became ordained in the Church of England. Now she speaks about her experience openly to champion diversity, inclusion and LGBTQ rights in the church and beyond.
Sarah Jones is a transgender vicar, public speaker, singer-songwriter, and priest-in-charge at St John the Baptist Church in Cardiff. She made history in 2004 when she became the first person to be ordained in the Church of England having previously made a gender change.
In January 2005 her name and story hit the headlines when she was outed to a national newspaper, in spite of having made her gender change more than ten years previously. The story was picked up in newspapers, on television and on the radio all over the world.
In Season 1 Episode 2 of OUTcast, Sarah speaks to Rosie about what it was like becoming aware of being trans in the 1960s, starting the journey to making her gender change throughout the 1980s, and what gives her hope as an LGBTQ+ person out in the world today.
Making a gender change within the Christian faith
“For many years I identified simply as a woman,” Sarah says on OUTcast. “At first I didn’t really even want to pick the trans label up to be frank with you. I’ve got more used to it now because I felt like I needed to pick it up and say, ‘look, here I am’.”
Sarah describes faith as being very important in her coming out journey, and she describes being trans as something she has ‘squared with God’.
“The truth of it is that, if there is a God – and I believe there is – we should live in harmony with God’s will,” the priest explains. “So I spent a long while just trying to figure out where God might be in all this, and what the right thing to do is.”
She says that in the end, two things happened that helped her take the step of making her gender change. She turned to an experienced priest for advice, and they shared the wisdom that, “what you are is God’s gift to you, and what you become is your gift to God.”
Sarah continues, “and the second thing was, I just really came to realise that, if I’d had a liver problem and I might die, or a heart problem, I wouldn’t say, ‘well, if God wanted me to be well, God would have given me a good heart.’ I would go and get it fixed.”
Can you believe in God and be transgender?
Guided by her innate understanding and dedication to the Anglican faith, and after some rigorous soul searching, Sarah is at peace with having made a gender change as a Christian.
In her understanding of an infinite, expansive God, Sarah sees God as non-gender specific anyway, and Sarah is known for describing God as “beautifully non-binary”.
“Just because we are sexed and gendered, doesn’t mean that God is,” the Cardiff vicar explains on OUTcast. “The Bible says God made us in God’s image. But what human beings do is we flip that round, and we make God in our own image.
So, for centuries, if you’re a white straight man, then God is a white, straight man. Jesus did call God our Father, I’m not querying that at all. But then he was using human language, for humans, in a human situation.”
She concludes: “Within the potentiality, God is neither male nor female, or both, so non-binary.”
“I actually think the future is more accepting and more diverse”
Following this insight into how open-minded Sarah’s faith allows her to be, we ask what gives her hope for LGBTQ+ people in the future.
“I actually think the future is more accepting and more diverse,” she smiles. “I think it is an argument we’re going to win. You know, we’re not going to win every single day with every single person, but actually, ultimately, most people on the LGBTQIA spectrum are fine people.”
She adds: “One of the reasons I wanted to do this podcast is because I think OUTcast is all the things that we’ve been talking about today.
“It’s about being a positive influence; it’s about being a little bit of light in potentially a little bit of a dark place; it’s about supporting both the baby dykes and the people who’ve been doing it for years; it’s about sharing humanity and good stories, and all of this.”
“So, I think OUTcast is going to be part of the reason I have hope,” Sarah says.
Amen to that.
Sarah has appeared on a number of television and radio programmes including Woman’s Hour on BBC Radio 4 and The Heaven and Earth Show on BBC 1. In June 2021 Attitude Magazine honoured Sarah with their Pride Award.