Transitioning presented a lot of challenges for Anglican Priest Sorèl Coward, but it also gave her an opportunity to serve a new community.
Sorèl Coward is an Anglican priest. She is one of three transgender Anglican priests in Australia and the only one in South Australia.
“I’ve been a priest for many years, since 1995 when I was Father Simon.”
Sorèl had struggled with her gender dysphoria since she was 5 years old.
“I went to an all-boys school in Adelaide, which is unfortunate because I really wanted to go to an all-girls school.”
For many years Sorèl tried to run from her gender dysphoria. First, by enlisting in the Navy.
“That might sound like a nice strategy, but as someone who suffers from chronic seasickness it ended up being kind of problematic.”
She then went on to join the New South Wales Police before becoming an Anglican Priest.
She also met, fell in love and married her wife Jane.
“I've been married for 28 years to the most beautiful woman in all the world. My relationship with Jane is probably the most incredible thing that has ever happened to me. On our wedding day I was full of guilt about the truth of who I am. I thought getting married would seal up that genie in the bottle so it would never get out, but of course it always does, it's just a matter of time.”
On her 50th birthday, Sorèl decided she couldn’t hide any longer and had to start living her life as her true self.
“I thought it was going to cost me my marriage and my job as a priest. I thought I was going to lose everything. I was full of shame, guilt and self-loathing. It all built up over many years.”
“Jane and I were on holiday in Sydney and in Hyde Park. I saw a group of girls playing with their mum nearby, and with fear and trepidation I just turned round to the person that I love the most and I said, ‘you see those girls over there, I wish I had that opportunity, I wish I had been able to live my life as a girl.’”
“Jane has turned out to be more beautiful than I ever could imagine. Even on that day in Hyde Park, after I had told her my truth, she took me shopping for women’s clothing. Even in the hurt, shock and grief she was experiencing, she was still in it for me and I was still in it for her.”
“We don’t view ourselves as being in a same sex relationship. Jane is straighter than a ruler and I am more bent than a slinky but our marriage continues because we made a promise to each other, to love each other for better or for worse.”
“She still leaves me love notes on the kitchen counter when I wake up in the morning. Everyone who meet Jane knows her to be a one in a million person.”
With her transition came struggles with the Church. Anglican ministers need the permission of their bishop to preach or hold Holy Communion. In October 2020, Sorèl’s Archbishop refused her request to officiate.
“The Church’s treatment of transgender people sucks at the institutional level. I've been treated unfairly, unjustly and cruelly. But I knew that when I chose to come back into priesthood.”
“I left parish ministry in 2005 because I knew I needed the space to transition. But in choosing to come back and to be faithful to my call, I discovered one very important thing - Faith in God does not necessarily equate to faith in the church.”
“The church has let me down just like they have let down so many LGBTQI+ Christians. But my parish community is not a reflection of the institutional church, they love me and they care for me.”
“In our own parish we have our own rainbow group of rainbow Christians and we are creating a community from the ground up and we're changing the world."
In facing these challenges, Sorèl has found a new purpose and community to serve.
“This is where I find myself now. I've chosen to come out into this hard and difficult place knowing that so many LGBTQI+ people need to know they are loved for who they are, without explanation and without justification.”
“The LGBTQI+ community is my family. We speak about families of choice, but it's not until you become a minority that that you end up finding people and a community like yourself. So the LGBT community have become not just friends, but family who stand with me, who stand for me and vice versa.”
“This is where I am today. I am loved by God, I'm loved by the LGBTQI+ community and vice versa.”
Sorèl is passionate about the community who welcomed her so lovingly. She now works as a mental health clinician for the LGBTQI+ community in Adelaide.
“My greatest joy is being able to help people grow, thrive and to be truly themselves. It’s the reason that I get up in the morning, to be a part of that process and see people blossom like a flower.”
“I’m currently working with a number of families with transgender adolescents. It is really wonderful when parents really get behind their transgender kids.”
“I have one family whose preparing to send their transgender daughter into an all-girls school so that she can receive the right socialization. I think that's incredible! We hear of stories of parents not being behind their transgender children, but I get to see parents who would do anything to bring joy, love and life to their transgender children.”
And Sorèl is still hopeful of institutional change within the church. She’s currently working on a brief about gender diversity in the Australian church to be presented at the Anglican Bishops Conference in 2021.
“This has come about because I raised with the Archbishop that there is a significant difference between sexual diversity and gender diversity. I suggested to him that I am one of the most experienced professional people and spiritual people persons in Australia to help communicate this to the Church. So, he asked me to prepare a brief which I’m doing now.”
“It’s exciting because it’s a dialogue the church has not had in the past.”
The LGBTQI+ community has given rise to Sorèl’s desire for an equal and loving society, and it’s through her public advocacy where she hopes to lead change.
“I'm so privileged to be able to now represent the LGBTQI+ community and all the outrageous, wonderful joy we bring to the world.”
“That’s what I rise for. I rise to make a difference in the lives of the LGBTQI+ community."