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.Â
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.