For ‘non-binary’ youth, marriage debate and vote cut deep

"To me, it wasn't just a matter of, 'Can I get married or not?' It was a matter of, 'Does my church recognize that I exist?'" says Jordan Sandrock, a youth member of General Synod from the diocese of Ottawa. Photo: Art Babych
Published August 2, 2016

Note: Jordan Sandrock, the subject of this article, identifies as neither male nor female and has asked to be referred to in this article as “they” rather than as “he” or “she.”

Also, the term “queer,” though considered derogatory by some, is widely used to denote non-heterosexual people, often by non-heterosexual people themselves.

Jordan Sandrock isn’t able to say what was going through their head when, after hearing the first pronouncement on the same-sex marriage vote at General Synod, they rushed out of the conference room where the vote was held and collapsed in tears on the floor of the corridor outside.

“It was just so emotionally overwhelming that I can’t really remember,” they say.

On July 11, General Synod, the decision-making body of the Anglican Church of Canada, voted on changing its marriage canon to allow same-sex marriages. The resolution was initially ruled to have failed, but was declared to have passed on the following day, after a discovery that the “yes” vote of one member had been miscounted.

For many Canadian Anglicans, the church’s debate and decision on changing its marriage canon were emotionally charged. For Sandrock, 19, who has been living openly as a non-binary person (identifying as neither male nor female) for about five years now, the result announced on the evening of July 11 felt like the church’s verdict on their very humanity.

“To me, it wasn’t just a matter of, ‘Can I get married or not?’ It was a matter of, ‘Does my church recognize that I exist, that my gender exists, that people like me are real and human, created in the image of God?’ ” they say.

It certainly wasn’t the first time Sandrock had encountered this question. Initially raised as a Roman Catholic, Sandrock attended Catholic school, where, they say, “a lot of what we did in religion class was sort of contradictory to my identity.”

For example, they say, the notion that God made humans male and female seemed to mean that to be anything else must mean not being human.

“That was really hard for me to hear,” they say. “The few days that we were talking about this, I left religion class crying.”

They add: “Our society and our culture teach people that gender is binary, so you’re either male or female. And that’s just not the case-it’s not the case biologically, it’s not the case psychologically. It never has been.”

For Sandrock, the question of gender seemed relatively unimportant until their teen years. Partly, they say, this was because their parents did not try to impose gender roles. It was also partly a matter of development.

“It didn’t really matter when I was a kid because kids have sort of a gender-neutral body; kids don’t really understand how gender works, so I didn’t really have any issues with that,” they say. “And then once we got to, like, middle school and high school…everyone became hyper-aware of gender.”

It was during these years, Sandrock says, that they became aware that the gender role other people assigned to them did not seem to make sense.

Sandrock participated in July’s General Synod as a youth delegate from the diocese of Ottawa. It was, they say, probably the most difficult thing they’ve ever done in their life. Once again, Sandrock says, they had to listen to people saying God created humans male and female.

On the day of the vote, they say, “We were talking about the marriage canon for about seven hours, and over 60 people got up to speak, and a lot of them had things to say that were very personal and very hurtful to me. And it was hard to just sit there and just listen.”

Once the shock of the apparent “no” vote hit, Sandrock says, they don’t know how they would have coped without the people from their diocese who gathered around to comfort them. Through the night and morning that followed, they say they were in a state they can compare only to grieving, as though for a deep personal loss.

“I would be around people, and then I would feel like I couldn’t be around them, and then I’d be alone and I felt like I should be around people,” they say.

When the vote was finally declared reversed, Sandrock says they were happy but also restrained, both out of a desire to respect others who might be hurt by this new decision and also from sheer exhaustion.

Sandrock is now going into their second year of a degree in religious studies at the University of Ottawa. Asked about their career goals, they don’t hesitate.

“I’m hoping to be a priest,” they say, smiling broadly.

Sandrock says they’re aware many people find it surprising that queer people like themselves should be so drawn to the church-as though it were an inherently intolerant institution. But this isn’t the church Sandrock sees.

“I know so many faithful queer people, and there are non-binary people at my own church. I know of trans and non-binary people in my diocese,” they say. “I don’t think it’s as unusual as people make it out to be.”

As for religious studies, Sandrock says they have been sensing a calling for some time.

“Back in high school, I realized I wasn’t writing essays about anything but religion!” they say with a laugh. “I thought, ‘Hmm, maybe I’m supposed to be doing something like that.’ ”

In fact, Sandrock says, their faith has helped them cope with the sense of isolation they say comes from being non-binary.

“One of the things people don’t talk about is how lonely it is,” they say. “Everyone else can walk around town and there are a hundred people the same gender as them and share the same experience of gender as them, whereas for me, I was out as non-binary for four years before I met another non-binary person. And even then, we may not have the same experience of gender.”

An important source of strength for them growing up, Sandrock says, was the idea that since God created non-binary people, God must also know what it means to be non-binary.

This, they say, was something to hold onto through the loneliness.

“If I didn’t believe in God, then I was totally alone in this. But if God existed, then I had someone who was beside me who understood what I was going through,” they say.


  • Tali Folkins

    Tali Folkins joined the Anglican Journal in 2015 as staff writer, and has served as editor since October 2021. He has worked as a staff reporter for Law Times and the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal. His freelance writing credits include work for newspapers and magazines including The Globe and Mail and the former United Church Observer (now Broadview). He has a journalism degree from the University of King’s College and a master’s degree in Classics from Dalhousie University.

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