Heaven Bent collects writing by leading academics, activists and community leaders along with the stories and experiences of everyday people in a book revealing the diversity of religious and spiritual experience in the LGBTI community.
Edited by Luke Gahan and Tiffany Jones, the collection features a whole spectrum of LGBTI people and religious experiences from Islam to Paganism.
Speaking to the Star Observer, Gahan said they had focused on showcasing new writers in the book.
“The aim was originally to get a lot of people who hadn’t written before, and we actually managed to achieve that,” he said.
“We wanted to show that LGBTI people are just as diverse when it comes to religion. Not all LGBTI people remain religious—there are still some that do, from their childhood, but also that some people have changing experiences all throughout their lives.”
A recurring theme of Heaven Bent is not just spiritual and religious diversity between people, but within individuals as well. Gahan was interested in how people had actively shaped their own spiritual identities.
“People really did craft their own journey, so whilst many grew up in quite rigid religious worlds they were able to then navigate and find their own way through it,” he explained.
“Because we’re LGBTI it gives us often that ability to be more flexible and to have a much more diverse experience, and I think that’s what has created some of these quite unique journeys.”
While many pieces in the collection are uplifting, there are also confronting stories of rejection, self-loathing and abuse as the authors attempt to locate their deeply-felt spirituality within an environment often hostile to LGBTI identities.
For some negotiating with those conflicting ideas leads to a rejection of religion and spirituality, but perhaps surprisingly, for many it results in a complex personal spirituality built from individual experience.
“Queer people grow up understanding that there’s something different in their life, so we become much more introspective. We’re searching for meaning in the world and that then extends to religion and spirituality,” Gahan speculated.
“I that’s why all these different people have such interesting stories, because they do go through and look at their own situation, their own existence at a much deeper level.”
Heaven Bent is out now at bookshops in Melbourne and Sydney and online. Melbourne LGBTI bookshop Hares and Hyenas is holding a launch on Wednesday 16 October from 6.30pm, with the editors in conversation with intersex advocate and politician Tony Briffa.