News and Interviews

Emily Austin Uses Her Trademark Sass to Rewrite Bible Verses for the LGBTQIA+ Community

Interview with Emily Austin - Woman in glasses and toque sitting with back to graffitied wall in background image, text over dark square background to her right with the Open Book logo below.

For an author with a background in Religious Studies, Emily Austin is well placed to call up passages from The Bible and examine them closely. This also gives her the ability to look at the text from a modern, LGBTQIA+ perspective, and address it accordingly.

In Gay Girl Prayers (Brick Books), Austin takes verses from The Bible and rewrites them through this lens, shifting focus away from sexist and homophobic leanings and revelling in a reclaimed version of the text that uplifts queer, feminist, and trans realities. These poems are a celebration of difference, told with sass and verve. 

It's a powerful collection that aims to heal those who have suffered as a result of misuses of religious tomes like The Bible, and to reframe this particular text to confront religious trauma. 

We are delighted to share this important interview with Emily today, as part of our Line and Lyric series.


Open Book:

Tell us about this collection and how it came to be.

Emily Austin:

I wrote this poetry after revisiting the Bible with an interest in how women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are represented. I grew up Catholic. I deconstructed as I got older and became aware that the biblical portrayal of women—which is that we exist to be quiet, subservient, chaste helpers for men—is sexist. I was also aware that the Bible is homophobic. Because I had already become aware of this, I did not expect to discover anything shocking in relation to gender or sexual orientation while re-visiting the Bible recently; however, I was wrong, and I was surprised. I wrote this collection in response to that.

It didn’t occur to me until recently that the Bible, which I felt was predominately repressive and frightening, is uplifting and heartening to its target audience. Men in the Bible are depicted as strong, capable leaders. They are powerful. God is a father and a son. God is a he. Some men are born with superpower strength in their hair—while there are women in the Bible who use their hair to wash men's feet. Women are only venerated when they are beautiful, submissive, or deeply repentant.

In and outside of the bible, religiously fuelled homophobia and transphobia is rampant. The bible and religion are often wielded against LGBTQIA+ people and women. What I hadn’t fully grasped until recently was that the Bible makes some people feel sacred, powerful, and good. Because of who I am, I had always thought it did the opposite.

In the context of the bible and many religions, women, queer, and trans people are often made to feel lesser and unholy. Little girls receive the message that they exist to help men, that their value is entwined with their virginity, and that the archetype of a perfect woman is the impossible combination of a mother and a virgin. Some boys receive that same message, as well as an authorizing message regarding how gifted and powerful they can be. The message I aimed to write in this collection is that we are all scared, gifted, and powerful.


Can you tell us a bit about how you chose your title? If it’s a title of one of the poems, how does that piece fit into the collection? If it’s not a poem title, how does it encapsulate the collection as a whole?


I chose the title Gay Girl Prayers with my intended audience in mind. I wanted it to be clear who this book was written for. It’s for LGBTQIA+ people and women with religious trauma. 

I also choose the title partly because of search engines. Many of the search results that are generated when people query words like “gay girl” and “prayer” are deeply homophobic. I wanted this to surface among those results—especially for queer and trans people.


Was there any research involved in your writing process for these poems?


The poems reclaim biblical passages and catholic prayers to empower LGBTQIA+ people and women. Because of this, there was a considerable amount of research involved in writing them. Most of the poems are titled referencing biblical passages. For example, the poem titled “Leviticus 20:13” reflects on the passage that claims it’s an abomination for a man to lie with another man.

I re-read the Bible to write these poems. I studied Religious Studies in university and leveraged my knowledge from that. I also went to school to be a librarian and have an interest in religious trauma—so I spent a considerable amount of time researching topics like women in the bible, transphobia, fundamentalism, and more. I have many versions of the manuscript that are covered in notes, biblical quotes, and references to related information. I found researching this a lot of fun and was sad to be finished the project. I really enjoyed writing it.


Who did you dedicate the collection to and why?


I dedicated it everyone taught they were going to hell. I wrote this book with the intention of empowering and uplifting people who have been historically disempowered by religiously fuelled intolerance.


What are you working on next?


I’m writing a novel about an aimless lesbian living in a small conservative town. I’m a novelist outside of poetry, but I tend to write related poetry when I’m drafting a novel, and vice versa. I wrote Gay Girl Prayers while writing my novel Everyone in this Room Will Someday be Dead, for example. That book deals with topics relating to religion and the LGBTQIA+ community as well. All to say, I’m also working on poetry relating to the topic of being a queer person in a small conservative community.


Emily Austin (she/her) is the author of the novels Interesting Facts about Space and Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead. and the debut poetry collection, Gay Girl Prayers. "Everyone In This Room" was long listed for The Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour, shortlisted for the Amazon First Novel Award, and a finalist for the Ottawa Book Awards. 

Emily was born in St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada. She studied English Literature and Religious Studies at King's University College, and Library and Information Science at Western University. She received two writing grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, and has a background in libraries, teaching, and working as an information architect. She currently resides in Ottawa / the territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation. She is represented by Heather Carr at The Friedrich Agency

You can find Emily on Instagram @EmilyRAustinAuthor, Twitter @EmilyRAustin, or TikTok @EmilyAustinAuthor.

Buy the Book

Gay Girl Prayers

The extreme level of sass in Emily Austin’s Gay Girl Prayers does not mean that this collection is irreverent. On the contrary, in rewriting Bible verses to affirm and uplift queer, feminist, and trans realities, Austin invites readers into a giddy celebration of difference and a tender appreciation for the lives and perspectives of “strange women.”

Packed with zingy one liners, sexual innuendo, self-respect, U-Hauling, and painfully earnest declarations of love, this is gayness at its best, harnessed to a higher purpose and ready to fight the powers that be.