(FULL DISCLOSURE: This post has nothing to do with butch fashion, culture, or identity. Why post it here, you ask? Well, dear readers, I like to keep you on your toes.)
Though I love where I live, I have the odd habit of looking at potential apartments on Craigslist at least once or twice a week. I'm not itching to move; I absolutely detest moving, but this is my version of window-shopping. And my DGF and I have been toying with the idea of moving in together, so I've been more diligent than usual in keeping abreast (HAHA SHE SAID "BREAST") of Craigslist's apartment happenings.
In any case, I'm occasionally interested enough in a place to inquire via email. I've learned that places which seem too good to be true are usually located directly beneath a freeway, have no heat, or are Nigerian scams. Last week, I emailed about an apartment, and received the following note:I did get your response concerning the AD I posted on craigslist. My name is Justin James, The House is still available but presently I'm not around.. I did bid for a portion of petroleum land sometimes ago in West Africa and fortunately I won the bidding so I have to move quickly down to Africa to have my company set up. I came over here with my wife, we both bought the House when we got married. Later we decided to have the House rent out, we would have give an agent this job also but the truth of the matter is that the agent would want to handle it professionally and the occupant may not be able to reason along with him later. I know there is no way I can be sure that you are the right person to live in the House because we won't be able to see physical before sending you the keys and the documents to occupy the space. But I just had a feeling that anyone who knows what it takes to put the kind of structure down should know that maintaining a building is mandatory, so if you belief you can take good care of the House and handle it like yours then I will be more than happy to let you rent the House if you can promise me & my family that you will sure take very good care of the House for us as if it was your own.Please if you are ready now to occupy the House kindly provide the information below for record purpose.
Generally, of course, I would just delete this email. But, whimsical girl that I am, I instead borrowed a page from the playbook of the creative and hilarious Deanne Smith
. I filled out his application and sent it back: Dear J.J.,It is so good to be getting letter from you kind sir. I will take excellent care of your resplendent house should you choose to encrust it to me. I can guarantee absolute caring of the property. I took the time today at 8:53 pm to malapropism by. Here is the form which you have regressed:RENT APPLICATION FORMFull Name: Butch WondersDate of Birth: 17Phone: noneCurrent Address: 867 Wall Street, Apt 9Reasons for Leaving Current Apartment: I AM SICK AND TIRED OF ALL THE KOI IN THE POND OUTSIDE MY HOUSE. THEY EAT AND THEY EAT AND IT IS WAY TOO LOUD. I AM LOOKING FOR A QUIET PLACE WHICH YOUR HOUSE SEEMS TO BE. AS I UNDERSTAND IT, YOU HAVE NO KOI. IS THIS CORRECT? I CANNOT ABIDE KOI.Are you married: I am not allowed to get married. I am a LESBIAN GAY. Do you have a pet: yes, severalDo you have a car: yes, severalOccupation: RobotI look forward to hearing from you!Sincerely,BW
Anyone sane (or, say, in possession of a dictionary), wouldn't respond to a robot. But JJ decided to give me the benefit of the doubt DESPITE my intolerance for koi and my flagrant misuse of the English language, writing:Thanks and i hope everything is going on well with you and your Work,i can see that you are very interested in renting my house,i want you to that your profile as been accepted by me and my family especially my wife she really want me to rent out this house to you but before i can do that i will like you to assure me that you will take very good care of my properties and that very thing will be kept in perfect conditionI will like you to know that you will have to make a down payment today so secure the house if you make the deposit payment today the keys and the document will be ship out to you tonight and you will be receiving the keys and the document first thing tomorrow morning around 9:30am. so let me know if i can forward you the payment information of my church secretary here in africa which you will be using to make the payment via WESTERN UNION LOCAL AGENT STORE AROUND YOU.Do to the trust me and my family have in you we are ready to rent out our house to you if you can assure us about proper maintainance. let me know me if i can forward you the information on how you will be making the deposit payment right away. Thanks and God Bless.
Cool guy, right? I sent back the following email to learn a little more about this JJ fellow. You never can be too careful, after all:That sounds great!! I can't wait to give you the money! But first, can you please fill out my landlord form? 1. Name (incl. middle names): 2. Is it okay if I have pets in the house?3. What is your favorite kind of animal?4. What is your favorite sports team?5. Will you accept a gift from me if that gift is a lizard? (I raise gila monsters, which is a kind of lizard, and I have given them to landlords in the past as a show of good faith and happy wellness.)6. Is it okay if I keep my shark tank in the apartment?7. What are your views on gay rights?8. What appliances does the apartment come furnished with? Specifically, I am interested in whether there will be a toaster, a microwave, and a quad-core Apple computer.9. Can I paint the walls of the apartment black? I find that this calms the sharks.10. How much do you think the apartment is worth, approximately, in Euros? I want to make sure I am getting a fair price.Thanks, and I look forward to hearing back from you soon so that we can swiftly complete our goodly transaction!BW
I was afraid that this might be pushing it, and I wasn't sure I'd hear back from him at all. But JJ proved resilient: Hello Wonders1. Name (incl. middle names):- James Michael Justin2. Is it okay if I have pets in the house? :-Yes3. What is your favorite kind of animal?:-Cat and Dog4. What is your favorite sports team? :-I love Manchester Utd5. Will you accept a gift from me if that gift is a lizard? :- (I raise gila monsters, which is a kind of lizard, and I have given them to landlords in the past as a show of good faith and happy wellness.):I will and i will take care of it..6. Is it okay if I keep my shark tank in the apartment?:- Okay.7. What are your views on gay rights?:-I'm very grateful that gay rights is becoming more recognized in our society.8. What appliances does the apartment come furnished with? Specifically, I am interested in whether there will be a toaster, a microwave, and a quad-core Apple computer.:- Utilities are there already but there is no apple computer there u can get one for your self all i have there is a dekstop.9. Can I paint the walls of the apartment black? I find that this calms the sharks.:- No10. How much do you think the apartment is worth, approximately, in Euros? I want to make sure I am getting a fair price.:- 653.727 EURSo let me know if i can forward you the information on how and where to deposit the payment so that we can procced further..Regards Await your quick response.J.JustinRegards await my quick response!
I have to admit that by this point, I was getting a little attached to my new friend. I mean, not only was he going to give me a "dekstop" (which I can only imagine is some new computer model by IKEA), but he promised to take good care of my gila monster. No black paint on the walls, though. I guess even a good guy like JJ has to put his foot down sometimes. Of course, I responded immediately, but I wanted to get to know him a little better, so I pumped him for more information:Hi JJ,Thank you SO much for your patience! Things are psychedelic at work, and as you might imagine, this makes me hobnob with incandescent co-workers. I have a couple of follow-up questions. How much would you like for the deposit? I could just take all the money in my bank account and wire it to you in one lump sum. 1. You say that your favorite kind of animal is both "cat" and "dog." How is this possible? Isn't that like serving two masters, or having two wives? I don't understand. Would you say you are more of a cat person or a dog person? 2. Do you own any cats or dogs? If so, what are their names? (Attach photo if possible.)4. I am SO happy that you will accept the lizard and take good care of it! Do you have an address I can send it to?5. Would you prefer a male or a female lizard, and why?6. What will you name your lizard?7. Where do you intend to keep your lizard?8. I am disappointed that I won't be able to paint the walls black. Can I paint the walls some other color, such as silver (with metallic paint) or purple (with natural dye from a lavender plant)?9. Thank you for your views on gay rights! I couldn't agree more! I hope you don't mind me asking, but are you personally gay? If not, why not?10. A practical matter: is a gardener included with the apartment? If so, what is her name? It will need to be a female gardner. Ideally she will be in good shape and garden in nothing more than shorts and a sports bra. Can you arrange for this? Sincerely,Butch
I kind of figured that at this point, our communication might peter out. But although it took JJ a day and a half to respond, he rose to the challenge: Thanks for the quick response and am glad to read back from you and i want you to know that you can make two month deposit rent upfront and as soon as you move in you will be sending the remaining balance to me, And as for my pets they both stay away from their self and their names are....Dog is called Lucy and my cat is called bra-tie so below is my secretary payment information,if the payment was sent out to him right away you will be receiving the keys and the document of the House first thing tomorrow Morning around 9.30am,I will like you to promise us that you will take very good care of the house for usBelow is the information to send the payment through Western Union Money Transfer Nearest You..Receiver's Name: Julan DavisAddress : 101 Harvey Road CresentCity : Victoria IslandState : LagosCountry : Nigeria
And then he attached the following pictures:
To me, bra-tie the cat looks suspiciously like an Internet image. But then again, who would make up a name like "bra-tie?" I was especially intrigued with the idea that these animals are both able to somehow stay away from themselves. How metaphysically delightful! Still, there was some outstanding business to which JJ had not attended. I wrote the following, somewhat curt message:
You didn't answer all my questions. :-(
Within the hour, JJ came through like the trustworthy guy he has already proven himself to be:
Thanks for getting back to me and i will like you to send me a female one so that she will gave birth to more of it and the address you will be sending them to is 101 Harvey Road Cresent,Victoria Island and i will keep the lizard in my room also it will be named kassy and as for the paint you can paint it with silver,Am not a gay all because God created me just different from that...A gardener is not included...
No eye-candy gardener, but still. He has serious plans for Kassy the pregnant gila monster. (Something tells me that he might not have read up all too closely on gila monsters, though, if he wants to keep it in his room.) At this point, I wondered how many more questions I could get him to answer. This was getting fun. I wrote back:
What is your favorite book you have ever read? How about your favorite movie?
In no time at all, JJ answered:
Thanks for the mail and am glad to hear this from you my favorite book is A Tale of two cities... And my favorite movie is Prison Break....Regards
Admittedly, I did not see this coming. Not only am I impressed with his favorite book, but I love the idea that my faux-landlord's tastes are simultaneously so highbrow and lowbrow. Let's eat baked brie and follow it with pixy stix! Let's go see a Harold Pinter play, then hire a stripper! As a fan of the highbrow/lowbrow mix myself, I could tell that JJ was my kind of guy. Excitedly, I responded:
Wow, I love a Tale of Two Cities, too!! When did you read it? I feel like not many people read it these days. I highly recommend Zadie Smith's White Teeth, if you're a fan of Dickensian characters and complex plots--and also if you don't mind omniscience, which I think was out of vogue for some time, but is becoming popular again.
What is your personal philosophy about life?
Have you ever been in a parade? Have you ever wanted to?
If you had three wishes, what would they be? (Assume that you can't wish for more wishes.)
Little did I that our burgeoning friendship would soon come to an abrupt end. The next day, I received a doubtful inquiry:
Hello, Are you really interested in renting my home or you are playing on my intelligent..
I wrote back immediately, assuring JJ that I was most certainly not playing on his intelligent. But I don't think he believed me, because he wrote back two more emails--one saying that he would answer "no more question" until he received my money, and another telling me that he was "not here for a joke." I guess I thought that a scam was sufficiently akin to a joke for us to be buddies, but no. I have received no further communication from JJ, and I think that even after all we've been through together, we are destined to part ways.
As is often the case, Butch 360
made me think--this time about pronouns
. I shared my own preferences in that post, so I won't bother to recount them here. But I was struck by the marvelous diversity of preferences among the contributors. And it made me wonder what you, dear readers, experience with regard to pronouns. To that end, I made the following poll. I hope you'll participate, comment, enjoy, revel, etc.
It's tough to be a traveling butch! Often we don't know what the clothing norms in our destination place will be like until we get there. I recently participated in the Butch 360 post on traveling
, and it inspired me to come up with some quick tips for jet-setting butches. (By the way, I love Can I Help You Sir
. Check out this post
for a terrific insider's view of DADT.)
- When packing clothes, choose a black or brown color scheme. This means that you'll only have to pack one pair of dress shoes, one belt, one watch, etc. Grey and black pants go with a black scheme; brown and khaki go with a brown scheme. Olive, navy blue, and jeans go with black or brown (though with navy pants, choose dark brown shoes).
- Pack your dress shoes and wear either tennis shoes (for comfort) or boots (which are heavy and bulky to lug around in a suitcase).
- If you're bringing ties, roll them up and put them inside your packed shoes. This way, they won't get wrinkled or smushed.
- Bring a mini lint roller.
- If I'm traveling with my DGF, I make it very clear to small hotels and B&B's that we are dykes. I do this by referring to her as my girlfriend and requesting one bed. This way, I can suss out whether the person on the other end of the line is uncomfortable. If so, I stay elsewhere. This also allows me to avoid awkward check-in conversations. ("Oh--I have you booked in a one-bed room... but I guess you'll need two, right?") This precaution is usually unnecessary with large or chain hotels, where no one cares who you are or who you'll be sleeping with.
- In case you haven't flown lately: what passes for a carry-on these days is crazy, a trend I attribute to ridiculous price that most airlines charge to check even one bag. I recommend packing one large backpack or messenger bag and one medium suitcase. Unless someone tells you that you can't carry it on, attempt to carry it on. If it won't fit in the overhead bin, they'll check it for you at no charge! Just get it past security and you're home free.
- Find out ahead of time whether you'll have access to a washer and dryer (a laundromat doesn't count--too time-consuming). If so, pack half the number of clothes you otherwise would.
- I'm a reader whose eyes are bigger than her brain. Somehow I anticipate devouring a book a day on vacation, and I used to pack accordingly, stunning flight attendants with the weight of my carry-ons. Now, though, I use a handy formula: One book for every three days of a trip, plus an additional book if a plane flight's involved. No hardbacks. And plenty of audiobooks pre-downloaded onto my iPhone.
- Unless you have an emotional or psychological need to do so, I recommend not binding or packing if you'll be boarding a plane. If you set off an alarm, you don't want any confusion about who's frisking you.
- Be prepared for some people to act like jerks on the plane. I haven't had the kinds of terrible experiences that some people have, but people do look askance at me, particularly if I'm with my DGF. Occasionally, they are downright rude, which I enjoy exploiting by acting drippingly, sarcastically polite. (Um, except for one time when a guy said something rude to my girlfriend--not gender related, just travel-related--and I, uh, loudly called him an asshole. Don't do that.)
- Before you go, or as soon as you arrive, find out where the following places are: closest bank, dry cleaner, and coffee shop to your hotel.
- Packing dress shirts without wrinkling them is close to impossible, and the "hang them in the bathroom and let the steam unwrinkle them" trick never seems to work. Ways to deal: (1) get your shirts laundered when you arrive; (2) have the dry cleaner box your shirts instead of hanging them. (I am a recent convert to having shirts laundered. At $1.45/shirt, it's often worth it.); (3) pack shirts that are actually wrinkle-free, not just wrinkle-free wannabes--I've had good luck with Kenneth Cole, L.L. Bean, and Covington.
- Pee at the airport, before you get on the plane.
- I consider the following items essential for a carry-on: iPod or iPhone, Power Bars so I won't end up paying $7 for stale Cheetos, hand sanitizer, a bandana (can be used as a napkin, tissue, whatever), headphones, Chapstick, shoe polish, and a notebook and pen.
- Plan for things to go awry. Flights will be delayed, trains will be missed, shows will be cancelled, and tidal waves will flood out luaus (true story). As long as no one is hurt, there is almost always something funny or absurd about travel mishaps--your goal is to find it.
What are *your* go-to travel tips? What has surprised you the most about traveling as a butch? What odd situations have come up?
The popularity of women like Rachel Maddow and Ellen Degeneres is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s wonderful to see non-gender-normative women in the mainstream limelight. But on the other, it may give people (think: your parents; your grandparents) the impression that gender deviance means short hair and a ladies’ pant suit. “Even Ellen wears make-up,” they might say, as if Ellen occupies the hinterlands of gender presentation. (The implication being: “So why do YOU have to look like a man?”) By comparison to the mainstream media’s watered-down version of “butch,” in-the-flesh lesbians can look extreme just by donning a suit vest and a tie--especially if you're the only butch someone knows.
Yes, I love Ellen and think she has done a ton for lesbians. But if I get married again, you can bet your cuff links I won't be caught dead in something that flowy!
What do you think, dear BW readers? Is the popularity of non-completely-gender-conforming women in mainstream media a good thing or a bad thing? What would you like to see changed in the media's presentation of butch/dyke/boi types?
The Shin Splints
Iron and Wino
My Morning Jacket Was Stolen
Damien Rice Famine
The National Debt
She and Him Get Divorced
Bon Ivericose Veins
Grizzly Bear Attack
M. Ward of the Court
Tainted Milk Hotel
Irreparably Broken Social Scene
Andrew Bird Flu
Conor Oberst Valve in the Heart
Stranded in Beirut
Drowned Naval Fleet Foxes
Many readers have written that it's tough to meet like-minded women, especially if you live in a small town or have a career that rarely puts you in contact with other women-lovin’ chicks!
When I was actively dating, I dabbled (okay, more than “dabbled”) in online fora, partly because Match
, and Yahoo! Personals
were quieter, less irritating places to meet people than in bars, and partly because I could pretend to be socially active while sitting in my recliner drinking a Fat Tire. Although I didn’t find lasting love in cyberspace (though I made some great friends), I highly recommend it. Here are a bunch of easy tips to get you started. Some are written with butches in mind, but most apply to everyone:
What has been your strangest online dating experience? Any tips to add to the list? Any questions about things I haven't covered here?
- On your profile, don’t put up the best picture that’s ever been taken of you. If you do, then when someone actually meets you, there’s nowhere to go but down.
- Meet people in person as soon as possible. No matter how many pictures and emails you swap, there’s nothing like meeting someone in the flesh—you immediately get a sense of her persona (and whether there’s a chance in hell you’d ever want to wake up next to it).
- Include fun pictures, but beware of subtle messages you're sending. A picture with an ex CLEARLY cut out or blacked out = vindictive. More than one picture that includes alcohol = hard partier.
- Don’t plan long first dates. No matter how awesome someone seems, or how articulate her emails are, you do not know her! I made this mistake once. S. and I exchanged four long, riveting emails, then made plans to have lunch, see a play, then have coffee. Within five minutes of meeting this Yale-educated doctor(!), it became evident that she was the most boring person I had ever met in my entire life. This woman was like a vacuum. She was the anti-interest. We went to the play, she laughed at all the stupidest parts, and I bailed on the coffee before she could kill me with her abyss of boredom. Afternoon wasted.
- If you're transitioning, say so. My trans and trans-loving buddies tell me it's perfectly kosher to list your sex as "female," then explain in your profile that you're FTM. Or, if you want to date gay men or straight women, you can list yourself as "male" to show up in searches, but again, you should specifically state that you're transitioning. Saving the surprise for bedtime can not only be uncomfortable; it can be dangerous.
- Always meet in a public place rather than at one of your homes. Tell a friend where you're going and with whom, and plan to have your friend call or meet you afterward.
- When writing your profile, employ tools such as spell check and fourth-grade grammar. Personally, if I read something like: "If your intrestid in mebbe seein a moovie or whatevs hit me up," you can be assured that I most certainly will not.
- If there’s a certain "type" you'd never date, say so. This will prevent femme-loving butches the agony of sending doomed communiqués to femme-loving femmes, will save vegans the trouble of swooning over carnivores, etc., etc. In general, it's nicer to say what you DO prefer, not what you don't—i.e., "I find tall women very alluring," is nicer than "Women under 5 foot 5 need not apply." "Need not apply," in particular, makes you sound like a princess unattractively scrutinizing a long list of potential suitors.
- Everyone likes "laughter" and "having fun." Such trite descriptors should not appear in your profile. No one thinks of herself as a mean person who likes to have a shitty time. Statements like, "I enjoy having a good time and laughing with my friends," or "Message me if you’re a nice person who likes to have fun," translates to: "I have no hobbies and am not especially creative."
- Don’t conceal your body type, statistically improbable height, missing limbs, cartoonishly large eyes, or other physical "imperfections." ("Imperfections" is in quotes because I do not believe such things are imperfections at all.) Don't use a misleading photo to get date #1, then hope your personality will win her over in person. If your appearance would have kept her away online, it’ll keep you from scoring a second date. Besides, why date someone who doesn't think the real you is cute enough for a first date, anyway?
- "LOL" stands for "laughing out loud," not "I am vaguely amused." Thus, it is appropriate to write "LOL" only when you are literally laughing out loud. Unless you are (1) a hyena, or (2) terribly ironic, do not write profiles or emails that contain sentences such as, "I can’t pick a favorite band cuz I love so many lol!" and "It was great to see you last night—I love that restaurant lol!" Suggesting that you are laughing out loud, when you clearly should not be, will not cause your date to think you are funny; it will cause her to think you are nuts.
- Be nice. Our community is small, and even if you can't stand the person, you may end up running into her again!
- Under your "self-summary," try to avoid statements like, "Too much to be summed up in 100 words!" You’re a human being, so this should go without saying. If you don't have time to write anything, save your profile and don't post it yet, OR write something sexy and alluring, such as: "I'll write more later, but for now, I'll simply say that main interests are office supplies, bingo, and goat cheese."
- Referencing your baggage reads like a cry for help. This includes thinly veiled references to exes or past dates: e.g., "Please be over your last girlfriend for REAL and do not call her during our dates," or "Please do not have any weird daddy issues that you bring into bed." (These can get eerily specific.) It also includes people who have been helped by some form of therapy and believe they are now "fixed." This ilk writes things like, "I have done a lot of personal growth work and am looking for someone who has gotten past their issues." I can't pinpoint why I dislike this so much, but it's a complete turnoff--maybe because I doubt that anyone introspective would ever believe that she is "fixed" or done growing.
- Have a close friend check out your profile and see if it seems like a pretty good summary of who you are, or if you're leaving important things out. Your friends are your biggest advocates!
- Wear something nice to the first date. This is location- and season-dependent, of course, but in general, a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flips do not qualify. A button-up shirt, khakis or nice jeans, and non-tennis shoes are a good bet.
- No raw onions or heavy garlic. Think about the goodnight kiss.
- There's no good way to say this, so I'll just be frank. If you sleep with a woman, she may assume you are now "dating," or even that you are now her girlfriend, even if you are completely upfront that this is not the case. As such, I recommend not sleeping with someone on the first couple of dates [she wrote, brimming with honesty and hypocrisy]. If you do... let's just say that all the "processing" that ensues afterward may make you regret your fleeting lack of self-control. (And one more thing to think about: contrary to popular belief, AIDS and especially unpleasantries like herpes do exist in the lesbian community. It pays to know what you're getting yourself into... um, literally and figuratively.)
- It's okay to call the next day, or to send an email. Something like, "Just wanted to thank you for a really nice time last night. I'd love to see you again sometime soon!" is totally appropriate. And if you're the recipient of a note like this, know that it probably took a lot of courage for her to write it. If you do want to see her again, make sure you SAY so; she may interpret a note that just says, "Thanks for a nice time" to mean that although she's nice, you don't want a second date.
- Assume that a certain level of awkwardness will ensue. Plan accordingly and give yourself a break if things feel forced at first. After all, you’re meeting someone you don’t know. You’re both putting yourselves out there—saying, "I want a relationship badly enough to seek it online, and I've already gone through my friends' friends, and nothing worked out." If you end the night even a tiny bit interested in a second date, you get to chalk it up as a win!
Photo from: http://revrohrer.blogspot.com
I recently interviewed Rev. Megan Rohrer
, a pastor in the ELCA Lutheran Church
who identifies as butch, dyke, queer, and trans (Rev. Rohrer is the first openly transgender pastor in the Lutheran church). I hope you'll enjoy her remarkably candid answers--about everything from divinity to her dating life--as much as I did!
BW: How did you decide to become a minister? What was the timing re: coming out and joining the clergy?
Pastor Megan Rohrer (PMR): I never had a moment of being in the closet. I kissed a girl in college and then immediately became a poster child of all things gay - in South Dakota of all places. The backlash was primarily religious. So I began reading to be able to have words to describe what I always knew was true: that God loved me and there was nothing I could do to screw it up. After reading all the books I decided to become a religion major. I had previously been an art major studying sculpture. BW: What college were you at?
PMR: I was at Augustana College
in Sioux Falls, a Lutheran college.BW: Were many people there out as queer?
PMR: There were a few, but it was a tough time. It was right after Matthew Shepard
's death and there was a conservative Christian backlash. Folks tried to exorcize "gay demons" from us and drunk football players would knock on my door at night to "make me straight." I had to move off campus for about 3 months.BW: Did you see a conflict between your religion and your sexual orientation?
PMR: Never.BW: Were you raised Lutheran?
PMR: Yes, Lutheran is to South Dakota what being Jewish is to Israel. It's so engrained in the culture, the news, holidays, everything. But [being a gay pastor] wasn't allowed in the Lutheran church then. BW: So you were a pretty religious kid?
PMR: I had had mystical experiences since I was five and always had an inner sense God was with me and for me. I used to sneak off to church when I was in middle school and not tell my family. I didn't really agree with the fundamental beliefs of the church I went to, but I loved the rituals and music. Lutheran worship is mostly sung, and I've always loved music.BW: Can you tell us a little more about your decision to become a pastor?
PMR: When I was a senior in high school everyone told me I should be a pastor, but I wanted to be an artist. Then when I became a religion major, I wanted to be a pastor but I couldn't handle the fight after living through the violence at college. Since [being a gay pastor] wasn't in allowed in the church back then, I didn't want to fight. BW: But something changed your mind?
PMR: Well, I became a counselor for abused children aged 3-12. When a 6-year-old who had tried to commit suicide 12 times crawled on my lap to tell me he wanted to die before he was too bad and had to go to hell, I knew I need to go to seminary and be trained as a pastor. I moved to Berkeley to become a pastor when I was 21.BW: Wow. Did it feel like a natural fit at the time?
PMR: No, and it doesn't feel natural now. I still sometimes wish I could have another job, because it's very, very hard, lonely work. But, I am certain that there is nothing else I could do and that I'd still be the one people cry to on public transportation and talk to about God stuff. When I started working with the homeless in 2002, they always called me pastor. I used to give them a long explanation about why the Lutheran church didn't allow gay people to be pastors. They just responded by saying: "Whatever, Pastor." I think people notice that mystical things happen to me all the time. I'm the person who asks that follow up question that seems to come right out of someone's brain, helps them feel seen, or gets them to finally ask for help.BW: When does your role as a pastor feel the most natural?
PMR: It feels natural when I get emails from people saying that reading about me helped them decide not to kill themselves, when I see my homeless people get housing, or when someone says: "I believed it when they said God couldn't love me, but you've helped me see that God's love can be big enough to love even me
."BW: In your denomination, who gets to go to heaven?
PMR: Lutheran theology is fantastic because it believes that everyone is simultaneously a saint and a sinner and there is nothing we can do about it. It holds that everyone is equally sinful and that God loves us regardless of how we live. The idea is, if you don't have to worry about your salvation, you will do more to care for the world and do justice. Martin Luther is famous for saying: "sin boldly, but believe more boldly still."BW: What does it mean to "sin boldly?" In my mind it seems like: "Don't steal a candy bar--instead, rob a bank!"
PMR: It could mean that in its extreme. Sin boldly means, take a stance and have faith that where you stand is the right thing. It's probably very similar to a butch ethic. It suggests that in love you should be strong and act boldly. This does not mean you should be abusive or overly aggressive. But, if you have robbed a bank, regardless of your reasons, God will still love you.BW: Are some kinds of love favored over others? For example, a heterosexual married relationship?
PMR: I don't think any kind of love is favored over others. There are many types of relationships in the Bible. The Book of Hosea compares human love to love between a heterosexual man and a prostitute, and Godly love to that between God and the Sons of Israel. There are queer metaphors, trans metaphors, kinky sex metaphors, and calls to be celibate. It's a really diverse book, but most pastors don't talk about the juicy parts out loud... I think some Christians have confused God with Santa Claus who keeps a list, or Keebler Elves that are just supposed to give us wonderful things, but I think it's more about being people trying to learn how to love and accept love from something bigger than we are.BW: You make it sound so clear cut! Why do so many kinds of Christianity reject homosexuality or label it as a sin?
PMR: Many Christians reject homosexuality because of the King James version of the Bible. It is the first time that homophobia appears in the translations. They were created because King James slept with men. People who could not say anything bad about the king (without being beheaded) put it in the translation... Then those ideas were taught around the world by missionaries who tried to colonize and convert people.BW: Doesn't the NIV version have some anti-gay stuff in it, too?
PMR: All the later translations got their language from the King James. The words in the original Greek are unclear. But even if homosexuality was a sin, Jesus says his anger is but a moment and his love endures forever and that nothing--neither death, nor life, nor things present, nor things to come--can ever separate us from God's love. The tradition of acceptance in religions of all faiths is much older than this contemporary idea that it's sinful. Ancient Rabbis believed that gay people were created by God. BW: I bet that if they were raised with you as their pastor, more gay people would be religious! Why do you think so many gay people reject religion?
PMR: There are many gay Christians--I meet them all the time. I think it's harder for people to be "out" about their Christianity in the gay community than it is for some people to be out [as gay] in society.BW: How do you identify within the queer community?
PMR: I identify as queer, trans, dyke and butch.BW: I've written about the tension between female-identified butches and FTMs. Do you feel that, as someone who identifies as both trans and a dyke?
PMR: I do feel that. I grew up thinking that everyone felt body dysphoria--that's what all the after-school specials said about female bodies. So I learned to love my body even when it didn't feel like the body I would have chosen. But my trans brothers are unbelievably strong, and I mourn their loss of community when the butch community rejects them. Often this happens because people are afraid to admit they have similar feelings or that sometimes it would feel good to have male privilege and not get harassed all the time.BW: So you identify as trans, but are not physically transitioning?
PMR: I have learned never to say never when it comes to making statements about whether I will transition. This [female body] is what works for me now. I grew up watching movies where I wanted to get the girl in the end, so it meant that I had to imagine that I was the leading male. I think it's easy for my brain to go there and fantasize about that.BW: I guess that begs the question: why not physically transition?
PMR: Currently, I don't shave my legs and I'm uninterested in shaving my face. I'm lucky I'm known as trans, because I get the best of both worlds. I can be seen as male (when I want to be) and keep my body the way it is. But when my doctors told me I needed breast reduction surgery to help with back pain, it was a long process to decide if I should make my chest more masculine or more feminine. Both felt wrong to me, so I didn't have surgery and I do physical therapy. Also, I've always felt like I physically want to have a baby, so I may feel very differently after that happens (though I'm not currently working on that, either).BW: Do you ever present as male in your church?
PMR: Any time I wear a pastor collar people think I'm a "Father." It's because most people can't think of any butch pastors. I have bound and packed at church. Most people can't tell because the robe on top gets rid of any distinction.BW: Do the folks in your congregation address you with male pronouns, female ones, or both?
PMR: It's a mixture. Some use male, some female. Some just say pastor. I once talked to a man at the end of the service who said until the sermon he thought I was a man, and then I became a woman. I appreciated that he had seen both natures inside of me.BW: Who do you tend to date? Butches, femmes? Men, women? Trans people? Everyone?
PMR: I've dated all kinds of people, with all kinds of bodies. I'm very attracted to curves and soft skin. But I believe that if I transitioned that I'd likely be attracted to men. Very close to each other on the gender spectrum is the shift between a butch woman and a nelly [effeminate] man. When I present as male, it's a very feminine one. I find that when people accept my masculinity and my butchness, I can explore my soft sides that like to be comforted and taken care of. Someone recently told me I'm like a bear, without the beard.BW: Why do you think you'd be more attracted to men if you transitioned?
PMR: It's pretty common when people transition. Some people think it's because instead of being attracted to a sex, people may be attracted to like bodies.BW: I prefer my partner to have the same level of masculinity as me.
PMR: It's not very common for butches to be able to date each other and explore those dynamics. Perhaps if it was more common we could have a fuller sense of what we like and explore all the parts of ourselves.BW: At what point do you tell someone you're dating what your occupation is? Is being a pastor something you put in an online dating profile?
PMR: I put a picture of myself in my clergy collar on my profile. If someone has a problem with my being a pastor, we should not date.BW: I bet some people think it's a costume and that you're being ironic.
PMR: I think the faux hawk, tattoos, and piercings help people see I'm not a scary pastor... The picture I post in my collar is actually of me blowing a very large bubble--since I probably am more surprised that I'm a pastor than anyone else is. I also write in my profile that I'm a pastor, and about how I do things like Lady Gaga Mass.BW: Lady Gaga mass?! I have to know more...
PMR: Martin Luther changed pub tunes into Christian lyrics. But the songs all seem boring nowadays. I followed his lead and changed the lyrics of some contemporary music. I also do Beatles Mass and a Bob Dylan Mass.BW: That sounds fun! I just googled Lady Gaga mass and found your YouTube channel. I bet that isn't what most people think of when they think of church!
PMR: Right! It's true. Those videos are from the first time it was ever performed. Thankfully we've gotten better. We're doing a fundraiser in November where we're going to perform it with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
--that is going to be amazing!BW: Back to dating... If I saw a pastor's profile online, I would think: there's NO way I'm getting any action for a while.
PMR: Yes, an often asked first date question is: can you have sex before marriage? I think it should go on the record that the greatest kept secret is that pastors are good in bed (when it's ethical and mutual and all that, not when it's any of the yucky stuff that appears in the paper).BW: The record shall so reflect! So I'll take that as a yes, pastors can have sex before marriage?
PMR: Yes, we can. Oh, also: Something to think about is that a lot of kink culture comes from the sexualization of religious rituals. I'm just saying. BW: [Laughter]
PMR: The Song of Songs is a very kinky book of the Bible. It's all about beautiful breasts and loving an ungendered person who is like a gazelle!BW: Would you ever date someone who did not share your faith?
PMR: Oh of course. My longest relationships have been with Jews. I also feel madly in love with an atheist. I think what's important is how people live their life and how they love. There are lots of ways to share rituals and family without using words like: Jesus, God, salvation, etc.BW: Would you ever raise kids with a non-Christian?
PMR: Yes. If I had a child I would want them to be baptized... But, it would be different if I was dating someone of another faith who already had a child. For example, Jewish traditions and rituals are where the Christian ones came from, so I think there's no need to double up. Kids are pretty smart and so much more in touch with faith than adults, so I think they are more than able to become amazing beings in interfaith families.BW: That's interesting.
PMR: Oh, and pastors aren't allowed to be friends with people they meet at church. This is to help prevent some of the unethical sex scandals and jealousy that can come from getting to close to people in the congregation. But it means that although pastors are surrounded by hundreds of people all the time, it's incredibly lonely.BW: Wait, you can't even be FRIENDS with people you meet at church?
PMR: It makes sense if you think about it. We act as counselors and know more about people than they do about us. And you can't really confide in them because people often confuse the faithfulness of their pastor with how God feels about them. BW: That's got to be hard.
PMR: It is. Developing a strong group of friends is important. I find making friends with people of diverse faiths, or no faith at all, is important. It's great to have people who could care less about church, so we can be reminded that the whole world doesn't revolve around who spilled wax on the carpet. BW: Do you belong to a community of butch pastors?
PMR: I don't know if there is a community of butch pastors, but I go on retreat every year with a group called Proclaim
. It's the group of all the out queer pastors in the Lutheran church. It's like my family--to be able to spend time with them and have people around who understand the pressures of being a queer pastor.BW: What
are those pressures?
PMR: Being newly included in any community, there are pressures to be perfect. You can't talk about what is hard or ask for help in the same ways. But there are also ways in which I've been given a bigger voice and responsibilities because people want diversity and there are few queer pastors they can put in leadership. BW: Do you ever get any flak from the Lutheran Church about the stuff you do outside of church?
PMR: Oh, no I haven't gotten any flak from the Lutheran Church. They actually hired me to blog for them because they like the way I write about advocacy issues. As the first transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran church, there isn't really any precedent for how I ought to behave, so I get a lot of freedom. I'm very, very lucky!BW: I was thinking of your (excellent) photography work, "Everyday Drag" that was in Briarpatch earlier this year.
PMR: I wondered how they would feel about that essay, but I got a lot of feedback, particularly from female clergy, that it captured some of the pressures they felt like they couldn't complain about in church.BW: What pressures do you think female clergy experience?
PMR: As a female pastor, I've never been to church and not
had someone comment on the outfit I was wearing, or my hair. Some male pastors talk over me, literally. And... my menstration will not stop during certain parts of a church service. There is something mystical that happens during communion and the sermon where I become afraid I will bleed more than is safe. I can't explain it or describe it, but it feels sacred. In Jewish tradition, menstruation is sacred because it is connected to life. I never understood that before I became a pastor.BW: That is intense.
PMR: Ironically, it is menstruation that made it so that women could not be pastors for so long. There was a sense that we are unclean and couldn't have a ritual given to others during that time. But, I know deeply in my body that the in-church rituals I do during that time are so much more sacred. Sorry bio boys!BW: How does it feel to have a job that helps so many people?
PMR: It feels humbling and I'm extremely grateful for the opportunities I've been given, for my health, for the luck and inner drive I've had that helps me be joyous when others are depressed. It reminds a bit like how it feels to get dressed up in a suit and tie. There is this power that I can take on that taps me into this greater energy.BW: That is the second analogy you have drawn between butchness and being a member of the clergy. It sounds like the two things are really symbiotic for you.
PMR: Yes, I think there is a connection between the way that butches embody strength and giving. Pastors have a lot to learn from butch culture.BW: One last question: what advice or reading recommendations would you give to queer people who are interested in exploring queer-positive Christianity?
PMR: There is a queer Bible commentary that is really great. Jay Baker, Sara Miles and Anne Lamott write some really good stuff that isn't as queer focused, but is queer affirming for a general audience. I also recommend Peterson Toscano's plays - they're hysterical. He has one about his failed attempt to become ex-gay and one about transgender Bible characters.BW: Thank you so much for your time--I learned a lot!
PMR: It was great to chat with you.BW: This was way juicier than I expected.
I'll admit it: personally, I'm tatt-less. I'm the kind of person who considers a bumper sticker too "permanent." What if I suddenly *don't* want to save whales or listen to NPR anymore? What if it turns out that "NPR" also stands for the National Project for Racism? What if people take it the wrong way?
Silly, I know. And yet, my 30-year-old self wouldn't have been thrilled with whatever my 20-year-old self would have inked onto her body, which makes me wonder if my 40-year-old self will someday feel the same way about today's me. If I *had* to get a tattoo, I'd probably choose a cuff: a row of books like a library shelf, wrapping once around my upper arm. I'd have my all-time favorite books written in as the titles, leaving plenty blank for future favorites. (Yes, I am a dork. Surely, by now, that comes as no surprise.)
In any case, I know that tattoos are often part of the lesbian fashion repertoire--and for good reason! At best, they can make your body into a sexy canvas. See exhibit A, sent in by a reader:
I mean, yowza, right?? They can also just be super artistic. Here's another one someone sent in--one I thought was particularly cool:
And of course, tattoos also have personal meaning for many of their wearers. Some of the tatts people sent in included people's names, special symbols, memorials, or spiritual/religious significance. For example, one reader has this ancient Christian symbol to ward off evil tattooed just southeast of her belly button (and yes, that placement is hot):
So many dozens of butches sent in pictures of their tattoos that rather than choosing among them, I've made a slide show so you can see ALL of them. Enjoy!
What a cool collection of pictures--thanks for the submissions!Now, some questions for you:
Looking forward to reading your comments.
- How many tatts do you have? Why not more?
- Have you ever gotten a tattoo and regretted it (even secretly)?
- What ONE thing, if you saw it tattooed on someone else, would make you absolutely certain that person was your soulmate?