Remember that post I wrote two days ago about Sunnie Kahle, the eight-year-old-girl who was kicked out of her Christian school for "looking like a boy?" My MOM was the one who told me about the story; I think she saw a little of her daughter in Sunnie. And my mom took ACTION! She wrote a letter to Sunnie's principal, and gave me permission to share it with you all:
Dear Ms. Bowman,
Two days ago I read the Yahoo article about Sunnie Kahle, the 8-year old who was, until recently, a student in your school and who was, in essence, asked to behave more like a girl. That article hasn’t left my mind, so I decided to write to you. I can’t begin to tell you how appalled and saddened I am by your position on this. As a mother, grandmother, teacher, and most importantly, a Christian, I am surprised that you actually believe this is a Christian stand or that Christ would approve of such actions and comments. It is this kind of thinking that contributes to both non-Christians and Christians from staying away from the church – they don’t want to be a part of a religious community that is so arrogant and judgmental.
My understanding of Christ’s teaching is that, rather than judging others, we should be trying to live our own lives as Christ lived. Do you really think He would turn this young girl away because of her clothing or because her hair was too short or because she wasn’t feminine enough? If you really believe that, then you and I pray to a different God.
So what is it that concerns you, really? Are you simply afraid she might be “gay?” I understand your worry – the very thought makes us “old- school” Christians quite uncomfortable. My daughter was a tomboy as a young girl, much like Sunnie. She donned short hair and jeans and played on various sports teams. Now a woman in her 30’s, my daughter is one of the kindest, most caring, gentle spirits I have ever known. She is bright and courageous. She holds steadfast to a strong moral foundation and her faith in God.
And, it turns out, she’s gay. Trust me when I say, it wasn’t easy for any of us, and especially not for her. It didn’t change her love for God, nor God’s love for her. But it certainly gave God a chance to teach me a thing or two about His love. It required us to really trust that God doesn’t make mistakes, and that he has a purpose for everyone’s life, and that He loves everyone. I suspect God needed me to learn that the outside of a person – that is, their clothes, their hair, their sexual preference - was the wrapping to his gift. The gift, the real blessing, is to be found in each individual’s soul. The soul HE created.
I hope you come to see that this young lady, Sunnie Kahle, is just as special and unique, as much a blessing in our lives, as any other child, because she is God’s child. To try to change her spirit, to “fix” God’s perfection – my heart breaks for you. I hope you reconsider your stand and find peace in a new decision.
An eight-year-old girl named Sunnie Kahle was recently informed that she was no longer welcome at a Baptist elementary school in Virginia via a letter that informed her grandparents (who are her guardians) that her gender nonconformity is out of line with God's plan. One particularly scintillating excerpt reads, "God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained identity."
Let's leave aside, for the moment, the possibility that Sunnie is trans*. Let's assume (as her interviews seem to suggest) that she sees herself as female. This means the school administrators at Timberlake Christian have taken it upon themselves to decide what female "dress and behavior" look like. Unless the exactitudes of gendered fashion are spelled out in the Bible (and I don't remember reading that--do you?), this argument is absurd even on its own terms. God has "ordained" that this kid has to wear the kinds of clothing and play with the kind of toys that the execs at Disney and Walmart have decided is most effectively marketed toward her gender? Got it.
As a former little girl who was occasionally mistaken for a little boy, I know first-hand that it's not always fun. Kids have hundreds of ways, subtle and not, to single out their norm-defying peers. Expressing gender nonconformity, especially as a kid, is hard. Sunnie Kahle should be lauded for using her God-given guts, not bullied by her school's administration for not fitting into their idea of what girls are "supposed" to be.
I'm glad Sunnie has loving grandparents who stand by her just the way she is. If all kids were so lucky, I bet teen suicide rate would be a lot lower. In one interview, Sunnie's grandmother said that if Sunnie grows up to be a member of the LGBTQ crowd, she will "love her that much more." Unconditional love, total acceptance... sounds awfully Biblical. Maybe Timberlake Christian should take a page from grandma's playbook.
Remember the questions I posed to you a few months ago? Here are three interesting answers to one of the toughest ones:
"Describe how some other identity you have (race, religion, social class, whatever) interacts with your sexual orientation."
Response #1 (From Kyle at Butchtastic):
The intersections of my ethnicity, class, educational background, age with my gender identity and butchness is an area of great fascination for me. I’ve really been looking at these intersections in earnest in the past couple of years. I know that I receive privilege in some circumstances because of my age, because I’m white, and sometimes because of my masculinity, even if people don’t perceive me to be male. So how have those elements of my identity interacted with my sexual orientation?
First off, it’s queer--my orientation, that is. I use "queer" because listing all the aspects of orientation for my male and female sides takes several words: bisexual, lesbian, faggot, even straight... well ok, never "straight." Even if my female side hooked up with a cis man... it would still be queer sex. I haven’t examined these intersectionalities really at all.
My socioeconomic class has definitely had an impact on where I live, the people I meet through work, shopping, activities, and walking around the neighborhood. I more easily relate to people who have backgrounds similar to mine in terms of class, education, religion, race. But none of that is really about my sexual orientation.
I guess I’ll have to think about that more. It's a good question. I gave up religion when I was 13, before coming out as a lesbian, so that didn’t end up having much impact. Growing up in an aspiring middle class family meant I was given a lot of freedom of expression and association, even though my parents were not happy when I came out to them at 17. They didn’t limit me to only befriending particular classes or categories, nor did they try to hook me up with boys.
Response #2 (From "BT"):
Being a Christian is by far the identity that interacts most with my sexual orientation and until very recently my Christian identity was a big, mean, nasty bully to my butch lesbian identity. I have known in some form or another that I am a lesbian since I was four-years-old and I also have been a Christian since around that time. The two identities were at war within me from the time I was 4 until I was 27.
When I was 17, I let my lesbian self have the upper hand for a little while but all that did was spiral me into a deeper depression and greater self-loathing for the next ten years. The guilt and shame almost took me to my grave. I was at the point where it finally clicked that if I didn’t accept every bit of who I am I would be miserable for the rest of my life.
But how could I be a Christian and a lesbian? I basically had tried everything I possibly could to change my sexual orientation, even my own version of the dreaded conversion therapy. Nothing worked. It was clear to me that I must have been born this way. If it had just been childhood trauma or whatever else I was telling myself then the therapy would have changed my homosexual tendencies. So now I have finally accepted the grace that Jesus has extended to me. I have given grace to myself. I am accepted and loved no matter what. I can’t say that the two identities are in perfect balance now, I still have a ways to go but the battle has finally ended. After 23 years, my Christian and lesbian identities have embraced and I am no longer a person torn in two.
Response #3 (From "KH"):
I am a seminarian working on my Masters of Divinity hoping to become an Episcopal priest when I graduate from seminary. The identity of being an Episcopal seminarian plays a major role in my life. While the Episcopal church is very accepting of LGBT folks, ordaining gays, performing same-sex blessings and marriages, etc., I am still faced everyday with the question of how out can I be/do I want to be to my classmates and Bishop. I am from a Midwestern state, so my bishop and my diocese isn't necessarily as liberal as in other parts of the country.
It seems like when you are out in seminary you become that "token lesbian" who can or is expected to answer theological questions for the entire community. Also, attending seminary in southern Tennessee, I was the first out lesbian that several of my classmates had met. Everyone had met a gay man before, but not a lesbian. One of my classmates said to me the first couple of weeks we were here, "To southerners, gay men aren't scary. But lesbians, they scare us. We don't know or understand how they work, dress, have sex, etc."
It has been interesting to see how people interact with me because I break a lot of the labels that are given to lesbians in the south and break what they have heard about us and believe. But I love that my classmates are so open minded and give me a chance to be who I am without putting a label on me.
I also feel like a lot of the time the lesbian community isn't sure how to react to me/handle me either. It isn't every day that you meet a lesbian who is a soft butch that wants to become a priest. The LGBT community also doesn't always feel the love from the religious community. Many churches treat our community horribly. But it should teach us that we don't always like the labels that come with being a lesbian, so we shouldn't label a church without knowing something about them first either.
I am proud of who I am and the identity I have as a lesbian and as a seminarian.
_I'm currently in the middle of Nowheresville, New England visiting my DGF's parents, who live in a retirement home. For health reasons, her mom is rarely able to leave the home. And her father is legally blind, which prevents him from going anywhere on his own.
All of this is to explain the following unlikely circumstance in which I found myself on Sunday morning: in a Catholic church, helping escort my DGF's father to Mass.
I've only been to Mass once before, and that was a funeral Mass (or, as I incorrectly called it yesterday, a "death mass"), so this was a new experience for me. I was instructed ahead of time not to take communion, because I'm not Catholic. (I was baptized Christian, but this is, I learned, unsatisfactory in the eyes of the Catholic church.) My DGF is not practicing, but was baptized Catholic, so according to her father, she was allowed to take Communion if she promised to go to confession within the next 30 days (which she was unwilling to promise). That's right--not 31 days. Not 35. 30. (Later, we looked for this rule online and it seems that you actually have to have been to confession in the 30 days before receiving Communion, but we still aren't totally sure.)
Mass was short. Like, way short. Like under an hour short. We went to the 11 am Mass and made it to breakfast by noon. Perhaps because of the service's length, almost no one bothered to remove their coats. My most recent churchgoing experience before that was an evangelical-type Baptist church, where the service always lasted over two hours, plus socializing afterward. I kind of admired the Catholic efficiency.
There were maybe 250 people attending mass, only five of whom were non-white. Don't get me wrong--I'm fine with white people (some of my best friends are white people), but there was something disconcerting about being in a nearly all-white room. (Yeah, I'm white, too. But still.) Interestingly, one of the five non-white people happened to be the priest, who I think was Latino, and spoke with a heavy accent. It was kind of heartening that all these white people, the great majority of whom looked to be 60 or older, had someone of color as their religious leader--a trend that I've since learned is not uncommon in the Catholic church, since many young priests these days come from non-English-speaking countries, particularly Third World countries.
The church program (which was printed in color, something I'm not sure Protestants would allow) didn't say what was happening when in the service, so I just tried to stand, kneel, and sit when I was supposed to. There was a great deal of ceremony involved. Continuing to survey the attendees, I began getting a distinct sense that this particular church was more the Santorum variety of Catholic than the Kennedy variety--an impression reinforced by the advertisement of a Planned Parenthood vigil later in the week.
When it came time to take Communion, I was pretty sure that lots of people wouldn't go, given the rules about 30 days and being baptized Catholic. But as it turned out, my DGF and I were the only people who did not take Communion. As the people in our row quietly filed to the front of the church, we quietly did not follow them. This was met with disapproving glances from the other parishioners--glances which lingered for an awkwardly long time, shifting from me to my DGF and back again, and I suspect that around this time, it began occurring to said parishioners that we might be not be the nice young men we had originally appeared to be, but rather homosexual women. (My DGF, who tends not to notice these things, insists that "no one really looked at us." I assure you she is wrong.)
Since Lent is approaching, the sermon was largely about giving things up. I guess one rationale for Lent is that giving something up for 40 days kind of purifies you. I was not raised Catholic (decades ago, my grandmother was excommunicated for getting divorced, which soured our family on Catholicism long before I was born). Nonetheless, I emerged from childhood with a near-preternatural susceptibility to guilt, and the whole idea of Lent appeals greatly to this susceptibility. I mentally counted how many days I'd already gone without ice cream (three) and wondered if I could get retroactive credit.
At our post-Mass brunch, I asked my DGF's father about my retroactive credit idea, but he said it didn't count. He also squelched my idea to give something up that I don't feel a need to have anyway, such as cilantro or penises. I asked my DGF's dad what he was giving up, and it turns out that people over 59 don't have to give anything up at all. Immediately it became clear why the church had been packed with senior citizens--they were clamoring to take advantage of the loophole.
Personally, I'm no atheist. My own philosophy is closer to "All steeples point to heaven" (something my excommunicated grandmother used to say). Well, maybe not all steeples, but you get the idea. But the whole experience of Mass made me think about how different my life might have been if I was raised in a church like this one. So many different religions and people and subcultures trying to do what they think is right, but simultaneously certain they've cornered the market on God.
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?
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.
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.