How I Became a Radical Queer Feminist at a Straight-Laced Seminary (Abridged Version)

(For the last year and a half I have been editor of our seminary student publication, KAIROS. Today I am printing my last issue. The following is my final article. I decided along time ago that in my last piece I would name all the things, but apparently even with the privilege of setting my own word limit, I could barely scratch the surface. I guess I’ll have to write a book after all.

In any case, if you’re thinking of seminary and someone tells you that it will change you… believe them. And embrace it.)


Three years ago I was a slightly leftward leaning moderate with a fear of feminists and a staunch commitment toward ignoring my attraction to women. If you had asked me for a statement of faith, I would likely have regurgitated the Apostle’s Creed and if you had told me to use inclusive language, I probably would have punched you in the nose.

It’s fair to say that things have changed a bit. I am a proud feminist, a radical queer (that is, I believe my queerness is not only a sexual identity but a way of being in the world), and a theologian with a passion for exploring the boundlessness of God. If you asked me for a statement of faith, I would write you a dissertation. I would not use masculine language for God. It has been quite a three-year journey.

Nine months ago, I decided on the title of my last Kairos piece. I hoped that the content would provide itself over the course of my senior year. The truth is, I am still figuring out how I got here. But I can tell you that I believe it has been journey of becoming more and more myself—the person God created me to be. I believe that it has happened as a result of both good things for which I am grateful, and bad things that I would like to see changed. I absolutely believe that it could not have happened in quite this way anywhere else.

This is a long story, and if you really want to hear it – buy my book when I publish it (haha), but for now, I’ll say what I can in a short list.

1) I learned that relationship is everything – There is no more sacred calling than authentic, vulnerable relationship and there is no greater gift you can give someone than the full truth of who you are. According to my blog, I learned that lesson within two days of coming to seminary. It affirmed what I had always felt but had never been able to express. It set the framework for my theology and my sense of call. And it set me on a path to love more honestly, to let myself be loved more vulnerably, to live fully into the beautiful, queer, powerful person God created me to be.

2) I was taught that my voice matters – This started before I even became a student when I came to Discovery Weekend. Over and over again this seminary has told me and shown me that I have something vital to contribute to the conversation of faith and that I have a responsibility to say it. I’ve been taught that my voice can shout down injustice and lift up the stories of others. My voice can speak truth and cultivate hope. This discovery gave me the courage to speak with the authority of one called by God.

3) I was told my voice didn’t matter – It’s important to learn that your voice is not the only one and that there are times to be silent so others can speak. But too often I have had my identity and my voice undermined by those who find it uncomfortable or subversive because I am not the voice they are used to hearing. It was these moments that taught me that I cannot wait for the powers of the world to give me permission to speak. I must dare to speak without permission, and I better know what I want to say. I have learned that you do not take a stand and speak because you’re ready, but because somebody has to, and ready or not, sometimes that someone is you.

4) I have been terrified (and graded for it) – From talking to snakes (a nature exercise), to having a sermon torn apart and then being told to preach again, to leading suburban youth through the most heavily drug-trafficked street in Philadelphia, seminary has challenged my deepest fears. It has led me into the darkest places of my uncertainty, doubt, and anxiety and challenged me to find the light within myself. It has taught me trust and unearthed within me the capacity for unsinkable hope and resilient courage.

5) I have been a heretic – I have written papers that would make my grandmother blush. I have explored my understanding of God in relation to sex, to abuse, to death, to feminism, to queerness, to vulnerability. I have fought with Calvin and told Augustine and Paul they need therapy. I have done slam poetry in church and read the bible in a bar. I have dared to search out the theology of impossible places and found out that, indeed, God is there too. I have fallen in love with this art of finding God in the unexpected and I have been encouraged by brilliant professors and classmates every step of the way.

6) I have felt cool – Don’t underestimate the value of this. I have gone through most of my life feeling irrevocably awkward and weird. I probably am. But here, I have found many of my quirks and much of my nerdiness embraced. I have talked Harry Potter for hours and geeked out over theology and liturgy. I have made many terrible jokes. And I have done it all in good, equally nerdy company. There is nothing like finding yourself embraced for precisely the things you are most insecure about. There is nothing like learning to define your own cool.

7) I have had lots of coffee and beer – Laugh all you want, but the truth is that some of the most significant conversations of my life have happened at 1 am at The Local or 7 am at JPs Java. Over beers I have shared my story with those who believe differently but want to understand. I have had debates and swapped legends and memories. Over drinks, I have forged relationships that have turned classmates and friends into family.

8) I have seen the church at its best and its worst – I have seen injustice in the name of lifeless polity. I have seen faith give way to bitter rigidness and ugly arguments. I have seen privilege win out and the marginalized remain invisible. I have felt angry and overwhelmed by all the ways the church is broken. But I have also stood hand in hand in prayer with those who are different from me. I have seen incredible growth and transformation happen where it seemed impossible. I have heard prophetic words preached. I have felt the Spirit move. And I have learned to love and have hope for this broken, beautiful thing we call church.

9) I have had amazing mentors – Let’s just be clear: none of the above would have happened without the guidance of amazing people who have come before me. Certainly professors, but also pastors who have nurtured me, and especially those queer colleagues of mine who blazed the trail that I now walk. They have shown me what integrity, courage, and faith look like. They have taught me what I am capable of and why it matters. My world is incredibly different because of their example. Now I get to blaze a trail for others to follow.

10) Perichoresis. – Obviously. Could there be a better term for the overlapping, close-knit, dramatic, chaos that is seminary than “mutually-indwelling?” It isn’t perfect, but it’s neither the perfections nor imperfections that make this place what it is. It’s that we’re all stuck together with all of it, shaping one another even as we love one another and hurt one another and annoy the heck out of one another. How can you not feel your own rhythm transforming and coming more alive, this close to so many other heartbeats?

There is so much more to say, it would take a lifetime to say it. But I’ve got ministry to do. So for now, let me end with this:

Thank you. And thank God.

 

Pretty much.

Pretty much.

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2 thoughts on “How I Became a Radical Queer Feminist at a Straight-Laced Seminary (Abridged Version)

  1. I really I enjoy your blog. I went to Eastern Mennonite University. Twice. I am a bi-woman. I’ve known that since high school. I learned not to make comments about women the way my friends and I did about men. I’m now middle aged, but only out –to more than my close friends–recently. I’m out because I asked a lesbian out. She turned me down. Still, I decided if I was going to be asking woman out, I needed to own up. On a deeper level, I came to the conclusion that if the mate Christ had for me turned out to be a woman, I needed to be open to that. In some ways, I’m glad that she turned me down. I came to the conclusion that I did not want my coming out process to encumber any future relationships. Still, coming out bi has it’s own difficulties as people assume polarity. Also, I know some bi-men but no other bi-women. These are just some personal reflections inspired by your blog entry today. Please keep blogging.

    • Thanks so much for your kind words and for your willingness to share your story and your struggles. I think it is so important. It’s what keeps me blogging.

      I have found that asserting space in the queer world as a bisexual woman is exceptionally difficult. Though I wish things were easier for you, I’m glad to know I’m not alone!

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