September 20, 2012

Inversions in a Queer Ministerial Dialectic

This past spring a short documentary produced by my good friend, Sierra Fleenor, introduced a dialogue between queer identities and ministry in a very unique way that questions and extends both the meaning of 'ministry' and 'queer'. Staking Ground follows the lives of two individuals that would both consider what they do to be deeply important to the LGBT and queer communities, but also something that is deeply religious and theological in nature.

Sierra takes us on a tour of queer ministry by following ministry in it's 'traditional' sense, by exploring the work of a minister that is a queer woman of color, who serves a congregation, and asks how her work is considered queer. Sierra contrasts that image of 'traditional' ministry with a representation of me and my work—as a drag queen. As a drag performer, my work and art form is not often considered a form a ministry, but through my lens, it is a deeply theological and ministerial presentation of the body.

 Ground produces a dialectic between the traditional and the non-traditional. The queer and seemingly non-queer. For me, drag is important because I feel like I'm engaging in something deeply political and deeply theological. As I describe in the video, there is a public theology linked to drag that ministers to the LGBT community in a special way. There is a witness that comes alive through the performance, through the representation, and through the queering (further queering) of the body. I admire la Virgen de Guadalupe as part of my story because I think she exemplifies this mixing of identities. She is in every way a queer figure that challenges any preconceived normative understandings of religion.

I look up to Elizabeth and the work she brings as a minister. From the pulpit she transforms the church into a queer space that opens the possibilities for producing a theology of sex and identity that is life giving for the congregations she serves. Her role as a queer woman of color is anything but normative/traditional when we think about ministry and religion. There are other denominations, several, that would never allow Elizabeth to pursue her calling as an ordained minister. But she transgresses those boundaries imposed by normative religious understandings.

Also this past Spring, I further complicated the dialogue between the queer and the minister. Along with my friends and colleagues, we organized a "queering the pulpit" sermon series that brought queer voices to the pulpit to challenge that space. To even further problematize and extend these categories, I preached in drag:

For many traditionalists, gay and straight alike, this ordeal is anything but sacred. It is perverse. It is insulting. It is incompatible. But there I am with my face painted, tits perked up, and my dick tucked tight, to deliver a sermon on John 3:16 from my drag perspective. Not only am the only drag queen in the sanctuary, I am one of few people of color, and the only Latin@. Yet all eyes are fixated on me in this moment. As the drag queen I even complicate the role of the audience: Do they give me a dollar or do they say "Amen"? At the end of my sermon I was greeted with the warmest compliments for my message and was told that I confused people in the best way possible.

There is a space for the inversion and complication of traditional categories like "ministry" and "religion." It is even possible to challenge our own perceptions and meanings of what is and what is not queer. We are the ministers on our terms. We write the message in order to give nuestra gente something that is life-giving and rewarding.

September 7, 2012

A Jot@'s Credo

This week I attended a talk by Jack Halberstam as part of the "What Matters to Me and Why" speakers series through the Office of Religious Life at USC, which was particularly exciting since Halberstam identifies as pretty areligious. Halberstam opened the talk with how he was asked by a colleague to write a credo, which we were blessed with reading of it. Many of the things Jack Halberstam believes are close to my own beliefs and resonated deep with my heart as I heard him speak them aloud. Inspired, he challenged us to write our own credo, which I found to be the perfect exercise for exploring what I believe as I move forward with understanding the category I call jot(e)ología. I draw on some of my shared beliefs with Halberstam, but also voice the things important to me that give meaning to the ways I understand and interpret the world around me:

A Jot@'s Credo
I believe in the queers, jot@s, and freaks, who are marred and painfully living through lives of incompatibility; I believe in sex education. I believe that the Southwest was stolen from México; I believe in open borders. I believe in justice, love, and good and that Jesus isn't the only excellent teacher of that. I believe that Yolanda Saldívar killed Selena. I believe that the push for gay marriage and gay service in the armed forces is a slap in the face to those who walked the streets for liberation before us. I believe in family dinners, hot showers, cheap wine and fideo; I believe that single parents are saints. I believe that Juan Rulfo is the greatest writer of all time. I believe in livable wages and that access to education is a human right. I believe in disruption and anarchy; I believe both are necessary and possible. I believe that if more people did drag then the world would be a happier place. I believe in speaking multiple languages, reading novels, and writing our own histories. I believe that pasivos fuck back; I believe in the queers, jot@s and freaks.

I challenge everyone to try out this exercise of writing your own credo and not trying to use broad generalities. What makes you make sense of the world around you? If we are to make our own space and language for how we talk about same-sex desire it starts with writing out own legacies, beliefs, and credos for the temporal spaces we want.