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.

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