“For I know the plans I have for you:” The coming out story of a queer Catholic raised in the Purity Culture Movement part 2 by Emma Cieslik

You can read part 1 here.

Growing up, I sat through lessons about how my body was inherently evil, that my thoughts and attractions were sinful and unhealthy. I grew up in the age of the Purity Culture Movement, the height of purity culture dated between the 1990s and early 2000s, amid the flush of “modest is hottest” theologies. I grew up surrounded by language codified around victim-blaming, slut-shaming and heteronormativity. I had attended retreats where we were told to pray for our future husbands, where we placed white roses on the altar as an homage to our purity in veneration of the Virgin Mary. I did not wear a purity ring or sign a purity pledge, but the expectations placed on me reinforced the ideas embedded in these objects none the less. I learned over and over to keep my candle unlit until marriage.

I had repressed my sexuality so far that it felt non-existent. I had shamed and punished myself for years whenever I felt any sexual attraction. If I felt ashamed of my attraction to men, my response to my feelings towards women was far worse, avoiding the eyeline of Victoria Secret models and magazine covers. I didn’t know who to talk to about these feelings—I was conditioned that my thoughts about men were sinful but forgivable. Everyone struggles with attraction prior to marriage. But who could I ask or talk to about my attraction to women? I was worried that what I told a priest in confession would somehow make its way back to my parents or friends. Despite their unconditional love, I worried that this would be the line in the sand, a sin so ugly and unnatural that I wouldn’t be welcome back in our Church.

Continue reading ““For I know the plans I have for you:” The coming out story of a queer Catholic raised in the Purity Culture Movement part 2 by Emma Cieslik”

What We Can’t See by Sara Frykenberg

As a professor, I find myself returning to a similar struggle again and again. I know what I know; and I know what I hope students will gain from the class, in terms of content knowledge, critical thinking, classroom community-making, etc. But often, I don’t know what they don’t know.

This might seem a silly kind of observation. No duh, Sara, you barely know this group of people. Also, this may seem an easy question to answer. And sometimes it is; and I do have part of the answer when I begin a class. My “Intro to Ethics” students, for example, will understand and be frustrated by the way people use the Bible to justify their own positions, but they usually won’t know the term “proof texting,” or easily understand “hermeneutics.” My “Women in Christianity” students will understand sexism and often, the idea of gender as a social construct, but they are usually unfamiliar with the dualistic gendering and ranking of larger social realities, like nature and culture, production and reproduction, etc.

There are obvious differences in academic training—that’s why I’m allowed to teach at a university after all. But I’m not really wrestling with what I can contribute in terms of content knowledge or historical/ theoretical contextualization. I think what I don’t know is what understandings of reality they bring into the classroom and what these realities have allowed them to see. Learning and/or teaching feminist theory and theo/alogy for the last fifteen years at least, I also often take my own reality for granted. I “know what I know,” after all—I just can’t always remember what it was like to learn it. And all of these classroom dynamics can make it harder to catch the realities we can’t yet know or can’t see. Continue reading “What We Can’t See by Sara Frykenberg”

Orientations: Body, Space, Authority by Linn Marie Tonstad

Linn Marie TonstadIn her book Queer Phenomenology, Sara Ahmed investigates how we orient ourselves in space with respect to tables – the tables around which we sit, at which we eat with friends and families of choice and birth, and at which we write. She describes moving into a new place and arranging the furniture. “After the kitchen, the room I hope to inhabit is always the study. Or the place that I have decided is the place where I will write. There, that will be my desk. Or it could just be the writing table. It is here that I will gather my thoughts. It is here that I will write, and even write about writing. … Making a place feel like home, or becoming at home in a space, is for me about being at my table. I think fondly of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. How important it is, especially for women, to claim that space, to take up that space through what one does with one’s body. And so when I am at my table, I am also claiming that space, I am becoming a writer by taking up that space.” (11) Ahmed goes on to discuss how certain possibilities are opened up, and others foreclosed, by the way we orient ourselves (or find ourselves oriented) to others and to objects. She describes the bodily postures that result from orienting oneself to the writing table – the way one might hunch over one’s computer, or find oneself with ink-stained fingers.

In a very different context, the queer theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid describes a scene from her childhood in Argentina. She kneels in front of a priest for confession. But instead of kneeling to the side, aslant, as she ‘ought’ to have done, being a girl, she kneels directly in front of the priest, as if she were a boy. Kneeling here too is a form of orientation, a form of direction, a bodily habit of becoming. “Kneeling is troublesome and it has a theological referent in the church’s also troubled waters of sexuality and power. A whole symbolic sexual order is obviously manifested in kneelings as positions of subordination and sites of possible homo- and hetero- seductions, because these are theologically distributed around the axis of the priesthood’s male genitalia. The priest’s penis carries the sacred connotations of the phallus as a transcendental signifier of the theological discourses to everyday Christianity, and kneeling is a liturgical positing designed to centralise and highlight this.” (The Queer God, 11) To kneel in the right (gendered) position in relation to the priest is also to kneel in the right relation to God. Continue reading “Orientations: Body, Space, Authority by Linn Marie Tonstad”

Don’t Worry, I Won’t Marry Your Girlfriend: Sexuality, Identity, and the Easy Laugh

No longer having to deconstruct the larger cultural and sexual narratives, heterosexuals who do not support marriage equality or feel threatened by homosexuals return to their one source of power that reinforces the ideology that they are on the right path: the Bible. “Marriage is between a man a woman,” or “A man shall not lie with another man as he would a woman,” becomes the newly reinforced heterosexual rallying cry and the progressive progress that occurred in the past becomes nothing more than a joke.

johnI must say, I will be the first to admit that the recent outbreak of videos promulgating the idea that gay men will marry a straight guy’s girlfriend or lesbians will marry a straight girl’s boyfriend all for the sake of marriage equality left me stifling my laughter as I attempted to pay attention in class.

However, after the calamity died down I took a moment to reflect upon the intrinsically embedded aspects of misdirected norms of sexuality, gender, and misogyny latent within the laugh lines and the guffaws throughout each video. Continue reading “Don’t Worry, I Won’t Marry Your Girlfriend: Sexuality, Identity, and the Easy Laugh”

8 Simple Rules for Being a Queer Godfather by John Erickson

Becoming a Godfather was more than just a reentry into the Catholic traditions I had long given up but rather a journey back in time that would grant me the ability to rewrite the wrongs I felt as a kid growing up in a tradition I not only didn’t understand but also didn’t feel like I belonged in.

I often wondered why I wasn’t asked to be the Godfather of my niece and nephew.  It made perfect sense to me that I would be the best person to guide and provide spiritual care for either of them as I was the only member, in both my family and my brother-in-law’s, getting a PhD in Religion.  I didn’t think there would be much to it.  I would go, hold my nephew, and watch a priest pour water over his head, and then go and enjoy some very sugary cake in my sister’s backyard.

On August 18th, 2012 my wish came true and I became the Godfather to my sister’s second child, Drew.   I had always believed that there was nothing to being a Godfather.  That it was a title in name only and a tradition that many individuals bestowed upon members of their family as ritualistic habit rather than a sacred institution of spiritual care and upbringing.  Boy, was I wrong. Continue reading “8 Simple Rules for Being a Queer Godfather by John Erickson”

A Next Wave of Scholarship By Kwok Pui Lan

I came to the United States in 1984 to begin my doctoral studies at Harvard Divinity School. It was an exciting time to do feminist theology and religious studies. Womanist ethics just began to emerge, as Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon has just completed a dissertation on the subject at Union Theological Seminary in 1983. I count it as a blessing that she was teaching at the Episcopal Divinity School, just on the other side of the Cambridge Common.

The mid-1980s saw the paradigm shifts in feminist studies in religion, as womanist, mujerista/Latina, Asian and Asian American women began to articulate their own theological understanding. If Womanspirit Rising (1979) was a reference text for our field, which contained essays by white women, we had the first reader by radical women of color, This Bridge Called Our Back(1981).

We began to discuss multiple oppressions and multiple identities, and the need to integrate race, class, and gender into our analyses. We challenged white women who have universalized their middle-class, white experience as if women were all the same. Continue reading “A Next Wave of Scholarship By Kwok Pui Lan”

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