“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”

Queering the American Dream by Angela Yarber

As Florida politicians try to ban teachers from including LGBTQ+ issues in the curriculum, admonishing them, “Don’t Say Gay” at school, I’m shouting “GAY!” from the rooftops. Because I’m celebrating the release of my eighth book and first memoir, Queering the American Dream. It’s my queer family’s story of leaving it all and the revolutionary women who taught us how.

Our story began the day the Supreme Court ruled our marriage legal and ended the moment my younger brother’s addiction spiraled into a deadly overdose. In-between were eighteen months of full-time travel with a toddler in tow. Criss-crossing the American landscape, my wife and I came face to face with jaw dropping natural beauty on the one hand, which contrasted with the politics, policies, and people who continued to discriminate against marginalized families like ours on the other. At each stop along the way, a different revolutionary woman from history or mythology guided our footsteps, reminding us that it’s not simply our family who dared to queer the American dream, but a subversive sisterhood of saints who have upended the status quo for centuries. From Vermont to Hawai’i, and everywhere in between, the beauty of the American landscape bore witness to a queer clergywoman whose faith tradition was not enough to sustain her. But the revolutionary women were.

Continue reading “Queering the American Dream by Angela Yarber”

“Closer to Fine:” Trans Femme Reflections on the Sacred Found in Lesbian Music Culture by Nathan Bakken

“I’m trying to tell you something about my life.” I joke with my friends that if the 1990’s weren’t so transphobic, I would have thrived as a trans lesbian. Citing my knowledge of the L Word, Pacific Northwest flannel sensibilities, and Spotify playlists as my reasoning; I embody a millennial genderqueer take on lesbian stereotypes. The only thing missing is an exclusive attraction to women which― I would argue―is the main factor holding me back from waving the lesbian pride flag high. Though I write with a particular levity, I cannot deny the role that lesbian singer songwriters and folk/rock singers have played in cultivating my sense of self and my sense of the Divine. The Holy, for me, is wrapped up in the the harmonies of the Indigo Girls, the raspy blues of Melissa Etheridge, the heart-breaking riffs of Tracy Chapman, and the tear-jerking truths of Brandi Carlile.  These women have gifted me Divine Imaginaries of what justice is, who God is, and how I fit in.

In full trans-parency (pun intended), I hold a small level of fear in writing this piece. As the rhetorics of Transgender Exclusive Radical Feminists (TERF) appear to be touching the mainstream, I am reminded that these rhetorics are deeply tied to lesbian music culture. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival holds itself as a historic cultural object created by the amazing and radical work of lesbians and feminists and lasted from 1976 – 2015. MichFest, as it was later known, also uplifted and validated the concept of “womyn-born-womyn” only spaces. A concept with the intention to center the experiences of cis women, and the impact of  discriminating against trans people.  I reference this not to tear at the scabs of these two communities as we continue healing. Rather, I am naming the irony that my anthems for my survival are also the songs that have historical ties to mindsets and movements that prohibited my community from experiencing them first hand.

But this piece isn’t about trans exclusive feminists. This piece is about the soundtrack of my survival, and the powerful women who’s wise words guide that experience. The following four songs are invitations into my survival.

Closer to Fine – Indigo Girls

“The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” Since I was 17, this lyric has echoed in my mind. I would drive around Seattle listening to this song on a mix CD, wondering if I would ever get close to fine. Masked in their flawless harmonies, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers words gave me comfort and language to articulate my experiences. They mixed joy and laughter with the harsh truth of growing older. They gave room for a multiplicity of perspective and called out institutions and dominant epistemologies as inefficient modes of knowledge gaining. I was gifted a queer critical lens, a slightly Gnostic view of God, and an acknowledgement that “[t]here’s more than one answer to these questions/ Pointing me in a crooked line.”

Silent Legacy- Melissa Etheridge

To say that Melissa Etheridge’s 1993 album “Yes I Am” is not one of the best albums―let alone queer albums―ever created is homophobic. I wish I could tell you I’m being facetious. I am not. While her singles “I’m the Only One” and “Come to My Window” remain as her most popular hits; the song “Silent Legacy” is a testimony to queer feminist survival. I encourage you to set aside some time to listen to this song as if it were a prayer. In five minutes, Etheridge manages to describe and enflesh the impact of spiritual trauma on the queered body. Each verse unpacking the silent internalization of misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. Each chorus echoing a prayer to heaven. Only to finish with Etheridge repeating the phrase “Oh my child,” building her emotions from tenderness to rage as if she, herself, embodies God calling us home to protect us.

Talkin’ Bout a Revolution – Tracy Chapman

I confess, my conversion to the Gospel of Tracy Chapman occurred later than I would prefer. Knowing her for her iconic lesbian anthem “Fast Car,” it wasn’t until I discovered her full discography about two years ago that I felt held in her words. With “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” as the first track on her first album, “Tracy Chapman.” Chapman sets a specific tone for the album. The album is a protest. She reveals a portrait of her experiences of the United States in 1988, one that does not shy away from harsh realities of racial injustice and domestic violence. And at the same time gives tender insights into how to love someone. Chapman’s wisdom grounds my survival in the hardest truths of our world. That if I am to survive, I must ensure others’ survival as well.

The Joke- Brandi Carlile

Brandi Carlile feels like home. As an out lesbian musician of my home state of Washington, Carlile’s music reaches the depths where few dare to dive.  I recognize the majority of this soundtrack dates to the late ‘80’s and early ‘90s, Brandi Carlile’s “The Joke” is from her Grammy Award winning 2018 Album “By the Way I Forgive You.” Carlile is contemporary, current, and continuing the legacy paved before her. Her song―“The Joke”―echos like a ghost of queer future. Carlile’s voice is moving forwards while reaching back. She gives assurance, not that it gets better, rather that it gets different. Carlile invites the listener into the act of survival.

As a queer theologian, I tend to search for scripture in the most secular of places. These women have formed a gospel where the Divine Imaginary provided is an invitation to all people to the radical act of survival. As a trans femme person, I know, and these women testify, that one can survive and thrive simultaneously. Because “there’s more than one answer to these questions/ Pointing me in a crooked line/ And the less I seek my source for some definitive / The closer I am to fine.”

P.S. I believe that my fair, sincere, and soft mention of the “TERF/trans exclusion” conversation can spark strong push back from some of the readership of this blog. I am aware that we (cis and trans) who are in Feminist theological spaces need to continue engaging seriously in conversation around this topic and start working together to construct something from it. I would like for my post to be a part of starting that conversation. The heart of my post is that there is something profound in the liberative music created by these amazing and powerful women. Part of that profundity, is that I, a trans feminine queer person, heard an invitation into a legacy of liberation and justice. So I invite you, whoever you are, reading this to reread my piece. Reread it, knowing this is a small part of a larger conversation, and the heart of the conversation is a painful history of exclusion and transphobia and simultaneously a history of liberation and justice.


Nathan Bakken (they/them), originally from Seattle, WA, has found home in Boston, MA. Raised Roman Catholic, Nathan stands firm in the intersection of Christianity and Esoteric Spirituality. They earned their Master of Divinity, and Master Certificate in Religious Conflict Transformation, from Boston University School of Theology with particular focus in trans and queer theologies, queer spiritual practice, and the intersection of pop culture and theology.

Redeeming Gender, Softening Extremes by Chris Ash

Christy CroftLast month, I attended a lecture by Anglican theologian Adrian Thatcher on his recent book, Redeeming Gender. In this book, Thatcher draws upon the one sex and two sex theories described by Thomas Laqueur in his book, Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud. Laqueur posits that until the eighteenth century, it was believed that women and men were two expressions of the same basic sex – that women were men whose reproductive organs were similar but found in the “wrong” places. Ovaries were internal testes, the vagina an inverted penis, and the labia a parallel for the scrotum – all making women flawed expressions of man.

This sets up a continuum in which there is one sex rather than two, with men as more perfect expressions of man, and women as inferior expressions. Thatcher argues that if the language, liturgy, and doctrines of the church arose in the context of the one sex theory, then Christianity’s foundational beliefs and practices are already compatible with acceptance of a spectrum of gender identity within a one-sex model, opening up new interpretations that allow for full participation of women and LGBTQ+ people within the church. While the old one sex theory as described by Laqueur is a spectrum from more to less perfection, from more to less like God, the spectrum Thatcher proposes is clearly progressive – one in which all places along the spectrum share in the same equality.

And yet it is still a linear spectrum, with extremes envisioned as opposites, as distant from each other. Continue reading “Redeeming Gender, Softening Extremes by Chris Ash”

Islamic Feminism and Heterosexual Dogma by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Santa Niña Marica

Reza Aslan says in his book “No God But God” that religions are myths. He explains that “religion” is a set of stories fluctuating between truth and fantasy that serve to explain and answer questions about human fate. Taking this idea as base, I think “religion” is a historical product that enables other mythical stories and must be addressed critically about its truth and meanings.

Patriarchal religious discourses, currently mainstream, have a common element that often is left outside the reading of equality and is part of the myth: Heterosexual belief.

Feminisms in Religions aim at challenging patriarchal readings. However, questioning the nature of God is not enough if we don´t challenge heterosexual belief that may or may not include the idea of a God Father/Male. In Islam, Allah has no sex or gender, is not masculine nor feminine. However, the heterosexual belief exists in the Islamic religious narrative. Continue reading “Islamic Feminism and Heterosexual Dogma by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

Queering Kenosis: A Review of “God and Difference” by Caryn D. Riswold

caryn2I still think that Valerie Saving was right.

It’s been 56 years since she published her article on “The Human Situation” in The Journal of Religion, and her most basic groundbreaking insight holds true: Under patriarchy, the fundamental sin and danger for women is not too great a sense of self, too much pride as Reinhold Niebuhr would argue; rather, the problem is too small and diffuse a sense of self. Prioritizing others ahead of herself, the woman under patriarchy accepts second-class citizenship and submission to male headship as her rightful place.


Yet, in recent years, when reminding colleagues of this fundamental feminist insight from the second wave, I have received replies that begin “But Sarah Coakley says ….” What they lift up is Coakley’s supposed reclamation of kenosis as feminist, of self-emptying as a revolutionary Christian act in relationship to God. To them, this corrects Valerie Saiving. I have heard variations on this defense from senior male scholars who believe themselves to be quite advanced in their thinking, as well as from female scholars who believe this is the kind of feminist theology they want.

Wrong. Continue reading “Queering Kenosis: A Review of “God and Difference” by Caryn D. Riswold”

Queer in Islam and a Theology of Dissent by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente. Queer and IslamMost of the time, when we talk about being “Queer in Islam,” we identify the term with a hermeneutics developed by or on behalf of LGTBQI Muslims in order to allow their inclusion in religious spaces and recognize their agency in matters of faith.

Is not my intention to appropriate the voice of LGTBQI Muslims in this issue, just to share my reflections about a topic that deserves a larger and deeper treatment. Continue reading “Queer in Islam and a Theology of Dissent by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente”

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