Hi crush monsters, this is Straddler On The Street, a feature where I celebrate all of you incredible Autostraddle readers by hunting you down, demanding you chat with me, and then writing about you on the Internet so we can all crush on you. Get excited, because butterflies in your stomach 24/7 is a fantastic way to live.
Header by Rory Midhani
Straddler On The Street: Jackie, 26
Jackie is one of my oldest and dearest friends, and while she was a little bit hesitant when I first asked if I could interview her for this column, she eventually relented, saying: “I’ll support you in whatever you do, V.” Awwww. No but seriously, Jackie is wonderful and hilarious, and she has some really interesting things to say about queerness and religion and the intersection of these two things that I do not believe get discussed enough in our world, so I am forever grateful that she allowed herself to be persuaded.
Jackie is 26, lives in “the glorious suburb of Newton” just outside of Boston, and currently is in school and working for a sign language interpreting company, though she says she’s still trying to figure out what to do with her life. In her own words, she’s a “self-identified queer, gender non-conforming, feminist, patriot, numismatist, vexillophile, Christian.” Obviously I had no idea what a couple of those words meant, so for those of you like me who may be scratching your heads right now: a numismatist is a coin or currency collector and a vexillophile is a flag lover. So! Now that those details are out of the way, let’s meet Jackie.
Tell me about school. What are you studying?
I’m in a really neat program for adult learners trying to finish their Bachelors, so it’s completely self-designed and customized to my life and interests and goals. My specialization is in sociology, social change, and gender studies.
So cool! Do you feel comfortable speaking a little bit about the path you’ve taken with regard to your college education?
Of course! At first I did the traditional college thing: went right after graduating high school, lived on campus, got involved in student activities. But from day one, I struggled to find courses that I was interested in and for every two classes I took, I failed one. I changed my major a lot. I became president of the college’s GSA which was really amazing, but the actual schoolwork sucked a lot. After six years, I had gone from a traditional student, to a commuter, to part-time, and then decided it was time to just drop out.
After two years out of school and lots of conversations with friends, family, and my fiancée, I decided to try school again, but do it on my terms. The traditional college structure wasn’t right for me and it took a long time for me to realize that that was okay and that I hadn’t failed.
That is true, you have not! And now you’re at your awesome school in a perfect program for you.
Yeah, it’s so much better, but it still feels a bit weird to be considering grad school when for so long I thought that I wasn’t cut out for higher ed.
I think your story is proof that our education model does not work for everyone. Let’s talk about your fiancée! How did you guys meet and how long have you been engaged?
Ah! My fiancée’s the best! And she’s definitely the best thing to come out of my first run at college! She was an RA in my all-female dorm. Scandalous. We’ve been together for seven years and we’ve been engaged for two.
Oh my god. I can’t believe it’s been seven years!
We started dating when I was 19! I was a baby!
A small child, basically! So you guys are having a long engagement. Why did you decide to do that?
Well, I don’t know if we necessarily decided, but we sort of fell into it. From the moment we started dating, we knew that we wanted to get married on the Fourth of July. It’s our favorite holiday, she was an American History major in college, I collect old US currency and things. We are America freaks. But when we got engaged, we were like, “We can’t get married in July! We’ll be so hot and sweaty!” so we started planning an October wedding. But it never felt like our wedding. So we stopped planning and decided to wait until it felt right again. Now we’re both really busy with work and school – she got an amazing promotion and is in a Master’s program, and I’m trying to figure out my life – so we’re just going with the flow for now.
Can you talk to me about this America love? I feel like a lot of people I know are sort of borderline anti-America, if anything. Why should we love this country?
If you haven’t seen the HBO mini-series John Adams yet, I highly recommend it because it beautifully captures why we’re so proud to be from Massachusetts and America. From a sociological perspective, I can be critical of colonial issues like slavery and women’s rights, but the American Revolution is a story of an oppressed people fighting for their rights – rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – on their own terms. The Revolutionaries fought for freedom and risked literally everything for it. If we could apply that same conviction and dedication to social justice issues now, I think we’d be a different country – maybe one that more Americans would be proud of.
Wow, that is a super compelling argument. My next question is about religion!
Tied very closely to our love of America!
This interview should be titled “Basically Every Subject You’re Supposed To Avoid At Dinner Parties.” Anyway. Tell me about your personal religious journey.
I was raised Roman Catholic by a non-practicing family. I went to Sunday School because it was what I was “supposed to do.” [My] family didn’t go to church and we didn’t talk about God except for when I was reminded that “God punishes liars.” So I was never very connected to religion or God. It wasn’t until I was in high school when I was starting my coming out journey that I really questioned why I was going to a church that didn’t accept gay people. At my mother’s insistence though, I was Confirmed at 15. Confirmation is really important because without it you can’t get married in a Catholic Church which was obviously really important to my mom. Unfortunately, she didn’t know I was secretly dating a girl.
So fast forward to my relationship with Jess. She grew up in a loving Protestant church and taught Sunday School with her Godmother and wanted us to go to church together. I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to go to church. That seemed so crazy to me.
It wasn’t until a few years later – almost 10 years since I had last been to church – that I attended a funeral at the church of my youth. It came time to take Communion and the priest started going on about how only those who live a true Catholic life every day were welcome to take Communion. I was just totally stunned. Even in my years of doubting, I would have never refused Communion, but here I was, not even welcome at the table. I went home and told my fiancée and our roommate Chris about the experience and we talked about how there must be a church somewhere that would welcome us. And it turned out that the perfect church for us was on the same street that Chris and I worked on.
Oh my gosh! What church was it?
Old South Church. We spent a ton of time on their website and read their welcoming statement and saw rainbows and same-sex couples. Then we saw that they were a historically significant congregation – the home of Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Phillis Wheatley! They were the meetinghouse of the Boston Tea Party! They were perfect. And that was before we even walked in the door.
That first Sunday, and for a lot of Sundays after that, I sat in the pew sobbing because I just couldn’t believe that I had gone so long without knowing that church could feel so good.
I am maybe tearing up right now. Thank you so much for sharing all that. I think so many queer people who have strong ties to their faith sometimes feel like outsiders in queer spaces, because so many of us have been hurt by religion that it’s easy to sort of make negative blanket statements. But religion is also so important and so good to so many queers that it’s really vital to talk about that, too. As a Jewish person I feel a little ignorant about Christianity, but can you tell me more about your specific church and denomination?
Old South Church is a congregation of the United Church of Christ (UCC). Basically, our individual church is governed by its own members which is cool because that means that my voice and opinions matters. Our denomination, UCC, is sometimes called the “most left” denomination in the country, and has long-held liberal views on social justice issues like civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, abortion, etc. Plus Old South practices open communion which means everyone is welcome at the table, not just Christians or people who live a certain “lifestyle.”
That sounds amazing. You’ve definitely put a lot of thought into your faith and religion.
I have. I’m also currently developing an independent study project for the fall about the sociology of religion and the intersections of faith and social justice which I am super pumped about! And like everything else, I get to customize it to my interests to it’s going to include feminist theology too.
Going back to school and academics, what is your favorite book?
Just kidding. I don’t know if I have a favorite book, but The Interpreter of Maladies really changed my world and Jhumpa Lahiri is just such an incredibly gifted writer. I’m also reading a book right now which is amazing called This Odd and Wondrous Calling. It’s written by two UCC ministers about their journey to ministry. It’s giving me some necessary perspective while I’m discerning what God is calling me to do with the rest of my life.
I love you. Now, as such a strong lover of Boston, you have to tell us about your favorite things to do in the city.
To be honest, we do a lot of cheesy touristy stuff that most Bostonians avoid. There’s lots of great free historical sites to visit. We spend a lot of time on the Freedom Trail. We visit the USS Constitution a lot. Every year on John Adam’s birthday, we visit his estate, Peacefield, which is in Quincy. And we love love love the Minuteman National Historical Park in Lexington! With Harborfest coming up in a few weeks, we’re already planning our itinerary!
Gosh you guys really are the cutest. Finally, is there anything else you’d like to share with the Autostraddle community?
Yes! I’d love to tell everyone about our Mission Trip blog. One of the most amazing experiences I’ve had since joining Old South has been going on Mission Work Trips. For the past two years, I’ve traveled to New Orleans to rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. This year, our congregation and friends funded 100% of the material costs for a home and sent twenty missionaries to help with the build. Last week, the second half of our group was there, mudding, sanding, priming, and painting – all in 90°+ weather! You can learn more about us and read about our journey at missions.oldsouth.org.
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I was also raised Catholic, although my very liberal mother did her very best to be completely involved in my brother’s and my religious upbringing to shield us from the worst of what the Church had to offer. While I’m not religious anymore, my mom super is, and she ended up leaving the Catholic Church for the ELCA. What you described here about finding your church, Jackie, reminded me a lot of what she said about that switch!
I grew up in the ELCA and while I’m not religious anymore, that little white church will always be home. The ELCA has always been very welcoming and my church even hangs a rainbow flag outside. My pastor was there when they made it so that LGBT people could be pastors and she said that even while she watched way too many pastors walk out, she couldn’t help but cry because she was so proud of the organization that she was a part of.
I was raised Catholic in Ireland and I’ve never heard of a priest excluding people from taking communion, wth. Things seem to be so much more extreme in the States. Having said that, currently some churches are threatening politians with exclusion from communion because we’re FINALLY legislating for abortion, which is totally fucked up.
ahhh so many things in this interview resonated with me! First off I’m so happy to see a Boston(ish) straddler but I especially love getting the opportunity to hear the experiences of other queers of faith. I’ve been a Lutheran my whole life but have gotten more radical with time — sometimes I like to call myself an “existentialist Christian.” I’ve been to Old South Church in Boston and like it a lot, but I most frequently go to University Lutheran by Harvard Square. I’m also really grateful for BU’s LGBTQ spirituality group on campus which has helped me work through a lot of thorny theological questions. It feels fantastic to finally find a welcoming space in an institution that can sometimes be so hostile to queer people.
Anyways that was my rant, congratulations on your upcoming wedding and good luck on your badass-sounding project!
Krissy, can I ask if you mean the institution of religion or the institution of BU (because yes to both, I suppose)? The reason I ask is because I’m looking at BU as a possibility for grad school and would love some queer-insider info!
I meant religion, BU (in my opinion) is a very queer positive place with a lot of resources for LGBTQ+ students! Feel free to message me if you’d like more information, but in the meantime I think these groups would interest you:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/buqcollective/ (couldn’t find a non-facebook website for this one sorry)
I just got super impressed because I thought that BU was Catholic, but then I realized that’s Boston College. WHOOPS.
Ah! I am also a gaymo with an extreme interest in American History! (Though my thing is the West, because, cowboys, come on) I’m also religious, and sometimes feel out of place in the community for a variety of reasons, but religion definitely among them, so it’s nice to read from someone else who finds a lot of personal meaning in religion
As an eternally lapsed Catholic I’m so stoked about the existence of the UCC. My high school girlfriend’s stepdad was a UCC pastor. When we came out to all of our parents he was not only the most supportive, he was borderline inappropriately excited because it increased his UCC street cred. It was refreshing.
Great interview and as a fellow Bostonian I hope to meet you someday! Maybe next time Vanessa crashes our fair city.
“he was borderline inappropriately excited because it increased his UCC street cred”
this is the best
also i want to reiterate how much i love jackie
and yes next time i’m in boston i’ll take you two on a friend date — cara maybe we can force you to come to newton omg
UCC street cred is so real. And yes, friend date!
Re: your path through higher education–that’s kind of where I’m at right now too! Like, started school when I was 18 with no clue why I was there, failed a bunch of classes because I got discouraged and stopped going, finally stopped wasting my time & money. But now as I approach 26, I do still want to get a degree and am trying to figure out some non-traditional alternatives. That’s super cool that you were able to design your own program–I wonder if I’d be able to get into something similar. Either that or I’m just going to find a state school that allows you to go entirely online and be done with it.
Stefany, I’m sure there are programs (online or otherwise) out there that would allow you to customize your plan so it’s perfect for you and your life! I have nothing against state schools and I know that they are right for lots of people, but personally, I failed in a small state college environment. In my experience (THIS IS NOT EVERYONE’S EXPERIENCE!), the small school that I went to had limited course offerings and was really structured for traditional students. I would encourage you to look for schools that are a little bit more flexible if you’ve already experienced discouragement in the traditional setting. And know that you’re not alone! Since leaving school a few years ago, I’ve met tons of people just like us. We’re in this together!
I just turned 30 and finishing my first year doing a degree. No shame. mainstream school wasn’t for me… i was a little shit at school.
Ironic really, my job now is placing young people who offend in education. My teachers would be amused.
Interpreter of Maladies is one of my favorite books!!!! good taste in literature girl!
JACKIE you are so interesting and also cute! Thank you for sharing your religious feelings–I have a lot of religious feelings as well. I’m a lapsed Catholic just like a lot of people, but I always felt like for me it had to be Catholic or nothing? I’m not so sure about that anymore. But I like ritual and find it comforting, and I like mysticism, and I like dealing with thorny theological issues, and I like church, and I like saints and the Bible and all that kind of stuff.
It’s just that so many churches don’t like me, you know? I’ve been kind of holding out for stumbling upon a queer friendly Catholic church someday (I know they exist) and hopefully a partner that’s okay with that. I just can’t deal with religious people being jerks in the name of religion so it kinda spoils it for me :(
wow, apparently I have a lot of feelings, sorry!
Marika, I know that St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Lakeview is super gay friendly. It’s not Catholic but is very traditional in it’s liturgical style. A friend of mine goes there and she loves it. They are even marching in the Pride parade this weekend.
Wow- really enjoyed reading this.
I was brought up Catholic in Ireland. I grew up with religion as this given, that was entirely about conformity and nothing to do with spirituality. While I don’t feel like Catholicism will ever be home to me, I wish I felt some spiritual connection to all of the ritual and tradition I was brought up with.
Coming out has really compounded this for me. It felt sort of like the door slamming shut behind me. There is a communion picture of me just like Jackie’s at my parent’s house. If I look through the family album I’ll find the same pictures of my mom, my grandmother, this series of rituals and traditions that connect me to my personal history. Its bizarre to feel so connected and disconnected to something all at once. I don’t really know the answer to any of this. I just know I wish that the place my mom goes when she needs to think, wasn’t somewhere that reinforces the idea that what I am is wrong and it makes sense not to accept it.
Jackie, I’m really glad that you have found somewhere in Christianity that you can call home. Thanks for sharing.
PS That photo of you and Jess is the absolute cutest.
This was a super interesting interview!! You sound like the best kind of person to grab coffee with.
Ahhh this interview was the cutest/best/awesoemest thing I’ve read in a week. :D It also makes me realize how insanely lucky I was to have received my Christian education and confirmation from such an open-minded church (we also do mission trips every summer! Which I’ve mostly missed over the past few years, huge bummer, but yay rebuilding houses! Jackie, do you all work with Habitat? They’re 100% excellent).
What always strikes me as a little sobering, though, is that despite how passively accepting my church has always been (no rainbow flags, but no turning folks away either) the pervasive idea that anything but a hetero orientation is sinful still drove me away from my faith for a long, long time, and continues to worry me to this day. Sad. I guess that’s why I love hearing stories of queer people having positive religious experiences so much. :) Thanks for sharing!
I loved this interview so much.
Also, I misread “thorny theological issues” in other comments as *horny* each time. Because I’m 12.
Amazing interview! There could be more about religion and spirituality on AS! ;-)
ROCK ON…. from a queer UCC minister in CT. So thrilled to see some pride for church & identity!
We try really intentionally to invite ALL people, created so beautifully queer, in God’s divine image to the table. The crazy thing is that this radical theology is amazing, exists, and is in practice. For some, though, it’s “too queer for Christians, and too Christian for queers.”
And so we keep on. :)