Black, Butch, Queer — and Baptized Into God's Scandalous Love | Sojourners

Black, Butch, Queer — and Baptized Into God's Scandalous Love

Images by C-Kav and Vitaliy via Adobe. Design by Candace Sanders.

This article is part of the series, The Joy of Being Queer and Christian; new articles will be added throughout the month of June.

Last weekend, for the very first time in my life, I dyed my hair. I walked into a woman-owned barbershop and gave them permission to change my short hair from its usual very dark brown to an extravagant, and for me, shocking, blonde. Someone else’s hands ran over my tender scalp, creating something new.

I know many people change their hair color as they would change their seasonal wardrobe or move to the latest style of eyeglasses. But for me, it’s different: I was born in the American South and nurtured in the deep soil of respectability. I was weaned on, “Nice young ladies don’t…” and, “Now you know that you have to be 10 times better than white people.” Even coming out as a lesbian, embracing my own gender nonconformity, and transitioning to all-male clothing did not do very much to dampen the sense in me that acting in socially acceptable ways is important — that doing what is proper is to be commended. Even if my identity as a Black, butch, queer woman prevented me from living fully inside the lines of the acceptable, surely I could still squeeze my life as close to the outside of those lines as possible. I could avoid controversy and be “the good gay.” I got married. I became a pastor. I became the mother of two beautiful children, a boy and a girl.

But over the years, it has only become clearer to me that respectability is a cheap carnival trick — an optical illusion. If you’re Black like me, respectability will not prevent you from being killed on the street by the very police whose salaries your tax dollars make possible. If you’re queer like me, respectability will not stop you from being kicked out of that supposedly welcoming church nor prevent your siblings from uninviting you into the lives of your nieces and nephews. If you’re a woman like me, respectability won’t even get you pay that's equal to that of the man who sits in the office across from you.

Yet, even knowing all that, the truth is that I still must actively wrestle against the easy attractiveness of respectability with its false promises of security, inclusion, and success.

Slowly, I’m embodying the reality that the scriptures demonstrate another way for people who identify as LGBTQ+ and for their allies. The story of Philip and Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 especially captivates me: God tells Philip to become joined to the chariot of a eunuch traveling back to his homeland after worshiping in Jerusalem. Philip is told to enter a new adventure of the Spirit by joining the eunuch’s story. The eunuch would have been a sexual “other” in the context of the story, a person who transgressed the boundaries of gender and sexual identity simply by existing. They would not have been able to have children and that perceived shame also would have put them beyond the borders of the acceptable. Yet, the story ends with Philip baptizing the eunuch, affirming this perceived “other” as a member of the community of the faithful. But Philip also goes down in the waters of baptism and then preaches the good news all through the region. In other words, by joining the experience of one who cannot possibly be respectable, he is deeply converted as well.

I marvel at the joy that must have infused that baptism. It reminds me of the joy that my queer siblings and I are gifted to pass on to the church here in the U.S.: the joy of showing hospitality to those whose stories are unlike our own; the joy of transgressing boundaries of the acceptable as we follow a God who transgressed boundaries of human and divine, spiritual and material; the joy of a promiscuous and prodigal invitation into the love of God and the love of self.

So, yes, for the very first time in my life, I dyed my hair. During this Pride season, it will remind me of the need to play further from the lines for the sake of joy and liberation. Indeed, it will remind me that authenticity is the only way to true joy. As I dance in the streets at my city’s Pride parade, I will embrace the scandal of it all and try to become more scandalous in my own expression of grace and faith. And in so doing, I will find myself inside the abundant, raucous pleasure of God, who is ever joining all our stories in promiscuous love.