Gender, Identity, Race – Art, Rock, Glitter
October 11 is National Coming Out Day. I had no idea this observance even existed as a freshman in college but was introduced to it early in the morning on my way to English class. It was a bright crisp morning and one of the Pride groups (not their name back then, but I don’t remember the groups official title) on campus had put up signs sharing the news of the day. Sidewalk chalk was used throughout the brick walkways of campus exclaiming “Gay is AOK!” and “Everyone’s a little Queer” and “Who’s coming out today?” It was a colorful celebration and, honestly, the levity of it made everyone on the way to class chuckle a little bit. The mood was light, inclusive, and fun.
But when I arrived at the English Building, I saw a huge gathering of students blocking the front door. Unsure what was going on, I walked up to see what was the cause of the confusion. What I learned was that every single door of the building had been labeled “straight door” and was locked. However, there was one exception. One door on the side of the building had been labeled the “gay door” and that was the only way any of us could enter the building and attend class. It took all of us a couple of minutes to figure out what was going on, but the lighthearted and fun messaging of National Coming Out Day all of a sudden had a much sharper edge to it. This subversive demonstration of “guerilla art” had an amazing point. Everyday the gay community has to walk through the straight door. Of course, the straight door looks different in every different context, however the straight door reality does exist. Rarely, if ever, does the straight community have to walk through the gay door, and that morning everyone not only had to, but was forced to.
“Forced to” is my intentional wording. I was not a part of that guerilla art team that coordinated the campus wide effort, but their efforts certainly made me think about what gay people were forced to do, and what I had the choice to do. In that moment, being forced to go through the gay door, allowed me just a glimpse into a life without as much choice, without as much Midwestern America cultural power. Conversations around campus continued for weeks afterwards and my own life has been deeply impacted ever since.
I went to Union Theological Seminary where two of the best preachers I heard and studied with were openly gay men. The day I graduated my mom went up to a student who had a beautifully intricate sash over her gown and asked jokingly what she had done academically to earn the sash that her son hadn’t been able to accomplish. My mom was informed that all the graduates wearing those sashes were from the campus group FIERCE, the LGBTQ people of color group, and that this was why, alas, I was not wearing the sash. Sorry to disappoint mom!
After seminary I was in a band with a man named Ian McKenzie. You would think with a name like that he would be a Presbyterian of Scottish descent, but in reality, he was a six-foot seven-inch cornrowed African American who played “the guitar like he was ringing the bell.” He knew every Prince song. Every Metallica Song. Funk, metal, punk, blues, he was amazing. I could play a handful of basic drumbeats and knew about three fills, and so we formed a tenacious duo calling ourselves, “Black Guy – White Guy.” We played a handful of shows in New York City. Before one gig a teenager asked if he could dance on stage with us. Who were we to say no? So of course, the next thing you know, this kid shows up and is moon walking across the stage while we cover “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.” We get to know the kid a bit better over time and it turns out this teenager feels like he is a woman trapped in a man’s body . . . and the only time he (she) feels like he (she) can truly express his (her) true identity, was whenever they were allowed to dance. Turns out that this kid’s safe space was on stage at a “Black Guy – White Guy” show.
Ian moved and so the band broke up and I haven’t talked to the dancing kid in years. Fast Forward to when I put on Facebook that I was moving to Virginia, and leaving the NY area, one of the first people to message me was this kid who danced. He had fully transitioned, surgically and hormonally, from being male to female. She had changed her name and was living a much fuller, happier life, had a better relationship with her parents than when we had “performed” together. I even received Facebook voice messages wishing me the best in my move, this teen turned adult singing me songs that we had played years ago. Dare I say “Black Guy – White Guy” provided this youth the ministry of presence? I don’t know . . . but I like to think so.
Last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the liturgical holiday that commences the season of Lent. An organization named Parity has encouraged churches to start to add purple glitter to their ashes as a symbol of unity with the LGBTQ+ community dubbing this phenomenon Glitter Ash Wednesday. I conclude this post by sharing an article I wrote about this holiday a few years ago. Enjoy!
 Chuck Berry, “Johnny B. Goode,” Written by Chuck Berry, Chess, Chicago 1958. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0FLZyTZBJ4
 Freddie Mercury, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” Written by Freddie Mercury, EMI, London, 1979. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zO6D_BAuYCI
5 responses to “Gender, Identity, Race – Art, Rock, Glitter”
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These are some terrific reflections Jacob. Thanks for sharing.
I had no idea you were such a talented performer and musician! I must run for now (you are my last responsive post) but I promise to read your Glitter Ash Wednesday article. Thanks again,
Jacob I appreciate this wander through some key moments in your life! Do you see a difference in how scripture might address homosexuality vs transgenderism? What has been gained and lost in the two groups being routinely grouped together?
I appreciate your ongoing openness to learning from those around you!
I appreciate your transparency Jacob. This is a tough thing. How do we “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Even that aphorism bothers me and I know it doesn’t provide comfort to those we’re trying to reach.
Thank you Jacob for showing love to everyone without judgment. I know this is just part of the wonderful character that I have come to know.