Sunday, February 17, 2019

Transgender Icons: Queer Christian Images of Marinos the Monk

"The One Who Saves the Soul
Is Like the One Who Created It"

The Vita of Marinos the Monk

Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will produce a series of icons of St. Marinos the Monk based a variety of attributes that characterize saints: Imago Dei, Imitatio Christi, Christus Medicus, Baptism, and Sainthood. These traits all have corresponding qualities in the lives of transgender people in general: authenticity, living your best lives, service to the community, transition, and remembrance. 
By focusing on these traits, this assignment eschews debates at to whether St. Marinos the Monk is a man (he lived as a man), transgender (he lived a transitioned life from his youth to his death), should be called transgender because he did not use the word (he wouldn't use any of our words, given that he did not speak English), or if he can be holy and transgender at the same time (he is a trans saint). I have addressed these considerations have been made in other posts and forthcoming peer-reviewed articles. Thus they may be reviewed in a lecture. This assignment challenges students to engage not in skepticism but in celebration. How might a trans life be honored as sainted?

By focusing on these positive traits, this exercise turns students away from the testing and skeptical tone that dominates cisgender society and the grim and negative tone that tends to surround queer allies when discussing transgender lives. The Vita of St. Marinos the Monk testify to the positivity and virtues of a trans life as much as they recounting anti-trans prejudices. A few of these negative prejudices include the tendency among hagiographers, icon makers, translators and scholars to deadname as well as misgender Marinos the Monk. He was known as a male, a monk, during life and this should be respected. He called himself Marinos and this should be respected. Additionally, the inability of local early Christian communities to recognize and name trans identities testifies to the ingrained ignorance and dominance of cisgender mindsets. Had society been more aware and accepting, Marinos might have been able to come out during his life instead of after his death. All these negative circumstances may be considered but at the center of the story is Marinos the Monk, a figure of positive traits that overcame these conditions to live a sainted trans life.

The task of assignment is to create an image with a name, a description -- write, St. Marinos the Monk, Patron Saint of [Fill in the Blank] -- and then provide a summary based on close reading the text alongside additional research. These icons will be made in small groups and then shared with the rest of the class.


Sample Groups

Group 1: St. Marinos the Monk
 and the Imago Dei

Consider the argument between Marinos and his father. Although it seems as though he is calling on his father to save his soul by letting him also join the monastery, take a moment to ponder how Marinos himself might be living out his Imago Dei: saving his soul by transitioning into the image of a monk God made him to be. By affirming his gender (monk), how might Marinos be like the one who created him to be a monk?

"Father, do you wish to save your own soul and see mine destroyed? Do you not know what the Lord says That the good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep?" And again she said <to him>, "The one who saves the soul is like the one who created it?"

Terms to research: Imago Dei, living authentically, suicide rate for transgender youths.

Group 2: St. Marinos the Monk
and Baptism

Consider the argument between Marinos and his father. How does Marinos's father misunderstand his trans son's gender? How does living authentically as a monk answer Marinos's father's concerns? How is transitioning and taking monk's vows like baptism?

"Child what am I to do with you? You are a female, and I desire to enter a monastery. How then can you remain with me? For it is through the members of your sex that the devil wages war on the servants of God."

To which his daughter responded, "Not so, my lord, for I shall not enter <the monastery> as you say, but I shall first cut off the hair of my head, and clothe myself like a man, and then enter the mastery with you."

Terms to research: baptism, becoming a monk, monk's habits, coming out to your parents as transgender, gender versus sexuality, asexuality, abstinence and chastity.

Group 3: St. Marinos the Monk
and Imitatio Christi

Consider the ways in which Marinos is living his best life after he is able to transition. How does living an authentic life make one more successful as your work, relationships, and even prayer? How does the comment about Marinos being an eunuch relate to early Christian and medieval understandings of transgender?

"Day by day, the child advanced in all the virtues, in obedience, in humility, and in much asceticism. After she lived thus for a few years in the monastery, <some of the monks> considered her to be a eunuch, for she was beardless and of delicate voice. Others considered that <this condition> was instead the result of her great asceticism, for she partook of food only every second day."

Terms to research: authentic lives, best lives, eunuchs, gender euphoria.

Group 4: St. Marinos the Monk
and Christus Medicus

Consider Marinos's ability to heal with his touch. How does the Monk's authentic life serve to heal others beyond having miraculous powers? How might his authenticity, trans identity, perseverance and sainthood (being set apart) serve to heal who encounter him?

"Eventually it came to pass that her father died, by <Mary, remaining in the monastery>,<continued> to progress in asceticism and in obedience so that she received from God the gift of healing those who were troubled by demons. For if she placed her hand upon the sick, they were immediately healed."

Terms to research: Imitatio Christi, gender dysphoria, gender euphoria, Christus Medicus.

Group 5: Marinos the Monk
and Sainthood

Consider the reaction of Marinos's community after discovering he was trans after death. How does the Superior's reactions mirror those of friends and family after an oppressed transgender person dies? How does death feed into advocacy? Is there a critique to give communities that are better at mourning the dead than helping the living?

"Drawing near and seeing <for himself>, the <superior> cast himself down at her feet, and with many tears cried out, "Forgive me, for I have sinned against you. I shall lie dead here at your holy feet until such time as I hear forgiveness for all the wrongs that I have done you."

..."The superior thereupon send <word> to the innkeeper to come and see him. When he arrived, the superior said to him, "Marinos is dead."... "You must repent, brother, for you have sinned before God. You also incited me by your words, and for your sake I also sinned."

Terms to research: ally, advocate, transgender day of remembrance, deadnames, suicide rate for transgender people, homicide rate for transgender people.


Starter Questions

1) What core concept did your group examine? How did you translate the theological term into current English? What are other words you consider?

2) How does your passage demonstrate the principles of the concept? In what ways does it address transgender life? In what ways does it address gender Christian life?

3) How did your group visualize the concept and passage? What associations and images are you using to translate the trans Christian sainthood?


Saturday, February 9, 2019

Rainbow Mail: Queer Christian Letters In Response to the Epistles

"On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect."

1 Corinthians 12: 22-23

Assignment Overview

In this exercise, the seminar will respond to selections from the Epistles. These texts are framed as letters to early Christian communities in the first century AD/CE. Many of them are written by St. Paul who is considered by many to be the first theologian of Christianity, on the grounds that he did not encounter Jesus before his death. They represent one part of an ongoing correspondence between members of a faith tradition that was still defining itself. Readers can imagine the epistles that were written before or after the letters that are available in Christian Bibles. In fact, that is exactly the task for today!

Breaking into small groups, you will form committees working for the Queer Christianity Congregation. As an emerging church, you have received a series of letters and texts from fellow members of "The Way," especially from one very passionate convert from Tarsus, Paul. Because of the number and fervor of the correspondence, each committee is tasked with responding to a different item in the mail bag, taking care to represent the mission of the open and affirming, pro-LGBTQI ministry at the Queer Christianity Congregation. Indeed, the particular letters you are tasked with engaging today articulate Paul's problematic theology around gender and sexuality.

As a 21st century ministry, your committee's response will take the form of a Youtube "mail-bag" video. Each video will be about 7-10 minutes, including (1) a restatement of the letter's content, especially those passages which reflect problematic theology around gender and sexuality, (2) counter-arguments that critique the fallacies of the letter, and (3) an acknowledgement of points where the letter's statements or spirit might be synthesized for the Queer Christianity Congregation without betraying any of its missions. The video should take time at the end to respond to at least 3 comments from the viewers.

Note: as an in-class exercise, the "video" may be a framing device for an oral report before the class and the commenters are questions raised by the fellow class-mates. An actual video need not be produced. Alternatively, a written letter may take the place of a video or oral presentation if circumstances make those methods difficult.


Sample Groups

Group 1: Queer Love
1 Romans 1

Read "1 Romans 1" with special attention given to lines 22-27.

"22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error."

Terms to research: gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, gynosexual, androsexual.

Group 2: Queer Afterlives
1 Corinthians 6

Read "1 Corinthians 6" with special attention given to lines 9-11.

"9 Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10 thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God."

Terms to research: cisgender privilege, down low, in the closet, coming out, heterosexism, heteronormativity, HIV-phobia, stealth.

Group 3: Christian BDSM
Ephesians 5: 22-33

Read "Ephesians 5:22-33" with special attention given to lines 22-24.

"22 Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. 24 Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands."

Terms to research: BDSM, bottom, top, versatile, femme, butch, and switch.

Group 4: Queer Identity
Galatians 3

Read "Galatians 3" with special attention given to lines 27-28.

"27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus."

Terms to research: agender, asexual, androgynous, gender queer, gender fluid, bisexual, and pansexual.

Alternative Scripture

The assignment might also be expanded to include other texts or pieces of scripture that are not in letter form. Playing on the theme of anti-LGBTQI passages, Genesis 18 might be one such candidate. The questions may have to be adjusted in these cases.

Group 5: Sodom and Sodomy
Genesis 18-19

Read "Genesis 18-19" with special attention given to when and why Sodom is condemned to destruction and what the primary crimes are against the angels and their protectors.

"18: 20 Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! 21 I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”"

"19:4 But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house; 5 and they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them.” 6 Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, 7 and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.”"


Starter Questions

1) What is the overall message of the letter? What are the specific claims that address gender and sexuality? How are they phrased and imagined? What are the underlying cultural, leaps in logic, and theological assumptions that seem to underpin the claims?

2) Does the overall message correspond to the core values and beliefs of the Queer Christianity Congregation? How might the specific claims be answered directly? How might the phrasing of the letter be deconstructed or reimagined? In what respects are the cultural differences between Paul and the QCC made evident? What leaps of logic are rather too far for credulity? What theology or scripture might be offered to counter the letter's claims?

3) Granting that in either the specifics or in the general spirit of the letter there is something positive to be received, what elements or sentiments of the letter might still be useful for the Queer Christianity Congregation?



Friday, February 8, 2019

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Award 2018 Seminar at CWRU

"Over the years, the Anisfield-Wolf canon 
has become a living, breathing community 
of thinkers, writers, and artists 
that spans continents, generations, 
and intellectual traditions."

Rev. Dr. Stephen Rowan

How do we talk about racism? How do we talk about sexism? These were two of the questions that initiated the 2018 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award seminar at Case Western Reserve University. Following the seminar approach to general education, these questions would be answered through guided instruction and moderation from August to December. The goal was not only to help facilitate talk about racism and sexism but also to study the ways in which this talk already occurs. The challenge presented to students was to analyze and deconstruct the grammar and rhetoric of white supremacy. What are the images created and repeated? How are sentences structured to lead readers or listeners to certain conclusions? What are the nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives which act as dog whistles for attentive audiences? All this and more were on the table when we began our seminar.

The thesis of the 2018 seminar was that the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winners could help answer the questions posed on racism and sexism. We began the semester with the Book Award winners in preparation for attending the Award Event in late September. In those weeks, students considered how the poetry of Shane McCrae taught readers how language bends and twists in order to reflect the tension between hate and love, captor and captive, identity and society. Next, the students weighed the importance of truth and hoax through Kevin Young's Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News. Bunk seriously engages what it means to be a "non-fiction" book in eras where various authors and authorities try to blur the line between fact and fiction, especially as it applies to the construction, exploitation, and oppression of racial identities. The fiction award winner, Sing Unburied Sing, written by Jesmyn Ward, demonstrates for students the ways that fiction can be used to speak of unspeakable traumas  and to embodied truths that are too often left dismissively abstract. Concluding this section with the majority of the class attending the Book Award Event was critical to bringing the texts alive in new ways by introducing the book's readers to the book's writers. Returning back to class, the following months were evidently impacted by the way that this event grounded the discussion of racism and sexism within real lives and social conditions.



Beyond the 2018 Book Award Winners, the seminar invited the class to read important Anisfield-Wolf texts that take different perspectives on the questions and language of racism. Books by the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X began the analysis of the Civil Rights Movement, a scope which we expanded to consider the women of the civil rights movement as well. Books like Hidden Figures and the Gay Revolution filled in this picture in part, as well as additional texts that resonated with the Anisfield-Wolf mission, such as This Bridge Called My Back, Sister Outsider, and the writings of Angela Davis. These women writers gave insights into the ways that women were hard at work in the Civil Rights Movement as well as the distinct ways sexism was compounded and furthered with the racist rhetoric of white supremacy. Indeed, by adding the lens of gender, the reading of MLK and Malcolm X deepens by prompting audiences to consider how being heterosexual cisgender men of faith may have influenced the way in which these leaders encountered the world. This synergy not only expanded but also added dimensions to familiar view points on the Civil Rights Movement.

Towards the end of the semester, the training and texts of the Anisfield-Wold Awarded books were brought to task against literature that reflects or considers traditions of white supremacy. Guided by critical films and texts, the students engaged in their own independent research on specific white supremacy organizations around the United States. After presentations were made, in which the ideologies, cultural touch-stones, and grammar of the white supremacists were analyzed, the class proceeded to find ways that the Anisfield-Wolf Award books and their affiliates help to resist and dismantle these rhetorics of hate. Specifically, students rode the rails around Cleveland in order to see the murals based on Anisfield-Wolf Award Books which decorated the windows of the train cars. This mural project was generated through a partnership with Inter | Urban, the Cleveland Foundation, and the Anisfield-Wolf SAGES Fellows at Case Western Reserve University. Together, the students studied specific images by artists inspired by particular A-W Book Award winning books and articulated how they saw the art combatting or deconstructing the grammar of racism and sexism.



As a scholar and instructor of Anisfield-Wolf Awarded Books, I am honored to introduce students at Case Western Reserve University to the canon of books that each attempt in their own way to respond to the questions: how do we talk about racism, and, how do we talk about sexism? In the last couple years, the class has been in high demand with spots filling up quickly and there always being an extensive wait-list. On the first day, I hear about what brings the students to the seminar and to Anisfield-Wolf Book Award archive. Some students come with already invested interests in social justice, racial equity, and feminism. Other students come to the class admitting that they come from homes and local areas were racism and sexism is rampant but discussing either is discouraged. In each case, I take my job seriously: to meet students where they are, equipping them with critical tools and books, and to help bring them into the ongoing discourse which the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards has promoted. By the end of the semester, I hear a myriad of ways that the students now feel not only better trained to engage these conversations and activisms but also feel connected to a wider community which these books have generated. For these reasons and more, I am grateful to see these students and the A-W community grow one year and one seminar at a time.



Thursday, January 31, 2019

Grabbing Good Food with Gabby: A Gastronomic Memoir (Pt 1)

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
J.R.R. Tolkien

Over the years I have lived in multiple states, often at the same time, and visited others regularly. With all this moving about, it is important to have a few places that are familiar to provide a level of comfort and familiarity. Adding to this, I am a fairly routine-oriented person. Once I find a place that I like, I tend to go there on the regular. This does not mean that I go to the same place everyday. Instead, I am more ritualistic. As a weekly pattern is established, I tend to go to certain places on certain days or on certain occasions. Indeed, I usually will order the same item or rotate between a few favorite items after a trial period of sampling multiple different choices has passed. As such, I have amassed a list of favorite places to eat in particular cities as well as a list of corresponding menu items.

If there is any pedagogical value to this list, beyond educating on my own particular tastes, it is that these eateries are part of a larger strategy of safety for a transgender woman traversing a wide range of places with a wide range of potential dangers. In short, this list of locations represents a few trans friendly locations that I have found to eat. Furthermore, many places I visit go through an initial adjustment phase as they register the trans customer who has shown up to eat. Likely a high number of these locations may have never consciously fed a trans person previously. The advantage of going to the same location regularly is that the staff and fellow diners become accustomed to the trans woman who visits on a given day and orders a given food. This process of getting to know me has an added benefit: familiarity breeds affection. In a new city or a city that I am visiting, I may not have many safe places that I can go if I am being harassed. Because eating is essential for life, the first and most consistent safe spaces I tend to locate are places that I eat. In the best case scenarios, I make friends with the staff. Even if friendships are not formed, by becoming a "regular" there is a sense that if I began to be harassed at one of my usual haunts, the staff who knew me would be more likely to come to my defense. All that said, comfort food is called comfort food for a reason. Sometimes after a day of interactions with transphobic people, it feels good to order a plate of some self-care.

Beyond personal habit and survival, this list includes numerous locations that housed dates with my partner, lunch-dates with friends, or other memories on the road and with family. Going through this list was a fun way to share a few short memories about food, about special places, and the people I've met along the way. I hope you enjoy reading and if you are ever in town, I hope you enjoy a meal as well!

Portland, Maine

BLT Sandwich, Wasabi Chips, Diet Coke

Living in Maine was awful lonely. Setting aside how far Maine was from my friends and colleagues in the major cities, the circumstances of our arrival in the state made it very difficult to make friends. The town and position that my now spouse held made it dangerous for my partner and I to be seen as such. This was a town and congregation that was evidently uncomfortable with female pastors. We were told before we arrived that a queer female pastor would not be hired or held in the job. Remember, churches are not like other professions. You can be fired for being gay and it was not long before such a campaign of suspicious persons began putting pressure on us to go. Within these contexts, my presence in the home and raising the child was hard enough to explain. True friendship requires honesty and such honesty in our town could spell financial ruin for the family. All this totaled together to equal a lack of friends or places I could comfortably relax in our town. After several months, the alienation became too much and I began a weekly venture up to Portland, Maine where I had heard of a queer women owned comic book store. Thus began my weekly trip, taking several hours, to and from Portland every Wednesday.

Because these trips were so long and had to be scheduled during school hours so I could still take care of the children, I would usually go to Portland around lunch-time. It was then very early on, if not immediately, that I had stumbled upon a sandwich shop right around the corner of the comic store. I ordered my standard test for any such sandwich shop, a BLT, and sat down to eat while I read my new books. The BLT is a good test of an eatery in my opinion because it is so basic. If the BLT can be done well while also elevating the dish, the place is a winner. Well the food was good, it passed that test. But what kept me coming back was that in the first few visits, I noticed a friend who was much like me. Only later did I discover that they were the owner. Their story is their own and being from another country and another generation, the language we might use were not always the same. Yet to a casual observer stumbling on the shop, as many of the visitors much have been, the scene would have been one of a trans woman sitting down to lunch at an establishment owned and operated by another trans woman. We would sometimes laugh that unlike most other restaurants, in this sandwich shop being trans was the norm and being cisgender was the aberration. And so for years I would go get my comics from a lesbian owned store and then go read them at a trans owned sandwich shop. To this day, I miss seeing my friend each Wednesday.


Kittery, Maine

Henry VIII Sandwich with Horseradish Sauce, Diet Coke

Given hormones and inheritances, cravings can be explained but are nonetheless hard to argue. Likewise, with our fandoms. As a medievalist I hear about all sorts of historical novelties and attractions from locals. Not all of them are medieval (people tend to conflate the medieval with anything pre-19th century) and few of them are especially historically accurate, but I tend to love most of them. I love a good replica sword or a tin suit of armor on the walls or a menu's attempt at "old English" which is really just modern English with some anachronistic grammar in funky fonts. As such, it did not take me long to get directed to Henry VIII Carvery. It is easy to see but also easy to miss, located in a stretch of road between towns in a region and state through which folk tend to drive very fast. This innocuous little yellow building with the historical sounding name is just the sort of place that locals love and that they share with other visitors in the know.

While the novelties are what drew me to the carvery it was the food that kept me craving and returning. Before you even begin eating you get to see the workers cut apart the large pieces of meat (some brined, some seemingly smoked) into chunks or strips to be mixed with various veggies and sauces. Once I took my first bite of the title sandwich, I was hooked. It is an uncommon kind of sandwich both for the high quality of the meat but also the use of horseradish sauce. I brought my partner. I brought our kids. I went their often enough to make good use out of the punch-card which earned me some free food. Even though I did not go to Henry VIII's as often as other places, when I got the craving for one of their sandwiches it was hard for any other foods to do the job. My love brought me Henry VIII's on occasions when I was having cravings, was ill, or when I just needed a pick-me-up. It is worth noting that around this time I had been experiencing hormone replacement therapy as part of my medical transitioning and the affirmation of my gender. Among the noticeable changes were in my appetites and cravings. Olives, which I had hitherto found revolting, I suddenly loved were one such craving. But Henry III's sandwiches were another that hit at the right time and the right place in my stomach. I still get those cravings.


Southington, Connecticut

F.U. Hot Wings and Asian Invasion Wings

It all began with me running to the restroom for fear that I was about to vomit. All the while, as I was pushing past the crowds, was that I had just ingested poison. After splashing water on my face, the need to expel what I had just eaten abated. Then I went back for another. This was my first experience of F.U. wings. My family had attended a hot wing contest in town, where various eateries in mid-Connecticut came to show off their various chicken wing experiments in different categories. There were sweet, sugary wings and those that tasted like donuts. Then there were the various kinds of hot wings. The F.U. wings from local bar, the Groggy Frogg, surpassed all of them by leaps and bounds. It was only later that I discovered that they were the brainchild of the husband of my new friend, who was the head cook at the bar. He was a man who took pride in his award winning wings and the wide variety of wings they sold at the Groggy Frogg. Part of this pride was in using no pepper extract in the F.U. sauce. As anyone who make a sport of trying spicy food know all too well, it is quite easy to make painfully spicy food just by adding the chemical extract that makes peppers hot. It is harder, more expensive, and more flavorful to make such sauces using only whole peppers. This harder course is the way the Groggy Frogg went, resulting in a sauce that was awfully painful but also awfully delicious.

Yet it is not because of taste alone that the wings (including some F.U. wings) found their way into my wedding. A year or so before the wedding our younger child had signed up for karate lessons. I would bring them and wait with the other parents during the lesson from a room on the other side of a large window. Often, I would slink back even further to the far side of the hallway closer to the door. I could still see my child but had a degree of distance from the other parents. It is there that I met the best friend I was to make in Connecticut. As she tells the story, I seemed to look at the other parents (all former football players and cheerleaders from the local high school) with the same sense of unease that she did. At that, she knew she wanted to be friends. It was to our greater fortune that our older and younger children were both around the same ages. Even after we moved from Connecticut, my oldest daughter stills keeps in close communication with her oldest. Thus a family friendship began with the whole group getting together for parties or just to hang out during breaks and weekends. It was not long before we found out that her husband was responsible for those F.U. wings and when our wedding came around, we ordered a box load of various wings (Hot, Mild, Asian Invasion, and F.U.) to serve at our rehearsal dinner. For reasons that are not fully explained, my husbutch mixed the F.U. wings together with the regular hot wings. What resulted was a bit of a Russian Roulette where unsuspecting diners would jump up from there seats shouting, "we found another one!" Then they would go rushing from a cup of something to drown the flames. The wings certainly formed memories and the family who made them formed lasting friendships. Indeed, the final meal we had in Connecticut before we moved away was an order of wings from our friends at the Groggy Frogg.


Glen Ellyn, Illinois

Sierra Turkey Sandwich and French Onion Soup

At this point it should be evident that not all the places listed are here because they are off the beaten road little hideaways but because they hold some significant meaning in my life story. In general, my family loves Panera Bread and specifically one location (which I am not sure still exists) has a special place in my heart. The Panera Bread on Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn, located near the Jewel-Osco grocery store and a former Blockbuster Video, is the place that I would meet once a summer with my good friend Michael and our favorite middle school teacher, Ms. H. While we are older now and we go by first names or simply "friend," my impulse to say Ms. H (name redacted) is still there. Ms. H. is the reason that my friend Michael and I met. We found out later that she moved seats around during our study hall so we would sit next to each other, resulting in us getting to know each other and making friends. This extra care is just part of what made Ms. H. such an intentional and extraordinary teacher. In honor of her and our friendship, from high school and well into our twenties (until I moved to the east coast) we would get together once a summer to catch up on how we were all doing. Often, we would share books and music; Michael is a music fanatic with a sound-mixing degree and Ms. H. was our English teacher - more on this later. This sort of check-in was a wonderful gift from our favorite middle school teacher, as she would offer advice on our growing lives and concerns. I can only hope that we in turn added joy and reward to her life as well.

At this point it is worth saying that Ms. H. may very well be the reason I got a Ph.D. in Literature. Going into her class, I had been on a road towards the space sciences, a journey I had been set on since 1st grade and which culminated on my summer at Space Camp's Florida location where I had the opportunity to see the international space station before it went into orbit. Alongside this interest in the sciences, however, I had been an active reader and writer. In 3rd grade I wrote a series of mystery short stories which my teacher at the time (Ms. Greer) allowed me to share with the class on numerous occasions. By middle school, I had lost what few friends I had previously and the bullying of the previous years amping up. In this isolation, books became my best friends. Already doing fairly well in school, my pedantry in studying made my classes rather dull as the teachers worked to get the rest of the class caught up. Feeling bored and impatient, I began sneaking books under my desk in class and trying to read while the teachers worked with the other students. Most teachers eventually caught onto what I was doing and not wanting to have my books taken away, I submitted to just being bored. But Ms. H. was different. She not only allowed me to read in class, she would make book recommendations. She told me that as long as I participated and did well in the class work, I did not have to hide the fact I was doing other reading at the same time. I imagine one of the benefits of this was that my hand was not perpetually raised when questions about the readings were asked, which gave room for other students to answer and made me seem to my peers at least a little less pedantic. Well, by the end of the year I had gotten enough non-STEM literature read that I declared I would not longer strive to work at N.A.S.A. and instead become an English Professor. When asked what grade I wanted to teach, I laughed and said college (hence my use of the word "professor") because I held onto the hope that by that age my students would be a bit more devoted to their studies than I knew my middle school peers to be. However pedantic I was as a child, I nonetheless see this at an important pivot point in my professional life and Ms. H., my friend Michael, and Panera play important roles in that story.

Also: the Sierra Turkey sandwich is no longer listed on Panera's menu but if you ask for it directly they will make one for you!


Wheaton, Illinois

Chroizo Chilaquiles and Side of Cheese Grits

I never got into breakfast. Often, I will miss a morning meal and just power through until lunch. For a long time, I did not understand the appeal of "breakfast for dinner" because breakfast seemed to be the weakest of the meals. This prejudice, however, was partially based on having poor ambassadors for the great nation of breakfast. I rarely eat cereal, occasionally enjoying some Special K or sweet cereals which I regard as a candy-like dessert. In general, I don't like anything sweet in the morning, even fruits. I like eggs but generally only if I am the one cooking them. I like cooking eggs perhaps more than eating them. I especially loath fast-food eggs which generally taste to me like yellow styrofoam. Most of all, I don't eat very many baked pastries. Cakes, donuts, bagels, and breads are not high on my list of meals. Added together, disliking sweet things in the morning, being picky about eggs, unimpressed by cereal, and avoidant of carbs all but demolishes most breakfast options that are usually presented to me. If presented with the choice, I usually would rather skip the food in favor of sleep or work.

Eventually, I did have to admit that I like breakfast if done right. Almost always, this means a slow-paced sit down restaurant with family or friends. Most of all, if I am going out to eat breakfast (not just ordering breakfast for someone else, like for my kids) it is usually with my mom. She likes slow-paced breakfasts too at small chain stores in or around our hometown of Wheaton, Illinois. Her favorite place is Egg Harbor Cafe. Now, there are fancier places for breakfast that have impressed me, giving me some of my favorites: an excellent Biscuits and Gravy, Chicken-Fried-Steak, Smoked Herring or Lox. But few foods beat the moments and memories I share during breakfast with my mom. Each member of the family have an Egg Harbor Mug purchased for them by my mom. That said, the food is pretty good too! My favorite is the Chorizo Chilaquiles with a side of the cheesy grits. They have learned to bring me extra hot sauce as well. In the end, while I would usually prefer sleeping in or getting work done, I will wake up early and wait on the day's writing to get hot chillies and sausage at my mom's favorite breakfast place!


Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Queer Christianity: The Medieval Orientations of C.S. Lewis

"There is no safe investment. 
To love at all is to be vulnerable. 
Love anything, and your heart will certainly 
be wrung and possibly be broken. "

C.S. Lewis

Course Overview

We live in a moment when the relationship between queerness and Christianity is being reconsidered and hotly debated. To better understand this debate, as well as the differences and potential common ground between members of the queer and Christian communities (including those who belong to both!), this seminar examines the history of Christianity and its relationship to queerness. Is Christianity a force for domination or liberation? Orthodoxy or creative multiplicity? Normativity or queerness? To answer these questions, we will read literature that explores how Christianity has both suppressed and in some sense created queerness, as well as how it has been reclaimed by queer communities. We will also look closely at how these historical tensions are being played out locally today. Special attention also will be given to the range of intersecting identities and communities that have responded to the meeting of faith and sexuality in various ways, drawing from diverse contexts of race, ability/disability, gender, and class. Readings include selections from the Bible, books about theology, and documentaries and memoirs attesting to the experience of LGBT Christians. In particular, this semester we explore the "Medieval Orientations of C.S. Lewis." In this four part course, we interrogate the long dialectical history between LGBTQIA persons and the Christian Church. At this intersection stands C.S. Lewis, a pillar of Christianity to be queered, as well as a representative of many queer medieval orientations towards gender and sexuality. So grab your copy of Mere Christianity and a pack of rainbow markers!

The seminar begins with a queer reading of scripture, focusing on key sections of the Jewish and Christian Bible which address gender and sexuality. We begin by considering the meanings and purposes of the Creation myths from Genesis I and II, as well as how God as Creator has been understood and represented within later Christian thought; such as the singing into being of Narnia and Middle Earth in the fiction of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. What happens when we look as Creation not as a fixed made object but rather as a dynamic sometimes rhyming, sometimes dissonant ever changing song? Next, the books of Law are read within their historical and cultural context alongside the concepts of moral philosophy: are there true ethical ideals, natural laws which inform social justice, or true selves which deserve honor and respect? The person, preaching and practices of Jesus - from the sermon on the plains to his summation of the law and the prophets - will be added together in order to assess their implications for LGBTQIA persons. Finally, students will consider to what degree the legacy of Jesus in the Christian Church was affected by the various interpretations of the Apostles such as their Acts and the letters of St. Paul.

Following the eras in which scripture was being composed and compiled, we turn to the traditions of theology which have influenced how Christian churches have related to gender and sexuality. Influential early theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas will be queried and queered as they are put into conversation with various queer saints from St. Hildegard to St. Marinos and St. Joan of Arc. Modern queer theology will also be considered for its content and style, demonstrating how different theologians and eras approach questions of identity and embodiment in different ways. A running theme of this section is the philosophies of love and desire which run from Plato and Augustine to C.S. Lewis and Mr. Rogers. Next, the Queer Christianity seminar will move from Philosophy to Art and Literature to consider the ways in which afterlives figure into Church doctrine and into the LGBTQI community. How do trans women deal with the hells into which they are placed and imagined? Where does Dante locate queerness in his vision of Purgatory? How does Queer Christianity walk between the roads towards the shadowlands or to the bright country from C.S. Lewis's Great Divorce? The semester ends by leveraging the skills in exegesis, theology, and imagination against the institutions of ex-gay ministries in the films The Transformation, God Loves Uganda, and the Miseducation of Cameron Post.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course you will be able to

  • Think critically across multiple perspectives
  • Engage with thinkers who passionately disagree with you
  • Argue according to the dialectic method
  • Compose your thoughts in clear and engaging writing
  • Honor differences as important to propelling your thinking forward


Selections from the Reading List

Queer Scripture

  • The Bible
    • Creation Myths
    • The Law
    • Jesus
    • The Apostles

  • Austen Hartke, Transforming: The Bible and the Lives of Transgender Christians, Westminster John Knox Press (2018), 978-0664263102
  • C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, HarperOne (2015), 978-0060652920
  • C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (Space Trilogy, Book 2), Scribner (2003), 978-0743234917

Queer Theology

  • St. Augustine of Hippo, The Confessions
  • St. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God
  • St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica
  • St. Hildegard Von Bingen, Primary Sources
  • St. Marinos the Monk, The Vita
  • St. Joan of Arc, Primary Sources

  • Barbara Sukowa (dir.) Vision - From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen, Zeitgeist Films (2011) 
  • Morgan Neville (dir.) Won't You Be My Neighbor? Universal Studios (2018) B07D591ST1

  • D.J. Lee, Rescuing Jesus, Ch. 8: Femmevangelical  
  • K. Lochrie, Heterosyncrasies: Female Sexuality When Normal Wasn’t 
  • M. Althaus-Reid, Queer God, Ch. 3: Trinitarians and God the Orgy 
  • Plato, Symposium on Love, “Aristophanes,”
  • Hedwig & the Angry Inch, “Origin of Love”   
  • C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, HarperOne (2017), 978-0062565396

Queer Afterlives

  • Leelah Alcorn, Transgender Queen of Hell, Tumblr
  • Marguerite Bennette, Angela: Queen of Hel, Marvel Comics (2016) 978-1302900014
  • Dante, Purgatorio, Anchor Press (2004), 978-0385497008
  • C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, HarperOne (2015), 978-0060652951

(Ex-)Queer Ministries

  • Aiken and Aparicio (dir.), The Transformation (1996) 

  • Roger Ross Williams, God Loves Uganda (2013) 

  • Desiree Akhavan, The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018)

  • C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, HarperOne (2015), 978-0060652944