I like to get dressed for church. Dressed UP. Shiny shoes, ties, blazers, the works.
I used to hate it. When I was a kid getting dragged to church, I just wanted to wear my blue jeans every single week. From a pretty early age (nine years old? maybe ten?), wearing a dress made me feel like garbage. Sure, I still loved God; I was often bored to tears at church but God was still very real to me in the rest of my life– outside in my backyard, when riding my bike to the train yards at the end of my dead end street, or just sitting and telling jokes with my grandparents after family dinners.
Then I entered seventh grade and the shit truly hit the fan. I was so desperate for the approval of my peers that I promptly shelved any sense of self that didn’t conform to the standards of Seventeen magazine– I shelved my boyishness, my nerdiness, my budding-but-yet-unaware queerness. All the parts of me that made me most myself and most happy. I began to go dress shopping at least twice per year, and I generally wore these dresses to church as well as school dances. This was around the time that I also started to notice the use of certain language and the prevalence of certain theological obsessions (sex = bad, and queer = worst thing ever) at my church. I stopped seeing God around me. Really, I stopped looking; I was afraid that looking for God would force me to look at other things as well… for example, the parts of myself that terrified and ashamed me.
I didn’t know any queers personally, and I was not connected to queer culture. We had one busted, fuzzy, black-and-white tv set in my family’s house, which got reception on approximately one and a half channels– I watched “Ellen” for the first time ever on that tv, and I thought she was fun, and I did not understand the jokes at all. But then, when I was 15 years old, I had a dream and I woke up and I knew I was queer. I had a dream about a lady– a blonde lady, a stranger, and I’m pretty sure she was quite a bit older than me. God gave me that dream. God gave me that dream when I was too isolated and too scared to consciously arrive at the truth on my own, during my waking hours, with all that pressure of everyone watching.
I soon stopped wearing dresses (and tight clothes, and heels, and hair product) for the most part. I also stopped going to church. I had a new reason now. In addition to me not wanting the church dresses, I now knew for certain that the church did not want my queer teenager ass in the pews. I did not stand at the altar and testify about this, railing against the injustice and theological cowardice of it all. No, are you kidding? I wasn’t yet 16 and I was the queer, gender-busted, white hick child of the pastor. I simply learned to do at church what I was now learning to do in so many other parts of life– that is, to quietly fade out. To fly so far below the radar so that no one would even notice me long enough to get angry, or grossed out, or piteous, or hostile, or violent.
So guess what? Fast forward ten years, one salvation, and two coming-outs later, I LOVE to be seen in my church clothes. I love CHURCH FOLKS to see me in my church clothes– and, on occasion, I love to see church folks SQUIRM at seeing me in my church clothes. Silky ties, tweedy woolly vests, crisp collared shirts, perma-creased dress slacks, shiny shoes. All on ME. Divinely and dashingly queer. In the front row, on the far left side. And engaged to the PRIEST!! Sweet Jesus, talk about a resurrection.
It has been (it continues to be) a fight to be myself in this body that God gave me. It has been (it continues to be) a fight to keep this body of mine SAFE in God’s church. Getting this body gussied up on Sundays is, for me, just another way of praising God–it is an expression of recognizing the Spirit at work inside of me, a means of sanctifying that space (most precious body) which the Spirit occupies in me. I’m not down on folks who believe in low-fashion church attire. I support their right to dress themselves in the morning, on Sunday and every day. Likewise, I expect them to support my right to dress myself as I see fit. Especially on Sundays. Because my Sunday Best has been a long time coming.