Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Remembering to be Thankful

With the holidays just around the corner and the frazzled, crisp ping of anxiety, rush, and panic take over the air around us, it is easy to forget to stop and “smell the roses.”  In times where teaching positions continue to shrink and more universities switch to adjunct labor, fees and class costs continue to rise, or just simply life, becomes a little more complicated, due to the nature of balancing life, activism, work, friendships, or relationships, remembering to remind myself to be thankful is another task, I find adding to the never-ending list of stuff I always seem I have to do.

However, remembering to be thankful, scheduling it into one’s daily schedule are vital to our success as new and emerging faculty or activists or just in general because being thankful reminds us that we have aspects of our lives that are worth being thankful for.  Remembering to be thankful proves that we are in some way, connected to a larger sense of life that, at times, grants our wishes, wants, or desires, brings us despair and then allows us to get through it, or even makes us feel alive.

As I sit back and look at the personal and professional landscape around me I understand that I have a lot to be thankful for both consciously and unconsciously.  Most recently at AAR, I participated on a panel in response to Bernadette Barton’s Pray the Gay Away.  During the course of our panel, the conversation of chosen vs. biological families came up.   Most recently, my mentor and panel moderator, Dr. Marie Cartier, talked about it here on FAR and the difficulties many of us experienced in regards to our chosen families vs. our biological families.   With the holiday season all around us, and regardless of what or if, you celebrate it or not, it is quite hard to get away from it all without realizing who your “family” is and whether or not you’re close or connected with them can be traumatizing during these times where we’re taught or expected to be with them. 

After our discussion on the panel and then at the hotel bar, people discussed the pains and traumas in relation to not having a biological family to go home to during the holidays.  Sitting there and listening to the conversations, I realized that, for once in my life, I had nothing to say. 

Much of my Ph.D. work has been discussing and researching the ways that an individual or group’s spirituality can be in conflict with their sexual or gender identities.  Not matching what “normative” values their respective religious dogmas present, are tools that have not only ripped multiple families apart throughout the years but also it have created the chosen families that many of us take solace in during times where we’re told to go home.
That act of be able to go home is a liberating action and there is nothing like it in the world; wherever home is for you, it is the place where your family, whether biological, chosen, or animal, meet you at the social location your most vulnerable and most receptive to the love that home can represent. 

I was able to go ‘home’ each month this fall starting in August and ending this coming December for various reasons.  Wisconsin to me still represents a place where both my biological and chosen families live and it is a place I always love to go to.  However, I wouldn’t have been able to go home if it weren’t for the security that my job gives me.
In the act of reminding myself to be thankful, I have to step back and realize that for many of my friends or colleagues, this option is not doable. Many of my colleagues teach at 4 different universities, teach a course load that is beyond abusive to their professional or personal growth, and live off of an income/debt ratio that proves that academia is in for a rude awakening.  This is becoming the new normal in academia, students and teachers who are overworked, overrun with debt,  or unable to finish or vocalize their own academic/activist interests without selling out once they get those desired tenure jobs that demand their silence for servitude based off of university approved guidelines.  Being able to even be thankful seems, from afar, like a paradox. 

Remembering to be thankful may just be a privileged illusion that individuals in positions of power get to write about in the December of each year to self-congratulate themselves about being actually able to be able to be thankful.  It may just seem like people who write about being thankful are complaining or pontificating that being thankful is in itself a chore.  However, while all this may be true, I wanted to write this blog because I am mad that although I come from a position of privilege, I too wonder, at times, what I need to be thankful for or, more importantly, that other individuals who may or may not have drawn the same metaphorical straw that I did, are forced to live in situations where they are outcast from their religious or family circle because they refuse to be silent anymore about who they really are or that individuals are forced into university servitude just to get by. 

In remembering to be thankful, I realize now, that although I am thankful, I am thankful for more than just my biological or chosen families or my job security, I am thankful that I am able to be mad and that that madness gives me the drive to continue doing that work that needs to be done to create a world where others too, a simple as it sounds, will be able to write posts about remembering to be thankful because everything else has been achieved.  

Remembering to be thankful, remembering to remain fervently queer, and finally remembering the importance of ‘home’ are vital in our overall fight not against ourselves but in the daily struggle we all face in remembering that we do have things to be thankful for, whether chosen or not. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you.
Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay.
Your people will be my people and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.
May the God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.
-Book of Ruth 1:16-17

On Saturday, September 19, 2015 I married two of my best friends Andrunnamedea and Cindy in holy matrimony in Appleton, WI.  Having been ordained since 2009, I truly never thought I'd ever get the chance to use these credentials until they asked me a few months back.  Although my answer was an automatic yes, I sought out to make sure that my homily and the imparting words of advice I gave them on their special day was something unique and not always heard at wedding ceremonies. 

When they had their commitment ceremony years ago, they asked me to write a poem and recite it during the ceremony.  I subsequently sought out to discover and write about a truth I hold very close to my heart: love.  I did the same when I began writing my homily but this time instead of trying to define love like I did with my poem I decided to write a short story about love.  

I'm happy to share it with you here today because at the end of the day, no matter what political pundits are saying on the campaign trail or what new horrible thing is befaling the LGBTQ community, love truly did win on June 26, 2015 and nothing can nor will stop LGBTQ people from committing themselves to each other in legal wedded bliss.

A Short Story About Love
Now it is my turn to impart a piece of monumental wisdom upon two individuals that have impacted my life and whom I consider not only friends but also family.

It isn’t everyday two of your best friends ask you to say something at their wedding but then it also isn’t everyday they then also ask you to marry them too.   So, true to form and like with all good things that are supposed to have a meaning behind the meaning, I’m going to start with a story of two married fish.

You see, there were once these two married fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way. The older fish nods at them and says: “Morning! How’s the water?” And the two married fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over and says to the other: “What the hell is water?”*

A few years back, I wrote a poem about love; like with all poetry and creative forms of expression, it stemmed from a real place, a memory, and feeling. The one problem with that poem though was that I tried to define, pinpoint, and label what love was supposed to be.

We often forget that we don’t live in a vacuum. The real world has a stark and sometimes-cruel way of reminding us of what’s around us and sometimes the world that we thought we knew isn’t the one that we see. However, the one thing that becomes blatantly clear here is the choice we are all given and have to seek out and change the world we see.
As gay people sometimes we’re lucky enough to have a family that is open and accepting and then sometimes we’re not. If the result is the latter, we each then have a choice to seek out and see a world that feels unaccepting and make it into something that is filled with love, laughter, and of course a dance partner that we both choose to love and build a family and life with.  

Upon finding your other half, you begin to build a life, create a family, build a home, have children, and a career; perhaps that career changes but you begin to move and mold not only yourself but now also your partner and family that you’ve built as a result and you work on defining what love means to you and your family. You begin to go through the motions each day: waking up, going to work, coming home and doing the countless other tasks that often take up a majority of our time but in the end aren’t really the things in life that end up defining us or the families we've built. 

When I asked you two to describe one another Andrea said Cindy is her protector and Cindy said Andrea is the strength that holds their family together.  I first met Andrea at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater when she was my assistant hall director and I subsequently met Cindy while she was a police officer for the university. Andrea represented strength from day one, being a Wells West Hall Director will do that you and Cindy, being a police officer, well need I say more about her penchant for protectiveness. As the years went on I saw two individuals who both represented what they saw and wanted in a partner but also two people who became models for the way in which I, and many others, started to define how we wanted to live our lives and therefore define our own versions of love.

That’s the funny thing about love: you never know where you’re going to find it, how you’ll define it, or where it’s going to take you. Love truly is fleeting and at times, as the years go on, it is easy to forget that in your marriage, in the bond you have both here today and for years to come, that you have to remind yourself of the love you felt when you first saw each other through the mass exodus of Whitewater students as they crowded out of the residence hall at 3:00 am thanks to that ever constant fire alarm that rang in the middle of the night.  Then ten, twenty, and thirty years down the road when Cal and Cooper are older and out of the house and you two are left, swimming along together again as partners in life and love.  

It’s easy to get bogged down; to forget that a marriage is living bond that grows and expands each day as you two grow together. It’s easy to forget that the world we exist in and fashion is full of love and that it is present within the person and family you’ve created around you, even if you forget or become complacent with the world around you. Staying aware of the real value of marriage is the bond of love that you create here today and that it will always surround you and that you will have to remind yourself each day to immerse yourself in it or you'll run the risk of forgetting why you chose each other other in the first place.   

Remind yourselves about how you define love is the real value of a real marriage, which is why it almost never has nothing to do with a contract or religious dogmatism. Awareness of what love is in a marriage is the key to success, remembering what is so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over again, much like the two married fish swimming along together, who have grown unaware of the world around them, that the water in which they are swimming in, is the world, the love, and the lives they once created but perhaps had forgotten along their journey. When we’re married we have to remind ourselves that the vows we take is the love we want to see both in the world and in the eyes of the other individual you are vowing to love until your last day: If we forget this, we too run the risk of becoming the two married fish unaware of their surroundings.

It is unimaginably hard to this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet again that the grand cliché turns out to be true: your marriage really IS the job of a lifetime and it commences now.*  Start reminding yourself today that this, what we have here right now, is love; say it to yourself, in your head, or carry it in your heart each day so you know that no matter where you may travel or what may happen in the future that the greatest gift in life is to be loved and love in return.

Andrea and Cindy, I wish you way more than luck: I wish you love.
*Foster Wallace, David. "This is Water." Metastatic. Web. 21 Sept. 2015. .
*Foster Wallace, David. "Transcription of the 2005 Kenyon Commenc." Kenyon College. May 2005. Web. 21 Sept. 2015. .

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

Kim Davis, the defiant county clerk, is currently sitting in isolation in a jail cell after refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Rowan County, Kentucky even after she was ordered by a judge to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage or be held in contempt of court.

Everywhere I turn on both social media or in person people are talking about Ms. Davis, her actions, personal history and for some weird reason her hair and looks.   I’m all for individuals taking a virulent stand against an individual who chooses to not upload the law of the land as well as continually acting in an unjust discriminatory way but bringing her looks or anything else about her physical appearance into the narrative is not only just plain wrong it is sexism in its worst form.

Screen Shot 2015-09-04 at 3.56.49 PM

The old saying goes: “two wrongs don’t make a right.” As a community, we must come together now more than ever to correct the wrongs we see occurring in the world disguised as religious freedom and make sure that we are both holding to the strictest of standards and the morality that many in the religious right claim we lack.

Although conservative religious individuals and political pundits are claiming the current American zeitgeist is being monopolized by liberal, left-wing policies that demoralize and destroy the current state of American society, it is in the narrative of sexism and body shaming where the lines of who is standing on the right and wrong sides of history gets blurred.

Since Davis is arguing her case on moral grounds it is completely valid to bring in her past personal indiscretions into account. Her lack of respect or follow through for what she believes to be the holy and sanctimonious institutions exemplifies the hypocrisy of the religious right and those now claiming that they have the right to refuse service or other items to LGBT individuals.

What is wrong is the way in which we as a community, (although completely just and right), haven’t learned that the same hateful and poisonous language so often thrown our way by individuals, groups, and now Presidential hopefuls, only keeps us on their same bigoted and ignorant levels. No one is telling Kim Davis that she cannot have her religious beliefs but what she is being told is that she cannot hold an office where she takes an oath to uphold the law only to pick and choose what laws she wishes to uphold. Kim Davis is a bigot but she still deserves the same right to believe whatever she wants to believe, no matter how wrong it may seem, just as much as we are now, finally, after such a long, arduous fight, have the right to marry.

I always wondered why my favorite U.S. Supreme Court decision was Reynolds v. United States. Looking back upon it, I see how it applies to so many decisions that have both adversely and advantageously effected the struggles both the LGBT and feminist communities experienced when trying to achieve full equality under the law. An individual can believe whatever they want to believe but when those actions inflict undue harm onto others, they are breaking the law, taking away another person’s rights and creating a world where government exists in name only and where people can pick and choose which laws to follow or not.
Screen-shot-2015-09-02-at-2.45.41-PM-360x360Kim Davis does need a lot of things but saying of suggesting that she needs a haircut, a makeover, or even to lose weight, makes you and those that continue to repeat it no better than she is; to state such statements doesn’t purport the ideal that #LoveWins, which took over social media just mere months ago, but changes the whole narrative to symbolize that sexism and hate are more important than love and equality.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner is a Friend of Mine

caitlyn-jenner-transformation-high-cost-surgery-clothes-house-5I’m deeply troubled by some of the anti-trans and anti-queer commentary that has been taking place on the blog Feminism and Religion in recent months. I’ll never forget when the project first began—talking with the founders about its original purpose: to bring the “F” word back into the mainstream religious discourse and more importantly, to be a place where scholars, young and old, senior or junior, could write, collaborate and eventually converse with across cyberspace.

However, in recent months, I’ve found myself being more of a watchdog rather than a frequent commentator on issues pertaining to feminist religious discourse. I’ve found myself reading comments about issues I may not frankly identify or agree with just to make sure that the cisgendering or anti-trans narratives do not become symbolic of what this blog is now rather than what was supposed to be at the beginning.

When I sat down to write my very first post I was scared. I was terrified that feminists from all communities would see me only as I appeared and not for whom I actually was. I was afraid that all I had worked for throughout my life would be moot with the first bad comment on one of my posts. While all of those fears were real and valid they quickly faded away as I was embraced by this community and many others for my passion rather than my gender; my life’s work rather than my privilege; and more importantly, the personal mission to make the world a safer and better place for women and girls everywhere.

To speak ones truth is oftentimes a difficult and nearly impossible act. However, to live one’s truth, on a day-to-day basis, is an aspect of life that has become so foreign to individuals who have become so comfortable in their own skin that I fear the activist and social justice roots that we all claim to hail from have fallen at the wayside and been replaced by complacency and reductionism.

Caitlyn Jenner’s story is one that many individuals, often not highlighted on this blog, know all too well. Caitlyn Jenner’s story and personal experiences are valid and for members of the feminist community to refer to her as not “feminist” or merely as a man “masquerading” as a woman while still utilizing his privilege from being biologically born as a man is troubling and the root of the problem facing many trans individuals today when they’re negotiating coming out as their true selves.

Trans individuals face a cadre of other horrible social, physical and mental statistics that oftentimes lead them to be more likely to self-harm.   However, as feminists, isn’t it our job to make sure that all groups have access to the same freedoms rather than working towards denying it for certain groups while trolling the comments sections of posts?
Shakespeare said: “To thine own self be true” and for those of us who identify with the Golden Rule, if we no longer treat others as we would like to treat ourselves, then we really have failed as feminists; and if the comments on recent blogs are any indication, we still have a long way to go before all voices can feel welcomed not only on FAR but also in the world at-large.

John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies. He is a Permanent Contributor to the blog Feminism and Religion, a Non-Fiction Reviewer for Lambda Literary, the leader in LGBT reviews, author interviews, opinions and news since 1989 and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion's Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation and the President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh's LGBTQA+ Alumni Association. When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he is the Community Events Technician and works on policies and special events relating to women, gender, sexuality, and human rights issues that are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter @JErickson85

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Religiosity of Silence

In 2013, I wrote an article about the then latest reality TV scandal featuring A&E’s Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson and his rampant foot-in-mouth disease that caused him to express his true distaste for the LGBT community and mainly the sexual proclivities of gay men in the pages of GQ.

1432305381_josh-duggar-speaking-467Now, two years later, it isn’t Josh Duggar’s, star of TLC’’s ’19 Kids and Counting’, anti-LGBT statements getting him into trouble but rather his sexual assault and molestation of 5 girls, including two of his sisters. However, while the Internet explodes with attacks against Josh Duggar and his Quiverfull background it is vital to remember that the silence that he and his family inflicted upon his victims back in 2006 has not only been ongoing since then but also is being reemphasized today with each keystroke focusing on the assailant rather than the victims.

Starting in the 1980s, “Quiverfull,” the religion that the Duggar family image0012adhere to, spread through various evangelical circles with principles focused around biblical literalism such as: traditional gender roles, emphasis on family values, and a scorn and fear of the secular (read: modern) world. Furthermore, while having lots of kids in the Quiverfull religion isn’t just about building up one’s quiver but rather reemphasizing the way in which the world should be run: with women as subservient child producers who are taught to be silent no matter what hardships they face. Josh Duggar and the rest of his Quiverfull family exist in and perpetuate a culture of silence that emphasizes the male struggle while demeaning a woman’s pain as being a result of her having a sinful heart. It should be no shock then to find out that in a world of silence those who are affected the most by silence find it the most difficult to not only speak out but also be heard when men rule the roost.

While the facts surrounding the culture of silence in regards to assault and molestation are shocking, some other facts emphasize why the case against Josh Duggar is all too real: acquaintance perpetrators are the most common abusers making up almost 70-90% of all perpetrators with 89% of child sexual assault cases involving persons known to the child, with 29% of child sexual abuse offenders being relatives and 60% being acquaintances.
In a repetitive culture of abuse and silence, is it really shocking to find out that an individual who preached such hate and discontent for others actually perpetuated other forms of heinous abuse against others?

To say that I was shocked by the revelation about Josh Duggar’s past would be a misnomer; however, to say that I don’t care would be an outright lie. I do care about what happened because I care about the 5 girls he molested and I care about what happens to them now and in the future when they are no longer silenced and are allowed to be free and feel the pain and hurt he inflicted upon them all those years ago in a new light.

We need to hear their voices, we need to hear their stories and more importantly, we need to stop giving the headline to the name “Josh Duggar” and start giving it back to the young girls, not only in Arkansas but also around the world who are forced to live their lives in silence and fear and without the hope that their assailants, regardless of whether or not they were the son to a multi-million corporate television reality cash cow or just a regular person walking down the street.

Sexual assault and violence know no gender and in the case of Josh Duggar, the main thing we need to remember that although he got caught, he probably never stopped and even more terrifying is: who will stop him now that he is the head of his household with four young kids in his quiver?
John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies. He is a Permanent Contributor to the blog Feminism and Religion, a Non-Fiction Reviewer for Lambda Literary, the leader in LGBT reviews, author interviews, opinions and news since 1989 and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion's Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation and the President of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh's LGBTQA+ Alumni Association. When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he is the Community Events Technician and works on policies and special events relating to women, gender, sexuality, and human rights issues that are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter @JErickson85

Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Leelah Alcorn, Ash Haffner, Aniya Knee Parker, Yaz'min Shancez
This post is a response to a recent blog entry on Feminism and Religion titled "Who is Gender Queer?" on from scholar Carol Christ.  The post can be read by clicking here.  I want to thank my friend, advocate, and upcoming scholar Martha Ovadia for reasons only she knows!  Stay brave, speak up, be heard! 
It is terrifying to know that something is wrong but not be able to speak truth to power.
It is even more terrifying to know something is wrong, be able to speak to it, and then silence those voices that do not have that same privilege, power, or position as you.
The struggle that many of us in positions of privilege and power aren’t just the ostracizing and essentializing forces that we, as allies, members of communities, or even those dedicated to a cause, can participate in the oppression we are fighting against and do harm.
It’s taken me a long time to not only be comfortable with who I identify as but also how I go about fighting and defining my life based on said identity and experience. However, the one thing that I have the ability to do is choose that identity, more freely than others. Unlike Leelah Alcorn, Ash Haffner, Aniya Knee Parker, or Yaz’min Shancez, I did not have to face the types of oppressions that they did and sadly lost their lives to as a result because we exist in a society that can’t deal with the inability to leave things undefined or to allow people to define who they are on their own terms. It is vital that although my lived experiences could never meet nor match the same types of oppression that these brave individuals had to face, I, as a white, cisgendered gay male do not, through my own position and privilege become part of their oppression.  
As a man who exists in the world of feminism and within various women’s communities, I walk a daily tightrope of privilege and power to insure that I do not silence those that I consider allies, friends, mentors, or colleagues. As a man who exists in the world of the LGBTQ community, I walk an additional tightrope to additionally take away or diminish from the experiences of those members of our community that do not have the same type of lived experiences as myself.   Even within minority communities, positions of hierarchy exist and within these hierarchies of knowledge, identity, or power, comes a responsibility to insure that the oppressed do not become the oppressors.
We find our versions of home in these communities and it is within these spaces where our home not only begins to define who we are but we, as a reflection of that space, begin to outwardly redefine the spaces we exist in.   If we slowly begin, through our experiences to shape our homes based on privilege and power without self-reflection and acknowledgment of others, then we are no better than those oppressive forces we say we’re against.
I can’t speak for what identity feels like –I can only speak for what essentializing does and what it does is reflected in the deaths of Lelah, Ash and many others who die nameless.   It is our responsibility, as allies, members of communities, and those fighting to end sexist, patriarchal and even now homonormative oppression to make sure that no more deaths occur on our watch or that truth is spoken to power even when power is masquerading around as truth.