Queerness and Multireligious Perspectives Interview: Alex Rudy

The  background of the image shows small yellow flowers that look like daisies. The flowers are growing towards the sun, and lens flares blur much of the image. The overlaying text, which is printed in black, reads: Queerness and Multireligious Perspectives Interviews

As part of this series on the intersections of queerness and multireligiosity, I want to offer queer, multireligious people a platform to reflect on our experiences in our own words and on our own terms. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

For this interview, I spoke with one of my favorite people — my brilliant spouse, Alex Rudy — about the intersections of being queer, trans, and growing up as a nonreligious descendent of a Protestant (Presbyterian, PCUSA) and Unitarian Universalist family. Alex is a deeply insightful person (I wouldn’t have married them if they weren’t), and it was very thought-provoking and transformative for me to hear their reflections on the questions I offered. I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed conducting it!

Esther: I am here today with — full disclosure, my spouse — Alex Rudy, who I’m very excited to talk to about multireligiosity and queerness. I like to start out these interviews by asking my guests to introduce themselves and tell us about who they are. So please, introduce yourself! Tell us about who you are and what you’d like us to know about you! 

Alex: I’m Alex. I use they/them pronouns. My identities: I identify as bi and trans. Trans on a journey: transition in the most literal sense of that. Currently that makes me non-binary, but destination unknown at this point. I was assigned male at birth, and figured out that I was bi on some level fairly early in my life, and figured out that I was trans much later in my life. So there’s been a sort of difference in when I came to those realizations. 

 I think it’s also important to talk about spiritually how I identify, which is that I identify in a lot of ways as a “none” — an atheist. Though, not an atheist who is really engaged in a lot of the communities of atheism. And not a political atheist in the way a lot of atheism is associated with a particular political agenda or bent about the way we separate religion from the state. But I have a slightly richer history around my own spirituality and the way I think about things, and I think a much richer definition than can be captured in just a few labels. 

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Queerness and Multireligious Perspectives Interview: Fairuz Rougeaux

The  background of the image shows small yellow flowers that look like daisies. The flowers are growing towards the sun, and lens flares blur much of the image. The overlaying text, which is printed in black, reads: Queerness and Multireligious Perspectives Interviews

As part of this series on the intersections of queerness and multireligiosity, I want to offer queer, multireligious people a platform to reflect on our experiences in our own words and on our own terms. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

“Each side of the hyphen pulls identity taut, and the tension prevents separation or isolation. Hyphenation isn’t an either-or issue, It is a both-and concern. How people experience hyphenation matters most.” Duane Bidwell, When One Religion Isn’t Enough: The Lives of Spiritually Fluid People, 109

For this interview, I spoke with my good friend Fairuz Rougeaux about the intersections of being queer and growing up in a Muslim-Catholic family in the Southern United States. Fai is a brilliant, funny creative and it was a delight to hear her reflections on the relationships between being queer, mixed, and multireligious… and so much more. I’m delighted to share our conversation here!

Esther: So I am here today with my dear friend Fairuz Rougeaux, and I’m so excited to talk to you about queerness and spiritual identities and all of the above and everything in between. Welcome! Go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself: whatever you’d like to let us know about who you are and what you’re about.

Fairuz: Wow, what a question! Well, you’ve introduced me. Thank you. I am a writer, et cetera, a general creative sort. I just like to make things. How do I describe myself? I feel like you’re going to ask questions that are going to get into some of the things that come to mind. So, I guess I’ll just list a couple of them. 

I come from an interesting mix of backgrounds. My mother is Cajun and Creole and my dad is Arab. So that has had a very big impact on who I am as a person. Being in-between is a big running theme in my life and my personality. So I am me, and I’m a lot of different people at the same time. 

Esther: I think that’s one of my favorite answers I’ve ever heard to that question. That was profound. And we could talk about that for a whole podcast or interview. I feel like we’ll get more into it as we go. 

So the first thing I like to ask people when talking about the subject of queerness and multireligiosity and how those things work is to describe how you were raised spiritually. What were the major influences in your early life, like, childhood and teens, as far as religion went?

Fairuz: My mom is Catholic and my dad is Muslim, and when they got married, as I understand it, an agreement was made. She said, “You can take their religious upbringing. You can raise them Muslim. I’m good with that. But we’re were celebrating Christmas and Easter.” So that’s how I grew up.

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Queerness and Multireligious Perspectives Interview: Justin

The  background of the image shows small yellow flowers that look like daisies. The flowers are growing towards the sun, and lens flares blur much of the image. The overlaying text, which is printed in black, reads: Queerness and Multireligious Perspectives Interviews

As part of this series on the intersections of queerness and multireligiosity, I want to offer queer, multireligious people a platform to reflect on our experiences in our own words and on our own terms.This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

For my first interview in this series, I sat down with my dear friend, Justin, to reflect on his experiences of being gay within the contexts of Catholicism, Wicca, and atheism. Justin is a wellspring of courage and resilience, and it was a joy to talk with him in my home over beverages and gay indulgences!

Esther: So I’m sitting down with my dear friend, Justin. We have mimosas, we’ve both just done our makeup, so we’re in like, primo gay mode. Can we get any gayer? Probably. 

Justin: Probably. 

Esther: We’ll try. And we’re going to talk about queerness and religion, and have a great time doing so. Hello, welcome! 

Justin: Hi, thank you for having me in this, your home. 

Esther: Thank you for being here. I’m delighted to have you. So, tell us a little bit about yourself! 

Justin: Sure. I identify as a gay man, an atheist, although I have certainly been through a fair number of different religious experiences in my life. I am an oceanographer by trade and a gamer for hobby. 

Esther: Well, I have one very important question for you. 

Justin: Yes.

Esther: Is the ocean gay? 

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Queerness and Multireligious Identities: Queer Implications for Religious Hybridities 

The image depicts a deep pink-magenta, daisy-like flower with yellow pollen at its core, with petals reaching up. The flower is almost cupping the bottom of the black text, which reads "Queerness and Multireligious Identities."

In the introductory entry of this series, I contemplate my personal definition of what it means to engage in the act of queering. I write: 

“In my own words, to queer something — be it sexuality and desire, gender performance, or spiritual identity — is to play at intersections of rebellion, chaos, and liberation. It is the act of resisting neat acceptance of what we are told we are in favor of living the questions of who we know ourselves to be, and of what that being means in relationship to others. To queer something is to embody a site of rupture when it comes to the discipline dominant culture enacts on us. The act of queering is an invitation to unbind our notions of narrow categories of the possible, the “normal,” the “correct” way of being, and open to multiplicity, complexity, and constant emergence of new ways and shapes of being.” 

I want to draw attention to the ways in which practicing/embodying queerness can mirror practicing/embodying multireligiosity. In this post, I offer my thoughts on the 1) meanings of multireligiosity and 2) the implications of queerness for multireligious identities. 

Multireligiosity 

What does it mean to be multireligious? 

At the beginning of my third year of divinity school, I took one of the core courses required by my seminary, Starr King School for the Ministry — our Multireligious Core. Over the course of a week, our class played with defining what it means to be multireligious; what I remember most clearly is the feeling of grasping at a slippery concept, a way of being in the world that defied categories and borders. As Shaykh Ibrahim Baba / Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé says, “if wines can be complex and deliciously-layered, why can’t our religious identities also embody mixities and fluidities without automatically being interpreted as confusion and boundary-blurring? some borders are already blurred, because they are actually not even there.” (Shaykh Ibrahim Baba / Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé , September 20, 2013) 

When I write about multireligious identities, I am writing about those of us who hold multiple religious traditions and/or spiritual identities within our bodies and practices. Perhaps we come to these identities through birth, and are raised to situate ourselves within multiple ancestral spiritual traditions. Or we may come to multireligious practice in the course of our own life experiences, finding resonance with and home in the teachings, ritual, and practices of more than one spiritual tradition. Whatever our path, we find ourselves oriented to more than one way of being in relationship to what we know as sacred.

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Queerness and Multireligious Identities: An Introduction

The image depicts a deep pink-magenta, daisy-like flower with yellow pollen at its core, with petals reaching up. The flower is almost cupping the bottom of the black text, which reads "Queerness and Multireligious Identities."

What does it mean to have a queer relationship to gender, sexuality, and spiritual identity? 

This question has been on my mind during my final semester of divinity school. The question itself is not new to me — I’ve been wrestling with my own relationship to queerness, gender, and spiritual identities for more than fifteen years now. But it’s been at the forefront of my mind lately, not only because of rising popularity of religiously-sanctioned authoritarian movements around the world, but also because I’ve been fortunate to take a class on multireligious perspectives in Queer Studies this semester. 

I’d like to use this space to reflect on the intersections of queerness, gender, sexuality, and religiously hybrid spiritual identity. I am particularly interested how those of us whose experiences and existences defy ideas of binary gender and normative sexualities live in relationship to complex spiritual identities. To this end, I want to create space for a series of conversations with other folks of queer genders and sexualities to reflect on our experiences of and relationships to religion. Just as many of us defy constructed binaries in our lived experiences of gender and sexuality, so too do we reject similar binaries in our experiences of spiritual identity. Many of us live religiously hybrid lives, lives of spiritual fluidity and multireligiosity, but we often don’t have spaces to discuss this. I am particularly excited to focus this series on the perspectives of multireligious queer people whose experiences are often invisibilized and stifled in dominant culture discussions of gender, sexuality, and religion. 

This introductory post focuses on two topics that will inform this series: 1) who I am and how I come to this work and 2) understanding theories of queerness and gender. 

Continue reading “Queerness and Multireligious Identities: An Introduction”

Liturgies for Substance Use, Part 1

The image is a close-up of two green cannabis plants laid out on a blurry surface. The white text reads "Liturgies For Substances Use"

This past summer, I was privileged to take a course on the intersections of substance use and spiritual practice. The intertwining of sacred attunement and substance use is likely as old as human experience, yet through systems of domination and oppression — particularly racialization and anti-Blackness, patriarchy, and constructing gender as a binary system — those with the most spiritual and political power have created cultures of fear and harm around substance use.

Our teacher, Ayize Jama-Everett, guided us through learning about how anti-Black, patriarchal power structures have weaponized substances and substance use to further harm Black and Indigenous peoples and many other people of color, to maintain patriarchal colonial dominance over bodies and land, and to monetarily capitalize off of “permissible” substances. I learned a great deal about. how most of us are not trained to support people who struggle in their relationship to substances; we have dominant cultures of shaming, silencing, and punishing those who most need community and care around substance use.

As human beings, we have the right to play at the intersection of substance and sacred practice. We have the right to community care and to loving support as we learn how to be in relationship with sacred substances. Our ancestors from every part of the planet have had historic relationships with sacred plants, and as new synthesized substances emerge, so too can we form sacred relationships with them.

It is my hope that spiritual leaders will undertake learning and professional development so that we may support our communities in exploring relationships with sacred plants and synthesized substances. I believe that religious and spiritual communities have a moral obligation to uproot anti-Black, anti-Indigenous colonial systems of domination. I believe that we have a moral and spiritual calling to honor embodiment and the relationship between our bodies, substances, and liberation. I believe we can play an enormously influential role in encouraging right relationship with traditional sacred substances and synthesized substances through cultivating respectful relationships with land, Indigenous peoples, sacred plants, and our own ancestors.

As part of my final project for this class, I created liturgies around collective substances use, modeled off liturgies from my own traditions of ancestral faith and the faiths I have been called into (Christianity, Judaism, and Unitarian Universalism). I hope to share all these liturgies here on Hallowed Be, and to write more over time!

I begin by sharing a prayer imagined for Unitarian Universalist small groups that are journeying into relationships with sacred substance. Feel welcome to personalize and develop the prayer in a way that works for you; if you use or adapt it, please credit me as the original author. You may credit me as Esther Wallace and use she/her or zhe/zher pronouns to refer to me.

A Prayer Before Substance Use

O Sources of the mysteries of life and death
Kindlers of darkness and light
All that we who gather here know and name as sacred;

We gather in reverence for the substances we are about to receive — [name specific substances being worked with during this time].

We feel awe and gratitude for all those substances which grow from the earth, for the resilience of plants,
the intricacies of mycelial networks,
the ordinary-yet-miraculous knowledge of our ancestors.

We turn with wonder and thankfulness to synthesized substances, for the marvelous molecules,
the magic of the laboratory,
the ever-expanding knowledge of the now.

Let us be in right relationship with these substances and may our encounters on the journey be our teachers.

Let us be in right relationship with each other
and may our encounters on the journey teach our community the ways of accountability, healing, pleasure, and joy.

May our time here today be a time of possibility and insight and may we emerge with the capacity for transformation.

Amen. Selah. Blessed Be.

Note: in this post, I am not encouraging anyone to enter into careless relationships with substance that come at the expense of relationships with self and community, particularly if you are someone who knows that this is a risk for you. I am not encouraging you to participate in illegal activities, including but not limited to the illegal sale, purchase, or use of controlled substances. This content is for informational use and is not intended as a substitute for professional legal or medical advice.