Happy Wednesday McReaders. Today we have a special treat – the return of CURE extraordinaire Shelley Donaldson! Shelley graduated last year and has moved on to bigger and better things, but I’ve asked her to continue in our series of relationships in seminary from her perspective as an openly gay woman. Here’s Shelley:
Being a gay woman in seminary at McCormick was pretty great. Mainly, because I was able to learn that there were bigger issues for me than that. And it was a safe space. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was hard sometimes; and trying to find a job in the PC(USA) after seminary was even harder being an openly gay woman. There is something degrading about having to tell a group of people from a church that you are openly gay in your first interview. Has a straight person ever had to do that? No. But, luckily, the community around me helped me with that part and held me up when I couldn’t do that for myself. My last semester was a rough one in a lot of ways, but there is no way I could have done it without that community of people! Honestly, McCormick and Chicago are possibly the safest spaces one can go when the world tells you that you belong on the island of misfit toys.
Story: In my first semester of seminary during our Intro to Biblical Studies class, our professor was entertaining an idea that was a bit off topic, but still relevant. Then one of the other first year students stands up (literally, he stood up), and he says, “I just don’t know how someone can stand in a pulpit, preach the word of God while being gay, and have a conscience and think that is right, because it is not. It’s wrong.” (In case you were wondering, this was not the topic we were discussing…)
At this comment a few things happened in my personal bubble: first, I have never wanted so badly to just sit on my computer in the back of the class and be on Facebook and just pretend not to exist; second, all of my friends around me started shouting; and third, my friend, TC, sitting next to me decided to have his own conversation with me and pretend like no one else was there. We talked about the Beatles or something irrelevant. Thank God for TC.
One of my classmates leaned over to me and said, “Aren’t you going to say something?”
“No. That’s not my job” was my response. My job was to be friends with that student and come to a mutual understanding that we were different, and that was okay. When I saw him, I said, “I don’t have a problem with that.” To his surprise, I was gay. He had no idea. Gay people were hypothetical to him, and they are to so many others. Things change once you know someone face to face.
He never believed that I was to be a pastor in his tradition (and frankly, neither did I), but the difference was, he no longer looked at me as someone lesser than, but as a person. After he and I talked together, we became equals. He didn’t know I was gay, even though we were friends. He was able to put the idea of being gay to the face of an actual person, and it wasn’t as horrible as he thought.
My role in the seminary community wasn’t to be the gay person. Was I? Sure. I joked about it with people. But at the end of the day, I was just me. The same person that convinced Ken Crews to wear Kim Adams’ short shorts to Wes Pitts’ apartment for fun. The same person who ate a full 3-course meal in Ken Sawyers’ History class each week (how I miss that man).
Was McCormick a safe place to talk about people who are not heterosexual in the church and world? Yes. Is it a place to be a person who is not heterosexual and still be safe? Of course. Did I wrestle with things? Certainly. But not because I was gay. But because so many other people had a problem with the idea of gay people.
McCormick allowed me to deal with that fact: that people would be prejudiced against me because of how God made me. And for that, I’m incredibly thankful.
Don’t get me wrong, seminary wasn’t all about, “hey, I’m gay, so I have to deal with it.” I spent a lot of time studying, writing, experiencing, laughing, eating, worshiping, talking, and simply living the life of a seminary student. Seminary was the best time of my life. I’d do it again, minus the loans… I got a lot of great mentors and friends out of my experience there.
While I still might represent the stereotypical gay woman to so many people and listen to people like Brandi Carlisle, people shouldn’t judge me for things like that (Frank Yamada has seen her in concert more times than I have). Judge me for my lack of helping the homeless, or for the fact that I get road rage sometimes on the Dan Ryan, or my lack of spiritual practices in my daily life.
At McCormick, I learned that those are the kinds of things I should be focusing on and that being gay was just part of how God made me.
Shelley, thanks so much for being so open with us! See you later McReaders!