I am a lot of things. Some of those things are good, some of those things are in need of improvement, and some of these things are just neutral.
I have long been someone who found labels to be confining. The minute you get a label you are thrust into a box. As soon as you are in the box you have expectations and restrictions. I take on labels to help me communicate, but over and over it has been exhausting if I ever break away from that label at all. My mantra has been, “I define my label, my label doesn’t define me.”
One example is Christian. I take on that label and wear it. I don’t really subscribe to all the doctrine though, and I certainly don’t fit in with some of the more evangelical church beliefs. I am a social justice seeking, Jesus following, people loving, fighting for the oppressed, Christian. I will not hand out pictures of a blond haired blue eyed Jesus on the side of the road with a blow horn and tell people about eternal damnation. I spend a lot of time reassuring people around that.
Another example is sexual orientation. I define myself as gay. The vast majority of relationships I have been in are with people who identify as women. However I have also dated men, people who define their gender outside the male/female binary system, and am not closed to the idea that may happen again in the future. I suppose pansexual would be more fitting, but when I use that I spend 2 billion years explaining what that means. I say gay because it is clear to the vast majority of people what that means, can be said quickly, and then if I date someone who doesn’t identify as a woman I just deal with that then.
Currently I just started dating someone who identifies as FTM. He is wonderful, so I have entered into this period of time where people in my life are starting to want some answers. Because my boyfriend passes as male in all situations people want to know why I am not gay anymore, or if I am just trying to be straight. My answer is simply, “I am not going to avoid dating someone that I really like, who is wonderful, because I want to fit into the ‘gay’ box.” I am not different than prior to dating him. I dated who I liked before, and I am doing that now. I am not tied to the label gay. Currently I am just someone in love. Other people really are the only problem with this label and the effect on my identity.
The other label causing me some struggle lately is “pastor”. I went to school to get my Masters in Divinity. I went through the process to become a licensed pastor in the United Methodist Church. I served in a church as an intern for 2 years. I served in a church as an associate pastor for a year. I was the only pastor in the last church for a year and a half. I been called pastor through all of this. I wore that title proudly.I worked really hard for it. I got a master’s degree while working full time and doing an internship. I went through interviews and wrote papers, and in the end was finally approved. That label was a label that meant all that work was worth it, and I made it.
I wore that label proudly because it helped my fight against the damage Christians have done to God’s people. I use it to open up conversations with people. I don’t look intimidating, and talk to people fairly easily. I like that I can help people process the ways religion has hurt them. I have opened up countless conversations with people I don’t know simply by answering, “I am a pastor,” when asked what I do. I get to reassure people that they are created by God and loved exactly as they are. This label gives me authority in this, and has provided some people with peace in these conversations.
This label was stripped from me on January 14th though. I will write out the whole story at some point, but for now let it just be said that I felt like I had to leave the church, and it continues to be so painful. It is another label that has shifted in meaning, and changed how the world views me. For some reason though shaking this one, or redefining it so that it feels okay, had been so much harder. While I have been able to fight the pressures when society tries to put me in boxes in the past, this is different.I liked the box. I liked the identity. I feel like it was taken from me. The label pastor was important to me. This label really mattered… and I miss it.