Last week, as an open and unapologetic queer man, I sat unabashedly before the Vermillion River District Committee on Ordained Ministry. Over the course of my interview, I connected with ordained individuals with a breadth and depth of experience that I could not fathom. I responded to questions about my faith, theology, calling, contemplative life, and also, my sexuality.
At the end of the interview, one of the cisgender, heterosexual, middle-aged men turned to me and said: “You know Isaac, I see a lot of myself in you. I, too, was stepping into a denomination that was broken and needed fixing. I was just fighting for [a different issue] then.”
In that truly spirit-filled moment of vulnerability and honesty, my call and my existence was affirmed.
I thanked the men for their time. I was ushered out of the room, down a hallway, and seated in a small cafe. There, as the committee deliberated my calling to the IGRC, I waited in anxiety and hope. I waited in fear and strength. I waited embracing the unknown the only way I knew how: in prayer. I folded my hands, closed my eyes, and attempted to speak with the divine Source of equity…
“Oh Formless One, Creator of all, ever-flowing Spirit of Justice, please – please let them see me for who I am. Please let them see me for what I have done. For what I can do. My Parent almighty, Teacher of tomorrow, dwell with me in this moment. Assure me of your love, your Grace, and your mercy.”
With a unanimous vote, I was certified for candidacy in The United Methodist Church. This vote made history. Not only was I the first openly gay man to be certified within the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, but I was also the first drag queen to be certified (to my knowledge) in United Methodist history.
But within hours of the official filing, major conservative news media, including the Institute on Religion and Democracy, began circulating videos of me in drag leading prayers. These were accompanied with articles and blogs declaring my existence as incompatible with The United Methodist Church. I was attacked for dressing in drag. I was attacked for being queer. I was attacked for praying the way that I did. (What I should have been attacked for was my less-than-great eye makeup.)
Ordained clergy and laity alike deemed me to be “the anti-Christ”, the “spawn of Satan”, a “pedophiliac whore”, and my favorite: “a bad copy of Jack Lemmon’s performance in Some Like It Hot.”
All jokes aside, in several instances, people implied that I would be better off dead so as to not to become a herald of hell.
To say that my certification as a candidate for ordained ministry has led to a national uproar within The UMC would be an understatement.
This turmoil has come at a time when The UMC is undergoing a fight for LGBTQIA+ inclusion. That inclusion – that affirmation of love – is exactly what I hope to inspire as a drag queen and as a minister. I chose my name, Ms. Penny Cost, because like in the biblical story, the Holy Spirit is moving in new ways today. It is allowing us to reach folks who have been told they are unknowable, unreachable, and unholy. The art of drag and gender performance allows me access to new conversations, new ideas, and incredible new ways of doing and being the Church. Drag has allowed me to process my own understanding of a formless and genderless God. It has drawn me closer and it has drawn me deeper.
As Isaiah writes, “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19).
They-dies and gentle-thems: we are walking in the wilderness of an unknown future: an unknown institution is about to be created. God, Them-self, is giving us new ways of loving and existing within it. The time that we live in is filled with new possibilities.
For the LGBTQIA+ individuals reading this: know that I see you, that God sees you, and the Spirit dwells within you. You are made in the image of God, and you are enough simply by existing.
No matter what has been spoken over you by toxic theologians, mistranslated passages, or evangelists gone bad, let it be known that God has spoken the word of life and love over you. Love shall overcome all. It becomes tangible through acts of kindness, through vulnerable moments, and through active ally-ship. I pray that one day, someone with far less privilege than I, as a cisgender and white man, will be able to rise above the space which I occupy with less pushback and less heartache.
I don my drag today so that tomorrow, all may exist without fear, without hate, and without debate. Liberation comes through collective steps toward effective change.
To those who claim allyship with and for the LGBTQIA+ community: I challenge you to do so not just with thoughts and prayers but with pen and paper, wallet and checkbook, vote and volunteerism.
Write to your church leaders, help to educate those around you, and reach out to those who have been harmed by the institutions we are a part of: not to evangelize them, but to simply support without motive. The United Methodist Church seeks to make disciples of Christ for the world. What better way to do so than by listening and doing as Christ would.
With so much Love and Hope,
Ms. Penny Cost
Isaac (He/Him/His) is a 23 year old Drag Queen named Ms. Penny Cost (She/Her/Hers). He is a certified candidate for ordination within the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the UMC. Currently, Isaac is the Project Coordinator for Hope United Methodist Church: an antiracist, fully affirming, and Drag filled congregation. Passionate in the fields of community development and social equity, Isaac is committed to working across lines of difference to enact change at all levels of the community. It was through his process of coming out as a queer man, that he found a deep love for theological discussion and spiritual formation. Isaac hopes that he may help others realize and experience the love and grace of God that dwells inherently within them.