Drag & Spirituality
March 10, 2021
Drag queen Willa Da Wisp appears on screen with a blonde wig, Jackie Onassis sunglasses, and a headband with pink roses. She is burning sage as a way to cleanse the space and the experience. Willa grew up in Chicago as most Mexican Americans do; going to Sunday School at her local Catholic Church. She was also raised with separate cultural spiritual practices incorporating indigenous Mexican traditions mixed with Christian rituals. This interesting “mish mosh” as she puts it, is embedded within her own spiritual self-exploration.
She says about her drag and expression of spirituality, “Putting on a character is a channel by which you can discover a lot about yourself. Spirituality is the effect of that practice of radical self-acceptance and practice of radical self-love.” This journey has taken her to learn about and practice Santería; a religion that arose from a syncretism between the Yoruba religion of West Africa, Catholicism, and Spiritism. For Willa, her drag and her spiritual journey aren’t separate and they’re definitely not, as some would claim, at odds – they are mutually reinforcing parts of one deeply human journey.
Willa is sharing her wisdom as a part of Urban Village Church’s Drag & Spirituality podcast and video series, created and hosted by drag artist and church member Bonni33 Viol3t. You can watch one of my favorite episodes with Fonda Koxx here. Bonni33 Viol3t’s own story includes both the welcoming embrace of drag spaces and LGBTQ-celebrating churches, which supported her on a long journey to confronting internalized homophobia and transphobia and a deepened sense of call and spirituality in her life. In 2014 she began Drag & Spirituality, partially inspired by her lay chaplaincy training at Urban Village Church, to help trans people deal with death and dying of identity in order to have peace of mind and spirit.
Drag & Spirituality, like many queer-centered religious projects, tells important stories of religious experience too often repressed, and celebrates the spiritual experiences of people who aren’t primarily known for their spirituality. Additionally, it serves to highlight the ways interfaith and multi-faith engagement are required to understand modern spiritual life and leadership, particularly of marginalized people.
Another Drag & Spirituality participant, Mick Douch, realized at an early age that his gender identity was the opposite of his assigned sex and came out as a trans man. As the podcast’s only drag king, his drag expression did not conflict with his understanding of Jesus, but it did bring him to the realization that he did not profess the same beliefs as he was brought up to hold. For one drag performance at Ames Pride, he invited LGBTQ affirming religious leaders from different traditions on stage to hold hands to show queer Christians, Jews, and Muslims that there are places where they can worship as their authentic selves. Mick’s drag performance during the Drag Brunch had him dressed up in cowboy gear complete with jeans, big belt buckle and cowboy hat dancing and lip-syncing to “Mississippi Squirrel Revival” by Ray Stevens. Mick currently practices Buddhism. Faithfulness to Mick’s story requires the knowledge of multiple faiths, multiple communities, and all the ways they intersect with each other in real lived life.
The Drag & Spirituality conversations show us that faith and faiths can manifest in everything we do from choosing a drag name to saying a prayer before a performance. Faith can open us up to dare to live authentically while still being able to identify as members of the faith or faith we choose. But this kind of faith, and this kind of interfaith work, require us to tell and to listen to all stories, and to make spaces of care and creation for all those whose stories are not yet always celebrated in the public square, but are essential for being whole and healthy communities.
Juan Pablo Herrera is a Church Planting resident at Urban Village Church in Chicago, IL. He is exploring the possibility of a Latiné/x expression of UVC, which would be a 6th UVC site.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life