My Gay Love is Holy: stories from LGBT people of faith
For years, I was convinced that my Jewish and LGBT identities couldn’t exist without conflict. That I would have to give up one to satisfy the other.
This set is a series of small books. Each book contains one interview with a different LGBT person of faith (defined as a self-identified member of the LGBT community who still feels a connection to an organized religion). Each book is 4.5" by 7.5" and corresponds to paired color/theme, based on the content of that interview. The colors and themes are based on the original gay pride flag, designed by Gilbert Baker.
The goal of this project was twofold. The first was to use design and writing as mediums to highlight the stories of a group often overlooked by both the religious and LGBT communities. This was an intersection very personal to me that I hadn’t seen made the primary focus of any substantial work. Typically, LGBT people of faith are an add-on or side story to a larger discussion in one of the two communities. To me, this intersection is made of up a unique set of experiences that deserved their own discussion. This leads me to my second goal: to explore intersection and contradiction within our histories, futures, and personal identities. As an LGBT person of faith myself, this contradictory space was one I've inhabited my entire life, and one I now know is more universally applicable than I previously thought.
Do people in your church know that you’re queer and genderqueer, or is that something you keep to yourself ?
That’s a very complicated issue. I find that people who consider my pronouns more important me aren’t worth my time. So, at church I just let people call me whatever they want so long as they use my name, and I know they’re talking to me. My close friends at the church are aware and respectful, and enforce my pronouns to the best of their ability, but I’m pretty quiet about being queer. I wear this rainbow rubber bracelet, and I think a couple people pick up on what it means, but then you also have the people who go, “oh that’s a symbol of God’s covenants.” Like alright, you go ahead and think that.
Stage one of this project was finding participants and interviewing them. It was very important to me to respect the privacy of participants in whatever way they needed. Some participants needed to be fully anonymized, others were fine revealing personal information so long as their names and faces never appeared, and others were interested in being totally identifiable, hoping that their stories helped others. I reached out to some friends of mine to start, and they soon reached out to others that they knew. In the end, I interviewed eight people, with several more interested for future iterations. Participants were a variety of backgrounds, genders, sexualities, and faiths.
Each interview, with permission from the participant, was audio recorded for my personal reference. After interviewing transcribed each interview literally (with the help of transcription software), and then edited the interviews down for clarity. Things like placeholder words, repetitions, and identifying information were removed, and the flow of the conversation was streamlined enough for a third party to follow it. Overall, it took about two months to have a series of interviews ready to go.
My dad was basically like, “well all those rules are kind of dumb and outdated.” He didn’t say that, but like, what is important is Jesus himself saying all these things about loving people, and his actions speak louder than the Bible’s shitty words sometimes. That’s kind of the message I got, that he accepted everyone. He ate with the poor, he washed people’s feet, he hung around with sex workers. Everyone that was an outcast he took in, and so that’s the most important thing to take away from it, as opposed to all of the laws that say you’re a bad person if you do this and that.
I began designing these books parallel to the interviewing and transcription process, doing font and color studies to figure out the tone I was going for. Originally, the colors were more muted and the form was one longer anthology. Early on, I realized that each interview needed its own moment. Cutting them up and combining them undercut their power. However, an anthology was not the way to go. A bigger work, both in length and dimension, dragged too much, and the muted colors weren’t helping. This led me to switch to smaller books, so each interview really was a self contained moment and story. A whole person.
I had my goals very early on, but finding the balance between respecting the stories of my participants and understanding my role as a designer took some time. Through this process, I realized that I could both honor those interviews while still having an active part. By categorizing these interviews with labels of family, love, spirit, etc., I showed the different ways in which identity can manifest.
I knew I couldn’t ignore the personal weight of this project for me, and quickly decided it was best not to. I made my role as a designer and an interviewer, a facilitator of this experience, evident in the text. Each book has a dedication in the front to an important person or entity in my life, and each interview starts the moment before the interview begins. Before readers live in the moment of my participant, they’re sitting with me.
Across from me, this person is sitting on an old couch, leaning their head on their arm. I’m sitting a spinning chair, swaying side to side as we talk. We’re in a student activities office that feels like it used to be a storage closet for the conference room I walked through to get here. They tell me they come here often to nap on campus. We spend the first three minutes of the interview catching up while I lay out my Chinese food containers on top of a filing cabinet. I’m worried that if I gesture too wildly throughout this conversation, I’ll knock over piles of papers or posters or old T-shirts.
The initial version of this project took five months, from initial interviews to final showcase. I conducted, edited, and transcribed every interview, and designed every aspect of the project. At the end of that period, three of eight books were completed. In May 2018, this project won the Victor Ng Design Impact Award. I'm currently adding to this project, both by conducting more interviews and designing the last five books.