Kelsey & Heather- Loving Both Jesus and Boobs
Heather, the athletic cutie in the black tank top, and Kelsey, the equally athletic cutie in the red and white shirt, married each another June 11, 2016. Hands down, they are my couple goals! Our interview was filled with laughter, love, and beatiful vulnerability. Happy reading!
Name: Kelsey Davis Pronouns: She/her/hers Home: Nashville, Tennessee Work: I work as the chaplain assistant for young adult ministry at Saint Augustine's Episcopal Chapel and I am the chaplain intern at the Episcopal School of Nashville. How do you identify? Similar to Heather, in the last few years I would have identified as a gay woman. It was hard for me to say lesbian for a really long time. Now, I would say that I am more queer than anything. And female-identified. What is your favorite book? Since this summer I’ve been reading more Joy Harjo and she’s been a source of hope. Do you have a coming out resource? I would recommend two different things: 1. Carter Hayward is an Episcopalian priest who’s given me a lot of hope, inspiration, and language. 2. I would also recommend spending time in nature as a resource in and of itself. Being who you were made to be as yourself before your creator - there’s no other feeling like that in the world.
Name: Heather Davis Pronouns: She/her/hers Home: Nashville, Tennessee Work: I'm the Director of Development at Thistle Farms. (A nonprofit organization providing natural home and body products handmade by women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction.) How do you identify? That is such an interesting question. We have been talking about that these last two months. The medium length story is that for the past several years I would have said lesbian, but now I would say queer. What is your favorite book? Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer Do you have a coming out resource? I would probably also say something by Mary Oliver or Khalil Gibran's "The Prophet." I found a lot of hope and a transcendent theology in Khalil.
When did you realize about your orientation? Kelsey - I remember, when I was 12 years old, being at a friend’s house for a sleepover. My friend was sleeping with her back turned to me. I remember having this impulse thinking “I really just want to be physically close to her.” It was an impulse that I didn’t really understand. That’s my first memory of a sexual drive or impulse towards women. The process of figuring things out didn’t really start until I was 14 or 15.
I joke that I found Jesus and girls at the same time. My first girlfriend was the person who introduced me to Jesus. So this Christian rhetoric of faith and sexuality has been conflated from day one. My process has been wrestling with “I like Jesus and I like boobs” and these two things have to co-exist because I’m not willing to give up one or the other.
Heather - I actually didn’t come out until later in life. I knew that my parents were not going to be ok with it. And I wasn’t sure. So I didn’t completely realize until probably at 21, 22. For me, it’s looked different, in my community I never felt obligated to come out. I would just say, “Hey I’m dating this person.” And let them think, “Oh, she has boobs.”
Heather, tell me about your coming out process. H - It’s honestly such a process. I’m not sure if it ever really starts or ends. But I’ve had a couple really meaningful moments. One of which was back when I was still wrestling with the socialization I got from being raised Methodist in the south. I remember my family saying it was wrong, but I also had this deep, deep love for women. So I was still feeling torn inside.
Later, I went and did a four-month pilgrimage in Spain by myself. I walked across the country, did really hard shit, and experienced a lot of pain. That came with a new boldness. I kind of felt a little liberated. That independence and self-reliance starting speaking, “Are you going to choose to make your dad happy or yourself happy?”
Then I found this quote that said, “The greatest thing I can ever do is disappoint my parents.” And I was like, “Yes, that's exactly it.” I knew I was going to have to royally disappoint my parents in order for me to be true to myself and happy. It was this powerful moment of choosing myself.
How did your family respond? H - My parents are divorced, so I had to tell them each separately. Both, in the moment, were loving and kind. Afterwards, there was a lot of disappointment on their end and a lot of incongruence with the Christian faith they knew. Being Methodist in the South meant that I was sinning. They didn’t want me to enter into that lifestyle, so they would say things like, “You’re not gay. I know you.”
The harder conversation with both of them actually took place when I called them to say that I was engaged to Kelsey. For them, our relationship suddenly became real. I think they were hoping it was a phase because I had also dated guys in college. But once I told them I was engaged, things became serious. My dad and my little brother decided not to come to our wedding. Both for the reason of Christianity. They felt like they didn’t want to condone that behavior. I’m thankful that my mom and older brother have both really come around and become supportive.
Kelsey, tell me about your coming out process. K - My coming out journey started with asking the really tough questions, which meant figuring who I could talk to was really important. The first person I came out to was the girlfriend of one of the youth pastors at our church. I came out to her and she was amazing. She said, “Let’s do this thing together and figure it out.” 15 years later, she’s still in my life. She was our wedding coordinator.
Ultimately, each phase of coming out looked a little different as I moved forward in life. There was a phase in college, when I left college, my first serious relationship, and started working in a professional setting. Each stage has a new coming out story and I’m still coming out. Every person you meet, every stranger, you come out to.
How did your coming out experience relate to your faith? K - I’m aware that I had an inverse experience compared to most of my friends. I grew up in a pretty liberal, hippie-esque family. When I came out to my parents they were fully accepting, embracing, and wonderful. My mom cried because I already had romantic relationships that she wasn’t aware of. She was upset that I had already had my heart broken. And she wanted to be involved in that process. My dad told me that he had known since I was 8 years old. He had been corresponding with one of our cousins, who is a gay man, asking how he could support me. So in that, I felt completely accepted and celebrated.
Now, when I told my parents I wanted to become a Christian and baptized in the Christian church, my dad told me we needed to talk. My dad was really concerned for me. Rightfully so. He took me to the religion section in Barnes and Noble and bought me books on world religions and made me do my homework. He was really concerned that I was entering into a religious institution that wasn’t ready for me yet. He said his one hope was that I would never have to defend myself and that I would always know that if God was my father, and he was my father, that God loved me. That was coming from my father who at the time was a borderline atheist or perhaps more agnostic. That's why I have “Abba” tattooed on my arm. That was my first glimpse into understanding how the love of God could possibly be unconditional.
Has your orientation impacted your life in the work sphere? H - Before moving to Nashville, I was living in northern California so I never had to think about it. Now being here (Nashville), I’ve had to start thinking about it. Prior to working at Thistle Farms, I was working at another non-profit that I didn’t self-disclose to. I didn’t have any relationships or friendships in the office so I felt like I didn’t need to. Until it got the time when I was getting married. So then I told the office that I was about to get married, and they started asking questions, so I was honest. I remember my boss nearly fell out of her chair when she asked, “Oh what’s your finance’s name? When I said, “Kelsey. She’s in divinity school,” her face got really red, she was totally taken aback. Her face got even redder and she said, “Oh. Ok.” Now at Thistle Farms, I’m completely out and celebrated. Kelsey comes around all the time. Everybody knows her and loves her.
K - I feel really grateful and fortunate for the context I work in right now. Both the Episcopal School and Saint Augustine's are places that are intentionally trying to be a place that is thriving with diverse people. You name the cause and they’re trying to be incubators for what a beloved community could look like. I feel really supported, celebrated, and welcomed at both locations. Both of these communities value us deeply and listen deeply to our experiences - which is a whole other level of hospitality. It's more than simply having a spot at the table.
I will say, that being in the South is hard. I grew up in California. I've lived in Portland, Chicago, Fort Worth Texas, Boston, and now Nashville. This is the first city or place that I’ve been super aware of our lifestyle and orientation - to the point where we’ve been really intentional about where we work. It’s really hard when we go out into the public sphere. We're very conscious of what we’re doing. Like if we're holding hands or kissing. There are times when we feel very unsafe and have to make the decision to not draw attention to ourselves. So although we are gifted with very beautiful working places, the greater concern is still pressing in on us.
H - This thing has been happening lately where everyone says, “Oh. You’re sisters!” It’s happened so much lately. It would knock your shoes off. Like we’ll be walking in the park and strangers will come up to us and say something like “Oh, you must be sisters.” And in that moment, we have to make the decision, “are we going to tell them the truth?” It’s interesting because we’ll both know the moments that we can and can’t disclose our relationship. But it’s becoming this fascinating thing that keeps happening to us. Sometimes we do love to just stick it to them and say, “No. We’re wives.”
K - Here’s a story for that. We went to go vote in November. Heather showed her I.D. first, and we both have the same last name because we’re married and that was important to us. So she shows her I.D. and then when the man took my I.D. he was baffled. He looked from her to me and said, “Oh! You’re sisters.” And I said, “No. We’re married.” Then he said, “Oh. Sisters-in-law.” And I had to say, “No. We’re married to each other.”
H - He literally could not figure it out.
K - He got really flustered and gave us our I.D.s back and said, “Oh. Um. Ok. Here are your ballots.” That was in November in Nashville in 2016. That’s the kind of public sphere we’re still facing.
Tell me about your story. How did you meet? K - You tell it, love. You tell it so beautifully.
H - Aw man. I know you’re going to come jumping in partway through, anyways.
K - Of course!
H - For the last 6 years, every summer I’ve worked for Julie Foudy, who puts on girls leadership academies. Julie is this amazing leader and trailblazer as a women’s professional soccer player. She is one of our dear friends. The summer I met Kelsey I was just coming back from that pilgrimage to Spain. I was in a completely different headspace and I really didn’t want to work at the camp that summer. I was in a very zen place and wanted to keep to myself. But I said I would and it’s Julie Foudy so I went.
So I was sitting in the cafeteria after the first day and I had just finished my lunch. I was getting ready to head back to my room so I could introvert and next thing I know I turned around and I see Kelsey walk through the door. Something inside of me jumped up and said, “That’s the person you’re going to marry.” I’m not even kidding.
K - She wrote it in her journal. That’s proof.
H - That’s true. It was the most bizarre thought. So much so, that it shocked me. Marriage wasn’t legal. I was a devoted hardcore feminist. I had just written a 100-page thesis about how constructions like marriages just don’t work. And then, I didn’t know who she was, if she was even gay! But there she is, walking in and I waited and watched her. I watched her go get her crappy cafeteria food and this is completely not my personality but I pulled out the chair next to me and said, “You can sit there.” And Kelsey was like, “Alright sure! I’m just happy to be here!” Meanwhile, she has no idea. It’s her first camp. I’m all awkward and nervous and Kelsey is just pumped to be there. She has no clue that I’m smitten. No clue! But we had this great conversation about coaching and youth development and then we go back to our rooms and I scribbled in my journal. I actually read it to her later on our wedding night.
K - So my side of the story is that I was coaching at Texas Christian University and I had a feeling in my being that something good was going to happen at this camp. Julie had been a role model to me just in the soccer world alone. She’s an incredible role model. I knew that if I went to her camp something would drastically change. So I knew in my spirit that something new going to happen. I was actually engaged at the time when I went to camp. So I was going totally with the expectation of meeting new people and being revitalized and inspired.
I remember standing at the threshold of that cafeteria door and looking at over the cafeteria thinking, “Wow. I guess everybody’s already eaten already.” There were like only three people left in the cafeteria getting food. Then I see lone wolf sitting by herself and I was like, “Whatever.” So I went, rolled my bag, and got me some crappy pasta, took my time at the salad station and then I walked back over. I remember pausing and looking over the tables again, and then she pulls out a chair and says, “You can sit here.” I remember thinking, “Wow. That is so nice! She’s so sweet.” In the soccer world, you don’t always get sweet. So I thought, “She’s kind.” So I sat next to her and right away we start having this real honest conversation and connected right away.
I didn’t really think anything of it. I wasn’t in the mind frame to fall in love with somebody, I was already in love with somebody else. Long story short, I sensed that we had a connection so the next morning, I decided the right, moral, and ethical thing to do would be to take her on a walk and tell her what our boundaries would be for the week. I was like, “She's beautiful and awesome and I feel connected to her, so I need to make sure to protect my engagement.” I basically gave her the Heisman, and said, “Get away from me!” We can be collegial and coaches together, but that’s it. I remember telling her, “I really connect with people. Deep conversations are not that big of a deal to me.” Basically, I was saying, “Don’t think you’re special that we had a connection.”
H - Yeah. It was harsh, but I remember smiling the entire time. I just knew in my guts that it would work out. I felt really centered and purified during our walk and I just knew that it would be fine. That this was going to work out.
K - So we get back from our walk and we’re about to part ways and she literally says to me, “Well, if anything goes wrong in your current relationship, you can call me.” Then she walked away.
H - Bold! It’s not like me at all! But I’m glad I said it.
K - I was like, “Great, fine.” Then I got home and two weeks later I found out that my ex-fiancée had cheated on me. Our relationship ended up falling apart beautifully. Obviously, there was a lot of pain and grief. We had been best friends and were together for several years and that stuff is never easy. But it fell apart with so much love and respect that we both knew it was exactly right. She actually married that person this past summer. Our universes needed to go separate ways. And this is unheard of but we parted ways and stayed parted. We didn’t do the I’m going to text you and call you a million times thing. We grieved, then we met up, hugged it out, and wished each other well. Then we went our own ways. I called Heather when I found out. She stayed up all night on the phone with me.
H - For me, I came out of a tattoo shop. It was my 27th birthday. So I got my one and only tattoo. I got on my bike and then I see that I missed a call from “Kelsey Davis!!!” And I was like, “Whaaaaaat!” So I immediately called her back.
K - And I said, “Heather, she cheated on me.”
H - So I was like, “I know.” I just knew it was going to happen.
K - So I processed it and then I basically told Heather that I needed to grieve so she needed to stay away. I did the moving out of stuff. The weeping. The crying. The gnashing of teeth. I mean, when you’re in it, it feels like hell.
H - Meanwhile, I moved from California because I couldn’t stay there. I had co-founded an organization with my ex and I lost all of that. I got really good advice from a dear friend who said, “Go back to the last place that felt like home.” That was the North Carolina mountains. So I found a farm there through WOOFF to work for room and board. I didn’t have a car, so I got dropped off in the middle of nowhere. My role was to harvest sweet potatoes. It was a really hard experience. I stayed there a couple weeks then left and spent some time with my family in Atlanta which was nice and needed.
Several months later, Kelsey and I started talking. She wanted to start divinity school. So I asked her which city she wanted to move to. She said, “Nashville.” So I said, “Ok. I’ll meet you there.” She hadn’t even gotten in or even applied. But I moved here.
K - For me, I got a call from Heather during the sweet potato thing. First of all, I answer and I’m like, “Yeah?” She’s supposed to be leaving me alone. Second of all, she’s all out of breath. So then I ask her,” Why are you out of breath?” And she’s like, “Oh. Well. I was just running.” And I responded, “Running? How far away are you? Where are you?” So I got to the bottom of the story and it turns out that she had walked for four miles to find cell phone reception to call me. And I was like, “Great! You’re good. Well, I’m getting on the bus so I gotta go. Bye!”
The next time she called me all I could hear was the wind. So I was like, “Where are you?” She was like, “Well, it’s raining.” And I said, “Ok. Did you walk four miles again?” And she said, “No. I climbed to the top of a tree. That’s where I got cell phone service.” So at that point, I decided, “Damn. This chick is crazy. Maybe I need to lean into this a little bit. She’s risking her life to call me.” That was kind of the turning point for me. She had climbed to the top of the tree in a rain, so I decided she was serious. So we started talking.
So, I left my job, packed up everything, moved to Nashville, and waited to see if I was going to make it into divinity school. Heather moved into our apartment in January. She got there before me. I couldn’t get there until March. She totally blazed the trail for both of us. She refused to do anything to make it home until I got there. She literally slept on an air mattress until I got there. And now we're here, living in the same apartment, and it's beautiful, even if it took time for us. And everything’s worked out just fine.
What is one of your favorite things about the other person? H - The thing that I love so much about Kelsey is also one of the reasons I married her. She has this way about her where when she says she’s going to do something, or put something in her mind, she follows through with it. I really admire the way she cares about things. She works hard, not for the sake of working hard, but because she care’s so much about people. I wish I cared more like that.
K- I love how kind and playful and creative Heather is. She is salt of the earth.
Do you have any coming out advice? H - I think waiting until you’re ready and not when other people are telling you it’s time is really important. It’s hard enough already. You have to you rely on your inner strength or it’s going to be even more painful. That and having one person that is going to be with you in it. Sometimes that’s a partner. Sometimes that’s a best friend. Either way, having a supportive person is really important.
K - I would echo that. It’s your story to tell. You have the agency to decide who and how that story gets told. I would hope that people know they have their own sense of power and empowerment. I would also suggest finding a community of intergenerational people who are supportive. It was really helpful to have adult figures who are speaking wisdom and life into me when things got really hard. So sandwiching yourself between people that can act like pillars for you and people that you can act as a role model for is really important.
While Kelsey and Heather invited me into their home for their pictures and interview, I couldn't help adding pictures of Thistle Farms. I honestly admire their business model so very much. I have worked with organizations geared towards victims of commercial sexual exploitation, Thistle Farms is the first one I've encountered that helps economically empower the women they work with. It's a small thing, but it makes a huge difference. Treat Yoself and your friends with some holiday candles and soaps from their shop.