Jes Kast (she/her/hers) is a minister at West End Collegiate Church in NYC. She is a fierce goddess, who calls shit the way it is while wearing heels and looking hella fine. You can find her hot bi-weekly writings here: https://blog.perspectivesjournal.org/
How do you identify?
I identify as lesbian or queer. Both are important to me. When I say lesbian I specifically mean it in a political context. 1970 lesbian minus the anti-TERF shit. The conversation between Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich, that’s where I center my lesbian politics. I say queer too because I haven’t been in relationships with just women since my divorce. I have been in relationships with trans folks and women. I also love femme! I just love it.
Talk to me about femme as politics
In my closet at work I have all these different colored heels to match the liturgical calendar. Like today we’re in Lent so I wore my purple high heels. And I have sooo many different lip sticks. It’s like a shield for me. Lipstick is a form of protest. Every day I put my lipstick on, it is a form of protest. When Hitler took over and the war was going on women who were fighting back against the nazi infiltration would wear red lipstick. Hitler apparently hated it when women wore red lipstick. So for me, it’s an act of protest to put red lipstick on, stomp in the NY streets, and get behind a pulpit. That’s one of my tattoos. It’s from a feminist comic book “Bitch Planet” I did a femme take on it. Lipstick as a form of noncompliance.
What is it like being a woman minister?
I am a Minister of Word a Sacrament. I am Reverend Jes Kast. This is my calling. It’s what I always wanted to do. When I was five years old I would pull my stuff animals into the living room and I would make them into little pews, and give them communion and receive their offerings. I’ve always wanted to be a minister. Growing up, Catholicism and Evangelicalism played a large role in my upbringing. I never thought my gender would be an issue in the church. Even if I never saw a woman represented I just knew that this was what I wanted to do. But then I got to college and my first day of class someone asked me my major. I said I was a ministry major with a psych minor. He asked me, “so what, you want to be a minister’s wife?” I was like, excuse me, fuck no. That was my first encounter with sexist shit and it continued all the fucking time.
I was invited by the Reformed Church of America, where I am currently ordained, to come and be apart of this emerging leader retreat. Half of the people at the time were women and half of the people were people of color. I thought if this looks like the future of the RCA then I want to be apart of this future. So I began the ordination process. This January marked my five year anniversary. I am a Minister of the Word and Sacrament! I have been reverend now for five years and I love it! This is my calling!
Tell me about the Hedge of Protection.
The Hedge of Protection is about ten to fifteen clergy women - speakers, theologians, and singers - known in the progressive, public-speaking circuit. We found each other through a conference that Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans invited us to speak at and we just grabbed onto one another like kin. We just understood each other right away and quickly let down our guards! We just had this amazing affection and care we could give one another. We’re multi-ages and multi-races and we just understand one another and living in the public sphere. It’s a sisterhood. We have a running text. We help each other professionally. We talk daily. It’s like shine theory: (http://nymag.com/thecut/2013/05/shine-theory-how-to-stop-female-competition.html) powerful women helping other women to shine. In a feminist sense, it's better for us if we all shine together. They have taught me how to receive love. I couldn’t be more gracious for them. They are bodacious babes and I love them.
What does Wild and Holy mean?
So we found this quote by Ana Forest, “I have found that I could be both wild and holy,” and that’s us. That’s the hedge of protection. We’re trying to do that when we speak. We’re trying to do that by being women in ministry. But we don’t want to be put in your boxes. We’re wild and holy women. We like to dance, to drink, to enjoy life, to fully live. We're living fully and faithfully. So some of us within the Hedge of Protection got this tattoo, “wild and holy.”
Let’s talk fashion!
I love fashion! This is a part time dream for me. I would love to do some plus size fashion. Just for fun. On the side. You know. Ashley Graham. Recently I was having breakfast with Tim Gunn to talk about faith and fashion and I wore my collar with leather pants. I walked in and he went. “my, what a chic woman. I would listen to you!” And I thought, “I win.” I realize my audience is people who look like me. New York is a wild city. I love being a minister here. I think who I am as a queer femme minister has a certain attraction in NY. It’s the people I want to minister to. The people who don’t normally fit in anywhere else.
People who wear lipstick and have tattoos. People who have funky fashion. People like me. People like you! I love it! Through my method of wild and holy femminister I proclaim the Gospel of Hope in Christ
Talking to me about body positivity
Body is an interesting thing. I remember being in elementary school and being disconnected from my body and hating my body. I just didn't have a sense of or command over my body. I didn’t know what my body could do for me. I was this chubby kid that grew way taller than everyone else. Then I went through a period of this athletic form of eating disorder. I would workout forever to fit the American white standard size. This is just one of the ways how white people don’t get how whiteness totally hurts white people.
But six years ago I was in New York and I was running for my third half marathon and I was just this body. These thighs that will always be thick. This tummy that will always be there. And I was just feeling myself, like Nicki Minaj. This is my body. Then when I started coming into my sexuality I realized that not only was I a body but I knew how to move my body. I realized, “Girl, don’t ever be ashamed of that ass. Work it!” I do. I love my body now. I like the length. I like my stretch marks. I love myself. Now when I go to the gym, I do it because I love myself.
How did you come out?
I came out five or six years ago when I was reading Adrienne Rich’s essay “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.” I was reading this with a woman that I was hard core crushing on, but I didn’t realize that I was crushing on her so hard, right? And I look up from the article and realize, “this is me. I’m somewhere on this spectrum.”
So to stay in my marriage I identified as bi-sexual. I was married to a cis-gendered man- a wonderful, wonderful guy. When you are young in the evangelical church you are not allowed to explore pieces of who you are. So you put on that purity ring. And you get married right away. It took me ten years to come out. I had to get to a place where my family narratives no longer had the last word for me. That I, as Audre Lord said, I am the one defining myself. I am eternally gratefully that I was married to my husband in my early twenties. We just figured things out together. We were so young when we married. He offered me the security to come to the understanding of who I really am. And I had to get to a place where my family narratives no longer had the last word for me.
I remember the first time I said “divorce” and “lesbian” from behind the pulpit, it felt like clapping back to years of shame. Here I am, this femme with my red lipstick and red heels, and I’m just owning my shit. Walter Wink talks about Powers of Principality. That day... I know that day attacked years of patriarchy. When you own yourself, you become aware of yourself and your ability to shake things up. We can queer this shit.
Do you believe in regrets?
I have been wondering that myself. Every choice I have made I have learned a lot from. Every choice I have made has allowed me to make other choices. I don’t think I regret anything. I think every choice has been my teacher and I become its student. I say, “how do I now want to love? What do I want to do differently this time? How do I want to love myself this time? How do I want to love a partner differently?”
What does love feel like?
You can’t stop thinking about the person. Their picture makes you light up. You just want to be around them! You want that person to be your person. And to go to the museum together. I’m a boss femme at work but when I fall in love I’m squishy, and tender, and have feelings! I think I can fall in love with somebody pretty quickly and hard. When I’m into you, I’m into you and I’m there and it’s fucking scary. Our hearts are so tender and mushy. And I’m fierce, but these hearts are so mushy.
I took some time off from dating to work on things. But now I’m ready. I’m ready to be someone’s girlfriend. I’m beginning to look for love. I’m looking for a relationship. I’ve done a lot of work over these last six months to learn Jes. Just Jes. Not Jes and _. I said “no” to a lot of people, and that’s hard, but now I'm at a place where I want to be “Jes and somebody” So now I'm like “universe! I’m ready.” I’m ready for love! You can put that on the blog. “Blog, Jes is ready to fall in love and is now taking applications.”
Do you believe in soulmates?Maybe I’m a hopeless romantic but I do think soulmates are possible. I think love is a choice. There is definitely chemistry. But the sustainability of love is more than just chemistry. I think part of it is putting yourself out there. It’s an act of vulnerability. It’s interesting dating in NY.
What can you tell me about your next conference?
It’s called “She is called” and it’s May 2nd- 4th. It’s a multi-racial and mutli-defintion of what we mean by women - there’s queer women, trans women, straight women, and cis women, and we’re trying to do an intersectional approach about what womanhood means. All of us are leading in the church in some capacity, not just ordained. And it’s for everyone. Seminarians, deacons, pastors, anyone with any sort of leadership. We’re facilitating the conversation of claiming our calling, even if that calling and leadership looks like arranging the damn flowers or preaching the word in the pulpit. Our topics are: history, art, knowing, logistics, conflict, and activism.
What advice would you offer to someone who hasn’t come out yet?
Two things really:
Be really gentle with yourself. Offer a lot of compassion and a lot of gentleness. It takes time to keep arriving. We never fully arrive, but we keep arriving to the next place. It’s tempting to say, “why is this taking so long?” Just be gentle with yourself. You’re here. And praise God that you’re here now. All of creation is taking place in your rebirth.
- Be fierce. Fight for your own self. You are worth fighting for. You are worth putting on red lipstick, or ties, or jeans. Fight for yourself. You know what makes you feel alive. Do it. It’s our obligation to our faith to live that way. We have to do what makes us feel alive. It’s an act of faithfulness.