Darci (she/her/hers) is an extraordinary queer woman and the innovated mind behind Art In The Image. (https://artintheimage.wordpress.com/) She's a recent graduate of Candler School of Theology, a ridiculously talented artist, and one-half of an interfaith marriage.
How do you identify?
I identify as a queer woman. I do use they/them or she/her. I do I identify female, but I think in using they/them I am enlarging the idea of what it means to be gender queer.
What does being gender queer mean to you?
For me, gender queer means that I'm differently oriented. I do not feel like a woman without questioning what that means. I’m hyper aware of gender as a social construct and one that I do not fit into in a “normal” way. I have never felt like a woman, yet I use she/her or them/they pronouns interchangeably.
When did you realize about your identity?
I realized pretty young but I didn’t understand it completely. A close family friend’s daughter was born representing as female but who presented masculine throughout their childhood. I believe he has transitioned now. Even then as a child I remember thinking that I was not just like him, but I could relate to him.
Do you have any coming out advice?
I might say to keep in mind that sometimes the things that drive people out of your life are great ways to assure those around you truly support who you are. But I always had family support. So I cannot presume to know how it might feel to have parents disown a person.
Tell me about your wife.
My wife, Amy, and I have been together for five years now. The story of how we met is pretty funny. We met years prior to actually dating. She was a friend of a friend and she basically completely snubbed me after I asked our mutual friends of ours. Like she totally ignored me. When we first met we were sitting at table and she was two people down from me but never looked at me or even talked to me.
Years later, we met again on OkCupid. I didn’t recognize her, but every queer person in Atlanta is on OkCupid, so it was bound to happen. This time around, we were drastically different people. My life and identity had changed in a very dramatic way.
What was different this time around?
Well, I had changed a lot. I had experienced homelessness, a mental health relapse, and became a Christian. So I wanted to be very upfront about who I was so I wrote her an email about being a queer woman of faith. She responded, “I'm also a queer woman of faith. I’m Jewish.” We were both really honest about who we were. For us, that really worked.
We both are faithful radical queer women and that is not always very common. In fact I felt like I had to “come out” again to my friends when I became Christian. I had to tell people expressly that I was Christian but still held onto my radical politics. I do not believe in proselytization or an exclusive claim and I continue to question and problematize shallow theology.
Can you tell me more about your mental health?
Something that I am very open about is my depression. A large percentage of clergy people suffer with depression and it is not spoken about enough, so this is why I speak up. I’ve gone through spells of relapse and mental illness and for a while, several years ago, I lived very close to the poverty line. I didn’t realize how close I was to homelessness until the bottom fell out.
Has your mental health impacted your relationship?
Almost two years ago, I went through a really rough patch. I experienced a depressive episode, and to go through that with Amy was really hard for both of us. My brain chemistry is simply the way it is, marriage won’t change that. Showing and receiving love doesn't change it either. But regular treatment, medication and therapy are a way of life. Being in a relationship means knowing that there will be times when we go through depressive episodes together. I’ve learned to say, “I know this isn't a reality, but this is how I’m feeling.” And Amy is so supportive.
Have you experienced stigmas about mental health from the church?
Absolutely. I would never tell anyone experiencing any kind of mental health crises that “all you need to do is pray.” But this is the story of many people at Park Avenue. Because of my experience I think that it’s easier for me to go and visit community members who are in the psych ward because I have been there myself. Spirituality doesn’t suddenly change things concerning mental health. Coming to a working relationship with God, being honest about myself in community and mental health treatment have provided for consistent periods of recovery. For me, I have found truth in my faith as well as the real truth in the medicine that I will continue to take.
So you are an interfaith household?
Yes. We have a lot of interfaith friends who are in partnerships. Typically one person is more religious than the other. Even though I'm clergy, I would say we're both pretty religious people. We’re both members of Congregation Bet Haverim and also members of Park Avenue Baptist Church. For me, as an interfaith household, it’s important that there is no “in” and “outside” group. Having a Jewish wife, I don’t believe in Jesus any less, however I do not believe that my Christianity has any right to exclude or usurp anyone else’s faith tradition. In our home, we create space for everyone to express their own religious tradition.
And you’ve recently started looking into foster care?
Yes! Last night Amy and I just completed our training to become foster parents. Which is super exciting! Foster care was never a question for either of us. Since we were little we both knew we wanted to be foster parents. We know our lives are going to completely change. We’re going to be the primary care giver for these young people and we couldn’t be more excited about it!
Fostering is a fine line of excitement and solemnity. We know that the children we will be caring for will be coming out of such difficult situations. We have been praying for these children for years. We are going to foster a sibling group, so our situations will be very different very soon.
Where else do you locate yourself in life?
Well, I just graduated from Candler School of Theology and I’m very much in that post-graduation state of mind. Now that I’ve graduated I want to make Art In The Image a nonprofit and file for a 501(c)(3).
What is Art In The Image?
Art In the Image is an art ministry that I began in seminary. Art In the Image facilitates art making in connection to the creative spirit of God. Art In The Image was birthed of this creative theology that empowers people in their own lives through art.
Art in the Image began through communal art creation with women and children who were experiencing homelessness and in transitional housing. We made art together and talked about how we felt about our lives and our difficult journeys. We also talked about what brought us to homelessness and channeled that into creating this beautiful art piece. We were taking ownership over our own stories and telling our stories in this art project.
What are you hopes for Art In The Image?
Right now, Art In the Image is a ministry at Park Avenue. I lead a creative group that meets every week after service and we create art that goes with our sermon series that pairs with the work we are doing in the community. Sometimes it looks like making art with the people who come and stay at Lydia’s House, which is an urban mission emersion program at Park Avenue. Or making art with the Stewart Center, or our local refugee community in Clarkston. So it’s a ministry at Park Ave but it extends outward.
We hope to become an incubator for future ministers who want to begin art ministries in their congregations and contexts. Park Avenue is a very old building, but we have space to spare and so we have opened up studio space for local artists. Some of these artists we hope will mentor with us and become trained art ministers. I think in the future more and more churches will have art ministries. So many people that have recently joined Park Avenue cite the creativity of our ministry as a reason for them joining! It’s exciting!