Daryll Whitefeather - Getting Bi
After our first anonymous interview, this lovely person reached out to me, let's call her Daryll Whitefeather (we're both fans of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.) I’ve followed her on social media and have really admired her work. She has an incredible heart for both churches and nonprofits. In this interview, she shares her experience as a closeted clergy woman. While Love Les does not primarily focus on religion, a lot of our interviews have shared with us the impacts (negative and positive) of their faith tradition on their coming out. This interview gives us another perspective on why so many stay in the closet.
Hometown: Charlotte, NC
Work: I work at a nonprofit that connects with people experiencing homelessness.
How do you identify? Bisexual/pansexual, cisgender female
What is your favorite book? Secret Life of Bees
Queer resource? I'm still discovering many of these, but I really like the Queer Lectionary Podcast by Queer Theology. It examines different scripture passages through a queer lens. Also, I love Queer Eye, obviously.
Tell me about your orientation.
I identify as bisexual or pansexual. As I've grown more comfortable with myself, I've learned what it looks like and feels like to be attracted to people of all genders. I wouldn't say that gender doesn't affect whether I'm attracted to someone - there are different qualities I'm attracted to in different genders - but I have been attracted to men and women as well as trans and non-binary people. I think that my orientation really allows me to appreciate all types of people.
When did you first realize your orientation?
I realized I was bi in high school. My first same-gender crush was on a girl I went to high school with. She gave me one of her old sweatshirts once and I refused to wash it because I wanted it to smell like her. Maybe that's creepy. Whatever. Anyways, I don't remember being particularly surprised that I liked her. I don’t think I woke up one day and realized I was bi. It was something that was gradually developing. I think the biggest struggle for me wasn't having a crush on a girl, but rather thinking about what that meant for my sexual orientation as a whole. At the time, my parents were taking me to a Christian therapist who was not at all understanding. She essentially told me to ignore my sexuality and that it would go away.
I was raised in this purity culture and believed that saving myself until marriage was of the utmost importance. I was also taught, both by my family and my faith community, that same sex attraction was a sin that was incompatible with my faith. I heard this both in youth group and from the pulpit. This made me feel like an aberration from the norm, like there was something wrong with me. It forced me into secrecy for a long time.
What role did your family play in your questioning?
Honestly, my family's role in my coming out process has been mainly traumatic. When I was questioning as a teenager, I went to the library and checked out a book for teenagers about different sexual orientations - yes, I was a huge nerd. Anyway, I didn't want my parents to know about the book, so I hid it in my nightstand, but parents found it and confronted me about it. They told me they would kick me out if I decided to live that “lifestyle."
They also confronted me with research about LGBTQ youth suffering from depression and committing suicide at higher rates. They used this research to claim that bisexuality was a form of mental illness. They couldn’t understand that actions like theirs were the actual cause of the suicide and depression cited in the studies.
I’ve never mentioned anything about it to them again. After that, I refused to think about my sexuality again for nearly ten years.
Who were you able to come out to?
One of the first people I came out to was a history teacher I had in high school. She was someone I really admired and she was a lesbian. I came out to her because I thought she might be able to help me navigate the contradictions I saw between my faith and sexuality. She was really understanding and I'm grateful that I was able to find a safe space with her.
My current partner knows my orientation and he’s really supportive. In a lot of ways though, our relationship makes navigating the closet even harder. He’s a cis man. I don't currently have to hide our relationship, but in some ways that can make it even more complicated to come out to people.
Most of my close friends in my life know now. While I was in seminary, I got a lot more comfortable mentioning my sexuality in passing to people. I knew that they would be affirming so it made it easier. Overall, I've had a really positive coming out process so far, but that's because I've only disclosed to people I knew would be supportive.
Talk to me about life in the closet.
Being closeted can be both scary and frustrating.
My family is still not affirming and while some members within my religious tradition are now affirming, others are not.
Right now, staying closeted feels safe. By remaining closeted, I don't have to be vulnerable or answer ignorant questions about what it means to be bi/pan. I also get to have conversations like a straight ally about becoming affirming that I wouldn’t get the chance to have if I was actually out.
Do you feel like you have a place within the queer community?
It’s difficult for me to feel like I belong in the queer community. Being a femme, straight-passing bisexual can be a challenge in its own way. People usually assume that I'm straight because my partner is a cis man and they've never seen me publicly date anyone other than cis men. The queer people I've come out to have been highly accepting, but it can be a struggle thinking I'm not "gay enough" to belong in the queer community.
Talk to me about being a clergy woman.
I see my role as clergy as one of activism. I love wearing my clergy collar to marches and protests. People often seem surprised to see me there, and I'm not sure if it's because I'm a young woman in a collar or I'm at a protest in a collar, but I think my representation at those events is important. I attended the Women's March, I often go to the vigils we hold at the State Capitol during executions, and I went to a protest this spring in support of trans people serving in the military. Sometimes people will tell me that they don't think I should be so political as a member of the clergy, but I think just the opposite is true. Jesus was a highly political and divisive figure. I don't necessarily think it's my job to be divisive, but I do think it's my job to stand up for people who are being oppressed or mistreated.
Being clergy can also be really difficult. I'm a writer, and I often have to balance how much I want to say publicly about sex and other issues. I have to be more diplomatic than I might like to be at times because I know people look to me as a leader. I also have to be diplomatic because I don't agree with everything that's happening in my own faith tradition, so I often have to balance critique with grace. It can be exhausting at times, but I love the work that I do and I find great meaning in it.
What was it like going through your ordination process while closeted?
For a long time, I thought I wanted to continue forward in my faith tradition, get ordained, and then help change my tradition from the inside. I thought if I was respected by others in my tradition, I could help change minds and hearts about opening up ordination to LGBTQ people. However, as I move forward in my ordination process and my denomination continues to struggle about how to approach the issue of human sexuality, I'm struggling to remain loyal to my denomination. Changing an institution from the inside is tricky, and I'm not sure that method is what is going to be best for my own mental health. I am considering switching denominations, which would take away my clergy credentials and the title of "Rev" for a period of time until I'm able to complete a new ordination process in a new denomination.
On a different note, I often feel really supported by other young people who have grown weary of mainline churches. A lot of millennials think that the church no longer has anything relevant to say, but when people find out that I'm a pastor, with my piercings and tattoos, they are often relieved that someone in the church still seems like a real, gritty person. I think the church needs more of that - more real struggle, more honesty, more grittiness. Young people don't want to go to a church where they have to pretend to be something they're not, they want to go to a church that teaches them how to do justice in the world and how to heal themselves from trauma. They care way less about what their pastor looks like and who she loves and much more about whether she has real things to say on real issues.
Would you say you are happy in the closet?
Not particularly. I would like to be able to speak openly about who I am and I admire those who do. My biggest anxiety is coming out to my family, and I think once I'm able to do that, the rest of my coming out process will happen pretty quickly. Because of my history with my parents and sexuality, I'm really nervous about how they might react. That being said, my parents have become a bit more open-minded through the years, especially my mom, so I'm hopeful that talking to them about my sexuality will be easier and more life giving than it has been in the past.
What coming out advice would you offer readers?
I'm not sure I have much advice since I'm still figuring this out for myself, but I've heard from a lot of people to take it slow and be deliberate. I think because I'm anxious about my coming out process, part of me just wants to rip off the Band-Aid and get it over with. But it will be best for my own emotional journey and for the people that love me if I'm more intentional. Some people in my life are fine to hear about my identity in a passing conversation about dating, but others, who might have a more difficult time, need a sit down face-to-face.
I also think it's important to consider about how social media can both help and hurt the process. Make sure you tell people who are important to you before you put anything online about it. But sharing with your social network, at least for me, can be a helpful and supportive way to share this part of myself.
Lastly, take care of yourself. It took me a long time to warm up to the concept of self-care, but coming out can be a really emotional journey, so make sure to get rest, drink water, and give yourself the emotional outlets you need.
What advice would you offer to closeted readers?
I would like to think that we're moving toward a world where people will no longer have to be closeted. I know for me, though, realizing why I was staying closeted and imagining a life where I no longer had to live in secrecy felt so freeing that I knew I wanted to eventually come out. Ask yourself what's holding you back from coming out and start there. For me, it was the belief that my orientation was childish and a phase I would grow out of. Meeting other successful adults who are bisexual was a huge eye opener for me. It helped me realize that bisexuality/pansexuality was not a confused phase I went through as a teenager but a true part of who I am. Sometimes just thinking about coming out and what that could look like is a huge step forward.