Everyone loves a good origin story, right? Get to know your hosts - Clint & Jey - as they tell you all about their bizarre Evangelical childhoods. There's no research to be found here. It's pure anecdote bb.
There's no research to be found here. This episode is pure anecdote, babes!
Clint: What’s up, listeners? Welcome to How Gay Thou Art, a comedy podcast about growing up queer, Christian, and hella confused. My name is Clint Keller, he/him/his.
Jey: I'm Jey Austen. They/them/theirs. And we are going to tell you all about strange, niche topics in Evangelicalism.
Clint: We’re talking Christian super heroes, missionary lizards-
Jey: Hell houses, Christian sex toys.
Clint: Don’t forget about Christian school curriculum.
Jey: Oh yeah, we have, like, alternate reality Christian curriculums. Love that one.
Clint: It’s like reading textbooks from the multiverse, just completely untethered from reality. I would say you can’t make this stuff up but someone actually did.
Jey: We love just deep diving into all of this random stuff and now being out of Christianity, as queer people, talking about crazy Christian stuff.
Clint: Because American Evangelicalism really is an entire culture unto itself. And it’s purposefully closed off from outsiders in a lot of ways. So in the same way that Jey and I missed out on a lot of mainstream pop culture growing up, people outside of Evangelicalism really have no idea what’s going on in this world. Spoiler - it gets a lot weirder than Veggie Tales.
Jey: Yeah, let's learn about Jesus with a bunch of vegetables! Oh, my God. Could you imagine a Veggie Tales butt plug?
Clint: Well now it’s all I can imagine.
Jey: I feel like you could have a Larry the Cucumber with two Bob the Tomatoes.
Clint: Or Bob could be a pair of ben wa balls
Jey: Oh, yeah, little Bobs.
Clint: Veggie Tales really does make some of the darker stories in the Bible a lot more palatable.
Jey: They taught us about, like, the genocide of a city via slushies marching around a wall and destroying a city with slushies. And we were just sitting there, like, enjoying these vegetables. Just “You won't be knocking down our wall, keep walking.”
Clint: It just doesn’t seem quite as terrifying when god is murdering a bunch of pumpkins instead of Egyptian children.
Jey: Exactly. Christianity had their own subculture here for everything. Instead of like, Highlights magazine, we had Clubhouse Magazine.
Clint: Instead of YouTube, we had GodTube. 50 Shades of Gray became 50 Shades of Grace.
Jey: Now That's What I Call Music was like, WOW worship. Some of those were still bops.
Clint: The edgier Christian kids, we had Underoath, but I think they’ve since ditched the Christian label.
Jey: Oh yeah, and Skillet. And don't even get me started on queer queen Flyleaf. I literally got the game Rock Band and pretty much only did the Flyleaf song because it was the only Christian song on Rock Band.
Clint: I even had some Christian comic books and Christian action figures.
Jey: Oh my God, I had a manga Bible.
Clint: Oh, that would have been a little too liberal for for our tastes. That’s taking a lot of liberties with the ol’ B-I-B-L-E.
Jey: I was like, “No, we can use it to evangelize to the anime kids.” So I bought several.
Clint: Of course, the only people actually reading those are nerdy Christian kids. That’s the wild thing about a lot of this stuff. Evangelicals claim they’re using the devil’s tools against him by appropriating pop culture. They say they’re using it to witness, to convert. But in reality, none of this stuff is about bringing people in. It’s about keeping people in. They’ve created an entire ecosystem of bad knock-offs so their kids aren’t tempted by the actual cool stuff in the world.
Jey: Yeah. You know, when we bring up this stuff, we understand that there is a lot of the stuff that is like, hard to listen to. So we're going to try to make it as fun as possible. We want to shed some queer voice on what it is up because people don't understand how Christianity works. Like, I had friends that weren't raised in the church that were just talking to me, and this is why I got the idea to do a project like this was, “Yeah, Christians go to church on Sunday and then vote really conservatively” without understanding that it's a lifestyle, baby.
Clint: Oh yeah, they’re living this 24/7, 365, in the year of our Lord, until he comes to bring us home.
Clint: So for this introductory, prequel episode, the only topic we’re going to be covering is ourselves. We just want to provide a little context on the flavor of Evangelicalism we each grew up in, how we came into our own later in life, and what makes us qualified and interested in doing this podcast. Jey, kick us off. What is your religious/educational background? We’re going to loop these together because there wasn’t much distinction between church and school in our childhoods.
Jey: So my background with religion is a little bit scatterbrained. Until I was five years old, I grew up in rural Texas and we would drive into the city to go to the Episcopal Church where my mom was the librarian/teacher. So I went to an Episcopal school, learned how to read like, children's Bible. It was like my first book.
Clint: As it should be.
Jey: You know it. And then when my parents divorced when I was five, I stayed in the Episcopal Church until third grade and then started going to a Baptist church. We got really into the word. So with like a lot of the Joyce Meyers stuff for kids. My mom was in a life group, which is a group where you meet outside of church with families that are in a similar age range as you.
Clint: Like a community building kind of thing?
Jey: Like a community building kind of thing. So they were her Sunday school class and they would say the word, but then they would also meet and all of the people that were in her life group were more of the like, Christian homeschool families within our church. She wanted to be the best Christian possible, which meant that I had to be the face of the best Christian kid.
Clint: Ah yes, competitive holiness, just like Jesus would have wanted.
Jey: I wouldn't let these homeschoolers out-Christian me, so I was doing the same like, Bible Decathlon, I was in Awanas, I was in Trek, which is seventh grade Awanas. The Baptist Church had about 2000, 3000 people in it. I looked up their website recently and they accept cryptocurrency donations, so they're hip with the times.
Clint: Hedging against their fear of church taxation. Smart.
Jey: Oh, I didn't even think about that. Oh, my goodness.
Clint: It’s been a pretty big topic in the church recently and it’s interesting because when crypto first became a thing, there were a slew of Evangelical books and thinkpieces heralding Bitcoin as a sign of the end times. It was supposedly going to be the currency of the one-world government that will be controlled by the Anti-Christ. This kind of technological panic happens in Evangelicalism every few years actually. They said the exact same thing about barcodes and RFID chips, I shit you not. But anyway, Evangelicals did a complete 180 on crypto when they realized it could potentially be used to skirt taxes.
Jey: I see. I see.
Clint: Jesus was nothing if not a capitalist. But back to you - so you and your mom started getting more involved in the Baptist church.
Jey: My mom was really into the word of faith movement.
Clint: What is that all about?
Jey: Like prosperity gospel. Like, if you believe it, God blessed it. Sso she is like diverting from the Bible at this point, kind of diverting on her own path towards blowing shofars in the desert and grave soaking. I don't know if you've heard about that but-
Clint: Wait, what the fuck is grave soaking?
Jey: It’s where these people will go and lay on famous Christian graves to like soak in their godly powers basically.
Clint: This is not real. I have never heard of this.
Jey: Look it up right now.
Clint: Grave soaking? Jesus Christ.
Jey: And if you've heard of like Jesus culture, they do a lot of worship music, but they also used to have conferences. And so I would go to their conferences when they toured the local big cities, and we would go out and we were trained to do like, faith healing stuff. So like, watch people's legs go out. We believed that we could heal people of AIDS and the homosexual lifestyle, which now I'm queer as fuck and nonbinary, so that didn't work.
Clint: So you basically went to Christian Magic Camp?
Jey: I went to Christian Magic Camp and my mom straight up wholeheartedly believes the stuff. We tried to cast the demons out of my aunt's cat on like a family holiday. It turns out the cat just had cat anxiety.
Clint: Don’t we all…
Jey: And my whole family is into that shit. So my cousin has had like, multiple exorcisms, which is really sad because his symptoms sound similar to schizophrenia and like, I've gotten the mental health help that I need. I think I'm one of the only people in the family who's like, on meds and going to therapy. Whereas my mom is like “therapy is a sin.”
Clint: I remember psychology itself being considered evil when I was a kid. It was part of an atheist, liberal agenda. I think the tides within the church are starting to change on that a little bit, but growing up, mental illnesses like depression and anxiety were always presented as spiritual problems, not medical ones.
Jey: It's spiritual warfare. Depression is a demon that's like, fighting you. We believed in demons so much. Like my friend had a whole MySpace page because she thought the demons were- it's it's a thing. We're not going to get into that right now.
Clint: Honestly, most Christians get their demonology from The Screwtape Letters and other pop culture stuff. Demons don’t really make much of an appearance in the Bible and when they do, it’s almost always a stand-in for mental illness, not literal demon possession. Like, ancient people just didn’t have the knowledge to describe mental illnesses as we understand them today. But anyway-
Jey: But yeah, and so - Episcopalian, Baptist - and then I went to a Christian school from eighth grade through high school and like it was one of those schools that was a church school could barely stay afloat, but it was like a non-denominational evangelical. And the cliques were based on which church you went to. So the popular kids went to the Baptist church and then the cool rich kids went to the church that I chose to go to in college. And that one, they were pretty transphobic. And my nephew had come out to me as trans at that time and I was just, I was really into Tumblr. But I did have everything on Tumblr blocked, any cuss words. I had every cuss word blocked and everything. So I never saw any of the Tumblr porn.
Clint: I quit using Tumblr on principle when they banned porn. So you did the Baptist thing with your mom through high school. They were sort-of charismatic, into extra-Biblical stuff. Then in college you moved over to a non-denominational church? It was more of a megachurch situation, right?
Jey: Yeah, so they were definitely more of like a Faith Healing Church, but they also were, if you've ever seen the Hillsong documentary, the three part series on I think it's Discovery, it was basically that. It was 3000 people, but maybe 80,000 people worldwide. They do a lot of training missionaries. I lived in a church house that was basically like a Greek house. I had like, a friend who is kind of like a mentor/accountability partner and she had lived in the houses and was like, “You know what? It’s cheap rent and that way you won't have to live at home.” Because I was like, living at home in college and I was like, “You know what? Yeah, I do want to be financially independent.” So $215 a month go and live in this cult. And like now I'm like, you know what? $215 a month like- ehhhhhh.
Clint: I don't know, dude. With this inflation, you’re making cult life sound pretty good right now.
Jey: I mean, it wasn’t like, worth it. Like, I definitely am in therapy now. It was very anti-gay. But we had to do like, early morning prayer, so I'd have 100 people in my house. Bright and early in the morning at 6:30 a.m. and half of the roommates are still trying to sleep. Like 100 voices in your house. Sounds like just this rushing wind. It's wild. And so they all said, Oh yeah, that is like that's the presence of Jesus. That’s like, the Holy Spirit. I'm like “No, it's 100 bitches talking in my fucking house at six in the fucking morning. Go to sleep.” They're trying to get us to not have enough sleep. They're trying to get you to, like, quit your major so that you can go to the church school and the church school trains you how to read the Bible their way and then go on these expensive mission trips. And it's a lot of like, showmanship. And then I went from that to study abroad in London and went to the Hillsong Church in London and an Episcopal or Anglican church in London.
Clint: And was that also religiously affiliated or what?
Jey: It was an American school and they were like queer people of color. And I learned so much from them and we made like a queers and allies against violence kind of thing. And that was our like, group. And everyone who was an ally then is out as non-binary now.
Clint: Ah, the ally to enby pipeline…
Jey: And then, I go back and after London, I met you because we were still doing film school and we started making, you know, horror movies and anti-church stuff. And I like, left the church but still needed to graduate from this religious school.
Clint: We were too deep in at that point. Had to finish.
Jey: Like, I could have transferred I could have gone to a state school. I could have gotten- Like, I could have gone anywhere I wanted. I could have gone on a full ride to a state school or this church school. But I was told to go to church. And so I thought I was going to go be a missionary. That's what I wanted to do with my life because my sister was a missionary. And now I find out that that's totally not okay. So one thing I've worked with my therapist on is finding out like, you know, you can still be like, a good person. It's just you were just trying to do what you could with the tools that you had at the time. So now I'm like, I want to get more involved in my community and civic action and help out with the queer community. And I've done a lot of soul searching since then. That was probably like seven years ago at this point was the last time I'd really been involved in the church. Oh, I got out and then I went to a Wild Goose festival, which is a progressive Christian festival out in the middle of like Appalachia. And you just get to like, do beers and hymns and like-
Clint: Beers and hymns sounds like a bar meet-up for people who identify as he/him.
Jey: Beers and hymns straight up sounds like something made up for the Mustache Era 2012, like hipster bitches.
Clint: How did mustaches and bacon have an absolute death grip on our culture for like 2 years?
Jey: I don't know. But you're not wrong. And of course, it's like we're all singing Amazing Grace to the tune of House of the Rising Sun and thinking we’re like edgy and shit.
Clint: Whoa, I’ve never heard that before. What an excellent mashup.
Jey: Yeah, it's amazing, actually. They had, like, a pride parade. They had, like, the person who took the Confederate flag off of the Virginia Capitol. She was like, she came and spoke. It was cool for me to realize, wow, there are Christians who are helping their communities and doing all this stuff. But I think I need to do this from a nonreligious point of view. And so I left the church and- Oh, and then that's the other thing. So I started, you know, working in theme parks, working on like these things and getting involved in the music industry and just realizing how much of the evangelical megachurch stuff was just manipulative trickery. Like after working in actual show business, being like, “Oh, the glory cloud, where my mom thought that God's like, gold glitter was showing up on her was just glitter that they put in the air vents. It's not real. It's all like, these fake tactics, like, oh-
Clint: It's literally production design.
Jey: Yeah. These are like stage tricks, like the growing legs out. All that faith healing stuff is just illusionist magic. Like, I have friends that work in Vegas for the shows now, and I'm like, Oh, I can't believe that, like, I was tricked by this growing up. And so now that I know better, I'm trying to get back to the community.
Clint: I think your journey with religion is reflected by a lot of people, including me. I think the #1 thing pulling people out of religious extremism is literally just meeting people outside of their community. Like when you left home and started meeting people outside of your relatively small, closed Evangelical community, it changed your perspective. We were taught to not only dislike, but fear secular culture and the LGBTQAI+ community and other religions. That’s exactly the reason why Evangelicals are so concerned with creating their own, all-inclusive culture. They’ve built a house of cards. And once someone goes to a regular college or gets a regular job and actually meets people with different lifestyles and beliefs, it becomes very apparent how bat-shit crazy the Evangelical worldview actually is. Queer folks aren’t all that scary once you get to know them.
Jey: Tell me about your life, Clint. I want to know everything.
Clint: OK, so I grew up Baptist all the way through. There were 2 churches that played major roles in my life. The first was a small Missionary Baptist Church called Grace Baptist Church. We went there until I was in like, 9th or 10th grade. That church also ran a small Christian school, which I went to on-and-off for a few years but most of my education was homeschool. We lived in a very rural area of East Tennessee, at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. The town I grew up in, Parrottsville, has a population of less than 300 people. Public school was never even on the table for me. It was technically an option. Like, there were county schools, but me going to a secular school was completely out of the question.
So my entire life revolved around the church. It was the only socialization I had and it was small, maybe 200 people on a good day. It was very conservative and very old-fashioned. There was way less mysticism and spirituality than you had. We didn’t do any speaking in tongues or faith healing or laying of hands. No contemporary Christian music whatsoever. It was a very cold, quiet environment.
Jey: Yeah, y'all were the sinner Christians that didn't have the Holy Spirit. We had the Holy Spirit.
Clint: We would say that you're the sinner Christians and you're just grandstanding and calling attention to yourself. We were taught to be neither seen or heard. Just keep your fucking mouth shut and listen. Obedience and respect for your elders was very important. Patriarchy was very important. Honestly, it was just so fucking boring. It’s hard to even describe. There were only a couple other kids my age. And we were just friends out of circumstance. Most of the people I knew and interacted with were in their 40s.
I was super involved with the music that we did have, which was strictly piano, organ, and vocals, except for one day a year when we had old-fashioned day. We would set up a tent in the parking lot and do a tent revival thing. And that day, stringed instruments were allowed. But only then, for some reason.
Jey: I was in worship band too.
Clint: See, we didn't have anything like that, but I was in choir. And I sang and played piano competitively at this thing called the National Association of Christian Schools. They had a big multi-tier competition every year for classical and sacred music. Also very cold and stuffy.
And then when I was in high school, my mom wanted to find a church where there were more people my age and there were more teen activities to keep me involved so we started going to Central Baptist which was an Independent Fundamental Baptist church, otherwise known as IFB. A lot of people consider it to be a cult-denomination but it’s hard to pin down because none of them are actually connected aside from sharing core beliefs. Regardless, it was on the extreme end of the Evangelical spectrum. It really doesn’t get more intense than IFB in terms of theology. I was super involved there with the youth group. I didn’t do as much music there but I did sing in the choir until I was kicked out.
Jey: What did you do?
Clint: They said it was because I missed too many practices but people missed practice all the time and we only sang like a handful of songs anyway. The real reason I got kicked out is because I was going to ballet practice instead of choir practice.
Clint: The choir leader said I could come back once I got my heart right with the lord.
Jey: Too feminine or something? Like, what? What's wrong with ballet?
Clint: Ballet would definitely have been considered too feminine for a boy but dancing in general was not allowed.
Jey: Oh, I forgot you were Baptist, Baptist.
Clint: That’s only the tip of the iceberg, really. There were pretty strict dress codes, behavioral codes. Kids were permanently thrown out of the youth group with some regularity. And if you wanted to do any of the fun stuff with the youth group, like game nights or after church pizza or trips, you had to do chores for the church. We literally had little cards that had to be filled out by church leaders to prove we were performing enough free labor for the church to earn the privilege of attending youth group activities. And for most of us, the church was our entire community, so of course we did whatever they asked of us. We would wash the church vans and clean and evangelize to the community. All so we could hang out at Taco Bell together after Wednesday night services. And the theology itself was super fucked up. One time, the youth pastor told us that if we get saved but then start acting in ways that are unbecoming of a Christian, then god will just kill us and take us to Heaven so we don’t set a bad example for others.
Jey: What? What the fuck?
Clint: I know. It's very dark. To be fair, I didn't grow up quite as sheltered as a lot of the other kids at church. My dad wasn’t really involved in the church so I kind of had an out through him in terms of music and movies and stuff that I probably wouldn't have been able to otherwise. He took me to see AC/DC when I was 15 and that was legit the beginning of my parent’s divorce. My dad is a bit of a right-wing political extremist though, so I got religion from mom and politics from dad. THere is no escape.
What media was OK for us to consume was always a point of contention. I had access to more than most kids at my church. I would burn CDs and DVDs and smuggle them to kids on Sunday morning. But there are definitely some major pop culture moments I missed. No Harry Potter or anything like that. Mom even took all my Pokemon cards away at one point.
Jey: We had Harry Potter because my mom said that it was a battle between good and evil and I was seen as a sinner because I was one of the only like, church kids that really loved Harry Potter, which is ironic because now J.K. Rowling's a TERF. I'm like, what's one thing that gays and evangelicals agree on? No Harry Potter.
Clint: Pretty much everybody hates J.K. Rowling now.
Jey: Yeah, like damn.
Clint: After high school, I ended up going to a Baptist college, a small liberal arts school called Carson Newman University about an hour from where I grew up. I continued going to church for the first year or so of college but stopped cold turkey sophomore year. I became very interested in textual criticism and theology in college. I even took Greek and Hebrew.
After undergrad, I did a graduate program at yet another Baptist university - Baylor - which is where I met you! I’ve since lived all around the country and I’m now a video producer in Chicago. I still study and write about textual criticism and theology but from a purely academic perspective. I consider myself a secular theologian, I guess, AKA an atheist who knows more about the Bible than most Christians.
Jey: We’ve discussed both of our, like, church backgrounds, but how did we become the queer excellence that we are today? Like, how do we become like- Like queer- These queer- How did we get out? How are we like, the people that we are today?
Clint: Sure, well, I’m bisexual. Always have been as far as I know, but it’s not something I was really able to reckon with, even in my own mind, until later in life. When you grow up in a community like I did, exploring anything outside of cisgender, heteronormativity is simply out of the question. It would mean complete ostracization from your community, your family, everything. Under no circumstances would a “practicing homosexual” be allowed to attend my old church. And even admitting to same-sex attraction would be beyond shameful. Internalized homophobia is very real in communities like that. And I think being bi made it even more confusing to a certain extent because I was able to convince myself I was actually just a completely straight dude who is secure enough to admit that he finds men attractive. And it wasn't until I was in grad school that I actually started exploring same-sex attraction in an actionable way. By that time I had already been married to a woman and divorced. Big surprise. But even during grad school I was very secretive about it all. It took lots of time and distance for me to be comfortably transparent about my sexuality. It takes a long time to get over that shit.
Jey: That's why I don't want to move out of Texas, because everyone else here has just figured out they were queer in the past five years. And so it's really nice because everyone's running round like a bunch of queer virgins. But then like, when I go to other places where it's been like, okay, to be queer your whole life, like, everyone's just like good at eating pussy. I'm like, “Look, that's intimidating.”
Clint: I see. So you want to stay because you’re a big gay fish in a small Texan pond.
Clint: I get that. That was one of the reasons I loved living in Waco, because I was on the fringe-fringe. I was like one of the weirdest motherfuckers at Baylor probably.
Jey: You still are.
Clint: Leaving conservative culture has been so freeing though. After living in Portland and San Francisco and now Chicago, I don’t think I could ever go back. Just feeling comfortable stepping out my house wearing whatever the fuck I want is worth it. I could never do that in a place like Waco.
Jey: Yeah, I feel weird in Waco, like just dressing the way I normally do, which is just a crop top and shorts with my ass halfway out. They don't appreciate it there. Because when I just cut my hair off before I started dyeing crazy colors, people would give me weird looks and then there would be like one person who would like, stop their car on the side of the street, like, “Oh my God, I love your hair” because the only other girl in Waco with a pixie cut needed to tell you that they saw you, and that both of y'all would probably be like realizing you're a lesbian in about five years. Anyway...
Clint: You should look her up.
Jey: Yeah! I was still in a straight relationship, like almost a year and a half ago now. And then I was like, “Yo, You want to get married and I just want to see what it would be like to top a girl. Turns out I'm not a top. But…
Clint: Can’t know until you try it!
Jey: I know! And it wasn’t one of those relationships where I had any room to explore that and so, like, now I'm out, I have a sex therapist, get to bring up all this stuff, like, yo. I guess technically I'm more bisexual because I just keep fucking men thinking maybe I still like them. And every now and then they'll be like one guy that can eat pussy like a lesbian. And I'm like, okay, you can stay around and everyone else. It's not that I don't enjoy it. It's just like, you know, when you eat mashed potatoes and like, they don't season them. That's how I feel about sex with dudes.
Clint: Unseasoned potatoes.
Jey: It's like, I’ll eat them, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re like-
Clint: I've definitely had my share of unseasoned potatoes.
Jey: Exactly. But then gender, like I'm big on like, design Twitter and got added to this like bi design group chat in the middle of the pandemic. And a lot of those people were like non-binary and I would like talk to some of them. We would do like, straight people radio hour on this one audio chat app and just interview random straight people that would join our audience. Just like, “What's it like to never question your gender?” And then I was like, “Everyone questions their gender. Even cis people gotta question their gender.” And my friend was like, “Yo, that’s not accurate. You’re non-binary, but I’ma let you figure that out for yourself.”
Clint: Yeah I don’t think it ever crosses most people’s minds.
Jey: No! I think femininity is one of those things that I just like from afar. I don't know. I love Elle Woods. I just want to be the Goth thembo Elle Woods would be proud of. Hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm.
Clint: Hmm hmm. Well, I think you're well on your way.
Jey: Yeah, thank you.
Clint: Thank you so much for listening to this introductory episode of How Gay Thou Art. We have many exciting topical episodes coming up including a special Halloween episode on Hell Houses so be sure to subscribe and leave us a review on your podcast app. Jey, where can people find us?
Jey: We are How Gay Thou Art at pretty much everything. Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and also howgaythouart.com. And we want to hear all of your crazy stories that you have of growing up in Christianity, queer experiences that you've had.
Clint: Absolutely. If you go to our website, you’ll find a link where you can submit your own voice recordings and written notes so please send us all your stories. You can also find us on Patreon so if you are a fan of the show, consider officially joining the cult for bonus episodes, Discord access, and lots of other cool stuff. Well Jey, I think it’s time to wrap this thing up.
Jey: Have a good one. Getting howdy and rowdy in here. I don't know how to end the podcast.
Clint: Here let’s try this - My name is Clint Keller.
Jey: My name is Jey Austen.
Clint: And this is How Gay Thou Art.
Jey: Have safe sex sluts.
Clint: Yeah, that’ll work…