Left-Handed Journeys

Spiritual drag artist Bonnie Violet on identity doulaship

September 27, 2021 Jera Brown Season 1 Episode 5
Left-Handed Journeys
Spiritual drag artist Bonnie Violet on identity doulaship
Show Notes Transcript
In this episode, I talk to Bonnie Violet, a trans femme genderqueer spiritual drag artist and digital chaplain. She shares her story from being diagnosed with HIV at 19 and using drugs and alcohol to compensate for the loss of religious community to becoming a chaplain to learning to embrace her trans-ness through drag.

Bonnie Violet is a YouTuber, Twitcher & Host of a queer chaplain podcast with such series as Drag & Spirituality, TranSpirit & Faith Leaders. Co-host of Splintered Grace with her conservative christian aunt & At the CCC recovery podcast. 

Bonnie Violet:

It's a direct result. So I say that my transness is a spiritual experience.If I wasn't seeking God or some sort of spiritual connection, I wouldn't be able to call myself Bonnie Violet. And I wouldn't be asking you to do the same.

Jera Brown:

That was Bonnie Violet my guest for this episode of Left-Handed Journeys. Just a warning we will talk about the death of a child in this episode. If it's too triggering for you, I suggest checking out a different episode. Today I'm talking to Bonnie Violet, a trans femme genderqueer spiritual drag artist and digital chaplain. YouTuber, Twitcher & Host of a queer chaplain podcast with such series as Drag & Spirituality, TranSpirit & Faith Leaders. Co-host of Splintered Grace with her conservative christian aunt & At the CCC recovery podcast. Bonnie Violet shares her experience of strength and hope with HIV, recovering from drugs, alcohol, and sexual assault, among other things in classrooms, community centers, churches online and pretty much anywhere they'll let her. As a queer chaplain, she is present with people in death and dying to self by helping to lace one's narrative with a spiritual thread to remind one of their resilience, strengthen faith in self and create serenity in the now. Connect with her on Instagram @aqueerchaplain. So Bonnie and I met when we were both living in Chicago, attending a church ... well, I don't know, I was sporadically attending a church, I don't know. And we met right before Bonnie moved out to California. But I'm just going to start by saying that it was so reaffirming to talk to somebody for whom that was sex-positive and saw sexuality as part of her spiritual growth that as soon as I started thinking about this podcast, Bonnie was one of the first people that I thought of. So I'm super excited to be talking to you again. It's been a while. So if you don't mind, so start just by telling us about your spiritual roots. Where did you start?

Bonnie Violet:

Awesome.Yeah, I'm really excited to have this conversation with you. I felt like it's been way too long. Yeah, so I mean, I didn't grow up in a house with a family that went to church. They weren't really big on any like religion or anything like that. But I got introduced to Free Methodist Church Christian Church, when I was like five or six from an aunt, and I loved it. I loved going to church, and I got really, really involved as a young person. As like a trans, very effeminate, assigned boy, at that time, I had a really hard time being at home. My father was constantly telling me how to sit and where to put my hand and how to speak and how to do this or not do that. And I became very uncomfortable in my body and in my expression, and so home was uncomfortable; school was uncomfortable. At school, I had the role of like getting good grades and doing all that stuff. Because I was like a poor kid that was trying to get out of poverty and all that sort of stuff. And so church was the place I could go and just be. I had fun, I was kind of the cool one. You know? I was in the theater performances. So I always got to play like Jesus and God and Joseph and all like the big roles, I guess. Which was actually kind of a lot of fun for me, and sex and sexuality wasn't really a part of that environment. And so I was never really like, challenged, if you will, as far as like, whether or not my sexuality or my gender really fit in the space especially as a young person, I just was not super sexualized or anything like that. So I brought myself to church, but my family really weren't ... I was kind of queer in the fact that I went to church for my family.

Jera Brown:

That was mostly high school?

Unknown:

So that would ... I mean, that would have been like through grade school, middle school, and even into high school. When I graduated high school, I was able to move out of that little town in Idaho that I was living in. I moved out to Phoenix, Arizona. I got involved with like this big mega church doing big theater productions with like, pyrotechnics, and you know, all that fun stuff in a non-denom church, and then I went to school in a very short period of time to be an architect and actor, and a model and a preacher. I'm not any of those today, but that was definitely ... I think as young people, we often are trying to find ourselves and I was definitely in that space of exploration as a young person. And I even loved church and all that sort of stuff even into my college years. But that changed for me when I was diagnosed with HIV. I was infected with HIV when I was 19 years old. I found out just a few months later, after I turned 20. at that point in time, I hadn't identified publicly as being at that time a gay man. And it kind of forced me to, I guess to just kind of like own up to it. Partly because I just thought I was gonna die of AIDS and like I needed to, I felt like I needed to free myself. I don't know. It was a scary time. And that's when I left church. That place that had always been my safe place became not a place I could go to with those things. And it was a very huge loss. I was not only going through the trauma and the scariness of becoming a, you know a faggot with AIDS. But I also then I didn't have access to God, and I didn't have access to the church and the people in church that had been so important, such an important place for me to land in much my life. And that's when I made the very conscious decision to start using drugs and alcohol, in particular ecstasy. And there was a great substitute for a while to be honest. Drugs and alcohol afforded me a life that I wasn't able to achieve on my own. It softened the blow of life. And it helped me to not be so scared of what life I maybe had left. You know, I also was dealing with a lot of shame around the fact that I found myself in that position. I thought I was smart enough. I thought I loved Jesus enough. I thought, you know, like, all these sorts of things. I'm not one of those people to make a decision to get HIV.

Jera Brown:

Before you were publicly identifying as a gay person, and you were attending church, did you feel like you were living two separate lives? Like what did that feel like? Well, so I, um, I hadn't really ... so I had had experiences, I think growing up and kind of this spiritual church-like environment, I think I felt like I maybe had moments of like, some sort of demon in me or something. Like there was something that kind of took over me when I was 16 years old and let an older man go down on me out in the field, you know. Or that the first time I ended up having sex with the man, and I was super, super excited. I bought these new clothes and met over this phone line. That's how old I am. I met people over like a phone chat line. And I went and I met with him and we had a really great time. And it was awesome. But as soon as I left, I went home, and I burned everything that had anything to do with that experience, because I felt like, I had been like, temporarily taken over by something that was evil or dark, or you know, something like that. And now I would just label it nature, like natural instinct or whatever. It just felt so right, but I had been told what I've been told about it. It just felt so foreign or wrong and that just was not the case. But at that time, I just didn't know what to do with it. And so I just kind of tried to tuck it away. And then it would kind of come out here or there. And basically, you know, my girlfriend dumped me. I wasn't sleeping with her. And she was like, 'Hey,' and I was like, 'Yeah, I don't [mumble.]' And she's like, 'Well, I'm done.' And she was really hurt by that. And I really loved her. I really cared about her. But I wasn't sexually like where I wanted to go there. And I just remember how hurt she was. And I was just like, I cannot do that to another person. Like, I need to figure out and that was like in January of ... I was 19. She dumped me. In February, I turned 20. And then I was like, 'Hey, girl, you're gay. Let's figure this out.' I got a job at a gay bar to learn how to be gay. And then in May I was diagnosed with HIV. And then that just kind of pushed everything forward. Wow. Yeah, that's a lot at once. So drugs worked for a while. What happened? What changed? Why did they stop working? Why did they stop working? Yeah, I mean, to some degree, I think maybe the reason why I was using changed. When I quit drinking and using it was about 10 years after that. I was 29 years old. I was running an HIV and AIDS organization that I had started at the age of 24. It was running really well. I was super, super successful. I had been married to a man and then unmarried to a man. And then I was in another relationship. I was in very prominent positions. I got to travel around the country. And like in a lot of ways I was doing this really rad stuff that was so much bigger than me. Like I felt like it was kind of that feeling I had back in church again, like I was doing something for my community. And I was in the beginning of that just trying to validate my existence so that I could die with my life had mattering. And by that point it gotten way beyond that. I was healed. I knew I could be loved and be diseased and you know, all that sort of stuff. But I but I just was at a place where I couldn't get beyond where I was and a big part for me was I was failing And relationships by being unfaithful, I couldn't be honest. And then I just felt like I was a shitty child to my mother. And I just didn't know how to get any different results than what I was getting. And I thought maybe drinking ... I'd given up all the drugs by that point. But honestly they'd started to kind of sneak in. And I think that was part of it is I just started to kind of feel a little out of control. Like I could have one, two drinks and blackout. Or I could drink for hours and remember everything. And so I literally just did not know what would happen when I drank. And usually when I drank, I just did things that were I think when it came down to it, it was what I really wanted to do. But it was the things I didn't .. it was the things that I couldn't do, because I wasn't living my life appropriately. I was like, Okay, I'm gonna sleep with somebody who's not my committed partner, because I want to, and I'm unwilling to talk to him and say, 'Hey, this isn't working.' And so that's what I mean by it was letting me do what I wanted to do, but it was because I wasn't dealing with the things that I needed to be dealing with in a way that I needed to deal with them. And so I got rid of drugs and drinking in order to find a way to not be an asshole. And also didn't want to lose that nonprofit and everything that was going I had really felt like it was getting to a point that my lifestyle was potentially going to put that at harm. And that would have been a whole nother thing that I wouldn't have been able to ... I don't think there would have been enough drugs to pull myself out of that loss. Gotcha. I feel like we're heading towards the birth of queer chaplain. Yes, I guess just fill in. So you give up the drugs and the alcohol. And obviously now there's a there's a hole there, right? Yeah. And luckily, I was able to get into a spiritual program to Yeah, so we're talking about a group of churches called Urban find to get away from drugs and alcohol. And I knew that I was spiritually unwell. But I don't know that I had the words for that. I didn't believe I could call it that. Because, you know, I was a fag. I couldn't access God in a way. I didn't think I was eligible, or that I could. And in getting in these recovery spaces, I heard queer folks like myself, who talked about a God; they talked about spirituality, and it was helping them, and it was loving them. And it was, they were living these lives that they could dream of and attributed a lot of it to this relationship with God. And that was something that I desperately wanted. And I didn't know how to make it work. And so I fought that for a really long time. I was like, I knew I was in the recovery for the spiritual aspects, because there are plenty of ways that we could probably choose not to use drugs and alcohol anymore. But I think I was using them in order to fill this hole. And this space in which God once had, I don't know, I think God was still there, but I didn't see it, you know? And so I just started hanging out in that community enough and came to believe in a god again, not the same God, not the same God I grew up in, and not a God that I found in chu ch for a really long time. Wh n I met you, I was in Chicago at that time, and I landed in church by accident. And I wen there one day for a job thi g. And I heard the gay addict pr acher preach that day, and I just felt like it was just fo me. I cried, and I was on my hift I wasn't a person in he pews for realsies. And I wa just bawling. And I found mys lf there every week for four months, and I just cried and I c ied, and I cried, and I c ied, and I healed. And that pl ce allowed me to be the faggot w th AIDS; the queer in the booty horts serving communion, and I e en got to guest preach on se and sexuality with a fair y conservative pastor. And, you now, it was it was cool to jus be in a space in which the God that I was raised wit a church like the one I was r ised in loved me and celebra ed me. And actually, I did well in the space as who I was n w. And there was a lot f healing that came through hat experience. I wouldn't say , I found Jesus and I became a Christian again; however, I do f el like it did heal me in a way that was really helpful. Village, which I still think has some some great people in it. And I mean, of course no organization is going to be perfect, but but they strive to be very welcoming and inclusive, and I had similar experiences. I was never a member because I wasn't ready I wasn't at a point where I wanted to be a member of a church, but they still let me come speak about BDSM and polyamory in Christianity, and I made some amazing friends out of it. So similar experiences. So where did the idea of being the queer chaplain come in? Long story how to get there, but we are getting No, I like it! Yeah.

Bonnie Violet:

So actually while I was at that church, I had an experience where ... so my nephew, Wyatt he was born. I went home to Idaho. I visited him, I met him and then I went home. And then right around three months, he didn't wake up one night. And my mom gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation, they got him into an ICU. We're in a little small town, so he got life flighted to another hospital. And long story short, I rushed from Chicago to Boise, Idaho as soon as I could to be there with Wyatt, and I remember getting there getting in the ICU and getting right in front of his bed there. And at that time, I hadn't really come to ... I wasn't sure where I was at with God, and like, what to do, or whatever. But I remember just standing there in front and just being kind of like, I don't know what the best thing in this situation is. It's like, I don't know, to pray that he's okay. Or that he lives. I don't know that to pray that he dies I don't know what to, you know, like, I just was like, I don't know. And so I just kind of was able to just give it to God and trust God, or hope that something else was in charge. Like I had no control over the situation. And I didn't know what the best result was. And I was the oldest, I'm my brother's oldest sibling. You know, I was the uncle, all those sorts of things. And so I was like, You know what, I'm just going to show up. And I showed up for my brother and his wife and my nephew. Eventually, we did have to take him off of machines and let him go. And when that happened, with babies, often, somebody will hold the baby after they take them off the machines. And I offered something in me said I'll hold him, because my brother and his wife just weren't in that position. And I said, Well, I'll do it. And my brother's wife actually didn't even want to be in the room or the hospital. So she left completely. And so I was there in the chair, I sat down and my dad was on one side, and my brother was on the other side. And they unplugged Wyatt, and they put him in my arms. And, you know, he stopped breathing in my arms. And it was tragic, and horrifying, and beautiful and special. And I remember leaving the ICU after he had passed and leaving him there. His mother had come back. So I gave him to his mother. And I remember going out of the ICU and I started to wash my hands, because that's what you do. And I remember like wanting to stop at my wrists, because I didn't want to wipe up my arms where he was because I didn't like I just felt him in me still. And I didn't want to let it go. And I remember I went out to the hallway, and I just hugged my arms and felt him close. And I just like, that's when I lost it. And that's when I cried. I showed up for my family continuing after that. My brother's new wife was Mormon. And it was a new wife. So the two families didn't really know each other. You know, my parents throw a party when somebody dies. And you know, they do like, ... it's a Mormon temple thing. And so I'm like this queer thing that's the medium in this rural town, taking care of this beautiful child passing and I ended up holding ... like in the Mormon faith, you hold babies, you don't put them in a casket for viewings, you actually had somebody hold them. And so I held Wyatt in my arms, and then people get to hold the baby too. And so that I passed him let other people and I took care of his, you know, thawing body and then did the party thing with my mom. And it was this moment where I was like, Oh my god, I cannot believe I'm doing this stuff. Because I'm the girl who would not go to a funeral because it's just too much. And I'm literally holding ... you know what I mean? Like I was just blown away and I never felt so close to God; I never felt so selfless. Like I'd never felt so unafraid. That really just kind of opened up this idea of wanting to be present with people and around death and dying. I wasn't in the space of doing that with babies because it's still fairly traumatic for me, honestly. It's still just a thing for me. He would have been eight this last year. But through that, basically then I kind of came up with this idea of being present with people. I think I wanted to do something more to be present with queer folks around spirituality. And so urban village church offered the lay chaplaincy program. And so I kind of went through a course there and then kind of evolved into this place where someone labeled me as an identity doula, or queer chaplain, and for me, it's around being around death and dying to identity. Or to self. So it's not maybe our physical death. But it's more of like our mental, spiritual, emotional kind of way of death and dying, if you will. And birth right? birth, right? What happens after that.

Jera Brown:

That makes so much sense to me. Because I think when we we think about becoming our authentic selves, it's so hard. It's not an easy process. It might be liberating, but it makes sense that there's a dying process that happens. A lot has to die. And I think a lot of the times for us queer folks, we're told we can't access God. we're told that we don't have spirits. Like, somehow we're soulless, or This is a good spot to stop the narration for a minute, and I whatever, which is just bullshit. Like it's just not true. It's not even real. And so like, I want to help invite people just to bring their spirit into that experience, because I went through so many experiences without that conscious connection, or actually seeing God or my spirituality, or even my own spirit within a certain circumstance. And it just made it a lot more difficult, I think, than it needed to be. And so I really want to try to help people invite spirituality into whatever identity change or whatever exploration that they're going through. Whether it's difficult or exciting. ecause I think it'll just help he process, regardless of what it is. want to ask you the question that I posed in the email. What encompasses the erotic to you? That's something that's changed for me a lot very recently. I started hormones back in April. So it's been like, maybe five months now and since then, it's very different. You know, prior to that, I was very much kind of like I hate to use this terminology, but I was very much like a guy. Like I would masturbate every night, or pretty often. And I would think about it, you know, and things like that. And then I started hormones, and I'm like, I can't go without, like, I'm cool. You know, and at first, my physicality, like changed a bit. And so that was something that I was really surprised about. Because I had gotten to a point where I was like, I don't even know why I have a penis in sex because I just never like, I was like, okay, it's there. People wanted to use and I was like, I guess fine. But like, you know what I mean, like it was, and I didn't ever have like a bad feeling about it. I was just kind of like, yeah, it's there. But it was funny once it was starting to change, and I'm like, 'Oh, wait, wait a minute. I don't I don't know if I like that.' But what I do like is like my mindset has kind of changed. I was at a space in which I was kind of discontent with my sexual activities, and behavior and sexuality and all of that. I just was kind of bored. It wasn't bad. It just was like, I just wanted something more or a variety or different depths, if you will. And so starting hormones just kind of took that away. I don't know if I've, I feel like I'm more of like a, I hate using girl and woman, but I feel like I'm just turned on differently. And what you know what I mean? Like I'm more into wanting to be more affectionate or more touch or more emotional, I think, kind of connection. Because I still have this sexuality and I still have the sexual energy. It's just very different than prior to hormones. Okay. Let's go back. When we were both in Chicago, I think I

Bonnie Violet:

Right. was dating a lot. I was talking to you about dating a lot. You gave me a lot of comfort around the fact that you were you were

Jera Brown:

Yeah, but that maybe that that drive changed for you. xtremely sexual person. You we e also one of the first people hat I met that was HIV you re the only person that I' met that was HIV positive that alked about it being okay to e sexual. So I'm curious, like first of all, I just want to na e that that that was de stigm tizing for me in a powerful way, you know, but also th n, it sounds like someth ng in that changed. Not that you felt uncomfortable being ... Yeah, yeah. I mean, it's been like, I mean, it's been four years. So a lot has changed. But yeah, definitely at that time when I met you, that would have been ... I'm now 23 years with You moved out to California, and I think you started getting more HIV, I probably would have been around 17 to 19 years living wit HIV. I'd been on treatment for many years. We had come to und rstand that undetectable mean on transmittable people were on PrEP. You know, I was in an e vironment where people were educ ted and they understood, so I h d reached a point to where I cou d fuck without fear, you know and that was something that I h d never experienced before, ecause I got HIV the first time I could. And so I never even had a chance to be afraid of etting HIV for one. But then I became extremely, extremely oncerned about transmitti g it. So sex after that was v ry difficult for me, even in my marriage, and you know, thing like that. And so, when I met ou, I had come to the point w ere, you know, I was like, three to six years sober at that tim . I had, again, the knowledge f HIV transmission, and I was 't afraid of that. And so I fe t like in a lot of ways, I wa getting to have the queer lif of the youth that I never go , because I had always felt ro bed. I'd always felt like I di n't get to be that cute little thing at the club to go ho e or go to parties, or do thes sorts of things, because I as this toxic radioactive diseas d thing that wasn't sexy, as harmful. And you know, a lot of the times I just wasn't physi ally well, because of the edication. And I had reached a oint where that was not going o for me. And so I was going to bath houses, and I was hooking u with multiple people in a nig t. And I was, I mean ( was t tally enjoying it. And I was h ving fun with it. And might've got syphilis a few times, but hat's okay. And I'd never bee as close to God, either. I'd fo nd a way to invite my spiritual ty and God into that. And ctually, because I was connect d with God and connected with sp rituality, I was able to invi e sex and sexuality into my li e again, and kind of hold t all at once. Which I think s not a super common thing for f lks to talk about, like invi ing God into your sexuality. B t I think once I started doing hat, it just became that much be ter. You know, I felt better bout it during and I felt be ter about it after and there was no shame. There was no, I on't know ... it was it was fin . I mean, I was enjoying it. involved in in the drag community there or it just became more important to you.

Bonnie Violet:

Yeah, well, just before I left Chicago, I did my first interview with Drag and Spirituality, and I interviewed Cleo Pocalypse and Miss Penetration. And I remember, that was really random, one weekend that was just like, 'Hey, like, come over to my house. We're gonna record you. We're gonna do this thing.' I don't even know why. Maybe we'll edit it, and we never did. That was 2014 I think. And I never picked it up again until like, three or four years, three years ago, I think or whatever. But yeah, like once I got to San Francisco, I was able to kind of open up even more, I guess. I was in a little bit more queer space. In some way. Chicago wasn't quite queer enough. For me. It was still kind of Midwestern was a great transition from like Idaho. But there was just something more that I was hoping to experience. And I was able to get to San Francisco, I got involved in the recovery community, I had a friend of mine who had passed as suicide, and he was a beautiful drag queen. And I'd always said, Oh, don't do that. I actually tried it when I was in, like, when I was 19, or 20. I did drag a little bit, but I had a lot of internalized transphobia and homophobia and all that stuff happening at that time, and I couldn't handle being in drag. It was just too much for my psyche. Like I was one of those gay guys that was like, 'Don't call me girl. Like I am not a girl, I am a dude who fucks dudes. Don't call me she.' And like, now I'm a trans girl, right? But like, that was my own internalized stuff. So I was in a position in my life where I couldn't handle that sort of layer of myself if you will. And so now that I, you know, had a few years of sobriety under my belt, and I was in the sober environment, and I had been just sparked from my friend passing and I was like, 'You know what, I'm just gonna do drag.' And so like, in two weeks, I was like, on the stage doing drag, and it actually really kind of opened me up to my trans identity, I had a really hard and difficult time with it. It was ... I was really vulnerable. And it was really challenged by it in ways that I was super scared about it in ways that all the other people on stage they weren't experiencing it in similar way I was and I couldn't quite understand. And they were always talking about how end of the night they couldn't wait to get out of the drag, and I never wanted to get out. I don't know, like it was just, it was something I was really enjoying. And I was it was something that I don't know I just continue to kind of lean into and then, my transness just kind of has come out of that.

Jera Brown:

I can relate to it a little in my own way. When I

Bonnie Violet:

Yeah, yeah. And kind of just being more started identifying as bi and dating women, that was the first time that I questioned my gender, but didn't know what to do with it. Because it was like, 'who am I supposed to be integrated. It's like, why not? If I can be this over here, and in this? And I was always so much bigger than the the the women that I was dating that I felt more masculine but was uncomfortable with feeling masculine, and then flash forward to kink and getting to put stuff on in a scene and then this over there, it's like,for me, like, I want to bring all of take it off that started allowing me to explore other things in a way that felt safe. And then when I started pro-domming, I didn't feel comfortable being somebody's mistress. And so I started having my clients call me Sir. And that allowed this fullness of expression that I could I could be Sir and be feminine, and I could be Sir and be in charge, or like, it would encompass all of me. And that's when I started being more comfortable identifying as nonbinary. It's the gen er expansiveness. who I am, wherever I am. If I don't share a part of you with me, like you in this situation is because I'm choosing to, not because I'm afraid to, not because I ... you know what I mean? Like, it's just a choice. And so, yeah, just integration and becoming more and more integrated is so much important to me. And I think, when I hold all of who I am, and I express all of who I am to wherever I'm at that day, you know, like, the trans is the closest thing to the word that we have in our understanding today on how I see myself in the world, I guess.

Jera Brown:

So I'm curious, I'm like, what, what is doing drag and in embracing your transness done to your relationship with the Divine?

Bonnie Violet:

Well, I believe it's a direct direct result of my connection with the Divine. So I would say, my continued seeking and reaching better and bigger understanding of God, and my purpose and my connection with it, and my connection to you. And that creates space for me to pull more of me out. I've just been able to, with the help of God, excavate my spirit and put it on my outside, like, share it with people. And it's a direct result. So I say that my transness is a spiritual experience. If I wasn't seeking God, or some sort of spiritual connection, I wouldn't be able to call myself Bonnie Violet. And I wouldn't be asking you to do the same. So it's, I know for some people, it seems like I constantly get people to say, there's no God in you. I'm like, actually I am a direct result of God being of me knowing that God is in me. God's already there. And that's a lot of the work that I try to do with people is help people insert their spirituality, their beliefs, their understandings of God in their now and see it in the past. Because when you can see it, when it wasn't there before ... One, it reminds you of your resilience to go back and be like, 'Oh my gosh, yeah, this stuff I've been through ... When I got raped, when I got assaulted, when all these sorts of things happened. And if I can start to see some sort of ... see my understanding of God, or spirituality or whatever, in my now, it changes my narrative, and then what it does for me now, well, it also builds my faith because I start to see it over and over and over and over. And then what it does now when I'm in a moment again, when I don't see it at play, when I don't understand how or why things are the way they are, I can hope that it's still here, and it's still around, and I'm just not able to connect to it. Right? And in that hope, or in that realization, there it is. And so that's a lot of why I think you know, I try to help people lace their narrative with the spiritual thread. And interviewing people is a great way to do that. So I do a lot of that with drag artists and trans folks to, again, try to lace their narrative with a spiritual thread.

Jera Brown:

You were talking about how your idea of desire has changed since you started hormones. Did you have anything else to say about that?

Bonnie Violet:

The only thing with that I would say it's like I don't want to just attribute it to the hormones itself. I think I also had come to a place for myself in which I wanted

Jera Brown:

Well, I'm curious, too. Like you, it seemed like in something different. I have had a very off and on relationship with sex and my sexual behavior. You know, like there was a time that I was a little bit more sexually liberated just before I got to San Francisco, I was going through this moment where I had desires for really rough sex ... really really rough sex and I was putting myself in very dangerous situations, and I couldn't ... I was judging the heck out of myself. I didn't understand again it kind of felt like demonic behaviors or those things that were outside of me and I used to fight it and shame myself and then once I could finally get curious and just be like, Okay, what is this? Like, what is this doing for you? Like instead of judging it or labeling or whatever it's like, okay girl, like what is this? What's going on? You know, and going through that process because I think there was a time ... I thought it was harming like, it's like a long story, but I thought it was like me self-harming. I think it was me letting other people harm me because I was unable to do it for myself. And I think there was a bit of that because I was not living in my body. And so I think they helped me get into my body. And now that I'm living in my body as a trans person, and have a relationship with my body that I've never had, I don't have a desire or I don't have a need, or I don't need that from omebody else in those ways. And o I think that's part of what's hanging for me, too. It's just ike, the things that I want, he things that I desire, the eeds ... I'm really big on d sire right now. Like, I really ant to be okay that I have des res and to meet those desires. ecause I think, especially as a addict, or whatever, we're kind of taught that desire is ad or desire can go sideways. A d of course it can. But in doi g that, I just got rid of d sire altogether. And then I be ieve, though I had no desire fo romantic relationships, I have no desire for all these s rts of things. That was all just crap. I did have the desires, b t I wasn't allowing myself to just be honest with myself abo t it. And so that's something I m really big on right now i just like this idea of, what i it that I desire? And allow hat to be a desire, and somethi g that is okay for me to find a thing to meet that desire. think I've always lived in point where I don't need mu h. And I think part of that is growing up in poverty and e erything else. And I just tell myself, I don't need it. An then that way, I won't feel like I'm missing something if I on't get it. And I'm learning to just say, 'No, this is what I wa t.' And if I get it, cute. If I don't, maybe that's sad, bu I'm not going to stop maybe anting it just because I don't think I can get it. Chicago, you went through this time where you were getting needs met, but are you just exploring different desires now? Hmm, I would say right now is I'm open. You know, I'm

Bonnie Violet:

I'm not seeking, I'm not setting it up, I've Yeah. really been, um, but I have a desire and an openness to be sexual with anybody who wants to be in that I feel so you know. Like, I don't identify as gay or bi anymore, like I'm pansexual. I'm open to whatever might happen as an expression of being in community or in connection with someone. And so it hasn't been my experience, but it is a desire, and it is an openness that I have that I haven't had before, you know? And so I think that's something different too where, so I go, 'Oh, well, this is my behavior in the past, this is whatever.' And it's like, actually, I'm open to any of those sorts of things.

Jera Brown:

What it sounds like is that there's a difference between, like, operating almost mindlessly out of getting one's needs met, and then being open to desire as a form of curiosity, and expansiveness. Right?

Bonnie Violet:

Yeah. And I think for me, it's part of meeting maybe more of those emotional, intellectual, spiritual parts of my sexuality; whereas more recently, it was more kind of maybe about the mind and the body. Whereas now I'm really wanting to have, again, more of an integrated experience with all that. And so I think in a lot of ways, I've just been prepping myself. Even in the idea of starting to transition, I was really nervous about it, because I was kind of like, well, who's going to love you? How are you going to ... because I'm socialized completely different. It's different to go from like a queer man, into being like a trans woman/femme/beautiful creature you're just socialized different. And the way that you are in the community just changes, and it changes really drastically. And so a lot of that is just continuing to try to find my place and not lose me and not become what is around me. And so that's something that I've really been trying to with the help of God is stay with me enough to do me, to feel me, express me. And not to let let myself be too influenced by things that aren't going to bring out the best in me. Yeah.

Jera Brown:

Yeah, for sure. What has surprised you about how you've learned that God has shaped Bonnie Violet? What has been surprising in that?

Bonnie Violet:

I think the biggest thing is just that I've been here all along. It's like, I remember when I went to talk to the doctor about getting on hormones. I was really nervous because I was like, she's not gonna think I'm trans enough, or she's not gonna think I'm really trans or she's gonna, like, whatever. And I met with her and I was like, Oh, my God, like it started when I was like, little, and all that time. I can't remember. You know what I mean? It's like, no, like this has been here my whole life. And she was like, 'Oh, yeah.' You know, and most of the people in my life were like, 'Oh, yeah.' So I think if the big thing is I think a lot of things is like we already know what we know. There's a knowing that I think is placed in all of us, and the world tells us it's something different. It's like somehow we forget it, or somehow we lose that connection to it. And I think for me, it's just been ... the longer I'm living, the longer I'm going, the more I'm exploring, just the closer to that knowing I get, and then that knowing of even the unknown is what comes from that. And like, everything else from that is just like, you know, it's good.

Jera Brown:

Yeah. Where are you at? Now? You're still on this journey you're talking about ... how would you describe the journey now?

Bonnie Violet:

How would I describe the journey? Well, I've had moments in my life where I've just not been integrated. I've focused like ... say like my sexuality. I was getting all this stuff, you know, sexually, and sometimes that comes at other parts of self not being cared for, or spending time with or whatever. And so I've been really trying to get into a space in my life where I want to hold vocation ... I'm calling it vocation instead of like employment or job, because I'm really trying to get away from that mindset. But like purpose, what I do for a living, and what I do for giving life like that sort of thinking and then also relational. Oftentimes, I'm really good at the working, the doing, and not as good as in relation. And so that's a lot of what I'm trying to do is hold relations, deeper and different levels of intimacies, and also be successful in the vocation and the doing. And so that's really a lot of where I'm at is working on doing that all at once.

Jera Brown:

Yeah, that is a lot. It feels like something always slips, doesn't it? And we have the same things that we often let slip.

Bonnie Violet:

I mean, I feel like that has been my experience. Rght now, I'm not ... I don't think that's where I'm at right now. But I think I was in that pattern. And in that space, you know, when the shelter in place happened, it was really great for me, because it just kind of like smacked me. It was like, Girl, so when you're going to do it? When are you going to do these things you've been talking about? You've been talking about doing more queer ministry, like on the regular, trying to do it e outside of my 40 hour week job, and you know, like, it's just not possible. So it's like, I just had to start making some decisions to be like, No, this is what I know is what's important to me. And I'm, if everything isn't in alignment with that, then I'm not going to do it. And so I've had to really just kind of, it's been a lot easier than I thought it would be, I just had to do it. You know,

Jera Brown:

I think I remember seeing a post where you quit your full time job, right? Not knowing what was gonna come next.

Bonnie Violet:

Yep, I had just a little bit of money. And I was making the best money I've ever made in my life. I was working at UCSF in cancer research. In a lot of ways this little like white trash kid, you know, with a high school diploma landed herself in a job in a place like that was like, wow. And then it was like, No, I don't even want to be here. You know. And so yeah, leaving that was a difficult but also a very easy decision. Depression was really bad. I just was not well in a lot of ways. And me letting go of my job was just one step in reaching toward healing.

Jera Brown:

I want to ask about, I think for many of us, I think a lot of people, queer folks in general, or folks who have experienced similar forms of identity trauma will have this experience of not knowing how to trust in the Divine because the divine has been this abusive force, or at least presented as such. And that's what comes up for me anyway, as I'm continuing my own journey of like, Well, what do I have faith in now now that my idea of God has changed so dramatically? What am I allowed to trust in you know? And so I'm curious in this moment, like how do you feel like you got there? And what what does faith and trust look like for you now?

Bonnie Violet:

Yeah, I mean, I think the big thing ... one of the big things that's different for me right now, too, is that I have faith and trust in myself. And I don't think that's something that I had most of my life. And in the beginning with God, with all of that, I had a desperation. I needed God, I needed her/it/whatever to like, deal with me, because I was too much. Like I didn't know how to do it. And, you know, thankfully, you know, that helps me for a minute and that what ended up being a good tool, if you will, to getting connected with God, but now I have a relationship in which I have a desire to have a relationship with God, which in some ways is still a need, but it's not a desperate need in the sense in some ways there still is, because it's just the better option. It's just like, I know that having some sort of spiritual life or expression or reaching to increases my capacity to have a much fuller, joyful, happy integrated life. And so it only makes sense that that those would be decisions that I would continue to make, and yeah, I think that's where I'm at with that.

Jera Brown:

No, I love that answer. And I'm going to be thinking about that. What kinds of career ministries are your offering right now? Who should reach out and why?

Bonnie Violet:

Yeah, I mean, I've been really wanting to do more of being able to actually speak to people and talk more one-on-one with folks. Or I'd love to do workshops, or guest preach at a church or speak at a gay and lesbian center, or any of those sorts of things. Because I do feel like I do have, I'm at a point in my life now where I'm not like, well, who the hell are you? I have something to say. I have an experience that I think is important for me to share for me, but also because of how God works and how my belief system works that actually can maybe even help other people. And so not all people, and not everyone, but there's just an element of me trying to do that, because I also need to change my narrative a little bit, and I need to come and understand myself a little bit more, and I need to be able to see a bigger God, and a bigger understanding, because eventually, what I know falls short. And then I feel like God let me down, and that's not the case. It's just, I don't get it. And I need to continue to have more conversations, or to pull more out of myself, in order to come to a more expansive understanding in which I can, then things make a little bit more sense to me. And I feel a little bit more comfortable about being in the world and about the future. And so for me being getting the opportunity to meet more people and to talk more people, it just expands. S I have such a desire myself, to expand my own understanding, th t that's a big drive for me. And so I'd love to do workshops, a d one-on-one stuff, but also, I ust love interviewing. I th nk interviewing folks is re lly helpful. And for people o watch those interviews. For a ong time, I never found who was, because I didn't know I ould be different. You know, I d dn't know that I could be who I am today. I didn't know the e were queer folks. I didn't kn w there were trans folks, I didn t know there were nonbinary tra s folks or things like that And the more I was able to hea other people's stories and see ther people, the more I could b gin to see myself and see wh re I could go and eventually ave me permission to exp ore. And so I want to try to cre te an opportunity for others pot ntially to see themselves so hey can liberate themselve and began to hopefully have an experience with their l fe in a way that I'm having nd continuing to speak today.

Jera Brown:

Yeah, I love that. Well, I'm excited to see where this goes five years from now. Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. If you have feedback, where you'd like to be a guest, or you have someone that you think I should talk to please reach out at [email protected] or you can follow me @thejerabrown on Twitter and Instagram.