I Was a Conservative Christian. Now, I’m a Polytheist Clown Nun.
Full episode transcript
Suzie Sherman (00:00:14):
This is And The Next Thing You Know. It’s a podcast about how our lives go exactly not as we planned them. I’m Suzie Sherman.
Suzie Sherman (00:00:23):
Hey, everybody. It’s been a little bit since we last talked a few months since I posted the last episode, I hope everyone’s taking good care. I hope that a lot of you have gotten the COVID vaccine by now. I’m actually scheduled to get it really soon. Uh, my first dose, and I’m really excited about it. I’m nervous about what life might be like after most of us are vaccinated. I don’t think it’s going to be normal. I’m not sure what it’s going to be like. I have a lot of anxiety about it, but, I’m hopeful and I’m grateful, grateful to science. I’m grateful that there’s a vaccine and it, and it came so quickly. I hope everyone’s taking good care.
Suzie Sherman (00:01:05):
A lot has happened in my life. Since we last talked I up and moved from the Bay Area for the first time in my life. And I’m now living in Portland, Oregon, the land of the great Columbia river, the Gorge, duck fat french fries, food trucks. It’s a wild move for me. I’ve never lived more than 50 miles away from my family. Uh, so it’s a really new experience. So, and the next thing I knew, I picked up and moved to Portland, Oregon, and I’m coming at you live (not live at all. This is totally prerecorded from my home studio in Portland.) Today, I’m talking to Kurt Granzow, who also goes by the name of Sister Krissy Fiction of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. He is a lovely human being who happens also to live in Portland, but we talked when I was still living in the Bay Area; we talked a couple months ago, and his story is really fun and really interesting. He’s someone who came from an areligious upbringing, but was a spiritual seeker and found conservative Christianity at the same time he was coming out as gay. Of course, life went in a lot of different directions from that point to the point that Kurt became a polytheist clown nun. This is my conversation with Kurt Granzow, also known as Sister Krissy Fiction.
Suzie Sherman (00:02:32):
So, oh my god. There’s so much in your story that like, we’re not going to cover everything. Um, I love.
Kurt Granzow (00:02:39):
I know, it’s kinda crazy.
Suzie Sherman (00:02:40):
I love how much detail you went into in the timeline. When I first got the timeline, I was like, I was like, Holy shit, there’s no way. Um, but it’s…
Kurt Granzow (00:02:49):
I know, you said, “You wrote a novella!” but I didn’t know, like how much, how much detail I should go into or what was really pertinent.
Suzie Sherman (00:02:57):
and actually, I mean, all of it relevant to your development as a, you know, as a spiritual person, as a political person, as a someone who has…
Kurt Granzow (00:03:10):
Suzie Sherman (00:03:10):
Yeah, exactly. Like, you know, it’s, it’s all relevant and all part of your journey. We’ll see. So in the late eighties, early nineties, you are, you were figuring out that you were gay, or really coming out to yourself as gay. How far back did it go when you were a kid? Did you, did you kind of know?
Kurt Granzow (00:03:30):
I don’t, you know, you talk to people all the time who were like, Oh yeah, I always knew like from this super early age, and I don’t know that I was one of those people. I knew, I have a distinct memory of around like 12, 13. So, you know, around like the time of puberty, right? When you start becoming more interested in sexual things, of like realizing that I was a little different and kind of hoping that that wasn’t true, which is kind of funny because I was not, even though I did eventually later in my life get involved in conservative Christianity at that time, my, neither of my parents were very conservative or Christian and I wasn’t raised in that environment, but just socially, I knew that that was like not, you know, a socially acceptable, great thing to be. I didn’t have a lot of hateful messages around it, but it just, you know, just in the social atmosphere, right? Like this is probably not a great thing to be. And so I, I do remember kind of having that realization about 12 ish or so, um, and thinking, Oh, I hope that this isn’t really what I am or who I am…
Suzie Sherman (00:04:52):
Oh, um-hm (affirmative.)
Kurt Granzow (00:04:52):
but I don’t, don’t recall like being a super young kid like going, Oh yeah, I’m really different than everybody. You do hear those stories in the community. Right. People just always knew.
Suzie Sherman (00:05:05):
Well, and it’s interesting. I mean, I don’t know if I’m perpetuating a stereotype by saying this, but anecdotally in my experience, men, cis men who are gay or bi have often expressed, you know, that they were able to articulate this to themselves at a much earlier age than cis women. Um, I think trans experience is really different, and a lot of trans folks have the experience of understanding that their gender is different from a very young age as well. But, but anecdotally women seem to make that realization about themselves later. I don’t know. I haven’t seen a study or, you know, or investigated, you know, deeply enough to really know if that’s true, but in general, I’ve, I’ve kind of heard that earlier in life story from men more than from women.
Kurt Granzow (00:06:02):
Yeah. Too, I think a lot of guys who are, how do, I don’t know how to phrase this in that, like, you know, I think there’s obviously a spectrum of behavior from what our society defines as masculine and feminine. And we might all kind of fall on that spectrum somewhere. And I think that obviously for those of us who, um, especially cis-gendered individuals, the, but if our outward behavior, doesn’t always line up with that. So like, you know, a cis male who, whose outward behavior is a little bit more feminine than is expected. You know, I think especially at younger ages, you, they may have a little bit more difficulty or it’s more “obvious” quote unquote, or, you know, all sorts of stuff like that. Um,
Suzie Sherman (00:06:57):
There might be more external hazing and, and, and more harsh regulating of that possibility. “You don’t want to be a fag” or whatever. Um, yeah,
Kurt Granzow (00:07:07):
Exactly. And so I think for those people, it’s maybe easier like, Oh yeah, I’m different. I’m obviously different. And I don’t, I feel like for me, as far as gender expression, I’ve always kind of been in the middle. Like I’m not a super masculine person, but I don’t know that I’m a super feminine either. I’m just kind of like walking that line. I have aspects of myself that are somewhat feminine. I have some that are maybe considered more masculine, you know, I’m just kind of whatever I’m there, you know, in the middle. So I maybe didn’t have to, you know, face some of those, you know, how come my behavior doesn’t exactly fit in with societal norms. So, you know, as early as some other people have had to do, um, in my, my questioning really didn’t come in until like puberty, when sexual attraction started to peak and be like, Oh, you know, I’m more into this rather than that, kind of thing.
Suzie Sherman (00:08:12):
Yeah. So you found yourself then, um, in your teens, your late teens and, and starting at community college in the Bay Area and finding some gay community, finding, finding some LGBT community.
Kurt Granzow (00:08:29):
Yeah. You and Stacy and all these people at that, what was it first called? I can’t even remember. It had some funny name. Like it was the GSA, was it the Gay and Straight Alliance, something like that. And then it like
Suzie Sherman (00:08:42):
Was it GALA or LGBA, or I don’t remember because I both went to…
Kurt Granzow (00:08:46):
Something like that, and then they were gradually working on their language, trying to be a little bit more inclusive, right.
Suzie Sherman (00:08:54):
I think it was G-A-L-A, Gay and Lesbian Alliance at DeAnza when we were there. Um, and then maybe it changed.
Kurt Granzow (00:09:02):
To include bi people, right?
Suzie Sherman (00:09:04):
But by that point, I was also then at UC Santa Cruz. And I think, I think LGBA is what it, what it was when I was in UC Santa Cruz in the early nineties, which was Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Alliance or something like that. And it was certainly in the early nineties in Santa Cruz, it was certainly not trans inclusive, but at that point it became much more so, um, by the mid to late nineties.
Kurt Granzow (00:09:31):
Yeah. But that was the time where I kind of met this little community and realized like, Oh no, this is my community. These are the people that I’m like that I fit in with, um,
Suzie Sherman (00:09:46):
Ways that you felt seen at that time. In your gayness.
Kurt Granzow (00:09:52):
Oh gosh, that is a really good question. How did I feel seen, I think just that, uh, that liberating feeling of like, not having to like, hide who you’re attracted to or what you like that, just that connection. Gosh, is I’m just thinking back to like being like 19 and just suddenly feeling like, Oh, Hey, it’s okay for me to just like, really think this guy is hot, or I really remember very vividly going up to San Francisco for Pride, with Stacy, and like sleeping in the car and, um, you know, experiencing that whole, uh, expression of queerness for the first time. And just how just freeing it was.
Suzie Sherman (00:10:49):
And seeing all the other, you know, all the other queer people, you know, crowding in the streets and partying and being fabulous and flamboyant and in your face and beautiful.
Kurt Granzow (00:11:01):
And then just that, that was okay. Like we could be out and do this without any kind of judgment. Um, it was a very in your face. And I just remember I was very in your face and a lot of things I had like these shirts with guys kissing, um, I had a whole, god, I hate to admit this now, cause he’s turned into such an ass, but, uh, I had this whole like shirtless Morrissey shirt that I loved even more of a disappointment that he’s such an ass now.
Suzie Sherman (00:11:29):
He’s such a racist shit bag. It’s really, it’s, it’s really, we could have a whole podcast about how disappointing Morrissey is, because there’s a way in which his lyrics really were uplifting to people who felt on the outside. And he was really in touch with that story in, in each of us. And it’s such a, it’s such a let down when your hero reveals himself to be such an awful human.
Kurt Granzow (00:12:01):
Well, yeah. And not to get on a total tangent. One of my favorite people on Twitter, she’s a trans woman, Crystal Frasier, actually talked about this and she writes for tabletop role-playing games. And, um, so she’s firmly in nerd culture, but she talks about J.K. Rowling.
Suzie Sherman (00:12:17):
Uch, uh-huh (affirmative.)
Kurt Granzow (00:12:17):
and the reason why it’s so, um, enraging and why it hurts so much is because people have invested so many years in this, this fictional world and have placed themselves because it mattered so much. And she created this whole, you know, this whole world for people to live in that was inclusive and that did matter to so many and trans people. And then to have her turn out to be a TERF, right. And to attack you, it’s like, it hurts even more.
Suzie Sherman (00:12:50):
Kurt Granzow (00:12:50):
So it’s not that it doesn’t matter. Like people kind of like, “Oh yeah, well, you know, fuck J.K. Rowling.”
Kurt Granzow (00:12:56):
And you know, like, “it doesn’t matter. We don’t care. She was an awful writer all along,” but really like, we grew up so many people grew up investing in that. And it’s the same thing. Like with people like Morrissey or like, you know, any kind of like this entertainment, music, like we invest in these things, we hear these messages. And it’s just like, even though we don’t know these people personally, when, when they then turn around and they have these messages, hateful messages that attack us, it, it feels like a betrayal. It’s awful.
Suzie Sherman (00:13:30):
Yeah. It’s a deep betrayal.
Kurt Granzow (00:13:31):
Sorry. That was a little tangent.
Suzie Sherman (00:13:33):
No, it’s good, I’ll either leave it in or it’ll become bonus material. Um, so, so you’re finding yourself in community in the early nineties and at the same time, you’re also finding yourself in conservative Lutheran community.
Kurt Granzow (00:13:52):
Yeah. Isn’t that weird? Yeah. I think I was just craving community family, my family of origin. So I was living with primarily in Santa Clara with my dad and at the time was his girlfriend and her daughter that, you know, they’re married now many, many years so it’s my step-mom, but they’re not a very emotionally close family. And I think I probably was craving connection and community for a long, long time and didn’t know it and didn’t realize how lacking I was. And so when I went to De Anza, things kind of exploded on those fronts. So I found the queer community, and I found this community that I just fit in that just felt natural to be in. But I also made friends pretty quickly, um, in one of the classes with this young woman and her father was a pastor down the street. And so I had always been interested in kind of spiritual stuff.
Kurt Granzow (00:14:56):
So I accepted their invitation to go to a Thanksgiving service. And I went, and everybody was also very loving and friendly and warm and, um, offered family in a more traditional sense, you know, like, uh, um, just not even in an alternative sense, like these were, you know, traditional families, like traditional family structures, and they all kind of just embraced me right away and welcomed me. And so I started getting involved in both of those kind of communities, I think, because it just felt so good to, to, to feel that, to feel that that inclusion in community.
Suzie Sherman (00:15:42):
You didn’t really grow up with a particular religious, in a religious context, or was it sort of just like plain Jane Christianity, like, like everyone else kind of thing. Did you go to church when you were young at all?
Kurt Granzow (00:15:56):
I didn’t at all. I was not brought up, uh, in any religious context. Um, ironically the, the church that I was invited to that denomination, that particular, um, type of Lutheran church, um, was the same, uh, denomination of Lutheran Lutheranism that my father grew up in. And it was a, it’s a conservative branch of Lutheranism. So there’s three big types of Lutherans in the United States. Uh, the largest is the, uh, ELCA Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. And they’re the most progressive and liberal, they’ve for years and years have had LGBT, uh, pastors, they’ve had female pastors for years and years and years. Very, very progressive. So we, we were not that. The other two large Lutheran groups, um, the second largest is the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, which is a more moderate to conservative group. So a lot of times when I say I was a conservative Lutheran, everybody goes, Oh, Missouri Synod. And I actually wasn’t that. I was even more conservative. Um, I was a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran. And, um, so they’re the third largest Lutheran body in the U.S., um, behind ELCA and Missouri Synod denominations. So it just so happened that yeah, I was the type, the denomination of Lutheranism that I went into was the one that my dad grew up with.
Suzie Sherman (00:17:25):
Do you remember if your dad had anything to say to you about that, that, you know, you, he had grown up in that branch of Lutheranism, but you didn’t grow up religious, at some point in his life, he became areligious, it sounds like, but do you remember him having any, like curiosity or thoughts about you becoming involved in, in that branch of Lutheranism?
Kurt Granzow (00:17:50):
No, he was. I, as soon as he left home, when he was 19 or whatever, he just stopped kind of any involvement in church, um, stuff. And he never picked that back up.
Suzie Sherman (00:18:03):
You don’t remember though how he maybe reacted to you when you were 19, 20, and you were becoming involved with the church?
Kurt Granzow (00:18:10):
I mean, he was, he was supportive, but he, let’s just put it this way. My father has never been somebody who’s been super invested or involved in what’s been going on with me and regardless of what it is. Um, so I think even going back to church it’d be something that he would acknowledge, but not something that he would have really engaged me in, which is pretty par for the course for my dad.
Suzie Sherman (00:18:37):
Um-hm. Not take an interest in.
Kurt Granzow (00:18:40):
Yeah. My dad is just very, he, he grew up, um, his, his, uh, whole adult life, he was in computers, when they were the size of rooms. He’s a computer technician and engineer, and that’s his personality on a lot of levels too. He’s very, flat-lined, um, non-emotional, uh, not emotionally involved. Uh, so we have a kind of distant relationship. I actually don’t, don’t talk to him right now because of all the Trump supporting stuff, things like that. I don’t feel like he’s a safe person to have in my life, but, um, just all through my life, he’s never really been anybody who’s like super invested in things. So like when I went back to church or when I want to say went back to, but when I started going to church, yeah, he was like, okay, that’s great. But it was nothing very engaging.
Suzie Sherman (00:19:36):
Maybe it’s more germane to ask you how your mom reacted when you started becoming active in this conservative Lutheran church. Our listeners don’t know this yet, but they’re going to know this. Now. It wasn’t long before this time that your mom came out to you officially as a lesbian herself at that time. Um,
Kurt Granzow (00:19:59):
Yeah. I was 16 when she officially came, when she officially came out. Should I tell that story?
Suzie Sherman (00:20:09):
Uh, yeah, do tell!
Kurt Granzow (00:20:09):
Yeah, I mean, so she had been seeing a woman for years. So all during my teenage years, my mother had been seeing someone that had been, but it wasn’t like out in the open. So this woman was actually still married to a man. And, um, they had some kids together, but this woman was basically presented to me as her best friend, but they were, they were more than that. And so finally I had known maybe for about a year before my mom told me. And, but finally my mom decided she was going to tell me, she took me out to the, uh, San Leandro Marina. And, uh, we, we just went for a walk and around the marina and there’s these benches that are set up out there. And I just remember, there’s these really super aggressive squirrels, like, anytime you stop, they think you’re going to like feed them, you know, or give them food. And so they just kept like, like charging us these squirrels. And, um, so we’re sitting there on the bench and my mom’s like, “Well, okay, I have something to tell you…” And then she’d like stop at a squirrel. And she’s like, “I’m gay.” Stomp, stomp, stomp, stomp. And it’s like, “Get out of here!” And so it was like, “Do you have any questions?” As these like, squirrels are just launching themselves at us. And that, that was my mom coming out.
(Musical interlude) (00:21:33):
Excerpt of “Toy Piano Trader” by Adam Selzer.
Kurt Granzow (00:21:39):
It was interesting because it was almost a flip of normal relationships where, parent child relationships, where, you know, the parent is like conservative and the child is like coming out and the parent is kind of disapproving. So my mom was out, and then I was joining this conservative church. And as I got more and more deeply involved in that church and more and more involved in that like, Oh, “homosexuality is a sin” message. And deciding that I myself needed to change and everything and conveying that message to her. I, you know, so I was taking on that message of like, no, this is, this is wrong and bad. And she was the one responding to that from her child. I will give her credit. She, through it all, through the ten years that I ended up being involved with that, she remained supportive and loving towards me the entire time. I mean, she came to my graduation from Martin Luther college. When I, before I was going into ministry in that denomination, she just was always supported me as her son. I really respect that now, considering that I, the message that I was conveying was not always a loving message in return. But she maintained, um, she, she really did maintain a message of love and support for me.
Suzie Sherman (00:23:23):
She was maybe able to hold the bigger picture in a way that you couldn’t at that point about your, about your sexuality and the internal struggle that was, was evident, even if you were kind of pushing it away.
Kurt Granzow (00:23:41):
Yeah. And you know, now I think it’s really been a few years since I realized this, that I really see that she’s an elder in the queer community, in what she’s gone through and what, what she’s experienced. So I’m actually getting a little emotional thinking about it and, um, I think you’re right, you know, that she did see the big picture in a lot of ways. So she probably had these years of experience and her own like heartache and struggle and knowing how hard coming out is right. To be able to kind of see that broad view and know that eventually I would travel my own path, right? And come back around somewhere. And that she just had to kind of be my mom and wait for that to happen. And so I think that that was really wise on her part.
Suzie Sherman (00:24:37):
I’m glad that you had her.
Kurt Granzow (00:24:40):
Oh, me too. Me too.
Suzie Sherman (00:24:41):
And have her.
Kurt Granzow (00:24:42):
Suzie Sherman (00:24:43):
So I want to dig in a little bit here in this moment in your life, because it’s really significant. It’s interesting to think about how you did find community and love and, and mirroring of yourself in both the gay community and in this conservative Christian community that you found yourself a part of. What’s going on, sort of in your heart internally in these moments of decision-making, or of recognizing these parts of yourself? Um, did you feel simultaneously like open to your gayness and open to being part of this Christian community? Um, or did you feel like there were some, you had to do some compartmentalizing or shutting down of your, of your gayness?
Kurt Granzow (00:25:37):
Well, that’s a really interesting question. I think it’s, it’s hard to answer a little bit because I think those of us on the left have an idea of what conservative Christians or those on the right, how they think about things and the paradigms that they’re using to view the world. And I don’t know that it’s always accurate. It doesn’t mean that they’re right. But so like, you’re talking about like, um, the language that you’re using about not being gay, um, things like that. I don’t at the time, I never would have used that language. Like that’s not a paradigm. That’s not a, like, definitely I thought being that homosexuality, the behavior was wrong was sinful was bad. Right?
Suzie Sherman (00:26:39):
Kurt Granzow (00:26:39):
But I don’t think I ever expected myself not to be gay or to have my orientation changed. It’s very layered. It’s like, especially that ex-gay movement.
Kurt Granzow (00:26:58):
And I mean, they use that term. “Ex-gay” like, there’s this expectation that, Oh yeah, God can change you. But most people in that movement would really talk about changing behaviors, responding in a “God-pleasing” way. Right. Cause you’re, we’re starting from such different starting points. Like you, you have to kind of go all the way back to like this beginning theology, but how that kind of Christian theological framework understands the world and understands humans as essentially at our core, as sinful and bad from the moment we’re born. And that every choice that we make is wrong and against God, like that is an ess…that is a core conservative Christian belief, not necessarily liberal Christians, but it’s a core kind of conservative Christian theological belief. So everything we do, everything we say is bad, is wrong, is against God. And so that whole theological message of like Jesus coming and dying for our sins and substitutionary atonement and covering up our sins. Right? All of that. So God doesn’t see all that awfulness that we’re born with now, right? I’m not trying to preach. I’m just trying to give a context.
Suzie Sherman (00:28:33):
Oh, for sure.
Kurt Granzow (00:28:34):
Like this isn’t even what I, what I believe now,
Suzie Sherman (00:28:38):
I really appreciate that you are giving more context to it because, you know, look, I’m a liberal Jew. Um, I don’t have any Christian theology in my makeup, in my internal structure, other than the dominant cultural paradigms of growing up in the United States, right, in a predominantly Christian country. I have those models that I’ve interpolated into myself, but they aren’t a deep foundation of what, of what I grew up with or what I explored…
Kurt Granzow (00:29:12):
Suzie Sherman (00:29:12):
…on my own. So I really, I really appreciate having more of a context. I’m really interested in your personal and your internal experience. It’s great to hear more context, because I don’t want to fall into a trap of, um, put, like putting language on your experience that doesn’t feel accurate for you.
Kurt Granzow (00:29:34):
Yeah. Well, I mean, and I don’t want to get into boring theological crap. I mean, that’s, like I said, I, I’m not even in that place, I’m a liberal, like polytheist pagan. Like, so I don’t even follow these, you know, these theologies that I’m talking about, I’m just…
Suzie Sherman (00:29:49):
Oh, we’ll, we’ll get there.
Kurt Granzow (00:29:54):
This kind of explained the frame of mind at the time is like, so, you know, we’re all “evil, evil, evil,” period. God no longer sees us as evil because of Jesus, Jesus, right? And so now the thing is, is like, how do I respond in a God-pleasing way to all these natural “bad” inclinations, whether it’s anger, whether it’s, whatever, all these awful things and homosexuality is included in that list of all those bad things, right? According…
Suzie Sherman (00:30:26):
Kurt Granzow (00:30:28):
To that frame of thought. Right. So, you know, I was in a place where I had kind of lost, and I was very young, keep in mind, too, like 19, 20, like I had lost a job. My dad had already moved off. Right. I was kind of on my own, I didn’t know where I was going to be living. And so one of the families that I was very, very, very close with in the church had kind of extended to me, the offer to stay with them, to come in and kind of be a part of their family. But they’re like, “but you can’t be living in this quote unquote ‘lifestyle,'” right? That’s one of the key buzzwords, um, if you’re going to stay with us. So at the time I was like, well, I don’t really understand why the Bible would say it’s wrong. I don’t really get it, but I’m going to just trust. I’m just going to go with it. I’m just going to trust that God is knows what he’s talking about and that my limited human mind is just doesn’t get it or whatever, and, um, go along with it. And so I just said, okay, fine. And I moved in with that family and just kind of immersed myself in that community and just said, okay, I’ll try this. I’ll, I’ll not do the gay stuff. I’ll not do the homosexuality stuff. I’ll, I’ll just see how this goes. And, and that’s what I did for like a decade.
Suzie Sherman (00:32:00):
Kurt Granzow (00:32:02):
And I just, You know, I went into, uh, I became part of a program and, uh, did that for several years when it finally went into ministry for my that denomination. Um,
Suzie Sherman (00:32:15):
What did you mean just there, when you said you went into a program?
Kurt Granzow (00:32:19):
Well, I said went into, because sometimes went into implies like an actual residential program. It wasn’t a residential program. It was more like a, I’d be, I participated in a program. Um, there was a program that was part of a church in Milpitas. You know, it was like a, they would do group therapy-ish kind of stuff. Um, you know, we’d get together and with other people who are “struggling with homosexuality” and talk about our struggles and, um, support each other and pray you do what, you know, I’ll do all that stuff. Uh, and I graduated from that program after two years. And, um, but I stayed part of that. Ex-gay kind of movement, which doesn’t really totally exist anymore because the, the large, at the time, the largest group was called Exodus International was this ex gay referral network all over the country. And they were like this umbrella organization that did referrals to other local, um, groups that were working with individuals who wanted to not be gay or change their behavior, blah, blah, blah. And then for a long, long, long, long time, they were the main group, the big main group until maybe about five years ago, five, six years ago. And then they kind of imploded and dissolved and they don’t exist anymore.
Suzie Sherman (00:33:55):
Amid admissions from leadership that it didn’t work. That was that it was a farce.
Kurt Granzow (00:34:03):
Yeah. That they didn’t actually have, uh, uh, percentage wise, any real rate of change, um, that kind of thing. And so they dissolved it. A new group has actually risen up in their place called the Restored Hope Network. It’s a much smaller group, but, and they’re even more conservative. It’s like of all the conservative groups that didn’t want them to actually dissolve there. And they’re based here actually in Portland, um, is there is their home base of Restored Hope Network.
Suzie Sherman (00:34:35):
I mean, we’re in a renewed political moment of a really reactionary political moment. And so it’s not surprising to me that even after decades of victories in the LGBT rights movement, um, and the, the, and all the revelations of, um, the, the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy and, and, and essentially the, the abuse of the ex-gay movement, um, and the trauma that it’s caused, even after all of these decades of realizations, that we, that we might see a resurgent movement along these lines because of how reactionary everything is right now. So that’s not, not surprising to hear.
Kurt Granzow (00:35:19):
Yeah, I thankfully, they’re not as large, but they’re, um, but they’re alive and well.
Suzie Sherman (00:35:24):
Yeah. So we’re kind of in your story, we are, you’re like in your early twenties, um, you’ve been taken in by this family and the church, you’ve decided to go with the flow of not acting, not, you know, not acting gay, like not, not behaving
Kurt Granzow (00:35:47):
Not engaging in my desires, not engaging in any of that stuff. So I was celibate for years and years and years, uh, all of that. And it’s so weird. I kind of like went back in the closet in a lot of ways. So not only was I closeted, like as a gay person, I was closeted as having even been out as a gay person.
Suzie Sherman (00:36:12):
This is a meta level of being in the closet.
Kurt Granzow (00:36:14):
Yeah, it’s like, even when I went back to go into ministry, I was closeted as an ex-gay. Like I was like, doubly closeted.
Suzie Sherman (00:36:25):
Your church community knew that you were gay or had been engaging, as they would, as they would say in the gay lifestyle.
Kurt Granzow (00:36:35):
Yeah, my home church.
Suzie Sherman (00:36:36):
But there was a point at which you became interested in leadership in the ministry.
Kurt Granzow (00:36:43):
Yeah. I mean, very early on, actually I had started getting involved in a group at my home church there in Santa Clara. And I just thought that, yeah, this is something I could do with my life. And, um, I felt like I had the skills for that. And, uh, again, spirituality has always been important to me. And at that point in my life, that’s where I was at. And so I, uh, decided to go into ministry for like, as professionally. And so I pursued the education to do that.
Suzie Sherman (00:37:18):
There was a point at which you needed to be doubly closeted in order to pursue that, that track, it sounds like.
Kurt Granzow (00:37:27):
Yeah. Initially I wanted to be a pastor and they were like, “Oh, your background, this whole gay thing, we don’t know.” Um, and they turned me down and they said, keep working with your pastor locally. And I did for two more years. And then I reapplied, there was a new program that had opened up in the denomination called staff ministry, which is just kind of like an assistant pastor. So I would never have been the head pastor. I would be more like pastor of, uh, associate pastor or, you know, youth and family minister, or things like that. And so, um, I decided to go into that program. They invited me to, to go into that program when I reapplied. And so that’s, uh, what I did, I went, I moved to Minnesota and started, uh, going to school for that.
Suzie Sherman (00:38:20):
That also led to a move to San Antonio.
Kurt Granzow (00:38:23):
Yeah. So in the final year of that program, I was assigned as a youth and family minister in San Antonio, Texas. The summer before to Texas, I had spent, uh, four months in Japan on my own. So there was a ministry, well, a pastor, his wife ran an English conversation school there. And so she hired me for four months to come and do a fill-in position. And so I went on my own and just kind of popped myself down in Japan for four months and taught English, all the way up from infant, ah, toddlers to adults. And they were impressed with my ability to just kind of enter into a new situation on my own without knowing of the language and into a place in the city I was in, there’s not a lot of foreigners, so there were not really any other English speakers or anything like that.
Kurt Granzow (00:39:31):
And so they were eyeing me to go to another foreign country as a missionary during the whole time. So while I was in San Antonio, they were really trying to get me to, uh, get married because they don’t like to send single guys. They want to send a couple that want to send a married couple. And so I did get married. Um, I mean, it wasn’t an arranged marriage per se, but it was about as close as you can get. Like, it was very encouraged, like after the first date that they’re like, “Oh yeah, you could probably get married. You could probably propose, you could…” you know, it was just very, and I was thinking the whole time…
Suzie Sherman (00:40:14):
There was some obvious pressure toward…
Kurt Granzow (00:40:17):
Suzie Sherman (00:40:18):
…for the, both of you. Do you know? Um, do you remember when you, when you met your wife to be?
Kurt Granzow (00:40:25):
Oh yeah. I mean, she was a great person, I think, in another life. And in another time we would’ve ended up as great friends and I just felt a lot of, not just external pressure, but internal pressure. I just remember thinking, God, God has placed this wonderful woman in my life. And she’s great. All these opportunities, look at how great God is to me! Like, you know, I’ve been all over the world and they want to send me here and there. And the whole, the only problem is me. If I could just fix this part of me, if only I could just not have these feelings, if I could just be totally attracted to her, you know, that’s the only issue, otherwise, everything would be great. And so I just kind of tried to like muster through with that. And, you know, if I would just honor, God, God would honor me.
Kurt Granzow (00:41:25):
And so we got married and they assigned us to Brazil to go to Brazil. And so we went to Brazil and it all kind of hit the fan.
Suzie Sherman (00:41:37):
What do you mean?
Kurt Granzow (00:41:38):
Well, I mean, it was just, it was just super hard. I, she wasn’t happy there. Let’s just say she’s not the type of person who adjusts really well in another country. Like it’s really hard for her to learn another language. Um, adjusting to another cultural experience was very difficult for her. Um, she just, she grew up going to this church. She’s just very Midwestern kind of girl. And it’s just really hard for her. Like, you know, some people see a new country, a new language is exciting and like, honestly, that’s kind of how I view it. Like, I, I, I love it. I love being able to, to learn a new language and to throw myself into these things.
Kurt Granzow (00:42:27):
Like, it’s almost, it’s an adventure for me. It’s, it’s a, it’s a positive thing, but some people it’s, it’s very challenging and hard and stressful. And it was that.
Suzie Sherman (00:42:39):
That was, that wasn’t the only challenge. Right?
Kurt Granzow (00:42:42):
Well, obviously like our marriage…
Suzie Sherman (00:42:44):
She was married to a gay man.
Kurt Granzow (00:42:46):
Yes. Like, yeah. And it was, I mean, it’s almost like a cosmic joke. I mean, she literally saved herself for marriage. She was a virgin, and it’s like, then you marry a gay guy. So yeah, everything kind of hit the fan. She had to come back to the United States to ’cause she had, um, uh, an ovarian cyst that needed to be removed. And so we came back to San Antonio for her to do that. And while I was back in San Antonio, everything kind of exploded, I had shared with the pastor there in Brazil that like, Hey, we’re having some issues.
Kurt Granzow (00:43:23):
And he shared that he didn’t keep that confidential. Um, he shared that with the board for world missions and they kind of came back with like, “Oh, you guys are having problems. Are you gay? Are you gay? Are you gay?” And of course at the same time, I’m still embedded in that kind of paradigm. And I’m going, “No, I’m not gay! I’m not gay! I’m not gay! That’s part of my past.” And they said, well, you should be in ministry. It’s obvious that you have some skills and gifts in that area, but you guys should be in the United States where you guys can get counseling. So I resigned my call, at their suggestion, um, to Brazil, and asked to be put on a list for the United States, which puts me under another purview of another board. And again, I had to go through the whole kind of questioning thing “What’s going on? Are you gay? Are you gay? Are you gay?” So they finally came back and said, because of my background that, um, they didn’t feel it was the right career for me. Yeah, that career was over.
(Musical interlude) (00:44:28):
Excerpt of “Strings and Blips” by Adam Selzer.
Kurt Granzow (00:44:32):
In the meantime, there was one gay guy that I knew, uh, still knew that I still have connections with. And he lived in Salem, Oregon, and he had a friend, uh, who live right near Portland here. And he said, well, my friend knows about what’s going on with you. If you need a place to go, he’s willing to rent a room to you for a few months. And I went to see a movie one night, well, my wife went to a Mary Kay presentation, and I went to see a movie and it was a French movie, but it was a gay movie. And I just remember there was a scene where they were walking hand in hand, the two guys in the movie. I don’t remember what movie it was or anything. And it just hit me that that was what I wanted, that I had always wanted that, that I still wanted that.
Kurt Granzow (00:45:34):
And I would never stop wanting that. And I just had this image in my head of living 20 years in this, like, dead marriage, and having my wife come home and find me, like, in bed with a man or something and just how devastating that would feel. And I just kind of just remember having this revelation that even I knew I just had to leave. I knew that I should go and that it would be hurtful and that she would be devastated by that. But I also knew that it would be more loving than staying…
Suzie Sherman (00:46:12):
Kurt Granzow (00:46:12):
…even though it would hurt her so much to leave. And so that’s, yeah, that’s what I did. I, they were still shipping some things back from Brazil. I took some of those things and I shipped a few boxes to, uh, Portland. I paid for my room for three months in Portland and I bought a plane ticket.
Kurt Granzow (00:46:37):
Um, and on the morning of September 10th, it was a Monday morning. Uh, I waited for my wife to go to work. I went and I got a rental car. I came back, I packed up the last of my stuff. I went and I checked into a Super 8 motel. And then I, I did come back and I waited for her to come home. And I said, “I’m sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I never meant,” you know, “for it to turn out like this, but I have to go, I need to leave.”
Suzie Sherman (00:47:04):
Did you say why?
Kurt Granzow (00:47:06):
I did Yeah. I told her that I’m gay and I need to, you know, it was a mistake. And, and I did, I, you know, for years and years and years, my struggle was internal. It was just within me. It was about my sexual identity. It was about, you know, who I was as a person, but then I got married, and all of a sudden it was involving somebody else.
Kurt Granzow (00:47:28):
Like she was part of the struggle. Right. And was being hurt by my struggle. So it was one thing when, like for a decade, I was just kind of doing this internal thing, but now I had pulled somebody else into it, and I could see how much that was hurting her. And, you know, she said, “I’ll go, we’re going to call the pastor over.” And I knew as soon as like, anybody from the church got involved, that like that was going to be a super bad idea. So that’s when I got up and left, I was going to leave from Austin. Uh, cause I was worried that the church would come to the San Antonio airport and um, not physically trying to stop me, but just confront me,
Suzie Sherman (00:48:12):
Try to persuade you to stay and to…
Kurt Granzow (00:48:14):
Yeah, exactly, exactly…
Suzie Sherman (00:48:14):
…and enter, enter into religious counseling probably.
Kurt Granzow (00:48:19):
Yeah. That kind of stuff. So I, um, I stayed in a Super 8 motel that night and uh, the next morning I heard all this commotion outside my door, people talking and I turned on the television in time just in time actually to see the, uh, plane hit the second tower for the World Trade Center. So it was like, you know, obviously September 11th. And so I’m like, ah, look, you know, thousands of people are dying and I’m, you know, selfishly going, what am I going to do? Right. Cause it was just a traumatic, traumatic time. Um, but it did feel like the whole world was ending at that moment. Like, cause like my personal world was just ending and in turmoil, and then you turn on the news and it felt like the whole nation, like in those moments you just didn’t even know what the heck was going on. Right. Because then all of a sudden you have you heard about the Pentagon and it just felt like, Oh my god, like,
Suzie Sherman (00:49:19):
Yeah, it felt like if you were near, if you were anywhere near a city center or a, or a skyscraper, you would be potentially in peril of, of, of another attack, it was so visceral and shocking and scary.
Kurt Granzow (00:49:36):
Yeah. The whole, thing…
Suzie Sherman (00:49:36):
…and this is happening out in, you know, in, in the world and your entire personal world is imploding at the same time.
Kurt Granzow (00:49:44):
Suzie Sherman (00:49:44):
And you’re alone in a Super 8 motel trying to figure out what your next step is. You already have this plan to move to Portland and you already had your plane ticket and of course you could not fly.
Kurt Granzow (00:49:56):
Yeah. So I did have the rental car. So I drove the first night I stayed in Topeka, Kansas. The second night I was in Evanston, Wyoming. And then the third night, uh, I did make it to Portland. So I was in Portland by Thursday night. And I just started over from scratch. I bought, went to Fred Meyer, uh, which is a store here kind of like a Kmart ish store. And um, I got a futon and the desk and I bought a junky old car, big old Brown Oldsmobile on its last legs. And I did, I found a, I found a job within a few months, and I just started over from scratch.
Suzie Sherman (00:50:41):
I’m curious if we can go back a half step, what was that car ride like? You’re alone for days in a rental car, you know, these first days after the September 11th attacks and these first days after you took this huge step in your life to leave your wife, leave the church, and confront the truth about yourself.
Kurt Granzow (00:51:07):
Well, I did feel I had done the right thing. So I had some sense of confidence in that. I really knew that her, she has a large family and they’re very, um, well established in that church and well loved. And I really believed that she would be okay, that they would all rally around her. And, um, I had filed for divorce, also, so that there wouldn’t be any, like, mark on her, you know, that it would all kind of be me being the bad guy, um, so that they could rally around her and that she could kind of move on. And so I felt okay about that, other than just how hard it would be for me just to be…up and leave. But I did feel like she would have a lot of support and love. So I felt like I had done the right thing there.
Kurt Granzow (00:52:04):
I was pretty confident that I would be able to just kind of re-establish and figure things out. And you know, I’ve always been something of a, just throw myself in and go from there kind of person. Like I did that again, like when I went to Japan, that was part of that. That’s what they liked about me in Japan was that I just showed up without knowing the language and having never been in that country. And I just went to work. I mean, there was sadness for sure. When I first got to Oregon, the first Sunday I went to church, I found a UCC church, United Church of Christ, which is a liberal, progressive church body. I knew that they were open and accepting to LGBT folks, but, this is where I was at, still trying to sort things out. I was still somewhat conservative theologically.
Kurt Granzow (00:53:02):
And you know, I was, I had a crisis over who I was as a sexual person. I didn’t necessarily throw all that out because of the theology. I was still struggling with that. So I found a UCC church that had a male pastor because I still wasn’t, at that time, comfortable with a female pastor.
Suzie Sherman (00:53:22):
Kurt Granzow (00:53:22):
Cause I was like, Oh, I wanted to like a church accepts LGBT folks, but not one of those crazy ones with a female pastor.
Suzie Sherman (00:53:29):
Kurt Granzow (00:53:29):
Oh my God. Like that, you know, which sounds nuts to me now. Like, you know, what was I thinking now? But that’s where I was at the time.
Suzie Sherman (00:53:40):
Kurt Granzow (00:53:40):
And so I went into that church and I sat like in the back pew and I cried a few times. And um, I also remember that church in the choir, they had a basset hound, which was funny, but yeah, I’m sure they thought I was just crazy.
Kurt Granzow (00:53:56):
Like the people in that church just thought I was nuts. Um, it was definitely an adjustment, but I threw myself into the community here in Portland too. You know, I found like, bears, Oh my God, I’m a bear! Or what, who knew? Like there’s a community for that. Like, wow, I’m a thing! I’m, like, this, um, you know, I just focused on, uh, in some ways I feel like it was easier then, than when I had a partner for several years, uh, that I met soon after I moved to Portland, and we were together for six or seven years and then we broke up and that was a tough breakup. And that was almost harder breaking up after six or seven years, then the big, huge change, because after six or seven years there wasn’t anywhere to run away to. Like I had to stay and like, Oh, I actually have to work through these hurts.
Kurt Granzow (00:55:02):
And I have to work through this process with my ex you know, I’m still in the same community, at least in some ways when I left San Antonio, it was like this clean cut, right? Like I just like, it was hard. Don’t get me wrong, but I fled.
Suzie Sherman (00:55:20):
Kurt Granzow (00:55:20):
Right. So there was lots of things that I didn’t have to deal with, even though I knew it was going to be hard for my ex-wife. I didn’t have to stay and see that I didn’t have to stay and deal with the emotional repercussions of it. You know, the day-to-day how hard that was. And it’s really interesting. My mom, who was very supportive of me in that process, she wanted me to not leave San Antonio. She wanted me to stay because my ex-wife might need somebody to talk to and talk through the process with. I often wondered about that because I don’t think I would have been the person for her to do that with probably, but my mom, through her coming out process, it took her a long time to break up with my dad, and to cut those cords, and how hard that was for her.
Kurt Granzow (00:56:17):
And I just wondered sometimes if like what that says about like my mom’s kind of psychological process and the things that she went through coming out and having to break up with my dad even, I don’t know, maybe that’s a little bit of a tangent, but it just, uh,
Suzie Sherman (00:56:37):
No, it’s very real. I mean, there’s so many different emotional dynamics and layers that you’re grappling with in that kind of experience. And it does sound like your mom, you know, had some of, you know, certainly had her own experience with having to figure out her sexuality and figure out what the implications were for her relationship with your dad and hold all of that complexity of, you know, you recognize that you need to make a change for yourself, but it’s going to have an impact on this person that you care about.
Kurt Granzow (00:57:12):
Suzie Sherman (00:57:12):
And that, you know, that my needs in a situation might hurt the other person. And so you have to hold that and, and figure out how to assert your needs, even though you’re going to hurt another person.
Kurt Granzow (00:57:26):
Yeah. I think it’s really hard sometimes. Like you read these discussions online, you know, on Facebook or Twitter or wherever these discussions are happening and where people come out, um, ex gay people come out or people who are married to women or married to in marriages, regardless of whether they’re gay men or lesbians or bi or whatever. And you see people with these kinds of opinions about like, Oh, how awful that they even got married and subjected somebody to that, or they’re still angry that they were in a church setting and you know, and now they’re coming out finally. And it’s, it’s hard because I think the truth is so much more layered and complex than just like, “Oh, this is right, and this is wrong,” you know, because the truth is, is that while I do believe that my leaving was the most loving thing to do, it also was very hurtful, and my struggle did impact another human being.
Kurt Granzow (00:58:38):
And, you know, she probably still has hurts from that, right? Like to this day, all these years later, like she, this is a marker point in her life too, right? Like, the decisions that I made, while they were because of what was going on within me, and maybe there’s explanations about why I made the decisions I did and why, you know, what I was struggling with and you know, where I was hurting, I still did get married and it did impact somebody else. And so it’s, it, it, I think those things are really complex and I did preach a message. I preached a hateful message for years. I had a much more limited range of people that I was influencing, but I still, you know, taught this message of like this anti-gay message for many years, for 10 years. And so I have to kind of deal with that also and realize that, you know, and these messages hurt not only the, the people that they’re being delivered to, but the people who are delivering them, it’s kind of like this double whammy, like on, on all these levels, like there’s so many people being damaged in these relationships that it’s hard to just put them all on one, put all the blame on one person.
Kurt Granzow (01:00:12):
And, and I just feel like, even though I feel like I did the most loving thing I could, I still have, I still have some blame in there. I, my actions impacted people. I probably would still do the same thing if I were in that situation. Again, I don’t see a better outcome or a better way of doing it. But…
Suzie Sherman (01:00:35):
If you were in the situation of having been married to your wife and knowing that you needed to leave because you’re gay and that it wasn’t true to you. Yeah. You, you would do the same thing again. Yeah. Yeah.
Kurt Granzow (01:00:48):
But it would still be hurtful and harmful and, you know, and that’s a reality.
Suzie Sherman (01:00:54):
Yeah. You would probably do the same thing, but you might be more mindful of that impact on her.
Kurt Granzow (01:01:00):
For sure. For sure. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, my whole point is just that those, these things are so complex. These whole issues are so complex and layered. And I just think in our, our world of Facebook and Twitter, we sometimes just want to like boil them all down to like one or two little things. And…
Suzie Sherman (01:01:20):
For sure, and sort of conceptualize it as a black and white thing. In your context of being in a conservative Christian community and ministry, you were tasked with holding that line around gayness, being sinful and being wrong. And even though you had a background, an unconscious and conscious process for yourself of being gay and understanding that that was sitting in a complicated way in your interior, you were still carrying out that, that ministry and that message.
Kurt Granzow (01:02:02):
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Suzie Sherman (01:02:03):
And, and, you know, and you had to, in that context. I’m curious, I mean that, you know, that, that puts me on a whole other like, kind of in a frame of reference of like, wow, like how have you, that piece of what your experience was, um, you know, we’ll get, we’re going to jump into your new, your newer spiritual practices that you came into once you moved to Portland and once you came out.
Suzie Sherman (01:02:37):
Um, but I wonder if we can hold that piece while we talk about that of like, how has, you know, how has that role that you played in an active ministry and an active homophobic ministry, um, you know, how have you held that over the years and whether you’ve made peace with it, whether you understand it in context, how the, the spiritual engagement you do now might in some way be, uh, be an emotional and a spiritual counterpoint for you that you kind of hold with you, that, you know, that, how does that experience inform your spiritual life now or your emotional life? Now it’s a really interesting question. I don’t know how I can make it a more, a more specific question, but, um, yeah.
Kurt Granzow (01:03:29):
Yeah. That’s, uh, again, it is a very interesting, um, I mean, but we all have those experiences right. Of like coming out of, of being closeted of how we come to understand our queer identity and what that means. And so I don’t know that I’m really unique in that way. I think for me, just because of the profession I had chosen, I kind of came to understand a lot of that within a spiritual context and always kind of exploring, well, what does it mean? My queerness mean within a spiritual context. And at first the answers were all like, Oh, well, these feelings are bad. And then I had this crisis over myself, who I was as a sexual being. And I had to kind of redefine and explore my spirituality within that context of that crisis. So my exploration of spirituality has always in a sense, been within the frame of who I am as a sexual being of, like, my queerness, of how I experienced the world as, as a queer person.
Suzie Sherman (01:04:44):
How do you stand in your integrity as someone who is queer and spiritual and how do you reconcile those pieces of yourself?
Kurt Granzow (01:04:52):
And as I’ve come into being a Sister, and I’ve been a Sister for several years now, and it’s not even that like, Oh, the queer part of me being a Sister is not the outrageous part. It’s not that I get to like put on makeup and glitter and the fabulousness…ness Of it, fabulousnessnessness, (laughs) uh, of it.
Suzie Sherman (01:05:15):
So fabulous, that it’s fabulousnessness.
Kurt Granzow (01:05:19):
Exactly. It’s, that’s really not the queer part of it. The queer part of it is standing in the power of our otherness, of being different, and honoring that, and celebrating that, and trying to honor and celebrate that in other people. I think that’s really, for me where it’s landed. So it’s not like, I think people look at the Sisters. I mean, I may be jumping out of time a little bit, but, and think, Oh yeah, it’s the makeup, it’s the glitter, it’s this craziness. And it is that there’s that, I mean, that exists that’s there, but I think the real queerness, yeah. It’s that celebrating the power of being the other and not backing down from that of like, you know, Oh, being, we’ve all been othered in our lives, but I think for me, the spirituality is found in like, okay, well, how do we find the power in being the other rather than being othered? And I don’t know if that…
Suzie Sherman (01:06:25):
Yeah, it’s, it’s a flipping of the script.
Kurt Granzow (01:06:29):
Suzie Sherman (01:06:29):
There’s a lot of, there’s a lot of ways that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence flip the script, right? So like whether it’s the performative aspects of the glitter and the makeup and the sort of reaction to, you know, religiousness, which is more somber and austere and repressed.
Kurt Granzow (01:06:47):
Suzie Sherman (01:06:47):
and buttoned down, there’s a way in which it’s, it’s, uh, it’s in reaction to that. And also that embracing of, embracing of an authentic self that can be read as irreverent.
Kurt Granzow (01:07:01):
Yeah. I mean, that’s even what really appeals to me in alternative spirituality, in like the paganism, um, the polytheism is that kind of finding power in being the other, being the monster, being the, uh, outside the norm is like, where, where can we find power in that?
Suzie Sherman (01:07:24):
I can’t help, but notice that in your, in your zoom background, there’s a huge dragon. You’re sitting beside a huge dragon. When you say that.
Kurt Granzow (01:07:33):
Yeah, which is so funny, ’cause that’s just D&D that’s my, that’s my other way of, uh, of immersing myself in, uh, away from the normal world right now. Yeah. Yeah.
Suzie Sherman (01:07:45):
Um, so let’s jump back into the timeline then. So, um, you’re in Portland, you’re out, you’re living an out life as a gay man. You are finding people to connect with both in LGBT community and also dabbling and exploring and some spiritual community, both in a more liberal church context, and then also, um, finding people in neo-pagan community and in Wicca?
Kurt Granzow (01:08:12):
Suzie Sherman (01:08:13):
…that you’re connecting with. Tell me about that.
Kurt Granzow (01:08:16):
Well, yeah, I did try to go into like liberal Christianity initially, and that was a little short-lived. And I’ve explained this to other people a lot by saying this, that within conservative Christianity, the paradigm there is so rigid that it doesn’t allow for any bending at all, right? Like the Bible is, every jot and tittle, the word of God, period, everything. Right. So if you don’t accept this part or that part, then you’re putting your mind above God’s word. It’s like every bit of it, there’s no bending allowed. In liberal Christianity that there’s a little bit more leeway. There’s a little bit more bending allowed. Like, you know, they are a little bit more open to interpretation, but I wasn’t a liberal Christian. I was in conservative Christianity that said “Only this. Only this box.” And so my only real way around that was to take all of it or none of it, there was no like adjusting. There was no bending.
Suzie Sherman (01:09:21):
Do you have a sense of why you couldn’t dig in, in a more liberal Christian context? I understand that your, your community, your experience, your training, um, and what, what you connected with was all in a conservative Christian context. So I get that it would be uncomfortable to make that adjustment to a more liberal Christian context. But I wonder, do you have a sense of where that, that discomfort was located for you?
Kurt Granzow (01:09:51):
Yeah. I just don’t think I was ready to just kind of shift over into just, like just one little spot or one little jump. Like for me it was still very much like all or nothing. And so I was like, okay, well, I can’t take all of it. So I’m going to take nothing. And so I threw, I had to throw it all out, but I did eventually kind of come back.
Suzie Sherman (01:10:15):
When you say, you know, it was all or nothing and you had to throw it out, do you actually mean that you experienced a rejection, like a spiritual rejection of Christianity or just that, that you still respected appreciated Christianity at that point, but you had to set it aside for your own growth, maybe would you call it a rejection?
Kurt Granzow (01:10:41):
Oh yeah. I was just like, you know, okay, this is bullshit. I’m tossing this out. I’m not Christian at all. I’m not doing this any longer. I don’t believe this. It’s just, it was just a complete, like, yeah, like, fuck this.
Suzie Sherman (01:10:58):
Did liberal Christianity, your experience with it at that point, did it feel untrue or hypocritical in some way?
Kurt Granzow (01:11:06):
A little, just the, just that whole mythology, that whole theology of substitutionary atonement, Jesus dying for your sin and God considering that like as adequate blah, blah, blah, all that stuff. Like, I just wasn’t like buying into that. I just was like, that’s a ridiculous theology. That’s not for me. I don’t like this mythology anymore. I’m just tossing it. And so I, I just kind of had this blank slate, and then I was like, okay, well I can look at other shit, right? I can look at other things. And so, you know, it’s Portland of course. Right. And there’s all these like, woo-hoo pagan people and it’s like, okay. Yeah. Why not? I’ll check this out. I’ll I’ll, uh, I’ll go for this. It’s like probably like 180 degrees from where I was, but why not? You know, looks interesting. I’ll, I’ll go over here with these, uh, granola folks and, you know, do this wacky shit and see what that’s all about.
Suzie Sherman (01:12:09):
What did you find in, uh, paganism that felt, that felt true to you or that appealed to you or felt compelling to you to explore?
Kurt Granzow (01:12:20):
Well, there’s a lot just like in Christianity, that’s like surface level. I think that that’s true of actually any religion, to be honest with you, there’s, you, you can keep anything at a surface level and just kind of go into it to whatever level you want to. But the deeper I dug, you know, there were aspects, I really liked the connection to the natural world, the cycle of the year. I liked the acknowledgement of mythology as truth, but not literal truth. So, um, being able to, uh, connect to deity, gods and goddesses, uh, and these mythologies, these stories and accepting them as true things, but not historically literally true things. Um, it was just a more…
Suzie Sherman (01:13:15):
Spirit of the law versus letter of the law in a sense.
Kurt Granzow (01:13:18):
Yes, exactly. Yeah. You know, and it’s really funny. I joke a little bit, like it really took me going into like paganism, uh, to appreciate ritual and, you know, pomp and circumstance to some degree, and like how that can impact our psychology, and our thinking, and our experience and, and you know, what that, what that looks like. And just some of the practices, like, you know, meditation, um, in devotional practice, but even things like, woo woo, things like magic and how just like physical interaction with things imprints on our brain and the ways that those interact with our psychology. I don’t know if any of that’s making sense, but I liked that the way that the interplay of like, Oh yeah, this just seems like this crazy woo woo thing. But if you look at it a little bit deeper, you see how important ritual and repetition and how these practices, how they impact people.
Kurt Granzow (01:14:28):
And I think you see echoes of that. And this is how I started to come back into like more liberal forms of Christianity, esoteric types of, uh, Christianity, like Gnosticism, things like that. And appreciating being able to actually appreciate that. It took me going out of a Christian context to really appreciate like high church in a sense of like what these kinds of rituals, uh, the meaning they have apart from just being empty. Right. What that physical repetition does and the brain link that it has. You know what I mean? Like those, those kinds of things, I just really appealed to me.
Suzie Sherman (01:15:07):
There’s a way in which you had to get out of the Christian context. And even in a neo-pagan context, you were able to look at the ritual and make more sense of it and kind of put it into a context and feel it as more meaningful than just sort of, uh, a traditional exercise that you had to go through, because that was the structure.
Kurt Granzow (01:15:28):
Suzie Sherman (01:15:29):
More than just a structure. It, you could, you could make a deeper meaning from it.
Kurt Granzow (01:15:35):
Exactly, exactly, exactly. And so I did go back to school here in, uh, Oregon for a master’s of applied theology work towards that. And that was really unique in that it was an interfaith program. So there were some other pagans in the program with me, but there were a also Russian Orthodox person. There were, uh, other, uh, Roman Catholics, actually, in the program. There were Buddhists and Jewish people and just all sorts of folks from different religions and spiritualities, and it was a great program.
Suzie Sherman (01:16:14):
And it’s sometime around this point, you’re also getting an introduction to the Sisters.
Kurt Granzow (01:16:20):
Yeah. So right. As I was kind of finishing up that program, some friends were founding a house here in Portland. And so of course the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence started in 1979 in San Francisco. So they’d been around a while, but here in Portland, um, they started up in 2006ish. So I, about a year after they formed, I decided I wanted to be involved. And I love the way that they were impacting the community in very real ways, but also doing it in this very fun irreverent. So they’re taking like spirituality, but turning it on its head a little bit, like making fun of, uh, structured traditional Christianity, but also having a serious message at the same time. Like, I love that it was so outrageous that it was fun that it was funny, but also if you look deeper, that there was this real kind of core message there, that it was kind of all the things that I really dig, you know, like this interplay between humor and irreverence and lighthearted stuff, but also really deep and profound and serving the community.
Kurt Granzow (01:17:37):
Like it just was like this perfect fit for me, you know, all wrapped in a ball of queerness and glitter. And so, yeah, I threw myself into that and it’s just kind of like, I’ve been Sister Krissy ever since, well, that’s not entirely true. I didn’t become Krissy until about six months into it. So I had a couple of name changes.
Suzie Sherman (01:18:01):
Oh, uh-huh! (Affirmative.)
Kurt Granzow (01:18:01):
At first, I was going to be Lucy Stools. And that was funny. That was funny for like two days, what was my postulant name? I can’t even remember now. I’m totally blanking on it. But then I was, um, uh, Wilma Fingerdoo for a few months. And then I found out that there was already a Sister in Australia with the same name. They made me change my name. And, uh, someone else in the house was like, “Oh, well, Krissy Fiction’s really cute.” And I liked that because I had the religious kind of connection. And so I switched over to Krissy Fiction and that’s what I’ve been ever since.
(Musical interlude) (01:18:36):
Excerpt of “Ghost Waltz” by Adam Selzer.
Suzie Sherman (01:18:42):
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence aren’t necessarily a spiritual organization in nature, right? But they are reacting to the paradigms of Catholicism and Christianity. And, as we said before, flipping the script, so I’m curious about someone like yourself coming into the organization with really deep spiritual experience and, and different sorts of religious experience under your belt and coming into the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and, um, finding in a sense, a spiritual path through the organization. That’s more based in community service and really putting your spiritual practice into kind of a more concrete form. Do you find that other people come to the organization also looking for spiritual communion, even though it’s really not, it’s not actually a religious organization, but it, it, it uses those forms to create community in a different way.
Kurt Granzow (01:19:48):
Yeah. It’s not a religious group at all. It’s not a religious organization. It’s not even really a spiritual organization per se. Although I believe that our mission is, they’re spiritual principles, but I will say, you know, the founders were all like Radical Faeries and they have very strong ties spiritually in the queer community and to this day. And I find that a lot of Sisters have very strong spiritual paths themselves personally, but the organization itself does not have like an overriding religious point of view or spirit…even a spiritual point of view. But that said like, you know, our mission is to “promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt,” right? Which, uh, so “expiate” means to repair or fix, right? So stigmatic guilt is guilt or shame that’s been placed on you by outside sources. So whether that’s family, whether that’s government school, societal, um, everybody, we all have messages of shame and guilt that have been placed onto us.
Kurt Granzow (01:21:03):
And so, so “to promulgate” means to like, you know, to expound, to announce, to reproduce it. So, universal joy. So the basic message, our basic mission is to say that, you know, you’re not defined by the labels or the, the guilt and shame that other people have placed on you, or even the ones that you’ve placed on yourself, that you’re loved and worth loving just as you are. And the Sisters are here to remind you of that in every way that we possibly can. So I feel like that’s a spiritual message at its core.
Suzie Sherman (01:21:41):
Kurt Granzow (01:21:41):
And in a way, like it’s not Christian, but it does remind me like, you know, promulgating universal joy does remind me of that whole, agape love kind of concept of like universal love, right? Um, all beings, loving all beings, loving all people. And the ways that the Sisters do that is like we promote safer sex outreach and education.
Kurt Granzow (01:22:04):
We do fundraising for a variety of different types of organizations. We do political actions, right? So like there’s all these different ways that we do that to try and remind people that, who they are just now in this moment is loved and worth loving. And so, you know, a lot of the Sisters come in and they’re either pagans there’s, there’s other, there’s liberal Christians who are, you know, Sisters, Sisters who are liberal Christians and they bring that with them. So I don’t, I don’t feel really out of place in the Sisters having this kind of spiritual perspective. It’s just that there’s the organization itself doesn’t have a monolithic spiritual perspective. Right?
Suzie Sherman (01:22:52):
And if someone comes into the Sisters as a much more secular person, they can see that mission in a philosophical way…
Kurt Granzow (01:22:59):
Suzie Sherman (01:22:59):
…rather than in a spiritual way. Yeah.
Kurt Granzow (01:23:02):
And there’s lots of people who are that. I mean, there are Sisters who are like, okay, yeah, all this woo woo stuff is just bullshit. Like I want to raise money for the community and put it back into the community. And that’s what I’m all about is raising money and doing fundraising. And that’s totally cool too. Like, there’s nothing wrong with that.
Suzie Sherman (01:23:23):
People come to it with different ideas of what they want to make of that, of the experience.
Kurt Granzow (01:23:28):
Yeah. Like there are Sisters who are hardcore atheists and that’s totally fine. You’re like, it’s still cool. Like, I, I’m almost, as spiritual as I am, I feel like I’m almost a hardcore atheist in some ways, like, so yeah. Like we all just come together to serve the community and, but we all just have different perspectives on our own kind of core spiritual messages, and what we…
Suzie Sherman (01:23:49):
The promulgating joy, and enacting that…
Kurt Granzow (01:23:56):
Expiating stigmatic guilt.
Suzie Sherman (01:23:56):
…well, but the aspect of it, of like promulgating joy really is you see it in it in, in the way that the Sisters in everything that the Sisters do that it’s, that it is that it really is about that joyous spirit and celebration and being out and proud and being flamboyant and being colorful and like kind of that joy is a foundation of, of the mission in equal measure too, yeah…expiating stigmatic guilt, and giving people a space to, yeah. Both, both tenants of the mission seem to be really important and really central.
Kurt Granzow (01:24:37):
Yeah. In the early years of when I was a Sister, I used to be really hesitant to say that we were mocking nuns,
Suzie Sherman (01:24:48):
Kurt Granzow (01:24:48):
You know, cause a lot of conservatives lay this on us that, “Oh, you’re just mocking nuns. You’re making fun of the Catholic church, you’re making fun of nuns.” And we would always come back with like, “Oh no, we emulate nuns. We raise them up, we raise up religious women,” and that kind of thing. And I’m actually way more comfortable now saying, no, we do kind of mock religion and we do mock nuns. And I’m okay with that. I think satire and parody has a place in society. And especially in, for people who have been oppressed and who have been hurt by organizations and structures. And so I think what we do as Sisters is we’re taking that religious structure of the Catholic church in particular, but all really, that’s just a stand in for all church bodies, all organizational religious structures, right.
Kurt Granzow (01:25:50):
There’s a lot of pain and hurt there. Like our, the queer community has really suffered a lot of oppression and hurt at the hands of, of those structures.
Suzie Sherman (01:26:02):
Kurt Granzow (01:26:02):
And so do use satire and parody as a way to hea…try and heal those hurts. We use humor and irreverence as a way to criticize those structures, but also to kind of heal those people who are experiencing those hurts and bring them back into the fold in a way. And I don’t feel as bad about saying that anymore of like, yeah, we are doing this mocking thing and it’s not a bad thing. Parody and satire have a place, it’s okay. You know, we, no, I don’t hate all Christians. I don’t hate all Roman Catholics. I, I think that there are some lovely, wonderful nuns and even priests who are seekers of justice and get their voice out there. Like I get it. I know it’s “not all” thing. Like I know that, but it’s, you know, but parody and satire still have a place, a valid place, uh, punching up still has a place…
Suzie Sherman (01:27:01):
Kurt Granzow (01:27:01):
…you know, and we can use that. It’s okay. And it doesn’t mean we hate everybody. It just, it’s a tool that we can use and it’s an okay tool to use. You don’t have to embarrassed about using it.
Suzie Sherman (01:27:15):
Yeah, I agree. You know, and especially in that sense of like through that critical lens, um, being critical of the institutions in power and even mocking the institutions in power, there’s a way that that can empower people to see the oppression that they’ve suffered in those institutions. And also reconnect with a more core spiritual message that, Oh, well, you know, the, the uber institutions of Christianity or Catholicism have been oppressive to me, and I’ve felt cast out by them, but here’s an organization where I can express that criticism, but also be embraced for who I am and do the work that I want to do in my community in a way that, you know, in a structure that’s welcoming.
Kurt Granzow (01:28:04):
Suzie Sherman (01:28:06):
You mentioned in our, um, correspondence before this, that these last four years under Trump have been really spiritually trying for you at, you know, and that makes a lot of sense.
Suzie Sherman (01:28:18):
I mean, we’ve all, I think people in the LGBT community, people of color working class people, disabled people, people who experience any marginalization in the culture have, I think, at a baseline, felt very disempowered and we’ve all been in grievous fear, uh, these last four years. And of course now with the COVID crisis,
Kurt Granzow (01:28:47):
Suzie Sherman (01:28:47):
…um, everything has been amplified even more. Um, and you know, we’re kind of seeing a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel, now that we’ve defeated Trump. You had mentioned that these last four years have been really trying for you, you know, in a spiritual way. And I’m curious if you want to talk about that a little bit. We’ve kind of followed your journey to get to that place where you came into more empowered community. Um, and now what’s sort of the more recent picture. And this is big part of that.
Kurt Granzow (01:29:18):
It is because I have struggled quite a bit with, you know, what is my spiritual practice look like? A lot of my spiritual practices have kind of slowed down or are almost non-existent. Um, the last four years it’s been really hard, even, even my identity as a Sister, I’m still an active Sister. I still participate. I’m still out there, but boy, I’ll tell you, when Trump came into office, there were some big, big questions, and I’m still asking myself some of these questions about like, well, what does it mean to be a Sister now? I spent eight years in a liberal city, Portland, right? With liberal mayors in a country with a liberal president, you know, and I’m a cis white gay guy putting on makeup in this liberal city.
Suzie Sherman (01:30:10):
Kurt Granzow (01:30:10):
And upon reflection, that’s an easy thing to do, you know? And now after Trump was elected, I’m going okay, well, what does my ministry really look like?
Kurt Granzow (01:30:22):
Is this all just glitter and makeup and fun and being sassy or, you know, what does real ministry look like when people are in real danger?
Suzie Sherman (01:30:35):
Kurt Granzow (01:30:35):
You know, like what does this mean for me? Because I can wash off this makeup and, you know, I, the marginalized community that I’m a part of is I I’m gay, right? Maybe you can make an argument that I’m part of alternative religion, whatever, but you know, I’m a, well-educated cis white guy. I have a stable job. I can kind of blend into the background in a lot of ways, when I take off all the Sister makeup. And so, yeah, this has been a lot of questions like, well, what am I doing? Like how, how do I really do ministry in that kind of environment? Like, how do I start leveraging my privilege? How do I start?
Kurt Granzow (01:31:19):
What does true ministry look like to those who have more intersections in marginalized communities than I do, you know?
Suzie Sherman (01:31:29):
Kurt Granzow (01:31:29):
And, um, it’s been hard. I’ve really struggled with that even now. Like, and I’ve tried to do as, you know, some things like, just as far as like white folks who have decent jobs, and middle-income like small things, like always supporting businesses run by POC and marginalized folks, you know, I’ll try and do little things like that. Cause I’m going okay, is this my ministry? Is this something I can do? Like, so I’m not dressed up like a Sister, but this is like my, is this a Sister ministry?
Kurt Granzow (01:32:10):
Is, does this, is this a way I can actually impact the community? Can I amplify other voices, POC and trans voices rather than my voice, can I shut up on big discussions about these issues? Can I not center myself when these discussions are happening and instead make space for these other people whose voices don’t always get amplified? You know, I think our community has heard enough of voices like mine, to be honest with you. Like, I I’m, I’m perfectly happy to step into the background and be a worker bee while POC and trans voices are, you know, leading the charge. And if I can kind of run, run behind them and, or in front of them and knock some bitches on their asses, you know, like the haters, that is one of the things we do here in Portland is we have the walls, we have the pride walls. And so we, uh, like, you know, the Proud Boys, uh, we block them with our pride walls. Street fights!
Suzie Sherman (01:33:17):
Yeah. There’s been a lot, obviously there’s been a lot of actions in Portland and a lot of conflict in this last year, since, especially since the summer with the BLM protests and the reactionary organizations that have really mobilized.
Kurt Granzow (01:33:36):
Yeah. We’ve been ground zero for that for a few years.
Suzie Sherman (01:33:37):
Kurt Granzow (01:33:38):
So we started a few years ago doing, with the pride walls, cause we would have the trans March Trans Pride March and they would send haters to the Trans Pride March. And so we would go, the Sisters would go just to kind of support and be there. And I always felt funny because what I hated about being there is because we looked so outrageous, people wanted to take our picture and I want to be there to support the March, but I, myself, I’m not trans. And so I don’t really want people taking my picture and posting it. And because I don’t want to be the center of attention for that. Like the, I’m not the, the main message there, I’m just there to support. And so I always felt like I would try to hang out like at the back or off to the side.
Kurt Granzow (01:34:30):
Um, so I wasn’t like a focus of attention. And so what one year I heard the screaming, the yelling, and I looked across the crowd behind and I saw the haters with their huge signs and I have this big rainbow umbrella. And I, as soon as I saw the haters, I was like, Oh, okay, now I have a job I can do. Now. I have something I’m capable of doing here rather than just being a spectacle for people to take pictures of. And so I walked over there and I just plopped myself down in front of them. And I opened up my rainbow umbrella and stood in front of them, started blocking them. And other Sisters saw me over there and they all kind of came over with me and everybody did the same thing. They just opened up their umbrellas and we just started creating this wall.
Kurt Granzow (01:35:22):
And, um, one of the other Sisters was like, Oh, we should totally build these walls made out of pride flags so that we can do this again. And that’s what we did. And so we built these walls and we started bringing them with us so that as soon as we saw the haters, we could just open them up and unfurl them in front of the haters and block them out.
Suzie Sherman (01:35:41):
Kurt Granzow (01:35:43):
And pretty soon we just started getting asked to do that, to hold space, to just be this barrier between the haters and the event that’s going on, but like the Trans Pride March or Pride. And oddly, that’s like one of the things I wouldn’t say enjoy it, enjoy it. But it’s like one of the things that I like doing the most, because I just feel like, like it’s just so suited to me. Like I’ve spent so many years in conservative Christianity and I’ve spent so long hearing that hate that it almost just doesn’t impact me, that it just kind of washes over me. Like it’s not even an emotional involvement for me, so I can just stand there and like, be this hate buffer.
Suzie Sherman (01:36:33):
Kurt Granzow (01:36:34):
And it’s like, wow, I have this ministry. I can just do this. I can just be a hate buffer and, you know, and…
Suzie Sherman (01:36:44):
Yeah, hold your, your integrity and keep other people safe. And it’s a very, it’s very much a literal showing up for people in the community. You’re showing up to keep them safe.
Kurt Granzow (01:36:58):
Exactly. Yes. And that way, yeah, I found like, Oh, here’s a ministry I can do, but it has been quite a struggle as far as like, you know, where do we go from, from here as far as serving the community and, and remaining relevant. Um, and what does the future look like?
Suzie Sherman (01:37:16):
Do you, are you finding that there’s a discussion within the Sisters’ organization about how to amplify more marginalized voices and raise folks up in leadership who are more marginalized? So folks of color, trans folks, I know that, I think at least the Portland house, and I correct me if I’m wrong, but I do, I do think that the Sisters, while traditionally the provenance of more, more gay cis men than not is an inclu–, a gender inclusive organization that folks who want to become Sisters can do it. People of any gender can become a Sister, yeah.
Kurt Granzow (01:37:57):
Anybody period has the potential to be a Sister, regardless of anything,
Suzie Sherman (01:37:58):
Kurt Granzow (01:38:02):
Regardless of gender orientation, ethnicity, uh, ability or lack of ability. I mean, any, there’s no barriers in that regard to becoming a Sister. And we have, uh, Sisters who are cis women. We have Sisters who are trans men and trans women and among the whole spectrum, but yes, there’s, I don’t know what the percentages are, but there have been more cis gay guys. Um, I think I personally think it would be great if there were more, that didn’t fit that specific description. And we had a diverse range of voices, especially in leadership in the different houses. So each house of Sisters is independent. So I can’t speak for every house. Our house has tried really hard to, to be as inclusive as possible and to welcome inclusive voices. And I think we’re doing better at that.
Kurt Granzow (01:39:05):
Yeah. I think that’s important. I think that’s vastly important, uh, to stay relevant. I would hate to see our organization just be like the kind of token clown nuns, who you bring in to sell raffle tickets. You know, I think to really be relevant, we need to reflect our communities. And you know, our communities are not just white, cis gay guys, and I’m a white cis gay guy, but that’s, I don’t reflect all of the community. You know, I reflect a segment of the community. And so I don’t want to just hear my voice. I want to hear other voices.
Suzie Sherman (01:39:46):
Ain’t he great? That was Kurt Granzow. Find him on twitter @sisterkrissy. I’m excited to get to live here in the same town as Kurt. And it’s so sweet to be able to feature a local Portland person on this maiden voyage here from my new home studio. We are And The Next Thing You Know. Thank you so much for listening. If you’re new to the show, welcome! If you’re an old friend, thanks for sticking with us. There are a lot of ways you can help get the word out about the show and connect with us. Subscribe in your podcast app. Shout us out on social media with the hashtag #nextthingpod. Rate, or review us at iTunes, that really helps people find the show. And you can also become a supporter of the show at patreon.com/nextthingpod. Find the show notes for this episode, links to past episodes, transcripts, and all the ways to connect with us on social media at our website, nextthingpodcast.com. The banana peel is by Max Ronnersjö. Theme and interstitial music, as always, is by Jon Schwartz. Additional music for this episode was by local Portland musician, Adam Selzer. You can find his work at needledrop.co. Thanks everybody. We’ll talk soon…unless I get blockaded on the street by a vigilant band of clown nuns.