by: Remi Recchia
The Night I Came Out to God by J.D. Waggy
Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2022
Part liturgy, part poetry, part instruction manual, whole truth, J.D. Waggy’s The Night I Came Out to God takes a tender yet sharp approach to the intersections of gender, sexuality, and faith. Waggy writes from a unique position as a Methodist pastor who is both bisexual and genderfluid. The book is accessible to a wide audience, though as Waggy admits in the preface, “I start with the assumption that you, dear reader, are either LGBTQ yourself or are working toward being an ally. If you are neither of these, this book will likely be a bit much for you” (xiii).
The poems in the book are cleverly organized in the four sections of “Self-Avowed,” “Practicing,” “Homosexual,” and “Christian,” whose headings reflect controversial language from the Methodist Book of Discipline. The poems themselves range in tone from humorous to bitter to grief-stricken to joyous. Waggy drops the titular poem like a bombshell toward the end of “Self-Avowed.” As with other poems in the book, zhe uses anaphora and nature imagery—“Tennessee cicadas,” “still leaves,” winking stars—to propel the movement of the poem. Waggy writes:
The night I came out to God,
the church was locked.
I sat on the wall that keeps the city out,
looking at the stars in the thick air and trying to breathe
through the tightness, glad I hadn’t worn my church clothes
or brought pie. (11)
In this poem, God, like the speaker, is a conversationalist. God and the speaker can hear each other—that’s not the problem. The question is, does God approve of what the speaker is saying?
The answer, given again and again and again in The Night I Came Out to God, is a resounding “yes.” In “Pastoral Care,” the speaker hopes for “a God who loves all of who we are in this moment” (19); in “Indigo,” the speaker recognizes that God doesn’t wait for “permission to set a bow in the clouds / over infinite diversity in infinite combinations” (31); in “For Shame,” God declares, “I will never see you as shameful” (52).
Just as Waggy’s God says yes to all variations of human sexualities and genders and the ways in which humans express those sexualities and genders, the speaker says yes to zher own longing. Poems such as “Domestic” and “First” depict loving intimacy between people outside of the heteronormative. In exploring the phenomena of gender dysphoria and top surgery, too, the collection reaches beyond experiences informed solely by autobiography and embraces the humanity of others.
The Night I Came Out to God, is, to my knowledge, the first of its kind. While the second two-thirds of the book will be helpful mostly to clergy, the fact of the matter is that many LGBTQIA+ people who grow up in the church are turned away because of who they are; this painful reality is, in part, what will speak to the queer Christians who have the fortune of encountering Waggy’s words.
The Night I Came Out to God brings to light the narrative of rejection, yes. But it also shows queer Christians the way to come back home and say, with God, “yes,” over and over and over again.
Remi Recchia is a trans poet and essayist from Kalamazoo, Michigan. He is a Ph.D. student in English-Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. He currently serves as an associate editor for the Cimarron Review. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, Remi’s work has appeared in Columbia Online Journal, Harpur Palate, and Juked, among others. He holds an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University.