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Demetrias Wolverton (he/them), Director of Mission Impact at YWCA Kalamazoo, shares, “I don’t believe in gender roles.” They go on to explain, “I also … have nieces and young individuals who refer to me as ‘uncle,’ which is why I still allow he/him and not fully they/them.”
Wolverton, who identifies as gender non-conforming, grew up in Dowagiac, MI. Navigating their sexuality was a difficult task in the rural, white, conservative town. Wolverton and their family were a part of the local Baptist church that their great-grandmother helped to start.
Fortunately, Wolverton’s family was always supportive of who they were, even when the church disagreed. Wolverton is thankful for their family’s support, explaining, “I grew up in a supportive family, which a lot of the times is not the case as folks come into their identities—especially in the Black or African American community.”
“I DIDN’T HAVE THE LANGUAGE”
The support that came from their family first became evident in a car ride with their grandmother. “I was in the back and my sister in the passenger seat …. I remember saying something along the lines of ‘You should do cheer!’ She said ‘No, I’m playing basketball. I’m too much of a tom-boy.’ So then I said- as a double dutch champ, ‘I must be a tom-girl!’ And I remember my grandmother smiling in the mirror, giving me the affirmation to be who I am.”
“At a young age I knew that’s how I felt, but I didn’t have the language,” Wolverton offers.
CHRISTIAN, BLACK, AND QUEER
Wolverton intersects being gender non-conforming and Christian. Wolverton explains, “Jesus was the ultimate social justice warrior. He literally went and touched all of the people in need. I draw from that.”
Even though Wolverton experienced deep hurt from their church community, they share, “… the one thing that has been consistent is the unconditional love and grace that God has given me. I know that God has designed me for a greater purpose and although people will use theology to dispel that, I’m proof that His grace and love is unconditional.”
Wolverton explains that people are often shocked to learn that they believe in God as a queer person. “I explain that this is a large part of being Black. I’m not just one thing—I’m multiple things.”
ADVICE FOR THEIR YOUNGER SELF
We asked Wolverton this question: if you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be?
“I would tell myself that it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish …. Focus on yourself. Everything you need … is going to come from God, and God is within you.”
They go on to share, “The only way you’re going to thrive is if you do the internal work.”
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
Then, we asked Wolverton: what advice would you leave for others?
“To myself, or any queer person of color: don’t be afraid to take up space. Don’t be afraid of occupying spaces as your authentic self, because queer people of color have been the pioneers of social justice and civil rights movements since the beginning of time. We talk about Audre Lorde, Bayard Rustin, James Baldwin, Marsha P. Johnson … Never let anyone make you feel like your voice doesn’t matter, because if you did not exist their rights would not exist.”