Interviewer:

 Mason Funk

Camera:

 Amy Bench

Date:

 June 07, 2017

Location:

 Home Of Kathy Bowser, Arlington, TX

Kathy Bowser was born in Miami, Florida in 1944, and raised in a working-class Catholic family with an alcoholic dad, and a mom who managed to be both devout and fun-loving. Kathy attended Catholic schools for 12 years. At the age of 18, she entered the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary convent in Philadelphia to be a nun.

After eight years behind convent walls, the cry of the outside world, with all the turmoil and ferment of the 1960s, became too loud. In 1970, Kathy returned to Miami, and started teaching Sunday school in a migrant labor camp. She became increasingly involved in community organizing, volunteering with Cesar Chavez’s organization La Raza, and coordinating Chavez’s local lettuce boycott on behalf of agricultural workers.

While working in the migrant camp, Kathy fell in love with another woman. They moved in together and Kathy came out to her family. Her parents accepted Kathy – Dad immediately and Mom over time – but not so the Catholic Church, which branded Kathy’s love a sin. Infuriated by this, by the Church’s outlandish riches and general disregard for women, Kathy bolted. She was done with God.

Over time, Kathy moved to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to work for the March of Dimes. Eventually she became their executive director for North Texas. She also met and fell in love with Fluffy Jones, a Waco native with the endearing habit of wearing pearls while jogging. Kathy and Fluffy have been together ever since.

Kathy and Fluffy bought a place on Cedar Creek Lake, about 90 miles southeast of Dallas-Fort Worth. In time, a small, queer-friendly church in the area called Celebration on the Lake asked Kathy to be their pastor. She served in this capacity for ten years, helping the congregation grow out of a storefront into their own building.

Today, Kathy and Fluffy live in Arlington, Texas. Along with many other activities, Kathy serves on the board of the Coalition for Aging LGBT, which works with local agencies to protect and improve the quality of life of older LGBT adults in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

In person, Kathy is forceful and self-assured, with piercing blue eyes. It’s easier to imagine her as a business executive than as a pastor or a nun. But when she talked about her personal faith journey, Kathy shed tears of joy. She seems exceedingly glad to have found her way back to God, and to have helped others to do the same.

 

 

Time Speakers Transcript Text
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Mason Funk: Just talk to me. Not to the camera. You'll talk to me.
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] If you're able, try and take my question and sort of weave it into your answer. If I ask you, "What was your dad like?" Start off by saying, "My dad." As opposed to he. In that way, I know who you're talking about without having heard my question. Does that make sense?
Kathy Bowser: Yeah, that does.
Mason Funk: If you remember. If you don't, I'll remind you or I'll decide it doesn't matter. Okay?
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Mason Funk: We're speeding?
Amy Bench: Yes.
Mason Funk: Okay. Do me a favor. Start off by telling me your first and last name and just spell it all out.
Kathy Bowser: My full name ...
Mason Funk: The name that you go by.
Kathy Bowser: The name I go by is Kathy Bowser.
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Spell it for me.
Kathy Bowser: K-A-T-H-Y B-O-W-S-E-R.
Mason Funk: Tell me when and where you were born. Literally the date and place of your birth.
Kathy Bowser: I was born in August in Miami, Florida.
Mason Funk: Okay, but your actual birth.
Kathy Bowser: August 11th, 1944.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Okay. All right. You mentioned in your questionnaire some childhood challenges you had including wearing leg braces. Can you tell us about that?
Kathy Bowser: [00:02:00] When I was about 11, maybe 11 or 12, I was having problems with my knees and I was not terribly athletic, but I played sports with the boys. Mom took me to the doctor, got sent to a specialist and it turns out I had something called Osgood- Schlatter disease in my knees. I had to wear full leg braces with orthopedic shoes.
[00:02:30] I couldn't sit real well, I couldn't walk real well. I had trouble. I wore them for two years. My mother decided, because this was a time when we were starting to be invited to parties and people were going to cotillion and dating was almost ready to start, so she bought a bunch of Glenn Miller records and taught me to dance with my braces on. That's how I learned to dance.
Mason Funk: [00:03:00] What do you remember about your reaction to having to get these leg braces? How did that seem to you? How did that affect you?
Kathy Bowser: [00:03:30] When I wore leg braces, I was not noticing it that much until other people looked at me. Perhaps, a child would say something about it. Then I have a sister who's three years younger. She used to get silly in church when we walked up to communion because my braces squeaked. She would break out laughing and tease me about it and everything, but I never thought all that much about it. I couldn't kick a football, I couldn't run, so there were limitations, but I don't think it deeply bothered me.
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] What was your family like? I assume you were Catholic, but ... Well, actually, in your talk, I remember there's a reference to your dad being an atheist and your mom was the devout one. Tell me if you're not hearing me clearly, I can speak ...
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Mason Funk: Yeah, just let me know. I'll get used to the volume [crosstalk 00:04:16], but I'm just curious to know what your family was like. Your mom, your dad, what was kind of like the family? Were you upper middle class? Were you working class? What were the values?
Kathy Bowser: [00:04:30] My family was pretty much a working class family and almost on the poor side I would say, because my dad was an alcoholic and had a hard time keeping a job. Dad would be able to have a job for a while, but then he would go off the wagon as we said. Then he would lose his job.
[00:05:00] My mom was Catholic. Dad had assigned all kinds of papers in order to marry her, because in the 40s, the Catholic Church require that you go to Catholic school and so on, so he signed all those papers. He worked in a number of different jobs, so we were always careful with money. There were lots of concerns about health because that cost money that we didn't have insurance for.
[00:05:30] [00:06:00] We had a car that was always in trouble. We wore uniforms to school, so that was a good thing you didn't have to have a lot of clothes. My mom went to work when I was about 10 I think. My mom went to work and she worked pretty much for the rest of the time. My mom and dad divorced after 30 years of marriage, but the family was small. One sister, my sister, Jan, who lives very close here right now and we're very close. She's also gay, so we have a family of all gay people.
[00:06:30] My mother always like to have parties. He liked to have a great time. She was the one that would invite people in. Dad would be the one sitting in the corner with a book. I went to Catholic school. You pay tuition in Catholic school, so that was always difficult.
[00:07:00] When I went to high school, I worked. Started working right away. I work for my tuition and then when my sister came along to go to high school, she worked for her tuition. We pretty much just made it. I wouldn't have gone to college had I not become a nun. We wouldn't have the money to send me to college, so that wouldn't have happened.
Mason Funk: Let's just dwell in your family a little more. All about the family stories, then we'll move on to becoming a nun, but I guess when you said your mom like ... On one hand, I pictured your mom as the long suffering Catholic wife of an alcoholic father, but you then you say she like to throw a party.
Kathy Bowser: No. She was not long suffering at all.
Mason Funk: [00:07:30] Say my mom.
Kathy Bowser: [00:08:00] My mom was not long suffering at all. She spoke up for what she wanted. She pretty much ran the family and she went to work. She took care of the money and all of that. She was the fun in the family, mom was fun. In addition to teaching us to dance, she played music all the time. She loved to cook, she was a great cook.
[00:08:30] Even though we were maybe struggling, she still managed to take care of the neighbors or somebody at church that had a problem. No, she was not long suffering. She left my dad, she left him, I guess, maybe I was a young teen and she left him. My sister and I begged her to go back though because the family needs to be together. If she was long suffering, it would have been my sister and I who made her long suffering. Dad would not do that.
Mason Funk: She sounds like quite a woman.
Kathy Bowser: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Do you think he learned some ...
Amy Bench: Hang on.
Mason Funk: I noticed that as well.
Amy Bench: [Crosstalk 00:08:58].
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] I'm going to have to shut your fridge off.
Kathy Bowser: You do?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Mason Funk: It will stay cool. I promise. This is normal.
Kathy Bowser: Do you know how to do this?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kathy Bowser: Okay. I have no clue how to do it. This is great.
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] Yeah, as Amy was saying, "You never hear a fridge until you're recording an interview and then it sounds like [crosstalk 00:09:20]." It sounds like a lawnmower. Okay, good. Now, that's the last of the technical stuff hopefully. I love that picture of your mom. She sounds like a real ... Tell me just any last final thoughts on your mom before we move on.
Kathy Bowser: Gosh, I had something when you went over there and I forgot it about mom.
Amy Bench: Was it your dad that made you suffer? It might have been you guys, the kids. Did that trigger anything?
Kathy Bowser: Mm-hmm (negative). It was a funny story. I can't think about it.
Mason Funk: [00:10:00] Okay. Maybe it will come back.
Kathy Bowser: [00:10:30] Oh, I know. When I was in high school, all of my pals from high school, the girls, came to talk to my mom about sex. They couldn't talk to their own moms about sex, but they could talk to my mom about sex, and she had a rule. "Anything above the waist is okay and that's it because I'm joining the Florence Crittenton Society, just in case any of you girls get pregnant and I'll make sure you get into the home." She was really right upfront about all that kind of stuff, and I would be so embarrassed because it was my mom that they were talking to, about sex. If you're Catholic, you don't talk about sex.
Mason Funk: Oh, but she was a devout Catholic. Was she one of those Catholics who took what she liked … .
Kathy Bowser: [00:11:00] Yeah, she was Catholic and she was realistic. She had rules of behavior, but they weren't necessarily about being pious or devout. That's why the other kids, the other girls would like to talk to her.
Mason Funk: That's great. I love your mom.
Kathy Bowser: Yeah, likewise.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] I know there are stories later on because I heard you talk about when she came to Dallas and we'll get there. Then you got very, very sick when you were 13, 14. Tell us about that as well. Especially about the connection, you said it taught you about mortality.
Kathy Bowser: [00:12:00] Yeah. Okay. When I was about 14 years old, I became very sick with a respiratory problem. I was in and out of the hospital, I was being tested. I just wasn't getting well. I was having anemia, but it was really a respiratory situation. The doctors came to the place after a couple of hospitalization that they said to my mom, "We've done everything we can and so you should take her home and make her comfortable and like that."
[00:12:30] Mom did, but she was determined that I wasn't going to die. She cook special foods and I had to eat liver, this was her own regimen for me, I had to drink this homemade eggnog stuff and all that. I stopped going to school, I couldn't go to school. She literally put me out on in backyard on a chaise lounge everyday to get sun because that was going to be good for me.
[00:13:00] [00:13:30] I remember just being there on the chaise lounge and looking at the clouds and saying, "So I suppose I'm going to die." That's okay, because then I'll get to be with the clouds, I'll get to be someplace else. There was an experience at that time of my understanding that I'm going to die and it's okay. That has always been with me. I don't want to separate from the people I love, but I'm not afraid of that next step. Now, it's caused me to do some things as a pastor and as a hospice volunteer and so on.
Mason Funk: Great. You're a good storyteller.
Kathy Bowser: [00:14:00] Am I?
Mason Funk: Your stories have beginnings, middles and ends, which is a great for ...
Kathy Bowser: It's all that preaching I think.
Mason Funk: There we go. Boil it down. Give them the essence, get in, get out. Less is more. Okay, now, tell us about how it came about that you went off to Philadelphia to become a nun.
Kathy Bowser: [00:14:30] [00:15:00] When I had my first holy communion at seven, I had an experience that I could tell you that now today and I'm 72. I had an experience of God wanting me to be a nun. I spent the next 8 or 9 years trying to not do that. I did all the things you're not supposed to do as a Catholic girl, I drank, I smoked, I dated a lot of guys and I just tried not to. In my senior year, in March of my senior year when I'll be graduating in May, I said, "Okay, I'll go to the convent."
[00:15:30] Again, mom comes in to the picture. "We got to get you ready. She didn't want me to go, but we got to get you ready." My father hated the idea. He had some choice words about it. My father was an atheist and he had some really choice words about it, but I really felt called from the time I was seven and I did my best to not do that, but that's what I was supposed to do, so I did it.
[00:16:00] [00:16:30] The order I entered was in Philadelphia. Never been to Philadelphia Had no idea what it would be like to be a nun. We spent that summer after my graduation from high school getting ready. You have to take a dowry when you enter the convent, there's a whole list of clothing you have to take, there's all these equipment we have to take as you're going to be studying for three, four years. We put all that together and came September 7th, I got on that train for Philadelphia, and I had no idea what that would entail. I did that and I left after eight years.
Mason Funk: Do you believe to this day that, that was God's call for you?
Kathy Bowser: Absolutely.
Mason Funk: Tell me about that.
Kathy Bowser: [00:17:00] I think called you through the circumstances of life and the people's lives. I think that God calls you to do something, whether that's to be a mom or that's to be a teacher or to be a physician, God calls all of us to do something. In my circumstance, I believe God called me to live a religious life. The only way I know to do that when I was that age, I couldn't be a priest. There are no women priests in the Catholic Church, so the only way would be to be a nun.
[00:17:30] I knew that I wanted to have a spiritual life too. I don't know how I knew that, but I knew that. I’ve never doubted that. After living that way for eight or nine years, it wasn't the right thing. The right thing was yet to come. Circumstances, being what they were in the Catholic Church and in my life, I did find it later, but that wasn't it.
Mason Funk: You believe therefore that God's call can be an evolving thing?
Kathy Bowser: [00:18:00] I think human beings are evolving, and the understanding of your call in life, your purpose, is something that changes just as we do. I think that there are many purposes along the way. An ultimate purpose may surface and it may not.
Mason Funk: [00:18:30] I would have stopped you for a second. There's a lawnmower. Now, there's a lawnmower. Should I just close the front door because we have that ...
Kathy Bowser: There's a lawnmower?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kathy Bowser: Oh, you know what, today is our day. I hope it's not our guy.
Mason Funk: We're going to do what's called room tone, which is just 30 seconds of the sound of this room with nobody talking. It's a technical thing for editing, so we'll just do it now.
Amy Bench: [00:19:00] Okay. This is room tone with yard working done down the street. Okay.
Mason Funk: Okay. Then tell me what year you went to the convent and what life was like there.
Kathy Bowser: [00:19:30] I entered the convent in 1962 at 18. A friend of mine ... I was there till 1970. A very dear friend of mine ...
Mason Funk: Who's phone is that?
Kathy Bowser: Uh-oh, that's Flully's iPad.
Mason Funk: Oh.
Kathy Bowser: You can unplug it, Mason. You see it over there on the charging station?
Mason Funk: Oh, I see. Okay.
Kathy Bowser: Unplug it and I'll turn it off.
Mason Funk: Okay.
Kathy Bowser: Or you can turn it off. You're techie.
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] Oh, it's just right here, right?
Kathy Bowser: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Actually, I don't know if ... I can't turn it off without unlocking it first. You have to unlock it.
Kathy Bowser: All right. Come on.
Mason Funk: Or we can just turn the value down. Let me turn the volume down.
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Amy Bench: [inaudible] off once. I can just keep doing it.
Mason Funk: Well, I'm going to turn the volume all the way down.
Amy Bench: Okay.
Kathy Bowser: [00:20:30] She's a Facebook person, so everything ...
Amy Bench: [Crosstalk 00:20:33],
Kathy Bowser: Yeah. I'm not doing Facebook.
Mason Funk: I want to put it in the bedroom.
Kathy Bowser: Yeah, good idea. Put it on to the pillow.
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Mason Funk: It's under the pillow on that side.
Kathy Bowser: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Did I get it right?
Kathy Bowser: Yeah, you got it right.
Mason Funk: [Crosstalk 00:21:00].
Kathy Bowser: [00:21:00] Yeah. That's her side.
Mason Funk: Just 50-50 chance. Now, what I do with my phone, it's over here. Okay. Let's start then again. You started beautifully.
Kathy Bowser: [00:21:30] I entered the convent in 1962 at 18 and I stayed till 1970, so I was in the convent for eight years. It was a world onto its own. A friend of mine who also entered the convent that year …-- we're still friends, I'm still friends with her -- called it entering the 16th century.
[00:22:00] What happened was I was a carefree beach bunny from Miami Beach. I entered the convent and now I'm wearing three or four layers of clothing. I am so covered down to wrist, down to ankles, headpiece, all of that. That's one thing. You are now dressing according to the 16th century. All the customs that you have, the customs is how you walk. You learn to walk in such a way as to be demure. You have custody with the eyes.
[00:22:30] Custody eyes means you look to the middle distance. You look at no one. You keep custody of your eyes. You put your hands on your sleeves, even your hands don't show. You walk with a certain pace. We got up every morning, the alarm went off. Really, it was like a fire alarm. We were to jump out of bed like it was on fire. That's what the novice mistress told us, around five.
[00:23:00] [00:23:30] We lived in cells. The cells were curtained partitions and you'd have 15 or 20 sisters in one big room with this little cell. We ate in silence. Breakfast was in silence. We were allowed to speak at lunch. We spent silence the whole day long, except that we were allowed to have recreation from 3:00 to 4:00 every day. We even got to have a snack during recreation, and we were allowed to talk to each other.
[00:24:00] We had solemn silence at night and it was considered the worst possible thing to break that silence. The alarm went off at 9:00 and you were in bed and then that was it. We studied, but the rituals, the prayer, the chapel time, all of that was very much like the days of the monasteries in the middle ages. It was a world onto its own.
Mason Funk: Just out of curiosity. Was there a difference between normal silence and solemn silence?
Kathy Bowser: [00:24:30] Yeah. Normal silence was basically you could do all kind of things. You can do your chores, you could study. You could make noise by moving your chair or you try not to. Solemn silence was no sound. When you prepared for bed and everything, you really were conscious of quietness of body, not creating any sounds around you. It was to pray through the night and like that, so that was very different.
Mason Funk: How did you react and adapt to this new life?
Kathy Bowser: [00:25:00] I was so homesick. I was so homesick. I was a hefty beach bunny, but I entered the convent. I lost about 30 pounds on the first few months of being in there. I was very homesick, I hated the food, I couldn't sleep and all of that. I went through that transition time.
[00:25:30] [00:26:00] My mom came to see me after about three or four months of my being there. Understand those days when you went to the convent, you never return home. My mom came to see me and she was really upset. She was allowed to see me, but how much weight I had lost and I looked very poorly, so she went up and told the mother general a thing or two because that's how mom always was. It was cold, it was snowing. I never saw snow until I went there. It was quite different, but I got through it. Got through.
Mason Funk: How did you get through it? I feel like even though you say you were homesick, I feel like you're soft pedaling maybe how challenging it was a little bit maybe. Then that's one question. The other question I have is then how did you get through it? Did you believe that you're on the right path? How did you get through it?
Kathy Bowser: [00:26:30] [00:27:00] I was home sick and I wasn't sure in the beginning. I spent most nights sobbing. I kept up a good front during the day. I believed that, that's where I was supposed to be. There's this old saying that God didn't promise us that there wouldn't be any trouble. All God promised us is that God would be with us.
[00:27:30] [00:28:00] I kind of had that as my mantra. I kept asking through prayer and through direction with my superiors like, "Is this what's supposed to happen? You're supposed to go through this trauma, almost?" I cannot say that I got great direction from them because if you felt like you had a call, then that was god's will for you and you better stick it out. I can't say I had a great direction, but I don't know. Did it help that I had already had a bunch of problems in my young life? It toughened me up. Was I kidding myself? I don't know, honest, but I didn't stay there forever.
Mason Funk: Did you think at that point you were going to ... That this was your life. Did you think, "This is it. This is my life?"
Kathy Bowser: [00:28:30] I did not think this is my life. I thought when you're a novitiate, you're only getting started. I imagined my life teaching and therefore I could take this for a while and see what that was like because I hadn't taught. This was only the beginning. As rough as it was for me, I still hadn't done what the calling was about, which was teaching.
Mason Funk: Excuse me one second. I should get my ... Okay.
Kathy Bowser: Do you have allergies?
Mason Funk: [00:29:00] No, I'm getting over the last bit of a cold. It's been about four or five days ago. It was really bad. I just need one of these near me when I'm doing this, so that I could cough into it. Okay. At a certain point, did you finish one phase and begin another in terms of teaching?
Kathy Bowser: [00:29:30] I went out from what they called go out, which is a whole other meaning in my life now, but you go out from the novitiate on a mission and you have no say in this. You are sent to a certain convent in one of the missions. I happen to be sent back to Miami, which was wonderful because that mean I got to see my family instead of once a year, I would get to see my family once a month.
[00:30:00] [00:30:30] I went back to teach, I taught 4th grade. Loved the kids. The teaching and the children made it all really good, really good. As I was the youngest sister in the house at that time, I had the kitchen duty and the ... We called the place that you ate a refectory. You've heard that word before. Okay, good. I was responsible for those kinds of things and I like that too. I like learning how to do that and all. I enjoyed the convent life once you get out of the novitiate very much.
Mason Funk: Were you called sister something, something, something? How are you referred to?
Kathy Bowser: [00:31:00] My name as a nun was Sister Marie Kateri after Kateri Tekakwitha. Our Pope just made her a saint last year, she was not quite a saint yet. She was an Iroquois Indian, she was a Native American who became a Christian and she ended up being a virgin, which was unheard of among the Iroquois Indians. She worked with the priests that were there trying to convert everybody. She worked with them and taught children and so on.
Mason Funk: What does that mean that she ended up being a virgin?
Kathy Bowser: [00:31:30] She didn't marry. There's virgins and there's martyrs. Yeah. One of the other, you can become a saint.
Mason Funk: [00:32:00] See, this is all the [crosstalk 00:31:44] us pagans. Okay, that's great. Paint us a picture of those years kind of what was happening in the world around you, say late 60s. How much were you aware or unaware of what was happening in society at large?
Kathy Bowser: [00:32:30] While I was in the novitiate, we saw no television, we heard no radio, we read no newspaper, we saw no magazine. When President Kennedy was killed, I was scrubbing the floor. We all remember this. I was scrubbing the floor in the old sister's home and one of the sisters came and said, "I'm going to break silence to say this. The President has been shot." Of course, we all went to the chapel. That was happening.
[ 00:33:00] We were given special permission to watch his funeral, so we saw that. The war on Vietnam was going on, but we knew nothing about it. A couple of the sisters in my band, in my group had relatives in the war and so they knew a story that cousin Jimmy has been sent to Vietnam, but that's all we knew.
[00:33:30] [00:34:00] The women's rights, the sexual revolution, all of that was happening while I was in the convent and I knew nothing of it except a snippet here or there. When I was out on the mission, we were allowed to watch television one night a week, so we came to the community room altogether. You'll never believe what we watched, we watched FBI story. I really don't know why. It doesn't seem to fit with the whole religious atmosphere, but it would fit. The other show we were allowed to watch was Lawrence Welk, and so that was it. That was it.
[00:34:30] I was kneeling in the church. I was out teaching children. I was in a different parish. I was teaching 6th grade I think. I was kneeling in church at 6:00 in the morning on a regular weekday as we were getting ready for mass and the priest came out and said, "Robert Kennedy has been shot." That's all we knew, so we knew nothing about the upheaval that was occurring in our world. Sometime, you might want to ask me about my first date after I came out of the convent.
Mason Funk: How about now?
Kathy Bowser: [00:35:00] Okay. All right, after this closure, being in this 16th century, having no information, I came out of the convent. I went home to my family. I got a job teaching and a fella, a coach at one of the elementary schools I was teaching at as a substitute teacher. I didn't have my certification yet for Florida. Called and asked me out to the movies.
[00:35:30] [00:36:00] He got the number from the secretary at the school. I went out. What did we see? Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, and it was like, "What are they doing?" Then I saw a footage of things that were going on in the world while I was gone from the world. It was amazing. I miss the Beatles. There's so much. Yeah. That fellow that took me to see Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, we got in the car and he was all turned on, but I didn't know. I said to him, "Wait a minute. I was a nun." He said, "What's that? I'm Jewish." He was like, "Welcome to the world, Kathy Bowser. You've been away for too long."
Mason Funk: What caused you, at that point, to leave the ...
Kathy Bowser: [00:36:30] [00:37:00] I left the convent in 1970. What had happened in the church was that something called Vatican 2 had occurred. The Pope John XXIII called Vatican 2 and they made drastic changes. All the cardinals and bishops from all over the world came. They made drastic changes in the way the church was doing business and the way the church was doing worship and the way the church was even the way women in a church, we were considered women in the church, were to be more out in the out world rather than being so much in the convent and to take a stronger role in the area of social justice and so on.
[00:37:30] Well, that was very exciting to me and my peers. That was wonderful. The slogan the Pope used was to throw open the window of the church and let the world in, and we loved that, except that the order that I was in decided they weren't going to change. They were going to be the man in the gap. You're familiar with the Greek ... Well, I don't want to tell you all that.
[00:38:00] Anyhow, they were going to stay underground. They have changed over time, but at that point, they would only do what was required by the rules, not the spirit of the Vatican 2. Many of us left then, I wasn't the only one. There was an exodus. I left and my mom ran a halfway house for ex-nuns for a while. She did. She'd get wigs for them and outfits, because we didn't have any clothes.
Mason Funk: Okay, back up a little bit. Start the story fresh. This is all important.
Amy Bench: Can you [crosstalk 00:38:17] a little bit to your right a little bit?
Mason Funk: Me?
Amy Bench: No, her.
Mason Funk: Scooch to your right.
Amy Bench: Other right. Left. Yes, there we go. That's where you were.
Kathy Bowser: Scooch here?
Amy Bench: Yeah.
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Amy Bench: [00:38:30] That's great. Thank you.
Mason Funk: Just tell us about your mom. You mentioned giving us ...
Amy Bench: I think the cord got pulled. The mic.
Mason Funk: What's wrong with it?
Amy Bench: I don't know, but it just started ... [inaudible].
Mason Funk: Sorry. Let me just check this.
Amy Bench: It's rubbing on her shirt, so I don't [crosstalk 00:38:49].
Mason Funk: It is rubbing?
Amy Bench: Yeah.
Mason Funk: We're not getting good audio?
Amy Bench: No.
Mason Funk: [00:39:00] Well, okay, let's change that. Well, we have good audio from this mic, so it's all fine. This is like a backup.
Amy Bench: It's just periodic. It's not very ...
Mason Funk: Okay, I'm going to leave it like that.
Amy Bench: It's like rubbing against the fabric.
Kathy Bowser: Well, I don't sit still good.
Mason Funk: Yeah, I know. Believe me, nobody does. If people who think they sit still good, they're just [crosstalk 00:39:15].
Kathy Bowser: I already know I don't. That's why they got this kind of a mic for me as a pastor.
Mason Funk: [00:39:30] Right. Okay, I'm going to try something different here real quick here. You said your mom got wigs. That's what maybe I realize we needed to stop. Just tell me about how there was this exodus and you all were kind of coming out in the world and you had no hair and your mom ran a halfway house.
Kathy Bowser: I left right at the ...
Mason Funk: Tell me what you left.
Kathy Bowser: [00:40:00] I left the convent right at the Christmas break. About six months after I left, some of my friends started leaving. I invited them to Florida, because they were all Philadelphia girls. They know nothing about the beach or Florida life or anything like that.
[00:40:30] One by one, they started coming. There was an exodus at this time all across the country in convents. That wasn't unusual, but getting a trip to Florida was a big deal, so they all said, "Yes." I told my mom. I said, "Hey, Beth is coming. Mary Claire is coming." I would name these different ones and she said, "Well, what size do they wear?"
[00:41:00] Right away, mom went into action and she went. She worked in a big insurance company. She went around getting outfits, because we didn't have clothes. We didn't have secular clothes. She also got wigs for the ones who hadn't quite grown enough hair yet. We had a sewing thing going on in the living room where my mom was making all these things and adjusting them. She was great.
[00:41:30] At one time, we had like four or five staying at our little house. It looked like we were the little Santa's elves making clothes to wear and adjusting clothes to wear. They needed to get out into the world, so they started with Florida.
Mason Funk: Yeah, make sense to me. That's just got a great story. I mean it's such a time capsule. That's what I love about it. It's like a period of time when who knew ... I was 12, so I didn't know that all these women were coming out of convents.
Kathy Bowser: They were.
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] It's such an interesting little sub-chapter. Now, of course I have to ask. What was happening in this era of your life, vis-à-vis your sexuality, what were you aware of, not aware of and so on?
Kathy Bowser: When I first came out of the convent, I dated men. I had been attracted to women off and on during my life, but that it isn't ... It wasn't okay. I don't mean it was sinful or wrong. It's just that's not how the world is. Boys and girls, men and women, that's how it is.
[00:42:30] [00:43:00] I came out of the convent. I dated men and I was unaware of my sexuality until I was 30. I went with a lot of different guys. One of the fellows that I always wanted to date when I was in high school but couldn't. I went to a girls school. There were no opportunities to meet the guy, but I finally met him and I went out with him and I was so glad I hadn't actually dated him when I was in high school. I was 30 when I came out, and that was something that was amazingly shocking, but if I reflected on it and I saw the crushes that I had, had, then it made sense.
Mason Funk: [00:43:30] You mentioned in your outrageous oral talk a wild woman that you met. It was prior to Fluffy. Is that what precipitated?
Kathy Bowser: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Tell us that story. What were you doing? Where were you going [crosstalk 00:43:39]?
Kathy Bowser: [00:44:00] I was teaching in an Air City school in Miami after coming out of the convent, when I finally got a job. I transferred to a migrant labor camp and I taught in a school that was in the middle of a migrant labor camp. I was organizing all kinds of events to raise money for the migrant kids, to get food and clothing to them and so on.
[00:44:30] One of the volunteers was a woman who could drive a diesel truck. Boy was she useful because we were always hauling stuff to the migrant camp, always. Sure enough, she was a lesbian, and when she told me that and she told me what that was all about, I said, "Well, can I meet some other ones?" She took me to a gay bar.
[00:45:00] I was busy like a junior reporter going around saying, "Hi, I'm Kathy. Who are you? What's your story?" I wasn't literally taking notes in the bar. I wasn't that dumb, but I was taking notes. I got lots of information. By and by, I fell in love with this woman, and she was wild, absolutely wild.
Mason Funk: Like what?
Kathy Bowser: [00:45:30] She drove this really hot car. She drank and cussed and smoked and carried on in every which way. I hadn't done that. I did it when I was a teenager, when you're being rebellious, but I didn't. She was an aggressive lover and taught me a whole lot. We were together seven or eight years.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] What did you look like in these years? Were you like a newly liberated hippy? Were you still quite prim and proper? Where were you in the style spectrum as women go?
Kathy Bowser: [00:46:30] I looked like … I was very girly. Yeah, but I was girly in that I had long ... Once you get to grow your hair, you grow it. I had long hair and I had whatever the latest was I had it, but it was always ... It was girly in that way, but it was a little bit on the tailored side. I didn't do ruffles or any of that. I think probably I was sort of average looking.
Mason Funk: You weren't like a newly liberated hippy.
Kathy Bowser: No, no, I wasn't a hippy.
Mason Funk: Really, you're teaching in a migrant labor school where there were probably a lot of social justice. I'm just making [crosstalk 00:46:51].
Kathy Bowser: No. I didn't ever hear of Birkenstocks till not ...
Mason Funk: [00:47:00] Okay. That wasn't your set. Okay, good. I just have this pictures of ... Maybe you just came out and really went to the opposite end of the spectrum.
Kathy Bowser: No, I did not. With a mom like my mom who was so conscious of the way you dress and everything, I wouldn't do that. This girl and I took a year off of work and ...
Mason Funk: Is she a name that you [crosstalk 00:47:22].
Kathy Bowser: Yes, Paula.
Mason Funk: Say, "This woman I met ..."
Kathy Bowser: [00:47:30] This woman I met, Paula and I, after we became lovers, we decided that we wanted to travel around the country in a van. Now, that sounds hippie. We both took a year off of teaching. She taught in one school, I taught on another and we did. We worked wherever we landed, we waited tables, we washed cars. We went all over the country and we camped all over the country. She was wild in that way. Came up with those kinds of things.
Mason Funk: What did your mom think of all this?
Kathy Bowser: [00:48:00] [00:48:30] After I had been with Paula, who was the first woman I was with, after I had been with her about four or five years, I felt like I had to tell somebody what was going on. I did not tell my mother first, I told my father first. I always have wondered about that. I think I knew my father was very worldly person. Worldly is the opposite of being in the convent.
[00:49:00] He knew the world, he, you know, been around. I wasn't sure mom had all that worldliness. I told my father and he said, "Don't tell your mother." I waited a little while longer to tell mom. I told my sister and my sister was great. My dad was okay. Then he and Paula, the woman I was with, went out and had a beer together, so I thought that's okay. That shows that this is fine.
[00:49:30] I finally told my mother and she said, "I don't approve, but I will accept it because you're my daughter, so I will accept it, you're a lesbian, but I don't approve." She couldn't stand Paul. She really couldn't stand Paula. I don't think she blamed her for anything. It's just that she could never bring herself to like that woman.
Mason Funk: How did you react to that?
Kathy Bowser: How did I react to that?
Mason Funk: When your mom gave you that … those statements, about her reactions, how did you react?
Kathy Bowser: [00:50:00] I think at that time, I understood that. My mom always had expectations, she did. She had expectations about a lot of things, about life and what you should be doing. Even though she could be wild and crazy, it was within a certain range of normalcy.
[00:50:30] I said, "Okay, fine. Do you want to come to our house? Do you want to hang out with us?" She said she needed some time to think about it. Eventually, she came around enough to participate and things with us and come over for a dinner, whatever. I can't say it was strange for my mother over that. It was just a little uncomfortable for quite a while actually, a couple years.
Mason Funk: Then what happened in the end with Paula? How did it all come to an end?
Kathy Bowser: [00:51:00] We came ...
Mason Funk: Say, "Paula and I ..."
Kathy Bowser: [00:51:30] [00:52:00] Paula and I moved to Houston from Florida and I started a job, she started a job. She did not like the amount of time that I put in at work. She wanted me home and I had found an incredibly wonderful job to do. That was exciting and I had no trouble work until 8:00 or 9:00, I loved it, and that wasn't okay. We came to the place where we split. I got a promotion and I went to Fort Worth on that promotion and she stayed in Houston. That's what happened to us. She didn't love her job as much as I love my job, so she was sitting home waiting for me and that wasn’t okay.
Mason Funk: Were you okay with that?
Kathy Bowser: [00:52:30] It was one more new adventure. Who knew, Fort Worth? I had no idea. At least this time I knew what the work would be like. Yes, I was okay with that, because I think I was the one who made the split. It seems to me that the one who leaves is usually okay faster than the one who gets left. I did have a lot of concerns about her and we did keep in touch sort of. I think we have visited over the years every now and then. We're okay with each other.
Mason Funk: [00:53:00] This is kind of tangential, but is she still kind of that loud woman?
Kathy Bowser: Paula has settled down unbelievably. Far more settled than I am, so yeah, that's kind of interesting that you've asked that question.
Mason Funk: [00:53:30] Interesting. Love those stories. Okay. My goodness, this is all great. We're covering a lot of territory thanks to you, because you're telling good stories, but again you keep the story moving. That's great because that means we can cover more territory. How did your faith in a day and day sense evolved after you left convent life and the order?
Kathy Bowser: [00:54:00] After I left the convent, I was still a Catholic. I went to mass at my local parish. Then I started volunteering in the migrant labor camp. I started a Sunday school there for the kids and I recruited teachers for it and all of that. I was very involved in Catholicism. I also helped out in a couple of the other missions, the migrant missions within the church.
[00:54:30] Then one day after I met Paula and Paula and I were together, I read the section in the equivalent of the Book of Discipline about the Catholic teaching on homosexuality. And like, I quite like that. I said, "No, it's not for me. If this church can't have me, then I can't have it."
[00:55:00] Actually, I stopped going to church altogether. I visited a couple of other churches for a while, but I really was angry with the church. I was very angry with church. I mean it was a totally male-dominated, it was totally judgmental, it was harmful to people who were gay and I left. I stayed away from church for almost 30 years. Yeah.
[00:55:30] That anger propelled many of my decisions about would I ever go back to church. I had decided, "No, I was not going to do that. I was going to live my life." I would continue, and prayer and contemplation on my own. I would, eventually, practice Buddhist meditation for a while. I think that's kind of the path a lot of people take.
Mason Funk: When you say that anger propelled many of your decisions, can you just give us an example or two of like decisions that you feel like were fueled by that anger?
Kathy Bowser: When Fluffy and I got together ... Fluffy is the grandchild of a Presbyterian preacher.
Mason Funk: [00:56:00] Just start fresh and say ... Introduce Fluffy.
Kathy Bowser: [00:56:30] Years, years later, I met Fluffy. Fluffy and I came together and we made commitments to each other. She is the granddaughter of a presbyterian preacher and the daughter of a mom who sang in the choir every Sunday and who was head of the Presbyterian Women and all that, so she had a rich church background throughout her life. She still went to church when we got together.
[00:57:00] After we were together a couple of years, she asked me to go to church. Fluffy asked me to go to church with her and I said, "I don't do church." That little bugger, she said to me, "You could make the sacrifice." She actually used Catholic words who could make the sacrifice. It stunned me because nobody ever said that to me since I left the convent.
[00:57:30] I was like, "Well, yeah, I guess I could." I mean, I could go to church, I just can't go to Catholic Church right now. We went to church a few times and whenever she wanted to go to church, I made the sacrifice and went. That was one of the decisions, the anger that I have, but then Fluffy changed it.
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] I have a lot of anger myself from my religious background, so I guess I am just curious to explore that even more, because I'm curious to myself sometimes like, "Why are you still so angry?" I'm curious if you can ... This isn't about me, this is about you. Can you just talk a bit more about the anger? You mentioned a few of the specific things. How did it feel to be ... Where did it come from and how did it feel, the anger, of course, the church?
Kathy Bowser: [00:58:30] My anger at the church was based on rejection, I'm sure. The church that I loved, the church that I was willing to give my life to, the church that I served. Not only in the convent, but when I came out. I could have done anything, but I continued to work for the church for free, as a volunteer. The actual religious practices that were so much a part of my spiritual growth and development.
[00:59:00] They told me God didn't love me. They told me God who I knew better ... They decreed that I was going to go to hell. Well, I don't believe in hell anyhow, but they decreed I was wrong as a person. My whole being was wrong. The anger welled up constantly. I had feelings of hate in my body when a priest would even speak to me after all that happened.
[00:59:30] If I read something in the paper about what the Pope said, this anger would start to bubble up. I felt helpless with it, because what could I ever do to change this organization that's been around for a couple of thousands years and women aren't allowed to have a voice in? There was so much stuff there.
[01:00:00] The wealth of the church made me angry when I worked in the migrant labor camp. Even though I was working for the church, even though, it was like, "How can you be guys be driving those kind of cars? How can you guys had those fabulous homes when here are these little children? You're supposed to be church guys." I'm speaking of the priest when I was saying at.
There was a lot. There were layers and layers of it. I guess it's a combination of rejection and them telling me how God felt and how God was, and then my own helplessness to make it change and make them love me like I used to be loved.
Mason Funk: [01:00:30] Great. Thank you for that. Now, you did say that you continue with the practices with prayer and meditation on your own. As far as you're concerned, your relationship with God hadn't changed. Is that correct?
Kathy Bowser: [01:01:00] My relationship with God has changed because I've changed. It's much, much better than it was certainly when I was 24 or 26. It's better than it was when I was 50 and wasn't doing church. It's better than it was last year. The relationship with God is an understanding that we have of how God and we are in this together. This thing called life. How we are making things happen in a certain way inside and outside. That is much clearer to me today than it was back then.
Mason Funk: [01:01:30] Okay, great. Fantastic. Okay. I think in your outrageous oral, I wrote down a note here that says, "Silence and pretending." Yeah, I remember it. You stayed closeted for quite a long time and then you made a choice not to be closeted in that same way anymore. I wonder if you can talk about that throughout in our life.
Kathy Bowser: [01:02:00] In closet and out of closet?
Mason Funk: Yeah, because I think you said that happened when you were 50.
Kathy Bowser: [01:02:30] I was in the closet when I left the convent. I remained in the closet until I was about 50. All of my teaching required it by the job. When I worked for the March of Dimes, it certainly was not required, but I felt like I wouldn't get promoted, I wouldn't move along. I would lose credibility, so I remained very much closeted.
When I went to work for the American Heart Association, at their national office there in Dallas, I toyed with the idea of coming out, but I thought after I got to know the organization, they were far more conservative as an organization than the March of Dimes had been, so I continued to be closeted.
[01:03:00] [01:03:30] When I was about 50, I was supervising some younger staff in their late 20s, early 30s. One of them said to me one day, "Kathy, you're 50. Come on out." She was not gay. She just knew who I was and talked to me that way and I went, "Yeah, right. It's almost half over." I came out. I came out at work.
Mason Funk: How did you do that?
Kathy Bowser: I went to my boss first. He was a marvelous mentor and a wonderful ... He and his wife and Fluffy and I still get together for dinner or lunch every couple of months and I went to him and I told him. He said, "Yeah. Okay, fine. What's the big deal here?"
Mason Funk: Did you go to that meeting with trepidation?
Kathy Bowser: Absolutely.
Mason Funk: Tell me that in more detail.
Kathy Bowser: [01:04:00] Okay. Well, I asked him for an appointment.
Mason Funk: "Asked my boss."
Kathy Bowser: [01:04:30] I asked my boss for the appointment. His name was the same name as the Pope at the time, which was kind of scary when you go back into my innards, John Paul. I asked John Paul for an appointment to see him because I had something really important to talk about and I was very nervous about it. I was wondering what that would mean because the position I was in was a good position, but still I had ambition and I wanted to be promoted.
[01:05:00] I talked to Fluffy. "This is what I'm intending to say." Fluffy the diplomat that she is probably polished what I was going to say. I sat down with him and I said, "Really, have something really big to tell you." I don't know what the policy is around here because I've never asked, but I'm gay. That was when he said, "Yeah, okay, so what's the big deal?"
[01:05:30] Then he went on to ... It is because he's a marvelous man. He said, "I really don't understand how that feels to be like that any better than I know how it feels to be African American or Hispanic in this world." He said, "But we have several staff and those who are out, I'll tell you and you can go talk to them." And I did. One of them was our corporate council, which was huge. He was up in the executive offices, so I thought, "Oh, it's not bad at all. It's not bad at all."
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] Great. Now, you had that really successful career. Give us an overview of your professional life in March of Dimes, Heart Association, not too much. Just give us an overview of that real quick.
Kathy Bowser: [01:06:30] I started in the March of Dimes when I was living in Houston. Loved it. I was responsible for raising money, and I did that through what used to be called Walk America. I was the coordinator of Walk America, 8000, 9000 people coming to raise money and I was responsible for organizing the whole thing, which was hugely fun. I loved it.
[01:07:00] I was also responsible for raising money through a number of other smaller events, I did that. Got promoted, became the executive director in Fort Worth. I was responsible for the whole thing. When I took, this is the story, when I took over in Fort Worth, we were of the number of chapters in this region. We were number 57 and I took it to number one, And I love doing that. I loved it.
[01:07:30] Then I did a merger of all the chapters in North Texas and made the North Texas Chapter, which meant that there was lot of really tough decisions to make. When you reorganize and when you merge, there's a lot of personnel issues. Then you have another layer of the volunteers dealing with the volunteers and helping them see how this is going to be good for them, because it doesn't sound good at all.
[01:08:00] I did all of that for a number of years. I got the opportunity for a position at the American Heart Association at their national office. That sounded cool, being at the national office, Hmm! That sounds great. Went there and that was the first time that I was given 10 affiliate organizations to travel to and to bring the good word from the national office to them.
[01:08:30] I'm here to help. I'm from the national office, that kind of a job. I did that for a number of years. I had a couple of other jobs while I was there, but that was the one that I enjoyed the most. Then the March of Dimes asked me to come back. The chief operating officer and I had kept in touch forever, and she called and sure enough I was very much in the mood to come back to the field, so I did. I traveled states again, but I was responsible for about $50 million of income from the field.
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] When did you then leave the March of Dimes, retire from ...
Kathy Bowser: I retired from the March of Dimes in 2009, but I was already a pastor at that point.
Mason Funk: Do me a favor. We're going to get to the pastor. Just basically say, "In the end, I retired from March of Dimes." [Crosstalk 01:09:12].
Kathy Bowser: [01:09:30] I retired from the March of Dimes. My total number of years with the March of Dimes is 25 and so I retired from there. Amid weeping and gnashing of teeth, that was as hard a decision as leaving the convent. It was really tough. I remember they had this big party for me and they had all these people coming in from all the chapters that I was responsible for and they all made speeches and I'm just ...
[01:10:00] [01:10:30] The next day, we had a big staff meeting and I couldn't stand it. I went to the regional vice president and I said, "I'm going home now. I cannot face any more people anymore." The March of Dimes was a place where I think I figured out who I was. I don't mean gay, lesbian, straight, none of that. Who I was in the work world, as a leader, an organizer. Someone who could bring people together around a task that's worth doing and to do it really, really well. Perhaps the best. That was very exciting, but leaving was very hard.
Mason Funk: Okay, but by now, as you're about to say earlier, you had taken on this completely different role, so how did ... Tell us a story about the church ... Wait, the celebration by the lake and how you ...
Kathy Bowser: Celebration On The Lake.
Mason Funk: [Crosstalk 01:10:51].
Kathy Bowser: You were close. You were close.
Mason Funk: Yeah, sorry, but tell us how you have that church started and how you became their first pastor.
Kathy Bowser: [01:11:00] Fluffy and I both had a dream of being by the water. Living in the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth, it's really hard to be by the water. We also had some friends that had a little lake place down on Cedar Creek Lake. We would go down on the special holidays like Memorial Weekend, Fourth of July with a couple of girls that we knew, a couple women we knew and we would hang out with them and we would just go looking at empty houses to buy one.
[01:11:30] One day, I was in a meeting and a whole different organization, one of my volunteer things I was doing. The next store gal down at the lake comes rushing into the meeting because she was a member of the same committee and she said, "The Colonel died." Now, the Colonel was the one who owned the house next to them, so we rushed down to the lake.
[01:12:00] We had payphones in those days. I had rushed out of the meeting and called Fluffy from the meeting and say, "The Colonel died. That means that house is open." That Saturday, we went down to the lake. We bought the lake house and we had a circle of friends that we talked into also buying lake houses.
[01:12:30] What happened was we weren't going to church because we were there on the weekends. We had written a goal to spend more time at the lake and a goal to go to church, and they did not match. This part of Texas, my choices on church, would never ever want us in their church.
[01:13:00] We invited Reverend Carol West who also happened to have a lake house down there to start a church, and so she did. She said yes, her board said okay. She came down, started a church in a little storefront. We paid $450 a month for the rental of that little tiny space and all the couples who attended that church took turns paying that rent.
[01:13:30] [01:14:00] That's how Celebration On The Lake Church started. Carol West stayed with this for two and a half years. It was too much, she had a church of over 600 in Fort Worth, and a church with 25 in Gun Barrel City, Texas. She said she was going to have to stop doing that. The congregation called me as their pastor because they knew I had been on and they figured I knew what church was all about, but the truth is, nuns, least of all, had a chance to do anything with church when it came to worship time. That was all the priest thing, we just didn't have anything to do with it. We didn't even do the readings, we didn't do any of that.
[01:14:30] I had to learn by doing. I remember when I would be writing my sermon, when I'm traveling all over the country, because I was still working for the March of Dimes. I was writing my sermons at 4:00 in the morning in a hotel room somewhere and I would be so excited with what I had written and I would tell Fluffy about it when I got home. She said, "Maybe you should mention God in that." I was doing terrible, but they were still coming, people still came.
Mason Funk: You did mention that the congregation immediately shrank quite a bit.
Kathy Bowser: [01:15:00] Immediately. After Carol West left. This is typical, but we weren't big enough to have this happen. We were maybe now at 35 members at that point. Our church went down to nine. That was very scary. There we were paying for this little rental place. We had enough people to stand around the altar at communion time, it was just nine.
[01:15:30] We made a decision. "Shall we let this go or shall we try to build it?" The choice was we ended up trying to build it. Once again, I wanted to be a priest since I was a kid practically and there I was doing it, so it was no question. Did God called me to do that? Absolutely. It just took God a while to arrange things so I could.
Amy Bench: The airplane.
Mason Funk: [01:16:00] Oh, okay. We're going to pause. Then we'll going to head into- ... Let's see here for a second. It's diminishing. It's going away. I think it might have been a jet.
Amy Bench: Oh, okay.
Mason Funk: Okay. All right. We're speeding again?
Amy Bench: We're speeding.
Mason Funk: Great. I'm curious to know why did people at Celebration On The Lake thought you would be ... I know that you were a nun, but there must have been other reasons they thought you were going to be a good pastor.
Kathy Bowser: [01:16:30] Actually, before Carol West left us, she started inviting me ...
Mason Funk: Say, "Before Carol West left as pastor of Celebration ..."
Kathy Bowser: Okay. Before Carol West left as pastor of Celebration On The Lake Church, she started inviting me to help with saying the words of communion and distributing communion. Or once in a while, she would ask me to preach for her because her responsibilities up in Fort Worth were just too much.
[01:17:00] [01:17:30] At least they knew I knew how to do the ... The congregation knew. I knew how to do those things and I must have been okay at it, but years later, as I was talking to one of the folks that had been around in those days, I said, "I guess I wasn't very good at preaching." She said, "You are terrible." It was good enough. I was good enough for this little group of people that wanted to have a church at the lake.
Mason Funk: Now, I'm curious because you, on one hand, mentioned that you would write your sermon, come back and Fluffy would say, "Maybe you want to mention God." But you are also serving communion, which is pretty religious and there's a lot of God in ...
Kathy Bowser: [01:18:00] Yeah, that's a really good point. Our church, because it was made up of weekenders, you had a little place at the lake, had a broad spectrum of religious traditions. When we established the church in order for no one to be offended, we said we were an interfaith church. We and in our sermons, we didn't always talk about Jesus. We kind of stayed away from a whole lot of Christian talk.
[01:18:30] [01:19:00] In our founder group, we had a Jewish member, we had a Buddhist member, we had a Unitarian. We had a couple of Unitarians actually, and that would made them uncomfortable. We usually preach from the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew scriptures. We walked that line of bringing everybody together because of their desire to worship God, but not being exclusively Christian. I would walk that line in my sermons for years until I went to seminary and everything changed.
Mason Funk: Okay. We'll get to that in a second, because I didn't know about that, but when you served communion then, what was the understanding of what was happening when you served communion?
Kathy Bowser: [01:19:30] My understanding when I was serving communion was that we were remembering Jesus's last supper and the way that he loves so much he was willing to pour out his life blood for the sake of his principles. He loved people that much. We went ahead and did that and those who didn't believe would come up and just ask for a prayer. They made this that they were not going to receive.
[01:20:00] [01:20:30] That didn't seem to upset anybody. I think that's because our founding pastor, Carol West, started that way. If Easter came, we did read the Easter gospel. When Christmas came, I promise you we did Christmas. It was a little bit not schizophrenic, but it was a little bit, I don't know, back and forth on who we were exactly. We recognized the five major religions of the world and we invited speakers in from those five major religions to talk to us about their traditions.
Mason Funk: Okay. Now, we interviewed down ... We're down in Gun Barrel City as you know. We interviewed Jim Gribbon.
Kathy Bowser: Jim Gribbon?
Mason Funk: [01:21:00] He told us a whole bunch of stories about the church. Well, I guess what I'm building up to is how did your church, the Celebration On The Lake, how did it relate to the other churches in the community? Paint us a picture of the community in which this church is embedded and the other churches, like 50 in a row on both sides of the road, and how this all worked and whether people just thought of you all as wackadoodles or something else.
Kathy Bowser: [01:21:30] When we were in the strip mall, we actually raised enough money to buy land. Carol West was still our pastor then and then she left shortly after that. We put up a sign on that land, which was practically across the street from a Methodist Church that we were coming soon. The name of the church, we're coming soon. We're going to build something here was our promise to the community.
[01:22:00] [01:22:30] We got an email from a woman who was an elder from that Methodist Church and she said, "We want to help. We want to help." We thought, "Oh, sure. Yeah, sure." They contacted us. I and the chairman of the board of our church and all that went over and met with the Methodists. This was one particular Methodist Church and they said, "We realized how many gays and lesbians live around this Cedar Creek Lake. We also want to be supportive of you having your own church. In the meantime, we'll let you have church in our building and you can save more money because you're still paying rent."
[01:23:00] The chairman and I talked about that and we felt it was really important for us to be outside. To have our own establishment because we were afraid we would disappear into the Methodist Church and it would just be a program of the Methodist because they're nice people, and so we stayed out. But, after we built our church and there it was in this field of three and a half acres, and after we built it, we went back to those Methodist folks and said, "You know, let's all get together and make a Christmas thing."
[01:23:30] I'm sure that if you talk to Jim Gribbon, you heard all about the Christmas cantata from A to Z, but we did. We got five other churches to join us and it was quite an extravaganza. Yeah. We felt very, not only proud, but like we were doing the work of God, even getting the churches that would not let us be leaders. The Methodists are still dealing with that.
[01:24:00] The Presbyterians were a little uncomfortable with us, but we actually were the ones who were the catalysts for making this wonderful thing happen for the community. Let alone, Celebration On The Lake Church. That was an incredible experience for all of us.
Mason Funk: How do you think that affected the community as a whole that the so called gay church ...
Kathy Bowser: Yeah, the so called gay ...
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] ... was the one that brought various denominations and congregations together to make a Christmas presentation, the Christmas, the birth of Jesus, down the story of the birth of Jesus? What impact do you think that had on the community, the grassroots of that area?
Kathy Bowser: [01:25:00] Here is a thing about that lake area is that all of those other churches, except for a very few, are on the extremely conservative end of the spectrum of churches. Because of those denominations being so conservative, the people there, I promise you, will not change their minds any more than they have changed their minds for the past 50 years.
[01:25:30] I don't think we made any difference to those churches. I think the inroads we made within the Methodists and within the Presbyterians was very, very good because some of those relationships are still going on and are still ... We had been invited to their special events. We had been invited to participate when they would do community wide thing, our church was invited to be part of that. I think that made a huge difference and they got to know us as individuals, which that always makes a difference when it comes to how people feel about gays and lesbians.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] Great. Are there any stories you can remember of the church playing just a pivotal role at the level of individual people, finding a place, maybe healing a relationship with God, with religion? I just would love to hear. I'm sure there's some memorable stories.
Kathy Bowser: [01:26:30] One Sunday, when we were in the process of actually building the building, and only the shell of the building existed on our piece of property. We were still meeting in the storefront place, but we had said to everybody, " Let's make a field trip after the service today. Let's go over to our new location." I hope I don't cry telling you this. Paper towel?
Amy Bench: [01:27:00] Yeah. It's good.
Kathy Bowser: I actually have Kleenex.
Mason Funk: You have Kleenex?
Kathy Bowser: I'm fine.
Mason Funk: The paper towel is here.
Kathy Bowser: Thanks.
Mason Funk: I felt myself start to cry before you even started talking, so anyway, why don't I just do with my phone. Okay. Carry on.
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Mason Funk: It's okay.
Kathy Bowser: [01:27:30] Do I need to start all over?
Mason Funk: Yeah.
Kathy Bowser: Okay. Then let me have another minute.
Mason Funk: You can just keep that in your hand.
Kathy Bowser: Huh?
Mason Funk: You want to keep it in your hand just in case?
Kathy Bowser: Do what?
Mason Funk: You want to keep the Kleenex in your hand just in case?
Kathy Bowser: [01:28:00] Yeah, that's probably a good idea and we'll have to wiggle all over. Okay. One Sunday while we were building our church and only the shell was up yet. The concrete floor was laid and the steel walls were up. Even the insulation wasn't in place yet. We said, "Let's all make a pilgrimage over to our new church building right after the service." Everybody agreed to do that.
[01:28:30] [01:29:00] We made a little caravan. It wasn't that far, it's a small town. We arrived at the church building and we all went in. This was a feeling of awe for this group. We looked around and we had a window cut in the steel wall, huge, where we were going to put a stained glass symbol of our church, and that was, of course, wide open and just you could see the sky.
[01:29:30] [01:30:00] We stood there looking up at the sky and a couple of the choir members began singing acapella. We're standing on holy ground, and I want you to know, not a dry eye in the place. We had one or two straight members of our church. One of them came up and she said, "In all my life, I have never had the experience walking across a threshold as I did walking into this building where I felt absolutely embraced by God." We all lost it on that, and she was straight. What that meant to our people, amazing. Cut.
[01:30:30] [01:31:00] [01:31:30] I think since I had never experienced a great deal of discrimination or pain, I had a good career, successful. I had a wonderful wife. My family eventually more than accepted me, my mother embraced the gay life. I didn't realize the depth of pain and the loss of personhood that many of the people sitting in that church had experienced, and that changed as I was their pastor. Cut again. I'm sorry. Okay. We might have to put some new powder on.
Amy Bench: Okay.
Kathy Bowser: Can I go blow?
Mason Funk: I have to ask you one more question. Well, just weather it, okay?
Kathy Bowser: Okay.
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] It's okay to cry, but I'm not a psychologist or a therapist, but I just wonder if some of those tears, in fact, are for your own journey, for your own healing of what was a very complicated relationship over your lifetime.
Kathy Bowser: [01:32:30] [01:33:00] It was about the people. I felt when I was pastor, once I realized who the congregation was and what they had been through once I internalized their stories, it was about the people. I loved being with them when they were in trouble, I went to the jail, I went to the hospital, I went to the deathbed. I went to the family who had spurned them. That was a mission because these people were wonderful people.
[01:33:30] Mostly, their families and their churches and their organizations that should have embraced them had rejected them, and they were suffering. Perhaps, I was finally over my anger, perhaps all of that occurred at the same time, but if anybody were to ask me, "What do you miss about being pastor?" I miss the people. I miss it. I miss preaching too, but I miss the people. Those people got to me in a way that I will never forget.
[01:34:00] One time, when you're in a small church like that, you know who the visitors are. One time, this guy came in and he was a ... He seemed like a really nice guy. It was his first time, so I did the typical pastor thing at the end of the service. I would go to the back and shake hands and wait for them to say how good the sermon was, and he started weeping. I said, "I don't know why I've denied myself church for so long."
[01:34:30] [01:35:00] He was a big community leader. He had stayed away from church. He was 60 something and stayed away for church since he was still 12 or 13 year old. In those moments, it was no question about the purpose of this church in this community for these people. That was probably … I would say that would be the ultimate purpose of my life, I think, to do that. To make that happen and to end it. That was very important, to end it, because at 70, you just don't have the fire in your belly that you had when you were 50, so it was important that I move on.
Mason Funk: [01:35:30] That's really wonderful. Thank you for all of that, very generous of you. Let's talk about your work today with the Coalition for Aging LGBT. I'm not sure the exact name, but tell us about that work and the importance of that work.
Kathy Bowser: [01:36:00] One of the things that's happening all across the world right now is the baby boomers. It's not just happening in the United States, it's happening all across the board where this huge number of people are going to be elderly, and the world isn't ready for it.
[01:36:30] Well, I would say that in the LGBT community, we're probably the least aware and the least ready. One of the things about that is that we have weathered pretty much the AIDS crisis, and we were not thinking about getting old. We were thinking about just living whether it was our friends or relatives or our pals.
[01:37:00] This whole idea that we might age and we might become people who are in need of certain kinds of services that we never needed before is not on top of mind for any of us. A few years ago, a couple of years ago, the White House invited our founder, Cannon Flowers, to come to a summit on LGBT aging. You don't want to hear about that.
Mason Funk: I do, but I want you to say our founder, but you haven't said the founder of what yet. Just back up to a couple years ago, the White House.
Kathy Bowser: [01:37:30] [01:38:00] A couple years ago, the White House held a summit on LGBT aging and invited the founder of the Coalition for Aging LGBT, Cannon Flowers. He's the founder here. They invited him to come and to hear about and to talk about with other leaders from across the country what can we do about this situation, because even though we lost thousands and thousands and thousands to AIDS, we still have a whole bunch more people who are going to age.
[01:38:30] He went to the White House Conference and then President Obama said, "This isn't something you could build buildings to get out of. You cannot build your way out of this crisis that's going to happen in your community." When Cannon came back from that summit, he decided to do another summit to just begin raise awareness in our community that, "Guess what folks, we're in our 60s, 70s, 80s. Even though we fought the fight during AIDS, we had survived. Now, what are we going to do?"
[01:39:00] He held a summit. Fluffy and I attended the summit. Fluffy had been a long time volunteer with the Alzheimer's Association and she became a staff person there, so we got this invitation. We went. We were amazed to learn the number of people in North Texas, about 200,000 LGBT people who are in the aging adult category.
[01:39:30] The fact that most of the housing for seniors, most of the healthcare for seniors, most of the social spaces that we went to when we were younger we don't want to anymore or we can't get there. Our world was going to change drastically and we had done nothing for it.
[01:40:00] Our whole focus had been pretty much on AIDS. Once you get to be 55 or more, you're kind of not really in the community as a full active person anymore, so what do you do? What do you do with life? How do you prepare for the way you're going to live and so on?
[01:40:30] I was invited to be on the board and I went on the board and I made one condition. This time in my life, I'm not volunteering at Dallas. I'm volunteering in Fort Worth and Tarrant County. If you want me to do this, that's what I'm going to do. That's where we went and we had our own summit in November, this past November, which was attended by about 150 people and we had the Mayor's Office opened the meeting with a welcome.
[01:41:00] We were getting inroads into the power centers and the influence centers. We raised about $7000 or $8000 from corporate sponsorship. We had 23 panelists and speakers. It was the first time our community really looked at, "This is where we're going folks and what are we going to do about it?"
[01:41:30] We are establishing a number of programs and projects in the Fort Worth-Tarrant County area. Dallas has the resource center and there is an aging, I suppose, survivor group called Gray Pride. We are partnering with them to work with that group and to create social spaces for older LGBT folks, but we have to pretty much create that from scratch in the Fort Worth area, which is what we're doing.
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] Just talk about more. We're just trying to talk to various people about this to elucidate what are some of those particular challenges. You mentioned housing, but in terms of cultural competency, which is [crosstalk 01:42:11] bureaucrats.
Kathy Bowser: [01:42:30] The big projects that we're working on currently, that CFA LGBT, the Coalition For Aging LGBT is working on right now is a copy sort of, of what the human rights campaign does. We are wanting to give an equality index to senior living facilities and LGBT competency.
[01:43:00] We have a survey that we've developed an assessment tool that we worked with HRC to develop. We are enlisting nursing homes and home healthcare agencies and participating. Then we will say, "This is A. This is B. This is C."
For instance, if you were to say, "Oh gosh, Kathy, I need to get my ..." I don't know if your husband is older, but my older husband to some physical therapy and he needs to be, maybe, in a nursing home or something. What one would you recommend, we would be able to recommend that. We cannot today. We have no idea.
[01:43:30] Since we are in Texas, the Department of Human Services has a list of people in Texas that cannot be discriminated against. Are we in it? No. There's a whole bunch of work we need to do at the advocacy and legislative area, which again is one of the functions of the coalition. We're not there.
[01:44:00] [01:44:30] A nursing home can say, " Sorry, you can't come here," and that's fine in Texas. I understand in California that in all of the nursing homes, every staff person has to take a course in LGBT. It's probably a computerized thing. LGBT competency every year. We want that for Texas, but we're far, far away from that, but that's huge. We can't build all the buildings that we need to take care of all these people, so what we have to do is change what's happening.
Mason Funk: Great. Thank you for all of that. Now, there are three people you got. You said, "Mason, it's too hard." To think about the three people you would want to talk about.
Kathy Bowser: I wanted 12.
Mason Funk: [01:45:00] I know. Well, we have a few minutes and I want to give you time to talk about ... First, let me ask you this. Have we covered everything that you would say is important to cover about your story? Have we left anything out? You might wake up still tonight and go, "I didn't talk about this." As far as you can tell, have we covered it?
Kathy Bowser: It's getting off. We don't have enough time to cover all my story. I'm old, right?
Mason Funk: Yeah, exactly. Okay, but we've covered a decent chunk?
Kathy Bowser: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay. Let's talk about some people that you wanted to talk about for their roles here in Dallas starting with Pridge , but give her full name.
Kathy Bowser: [01:45:30] Evie Lou Pridgen. Evie Lou Pridgen was the director of Team Occasions at Oak Lawn Community Services when I became a volunteer there in Dallas. Oak Lawn Community Services had started as Oak Lawn Counseling Center. It was a counseling center for LGBT people.
[01:46:00] When the AIDS crisis came, they quickly move. They realized they had to move into offering a myriad of services. Evie Lou Pridgen was the director of communications there, but in an organization like that when you're the director of communications, you get to do everything. This woman was tireless, but the thing that she would be at every meeting, she never ever .... I don't know when she slept. She was involved.
[01:46:30] We had … One of the programs that Oak Lawn Community Services had was the Buddy Program and she'd be trying to recruit people for the Buddy Program even though that wasn't really the responsibility. She was passionate about taking care of these guys. She had a wide circle of friends who were involved in cooking dinner for the AIDS house.
[01:47:00] The AIDS house in those days was an old house. It had beds in it and it was a two-storey. People in Evie Lou's circle were cooking dinner for these guys, taking it over. Her partner was a nurse, a pediatric nurse, and she was involved in the beginnings of O'Brien House.
[01:47:30] [01:48:00] She was a strong, passionate, committed person. She never would let you get away with not doing the thing you had committed to do, which is really, really important. I remember she was staff, I was on the board, but I remember that she didn't ... Some staff who were silent at board meetings. She would challenge you if you had something that ... Because you didn't know the community the way she knew it, so I have admired Evie Lou Pridgen, also called Pridge, forever. She's still doing good work. I think she's president of The Dallas Way now, right? Yeah, she's pretty wonderful.
Mason Funk: [01:48:30] Now, Carol West, you've talked some about her, but give us a sketch of Carol and what you think her particular gifts have been.
Kathy Bowser: [01:49:00] I first ran into Carol West before I was willing to go back to church. She was one of the many ministers at the Cathedral of Hope when it was not its beautiful self. I ran into her at functions and meetings. Carol West has a charisma about her and she has a way of listening intently and remembering what you tell her.
[01:49:30] She took over a church in Fort Worth. I'm going to say it was about 20 years ago that had maybe 30 members, and She raised money, she recruited people, she attracted members, now that church is about 600 members. I have always admired her. She always has been what they used to say in seminary was a public theologian. You know it wasn't just being a theologian in the church, in your preaching, but being out there.
[01:50:00] She would be at marches, she would be leading, whatever it was that our community was doing, Carol West is in the midst of it. Publicly and unabashedly reminding us that we are also God's beloved children. Another person I’ve admired forever.
Mason Funk: Great. Then Mary Mallory.
Kathy Bowser: I'm sorry?
Mason Funk: Mary Mallory.
Kathy Bowser: [01:50:30] Oh, Mary Mallory. Okay. I met Mary Mallory. She was the owner of the house that we used to visit at the lake. She was co-owner, the group of lesbians that owned that house. I met Mary Mallory through parties at the lake. Then I discovered the kind of work that she was doing in the community.
[01:51:00] [01:51:30] When I mentioned that Pridge's partner was the nurse at [Bryan 01:51:02], that would be Mary Mallory. Mary was, is still an organizer. Unbelievable. She was one of the first ones to be involved with the Black Tie Dallas, she was on the board. She was on the committee, she became co-chairman. She grew it. She went to Fort Worth and organized a group in Fort Worth that would attend the Black Tie and would participate in the organization of it and everything.
[01:52:00] Mary adopted a baby from China, and her daughter is now in college. Mary has had an impact that will go on and on and on. I admire her ability in such a lady like Southern way to ask people for money. She's really good at that, so I admire her.
Mason Funk: Great. Amy, it's her turn. She gets to ask a few questions as well. She's been sitting up, but you're going to answer me. You're going to hear the questions [crosstalk 01:52:21].
Kathy Bowser: Alright.
Amy Bench: [01:52:30] You touched on it a little bit. I think the first question you came out to was your dad and then your sister. Maybe I'll tell you and then ...
Mason Funk: Okay.
Amy Bench: Okay. Your dad, your sister. How did your sister respond? You also mentioned that she's also gay and you come from a gay family. Can you just talk a little bit about that?
Mason Funk: Yeah. Talk about coming out to your sister and the fact that your sister eventually emerged to be gay as well. Just give us a sketch of how she reacted. You said she was great. When did she come out to you and so on?
Kathy Bowser: [01:53:00] When I wanted to come out to my sister, we went to the beach because the beach was such a big deal in our family. We're sitting on the beach, getting to be evening, the mood is good. I think we're drinking. Usually, we would have been. I called her, I said, "Jen, I have something to tell you. I'm gay." She just put her arm around me and she said, "Oh, Kathy, I think I've known that for a long time. You're just now getting around to it."
[01:53:30] [01:54:00] She's my younger sister. We're very close and … small family and very close. Well, time passed, my sister was married twice, either one worked out. She married a rich man, which was one of her goals in life and that didn't work out either. Then one day she said that she was having an affair with a woman. I was like, "Whoa, whoa, take me back." Because I had already moved to Texas and we weren't hanging out all the time or I would have known it.
[01:54:30] She told me that and she said, "Yeah. It's fine." Time passes and she wants to meet other women. She moved out here and I was taking her around to meet other women. I don't know. I think my mom always thought that Jen would be the one that would have the babies and grandchildren, but Jen said no.
Mason Funk: She actually lives out here and you guys are ...
Kathy Bowser: We're very close. Jen and her wife just live a couple of miles away. In our family, like I said, we're all gay. Fluffy has a brother, he's gay. He's married to a guy. Their wedding pictures are up on the mantle. When the six of us get together, yeah, it's all gay.
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] It's gay universe.
Kathy Bowser: Yes.
Mason Funk: Great. Okay.
Amy Bench: Then I would just ask about her mom. Initially her mom ... She said she accepted it, but she didn't approve it. When did that change [crosstalk 01:55:11].
Mason Funk: Yeah. Tell us about your mom's trajectory, the initial reaction was approved but don't accept or whatever ...
Kathy Bowser: Don't approve, but ...
Mason Funk: Don't approve, but [crosstalk 01:55:21].
Kathy Bowser: But do accept.
Mason Funk: Then she ...
Kathy Bowser: [01:55:30] [01:56:00] At some point along the line while I still was living in Florida, mom started to come over to dinner with me and Paula and then she started being more comfortable. It may have happened the day I threw her out of the house, because she was being very witchy with a capital B to Paula. I got quite angry about that and I said, "Mom, this is my house and if you want to be in it, this is how it is." She huffily left and went, but perhaps she thought about it a bit.
[01:56:30] Things started changing, but when she came out to Dallas, we were very social. We were going out to the bars, we were dancing, we were doing all this stuff in Dallas, all of it. She started to want to go, my mom loved to dance and she loved to dance with gay guys because they're so good at dancing. They're so good.
[01:57:00] Then one time, we were at a bar and a woman asked her to dance. She was a little nervous with that, and so was I. I was wanting to cut in, but she embraced the life. Sometimes, my mom was such a loved to party, love people, love the dancing, so it would come closing time at the bar and my mom would say, "Oh, we've been invited to breakfast." I'd say, "Mom, I'm tired." "Oh, let's go. They're such nice people."
[01:57:30] We would go to those places for breakfast. Then an interesting thing would happen. It was all these fellas that we went with. They would want to say to my mom, "How did you ..." They would ask her all the question. "How did you come to be okay with this? I wish my mom ..." It was that kind of stuff. Some of them really saw her as a way to help understand their own mother.
Mason Funk: [01:58:00] Out of curiosity, does she ever ... Do they ever refer any of their moms to her?
Kathy Bowser: No. It didn't happen. They should have, but yeah, that didn't happen.
Amy Bench: I have one more. I think before we started to refer to the Celebration On The Lake as the largest gay church in the world ...
Mason Funk: No, that's here in Dallas.
Amy Bench: Oh, okay.
Mason Funk: We're talking about the church here in Dallas being the largest gay ...
Kathy Bowser: Yeah, that's the Cathedral of Hope.
Mason Funk: [01:58:30] Cathedral of Hope, not Celebration. [Crosstalk 01:58:32].
Kathy Bowser: Celebration is only 600 members, and that's in Fort Worth.
Amy Bench: Oh, okay. I guess maybe just like a short mission statement or something about ... I know you talked about we needed a weekend place to get. What's the mission statement of the church, the Celebration On The Lake? Then how long when she passed it?
Mason Funk: [01:59:00] Okay. For just kind of for the record, tell us when you started, when you all started the Celebration On The Lake Church down there. Just to give us again, what was this mission, what was the mission you set out to fulfill with that church.
Kathy Bowser: [01:59:30] When we started Celebration On The Lake Church and it wasn't called that when we started. We didn't have a name. It was a group of weekenders at the lake who wanted to be able to be at the lake on the weekend and also participate in church and worship God. A couple of us tried at an Episcopalian Church and uh-uh. We asked Carol West to come and start the church.
Mason Funk: Then how long did you end up being pastor? Give us the years.
Kathy Bowser: I was a pastor from 2005 through 2015.
Mason Funk: Okay. Is that good?
Amy Bench: I think that's good.
Mason Funk: [02:00:00] She's good to help us to make sure we have the facts. I have four short questions that I use at the end of every interview. These are intended to be just like quicker answers. Your answers have been great. My first question is if somebody comes to you today and says, "I'm thinking about coming out," whatever that means to that person, from your experience, what piece of wisdom or guidance do you offer that person?
Kathy Bowser: [02:00:30] I guess I would ask them a question first. " Are you out to yourself?" Some of the time, we're not. I've had friends who were not. First, I would ask them a question, "Are you out to yourself? Are you comfortable with yourself? Do you believe this is really you?" I would want to get some more. Then after that, I would say, "Tell the person you love the most first and go from there."
Mason Funk: [02:01:00] Why tell the person you love the most first? Incorporate my question into your answer.
Kathy Bowser: Why I think you should tell the person you love the most first is because they feel betrayed if you come out and they didn't know it. They feel left out. They love you. I wish I had done that.
Mason Funk: Did your mom feel betrayed?
Kathy Bowser: [02:01:30] Maybe. I didn't think to ask her back then. I was all wrapped up in me.
Mason Funk: How long you've evolved in there.
Kathy Bowser: Yeah.
Mason Funk: Okay, excellent. Number two, what is your hope for the future?
Kathy Bowser: [02:02:00] [02:02:30] My hope for the future would be that we, we in every possible way, we the people of this country in general, see the possibility of the evolution of the human race. That the binary systems are pretty much over. Even though it still exists in politics, it's pretty much over in human relationships, and that the whole spectrum is wide open to us. The young people that I was in the seminary with would not let me call them gay or bi or trans. They just didn't want a label, so that would be a wonderful way to live.
Mason Funk: What are some of those binaries that you feel are just outdated at this point?
Kathy Bowser: [02:03:00] Male, female, have to be a certain way. If you're born a boy, you got to be a boy. My Fluffy would kill me for this, but there's only monogamy. There's all kinds of arrangements that are possible, but we just haven't accepted all of them yet.
Mason Funk: Why is it important to you to tell your story?
Kathy Bowser: Why is it important to me?
Mason Funk: [02:03:30] To tell your story.
Kathy Bowser: [02:04:00] [02:04:30] Oh, wow. I think it's important to tell my story because there will be facets of it that someone else can relate to. Someone else who hasn't made a transition of accepting themselves or hasn't told their story to anybody else in their life. Or someone who is perhaps fearful of being who they are for all the reasons that I was fearful of being who I was, because they won't get the promotion, because they won't keep their job, because all of those reasons. Perhaps this will be useful to them.
Mason Funk: Great. Then, what is the importance of a project like OUTWORDS?
Kathy Bowser: [02:05:00] I think about a project like OUTWORDS as a living history today and an important history in the next 50 years. One of the things that a community needs to know is their origin, and the community always needs to know their identity. If we don't keep track of this, then the cohesiveness that our community now has may not continue.
Mason Funk: [02:05:30] That's really good. I haven't thought of it in those terms knowing our origins and our identity. That's just like a piece I can add to my reasons as I try to explain things.
Kathy Bowser: I was thinking of the Hebrew people when I said that.
Mason Funk: Tell me.
Kathy Bowser: I was thinking, "Oh, wow."
Mason Funk: I'm sorry. I was talking, so start fresh. "I was thinking of it." Just start fresh, because I was talking over you, so say, "I was thinking of the Hebrew people."
Kathy Bowser: [02:06:00] [02:06:30] I was thinking of the Hebrew people and how what ... They became a people not with Abraham, but with the exodus when they went out, and when they went through all those incredible troubles, they became a people. They developed an identity, a cohesiveness. That kind of makes me think about our community. Maybe the waters aren't quite parted yet like the Red Sea, but we are making it through the Red Sea step by step. We need to have records. The scripture that we read and the Hebrew scriptures is ancient, and we can see where they became who they are and we need something like that in our community.
Mason Funk: [02:07:00] That's great. I love that image. I think we're done.
Kathy Bowser: Oh, yay.
Mason Funk: [00:00:30] If you're able, try and take my question and sort of weave it into your answer. If I ask you, "What was your dad like?" Start off by saying, "My dad." As opposed to he. In that way, I know who you're talking about without having heard my question. Does that make sense?
Mason Funk: [00:01:00] Spell it for me.
Mason Funk: [00:01:30] Okay. All right. You mentioned in your questionnaire some childhood challenges you had including wearing leg braces. Can you tell us about that?
Kathy Bowser: [00:02:00] When I was about 11, maybe 11 or 12, I was having problems with my knees and I was not terribly athletic, but I played sports with the boys. Mom took me to the doctor, got sent to a specialist and it turns out I had something called Osgood- Schlatter disease in my knees. I had to wear full leg braces with orthopedic shoes.
[00:02:30] I couldn't sit real well, I couldn't walk real well. I had trouble. I wore them for two years. My mother decided, because this was a time when we were starting to be invited to parties and people were going to cotillion and dating was almost ready to start, so she bought a bunch of Glenn Miller records and taught me to dance with my braces on. That's how I learned to dance.
Mason Funk: [00:03:00] What do you remember about your reaction to having to get these leg braces? How did that seem to you? How did that affect you?
Kathy Bowser: [00:03:30] When I wore leg braces, I was not noticing it that much until other people looked at me. Perhaps, a child would say something about it. Then I have a sister who's three years younger. She used to get silly in church when we walked up to communion because my braces squeaked. She would break out laughing and tease me about it and everything, but I never thought all that much about it. I couldn't kick a football, I couldn't run, so there were limitations, but I don't think it deeply bothered me.
Mason Funk: [00:04:00] What was your family like? I assume you were Catholic, but ... Well, actually, in your talk, I remember there's a reference to your dad being an atheist and your mom was the devout one. Tell me if you're not hearing me clearly, I can speak ...
Kathy Bowser: [00:04:30] My family was pretty much a working class family and almost on the poor side I would say, because my dad was an alcoholic and had a hard time keeping a job. Dad would be able to have a job for a while, but then he would go off the wagon as we said. Then he would lose his job.
[00:05:30] We had a car that was always in trouble. We wore uniforms to school, so that was a good thing you didn't have to have a lot of clothes. My mom went to work when I was about 10 I think. My mom went to work and she worked pretty much for the rest of the time. My mom and dad divorced after 30 years of marriage, but the family was small. One sister, my sister, Jan, who lives very close here right now and we're very close. She's also gay, so we have a family of all gay people.
[00:06:30] My mother always like to have parties. He liked to have a great time. She was the one that would invite people in. Dad would be the one sitting in the corner with a book. I went to Catholic school. You pay tuition in Catholic school, so that was always difficult.
[00:07:00] When I went to high school, I worked. Started working right away. I work for my tuition and then when my sister came along to go to high school, she worked for her tuition. We pretty much just made it. I wouldn't have gone to college had I not become a nun. We wouldn't have the money to send me to college, so that wouldn't have happened.
Mason Funk: [00:07:30] Say my mom.
Kathy Bowser: [00:08:00] My mom was not long suffering at all. She spoke up for what she wanted. She pretty much ran the family and she went to work. She took care of the money and all of that. She was the fun in the family, mom was fun. In addition to teaching us to dance, she played music all the time. She loved to cook, she was a great cook.
Mason Funk: [00:09:00] I'm going to have to shut your fridge off.
Mason Funk: [00:09:30] Yeah, as Amy was saying, "You never hear a fridge until you're recording an interview and then it sounds like [crosstalk 00:09:20]." It sounds like a lawnmower. Okay, good. Now, that's the last of the technical stuff hopefully. I love that picture of your mom. She sounds like a real ... Tell me just any last final thoughts on your mom before we move on.
Mason Funk: [00:10:00] Okay. Maybe it will come back.
Kathy Bowser: [00:10:30] Oh, I know. When I was in high school, all of my pals from high school, the girls, came to talk to my mom about sex. They couldn't talk to their own moms about sex, but they could talk to my mom about sex, and she had a rule. "Anything above the waist is okay and that's it because I'm joining the Florence Crittenton Society, just in case any of you girls get pregnant and I'll make sure you get into the home." She was really right upfront about all that kind of stuff, and I would be so embarrassed because it was my mom that they were talking to, about sex. If you're Catholic, you don't talk about sex.
Kathy Bowser: [00:11:00] Yeah, she was Catholic and she was realistic. She had rules of behavior, but they weren't necessarily about being pious or devout. That's why the other kids, the other girls would like to talk to her.
Mason Funk: [00:11:30] I know there are stories later on because I heard you talk about when she came to Dallas and we'll get there. Then you got very, very sick when you were 13, 14. Tell us about that as well. Especially about the connection, you said it taught you about mortality.
Kathy Bowser: [00:12:00] Yeah. Okay. When I was about 14 years old, I became very sick with a respiratory problem. I was in and out of the hospital, I was being tested. I just wasn't getting well. I was having anemia, but it was really a respiratory situation. The doctors came to the place after a couple of hospitalization that they said to my mom, "We've done everything we can and so you should take her home and make her comfortable and like that."
[00:13:00] I remember just being there on the chaise lounge and looking at the clouds and saying, "So I suppose I'm going to die." That's okay, because then I'll get to be with the clouds, I'll get to be someplace else. There was an experience at that time of my understanding that I'm going to die and it's okay. That has always been with me. I don't want to separate from the people I love, but I'm not afraid of that next step. Now, it's caused me to do some things as a pastor and as a hospice volunteer and so on.
Kathy Bowser: [00:14:00] Am I?
Kathy Bowser: [00:14:30] When I had my first holy communion at seven, I had an experience that I could tell you that now today and I'm 72. I had an experience of God wanting me to be a nun. I spent the next 8 or 9 years trying to not do that. I did all the things you're not supposed to do as a Catholic girl, I drank, I smoked, I dated a lot of guys and I just tried not to. In my senior year, in March of my senior year when I'll be graduating in May, I said, "Okay, I'll go to the convent."
[00:15:30] Again, mom comes in to the picture. "We got to get you ready. She didn't want me to go, but we got to get you ready." My father hated the idea. He had some choice words about it. My father was an atheist and he had some really choice words about it, but I really felt called from the time I was seven and I did my best to not do that, but that's what I was supposed to do, so I did it.
[00:16:00] The order I entered was in Philadelphia. Never been to Philadelphia Had no idea what it would be like to be a nun. We spent that summer after my graduation from high school getting ready. You have to take a dowry when you enter the convent, there's a whole list of clothing you have to take, there's all these equipment we have to take as you're going to be studying for three, four years. We put all that together and came September 7th, I got on that train for Philadelphia, and I had no idea what that would entail. I did that and I left after eight years.
Kathy Bowser: [00:17:00] I think called you through the circumstances of life and the people's lives. I think that God calls you to do something, whether that's to be a mom or that's to be a teacher or to be a physician, God calls all of us to do something. In my circumstance, I believe God called me to live a religious life. The only way I know to do that when I was that age, I couldn't be a priest. There are no women priests in the Catholic Church, so the only way would be to be a nun.
[00:17:30] I knew that I wanted to have a spiritual life too. I don't know how I knew that, but I knew that. I’ve never doubted that. After living that way for eight or nine years, it wasn't the right thing. The right thing was yet to come. Circumstances, being what they were in the Catholic Church and in my life, I did find it later, but that wasn't it.
Kathy Bowser: [00:18:00] I think human beings are evolving, and the understanding of your call in life, your purpose, is something that changes just as we do. I think that there are many purposes along the way. An ultimate purpose may surface and it may not.
Mason Funk: [00:18:30] I would have stopped you for a second. There's a lawnmower. Now, there's a lawnmower. Should I just close the front door because we have that ...
Amy Bench: [00:19:00] Okay. This is room tone with yard working done down the street. Okay.
Kathy Bowser: [00:19:30] I entered the convent in 1962 at 18. A friend of mine ... I was there till 1970. A very dear friend of mine ...
Mason Funk: [00:20:00] Oh, it's just right here, right?
Kathy Bowser: [00:20:30] She's a Facebook person, so everything ...
Kathy Bowser: [00:21:00] Yeah. That's her side.
Kathy Bowser: [00:21:30] I entered the convent in 1962 at 18 and I stayed till 1970, so I was in the convent for eight years. It was a world onto its own. A friend of mine who also entered the convent that year …-- we're still friends, I'm still friends with her -- called it entering the 16th century.
[00:22:00] What happened was I was a carefree beach bunny from Miami Beach. I entered the convent and now I'm wearing three or four layers of clothing. I am so covered down to wrist, down to ankles, headpiece, all of that. That's one thing. You are now dressing according to the 16th century. All the customs that you have, the customs is how you walk. You learn to walk in such a way as to be demure. You have custody with the eyes.
[00:23:00] We lived in cells. The cells were curtained partitions and you'd have 15 or 20 sisters in one big room with this little cell. We ate in silence. Breakfast was in silence. We were allowed to speak at lunch. We spent silence the whole day long, except that we were allowed to have recreation from 3:00 to 4:00 every day. We even got to have a snack during recreation, and we were allowed to talk to each other.
[00:24:00] We had solemn silence at night and it was considered the worst possible thing to break that silence. The alarm went off at 9:00 and you were in bed and then that was it. We studied, but the rituals, the prayer, the chapel time, all of that was very much like the days of the monasteries in the middle ages. It was a world onto its own.
Kathy Bowser: [00:24:30] Yeah. Normal silence was basically you could do all kind of things. You can do your chores, you could study. You could make noise by moving your chair or you try not to. Solemn silence was no sound. When you prepared for bed and everything, you really were conscious of quietness of body, not creating any sounds around you. It was to pray through the night and like that, so that was very different.
Kathy Bowser: [00:25:00] I was so homesick. I was so homesick. I was a hefty beach bunny, but I entered the convent. I lost about 30 pounds on the first few months of being in there. I was very homesick, I hated the food, I couldn't sleep and all of that. I went through that transition time.
[00:25:30] My mom came to see me after about three or four months of my being there. Understand those days when you went to the convent, you never return home. My mom came to see me and she was really upset. She was allowed to see me, but how much weight I had lost and I looked very poorly, so she went up and told the mother general a thing or two because that's how mom always was. It was cold, it was snowing. I never saw snow until I went there. It was quite different, but I got through it. Got through.
Kathy Bowser: [00:26:30] I was home sick and I wasn't sure in the beginning. I spent most nights sobbing. I kept up a good front during the day. I believed that, that's where I was supposed to be. There's this old saying that God didn't promise us that there wouldn't be any trouble. All God promised us is that God would be with us.
[00:27:30] I kind of had that as my mantra. I kept asking through prayer and through direction with my superiors like, "Is this what's supposed to happen? You're supposed to go through this trauma, almost?" I cannot say that I got great direction from them because if you felt like you had a call, then that was god's will for you and you better stick it out. I can't say I had a great direction, but I don't know. Did it help that I had already had a bunch of problems in my young life? It toughened me up. Was I kidding myself? I don't know, honest, but I didn't stay there forever.
Kathy Bowser: [00:28:30] I did not think this is my life. I thought when you're a novitiate, you're only getting started. I imagined my life teaching and therefore I could take this for a while and see what that was like because I hadn't taught. This was only the beginning. As rough as it was for me, I still hadn't done what the calling was about, which was teaching.
Mason Funk: [00:29:00] No, I'm getting over the last bit of a cold. It's been about four or five days ago. It was really bad. I just need one of these near me when I'm doing this, so that I could cough into it. Okay. At a certain point, did you finish one phase and begin another in terms of teaching?
Kathy Bowser: [00:29:30] I went out from what they called go out, which is a whole other meaning in my life now, but you go out from the novitiate on a mission and you have no say in this. You are sent to a certain convent in one of the missions. I happen to be sent back to Miami, which was wonderful because that mean I got to see my family instead of once a year, I would get to see my family once a month.
[00:30:00] I went back to teach, I taught 4th grade. Loved the kids. The teaching and the children made it all really good, really good. As I was the youngest sister in the house at that time, I had the kitchen duty and the ... We called the place that you ate a refectory. You've heard that word before. Okay, good. I was responsible for those kinds of things and I like that too. I like learning how to do that and all. I enjoyed the convent life once you get out of the novitiate very much.
Kathy Bowser: [00:31:00] My name as a nun was Sister Marie Kateri after Kateri Tekakwitha. Our Pope just made her a saint last year, she was not quite a saint yet. She was an Iroquois Indian, she was a Native American who became a Christian and she ended up being a virgin, which was unheard of among the Iroquois Indians. She worked with the priests that were there trying to convert everybody. She worked with them and taught children and so on.
Kathy Bowser: [00:31:30] She didn't marry. There's virgins and there's martyrs. Yeah. One of the other, you can become a saint.
Mason Funk: [00:32:00] See, this is all the [crosstalk 00:31:44] us pagans. Okay, that's great. Paint us a picture of those years kind of what was happening in the world around you, say late 60s. How much were you aware or unaware of what was happening in society at large?
Kathy Bowser: [00:32:30] While I was in the novitiate, we saw no television, we heard no radio, we read no newspaper, we saw no magazine. When President Kennedy was killed, I was scrubbing the floor. We all remember this. I was scrubbing the floor in the old sister's home and one of the sisters came and said, "I'm going to break silence to say this. The President has been shot." Of course, we all went to the chapel. That was happening.
[00:33:00] We were given special permission to watch his funeral, so we saw that. The war on Vietnam was going on, but we knew nothing about it. A couple of the sisters in my band, in my group had relatives in the war and so they knew a story that cousin Jimmy has been sent to Vietnam, but that's all we knew.
[00:33:30] The women's rights, the sexual revolution, all of that was happening while I was in the convent and I knew nothing of it except a snippet here or there. When I was out on the mission, we were allowed to watch television one night a week, so we came to the community room altogether. You'll never believe what we watched, we watched FBI story. I really don't know why. It doesn't seem to fit with the whole religious atmosphere, but it would fit. The other show we were allowed to watch was Lawrence Welk, and so that was it. That was it.
[00:34:30] I was kneeling in the church. I was out teaching children. I was in a different parish. I was teaching 6th grade I think. I was kneeling in church at 6:00 in the morning on a regular weekday as we were getting ready for mass and the priest came out and said, "Robert Kennedy has been shot." That's all we knew, so we knew nothing about the upheaval that was occurring in our world. Sometime, you might want to ask me about my first date after I came out of the convent.
Kathy Bowser: [00:35:00] Okay. All right, after this closure, being in this 16th century, having no information, I came out of the convent. I went home to my family. I got a job teaching and a fella, a coach at one of the elementary schools I was teaching at as a substitute teacher. I didn't have my certification yet for Florida. Called and asked me out to the movies.
Kathy Bowser: [00:36:30] I left the convent in 1970. What had happened in the church was that something called Vatican 2 had occurred. The Pope John XXIII called Vatican 2 and they made drastic changes. All the cardinals and bishops from all over the world came. They made drastic changes in the way the church was doing business and the way the church was doing worship and the way the church was even the way women in a church, we were considered women in the church, were to be more out in the out world rather than being so much in the convent and to take a stronger role in the area of social justice and so on.
[00:37:30] Well, that was very exciting to me and my peers. That was wonderful. The slogan the Pope used was to throw open the window of the church and let the world in, and we loved that, except that the order that I was in decided they weren't going to change. They were going to be the man in the gap. You're familiar with the Greek ... Well, I don't want to tell you all that.
[00:38:00] Anyhow, they were going to stay underground. They have changed over time, but at that point, they would only do what was required by the rules, not the spirit of the Vatican 2. Many of us left then, I wasn't the only one. There was an exodus. I left and my mom ran a halfway house for ex-nuns for a while. She did. She'd get wigs for them and outfits, because we didn't have any clothes.
Amy Bench: [00:38:30] That's great. Thank you.
Mason Funk: [00:39:00] Well, okay, let's change that. Well, we have good audio from this mic, so it's all fine. This is like a backup.
Mason Funk: [00:39:30] Right. Okay, I'm going to try something different here real quick here. You said your mom got wigs. That's what maybe I realize we needed to stop. Just tell me about how there was this exodus and you all were kind of coming out in the world and you had no hair and your mom ran a halfway house.
Kathy Bowser: [00:40:00] I left the convent right at the Christmas break. About six months after I left, some of my friends started leaving. I invited them to Florida, because they were all Philadelphia girls. They know nothing about the beach or Florida life or anything like that.
[00:40:30] One by one, they started coming. There was an exodus at this time all across the country in convents. That wasn't unusual, but getting a trip to Florida was a big deal, so they all said, "Yes." I told my mom. I said, "Hey, Beth is coming. Mary Claire is coming." I would name these different ones and she said, "Well, what size do they wear?"
[00:41:00] Right away, mom went into action and she went. She worked in a big insurance company. She went around getting outfits, because we didn't have clothes. We didn't have secular clothes. She also got wigs for the ones who hadn't quite grown enough hair yet. We had a sewing thing going on in the living room where my mom was making all these things and adjusting them. She was great.
[00:41:30] At one time, we had like four or five staying at our little house. It looked like we were the little Santa's elves making clothes to wear and adjusting clothes to wear. They needed to get out into the world, so they started with Florida.
Mason Funk: [00:42:00] It's such an interesting little sub-chapter. Now, of course I have to ask. What was happening in this era of your life, vis-à-vis your sexuality, what were you aware of, not aware of and so on?
[00:42:30] I came out of the convent. I dated men and I was unaware of my sexuality until I was 30. I went with a lot of different guys. One of the fellows that I always wanted to date when I was in high school but couldn't. I went to a girls school. There were no opportunities to meet the guy, but I finally met him and I went out with him and I was so glad I hadn't actually dated him when I was in high school. I was 30 when I came out, and that was something that was amazingly shocking, but if I reflected on it and I saw the crushes that I had, had, then it made sense.
Mason Funk: [00:43:30] You mentioned in your outrageous oral talk a wild woman that you met. It was prior to Fluffy. Is that what precipitated?
Kathy Bowser: [00:44:00] I was teaching in an Air City school in Miami after coming out of the convent, when I finally got a job. I transferred to a migrant labor camp and I taught in a school that was in the middle of a migrant labor camp. I was organizing all kinds of events to raise money for the migrant kids, to get food and clothing to them and so on.
[00:44:30] One of the volunteers was a woman who could drive a diesel truck. Boy was she useful because we were always hauling stuff to the migrant camp, always. Sure enough, she was a lesbian, and when she told me that and she told me what that was all about, I said, "Well, can I meet some other ones?" She took me to a gay bar.
[00:45:00] I was busy like a junior reporter going around saying, "Hi, I'm Kathy. Who are you? What's your story?" I wasn't literally taking notes in the bar. I wasn't that dumb, but I was taking notes. I got lots of information. By and by, I fell in love with this woman, and she was wild, absolutely wild.
Kathy Bowser: [00:45:30] She drove this really hot car. She drank and cussed and smoked and carried on in every which way. I hadn't done that. I did it when I was a teenager, when you're being rebellious, but I didn't. She was an aggressive lover and taught me a whole lot. We were together seven or eight years.
Mason Funk: [00:46:00] What did you look like in these years? Were you like a newly liberated hippy? Were you still quite prim and proper? Where were you in the style spectrum as women go?
Kathy Bowser: [00:46:30] I looked like … I was very girly. Yeah, but I was girly in that I had long ... Once you get to grow your hair, you grow it. I had long hair and I had whatever the latest was I had it, but it was always ... It was girly in that way, but it was a little bit on the tailored side. I didn't do ruffles or any of that. I think probably I was sort of average looking.
Mason Funk: [00:47:00] Okay. That wasn't your set. Okay, good. I just have this pictures of ... Maybe you just came out and really went to the opposite end of the spectrum.
Kathy Bowser: [00:47:30] This woman I met, Paula and I, after we became lovers, we decided that we wanted to travel around the country in a van. Now, that sounds hippie. We both took a year off of teaching. She taught in one school, I taught on another and we did. We worked wherever we landed, we waited tables, we washed cars. We went all over the country and we camped all over the country. She was wild in that way. Came up with those kinds of things.
Kathy Bowser: [00:48:00] After I had been with Paula, who was the first woman I was with, after I had been with her about four or five years, I felt like I had to tell somebody what was going on. I did not tell my mother first, I told my father first. I always have wondered about that. I think I knew my father was very worldly person. Worldly is the opposite of being in the convent.
[00:49:00] He knew the world, he, you know, been around. I wasn't sure mom had all that worldliness. I told my father and he said, "Don't tell your mother." I waited a little while longer to tell mom. I told my sister and my sister was great. My dad was okay. Then he and Paula, the woman I was with, went out and had a beer together, so I thought that's okay. That shows that this is fine.
[00:49:30] I finally told my mother and she said, "I don't approve, but I will accept it because you're my daughter, so I will accept it, you're a lesbian, but I don't approve." She couldn't stand Paul. She really couldn't stand Paula. I don't think she blamed her for anything. It's just that she could never bring herself to like that woman.
Kathy Bowser: [00:50:00] I think at that time, I understood that. My mom always had expectations, she did. She had expectations about a lot of things, about life and what you should be doing. Even though she could be wild and crazy, it was within a certain range of normalcy.
[00:50:30] I said, "Okay, fine. Do you want to come to our house? Do you want to hang out with us?" She said she needed some time to think about it. Eventually, she came around enough to participate and things with us and come over for a dinner, whatever. I can't say it was strange for my mother over that. It was just a little uncomfortable for quite a while actually, a couple years.
Kathy Bowser: [00:51:00] We came ...
Kathy Bowser: [00:51:30] Paula and I moved to Houston from Florida and I started a job, she started a job. She did not like the amount of time that I put in at work. She wanted me home and I had found an incredibly wonderful job to do. That was exciting and I had no trouble work until 8:00 or 9:00, I loved it, and that wasn't okay. We came to the place where we split. I got a promotion and I went to Fort Worth on that promotion and she stayed in Houston. That's what happened to us. She didn't love her job as much as I love my job, so she was sitting home waiting for me and that wasn’t okay.
Kathy Bowser: [00:52:30] It was one more new adventure. Who knew, Fort Worth? I had no idea. At least this time I knew what the work would be like. Yes, I was okay with that, because I think I was the one who made the split. It seems to me that the one who leaves is usually okay faster than the one who gets left. I did have a lot of concerns about her and we did keep in touch sort of. I think we have visited over the years every now and then. We're okay with each other.
Mason Funk: [00:53:00] This is kind of tangential, but is she still kind of that loud woman?
Mason Funk: [00:53:30] Interesting. Love those stories. Okay. My goodness, this is all great. We're covering a lot of territory thanks to you, because you're telling good stories, but again you keep the story moving. That's great because that means we can cover more territory. How did your faith in a day and day sense evolved after you left convent life and the order?
Kathy Bowser: [00:54:00] After I left the convent, I was still a Catholic. I went to mass at my local parish. Then I started volunteering in the migrant labor camp. I started a Sunday school there for the kids and I recruited teachers for it and all of that. I was very involved in Catholicism. I also helped out in a couple of the other missions, the migrant missions within the church.
[00:54:30] Then one day after I met Paula and Paula and I were together, I read the section in the equivalent of the Book of Discipline about the Catholic teaching on homosexuality. And like, I quite like that. I said, "No, it's not for me. If this church can't have me, then I can't have it."
[00:55:00] Actually, I stopped going to church altogether. I visited a couple of other churches for a while, but I really was angry with the church. I was very angry with church. I mean it was a totally male-dominated, it was totally judgmental, it was harmful to people who were gay and I left. I stayed away from church for almost 30 years. Yeah.
[00:55:30] That anger propelled many of my decisions about would I ever go back to church. I had decided, "No, I was not going to do that. I was going to live my life." I would continue, and prayer and contemplation on my own. I would, eventually, practice Buddhist meditation for a while. I think that's kind of the path a lot of people take.
Mason Funk: [00:56:00] Just start fresh and say ... Introduce Fluffy.
Kathy Bowser: [00:56:30] Years, years later, I met Fluffy. Fluffy and I came together and we made commitments to each other. She is the granddaughter of a presbyterian preacher and the daughter of a mom who sang in the choir every Sunday and who was head of the Presbyterian Women and all that, so she had a rich church background throughout her life. She still went to church when we got together.
[00:57:00] After we were together a couple of years, she asked me to go to church. Fluffy asked me to go to church with her and I said, "I don't do church." That little bugger, she said to me, "You could make the sacrifice." She actually used Catholic words who could make the sacrifice. It stunned me because nobody ever said that to me since I left the convent.
[00:57:30] I was like, "Well, yeah, I guess I could." I mean, I could go to church, I just can't go to Catholic Church right now. We went to church a few times and whenever she wanted to go to church, I made the sacrifice and went. That was one of the decisions, the anger that I have, but then Fluffy changed it.
Mason Funk: [00:58:00] I have a lot of anger myself from my religious background, so I guess I am just curious to explore that even more, because I'm curious to myself sometimes like, "Why are you still so angry?" I'm curious if you can ... This isn't about me, this is about you. Can you just talk a bit more about the anger? You mentioned a few of the specific things. How did it feel to be ... Where did it come from and how did it feel, the anger, of course, the church?
Kathy Bowser: [00:58:30] My anger at the church was based on rejection, I'm sure. The church that I loved, the church that I was willing to give my life to, the church that I served. Not only in the convent, but when I came out. I could have done anything, but I continued to work for the church for free, as a volunteer. The actual religious practices that were so much a part of my spiritual growth and development.
[00:59:00] They told me God didn't love me. They told me God who I knew better ... They decreed that I was going to go to hell. Well, I don't believe in hell anyhow, but they decreed I was wrong as a person. My whole being was wrong. The anger welled up constantly. I had feelings of hate in my body when a priest would even speak to me after all that happened.
[00:59:30] If I read something in the paper about what the Pope said, this anger would start to bubble up. I felt helpless with it, because what could I ever do to change this organization that's been around for a couple of thousands years and women aren't allowed to have a voice in? There was so much stuff there.
[01:00:00] The wealth of the church made me angry when I worked in the migrant labor camp. Even though I was working for the church, even though, it was like, "How can you be guys be driving those kind of cars? How can you guys had those fabulous homes when here are these little children? You're supposed to be church guys." I'm speaking of the priest when I was saying at.
Mason Funk: [01:00:30] Great. Thank you for that. Now, you did say that you continue with the practices with prayer and meditation on your own. As far as you're concerned, your relationship with God hadn't changed. Is that correct?
Kathy Bowser: [01:01:00] My relationship with God has changed because I've changed. It's much, much better than it was certainly when I was 24 or 26. It's better than it was when I was 50 and wasn't doing church. It's better than it was last year. The relationship with God is an understanding that we have of how God and we are in this together. This thing called life. How we are making things happen in a certain way inside and outside. That is much clearer to me today than it was back then.
Mason Funk: [01:01:30] Okay, great. Fantastic. Okay. I think in your outrageous oral, I wrote down a note here that says, "Silence and pretending." Yeah, I remember it. You stayed closeted for quite a long time and then you made a choice not to be closeted in that same way anymore. I wonder if you can talk about that throughout in our life.
Kathy Bowser: [01:02:00] In closet and out of closet?
Kathy Bowser: [01:02:30] I was in the closet when I left the convent. I remained in the closet until I was about 50. All of my teaching required it by the job. When I worked for the March of Dimes, it certainly was not required, but I felt like I wouldn't get promoted, I wouldn't move along. I would lose credibility, so I remained very much closeted.
[01:03:00] When I was about 50, I was supervising some younger staff in their late 20s, early 30s. One of them said to me one day, "Kathy, you're 50. Come on out." She was not gay. She just knew who I was and talked to me that way and I went, "Yeah, right. It's almost half over." I came out. I came out at work.
Kathy Bowser: [01:04:00] Okay. Well, I asked him for an appointment.
Kathy Bowser: [01:04:30] I asked my boss for the appointment. His name was the same name as the Pope at the time, which was kind of scary when you go back into my innards, John Paul. I asked John Paul for an appointment to see him because I had something really important to talk about and I was very nervous about it. I was wondering what that would mean because the position I was in was a good position, but still I had ambition and I wanted to be promoted.
[01:05:00] I talked to Fluffy. "This is what I'm intending to say." Fluffy the diplomat that she is probably polished what I was going to say. I sat down with him and I said, "Really, have something really big to tell you." I don't know what the policy is around here because I've never asked, but I'm gay. That was when he said, "Yeah, okay, so what's the big deal?"
[01:05:30] Then he went on to ... It is because he's a marvelous man. He said, "I really don't understand how that feels to be like that any better than I know how it feels to be African American or Hispanic in this world." He said, "But we have several staff and those who are out, I'll tell you and you can go talk to them." And I did. One of them was our corporate council, which was huge. He was up in the executive offices, so I thought, "Oh, it's not bad at all. It's not bad at all."
Mason Funk: [01:06:00] Great. Now, you had that really successful career. Give us an overview of your professional life in March of Dimes, Heart Association, not too much. Just give us an overview of that real quick.
Kathy Bowser: [01:06:30] I started in the March of Dimes when I was living in Houston. Loved it. I was responsible for raising money, and I did that through what used to be called Walk America. I was the coordinator of Walk America, 8000, 9000 people coming to raise money and I was responsible for organizing the whole thing, which was hugely fun. I loved it.
[01:07:00] I was also responsible for raising money through a number of other smaller events, I did that. Got promoted, became the executive director in Fort Worth. I was responsible for the whole thing. When I took, this is the story, when I took over in Fort Worth, we were of the number of chapters in this region. We were number 57 and I took it to number one, And I love doing that. I loved it.
[01:07:30] Then I did a merger of all the chapters in North Texas and made the North Texas Chapter, which meant that there was lot of really tough decisions to make. When you reorganize and when you merge, there's a lot of personnel issues. Then you have another layer of the volunteers dealing with the volunteers and helping them see how this is going to be good for them, because it doesn't sound good at all.
[01:08:00] I did all of that for a number of years. I got the opportunity for a position at the American Heart Association at their national office. That sounded cool, being at the national office, Hmm! That sounds great. Went there and that was the first time that I was given 10 affiliate organizations to travel to and to bring the good word from the national office to them.
[01:08:30] I'm here to help. I'm from the national office, that kind of a job. I did that for a number of years. I had a couple of other jobs while I was there, but that was the one that I enjoyed the most. Then the March of Dimes asked me to come back. The chief operating officer and I had kept in touch forever, and she called and sure enough I was very much in the mood to come back to the field, so I did. I traveled states again, but I was responsible for about $50 million of income from the field.
Mason Funk: [01:09:00] When did you then leave the March of Dimes, retire from ...
Kathy Bowser: [01:09:30] I retired from the March of Dimes. My total number of years with the March of Dimes is 25 and so I retired from there. Amid weeping and gnashing of teeth, that was as hard a decision as leaving the convent. It was really tough. I remember they had this big party for me and they had all these people coming in from all the chapters that I was responsible for and they all made speeches and I'm just ...
[01:10:00] The next day, we had a big staff meeting and I couldn't stand it. I went to the regional vice president and I said, "I'm going home now. I cannot face any more people anymore." The March of Dimes was a place where I think I figured out who I was. I don't mean gay, lesbian, straight, none of that. Who I was in the work world, as a leader, an organizer. Someone who could bring people together around a task that's worth doing and to do it really, really well. Perhaps the best. That was very exciting, but leaving was very hard.
Kathy Bowser: [01:11:00] Fluffy and I both had a dream of being by the water. Living in the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth, it's really hard to be by the water. We also had some friends that had a little lake place down on Cedar Creek Lake. We would go down on the special holidays like Memorial Weekend, Fourth of July with a couple of girls that we knew, a couple women we knew and we would hang out with them and we would just go looking at empty houses to buy one.
[01:12:30] What happened was we weren't going to church because we were there on the weekends. We had written a goal to spend more time at the lake and a goal to go to church, and they did not match. This part of Texas, my choices on church, would never ever want us in their church.
[01:13:00] We invited Reverend Carol West who also happened to have a lake house down there to start a church, and so she did. She said yes, her board said okay. She came down, started a church in a little storefront. We paid $450 a month for the rental of that little tiny space and all the couples who attended that church took turns paying that rent.
[01:13:30] That's how Celebration On The Lake Church started. Carol West stayed with this for two and a half years. It was too much, she had a church of over 600 in Fort Worth, and a church with 25 in Gun Barrel City, Texas. She said she was going to have to stop doing that. The congregation called me as their pastor because they knew I had been on and they figured I knew what church was all about, but the truth is, nuns, least of all, had a chance to do anything with church when it came to worship time. That was all the priest thing, we just didn't have anything to do with it. We didn't even do the readings, we didn't do any of that.
[01:14:30] I had to learn by doing. I remember when I would be writing my sermon, when I'm traveling all over the country, because I was still working for the March of Dimes. I was writing my sermons at 4:00 in the morning in a hotel room somewhere and I would be so excited with what I had written and I would tell Fluffy about it when I got home. She said, "Maybe you should mention God in that." I was doing terrible, but they were still coming, people still came.
Kathy Bowser: [01:15:00] Immediately. After Carol West left. This is typical, but we weren't big enough to have this happen. We were maybe now at 35 members at that point. Our church went down to nine. That was very scary. There we were paying for this little rental place. We had enough people to stand around the altar at communion time, it was just nine.
[01:15:30] We made a decision. "Shall we let this go or shall we try to build it?" The choice was we ended up trying to build it. Once again, I wanted to be a priest since I was a kid practically and there I was doing it, so it was no question. Did God called me to do that? Absolutely. It just took God a while to arrange things so I could.
Mason Funk: [01:16:00] Oh, okay. We're going to pause. Then we'll going to head into- ... Let's see here for a second. It's diminishing. It's going away. I think it might have been a jet.
Kathy Bowser: [01:16:30] Actually, before Carol West left us, she started inviting me ...
[01:17:00] At least they knew I knew how to do the ... The congregation knew. I knew how to do those things and I must have been okay at it, but years later, as I was talking to one of the folks that had been around in those days, I said, "I guess I wasn't very good at preaching." She said, "You are terrible." It was good enough. I was good enough for this little group of people that wanted to have a church at the lake.
Kathy Bowser: [01:18:00] Yeah, that's a really good point. Our church, because it was made up of weekenders, you had a little place at the lake, had a broad spectrum of religious traditions. When we established the church in order for no one to be offended, we said we were an interfaith church. We and in our sermons, we didn't always talk about Jesus. We kind of stayed away from a whole lot of Christian talk.
[01:18:30] In our founder group, we had a Jewish member, we had a Buddhist member, we had a Unitarian. We had a couple of Unitarians actually, and that would made them uncomfortable. We usually preach from the Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew scriptures. We walked that line of bringing everybody together because of their desire to worship God, but not being exclusively Christian. I would walk that line in my sermons for years until I went to seminary and everything changed.
Kathy Bowser: [01:19:30] My understanding when I was serving communion was that we were remembering Jesus's last supper and the way that he loves so much he was willing to pour out his life blood for the sake of his principles. He loved people that much. We went ahead and did that and those who didn't believe would come up and just ask for a prayer. They made this that they were not going to receive.
[01:20:00] That didn't seem to upset anybody. I think that's because our founding pastor, Carol West, started that way. If Easter came, we did read the Easter gospel. When Christmas came, I promise you we did Christmas. It was a little bit not schizophrenic, but it was a little bit, I don't know, back and forth on who we were exactly. We recognized the five major religions of the world and we invited speakers in from those five major religions to talk to us about their traditions.
Mason Funk: [01:21:00] He told us a whole bunch of stories about the church. Well, I guess what I'm building up to is how did your church, the Celebration On The Lake, how did it relate to the other churches in the community? Paint us a picture of the community in which this church is embedded and the other churches, like 50 in a row on both sides of the road, and how this all worked and whether people just thought of you all as wackadoodles or something else.
Kathy Bowser: [01:21:30] When we were in the strip mall, we actually raised enough money to buy land. Carol West was still our pastor then and then she left shortly after that. We put up a sign on that land, which was practically across the street from a Methodist Church that we were coming soon. The name of the church, we're coming soon. We're going to build something here was our promise to the community.
[01:22:00] We got an email from a woman who was an elder from that Methodist Church and she said, "We want to help. We want to help." We thought, "Oh, sure. Yeah, sure." They contacted us. I and the chairman of the board of our church and all that went over and met with the Methodists. This was one particular Methodist Church and they said, "We realized how many gays and lesbians live around this Cedar Creek Lake. We also want to be supportive of you having your own church. In the meantime, we'll let you have church in our building and you can save more money because you're still paying rent."
[01:23:00] The chairman and I talked about that and we felt it was really important for us to be outside. To have our own establishment because we were afraid we would disappear into the Methodist Church and it would just be a program of the Methodist because they're nice people, and so we stayed out. But, after we built our church and there it was in this field of three and a half acres, and after we built it, we went back to those Methodist folks and said, "You know, let's all get together and make a Christmas thing."
[01:23:30] I'm sure that if you talk to Jim Gribbon, you heard all about the Christmas cantata from A to Z, but we did. We got five other churches to join us and it was quite an extravaganza. Yeah. We felt very, not only proud, but like we were doing the work of God, even getting the churches that would not let us be leaders. The Methodists are still dealing with that.
Mason Funk: [01:24:30] ... was the one that brought various denominations and congregations together to make a Christmas presentation, the Christmas, the birth of Jesus, down the story of the birth of Jesus? What impact do you think that had on the community, the grassroots of that area?
Kathy Bowser: [01:25:00] Here is a thing about that lake area is that all of those other churches, except for a very few, are on the extremely conservative end of the spectrum of churches. Because of those denominations being so conservative, the people there, I promise you, will not change their minds any more than they have changed their minds for the past 50 years.
Mason Funk: [01:26:00] Great. Are there any stories you can remember of the church playing just a pivotal role at the level of individual people, finding a place, maybe healing a relationship with God, with religion? I just would love to hear. I'm sure there's some memorable stories.
Kathy Bowser: [01:26:30] One Sunday, when we were in the process of actually building the building, and only the shell of the building existed on our piece of property. We were still meeting in the storefront place, but we had said to everybody, " Let's make a field trip after the service today. Let's go over to our new location." I hope I don't cry telling you this. Paper towel?
Amy Bench: [01:27:00] Yeah. It's good.
Kathy Bowser: [01:27:30] Do I need to start all over?
Kathy Bowser: [01:28:00] Yeah, that's probably a good idea and we'll have to wiggle all over. Okay. One Sunday while we were building our church and only the shell was up yet. The concrete floor was laid and the steel walls were up. Even the insulation wasn't in place yet. We said, "Let's all make a pilgrimage over to our new church building right after the service." Everybody agreed to do that.
[01:28:30] We made a little caravan. It wasn't that far, it's a small town. We arrived at the church building and we all went in. This was a feeling of awe for this group. We looked around and we had a window cut in the steel wall, huge, where we were going to put a stained glass symbol of our church, and that was, of course, wide open and just you could see the sky.
[01:29:30] We stood there looking up at the sky and a couple of the choir members began singing acapella. We're standing on holy ground, and I want you to know, not a dry eye in the place. We had one or two straight members of our church. One of them came up and she said, "In all my life, I have never had the experience walking across a threshold as I did walking into this building where I felt absolutely embraced by God." We all lost it on that, and she was straight. What that meant to our people, amazing. Cut.
[01:30:30] I think since I had never experienced a great deal of discrimination or pain, I had a good career, successful. I had a wonderful wife. My family eventually more than accepted me, my mother embraced the gay life. I didn't realize the depth of pain and the loss of personhood that many of the people sitting in that church had experienced, and that changed as I was their pastor. Cut again. I'm sorry. Okay. We might have to put some new powder on.
Mason Funk: [01:32:00] It's okay to cry, but I'm not a psychologist or a therapist, but I just wonder if some of those tears, in fact, are for your own journey, for your own healing of what was a very complicated relationship over your lifetime.
Kathy Bowser: [01:32:30] It was about the people. I felt when I was pastor, once I realized who the congregation was and what they had been through once I internalized their stories, it was about the people. I loved being with them when they were in trouble, I went to the jail, I went to the hospital, I went to the deathbed. I went to the family who had spurned them. That was a mission because these people were wonderful people.
Mason Funk: [01:35:30] That's really wonderful. Thank you for all of that, very generous of you. Let's talk about your work today with the Coalition for Aging LGBT. I'm not sure the exact name, but tell us about that work and the importance of that work.
Kathy Bowser: [01:36:00] One of the things that's happening all across the world right now is the baby boomers. It's not just happening in the United States, it's happening all across the board where this huge number of people are going to be elderly, and the world isn't ready for it.
Kathy Bowser: [01:37:30] A couple years ago, the White House held a summit on LGBT aging and invited the founder of the Coalition for Aging LGBT, Cannon Flowers. He's the founder here. They invited him to come and to hear about and to talk about with other leaders from across the country what can we do about this situation, because even though we lost thousands and thousands and thousands to AIDS, we still have a whole bunch more people who are going to age.
[01:38:30] He went to the White House Conference and then President Obama said, "This isn't something you could build buildings to get out of. You cannot build your way out of this crisis that's going to happen in your community." When Cannon came back from that summit, he decided to do another summit to just begin raise awareness in our community that, "Guess what folks, we're in our 60s, 70s, 80s. Even though we fought the fight during AIDS, we had survived. Now, what are we going to do?"
Mason Funk: [01:42:00] Just talk about more. We're just trying to talk to various people about this to elucidate what are some of those particular challenges. You mentioned housing, but in terms of cultural competency, which is [crosstalk 01:42:11] bureaucrats.
Kathy Bowser: [01:42:30] The big projects that we're working on currently, that CFA LGBT, the Coalition For Aging LGBT is working on right now is a copy sort of, of what the human rights campaign does. We are wanting to give an equality index to senior living facilities and LGBT competency.
Mason Funk: [01:45:00] I know. Well, we have a few minutes and I want to give you time to talk about ... First, let me ask you this. Have we covered everything that you would say is important to cover about your story? Have we left anything out? You might wake up still tonight and go, "I didn't talk about this." As far as you can tell, have we covered it?
Kathy Bowser: [01:45:30] Evie Lou Pridgen. Evie Lou Pridgen was the director of Team Occasions at Oak Lawn Community Services when I became a volunteer there in Dallas. Oak Lawn Community Services had started as Oak Lawn Counseling Center. It was a counseling center for LGBT people.
[01:46:00] When the AIDS crisis came, they quickly move. They realized they had to move into offering a myriad of services. Evie Lou Pridgen was the director of communications there, but in an organization like that when you're the director of communications, you get to do everything. This woman was tireless, but the thing that she would be at every meeting, she never ever .... I don't know when she slept. She was involved.
[01:46:30] We had … One of the programs that Oak Lawn Community Services had was the Buddy Program and she'd be trying to recruit people for the Buddy Program even though that wasn't really the responsibility. She was passionate about taking care of these guys. She had a wide circle of friends who were involved in cooking dinner for the AIDS house.
Mason Funk: [01:48:30] Now, Carol West, you've talked some about her, but give us a sketch of Carol and what you think her particular gifts have been.
Kathy Bowser: [01:49:00] I first ran into Carol West before I was willing to go back to church. She was one of the many ministers at the Cathedral of Hope when it was not its beautiful self. I ran into her at functions and meetings. Carol West has a charisma about her and she has a way of listening intently and remembering what you tell her.
Kathy Bowser: [01:50:30] Oh, Mary Mallory. Okay. I met Mary Mallory. She was the owner of the house that we used to visit at the lake. She was co-owner, the group of lesbians that owned that house. I met Mary Mallory through parties at the lake. Then I discovered the kind of work that she was doing in the community.
Amy Bench: [01:52:30] You touched on it a little bit. I think the first question you came out to was your dad and then your sister. Maybe I'll tell you and then ...
Kathy Bowser: [01:53:00] When I wanted to come out to my sister, we went to the beach because the beach was such a big deal in our family. We're sitting on the beach, getting to be evening, the mood is good. I think we're drinking. Usually, we would have been. I called her, I said, "Jen, I have something to tell you. I'm gay." She just put her arm around me and she said, "Oh, Kathy, I think I've known that for a long time. You're just now getting around to it."
Mason Funk: [01:55:00] It's gay universe.
Kathy Bowser: [01:55:30] At some point along the line while I still was living in Florida, mom started to come over to dinner with me and Paula and then she started being more comfortable. It may have happened the day I threw her out of the house, because she was being very witchy with a capital B to Paula. I got quite angry about that and I said, "Mom, this is my house and if you want to be in it, this is how it is." She huffily left and went, but perhaps she thought about it a bit.
[01:57:00] Then one time, we were at a bar and a woman asked her to dance. She was a little nervous with that, and so was I. I was wanting to cut in, but she embraced the life. Sometimes, my mom was such a loved to party, love people, love the dancing, so it would come closing time at the bar and my mom would say, "Oh, we've been invited to breakfast." I'd say, "Mom, I'm tired." "Oh, let's go. They're such nice people."
Mason Funk: [01:58:00] Out of curiosity, does she ever ... Do they ever refer any of their moms to her?
Mason Funk: [01:58:30] Cathedral of Hope, not Celebration. [Crosstalk 01:58:32].
Mason Funk: [01:59:00] Okay. For just kind of for the record, tell us when you started, when you all started the Celebration On The Lake Church down there. Just to give us again, what was this mission, what was the mission you set out to fulfill with that church.
Kathy Bowser: [01:59:30] When we started Celebration On The Lake Church and it wasn't called that when we started. We didn't have a name. It was a group of weekenders at the lake who wanted to be able to be at the lake on the weekend and also participate in church and worship God. A couple of us tried at an Episcopalian Church and uh-uh. We asked Carol West to come and start the church.
Mason Funk: [02:00:00] She's good to help us to make sure we have the facts. I have four short questions that I use at the end of every interview. These are intended to be just like quicker answers. Your answers have been great. My first question is if somebody comes to you today and says, "I'm thinking about coming out," whatever that means to that person, from your experience, what piece of wisdom or guidance do you offer that person?
Kathy Bowser: [02:00:30] I guess I would ask them a question first. " Are you out to yourself?" Some of the time, we're not. I've had friends who were not. First, I would ask them a question, "Are you out to yourself? Are you comfortable with yourself? Do you believe this is really you?" I would want to get some more. Then after that, I would say, "Tell the person you love the most first and go from there."
Mason Funk: [02:01:00] Why tell the person you love the most first? Incorporate my question into your answer.
Kathy Bowser: [02:01:30] Maybe. I didn't think to ask her back then. I was all wrapped up in me.
Kathy Bowser: [02:02:00] My hope for the future would be that we, we in every possible way, we the people of this country in general, see the possibility of the evolution of the human race. That the binary systems are pretty much over. Even though it still exists in politics, it's pretty much over in human relationships, and that the whole spectrum is wide open to us. The young people that I was in the seminary with would not let me call them gay or bi or trans. They just didn't want a label, so that would be a wonderful way to live.
Kathy Bowser: [02:03:00] Male, female, have to be a certain way. If you're born a boy, you got to be a boy. My Fluffy would kill me for this, but there's only monogamy. There's all kinds of arrangements that are possible, but we just haven't accepted all of them yet.
Mason Funk: [02:03:30] To tell your story.
Kathy Bowser: [02:04:00] Oh, wow. I think it's important to tell my story because there will be facets of it that someone else can relate to. Someone else who hasn't made a transition of accepting themselves or hasn't told their story to anybody else in their life. Or someone who is perhaps fearful of being who they are for all the reasons that I was fearful of being who I was, because they won't get the promotion, because they won't keep their job, because all of those reasons. Perhaps this will be useful to them.
Kathy Bowser: [02:05:00] I think about a project like OUTWORDS as a living history today and an important history in the next 50 years. One of the things that a community needs to know is their origin, and the community always needs to know their identity. If we don't keep track of this, then the cohesiveness that our community now has may not continue.
Mason Funk: [02:05:30] That's really good. I haven't thought of it in those terms knowing our origins and our identity. That's just like a piece I can add to my reasons as I try to explain things.
Kathy Bowser: [02:06:00] I was thinking of the Hebrew people and how what ... They became a people not with Abraham, but with the exodus when they went out, and when they went through all those incredible troubles, they became a people. They developed an identity, a cohesiveness. That kind of makes me think about our community. Maybe the waters aren't quite parted yet like the Red Sea, but we are making it through the Red Sea step by step. We need to have records. The scripture that we read and the Hebrew scriptures is ancient, and we can see where they became who they are and we need something like that in our community.
Mason Funk: [02:07:00] That's great. I love that image. I think we're done.