DRAG, FAITH AND ROCK'N'ROLL
Grace Semler Baldridge is a force of nature. Both as an immensely talented musician and a dedicated activist, this ‘folky, unholy, preachers kid’ has turned the world of Christian music on its ear by becoming the first openly LGBTQ+ musician to claim the number one spot on the Billboard Christian Chart
Exploring what it means to be both queer and Christian has led Semler to produce an impressive catalogue of cutting edge content. Their documentary series ‘State Of Grace’ saw this fearless artist take to the highways of America in an effort to understand the churches exclusionary practices. Both hard hitting and heart warming, the show was nominated for a GLAAD Award in 2020 for Outstanding Digital Journalism.
It's been an extraordinary journey filled with unprecedented success, and ‘Selmer’ doesn’t intend on letting up any time soon. Semler invited Dreaming Magazine to their West Hollywood home for a quick chat and a cheeky glass of sacramental wine...
Firstly, congratulations on the amazing success of 'Preachers Kid'! How did you find out that you had topped the Christian Music Top 100?
I think like the second week of February, my wife woke me up with the news. I couldn't believe it! I did not expect it. So it was at number one for four days I think. That's pretty good!
There's a fantastic story behind this e.p, could you tell our readers what this record is all about, and the process behind it?
So I grew up a preacher's kid. My dad is an Anglican Priest, and he's actually a really sweet and kind and caring man. So I never really examined any sort of religious trauma that I might have had until lockdown happened. I was alone with my thoughts, and things just started to kind of come to the surface. So I started writing about it. And once I started it was like I'd turned on a faucet. I couldn't stop.So because we're in lockdown, I didn't have access to a proper studio or anything like that. I just really just was wanting to capture all of this, so I recorded everything on this USB mic at home and it ended up becoming 'Preacher's kid'. I put it out and I promoted it myself on TikTok. And it surprisingly went to number one on the Christian music charts. That's kind of how we got to where we are.
Have you received any kickback for deciding to categorising it as a Christian album?
I think initially a lot of people thought it was maybe a gimmick or a joke, that perhaps I was trolling or something so I've received a lot of messages to repent. You know, block Bible verses or whatever. And I think stuff like that's to be expected because we (lgbtq+ Community) are not represented as people of faith across the board. I was raised a Christian. My faith is important to me, and there's no division in who I am. But, because we're just starting to see representatives of our community step into our empowerment, there is that sort of initial reaction of “wait, you're not allowed to do that”. So I did receive responses to that effect, but I'm not surprised. I'm hoping that this is the beginning of more people coming forward and saying “you don't get to gatekeeper my beliefs!”.
On the other side of the fence, has anyone reached out from the Christian music industry to offer congratulations?
It's actually interesting. I've had kind of a mixture of some incredible artists come out and support me. People like Jennifer Knapp. She was this huge Christian music artist that I really looked up to, and she's been so supportive. Other artists too. Like one of the singers from 'DC Talk' has reached out to me. People have been like really encouraging.The other thing that's been interesting is that there are supporters who do not want to go on record, and DM'ed me privately. And thats great, but I do have this little thought in my head which is like “okay, you are supportive. But right now business for you is more important taking care of your family”.
Speaking of family, there is a scene in your documentary series, 'State Of Grace', in which your parents come to visit you in West Hollywood. It seems like they are really behind you.
They are really supportive! I'm really fortunate in that regard. They have had a lot of questions, so this record has brought up a lot of really good conversations between us. Things I never felt comfortable to bring up when I was a teenager. But they are so sweet, and have been really excited about everything. Also they've now very much heard me swear. So that's fun.
“My faith is important to me and there is no division in who I am"
Having been raised by in a devoutly religious atmosphere, were you aware of queer culture while you were growing up? Who were your first Queer Icons?
Oh sure! I remember me and this other kid, we both loved Lady Gaga when she started. Sure, there were other people who liked her songs and stuff, but for us it was different. We would find each other at school dances when 'Poker Face' came on, which is so gay! We weren't even out to each other then. I also remember watching Moulin Rouge and seeing Nicole Kidman in it. Something clicked for me at the end of that movie! I was like “oh, I don't really want to just be her friend”.
So in preparation for our chat, everyone at Dreaming binged 'State Of Grace'. It is such a great show, can you tell us how it all came about?
'State of Grace' actually started as a result of experiencing a rejection from my oldest and best friend, and venting to another friend of mine who is a producer at Refinery 29. She asked “is your friend putting you through this because of religion?” And I said yeah. She then asked if homophobia and transphobia was rooted in religion, to which I replied “in this country, yeah, it is”. She was looking to start her own show, and thought that all this was so interesting. So we went and shot the pilot. We explored how faith has become this intersection. It's almost like an impasse for some people. Like they can't talk about certain issues because they feel as though they will violate their most deeply held religious beliefs.
You show great empathy to the people you talk to. Baring in mind that many of them have some pretty serious grievances with the church, is it hard to reconcile your own faith with the stories you hear?
It's definitely something that I remember feeling very strongly about in the first episode, which was about conversion therapy. I wanting to be very sensitive to people who have been so incredibly harmed and hurt by Christians. I also had to be aware that I was coming into their space as a Christian, because I'm part of that harm. But as I've grown into my faith, as a person and in my work, I recognise that I have to own that harm.But, at the same time, I don't interpret my faith the way others do. I fundamentally disagree with their interpretations. So as a person of that shared faith, it is now incumbent upon me to do whatever I can to dismantle those harmful beliefs so I can protect my community.
The series has some really intense moments, but it also has a lighter side. Your trip to DragCon For example! What was that like?
I went the year prior as a fan and I got to see some of my favourite Queens and then got to interview some of my favourite Queens. I got totally starstruck when I met Alaska! I don't think I cried in front of her, but I definitely could have.
There is an amazing scene where you visit a DragCon Sunday service. That was really cool to watch!
It was so moving! There was this moment that I thought was really cool where the Queens welcomed question. I really wish that more churches would do that. So at the end of the Sunday service this really sweet preacher opened the floor up for questions, like you would at a panel. So they were passing a mic around, and one person said “I'm an atheist and I actually don't believe in anything that you guys said... but I had a nice time”. And then the preacher was like, “thank you!”. For some reason it was a sweet moment that stuck out to me.
And Finally, if you had to pick a drag name what would it be?
Something with 'Sin' in it! It has to be something religious, Right? I think I'd go really femme too. Back when I was being a good Christian girl, I was very femme. When people see photos of me before I came out, they say that I look like a drag queen!
'Preachers Kid' is available now on all major streaming platforms. For more info on Semler visit their Instagram.