I feel like I'm coming out of the closet again.  It's actually striking how similar this is to when I started admitting I was gay.  Here and there I would talk about "if" i were gay, or how maybe I'm bisexual.  I would hook up with someone and then rant against homosexuality in Friends Journal or in meeting.  Then I came out, blew the doors off the wall and no Quaker meeting in Greensboro was prepared. Though off topic, I think Friends meetings should very much consider how to be there for people when they are coming out of the closet, particularly those Friends who have grown up with a conservative ideology or in a conservative Christian meeting.  Suffice it to say, I have vascillated my entire life between my call to gospel ministry and gay pop culture.  And then, this weekend, I was hit by the holy spirit in meeting.  I couldn't handle what had happened, and tried to run the other way quickly thereafter.  Monday I was at work and couldn't concentrate.  I don't know why I went to Quaker Jane's website, but I did. I read the "women's reasons for going plain" and it confirmed years of "ideas" and "notions" that had crept into my mind when I would actually entertain the idea of going plain.


You see, after 21 years of being out of the closet, I can no longer live in the gay pop culture world. This life is, literally, killing me. It's killing my soul and my body has taken enough hits.  The wages of sin are death.  This I know experientially and experimentally.  I have directly or indirectly broken at some point in my life each of the ten commandments.  I have lived a life that is, in essence, an abomination / unclean. Before any of my friends think that I"m going ex-gay, think again. God spoke to me when I first came out in the rose garden by Hobbs Hall at Guilford.  I know being gay and being in a relationship with a man seemingly runs counter to scripture. Some would make the same argument of women as elders and ministers, of not being Kosher, etc.  That's for another post as well.  No, my life has been that life of resistance and obedience to God.  Of  one GIANT leap back every time I go forward. Well, now it's time for a HUMONGOUS leap forward.


I need the hedge.  You see, it's not a wall.  So many people, mostly Quakers actually, have counseled me against going plain.  The reasons varied. One my dad raised which was "it seems that early Friends wanted to not draw attention to themselves, but rather did not want to participate in the vain fashions of this world.  It's not about a constume, but a lifestyle.  I would agree.  I don't know what plain will look like for me. I live downtown in Baltimore.  I do yoga. I go to the beach every summer.  I like to sit outside  in the summer heat.  How I dress will need to be practical.  It seems that many plain folk live in the burbs or rural areas and those who live in the cities adopt such attire.  I've been examining pictures of plain Friends from London and Baltimore who look nothing like the plain Friends today who model themselves after Rural Mennonites. However, again, I need the hedge.  There are places that I can't and won't go if I am plain. There are activities that I can't and won't do if  I am plain.  And there are people in my world who can't and won't accept me because I am plain. Friends, that is a good thing.  I'm not trying to draw attention to myself. I'm being led to put up some shrubbery between me and my neighbors.  Through conversation perhaps we can find a way to talk, and perhaps they will find welcome in my yard as they come to know my soul.  But until then, there is that which will provide a barrier over which we can talk, yet provide enough distance that protects me from, well, myself and sometimes, certainly, them.  This is my reality.  It's unfortunate, but living a life of sin, living so fully in the world sometimes requires protection.  I need the hedge.


There are other goals that I've tried to attain as well.  I want to buy fair-trade clothing. I want to simplify my life. I want to divert attention from "looking good" to "being faithful and therefore being good."  That goodness can't come from my actions, not even just by changing how I dress and live, if those changes are not Spirit-led.  But I also know the 12-step slogan "fake it till you make it."  I do not claim just by going plain that I will achieve the spiritual state that I so desire, and I do not attempt to say that this will be for life.  No, Friends, this is about obedience.  I know my condition.  I know my state.  I know that everything that I have tried has failed. My will, my ideas, my plans have led to nothing.  Here I must yield completely. 


I'm scared to death.  It feels so lonely.  CW, my partner,  was serious when he said that he would support me in my transition.  Then he noted how it sounded like I was going through gender-reassignment. Then he noted that considering our world, it is radical, and  it is a transition, and it won't be accepted and people don't understand.  Many won't want to understand.  I'm lucky to have my parents' support, and my partner's.  I am hoping that those of you who have chosen to go plain, especially those of you who are urban dwellers, can help out here.  Certainly I know many of you understand the call to obedience, and maybe some having walked a darker path before finally making yielding to something that was seemingly a huge step for you.  I welcome all prayerful thoughts and sharing.


In that precious saving Light of Christ,



Views: 1753

Comment by Mark Wutka on 11th mo. 3, 2011 at 10:13am


  Some of what you describe sounds similar to one of my reasons for dressing plain. That is, I dress this way so that I stand out, not in a flashy way, but in such a way that I can't blend in with the crowd so easily. It makes me more aware of my behavior and my attitude. In a way, it's the opposite of a hedge, more like living in a glass house. I can't hide behind the hedge. But, I understand how it could serve as a hedge to separate you from those who might pull you into things that you don't want to do.


I do get stares occasionally, and sometimes odd questions like "Are you a mormon?" It does provide an opportunity for speaking to people, which was another reason for me. I have found it to be a rewarding experience so far.

With love,


Comment by Kristen McLewin on 11th mo. 3, 2011 at 3:54pm


I'm a plain-dressing Quaker lesbian.  Welcome to my world.  :)  I don't have much time to chat now, but wanted to offer support and some understanding and an invitation to chat.  I don't live in a big urban area, but I do live in a city in which no one dresses Plain and I stand out even in the modern plain form in which I dress (long solid colored skirt, matching plain shirt, navy scarf/headcovering).  It has been, and is a struggle.  However, the leading was strong and continuous, and I have felt significant relief amidst the struggle.  Blessings on you, Friend.

Comment by Sue Tannehill on 11th mo. 4, 2011 at 8:35am

Dear Kevin Douglas,

I am led to say this: Focus on  what you ARE being asked to do and not how others will respond. That's the first guideline for modern plain I think. What do I need to wear to do this task in a Godly way? Planning for rejection and criticism often leads to being a little defensive and seeing sub-text where there is none.

What an amazing thing to be spoken to so clearly, compellingly and with such love. What else accounts for asking you to create an "in the world, but not of it" hedge? You must be very loved. But then, so are all those who would criticize. I think plain is about comfort and coverage that's appropriate. As a woman (albeit and older woman now!) modesty is hammered into us along with a very sexualized image. I reject that by choosing not to dye my hair, paint my nails or wear makeup except as part of a performance (either teaching or storytelling) where I want the audience in the back of the room to be able to see my facial expressions.

Perhaps there are a few queries that you could use for your own version of dressing plain. Am I wearing this garment so that others notice my body/physical appearance/sexuality? Does this garment help me "pretend" to be what I am not? (It probably doesn't apply to you, but for women, push up bras with extra padding would fit in here). Is this garment designed to help other people fantasize or have thoughts of jealousy, anger,  or lust? T shirts with provocative sayings would fit in here. Does this garment rely on status for its appeal? Does it say Hollister, or Aeropostale or something that says to the world, "I am wearing the latest fashions and have the money to do so." I think that queries like this may help you not worry about wearing yoga clothes or skimpier clothing if it's for a purpose. I wear a tank suit swimming laps because that is what I am doing. It isn't fancy, just functional.

On a practical level, my "plain" involves either long dresses or long skirts with pockets, turtlenecks in the winter, and a vest of some kind. This isn't laid in stone. In the garden I wear jeans and old shirts -- sometimes if it's hot I  wear a man's sleeveless undershirt type garment -- but if I have to run to the store, I throw a blouse over it. My focus is more on what do I need to do to care for my family or the world, and which clothing is most appropriate. I agree that clothing that reminds you of who you belong to and what you are called to in this world is a wonderful gift, but it isn't a slavishly followed costume.

In His Love,



Comment by Paula Deming on 11th mo. 4, 2011 at 10:47am

Dear Kevin,

If you haven't done so yet, visit Isabel Penraeth's website quakerjane.com. You might feel less alone if you sit with her writings for awhile.

Be absolutely sure of your leadings. Test them. Do not rush yourself. Personal goals may not align with what God asks of you. Be still and wait patiently for that instruction.

I might be considered "modern plain" according to Isabel's definition--long skirts, solid colors. No covering for me, though. Lloyd Lee Wilson, a plain-dressing Friend from North Carolina, told me to not go plain unless I couldn't NOT go plain. And as I have gone grayer in my clothing, recently I distinctly heard a message to "go home and put on your yellow dress."  ~No, that wasn't the entire message, but the message was clear that I was not to become over-somber.

God will lead you to where you are supposed to be. Fear not.

Yours in the Light, Paula

Comment by Alice Yaxley on 11th mo. 4, 2011 at 12:15pm
Dear Kevin-Douglas, thanks for writing, your account is very moving. Bless you! Huge sympathy and I am so glad your partner is supportive too. Precious indeed. God bless.
Comment by Bill Samuel on 11th mo. 4, 2011 at 4:12pm

Dear Kevin,

Be faithful to your true Teacher. Be concerned with what Dallas Willard calls the Audience of One. That One will be faithful regardless of what those around you think. Be much in prayer, and just how plain is to be for you will unfold in God's time. Be thankful for the support of your partner and your parents, and most of all for God's amazing love and grace.

Comment by ben schultz on 11th mo. 4, 2011 at 5:21pm
Calm down dear, God isn't all that interested in how you dress.
Comment by Kevin-Douglas Olive on 11th mo. 5, 2011 at 9:21am

Thank you so much everyone for your thoughts.  "Testing" is the very thing I've been doing. I have this black, broad brimmed had that I have had for over a decade. I wore it a few times with my late partner (he had one too) to meeting a few times, but it didn't feel right and they sat around the house for years after he died.  I put it back on and felt ridiculous. I looked in the mirror and couldn't stand to look at myself. I felt so silly; and yet I wore it to work anyway.  Interestingly enough, not one white person had anything to say to me, and one of my friends and colleagues giggled behind my back as I was talking to another colleague.  I don't understand the difference so far in reaction.  I've had white people look, point and stare rudely.  Most of my black neighbors say nothing or actually come up and talk to me, ask me about the hat or hollar compliments on it.  I generally tell people I'm wearing it to be faithful, and that I admit to feeling a bit uncomfortable but I feel God wants me to do it.  I've had strangers encourage me in that regard.  I have talked to my partner about it.  I don't want to analyze these reactions too much, only to say that it has softened my heart.  My dad just told me not to loose my sense of humor over it and I should be fine. He is right, of course.


So yesterday CW was hired to spin (he's a DJ) at very well known jewelry store in a predominantly Jewish part of the county.  I went dressed up very nicely in my grandfathers's cuff links. I was, yes, dressed to kill as I was told.  I felt every inch of my body resisting going dressed that way.  Friends, I was tense, I felt sick to my stomach, everything made me jump.  CW asked me what was wrong, but I didn't want to be a spoil sport so I just blamed it on his driving (ha ha ha, well it was half true).  I looked around at the wealth and could feel the lure, the pull and before I knew it my conversation was on the material and superficial.  At the end of the night, I told CW, "well the button fell out of this shirt tonight, I'm retiring it."  He was so glad I went with him.  In truth, I told many of the vendors that Jewelry was lost on me, that I was there supporting my partner but in truth, as a Quaker, this stuff was lost on me, though I can appreciate the art of it.  As a Quaker.  Baloney.  As a Quaker I did not listen to my Guide that said "Friend, I told thee to start going plain. Thee went the entire other way just this once. How did your soul fare? Did thee feel closer to me?"


I didn't. The Light was there, teaching me the whole time. Teaching me that my actions, however small I may think they may be, are still important. I am reminded now, as I write this, that it's not about the clothes, it's not about the look, it's not about God being interested in how I dress: it's about being faithful.  God is interested in me being faithful, and if it means testing this leading article of clothing by article of clothing, so be it. I will. I will and I know that many of you will pray with me.  I know the power of prayer. I also am learning the wonderful feeling of being faithful and the dreadful feeling of doing what I want  "just this once."

Comment by Bruce R. Arnold on 11th mo. 5, 2011 at 5:48pm

Kevin-Michael, I found it helpful to take it as a journey. I didn't jump in all the way at once. I started with what was simple and what worked well for me in my lifestyle, which happened to be shirts and pants. As outer garments were retired, I selected new ones with plain living in mind. (I don't think it would be "plain" to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe!) This allowed me to get used to the steps I was taking, and others around me, too. I eventually became quite comfortable with the broad-brimmed hat, but I didn't add it on first thing! (My favorite story about the hat is this: my pick-up had broken down and I was waiting for a tow, sitting on the tailgate on a sunny autumn day. A guy driving by leaned out of his window and yelled, "Hey Waylon! Love ya! Got all your albums!" If you look at old pictures of Waylon Jennings, you will see that he often wore a broad-brimmed hat. I also had a Waylon-ish beard at the time. I got a good laugh from it.)

These days, I have reverted to modern plain from the more Mennonite type of dress. I am glad that I had the experience I had. It is good to be faithful to our calls, wherever they lead. But it was also clear, several years later when I got a job as a therapist with disturbed children in a residential treatment center, that I had to find a way to dress plain within a different context, one in which men were expected to wear a tie. I felt that I was being led to participate in those children's healing than I was to maintain a particular style of dress, and so I started a new phase of the journey, how to be plain in modern clothes. It offers less of a hedge, perhaps, and yet it is obvious to those who care about such things that there are no name brands, no fancy accessories, etc. The main thing is, that we follow where the Spirit leads, and not that we wear certain articles. If I thought God was leading me to put the broad-brim back on, I reckon that's what I'd do. 

May you find your journey to be as fulfilling as mine has been. 

Comment by Bridget Casterline on 11th mo. 7, 2011 at 1:22pm
My thoughts on plain dress are that those of us who are called to it are those of us who need it.  So I do what's needed and trust God to have chosen the right path for me.  He's got a better track record than I do, anyway. ;-)


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