lgbtq support

Queer Bird

Queer Bird

Gay or straight. Homosexual. Same-sex attracted. Queer.

Language is powerful. Words are powerful. They shape our thoughts, our perceptions, our interactions with one another, and even our day to day decisions. Our choice of words reveals how we conceptualize the world and relate to everything in it. Through the words that we choose to describe ourselves, we disclose our allegiances and aspirations. Or maybe we reject labels, and thus confound other people’s attempts to categorize us.

But powerful as it is, language is also imperfect. Descriptors are approximations. Words carry baggage – denotations and connotations. Sometimes too much baggage, sometimes not enough. Language is an imperfect representation of reality, often close enough to get the job done, but sometimes just plain wrong.

Take an example: when I say the word “bird,” what do you think of? A small flying animal that has wings, lays eggs, and builds nests? A prototypical bird likely matches all of these descriptors, but lots of birds do not. Some birds aren’t small (emus, ostriches, condors); some don’t fly (penguins, kiwis, cassowaries); and some don’t lay eggs (male birds of any species!) Are penguins, condors, and male sparrows not birds? Of course they are, but just don’t expect any of them to fly into your tiny back-yard bird house and lay eggs.

Gay or straight. Homosexual. Same-sex attracted. Queer. Which label fits? Any of them? All of them? None of them? Does it matter who is applying the term, and to whom? I definitely don’t label myself “straight,” even though to an outsider, my life would seem to best match that script. I won’t use “homosexual,” as it strikes me as too clinical, as if describing an illness. I reject “same-sex attracted,” even though it literally applies. The denotation is right, but the connotation seems belittling, as if my attraction to men is analogous to a straight guy’s preferential attraction to blonds. It’s like describing humans as “food-oriented” because we’re attracted to eating food. That leaves “gay” and “queer.” I feel like either one or both of them apply.

I’m curious readers (all three of you), what term or terms do you use describe yourself? Is there one in particular that really seems to fit, while the others do not? Do you use more than one of them interchangeably? Or perhaps you use one term for certain situations and audiences, and another for others? I’m not really looking for definitions, which I can find all over the internet, but rather personal responses – how do you relate to these words or how do they relate to you?

Not good to be alone

Adam and Eve

Photo Credit: brockit.com

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner. (Genesis 2:18, NRSV)

For some Christians, the account of the creation of man and woman in Genesis chapter 2 is foundational to their understanding of sexual ethics. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”  OK, sometimes they’re not quite so impudent, but that’s the general idea. The account in Genesis is taken as normative for sexual relationships, and since it involved one man and one woman, that’s how every sexual relationships should be. If that’s your perspective, this post is for you.

And my purpose is NOT to try to convince you that you’re wrong. (While I do, in fact, believe that way of thinking is wrong, I’ll save that for another post). For now I’m content to say that you’re entitled to read and interpret the passage in accordance with your knowledge and beliefs.

But I would like you to own up to the repercussions of this belief, especially in the context of the passage quoted. Chapter 1 of Genesis includes a series of mini-creations, all punctuated with the assessment “and God saw that it was good…” Then we work through chapter 2 down to verse 18, where for the first time, God notes “it is NOT good…,” in particular, not good for the man to be alone. That’s why God made a partner for Adam.

Is it relevant that God made a woman as a partner? I guess one reading of this passage might be that it was the creation of another person that was significant. Adam was no longer alone, because there was now another person. If you read the passage that way, you might take it to just mean that we need relationships with other people to be healthy. In that case, then it wouldn’t seem that the passage was saying anything about sexual relationships at all, but rather just about relationships in general.

On the other hand, maybe Eve’s gender was relevant to the story, and I think many Christians assume that to be the case. God created a sexual partner, a mate for Adam. But why? Because it was not good for him to be alone. In this case, it is a passage about a special kind of relationship – a sexual relationship. And from that we would conclude that sexuality is by default a pretty important thing for human beings.

So do you see the problem? If sex was an important part of the equation when God made Eve to address Adam’s need, then what does the church have to say to gay people? “God admits that it’s not good for us to be alone, but in your case we’ll make an exception”? “God provides a way for us straight people to have a special bond of intimacy with another human, but not for you gays”?  It doesn’t exactly convey “God loves you!”

And granted, plenty of straight people may not have such a partner in their lives, in some cases for a season, in others for entire lifetimes. But “wait” and “someday if” are very different from “never” and “even if.”  That’s a heavy burden to place on someone.

Shallow Understanding

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It’s not his fault. I mean, at least he’s trying. I think. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know that I’ve come out to several close friends. One of them in particular has been trying hard to understand. He’s more than willing to listen; he initiates often; and I know that in his own way, he cares about me. But sometimes his attempts at understanding are more painful than the plain-spoken hatred of homophobes.

My being gay is not analogous to your experiencing lust

I’m a little surprised how common this thinking is among evangelical Christians. Have they really not thought it through? “You know, I see women all the time that I think are sexy, but I choose not to act on it.” So, if straight guys occasionally have to curtail their sexual appetite, that’s somehow equivalent to gay people forsaking their sexuality altogether? It feels a bit like someone saying “Oh, you’re not allowed to eat food, ever? Well, I know just how you feel! One time I had to say ‘no’ to a second bowl of ice cream.”

There’s a huge difference between being told there should be some limits on your sexual expression somewhere, and being told that any expression of your sexual desire would be wrong, in every context. Matthias Roberts writes about this way of thinking in his post Stop Comparing Your Lust to My Sexual Orientation.

Your six months of studying can’t compare to my years of lived experience

This one was especially frustrating. My friend wants to discuss with me what the Bible has to say about gay sex. As far as I can tell, it’s not in a Bible-bashy kind of way – I think he’s genuinely curious about how my beliefs have evolved over time. I used to believe the standard evangelical line, and now I don’t.

The problem is that I’m not willing to engage the issue on a purely academic level. Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than capable of defending my beliefs. But for me it’s not ONLY academic. It’s personal! And if it’s personal for me, I want it to be personal for him. Get to know gay people. Listen to their stories. Hear firsthand the pain that Christians have caused, and continue to cause, to LGBT people.

In response he said that he was very invested, and that he had spent significant time praying about the issue and studying the scriptures. When I pressed for details, he elaborated that a few years ago, he and his wife thought that one of their children might be gay. So they had studied the Bible long and hard to find out what it had to say, and in the end weren’t convinced of anything other than the “traditional” view they had already held.

But where in that process did they get to know any gay people? What sources did they study? What experts did they consult? I’m with Kevin Garcia when he says I Don’t Need Another Straight Pastor to Tell My Story. If you want to engage in a conversation about gay people, make sure you START BY LISTENING TO GAY PEOPLE!

Imposed lifelong celibacy is an incredibly heavy burden

OK. I understand that in the end, not everyone will agree with me. People will reach their own conclusions. I hope that people will at least get to know gay people before deciding what they believe about the ethics of gay relationships, but even then, they still may reach different conclusions than I have. But whatever you choose to believe about the ethics of gay relationships, don’t minimize the weight of the burden of imposed celibacy. Speaking about the religious leaders of his day, Jesus said “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4). It’s one thing to reach the conclusion that gay sex is wrong, and that consequently gay people should choose celibacy. It’s quite another to pretend that for them to do so is not excruciatingly difficult. And then, as some Christians do, to add the implication that if a gay person chooses another path, it’s somehow indicative of a lack of self-control.

Don’t underestimate the damage done by attitudes like yours

It’s relatively easy to discount the bile spewed by obnoxious haters. It’s much harder to reconcile the emotional dissonance caused when someone who seems to love you nevertheless embraces beliefs that deny your basic personhood. And that’s what it feels like to me.

 

January 2016 Update

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Well it’s been a long time since I’ve posted, and with the new year, I figured it’s time for an update. Way back in January of last year, I posted about coming out to a friend. In the year since then, I’ve come out to  two other friends, and just a few of weeks ago, my wife shared our situation with a close friend of hers. So, progress, I guess. No resolution; no major turning points; but incremental progress nonetheless.

So where do we stand? I’m still gay, my wife is still straight, and we’re still married. I’m still celibate. I still love my wife. I’m still confused. And I’m still afraid for the future. I’m out now to five friends – the five people I would consider my closest friends. My wife, a friend from high school, a college roommate, a graduate school buddy, and my writer friend. In the process of coming out over the past couple of years I’ve gain a few small insights.

Acceptance is a low bar

Four of the five people I’ve come out to already knew some of the story. Like my wife, they’re all people that I confided in early in our relationships. They all shared the same evangelical understanding that I embraced at that time – specifically that being “same-sex attracted” wasn’t a sin, but “acting on it” was (see Not Chipper). So with each of these friends, early in our relationships, there was a “round one” coming out. Not “I’m gay,” but rather “I struggle with homosexual temptation.” And I remember clearly what a relief it was when they accepted me anyway!

It now strikes me as sad that I felt like that was at stake. I trusted them enough to confide in them, but not enough that I had any confidence in their response.

Judgment is a two-way street

So from my teen years onward, I’ve had a group of friends who supported me as a “same-sex attracted” guy striving to live an “evangelical-approved” straight lifestyle. When I myself bought into that mindset, it was great to have such support; but as my own views changed, it just turned into a new and different closet. “Sure they like me now, but if they only knew…” Keeping Secrets is exhausting.

And so I feared their judgment if they were to find out. But it struck me recently that I had been guilty of judging them in the same way that I only feared that they would judge me. If they found out that I had become gay-affirming in my beliefs, I was afraid that they would reject me. But in truth, if they had been gay-affirming in the first place, I probably would have never pursued a relationship.

I need more gay friends

One constant throughout the years has been the perpetual sense of isolation. It certainly helps to be out to my closest friends (I’m no longer alone with my thoughts), but then again it can be isolating in a different way. For most of them, I’m their one gay friend. Pretty poor exemplar, wouldn’t you say? When I was fully in the closet, being gay was nothing in my life. Then as I came out, it suddenly became the most salient thing. But when I’m with other gay people, it feels like it’s no longer nothing, and it’s also not everything; it can just be something – a part of who I am.

The Bible is Not…

The Bible

Susan Cottrell of Freed Hearts reposted a Facebook post by Jim Rigby, pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin TX. From Jim’s post (emphasis mine):

I love the Bible and study it most days, but the Bible is not intended to be a substitute for a functioning human brain or heart.

I do not believe the sun rotates around the earth just because the Bible says that Joshua stopped the sun. I do not believe the mustard seed is the smallest seed even though Jesus said that it was.

The stories of the Bible can give communities a common vocabulary to talk about what it means a human being in the cosmos, but the Bible is not a reliable guide for science, or for history, or sometimes even for ethics.

The Bible says we are responsible for our own actions, which means we are also responsible for our own thinking. If the Bible can be wrong about astronomy and horticulture, it can also be wrong about slavery, evolution, women and homosexuality.

As the Bible itself warns, if anything (including our interpretation of the Bible) makes us loving, it is right; but if anything (including our interpretation of the Bible) makes us cruel, it is wrong.

See Susan’s post A Warning Label For The Bible.

Roster of Love

Roster of Love

After my earlier post Roster of Hate, about prominent fundevangelicals who attacked the supreme court ruling on same sex marriage, it occurred to me that there are also many prominent Christians who have expressed love and support, celebrating the victory. So here is my roster of LOVE – gay Christians and straight allies who celebrated the victory for LGBT people. Many of these people have positively impacted me (and I’m sure many others) through their writing and activism. There are MANY more, but I’ve just chosen a few that come to mind.

Pick and Choose

A couple of great posts by Fred Clark about the mental gymnastics some people go through to live as they please, condemn who they want, and back it all up with the Bible. As one example, these people want to read certain passages from Leviticus and apply them to (or rather against) gay people, yet it would be inconvenient to have to abide by the adjoining passages. So they come up with an explanation: “Jesus abolished the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, but the moral law remains in full force.” BOOM! Take that gaybies! “The moral law against sex between two men or two women is constant and eternal. But we’re no longer bound by those silly ceremonial laws about not eating pork and the death penalty for adultery.”

Clark doesn’t buy it (and neither do I):

The problem is that this distinction between ceremonial and moral law in Leviticus isn’t actually a thing. It doesn’t come from Leviticus, but can only be retroactively imposed back onto it. And the text itself doesn’t welcome such an imposition.

The people who first wrote and compiled and read the Hebrew scriptures didn’t make such a distinction. Nor did first-century Jews, such as Jesus and Paul. The categories of “clean” and “unclean” in the Hebrew scriptures don’t really allow for this distinction either. It won’t let us treat those categories as merely “ceremonial” and somehow divorced from the matter of morality.

This problem becomes more acute when we actually try to apply this anachronistic distinction. The first step is, of course, to classify all the dietary stuff as “ceremonial” law and all the sex stuff as “moral” law. (Thus, shrimp is OK, but butt-secks is still bad.) But then it turns out we don’t want to keep all of the sex stuff, just some of it. So we have to sift through the sex bits, reclassifying the laws involving menstruation as “ceremonial” while still keeping many of the adjoining sex laws as moral.

Clark is writing in response to an earlier post by Tim Keller, who tries another tack: “Christ changed how we worship,” he writes, “but not how we live.” Clark responds:

That seems promising — until you start to look at the laws he consigns to the realm of worship rather than “how we live.” Eating shrimp? That’s worship. Menstruation? Worship. Promoting the welfare and prosperity of ethnic outsiders? Worship.

I love the tone of Clark’s piece, as well as the logical clarity with which he dismantles Keller. Read Clark’s entire piece at ‘Ceremonial law’ folklore is no substitute for an actual hermeneutic. His earlier post is also available at ‘God hates shrimp’: Picking and choosing among abominations.

B*got vs. F@ggot

Bigot v FaggotFor more on Catholic Vote’s obnoxious video, read this excellent post entitled B*got vs. F@ggot by Domenick Scudera. Much more thoughtful than my own emotional reaction, Scudera spells out exactly why Catholic Vote’s video is offensive. Among the reasons:

  • “You are not a victim. Appropriating the language of victimhood is not the same as being a victim…”
  • “Your claims of loving gay people are hollow. If you truly cared about your gay friends, you would never compare your fake oppression to their genuine suffering and persecution…”
  • “Your opinion is a choice. Being gay is innate. Your video is cleverly edited to make it appear as if you are ‘coming out.’ “ Not in the least analogous to the experience of a gay person coming out.

Read the rest at Huffington Post.

The limits of understanding

UnderstandingIt’s been  a while since I last posted. Before this unscheduled hiatus, it seemed like I was on a roll. So many thoughts rushing through my head, so much to process… the urgency felt a bit like giving birth: when the time arrives, there’s no holding back, you know it’s going to be painful, yet there’s some hope of getting through to the other side. So I feel like I went through the pains of labor, but where the hell is my baby?

I guess there are limits to the utility of “understanding.” I think sometimes I operate as if understanding will solve all of my problems. “If I can just find the right way to look at things; if I can adopt the right perspective – then everything will be OK.” But every time I approach some new perspective, hopeful that a new level of understanding will bring me some relief, instead I find that the mirage evaporates, and I’m alone again in the desert. (Geez, faux-poetic much?)

Don’t get me wrong – it’s all been very productive. Amazing progress, I’d say: I genuinely accept myself as a gay man. (Hmmm… well, at least I’ve come a long way in that direction). I have deeper insight into how I’ve been affected by the evangelical culture I grew up in. I have greater empathy for people all over the LGBTQ spectrum. I’m more willing to speak out on behalf of LGBTQ people. So sure, great progress. All very good. But…

  • I’m still lonely. I don’t feel like there’s any community I really belong to. I don’t quite fit in with my new-found gay friends, who find it strange that I remain in a mixed-orientation marriage. I’ve never quite fit into the dominant heteronormative culture, and especially not into the evangelical subculture I’ve now abandoned.
  • I’m still stuck. I love my wife and she loves me, but we haven’t been able to find a path for the future that we can both embrace. She places a high value on mongamy and faithfulness. I totally get that, and I think I feel the same way. But now that I finally accept myself as a gay man, the thought of remaining celibate for the rest of my life is depressing.
  • I still have authentic sexual needs. For most of my life I’ve denied it, because I refused to accept the legitimacy of those feelings. But as I said, I really have come to accept that I am gay. No more artificial walls to separate me from that basic truth. Maybe masturbation and fantasy can geninuely express my sexuality, but they can’t really fulfill the need for sexual intimacy.
  • I still have authentic emotional and relational needs. I need friendship and intimacy. I don’t doubt that my wife and my family love me. But I can’t get past the thought that they love me despite the fact that I’m gay. She doesn’t love me because I’m gay – everything would be so much easier if I weren’t. It feels somehow pathetic to be loved despite who I am. I desperately want to experience being loved because of who I am.
  • I’m still afraid. Afraid that all this understanding has come along too late to do me any good. Afraid that even if I had the freedom to look, that I’d never find a guy who would really love me for who I am. Afraid that I’m too old or too broken to be worth it.

Sorry everyone – just venting here, I suppose. I usually try to make these posts something that might benefit someone else, but for today, this is all I’ve got.

What gave me away?

faggot-horizontal
It was almost a year ago that I first saw a video of Panti Bliss giving an impassioned talk at the Abbey Theatre in Ireland. I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve never had to deal with the level of abuse that she describes, but it makes me incredibly sad to think of the many LGBTQ people who do face such overt hatred.

Have you ever been standing at a pedestrian crossing when a car drives by and in it are a bunch of lads, and they lean out the window and they shout “Fag!” and throw a milk carton at you?

Now it doesn’t really hurt. It’s just a wet carton and anyway they’re right – I am a fag. But it feels oppressive.

When it really does hurt, is afterwards. Afterwards I wonder and worry and obsess over what was it about me, what was it they saw in me? What was it that gave me away? And I hate myself for wondering that. It feels oppressive and the next time I’m at a pedestrian crossing I check myself to see what is it about me that “gives the gay away” and I check myself to make sure I’m not doing it this time.

That part I can relate to, as I imagine many LGBTQ people can. I’m not talking about the abusive behavior, which somehow I’ve largely escaped. But rather the self-doubt that turns to self-hatred. The persistent fear that I will be “found out.”

Have any of you ever come home in the evening and turned on the television and there is a panel of people – nice people, respectable people, smart people, the kind of people who make good neighbourly neighbours and write for newspapers. And they are having a reasoned debate about you. About what kind of a person you are, about whether you are capable of being a good parent, about whether you want to destroy marriage, about whether you are safe around children, about whether God herself thinks you are an abomination, about whether in fact you are “intrinsically disordered”. And even the nice TV presenter lady who you feel like you know thinks it’s perfectly ok that they are all having this reasonable debate about who you are and what rights you “deserve”.

And that feels oppressive.

I let this happens to myself far too often. I keep revisiting the same online forums where I read this kind of debate, this hostility, this hatred. I tell myself I do it because I don’t want to be the kind of person who shuts out anyone who disagrees. But maybe I’m just a masochist.

Have you ever been on a crowded train with your gay friend and a small part of you is cringing because he is being SO gay and you find yourself trying to compensate by butching up or nudging the conversation onto “straighter” territory? This is you who have spent 35 years trying to be the best gay possible and yet still a small part of you is embarrassed by his gayness.

And I hate myself for that. And that feels oppressive.

If you haven’t seen Panti’s talk, it’s worth a watch.