I want to start by saying sorry. Many of you who read this will undoubtedly be shocked, disappointed, and sad about the truth that I am gay, and that I’m okay with it. I apologize for not being able to trust you with that truth sooner, and I ask your forgiveness.
While I know that any negative response will come from a place of love for me, I challenge you to hear what I have to say, and hear that I am not disappointed, saddened, or shocked by myself. I am living a life in step with God, in communion with others, and in peace that God loves me and my sexuality. Hopefully, as those I am addressing know me well, you will trust that all of those things are good, hopeful, and even exciting.
I want to tell you the story of how I became the conglomerate, makeshift, confusing, gay man I am today.
It’s a story that I have struggled to find value in for a while, and has shifted in interpretations over the years as I have learned more about myself and the world around me.
It’s a sad story at many moments, filled with hurtful things said and done, by myself and by others.
Sad stories full of hurt are not so unusual, but they seem hard to think about for many of us. We don’t often want to dwell on hurtful speech or actions. We like to keep them internal, for the sake of others and for our own self-preservation. Self-preservation gets a bad rap more often than I think it should. It’s a fundamental part of why we seek spiritual answers to our loneliness.
Keeping things inside and focusing on our inner health often feels necessary to staying safe, but I can hear my mother’s saccharin pitch through my entire life saying things opposing internal care: “Be Others-Oriented;” “Be a Blessing!” My sister reminded me recently of another one: “Look with your eyes, not with your hands!” That one is just too ironic. It resounds with the fact that my extended body has always been taboo, something to be controlled.
Those phrases instilled in me an outward posture, always exerting energy toward others, almost to a detrimental point. It was through serving others that I was meant to find comfort and confidence in myself. Instead, that persistently extended, external, reaching gesture created an internal self that was profoundly divided and confused. Any moment where my self-exploration or individual opinion rose to the forefront was responded with, “That’s not very others-oriented,” and so I pushed my inner health aside.
I am stubborn, individualistic, and intellectually skeptical. I have historically rebelled against vernaculars throughout the many subcultures in which I have found myself. I resist overtly communal behaviors and language, especially in religious spheres, because I hold closely to my idea of individual expression and experience. But then I met the power of liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer: a set of words that offer commonality and ease of approach, as opposed to the language that served my former churches as a qualifier, a way to gain inclusion.
I try to reach a balance between the others-oriented life of my childhood and the internal confidence it requires to be a functioning adult in society. I have come to imagine that my harsh individualistic mindset began in late elementary school. There was a girl named Kara in my class who introduced me to the word “queer.” She called me a queer. When you change an adjective to a noun, it becomes entirely different. That article “a” makes queer so much more noisome and aggressive. As a 10-year-old girl, she had some surprisingly acute understandings of syntactical effect.
I can only remember that the first time she said it, we were standing in a doorway. It was the first instance in my life when my identity was augmented. Up until that moment, I was a child, a boy, a student. Suddenly, in a doorway to my English class, I was a queer. I’m sure there was a tiny thrill when the words were spoken. There must have been a power exchange, the lights of our internal switchboards flickering from the strain. But I only remember we were standing in a doorway.
I was 10 years old. I wore my shirts in kids’ size LG, and my pants in men’s size 28. If you see my face today, you would be surprised at how round it was then.
Two years later, I was still a queer. I explored my body and my mind, and how they work together, in a bathroom stall at school with a boy a year older than me. We kept it quiet, shaking and whispering the eager excited hopes and fears of all young boys grasping at the expanding boundaries of their bodies. But sexuality cannot be kept quiet, not because of our culture or because of our fallen world, but because we are bodies most especially sexual. Our bodies demand speech (in fact, they facilitate it), and so we spoke, softly and tenderly at first. But soon the school administration spoke too, and not so tenderly. We were suspended for three months, and asked to find new venues for our education at the start of the next year.
The space in which we chose to explore, to seek an education, to find explanations, to flourish as individuals, was locked, closed, had rejected us, and we were alone for months. It was a private school: it had every right to derail my educational stability, because discrimination and prejudice is allowed to thrive in America’s religiously oppressive Christian schools. Even worse, its encouraged.
My family reacted poorly. I was told I had brought disgrace to our name, that up until then we were well thought of, but now I had ruined it. I had made my mother’s life a living hell. I got wind that I had been successfully demonized by the parents of the other boy. Forgiveness was characterized as something I would not receive for a while. My virginity was gone, I was told, and the seriousness of that fact was desperately relayed to me time and time again.
For the adults in my life, my actions were primary, my heart was not consulted, and my body was the villain.
I was overwhelmed with shame and loneliness.
We were forced outside, pushed to the margins, stigmatized. Through a series of circumstantial issues, I changed schools twice after that, and ended up taking the GED test in September of 2009. My learning disabilities were no longer recognized, and I never recovered as a student.
I was told for 10 years that God would change my heart and renew my mind. That his love was big enough to help me love a woman. I was told that I had to choose Jesus over my sexual nature, and was given little practical framework for seeking sexual wholeness. The mechanics of spiritual change had functioned perfectly well for others around me, as scores of gay men I knew were being married to women. I saw and felt no change.
I continued to live a life entrapped in the leper colony of Contemporary Christianity, an idea first asserted by the pastor of the church in which I was raised (only his resolution to this isolation is not the same as mine). The leper colony of today is populated by homosexuals who love Jesus, are not called to celibacy, who are powerless, hopeless, alone and considered dangerous.
I have since discerned the problems in this story, the contradictions to the Gospel of Christ that such behavior propagates. Such actions as the authorities in my life took put unimaginable shame and fear on young men and women just trying to figure out the world in which they live. And it makes sense how, when such a vast and insurmountable wall between spirituality and sexuality is maintained and reinforced by those whom we love and trust, many LGBTQ+ people find no way out.
Through the process of accepting my sexuality, I’ve been finally capable of accepting my spirituality as my own. Without the fear and shame in the narrative, it’s actually really easy. After all, perfect love drives out fear, and no one whose hope is in the Lord will ever be put to shame.
This week I sent letters to my family explaining all these changes. I dropped the letters in the mail, expecting that to be the most difficult part. But the difficult part is actually the death of the old way of life. I am grieving the loss of a family that was comfortable, albeit blinded by dogma and fear. It is just a glimpse of what it must be like for so many whose families completely abandon them after coming out. It is the most isolating and sad feeling I can imagine. Just this week, after those letters were delivered, I was suddenly overwhelmed with how sad my life has been up to this point. The lives of most young gay men and women are profoundly sad. We live with constant hyper-awareness of ourselves, and the selves we project to the world. It’s a constant rigorous battle of metering our behaviors and controlling our speech in order to ensure the safety and comfort of others. Oppressive cultures like ours produce men and women that are fundamentally self-aware, often to a point of deeply ingrained insecurity, so much deeper than your run-of-the-mill worries about appearance. Every word we speak is a potential moment of betrayal, revealing too much of the truth, expressing too much of our feelings. Every moment where I expressed even a glimpse of gayness lingers in my mind still. Sleepovers, roommates, comments on photos on Facebook, physical displays of affection: all things that continue to cause anxiety for me today, even in the context of my fully accepted sexuality. Homophobia cannot continue to rule the way we raise children or treat our peers, because it is in every respect anti-Christian.
It is an intolerable feeling when you love others so deeply, and they return that love with condemnation, by stripping you of the opportunity for self-discovery. It is not a matter of conviction, interpretation, repentance, or faithfulness. It is a matter of the truest and most inalienable reality of our lives, which no heterosexual person can possibly fully understand or offer opinion. So it makes sense that some can’t stand the loneliness, and instead choose to commit suicide. It makes sense that so many LGBTQ+ people cannot reconcile their sexuality with their spiritual lives, and choose instead to abandon spiritual pursuits altogether. It makes sense that sex is often self-destructive and unhealthy in the LGBTQ+ community, because our spiritual shepherds have made inextricable our sinfulness from our most fundamental selves. What else are we to do?
In an article from CNN, the Jesuit Priest and editor at large of America Magazine, the Rev. James Martin addresses the Pope’s apology to the LGBTQ+ community on behalf of The Church:
What those who condemn must recognize is that the gulf between real spiritual life and contemporary religious moralism is created by a systemic misunderstanding. Only those of us within that gulf understand how it feels to be instructed and corrected over something like sexuality: something that feels so very inaccessible to our conscious selves. Only we understand that when shame replaces trust, nothing productive can occur. Only we understand how beautiful it is to invite God into our sexual selves, and experience blessing and support.
You see, marginalization doesn’t only happen with executive orders, border walls, or federally sanctioned discrimination. It doesn’t only effect the people who look differently than us.
It happens when 10-year-olds make adjectives into nouns; nouns that are identifiers. It happens when our educational spaces are made unsafe and given license to place the religious dogma of some above the educational, emotional, and spiritual well-being of developing individuals.
It doesn’t only keep Muslim men and women from their families at the airport. It also keeps people from the Mind of Christ. It splits families and drives men and women so deeply and destructively into themselves that 12 years or more can go by with no reconciliation, no responsibility taken.
It isn’t only a matter of individuals at the top making broad decisions of obvious self-interest. It happens when hearts beat with no consultation. When mothers and fathers do not consider the growing individual minds of their children, and focus on the pain of their present disappointments; and that’s not very others-oriented. It happens when immediate reactions, with all their emotions and misjudgments, take precedence over “respecting the dignity of every human being,” as the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer says.
Marginalizing, oppressing, discriminating, stigmatizing, outcasting, gaslighting: so many of these and other words exist primarily as adjectives in our vernacular. But we are all standing in a giant, terrifying doorway now, and this Queer thinks it’s time to make those words identifiers, just like Kara did for me.
And as hard as it is to hear, we don’t need your welcome or your acceptance. We already know we are loved, for the bible tells us so. We won’t ask you to welcome us back either, because your version of Christianity is toxic and un-Christlike. We do have a place for you out here in the margins, whenever you’re ready to start loving people for who they are, and allowing them to be themselves.