Monthly Archives: May 2011

My Name Is Not Faggot

A few days ago I did one of my favorite (and also least favorite) things to do.  I finished a great book.  Halfway through the novel, I read three paragraphs that were so fantastic I was forced to underline them… even though the book belonged to the NYC Public Library.

We, the Drowned” is a sailor story filled with cannibals, naval battles, shipwrecks, storms, murder, and shrunken heads.  Even though the novel is in no way gay and takes place between 1850 and 1945, these three paragraphs describe perfectly why I think most modern gay people break into a nervous sweat whenever they’re forced to remember Jr. High…

No one in our town has such a thing as privacy.  There’s always an eye watching, an ear cocked.  Each and every one of us generates a whole archive of talk.  Your slightest offhand remark takes on the weight of a lengthy newspaper commentary.  A furtive glance is instantly returned and pinned on its owner.  We’re always coming up with new names for one another.  A nickname’s a way of stating that no one belongs to himself.  You’re ours now, it says.  We’ve rechristened you.  We know more about you than you know about yourself.  We’ve looked at you and seen more of you than you’ll catch in the mirror.

Rasmus Asswhipper, Cat tormentor, Violin Butcher, Count of the Dunghill, Klaus Bedchamber, Pissy Hans, Kamma Booze, how can any of you imagine we don’t know your secrets?  Hey, Question Mark: we call you that because you’re a hunchback!  And Masthead: well, what better name for someone with a tiny head, a long body, and no shoulders?

Everyone in our town has a story – but it’s not the one he tells himself.  Its author has a thousand eyes, a thousand ears, and five hundred pens that never stop scribbling.  (p. 205)

When I read that passage a few weeks ago, my heart raced.  I felt my 13-year-old self sneak awkwardly to the surface.  For a boy just realizing he liked boys, Jr. High was so stressful…

There’s always an eye watching, an ear cocked.  Each and every one of us generates a whole archive of talk.

… going to school, pretending to be something.  Going to church, pretending not to be something.  Hoping nobody would notice the things I noticed…

Your slightest offhand remark takes on the weight of a lengthy newspaper commentary.  A furtive glance is instantly returned and pinned on its owner.

…trying to stay low profile to avoid attention one day, becoming the class clown to deflect attention the next.  Hearing the things they whispered and wondering if my secret was out.  Wondering how they could know something about me that I wasn’t even sure of, something I thought might just be a phase, something I was praying God would change…

We know more about you than you know about yourself. We’ve looked at you and seen more of you than you’ll catch in the mirror.

… knowing I wasn’t like everyone else, but not exactly sure why.

Research shows that most gay kids’ first memories of sexual discovery aren’t of feeling aroused by people of the same sex, but of feeling “different.”  Before we know we’re gay, most of us simply know we’re different.  For many LGBT kids, this difference isn’t a feeling of uniqueness.  It’s not the cool individuality that made the popular kids popular.   Instead, our “difference” was a feeling of being “wrong” or fundamentally unlike the other kids at school or church.  Even before we understood who we were attracted to and why, we had an innate sense that something about us just didn’t fit (Flowers & Buston, 2001).

A researcher named Anderson (1998) found that the average gay youth first recalls feeling different at the age of seven, five years before most boys are even able to label their attractions as homosexual.

I think that’s partly why Jr. High is/was so hard for so many of us.  It’s an in between time. We suspect and we fear, but we don’t know.  And before we can label our own difference – or maybe while we’re labeling it – somebody else labels it for us.

Gay.  Queer.  Faggot.  Dike.  Homo.

A nickname’s a way of stating that no one belongs to himself.  You’re ours now, it says.  We’ve rechristened you.  We know more about you than you know about yourself. We’ve looked at you and seen more of you than you’ll catch in the mirror.

These labels are terrifying and humiliating not just because the words are ugly, but also because we can’t figure out how everyone knows they apply to us.

And so, after Jr. High is finished and we finally accept that we’re gay – in our teens, or 20’s, or 30’s, or after – we want to be free of the whispers and the secrecy and the shame. We want to invent and discover a new self.  We want to replace the old nicknames with new ones.  We want to claim our identity as our own.  “From now on,” we say, “no one else will decide who I am.  I belong to myself.”

For those of us who grew up in the church, this is an especially difficult process.  Building a new self often means leaving the old one behind. Many of us feel that taking control of our life requires us to reclaim the control we once gave to God.  If the church makes us feel like we did during Jr. High – unaccepted, afraid, and forced to hide – many of us choose to walk away.  After all, judgmental whispers and sideways glances are what we’re trying to get away from.

The challenge is for us is to stop listening to our 8th grade tormentors, and quiet the memories of our misinformed preachers, and listen instead to the voice of God…

“But now, O Jacob, listen to the Lord who created you.
O Israel, the one who formed you says,
‘Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you.
I have called you by name; you are mine.'”  (Isaiah 43:1)

References

Anderson, A. (1998). Strengths of gay male youth: An untold story. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 15(1), 55-71.

Flowers, P., & Buston, K. (2001). “I was terrified of being different”: Exploring gay men’s accounts of growing-up in a heterosexist society. Journal of Adolescence, 24, 51-65.

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Lady Gaga Goes To Church

I might be the only gay guy on the planet who doesn’t have a straight crush on Lady Gaga.

However, when this gay icon puts out a video featuring thirteen of history’s most famous Christian icons (Jesus and his 12 disciples), she piques my interest.  I don’t smear glitter on my face and break open a box of glo sticks…. but I do pay attention.

Gaga recently released a song called “Judas.”  The video features Gaga riding in a motorcycle gang with the 12 disciples, perched on the back of Jesus’s Harley.  Even though her arms are wrapped around Jesus, she’s obviously longing for Judas – the bad boy who, according to the Bible, ultimately betrayed Jesus to the Romans.

“I’m just a holy fool, oh baby it’s so cruel, but I’m still in love with Judas, baby.”

Intriguing, right?

Patrick Cheng, a religion writer for the Huffington Post, has an interesting perspective on the video that involves viewing the historical Judas as one of the heroes of Jesus’s story. You’ll need to read the article to completely understand his logic, but it involves the question:

Could it be that those of us who are often reviled as the Judases (that is, the “betrayers” of the faith) of today — lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people — are in fact the most loyal to Jesus’ message and to the “scandal of the cross”? Could it be that LGBT people understand quite intimately what it means to be crucified over Jesus’ gospel values of unconditional love and the Word made flesh?

That’s an interesting idea, but I wonder if something else is going on in the Gaga video.

We’re all aware that when LGBT people walk out of the closet, many of them also walk away from their faith.  They feel the church and its gospel have been too hurtful for too long… so they kiss Jesus goodbye.

Gaga is – obviously – a gay icon.  I didn’t elect her as queen, but she’s risen to the throne, nonetheless.  A marketing genius, her songs are often written for/to the gay community.  She knows our culture and is well aware that many of us struggle with our faith.  And so, when Gaga sings “Jesus is my virtue, Judas is the demon I cling to,” she’s obviously making a statement… but what is she saying?  Is she making Judas a symbol of our sexuality?

Is she playing to the fact that many of us feel that by giving into our gayness we’re betraying Christ?  Is she saying that we are Judas (and she loves us)?

Is she celebrating the one who betrayed Jesus as a way of telling us “you were once a disciple, but now it’s time to give up that nonsense?”  Is she encouraging LGBT people to walk away from what they once believed?  Is she saying we should be Judas (and she loves us)?

Is she acknowledging the struggle we feel between our faith (Jesus is my virtue) and our sexuality (Judas is the demon I cling to), suggesting that they’re two sides of the same coin?  Is she saying that we should dance within the tension between our Judas and our Jesus (and she loves us)?

Or is she  just saying that given the choice between sinner and saint, she always falls for the bad boy.  *sigh* Wouldn’t that be disappointing?  I would hate to see Gaga fall into yet another bad romance.

Of course, those questions probably won’t make sense until you see the video (which, I must admit, is kinda’ fantastic)…

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Safe Places for Gay Youth

Last October, shortly after a series of highly publicized suicides by LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth, a Presbyterian minister in Chicago posted a beautiful Pastoral Letter to Gay Youth on his blog.  In the letter, John Vest addressed gay youth across the county and said:

It may take us a long time to redeem Christianity in the eyes of those we have hurt the most.  But I refuse to give up trying, and I hope and pray that you will not give up on us.  There are churches that will love and accept you as God does.  There are churches that will support you as you grow into yourself and discover the person God created you to be.  There are churches that will stand up to bullying and name it and the factors that contribute to it as the real sin in this situation, not the sexuality you have been given as a gift of God.

Nice, right? It doesn’t matter how old you are, this letter says something your teenaged gay self needs to hear.  Read John Vest’s full Pastoral Letter to Gay Youth here.

John followed his pastoral letter up with a blog post titled “Safe Places for Gay Youth: A Plea to Conservative Christians.”  After you read the sample below, I think you’ll want to read the entire post.  It’s everything the title implies…

…my plea to conservative Christians is to put aside the zealous promotion of your theological convictions and reconsider your approach to the pastoral care of LGBT persons, especially youth.  Why can’t you see that your unrelenting defense of a conservative theology of sexuality is doing way more harm than good?  Don’t you see that you drive away more lost sheep than you save?  Isn’t there a way for you to be faithful to your understanding of the gospel without dehumanizing people and driving them away from the faith you hold so dear?

If you ever run into John Vest on the street, shake his hand, buy him a cup of coffee, or invite him to your house for Christmas dinner.  As they say in my hometown in Tennessee, I think he’s probably good people.

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Chained to the Church

Last spring, during a stroll through Mid-town Manhattan a few weeks after Easter, I found a small church snugged between two skyscrapers.  On that particular May morning, the cross outside the church was still wearing its Easter outfit; a shroud draped across its shoulders… and a chain securing it to the street.

The image still haunts me.  I know what the chain says about my city, where both bicycles and icons (apparently) need the same pad-locked protection.  But is the chain also a symbol of the way many LGBT people feel about their faith?

At some point in our life, many of us willingly entered a relationship with God – a relationship that gave us purpose and filled us with hope and peace.  But then, somewhere during our sexual awakening, we realized that our preachers and Sunday School teachers were talking about us when they used frightening words like “abomination,” “hell,” and “homosexual.”

Suddenly we felt drawn to God, but also terrified of Him.  We loved Jesus, but also felt chained to him – unsure of what the cross says to people like us.

In his book “Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and their Lovers, Families, and Friends,” John McNeill says:

For many gay people, dealing with the church is like dealing with parents.  Even if we seriously disagree with them and see what they have done to us as truly destructive, we still love them and are grateful for what they have done for us and given us.  But that love does not negate the fact that we have been wounded by them, and as long as we remain wounded, there is unavoidable anger.  The only healthy way to let go of that anger is to heal the wounds of self-hatred and self-rejection and strive to achieve an attitude of positive slef-acceptance.

The chain that binds LGBT people to the church shouldn’t feel like a burden — it should feel like a lifeline.  After all, Christ has liberated us from judgement, not tied us to it.

And so, if you feel the need to separate yourself from a condemning church, I hope you don’t also separate yourself from an accepting God.  After all, the cross says the same thing to us that it says to everyone else…

Freedom.

(PS – There are hundreds of God-loving churches filled with beautiful people who enjoy having LGBT men and women as part of their church family.  Trust me.  I’ve been to bunches of them.  If you need help finding one, check out this church directory by the Institute for Welcoming Resources – a group that’s doing great work to make the church more welcoming to LGBT people.)

(PPS – As of yesterday, there’s one more denomination that will allow LGBT folks to serve as clergy!  Read more about the Presbyterian church’s vote to allow openly gay and lesbian clergy here… and then say hooray… and then remind yourself that not everyone’s against us. )

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Filed under Church, Encouragement, Stories, Supporters & Allies

Great Question, Steve.

Sometimes, when someone says something well, it’s best to just let them say it.

Last week, during Minnesota’s hearing on the state’s proposed constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, state Rep. Steve Simon (D) asked: “How many more gay people must God create before we accept that he wants them around?”

Thanks, Steve.  Great question.

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The Slip

Yesterday, on my way home from work, a woman asked for my help.  We were riding the Q train, 300 feet above the East River, crossing the Manhattan Bridge.  The woman quietly walked the length of the train car handing out small slips of paper.  Some people accepted them.  Some people waved their hand and mouthed a polite-ish no thank you.  Most people ignored her.

Honestly, I tried to ignore her.

Ignoring the woman proved to be difficult, however, when she boldly tucked one of the slips into the crease of my opened book and walked away.  The slip said:

I am deaf and I am homeless.  Support, Please.  you help pay me 75¢ or $1.  Thank you.  God bless.  I Love You.

She wasn’t asking for anything complicated.  She didn’t want someone to restore her credit or teach her to be a dental hygienist.  She just wanted a few coins… the basics of assistance.

But after she gave me the slip, the woman walked the length of the train car, opened the door that separates one car from the next, walked through, and closed the door behind her.  She gave me the slip… and then gave me the slip.  Even if her note had inspired me to reach into my wallet, the woman was gone before I could give her any money, off quietly asking other people for help.

Two minutes later, after everyone had time to read the note, the woman came back.  If a passenger had one of her slips, she stopped long enough to either accept a few coins… or take back the paper.  She literally reached into our laps (or hands, or books), took back her “Support, Please” paper, and put in a stack to be redistributed to more compassionate passengers.

She was both an aggressive fundraiser and an aggressive recycler.  Her work done, she quickly (and quietly) moved to the next car never to be seen (or heard from) again.

In other words, if you didn’t offer assistance, she took back her cry for help and never bothered you again.

To my ministerial friends and colleagues:

It takes a lot of guts for a gay kid to walk into your office and tell their story.  Those who summon the courage to say “I’m gay” may not have the right words.  Probably they won’t.  They’re still finding their voice.  They may stammer and blush and drop their announcement awkwardly in your lap.

My word of warning…

If a gay student stands quietly in front of you and asks for your help (or advice, or sympathy, or acceptance) and you ignore them… or worse yet, if you listen politely and offer nothing more valuable than a well rehearsed speech about sexual purity… or even worse, if you use words like “hell,” “immorality,” or “abomination”… that student may follow the deaf woman’s example.  He may take back his cry for help, walk out of your office, and never bother you again.  He may give up on both you and everything you represent.

So please, if a student (or friend, or family member) trusts you with this deeply intimate part of themselves, remember… they’re not asking for anything complicated.  They don’t need lectures on the nature of sin, sermons on the importance of purity, or clever re-tellings of the Sodom and Gomorrah story.

They simply need you to reach into your pocket and pull out the basics… the small coins of love, acceptance, and grace that our theological currency is built on.

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