sorry for the silence (plus randomness on ssa-folk and the church)

Hey…sorry for being so quiet over here.  There’s kind of a gridlock of thoughts and emotions in my head, making it hard to get any of them out.

 I’ve run into a problem with the next installment in the identity series.  See, it’s supposed to be about how my gay identity got in the way of my embracing and integrating myself into the church, the Christian community.  I spent years feeling super-isolated, like a stranger in a strange land, a dyke among fundies, and it was mostly my fault.  I was always judging them, looking down on them, assuming they were bigots even when they weren’t, interpreting every little thing they said or did as uncharitably as possible–because I couldn’t/wouldn’t stop thinking about my gayness vs. their straightness.  And my Christian walk became so much richer when I started seeing myself as one of them, and started seeing them as my brothers and sisters, embracing them, opening up to them, trusting them, loving them, etc.  Realizing that straight conservative evangelicals are not the devil changed my life.

So I was writing about that.  But Ron helped me realize there’s a huge problem here.  I am confident that what I describe above is an accurate analysis of my own situation.  But the fact is that a lot of gay/ssa people DO get thoroughly burned by the straight church, and it ISN’T their fault.  Rejection, ignorance, hatred, fear, etc.  So there are plenty of people out there who would be entirely within their rights to think me a Pollyanna, or an insensitive jerk, or both, if I just said “I think we all need to open up to the straight church and love them.”  Sure it might have panned out well for me, but it backfires, a lot! 

I feel I shouldn’t worry about it too much, because I’m clearly just telling my own story here.  But at the same time, I’m no solipsist.  If I say something here on this blog, it’s because I think it might meaningfully connect with someone else’s situation, however indirectly. 

What makes it harder is that I don’t know the relative numbers of different kinds of churches.  How unusual is my positive experience of the church?  How common is the negative experience?  How many ssa Christians are getting burned by trusting the straight church, and how many are hardening their hearts and closing themselves off from the church unnecessarily because of an assumption that the people around them are evil homophobes even when they’re not? 

People sometimes tell me “Well you just got lucky in finding a good church.” Okay, except I’ve attended four churches since becoming a believer (because of moving, not because of church-hopping), so I’ve gotten lucky four times in a row.   Granted, three of those churches were in the Northeast:  New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.  But I live in the Midwest now, so you can’t use the “enlightened liberal northeastern folk” excuse anymore.  So you have to understand that from my perspective, I feel like I’ve been selling the straight church short all these years.  Every time a Christian was nice to me, I was always like, “Oh, I guess they’re just an exception to the rule.”  But here I am, almost nine years into my Christian life, and I have never been homophobically mistreated in real life by an evangelical Christian.  (Of course on the internet all bets are off!)  I have encountered some ignorance in the church, to be sure, but it wasn’t ill-intentioned, and when I took the ignorant ones aside and explained things to them, they responded fairly well.  And I have never heard a homophobic sermon in an evangelical church that I attended.  I have heard one sermon on homosexuality–in Massachusetts in the midst of the furor over impending gay marriage–but it was astonishingly irenic, and the pastor spoke powerfully about the importance of supporting/defending gay people’s ability to provide for and protect their families.

(In the interest of being fully honest about my church experience, I should note that I heard several homophobic sermons in the Catholic Church growing up.  In my teens, even though I was an avowed atheist, I often went to Sunday Mass with my mom, to keep her company and also to tease her about the superstitious folly of religion and the backwardness of the church.   And wow, this one priest did NOT like gays.  His fiercest vitriol was saved for Sundays before St. Patrick’s Day, to accompany the annual kerfuffle over gay groups wanting to be part of the parade.  Once he went off on the “sodomites” and “perverts” with such venom that my mom (who was no PFLAGer!) whispered to me, “Do you think we should get up and walk out?”  I said no, even though I was touched that she was willing to sin mortally and defiantly to defend my honor, because it was so amusing to watch that sorry little man foaming at the mouth over my existence.  It made me feel powerful.)

Anyhow, that’s the conundrum.  How do I talk about my own experience in a way that doesn’t insult others?   And what can I say to other homo-attracted Christians about embracing and loving the church (which I believe we are called to do!)  that would be helpful and not likely to blow up in their faces?  And what are they supposed to do if the straight church screws them over and treats them like dirt?  What does brotherly love (on our part) look like then? 

15 Responses to sorry for the silence (plus randomness on ssa-folk and the church)

  1. NNR says:

    How do you tell your story in a way that doesn’t insult others? It’s adorable to hear you talking like such a good little lesbian feminist! Don’t get too wrapped up in all the angst about how others’ experience may differ. Just tell your story; your readers are intelligent enough to know that their mileage may vary – with the church, with their ssa, whatever. Your experiences are so remarkable in so many ways, it’s a delight to hear them. As a lesbian with kids Ifind myself doing the same thing all the time – worrying that as I’m the only lesbian with a family that someone might meet, there perception of me and my experience must be JUST SO. It’s rubbish, of course.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Come to Texas and see the difference! YEE-HA.

    Seriously, the evangelical/Messianic group I belong to was just commenting on how gays are sending Israel to hell in a handbasket, as they remarry (some of them) as many times as they wish (forget what Jesus said about remarriage and living in adultery) AND as the latest commentator was dating his current wife while still married to previous wife. But, hey, as long as it is not gays or homosexuality….

    Why have things panned out for you? How long have they known you as straight and married? Could be a minor point.

    What can the straight church do to accept gays and lesbians? Well, as long as they think that EVERYBODY can change to hetero, well, Houston, we have a problem! And of course we have certain groups perpetuating that.

    I personally don’t take offense to positive experiences in the church. I think it’s great. Maybe…you are the kind of person who doesn’t put up with nonsense and rejection so they knew better than to alienate you.

    It’s probably an imponderable at best. But thanks for putting it front and center as an issue.

  3. franksta says:

    Just my own anecdotal experience, since I have been part of every Christian denomination under the sun, HA!

    Growing up Catholic, I honestly don’t remember hearing anything about homosexuality. My own SSA was more of a social issue than a spiritual one during adolescence.

    Had a conversion experience at 17 which got me dunked into a Baptist church. Then the fun began. The high point of homophobia for me was in Campus Crusade for Christ during my undergrad years. I shared my SSA struggles with my “discipler” (mentor), who after first broadcasting my story to the other two staff guys, then literally never spoke to me again (we worked on campus together for a year following). I heard no end of ignorant statements in my Baptist church (not from the pulpit, just in Sunday school or casual conversation).

    I was an Anglican for 5 years, and they’re all about homostuff these days. In my conservative parish, I was practically begged to start an Exodus group, because the whole “change is possible” thing was essential to their denominational political agenda. But I got tired of being a poster child.

    Now, as you know, I’m Catholic again. For me, the theological issues were paramount, but the SSA was tied in with it. Reading JP2’s “Theology of the Body” and Pre-16’s Pastoral Letter on Homosexuality helped me make sense of human sexuality in general more than anything I read in Evangelical-land (sorry to be polemical, I’m just saying). And as you’ve noted before, people are more comfortable with celibate people in Catholicism than in Protestantism, so nobody thinks I’m creepy because I’m over 30 and single (well, I am creepy, but…). I’ve shared my story (Catholics do a lot of “faith-sharing” these days) in a couple of small-group environments, and honestly, people have been bored by the SSA stuff, which is fine by me. I’ve never heard a homily on homosexuality (say that five times fast), though I actually wouldn’t mind. This may sound very crass, but I’ve heard more than one message on the death penalty, and while I realize that’s an important justice issue, it occurs to me there’s way more people who deal with SSA (personally or family-wise) than there are on death row.

    But I’m glad people are bored by my story. I see a couple major steps for a Christian with SSA growing in discipleship. First, the realization that it’s not about me (and of course, this applies to every disciple). I know there is support if I need it (though sometimes hard to find), but I also don’t want to be a poster child, because I want to stop identifying with (and being identified with) the struggle. Second, letting go of the anger that my struggle is different (your “realizing that straight Christians are not the enemy”).

    So, my experience has almost been the reverse of yours, in terms of comparing Catholic attitudes and Protestant ones. I don’t know that I can offer much help either in answering the questions in your last paragraph, because for me it comes down to ecclesiology. As a Catholic, for me the choice is which of the four parishes in my town do I attend, rather than which of the many flavors of Evangelicalism do I identify with (again, I’m not being critical, but I’ve personally experienced or studied many of them, and there’s a wide variety of attitudes and expressions).

    Now, if you want to hear some stories about a Catholic with SSA finding a confessor, THAT’S quite another story. :-)

  4. Jay says:

    I don’t think there’s anything else you can do except make it clear that you are only speaking of your own experience, which you have. I think the advice that you mention is good. When I started getting involved with Campus Crusade, I would look at all the other youth and think “I wonder what they thinks of gays?” and I took too much of an effort to observe any possible bigotry that might come out of their mouths.

    It seems, in my experience, that once I was open with my SSA and stopped brushing people aside as “fundie homophobes” then it all went a little better for me. My newfound Calvinism actually caused much more of a stir than my “gayness” ever did. But that’s my story, not yours or anyone else’s. So, if I may be so frank, stop with the angst and tell your story, girl! :)

  5. Eve Tushnet says:

    I’ll echo what everyone else is saying–I think you’ve been super clear this whole time that you’re describing an experience and saying, “Use what’s relevant here, but I know not everything will be relevant for everyone.” If you still feel all hinkity and lesbian-feminist about it (hee!) maybe explicitly invite people to tell their own stories in comments? We’re all very yappy here in blogland….

  6. Christine says:

    DM, like everyone else, all you can do is tell your story. I’m learning that too. And I really like how you tell it, and how you talk about your experiences.

    I am a bit shocked by the fact that you’ve “never been homophobically mistreated in real life by an evangelical Christian.” – All I can say is – cool! :)

    I noticed people being quite cool to me as an ex-gay, but there were some people that were thrilled that I was ex-gay and loved to tell my testimony, although it was often to people I didn’t know (which is so odd, when people are using your life story to tell a random stranger about how God heals the homosexual, and you don’t even know that person, and now are “out” or “in” or something to them). But many people became very wary and suddenly cool, while others were eager to help me on my journey, although many came with their own ideas that were decidedly unhelpful. Still, the thought and intent was there.

    I’m wondering perhaps if we consider different things to be homophobic though. And maybe there needs to be a distinction between out-and-out homophobic (which, imo, some statements by Alan Chambers and FOTF are, or promote that behavior), and those who are just…homoignorants and homoveryuncomfortable or homoidiots.

    For instance, I’ve not had someone from church come up and say “you’re going to hell if you don’t repent now you dyke!” but I’ve had people say I needed the demon of homosexuality cast out of me (and tried, even when I was unwilling to submit or on my way out the door to coffee with friends; although other times I was and even sought it out).

    I’ve overhead people talking about “the homos” or making jokes at the expense of gays and lesbians (and especially transfolks), and it goes completely unchallenged. I’ve been part of prayer groups where people rail on about the homosexual agenda, and so on.

    I consider these homophobic, and they were always very toxic and upsetting to me at the time. I’ve heard so many negative things in Church and at prayer groups about “the gay lifestyle” and repeats of all the crap Cameron “science” that FOTF regurgitates. Or, ya know, people who found out I was ex-gay and wanted to congratulate me on getting out of that deathtrap of a lifestyle.

    I grew up in a house that received the AFA’s monthly newsletter (i still remember the time they printed the “homosexual agenda” – the satire swift piece as fact, and got the conservative Christians all freaked out and riled up). I was part of churches during the AIDs crisis, and heard so many awful things and really horrible assumptions. It wasn’t until maybe my senior year of high school that I found out there were lesbians, and that all homosexuals weren’t men who preyed upon children.

    Again, a lot of this has not been addressed to me, personally, and I’m sure if most people had known that I was ex-gay, or gay, most of it would not have been said around me (the stuff as an adult, at any rate). So I don’t know how much that has to do with it?

    Anyway….just spilling my thoughts here and curious if you consider some of these things to be homophobic or just….homoidiocy… (I love coining new words)

    You’re such a lesbian feminist, wanting to process this all til dawn ;)

  7. mary says:

    Also, let us not forget that you are married and a “succesful” ex gay where as some of us are single and not “succesful”. I live in a pretty metropolitan west coast area and the churches I have gone to have been pretty homophobic – except for one. You’re experience is unique no doubt. Wish it was mine.

  8. Jane says:

    I never stayed in church long enough to encounter any extreme homophobia, but do remember enough that it left a negative impression. I was raised independent Baptist and discovered my SSA at age 11. A lot of the comments were more ignorant. They left me pretty confused for a number of years. I was raised to think that being attracted to someone of the same-sex was a choice… that all of homosexuality was a choice (not simply the actions). There also seemed to be this idea that even the mere thought toward anyone of the same-sex was wrong. So I struggled for years with how I, raised in a loving, good Christian home, could have turned out gay.

    I think the biggest problem in churches is no one knows anyone who is homosexually attracted personally or well enough to know we aren’t evil. It’s ignorance and misunderstanding. However, that ignorance causes many of us to choose to stay in the closet and this closeting of our ssa only perpetuates the problem of homophobia. So it would seem best to be in a reasonably accepting church and be honest about homosexual attractions. The idea being that other Christians would have a chance to know someone with ssa personally. Of course there is likely to be some heat, but over time this should dispell a lot of the myths and misconceptions leading to a better atmosphere in churches in the long run. It’s taken me many years to reach this conclusion. Now if only I could practice what I preach. But this thought has given me some new resolve to begin attending church again.

    Now, while I never encountered extreme homophobia in church, it was a completely different story at home. I love my parents dearly of course, but haven’t the fainted clue what kind of church my father was raised in ’cause it must have been one of the worst. He is the largest bigot I know. This was unfortunate ’cause a lot of the things that he said during my teen years hurt me badly and still hurt to this day. Of course, he didn’t know his own daughter was one of those perverted, degenerate homosexuals. I sometimes think God gave me to my parents specifically because of this ugly, mean-spirited, hateful attitude toward gays. Anyway, the most homophobic person I know is my own father. Of course he bases his entire attitude on the Bible. He’s right up there with all the big guns in the religious right. The only difference is he doesn’t have a soap box to stand on. Hopefully in time he’ll soften up. I’ve never stated my sexuality flat out (and I definitely should!!) but he must know because I leave all sorts of gay and ex-gays trails all over his computer.

    Anyway, it’s good that you haven’t encountered anything homophobic. It gives me hope that it’s possible to once again attend church. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences. :)

  9. Saul says:

    This thread has gotten me to really reflect on the my experience at my church(es). At my ethnic Oriental Orthodox Church, I have sat through a two or three sermons where the ‘sin of Sodom’ or something of that sort has been mentioned, never as the topic of the sermon, but an aside. Many might consider the wording used ‘homophobic’, but now that I think of it, how useful is this characterization. According to the tenets of our faith, the homosexual, no matter how defined, is no different from anyone else, and ‘homosexual sin’ is no different than any other sin. As with all sin, final judgement lies with God. Chastity is required of everyone. To the extent that the sermon was homophobic, what it was was unfaithful to the basic tenets of our faith. It is this latter point that is vital.

    When it comes to sermons or generally attitudes in church that violate the tenets of our faith, I don’t see why we should make a distinction. I have experienced far more incorrect teachings or attitudes in church about other subjects than about homosexuality! The idea should be to get the church right with God in all areas.

    Of course, for those of us who are same sex attracted, the homophobic comments may hurt more, but it would be nice if we could see it in wider context.

  10. I have appreciated reading your posts on this subject. Some of it very much resonates with my experiences coming to Christ and holding some allegiance to another rather anti-Christian subgroup (geeks). I hope no one finds that offensive; I am not meaning to compare the two groups beyond what I stated.

    I look forward to continuing to read your posts on this topic, and I hope you continue to blog on it. May God bless you.

  11. NNR:
    Thanks, as always, for your encouragment. I hear what you’re saying, but for better or worse, despite all my caveats and all my efforts, I actually have a hard time getting the “your mileage may vary” message (or the “Do Not Try This At Home” message) acroos to all readers.
    Anonymous:
    Yeah, I’m not in a real rush to get to Texas. I’ve been married for a little over a year and a half. So, that’s how long they’ve known me that way. That explains this last positive church experience, but not the others. I’m sorry for your negative experience.
    franksta:
    Thanks for your sharing your diverse experience. Yeah, I didn’t mean to imply that Catholics are generally worse than evangelicals on this stuff–in fact I strongly suspect that they are generally much better. I hear and read about other people’s parishes, and they all sound lusciously awesome (at least with respect to this stuff) for the most part.
    I didn’t know the Anglicans are/were so hardcore about change. That’s pretty dismaying. :(

    Jay: Yeah, your experience of obsessing about what everybody thinks about gays sounds like mine. (Newsflash, most straight Christians of my generation or younger, at least in my experience, aren’t thinking very much about gays at all.) I’m encouraged that things have turned out well for you so far!

    Eve: Thanks.

    Christine:

    Hey, long time no see, ‘least not around these parts. But I always knew you’d remember the little people. ;)

    I’m not sure our experiences compare well, because I think people got to know you first before you dropped the h-bomb, right? With me it was different most of the time, because I was so obvious, you know? For the most part, Christians encountered me for the first time as ssa and got to know me as ssa. There was no moment of shocking discovery where I could compare and contrast “how they treat me when they think I’m hetero” and “how they treat me when they know I’m not.”

    I may soon have an opportunity to run that test. My pastor really wants me to share my testimony with the whole church. (I came to this church after I got married.) And I don’t think I’m as obvious as I used to be. Granted, if you put me in a lineup with a bunch of straight chicks and asked “Which one is sort of a dyke,” yeah, people would probably finger me. But if you aren’t looking for clues, given that I wear women’s clothes now (but just barely), and especially given the misdirecting powers of The Rock, I think most people there whom I’m not close to think I am straight.

    I will say I felt some coolness, but it’s hard for me to know how much of that was caused by my own coolness, you know? In a lot of cases I didn’t give them the chance to reject me, I did it first, you-can’t-fire-me-I-quit style. So that means I don’t know how much of the coolness was a response to my gayness. And it also means that I don’t know how much of the coolness could be gotten over with a little effort, you know? I’ve known people who aren’t quite sure what to make of me and seem a little uncomfortable at first, but if I give them a chance, let them ask their stupid questions, get used to me, etc., we become good friends.

    I guess what I mean is: while I agree with you that we can go wrong in defining homophobia too narrowly, so that someone has to basically beat me with a baseball bat screaming “you @#$^%$# bulldyke” in order to count, I also don’t want to misdiagnose mere unfamiliarity and initially feeling awkward around something that seems exotic as homophobia, you know?

    I think I would consider most of what you describe as homophobic. For me, one of the tests of homophobia (as opposed to homoignorance or homoidiocy–love your words) is: is this person willing to learn? So, if a person shoots off a Cameron fact, they might simply be ignorant. But if I deconstruct the relevant study and point out why the Cameron fact is crap, but they basically refuse to listen, or decide to distrust me (because clearly I must be one of THEM), then the person is a ‘phobe. Another test is: could this be interpreted as genuinely innocent ignorance, or is there clearly some sort of malice behind it?

    Anyhow, yeah, whether they should be labeled as homophobic or not, I haven’t had any of the specific experiences you describe. I’m sorry you had to go through that crap. I’m sorry you grew up on the Religious Right. You should really put a little more distance ‘twixt yourself and Colorado Springs, if you ask me. :)

  12. Jane:

    Welcome, and thanks for sharing your experiences.

    I totally agree with you that more of us need to be more open and honest with the church. That’s totally one of my pet peeves. While there is real homophobia, bigotry, hatred, etc. out there, at least in my experience there’s mostly a lot of innocent ignorance. And really, how are they supposed to know what it’s like unless we tell them???? We want to sit all comfy in our closets and wait for someone else to take the risks and do the hard work of educating them, so they will be well-informed and understanding, great people to talk to about this stuff. Argh!!!

    (Note: This is not some general call for people to just go rushing into outing themselves at their churches! I think there’s a time and a season for everything. There is real homophobia out there, and I don’t want people to go impaling themselves on it. But I think some of us–and I know I was DEFINITELY this way–could stand to be a little braver than we are.)

    I am so sorry about your dad–that must suck something awful. It makes me sad that his knowing about you (if indeed he does know) hasn’t changed anything. I will pray for God to soften his heart and open his eyes.

    Saul:

    Yeah, I agree with you that Christians are wrong/confused about a lot of stuff, that there are lots of teachings and attitudes that are more off-base than what one generally hears about homosexuality. (On a side note, I don’t consider the ‘sin of Sodom’ necessarily homophobic, but it does seem unhelpful to me in some ways, in that it implies that those with ssa are the sort of folks who go around beating on the doors to people’s homes trying to gangrape the inhabitants. I think it could feed misunderstandings and fears.)

    I agree that we can be overly obsessive about this one way of getting the faith wrong, in a way that can be selfish. That’s definitely my own story right there! At the same time, though, I know some people who have had truly horrific experiences, way beyond anything described in the comments here. So I don’t want to belittle the pain of people I don’t know–what for me was a ridiciulously self-centered, too-easily-offended response might be justified in someone else’s context.

    Young Christian Woman:

    Welcome! I’m glad you’re enjoying the series so far…and yeah I do plan on continuing, it’s just that Life has a way of interfering with plans and schedules, :)

    I don’t take any offense to your comparison with your “geek” experience. I must admit I’m a little surprised though, just as I was surprised by another woman who felt that the series resonated with her experience as a science-fiction fan. I always thought the gay experience was a rather sui generis kind of thing, so it’s intriguing to learn about these resonances and similarities. Thank you for sharing about that.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Of course your pastor would want a testimony; you have arrived with a diploma — a hubby! Looking good! But…I am curious: what is the point of many of the rest of us “revealing” ourselves to the church as ourselves as being “gay”? Is this what you are talking about in testimony about yourself — to say that you are still essentially gay oriented *except* for your husband? Or is it an orientation change more or less in entirety that will be the focal point?

    At *best* a celibacy testimony or trying hard to be celibate testimony *might* be welcome in *some* churches. But yours, DM, looks best. I would like to believe that this might accomplish something for us “never changers”, but I’m not comprehending the impact.

    Is the testimony based on gender nonconforming acceptance – that Christians should accept those who don’t look straight or as straight in the general arena?

    Interesting idea and venture — I’d like to know the trickle down effect that hopefully would emerge.

  14. Karen K says:

    I can relate to what different folks have shared. On the one hand I have, at times, assumed that all people in church were mean ogres judging me for my sexuality, when in reality the majority treated me well–even if awkwardly. On the other hand, I have definitely experienced homophobia in the church–more so in the past than now. I think there has been a change in the culture of many churches from the 80’s and 90’s.

    However, I can relate to Christine talking about the newsletters that would come to the house about the gay agenda. I grew up on that stuff. It was so bizarre for me to recognize my own same-sex attractions because all I knew about gay people from the conservative Christian literature was that homosexuals were freaks determined to take over the school systems and were going to doom the nation. Some of the literature that comes out is really harmful, in my opinion. It fosters homophobia–gets people all riled up and afraid, perpetuates stereotypes. It also can keep people suffering silently. I was in denial forever because I couldn’t associate my feelings with this freak image the Christian community had created of gays.

    In Bible college in Oregon I definitely heard gay bashing comments and jokes. Though not all the students were judgemental when I confided in some. The teachers were more understanding for the most part than many of the students. When one student learned that I had not voted in favor of a bill against gays, he looked at me like I was the devil.

    I still hear jokes periodically, but not as frequently. Most of the negative comments come from people who are 50 or older. The younger generation is definitely more accustomed to having gay friends etc. At least in my California town.

  15. Thanks for the welcome… Actually I think that “science fiction fan” could be interchangeable with “geek.”

    To some extent, everyone has to come from somewhere, unless you’re raised in the church, and then be at least somewhat alienated from that. But certainly it is easier coming from some groups than others, and yours is probably one of the harder ones.

    Thank you again for continuing to share your story as I attempt to love the church that God has placed me in.

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