As you know if you read my last few posts, I’ve been asked by a nephew who is a leader in his evangelical church to answer some questions about my life in general, and gay marriage in particular. He asks a series of questions, and I will answer them one at a time to give him time to digest my answers. Here is his third question and my response:
3) How would you characterize (if any) your interactions with Christians regarding your marriage?
That totally depends on the Christian, doesn’t it? I divide them into three categories: LGBT Christians; Mainstream Christians; and Evangelical Christians, and I’ll take each group separately.
LGBT CHRISTIANS (and YES, there are many of them) come in at least two types: The ones who know they are the children of a living God who loves them unconditionally; and the self-hating ones who writhe in agony over the disconnect between their belief system and the reality of their existence.
The LGBT Christians who know that God doesn’t make mistakes, and that they themselves never had a choice about being LGBT, understand that He made them the way they are for a purpose. They are usually relaxed in their religion, comfortable in the presence of their fellow church members, and embracing of not only other LGBT folks, but also other diverse members of society. I have always had glorious interactions with them. They invite Traf and me to their church services and into their membership. They laugh, and sing, and praise God through whom all blessings flow, working hard to make their communities safe places of acceptance.
The LGBT Christians who believe in a vengeful God, who hates them for the sin of being themselves, lead troubled lives filled with low self-esteem, distrust, outrage, and hatred for themselves and everyone else. Too often, they end up being turned away from the only support group they know the minute they come ‘out’, so many of them stay in-the-closet their whole lives. They work hard to deny their sexuality, convinced that if they can exorcise that one aspect of their lives God will smile on them and they will be happy. It never works out that way, unfortunately. It might work for a time, but eventually their true natures refuse to be denied and internal conflict, failure to conform to the desires of others, and condemnation from those around them make them miserable. Every time their church/members talk about what they consider their secret sin they hate themselves a little more. These LGBT Christians do not interact well with anyone, themselves included. They are usually so self-involved trying to be something/someone they are not that they are blind to the lives, loves, and needs of those around them. They often join evangelical churches (see below) in an effort to control (or be controlled) themselves.
MAINSTREAM CHRISTIANS are the ones who belong to traditional churches, such as Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and others led by ministers who’ve earned doctorates of divinity (DD). Individual churches, rather than denominations, often determine how they interact with me and other LGBT folks. Some are welcoming and accepting. Others are judgmental and non-accepting. One of my favorite memories happened the year I came out.
I was terminated from my job with three days’ notice when I came out, and denied access to my classroom and students. My church told me I was no longer welcome, and not to return. The bank that held my mortgage would not work with me when my salary abruptly ended, and I lost my home. That was when I rented an RV and drove away from everyone and everything I knew, very despondent and more than a little inclined to drive off a cliff somewhere and end it all. Luckily for me, I had more curiosity than despair and kept putting off my suicide as I met strangers and visited places I’d never been before.
I was in Connecticut during June when the local Pride was held. It was not the first one I’d been to, but the small, sparsely attended and barely tolerated one in Fresno had not prepared me for this one. A large parade flowed through the streets, filled not only with Dykes on Bikes*, glitzy floats of drag queens** and dancing boys sponsored by gay bars, PFLAG***, and open cars filled with supportive radio personalities and politicians, but also with individual churches carrying messages of love and inclusion. A Methodist group was the first I saw, and the sheer joy that flooded me at seeing them in the parade made me run out into the street and up to an older woman walking with them. She took one look at my face, saw something there of my desperate need for acceptance, and enfolded me in her arms. She stood still, allowing the group to move on without her, hugging me until I was done. With tears in both our eyes, she released me and continued her journey, as I turned back to the curb to continue mine. It was one of those shining moments in your life that never leave you, and I will love that unknown woman until the moment of my death. I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for Methodists ever since.
EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS have disproportionately proffered unpleasant interactions, although I must confess that most of these have been online and come from unseen strangers who claim to be Christian. I can’t know they are for sure, so some of them may have been merely trolls, or simply anti-LGBT.
I’ve been an active member of online LGBT groups for over a decade now, working to educate people about what it means to be one of us. That’s why I wrote the YA books I’ve written, to help kids in rainbow families come to terms with being part of a different type of family. Riding the Rainbow is about living in an out-loud-and-proud family versus the danger of growing up with in-the-closet parents. A Man’s Man explores an unhappy teen’s coming to terms with having a gay father. The Boxer Shorts Rebellion is a thinly disguised, fictionalized exposé of the Minnesota Anoka/Hennepin school district’s horrendous few years of being a suicide contagion zone and the very real dangers of bullying LGBT teens.
Each time I publish one of these books, trolling evangelical Christians have written harsh reviews based solely on their bigotry, rather than the quality of writing or messages, in an obvious attempt to squash sales. Sometimes it’s blatantly clear they haven’t even read the book they’re bashing. Online discussions about LGBT rights/marriage have led to even nastier exchanges. I’ve been called a ‘bulldyke’, ‘man-hater’, ‘rug-muncher’, and other nastier phrases I’ll spare you. My life and safety have been threatened repeatedly, as have the lives of my family. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been informed that a good rape (like such a thing is even possible) would set me ‘straight’. Again, I have only their self-avowal that these monstrous human beings are Christians because they certainly don’t fit my definition of the word or religion, yet they claim the title proudly.
One of my worst memories I already mentioned in the link I offered in the story of Traf and I getting married in San Francisco when the Westboro Baptist Church repeatedly harassed us in their hate-mobile. Their ugly nastiness displayed on huge signs, jeering words, and deliberate intent to ruin a day of happiness for as many as possible seared into my soul. The group of protesters, Muslim and Christian alike, displaying their judgmental bigotry as some sort of badge of honor, attempted to shame and ridicule us into disappearing. They couldn’t succeed because we were a large group with each other’s backs those days and night. But imagine what a vulnerable, in-the-closet teen would feel if confronted with such hatred.
I’m afraid, sweet Nephew, that these interactions have colored my views of your church, and your unspoken feelings and attitudes, even though you, yourself, have offered me only mild disapproval along with your love. One of your cousins, however, decided to let her gay relations know exactly what she thought last year, and let loose with a condemning attack so dark and deep it shocked me to my core. D- attacked your other lesbian aunt, denying T-‘s self-avowed Christianity and deeply held beliefs. Your cousin ignored our insistence that we have not chosen to be gay but were born this way, and was disgusted by our suggestion that God made us this way with purpose in mind. She told us that if we did not repent our sins and sinful life, we would be condemned to hell for all eternity. She insisted she was loving the sinner while hating the sin, but let me be quite clear: That was not love. Adding insult to injury, her sister chimed in, obviously impressed by D-‘s deeply held religious faith, wishing she were strong enough to address her loved ones with the same message.
I’m happy to say that D- changed her attitudes and beliefs. After the Pulse massacre in Orlando, she sent me a heart-felt apology which changed everything between us. I hope she also offered one to T-, because that, too, would be greatly appreciated I’m sure.
** Drag Queens