coming out

Why I Feel Homeless in the Church

Nearly 40% of this nation’s homeless youth are lgbt.  That is no accident.  Family rejection is the leading cause, which means that when young lgbt people come out to their families, they are far too frequently kicked out of their homes, and left to fend for themselves in the streets.

I have never been without shelter myself, but I submit that the homelessness that besets the lgbt community, especially those of us raised in the church, runs far deeper than we are comfortable to admit, and that the staggering number of our homeless youth is one symptom among many.

In my sophomore year of college, I participated in the Emmaus Scholars program, a residential year-long exploration of the intersection of faith and justice. It was also an experiment in Christian living, where we aimed to recreate the beloved community enjoyed by the early disciples.

One of the most valuable lessons I gleaned from that year is that poverty takes many forms. It is from a mask of privilege that we think and speak about poverty as only referring to material or monetary lack. Far more affecting, perhaps, is the devastation materially disadvantaged people experience in their psyche. When I learned this, I suddenly saw two things: I was reminded of my own privilege as a middle-class college-educated white American, and I was struck with how exactly this insight gave language to the internal anguish I experienced as a gay man in the evangelical church. More on that specific intersection later.

As I learned to take better notice and care of physically homeless people, I began to see all the ways in which so many of us are victims of “homeless hearts,” as Jay Emerson Johnson says in Peculiar Faith. Specifically, I realized the depth to which I personally felt unmoored, without a home, especially as I fought my way out of the closet.

It’s difficult to express, but absolutely essential to communicate, this hard truth: exactly as much as I have had the courage to come out, so I have felt alienated and distanced from the evangelical church.

I say difficult to express, not only because it is painful and I avoid confrontation like the plague, but also because it’s difficult for me to point to specific moments when I was actively rejected by the Body of Christ. My family never kicked me out; I enjoy intimate and honest relationships with both my parents. My home church never kicked me out; Mosaic LA is a vibrant and diverse community of artists and visionaries, who embraced me when I came out to certain people in the congregation. Nevertheless, the distance is real. And it was certainly not because I walked away.

I say essential to communicate, because the church needs to understand its position in regards to lgbt people. As Christians, we know what is at stake: the flourishing of humankind, the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth, the salvation of souls. But I posit that we’ve had the picture upside-down this whole time: lgbt people are not in danger of eternal damnation just because we live sexually gendered lives that are different than most people. Christians, however, should consider their eternal fate when perpetuating theologies of exclusion, lest we become those who cry “Lord Lord,” and hear in return “I never knew you.” It was the Pharisees, the religious right, whom Jesus called white sepulchers, a brood of vipers, those who heap on burdens, and misuse the law.

To my great sadness, whenever I reenter evangelical spaces, I immediately strike against walls. Previously, these were the closet walls, and I had erected them myself, and they were small enough to fit inside me, so that I could fit inside Christian spaces without damage. But now that I have dismantled the closet, at least enough for me to climb out and breathe clean air again, I have come up against more formidable walls.

I have to sit through bible studies where we breeze through Romans 1, as if it doesn’t carry centuries of violent weight, where I look around and no one seems to notice that I’m sweating, my heart rate is up, and I’m just waiting for someone to say “and that’s why homosexuality…”

I have to struggle through times of worship, where we listen to the same songs that have molded me since childhood, and while I no longer substitute “gay” for words like “broken” and “sin” and “healing,” I still feel a sinking in my gut that says something’s wrong with me, and if that boy on the guitar stopped singing and looked over, he would see right through to my gay self, and be filled with disgust.

I have to watch other people touched by the Spirit; speaking in tongues, or moving trance-like, or praying with great passion, what I used to call “fire,” and remember how easy it used to be, to slip into those moments, recreate those feelings, feel the euphoria. Now my mind goes on checklist mode, I go over all the times I’ve still successfully communed with God on my own, thinking “yes, I’ve still got it,” I can still pray, I can still worship, I still have my Christian card, I still belong.

The fact that those questions and fears run through my head and cause me anxiety during times of worship and study is absolutely unacceptable.

I keep coming back, however. I keep returning to the altar, taking communion with the Anglicans next door, visiting friends’ churches, watching podcasts from my home church. It’s still home for me, even though I feel homeless at home.

So my goal is to formulate a theology of home-making, where the insights and lived experiences of lgbt people take center-stage after being pushed to the margins for so long. We cannot simply be let in through the backdoor; we cannot whitewash the damage done, or downplay abuses of power. If lgbt people are going to be fully grafted onto the Body of Christ (as we already are), the rest of the church needs to repent.

And if we can successfully navigate this grafting, this transformation in the body, then I believe whole new vistas will unfold, not only for lgbt people of faith, but all of us, in all our sexual and gendered experiences, of all walks of life.

 

A Chocolate-Filled Eclair: Fear Faces

~ This is the beginning of a series of posts on my story, and the importance of words. ~

The two most terrifying moments of my life were when I jumped off of Victoria Falls with a bungee cord wrapped around my legs, and when I pressed “Send” on an email to my father telling him I’m gay.

The fear of coming out is probably one of the most devastating fears people face today. The image of “coming out,” especially out of a “closet,” gives an easy visual to the roiling internal reality that queer people face whenever they consider revealing their identity for the first time. Why is this fear so potent? All people are afraid; what gives the queer experience a unique place in the plethora of human fears?

Because being gay in Christian America means to be a hidden minority.

I was a hidden minority in my church, in my neighborhood, in my family, in my friend circles. And for some reason, even though I never heard it from anyone in authority, and rarely from peers, I had ingested and accepted intense self-hatred for being gay.

So for me, the fear of coming out was the fear of revealing a new piece of myself, previously unnoticed by anyone as I thought, and I was sure that when I was found out and brought to the light, I would be rejected; cast off as disgusting.

When the secret of your minority status gets out, there’s no telling what your friends and family and youth leaders will do, especially when everyone around you is so good at gay impressions, or spouting off about faggots going to hell, or how the homosexual agenda is ruining our country. While this slander was not part of my early coming-out experience, it is universally understood and acutely felt by the queer community. And for a young person with a burgeoning sexuality, what could be more terrifying than baring the most vulnerable part of yourself to peers who are just as emotionally unstable as you are?

So the fear of coming out is related to the fear of exposure. What makes the queer struggle unique from other minority issues is that we can be invisible if we want. We can be silent if we want. We don’t wear our queerness on our skin.

But silence can be deadly, no one wants to be invisible, and secrets can kill.

So in the spring of freshman year in 2009, instead of killing myself, I came out to my dad.

Which, in retrospect, is not the usual course of action for a young gay person growing up in a Christian household. But my father responded with unbelievable love and acceptance, my mother as well, and I went on throughout high school to develop a close-knit group of friends who supported me. My fears of rejection were never realized, and with each person I came out to, I felt a little more free, a little less heavy and dark, and a little more rainbow-colored on the inside.

Rainbow+Starbucks=Love
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: غzǻҰёll ♥ RAINBOW ! via Compfight

Last summer, I worked with a Christian organization as a camp counselor, and had the time of my life. On one of our staff retreats, we went to the beach, where several worship stations were set up by the water. One of them was on “loving yourself.” The exercise was to write down our brokenness in the sand, and watch as the waves washed it clean. Then we would write it down again, and watch the waves come once more, repeating this process until it sunk in that God’s grace is never-ending and unconditional.

So I bent down and wrote “Boys” in the sand, because obviously boys were my problem.

But the waves never came.

I stood, growing increasingly anxious, as absolutely nothing happened. I thought frantically, “Maybe I should rub it out and write it closer to the water!” I was terrified someone would look over and see what I had written.

And then I realized: I was terrified. The real issue was not boys in general, but fear in particular. So I bent down and wrote “Fear” above the word “Boys,” slightly further from the shore.

And instantly, a wave came and crashed over it all, washing it away into nothing.

Boys were not the problem: in the area of my sexual orientation, I have rarely been hurt by a boy. I was afraid they would disown me as their friend, but they didn’t. I was afraid they would stonewall me and refuse to communicate, but they didn’t. Instead, it was my fear that caused me to suffer. The boys in my life have been wonderful sources of healing and nourishment; it was my fear that crippled me.

blogBeachSunset

~~~

Fear is incredibly versatile. This deep-seated fear of discovery branched out and blossomed into other fears:

I still have a lingering fear of confrontation, which has made it incredibly muddy whenever I attempt to resolve conflicts. I also still retain a moody fear of rejection, which manifests itself in a desperate need to prove my worth, to be a people-pleaser, and to maintain the image of niceness and innocence. I even believed for a time that God was purposefully isolating me from my peers because I was gay. And for ages, I couldn’t stand up to injustice. Not just gay jokes and insults, but also anything else: racism, bullying, sexism, classism… I remained silent.

But now I see my Enemy, and I recognize its face. And so I practice facing my fears, doing those things I know are right regardless of how my stomach feels about it or what my shaking knees might tell me. Slowly, I have begun to hatch from my egg, to come out of my bubble; and not just out of the closet, but also out of shyness into sociableness. And I am learning that with words, fears can be overcome.

All of this leads to the present: This blog is part of my goal to eventually bring my story into the open, to a point where I no longer have to hide from anyone. And I am very close to coming out in a large, complete way at my college. There are extended family members who still should not know, and I could forfeit job opportunities and lose contact with some of my favorite people if I came out on facebook, or to certain friend circles.

But there is change in the air. And not just in my life, but at my campus as a whole, and in this nation at large. If I want to join the movement of God as it leaps into the future, I must throw off the fear that so easily entangles, and take up the yoke of Christ, which is easy and light.

Besides, part of being an adult is the ability to just take a deep breath and press “Send”.