odd man out.

You may have heard today is the day when December’s repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell officially takes effect, meaning members of the military can no longer be removed from service or prevented from serving on the basis of their sexual orientation.  There are a number of articles and stories online chronicling the experience of gay servicemen and women, and The Onion has squeezed a few hilarious headlines out of the historic revision; but if you have a few minutes for a longer read, I highly recommend GQ’s long-form article "Tell: An Intimate History of Gay Men in the Military," which offers unabashed and unfiltered reflections from several anonymous gay servicemen reaching back as far as World War II.

I was shocked by how much the article resonated with my experiences growing up in the church and Christian culture.  Donald Miller was the first person I saw draw the connection between the military’s policy of DADT and the church’s similar, unstated policy in a blog post he wrote a year ago.  The comparison is not a perfect match for my experience or that of many Christians wrestling with sexuality issues, especially because (unlike these soldiers, who enter the military after at least eighteen years of life) my entire development of same-sex attractions occurred within a church environment.  For many servicemen and women, a major stress of DADT involves hiding relationships with same-sex partners, and the stakes of discovery include being discharged from service; for me in the church, the primary stress was struggling to reconcile my faith and my burgeoning sexuality without the support of my faith community, whose help was essential in all other areas of my life, and the stakes of discovery were often completely unknowable (which added to the maddening stress).

In honor of the military’s repeal, and out of an ardent hope that the church will soon follow suit, I want to offer some of my own personal reflections on why the church needs to be a place where people can be honest about their sexuality, especially as they seek to interpret their sexuality from a framework of faith.  Here is a snapshot of how it felt for me:

Being attracted to one’s own gender within our present church culture is, in a word, exhausting.  I could have chosen a number of other words: lonely, frightening, confusing.  But I choose “exhausting” because, more than anything else, the experience left me worn out.  It starts with the actual emergence of same-sex attraction, which, for someone who has always participated in church and has always believed homosexuality runs contrary to God’s will, is profoundly alarming and unsettling.  About the same time I acknowledge my attractions and start paying close attention to the biblical passages about sexuality, I become distinctly aware of Christians’ unwillingness—inability?—to broach the topic in any setting, so I resolve to follow suit with a modus operandi of solitary silence.  Somehow, I will figure this out on my own.  This silence (and my own naivety) convinces me I am the only person in my youth group, in my church, and even at my huge summer camp who is going through this, and the loneliness is suffocating.

The immediate problem is that the church is, of course, the only place where homosexuality is not discussed, and I find myself swarmed with other perspectives on how I should handle my feelings.  When someone in church does mention homosexuality—and I cling desperately to every mention because I’m so starved for guidance or affirmation—it’s often whispered in melancholic, hushed tones or consists of shallow stereotypes that don’t fit me.  For the most part, I cope through denial; I have no room for same-sex attractions in my worldview.  The denial also protects me from any homophobic joking in the youth group, since I’m convinced those words don’t apply to me.  I become severely homophobic myself, terrified of betraying any indications of what I’m feeling through my behavior or mannerisms.

Fast forward a few years, and I have decided I can no longer keep this burdensome secret so secret anymore; I simply have to do something and tell someone.  My next crisis is determining who will be a safe recipient of the deepest trust I’ve ever offered; how do I accurately gauge how anyone will respond when, still, nobody ever talks about homosexuality enough to clue me in on where he stands?  After analyzing and reanalyzing and overanalyzing all of my relationships, eventually I do take the risk, and its payoff emboldens me to tell a few more people.  For the first time, I experience the sweet, blissful relief of honesty and vulnerability in relationships, and I feel like someone knows me for the first time.

Nevertheless, this self-disclosure only makes the situation in churches more difficult.  Telling others means I can no longer live in denial with myself, and this raises all kinds of little ethical dilemmas involving honesty that have never bothered me before, like, is it dishonest for me to shrug off questions from curious churchgoers back home about whether I’ve found a special lady in college by reverting to vague jokes about being too busy or poor for dating?   (I’m neither.)  The situation is particularly tricky at this stage of my life, seeing as I am a student of ministry who is applying for and receiving various internship positions.  Just how upfront do I need to be with a potential hiring congregation/organization about my sexuality, and how should it affect the sorts of ministry settings in which I’m placed?  I spend hours trying to decide what kind of language to use to describe myself, knowing the power of language to reveal and to shape my perception of my own identity.

As I’m able to talk through these matters with close friends, I become more frustrated with the church’s silence, and I begin to resent an atmosphere in which many well-intentioned people assume a complete absence of LGBT individuals within the church walls.  This assumption is evident in the “those people out there” language people employ, and it leaves me feeling the same awkwardness as anyone feels when sensitive matters are discussed with heedless insensitivity.  I’m stuck in the tension between feeling a duty to advocate on behalf of my LGBT brothers and sisters and avoiding any public associations with LGBT people for my own sake.  My fatigue increases as I try and maintain lists in my head of who knows, who probably knows, who definitely doesn’t know, whom I want to tell, whom I need to tell, and whom I’m afraid to tell.

And then, eventually, I come out.

I’m not aiming to bash churches—Christ’s bride!—or Christians here, especially since I still participate wholeheartedly (and gladly, most of the time) in church life as a believer in Christ.  Throughout my childhood and teenagerhood, I had plenty of wonderful friends who I’m sure would have handled my self-disclosure admirably, and I was happy much, much more than I was sad.  There were moments of near-elation as I encountered understanding, kindness, and loyalty.

But on a day when our nation’s attention is turned towards a government policy that has forced people into silence, I don’t want us to be ignorant of the silence that is the de facto policy in our churches.  I’m not using hyperbole when I say it is stifling, isolating, debilitating, exasperating, and yes, exhausting, and it breaks my heart to think of the other countless faithful Christians who are slowly and soundlessly choking to death in an environment with no ears.  Ours is a policy that must not endure.

  1. festeringfae reblogged this from omoblog
  2. omoblog posted this
blog comments powered by Disqus