Wednesday, February 10, 2016

{New Series!} The Christian Closet: A Bisexual Mystic

After my last post, A Coming Out, I received some feedback from my support group about how they identified with my struggles and some of the things I said. I also had several requests, both from those within LGBT Christian circles and those outside those circles, to portray more specific examples of how the church and its people have hurt LGBT individuals, and give examples of what the church and its people could do or have done to help and encourage LGBT individuals. Today I'm starting a new weekly series featuring friends and acquaintances of mine, in an effort to fill those requests.

Some of these wonderful people are loud and proud; some are still struggling to find their own identity; some have become comfortable in their own skin but not yet comfortable with leaving the closet. What we want to do in sharing this series is help straight cisgender Christians understand us as people and how they may have unintentionally harmed us, and help them know how to undo the damage done by the church.

Read with a open heart. I don't agree with everything my friends believe, and I don't expect you to. All we ask is that you listen like Jesus would. You might be surprised at what you hear.

stock image from morguefile.com

The Christian Closet: A Bisexual Mystic

I’m a 20-year old cisgender male. I identify as either queer, bisexual, or without labels, depending on the day, but what it boils down to is that I’m attracted to both men and women (in slightly different ways).


I’m currently non-denominational, and that has been something of a struggle. I was raised evangelical Presbyterian, but I’m a mystic and contemplative by temperament. I’m strongly drawn to the Eastern Orthodox Church, but I’ve been running into a variety of barriers that may keep me from joining that denomination in good conscience. I worship at a mainline Lutheran church most Sundays when I’m at school.

But I’m probably getting ahead of myself. I’m currently in my third year of college, studying creative writing, religion, and linguistics. I’m hoping to get a career in one of those fields eventually, probably after going to grad school.

I like food a lot, so it’s hard to choose a favorite food. I think I’m going to have to go with curry, because there are so many different ways to make it, and they’re pretty much all delicious. But I’m also just a fan of world cuisine in general, especially since it tends to be easier on my food allergies. My favorite book, again, is a toss-up, but I think I’ll go with Lord of the Rings, because it’s such a timeless story and myth and I’m a huge fantasy nerd.

My favorite color is green. My hobbies include writing stories and poetry, Dungeons & Dragons, studying dead languages (working on Ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic), blacksmithing, and vocal performance. I’m currently revising a trilogy of short novels. I also sing with my local church choir.

As far as dreams in life, I want to always keep writing and hopefully publish some of my work. I’ve considered a call to lay ministry (particularly the possibility of becoming a chaplain, but I’m not sure yet). The plan is to keep doing what I love and hope that opportunities will arise for me to make a simple living off of it.

Alright. Now to get down to the more serious stuff.

When did you first realize you were bisexual?

I have kind of a weird relationship with my sexuality, because unlike many people whose stories I’ve heard, I can’t really pinpoint a definitive moment when I realized I was bi. I guess I’ll be using that label for this post, for the sake of convenience. But on the other hand, I wasn’t really the type of person who always knew who he was, either. I remember sexuality and attraction being very far from my mind for most of my childhood, even in the innocent way that children interact with these things.

When all my friends talked about having crushes on the playground, or “dating,” or whatever little kids think human intimacy is about, I never really had anything to say. I had my first crush on a close female friend of mine in fifth grade. It sort of lingered in the abstract for several years afterward. But if I had to pin it down, I’d say I started to realize something other than what’s considered the “default” when I was around 14 or so. That was when I first started noticing attractions to other boys.

I sort of dismissed it at first, but gradually it became harder and harder to ignore. On the other hand, I continued to be attracted to girls as well, though it was usually more of a romantic/intellectual attraction than a physical attraction until more recently.

Are you out? How and why did you come out or choose to stay in the closet? How does your family handle your sexuality?

I am semi-out. One of the most difficult things for me for the longest time was realizing that being out isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. I first came out to my parents a few months before I left for college. Their reaction was lukewarm, neither fully accepting nor fully rejecting. But the level of discomfort that resulted from that tension led to me repressing my identity again for most of my freshman year.

"One of the most difficult things for me for the longest time was realizing that being out isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition."

Gradually, as I continued to pray and think about it, I began to accept who I was becoming again, and I came out to more of my friends. I go to a very liberal, secularized school, so for most it was a non-issue, even for my Christian friends. Having my first major crush on a guy in my residence hall freshman year probably also sped up the process of me needing to come to terms with things. More slowly, I came out to friends from back home, and was pleasantly surprised by their willingness to support me, even some who I thought held more conservative views on bisexuality and homosexuality. For my circle of youth group friends, my brothers in faith who walked through middle and high school with me, it was also a non-issue. Most recently, I opened up the conversation with my parents again, coming from a more stable place.

How have Christians hurt you as you struggle with your sexuality?

I’ve had a mostly positive experience with the Church. I consider myself lucky. That said, it hasn’t been perfect. The church I grew up in is in the process of finalizing a split with its denomination, primarily over the issue of gay marriage and of ordaining queer pastors. It no longer feels like the church I grew up in. It feels like a community that has in many ways given over to fear, though there are still people in it who I respect and love dearly.

Being bi has also made finding a church home that fulfills my spiritual needs rather difficult. The Lutheran church I attend at school is queer-affirming, but their worship and theological frameworks are often hit-and-miss for what I desire in terms of growth and connecting to God in ways that are meaningful to me. As I mentioned, I am a mystical Christian, and connect best to devotional theology and practice, a way of doing church that bypasses rationalism and theology-as-apologetics in favor of experiencing God’s presence in stillness, beauty and meditation. I’m drawn to ancient modes of worship, and the deep, textured theology of grace and transfiguration that they often encapsulate. Unfortunately, the churches that have maintained that kind of theology are often exactly the same churches on the forefront of the culture wars against LGBT people in general, and LGBT Christians in particular. I have heard many stories of Christians in the Orthodox and Catholic churches who were denied the Eucharist when their priest learned they were in a queer relationship, even a committed queer relationship, a marriage in all but name. I am willing to stand for what I believe in, but I can’t abide in a community where the validity of my faith is questioned as a result of my identity.

"I am willing to stand for what I believe in, but I can’t abide in a community where the validity of my faith is questioned as a result of my identity."

On the flip side, most churches that will accept me as I am primarily cater towards people who lean more towards the rational, modern Protestant side of things. That’s a perfectly valid way to approach God, as far as I’m concerned. But 18 years of it from my parents’ church back home has made it clear that it doesn’t work for me. So I’m stuck in limbo.

My position makes it difficult to find spiritual community on campus as well. I have two friends who are queer and Christian, and I thank God often for their presence in my life. But they’ve been burned by the Church a lot more than I have, and it’s understandably hard for them to identify with my desire to find a community of faith and stick with it through good days and bad days. The rest of the Christian community at my school is either sympathetic, but limited in their ability to help, or unsympathetic to the point that I actively avoid bringing it up.

How have Christians helped or encouraged you as you struggle with your sexuality?

As I said though, the Church on the whole has been full of kind, compassionate, wise people who have helped me along my journey. One of the first people I came out to, before I was even sure if this was a permanent part of my identity, was one of the guys from my high school youth group. He asked me questions about how I felt, what it was like to experience attraction to the same gender, whether I was attracted to anyone in the group we both knew. They were slightly strange questions, but they were offered in a spirit of curiosity. He made it clear that it didn’t bother him, and that he would help me in any way I could. My youth leader, a long-time mentor of mine whom I’m still close with to this day, was one of the people who gave me the courage to come out to my parents.

One of the conversations I was most afraid of having was a conversation with my best friend since I was seven years old. I knew our friendship was deep and time-tested, but I also knew he had expressed disapproval of queerness in the past. I ended up coming out to him over Facebook messages, something I wasn’t proud of, but was necessary. He responded with absolute grace and applauded my courage. There has never been any divide between us. If anything, we’ve become closer as a result of sharing our journeys.

"People often accuse queer Christians of being compromising, of sacrificing true faith for a “lifestyle” that they choose. The amount of courage, patience, self-sacrifice, and tenacity it takes to maintain a deep faith in Christ and an identity historically condemned by the Church is nothing short of heroic."

What's one thing you wish straight cisgender Christians understood?

I wish more straight cisgender Christians understood the struggle we queer Christians go through to maintain the faith. People often accuse queer Christians of being compromising, of sacrificing true faith for a “lifestyle” that they choose. The amount of courage, patience, self-sacrifice, and tenacity it takes to maintain a deep faith in Christ and an identity historically condemned by the Church is nothing short of heroic.

"I have so many queer friends who were raised Christian and walked away. And I can’t blame them. There are days when I’ve considered it. But then I remember my own experience of God, and the everlasting love that has flooded my heart time and time again, and I’m reminded of who I do it all for."

4 comments:

  1. I'm so glad that you guys are here to tell stories as this. I mean, to our speaker of course, for sharing his perspective, but also to you, Emily, for being willing to host these. To Speaker, your story inspires me. In a way, it makes me think that I've never had such an intense struggle with God. My own dislike of my church community is largely by choice. It's so important that I realize how little I thought I give to the way I go about Christianing, and although that I want to be the kind of person who is inclusive to all people, regardless of who they are.

    Thanks again to you both, and I hope this is a recurring series!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Heather!

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  2. This was an amazing post and such a good series idea, Emily!! I feel like I have nothing really intelligent to add (agghhrrh sorry :P) except omg GO YOU GUYS for stepping out and talking about your struggles and successes like this. It's intensely wonderful.

    Thanks for stopping by @ Paper Fury!

    ReplyDelete

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