Sorry for the skipped week, readers -- the end of the semester is getting tight here at university. But we have two more weeks left in this series!
Gender: Genderqueer/ Genderfluid/ Non-Binary (I use she/her and they/them pronouns)
Sexual orientation: Queer
Religious denomination: Mennonite
Education/career: Bachelor of Arts and Science (completed 2 years)
Favorite food: I like to mix it up with various vegetarian creations. Taco salad never fails to please.
Favorite book: I’m eclectically indecisive and love to read. Good LGBTQ+ fiction is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.
Favorite movie: Good Will Hunting
Favorite color: Rainbow ;) (I am especially fond of the reddish hues)
Hobbies/sports/interests: Reading, writing, learning (this seems to be a common homeschooler affliction) hiking and camping, singing (sometimes with my guitar or cello), spoken-word poetry, inventing recipes, ultimate Frisbee
Dreams/goals in life: People fascinate me. I would love to work in a capacity that lets me help people tell their stories, because in telling their stories, people receive healing, and in hearing others’ stories, people gain understanding. This could look like working with a NGO, pastoral ministry, or counselling. Whatever I do, I will be writing!
Myers-Briggs type: INFJ
"...the most crucial thing to understand is something that is often forgotten by LGBTQ+ Christians as well. We, LGBTQ+ people, are the church. Sometimes we are allowed into the broader Church; sometimes we are forced to only be church to each other. But when LGBTQ+ Christians are cut out of the greater Church, the church misses out on so many gifts and perspectives."
When did you first realize you were queer?
It’s been a journey. I first came out to myself as bisexual on November 5, 2015, after reading some articles a friend had posted on Facebook. It was a long time coming though, as I was somehow vaguely aware that I wasn’t “straight” since some point in childhood. I just never put words to it or even acknowledged it because I liked boys; therefore I must be straight. Over these last six months, as I’ve actually dared to examine myself and my sexuality/identity, I have found words to describe what before were only vague and repressed feelings that were surrounded with fear and shame. Through January to March 2016, I have come to identify as queer and then genderqueer as I discovered other people with similar experiences of identity and attraction. Queer erases the gender binary, which more fully represents my identity.
Are you out? If so, when, how, and/or why did you come out? If not, why are you staying in the closet?
I came out to my affirming pastor and a few close friends in December, after first connecting with some online LGBTQ+ Christian communities. I am now out to most of my close friends, my LGBTQ+ Bible study/ support group, and to my parents. I’ve been coming out to my affirming friends so that I would have some in-person support and no secrets in these friendships. I was waiting to come out to my parents because I wasn’t sure how they would respond, but in February they actually asked me if I was lesbian. They have been pretty good; my mom is really supportive, and while I’m less close to my dad, who struggles to understand my identity, he has been trying. It’s been way easier for me to come out as bi/queer than as genderqueer, because non-binary genders are more difficult to understand and I am still struggling to accept that part of myself. So I am only fully out to my mom (and dad?) and some members of my amazingly supportive LGBTQ+ Christian communities (in person and online).
"Eventually I will come out more fully, as I don’t like living in fear and would rather take control and come out unapologetically."
I’m still in the closet with my sisters and some friends because I haven’t had time to come out to them. I’m also still in the closet because my denomination itself isn’t affirming, and I am not emotionally ready to deal with questions and judgement from my parents’ pastor, extended family, and some non-affirming friends. I don’t want to lose the respect and love of people I care about. I also don’t feel a need to come out immediately to people who won’t be supportive, as it isn’t really their business. Eventually I will come out more fully, as I don’t like living in fear and would rather take control and come out unapologetically. I also recognize that I might have the power to influence people who are on the fence, as many people become more accepting when someone they know well comes out.
How have Christians hurt you as you struggle with your sexuality and gender?
It is painful to know that my identity is viewed as sinful by some people I love and respect, like some of my relatives and the pastor at my parents’ church. I live with fear that I’ll be outed and then lose some relationships. A lot of the pain comes from things the church did before I came out to myself, that prevented me from acknowledging this aspect of my identity. Articles by Focus on the Family saying that homosexuality was a sin, or that it could be cured, resulted in a lot of internalized homophobia that I am still working through. Similar sentiments have been shared by various people or organizations in my life. As well, the near silence from my church regarding anything related to human sexuality as I was growing up, and the reinforcement of feminine virtues which emphasized female chastity (which made women responsible for men’s sexual sin and also said that women had no comparable sexual desires), made sexuality and gender confusing and painful for me. The church tends to conflate gender and sexual identity into one thing, and they are not.
"The church tends to conflate gender and sexual identity into one thing, and they are not."
How have Christians helped or encouraged you as you struggle with your sexuality and gender?
The biggest shout-out goes to my fellow LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ who have supported me, laughed and cried with me, and shared the common experience of being the church while being rejected by parts of the church. I love these people so much, and they have been truly Christ-like in their words and actions. My straight-cis best friends have stood by me, written letters with me, and shared our mutual frustration with the church’s slowness to extend love to all people. My pastor and many people in my church have been supportive, even those who don’t know that I am queer, but have come up to me supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion in the broader Church. My parents, especially my mom, have given me endless love, support, and prayer in this and in my struggles with mental illness.
What is one thing you wish straight cisgender Christians understood?
Though it’s been really difficult for my parents to understand non-binary genders and sexual identities outside of straight and gay, the most crucial thing to understand is something that is often forgotten by LGBTQ+ Christians as well. We, LGBTQ+ people, are the church. Sometimes we are allowed into the broader Church; sometimes we are forced to only be church to each other. But when LGBTQ+ Christians are cut out of the greater Church, the church misses out on so many gifts and perspectives.
What is the one sexuality or gender question you're most tired of hearing?
It’s not a question so much as an assumption. People tend to conflate gender and sexuality into one big category of homosexuality. That is difficult. I know it is hard for some people to understand that I don’t identify as a binary gender or within the straight-gay binary. But when I explain it, I wish they could accept it without questioning the validity of my identity.
"People tend to conflate gender and sexuality into one big category of homosexuality."
What is your greatest fear about being queer?
It is scary to fall outside of the male-female and straight-gay binaries because they are not commonly accepted and so I sometimes feel like I’m making it all up. I’m scared that I’m wrong about my identity, wrong about God’s love for me, and that I’ll lose people I care about who can’t accept me for me.
What is your favorite thing about being queer?
I love that being queer has forced me to really look at myself and my identity in a way that most people never have to. Introspection is scary and wonderful. If I weren’t queer, I likely wouldn’t have met so many of the people I am now privileged to call my friends. The LGBTQ+ Christian community has given me some of the closest relationships and most Christ-like love I’ve ever received in the church. I feel honoured to identify within their ranks.
"The LGBTQ+ Christian community has given me some of the closest relationships and most Christ-like love I’ve ever received in the church. I feel honoured to identify within their ranks."
How does your family handle your sexuality and gender, if you're out to them?
I’m only out to my parents, but I know many peoples’ stances. My mom has been so supportive, and is always looking to learn more and advocate in conversations in their church. My dad has been taking it harder, and conversations are more awkward with him. He also outed me to a non-affirming family friend shortly after my parents asked if I was gay, and that was a painful breach of trust. I’m not yet out to my sisters, though I know my one sister has been questioning and disagreeing with the church’s traditional stance towards LGBTQ+ people. My grandma thinks the church needs to get over this, move on to more important issues, and call out gluttony and greed within the church. I have at least one aunt and uncle on each side who will be completely fine with it, and who may already have some inklings given previous conversations. The people who make me afraid to come out are my oma, some homophobic relatives, and the relatives whose stances I don’t know.
You can visit Rebecca at her blog, https://singingmenno.wordpress.com/