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I was supposed to go on a retreat with my church this weekend, but for various reasons, not the least of which involved the beginning signs of an anxiety attack at the mere thought of spending a weekend sharing a cabin with a dozen married couples, I opted out. I am sure the retreat would have been wonderful, and I mean no disrespect to a church that is very dear to my heart, but in this particular moment, I needed a retreat of a different kind. And so A drove out Friday night, and we had communion on my couch… with heaping bowls of Lucky Charms and episodes of The L Word until the sun started to peek around the edges of the sky. And it was, in it’s own way…. a sacred time in sacred space. Space where laughter fits seamlessly with acknowledgment of sadness, where stories of how we see God working in ourselves and in each other slide right in next to me offering to set up A with the new guy in my apartment complex, if he would just hurry up and produce a girl for me to date. Where it is ok to say I am scared, and this hurts like hell… but I have not stopped believing… will not stop believing, that God is in this too.

This retreat from my heteronormative seminary continued all weekend… a group dinner where the one straight girl present was effectively the sexual minority. My first experience meeting someone, and not initially presenting myself as straight. Attending a church that says “all are welcome at the altar of God,” and then demonstrates it by weaving the needs of all sorts of minorities into the fabric of their sermons. Making my introduction to a fantastic, subversive little pocket of people at my Alma Mater…. the kind I never bothered to look for when I actually went there. Reclaiming the phrase “gay agenda” with A, myself, and a new friend from aforementioned subversive little pocket… as we proudly declared ourself “Team Gay Agenda,” while raiding several stores looking for the tv series “Queer as Folk.” We didn’t find it, but we did add a bunch of stuff to the Team Gay Agenda To Do List…like laugh until its just plain obnoxious…. and mandate that every store carry at least one copy of “Queer as Folk” and “The L Word”…. oh, and of course….rule the world with our evil powers of corruption. I think that next time someone talks about the gay agenda, I will think back to this weekend, and instead of getting angry, I will smile a little bit inside…and maybe suggest that whatever their mistaken impression might be, last I heard, the next thing on the Gay Agenda was a communion of Lucky charms…. where all are welcome at the altar of our Lord.

In short, it was beautiful, this retreat of mine. And I am once again ready to face the world of classes, and life, and midterms (well, the first two, at least). In fact, a couple of times today, when people saw me they mentioned that I looked a little different… glowed, even. It’s hope, I think… I’m trying it on for size.

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So, to contrast two experiences I had this week….

I was talking after class with a girl that I often sit by or chat with in one of my precepts…. we talked about getting together to hang out and do lunch or something. In the middle of the conversation, when we were talking about where to eat, she threw the words ‘just as friends’ into the conversation. Seriously? What, was she thinking I was going to think it was a date? Seriously?

Conversely, I was hanging out in a coffee shop with some friends from church today, and one of the  girls went up to get a pop and offered to buy me one. She brought in back and said in jest, “You’re a cheap date”. It made me laugh, and appreciate my straight female friends who don’t think that, just because I am gay, that I want to date them. These friends are rare though, especially at Divinity School.

I came across this interesting book on the Traditional Values Coalition website. It is a book entitled The Agenda. In this book, they describe how “homosexual activists plan on recruiting your children into the lifestyle.”

Here we go. Agenda? Fuck you. Lifestyle? Clarify, bitch. Oh, and how about including an opposing view (as any good sound argumentation would)? How about stopping and considering that these “homosexuals” come from real families, deal with real shit, and are real people.

I hate the Evangelical movement (not Evangelicals, though…hate the sin, love the sinner).

The Real Work

by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

We have come to our real work,

And that when we no longer know which way to go

We have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

This is the poem that I have posted on my refrigerator, in my day planner, next to my desk… it is what is getting me through the days, these days. I hope it encourages some of you as well.

When I dare to be powerful–
to use my strength in the service of my vision,

then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid

-Audre Lorde

In college, we used to joke a lot about “that girl.” And by this, we meant the girl who gets on everybody’s nerves because she is always throwing herself at the boys; the one who shows up for 8 am class in full makeup, hair curled… mini skirt and Uggs intact. My roommates used to joke: “thank goodness we are not that girl!” which would somehow inevitably spark a discussion something along the lines of wondering if that girl knew she was “that girl.” No, we generally decided, part of being “that girl” is not knowing it. A self awareness of the fact would inevitably ruin something of the effect.

I was reminded of this old, rather petty discussion, in an entirely new light the other night when I was in the car with my neighbor A, and our intellectual discussion of sexuality dissolved in my own tears. Once I clarified, through my sobbing revelation of: “I might not be straight,” that this was a heart matter for me, and not just a head one, he raised again the conversation that we have been having ever since I arrived here at seminary. Should I leave? Should I stay? And with the added insight I finally provided about why it is so fucking difficult for me to be here, he offered some insight of his own. Namely, that yes, as we had just been discussing at the head level, that it is absolutely essential for there to be faces put to an issue. For people to know someone whose life they can consider and bear witness to, instead of whose “sin” they can hypothetically hypothesize about. Yes, he said, that will be incredibly essential to any real change taking place here. And no, he added, it doesn’t have to be you. You can leave here and never look back. You don’t have to be that person.

And with every fiber of my being, I was screaming… I am not that girl. I am not that person. I have never been that person. I have never been a vocal warrior or a front line fighter. I much prefer listening to other people’s opinions than offering my own. I cry in the face of every argument, no matter how abstract and intellectual it might have been intended to be. I have never wanted to be the face of any cause. And yet…. And yet. I could not shake the haunting notion that the essential thing about that girl is that she doesn’t know she is. Does this surface-level bantering old college conversation still apply here, in a discussion of a girl of an entirely different sort?

And along with his gentle reminder that I don’t have to be that person… that I can leave at any time, A also offered this reminder: that the person who becomes that catalyst of change never asks to be that person. Nobody asks for this. Nobody wants to be placed in the point of history when their very life…. Their race, their religion, their sexuality… will become a point of contention simply by its presence.

“But I’m not strong enough for this…” I told A, and by then I was really sobbing. Because that is my deepest fear. That God will ask me to stay here, and not just to stay here…. but to stay here honestly, authentically, and openly… and that I will not be strong enough for this. I know logically the theology behind this, that God doesn’t give us more than we can handle and all of that. But I am not talking about theology here…. I am talking about my life. And today it is an effort just to walk across campus. To sit in class, to cordially great my classmates… to be present in this place. And right now I am in my stats class, only half way through my day… and that alone is the biggest triumph I can muster, and even that is only thanks to the latte I am clutching, and a pit stop at the coffee shop down the street with an old friend behind the counter…. an understanding glance, a shared unspoken pain, a fleeting moment of laughter.

And what happens if this gets harder… when this gets harder? Because nobody has thrown any rocks at me, or called me any names. Nobody has kicked me out, or stripped my rights, or asked me to leave their house. And I know that this is only going to get worse… just as I know, if only in my head, that it is also supposed to get so much better. But it feels like I am stepping into a long tradition of pain that I am just now begging to catch glimpses of, and I want so badly to go back to not seeing… and in this panic I am frozen in my indecision. To stay or to leave? To speak or to stay silent? And so I hesitate, alternately shouting, sobbing, and refusing to voice the things that endlessly circle my head… I am not ready for this… I am not strong enough for this… I am not the poster child of any cause… I don’t have anything valuable to say…I don’t know how to be a catalyst for change…. I am not that girl. And yet, I wonder, am I? Perhaps I am, in the sense that I can be here, for as long as I am able… bringing a handful of people into my small circle of confidence and showing them the heart of something that once was only in their head… tossing my rambling written observations into the arms of an internet community I will in all likelihood never even meet….lifting my voice not just as one, but as one of many, to join in a collective effort to reclaim our words. Maybe that is enough. Maybe. But I’d be lying if I said I knew.

I, and I think both A & D (I don’t want to put words into their mouths), have spoken quite a bit recently about those glimmers of hope that make things alright and give us the strength to go on. Finding a source of support amongst a gaggle of criticism and renunciation, seeing a play or a movie that gives us hope in the midst of ignorant comments, and finding the beauty in the collectiveness of what is indeed instability, and–in that–surprisingly finding some stability.

I had yet another experience of this, and have been so thankful since.

On Friday evening, I went to a potluck dinner for the Divinity School Women’s Center. Almost immediately, I felt a sense of hope, of safety and solidarity. Here were other women (and men… well, one guy was there) who cared about the voice women in the church have and how that voice is so stifled, women who are strong and do not feel called to be subordinate, women who understand how they have been opressed, and therefore understand how others have been oppressed, on that same basis of gender, and also on the basis of race, class, and sexuality. These women participate in a collective instability of sorts, one that gives them great strength.

During the course of the evening, we shared. We shared our experiences in the divinity school… the glimmers of hope that we have seen and the areas in which we still feel hopeless. I was able to share about my experience of frustration with a classmate over the subordination of women (see past blog: A Day in the Life) to the reaction of stunned faces rather than the reaction of “she’s right!”or confusion. Others were also able to share their experiences… their frustration with those who will only refer to God as “He”, their pain at the lack of interest of their peers at these vital matters of equality, their musings of pain and hope in the years past. We shared, and I felt not so alone.

In this sharing, I was able to share myself… to speak my reality… that I am a lesbian at a divinity school.

It was the second time in the 66 days that I have been in divinity school that I have felt real support and care (shout out to Elizabeth for time #1). Yes, others have been kind, I do not want to diminish the goodness others’ have shown me. The sincere questions asked by those in my spiritual formation group, the outrage at the rock throwing incident by those in my pastoral care class, the genuine questions and wholehearted support of my small group. I have yet to have an experience (minus the stupid rock throwing, but that doesn’t count because I didn’t know them) that was negative. I have received no hostility and that has been a blessing.

But, in a way, I have been settling. Nesting myself in a place of question and speculation. Always wondering… what do they really think of me? Will this effect our friendship in the long run? What happens when I want to get married (this is a long long way down the road, mind you. Gotta find someone to marry first 🙂 ). But, when that does happen, would these friends come to my wedding? Or would that be where they draw the line? And, what do they think of my spirituality? Do they believe that I am living in sin? Maybe this is not the case, maybe I need to give people more credit, but the reality is that many of my friends do not feel the same way as I do about the sanctity of same-sex relationships. And that is TOTALLY OK. I would rather people be honest with me, and that we navigate this controversial issue as friends, and maybe even agree to disagree. I absolutely need those people in my life (shout out to Trigger!).

But at the same time, I need more. I need support. I need to not feel like I am less than. I need a safe place to vent. I need to feel not alone…

I had known coming into this divinity school thing that it was going to be a difficult time and that I would have to fight some battles. What I did not realize was that I could not fight them alone. How silly and arrogant of me!

These moments of hope that I have experienced throughout my time here, they have assuaged my thirst for support. I have had sips of water when I have been dying of thirst, and I am so grateful for those drinks. But this experience this weekend was more than a sip. I found a fountain, and my thirst was not just assuaged, but quenched. I was not just satisfied, but filled.

Appendum: These experiences of support, lack thereof, and everything in between, have been directly connected to my experiences at divinity school. While this tension of opinions also exists at my church (at almost any church), I have felt a great sense of support from people there. (Didn’t want to not give credit where credit was due.)

I went to see a screening today of the upcoming movie For the Bible Tells Me So, which, for those of you who haven’t been counting down the days until it’s arrival like I have, is a movie that explores how the church has gone wrong in its treatment of gays and lesbians. I could go on and on about the movie itself, but what has really stayed with me, even more than the incredibly important film, was the audience. The screening was held at a local church that is known for being open and affirming to the gay and lesbian community, and the basement room in which the screening was held was packed with people of all sorts. Now, I have heard plenty about the gay and lesbian community, and I have even written a little about it here and there, but to be honest, I think this may have been my introduction. It was beautiful, in this breathtaking, striking sort of way. I was in the back row, which gave me a bit of a further view of the movie, but also a wonderful view of the audience. And all I could think, throughout the entire film, was how we moved as one body. Laughing, sighing, leaning forward, crossing our arms in defensive, tears streaming down our faces… our body language was as if it was coming from one body. And it was, really… the body of Christ. I had never really before given much thought to the passage on how the body of Christ is all one body with many parts.. or at least not much thought to the fact that I might still have a place in this body… not until I sat there in that room and felt myself moved, to laughter and to tears, in unison with an entire room of people who had all, to some degree just as I have, learned to find the humor in the most painful of moments, but also not to discount the suffering in which we share… we, this room, these people of God…. this Body. We moved as one, tonight, in our shared frustrations and in our hope… in this collective instability. And it was beautiful.

Which is why it made it all the move difficult when I was driving back to my apartment complex with A (neighbor A, not gay friend A), and we got into a sort of intellectual argument which began rather mellowly, but quickly escalated when he said something about the LGBT “agenda.” Now to be fair, he had no idea what he was getting into with me, or where I was coming from, and his argument had more to do with the logistics of including transsexuals under the same category of gays and lesbians, but from the moment I heard the word “agenda,” I was charged and ready to fight. I mean, I’ve been thinking a lot about the language we use to discuss sexuality in general, and we’ve all been writing about the subject on this site, but I hadn’t even realized how strongly I would react to the word “agenda” until I heard it. And all I could think of was that room full of people… full of one small, ostracized-but-still-capable-of-laughter part of the body of Christ, and I just didn’t see how you could tag onto us the word agenda. It feels less like an agenda, and more like we are searching in the corners of rooms and under rugs…. looking for our misplaced joy, a little trace of hope, a hint of respect, the first signs of healing… the space within ourselves to breathe. To breathe and to be. To love and to believe. To laugh and to cry. To find redemption in our brokenness. To fall and to pick ourselves back up. To see the humanity in ourselves, and in each other. If that’s an agenda, I pray that we… not the we of this collective instability, but the we of this world…would all go out in search of one.

Now to be honest, I really wasn’t playing fair with A. I mean, it is more than a little bit underhanded to have an entire debate about a subject without mentioning that you are not just defending the group in question, you also happen to be a part of it. And so I told him. Because it was the ethical thing to do, and I am taking so many damn ethics classes these days. Because I came here not to lie, and I am so tired of days like yesterday, where I spent the entire day with my best friend and could only think again and again how wrong it was that over 1,000 people had read my blog about my innermost thoughts on sexuality, and I had not said a single word to her. Because I had hope… have hope… that telling him would be painful in the way of things that eventually bring about healing. And it was. B says that this process of coming out does not get much easier. I suppose that’s probably true… but I think it might get just a little bit more beautiful, just around the edges. At least, this time it was.

this is an Audre Lorde poem that has become very dear to my heart lately, and that actually inspired the creation of this blog as we seek to find our words… I hope you enjoy:

A LITANY FOR SURVIVAL

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
futures
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours:

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
remembering
we were never meant to survive

– Audre Lorde, The Black Unicorn

 

 

I came out to the people I work with. Every week 1 or 2 people share their “life story” with the rest of the staff. Granted, our staff consists of 10 people, so it’s fairly intimate. When my turn came, I decided not to be a chicken (for whatever hair-brained reason!) and included the fact that I’m gay. The thing is, it’s supposed to be our life/God story, and I can’t very well tell a good God story without recanting my experience as a gay Christian. That’s like asking a quadriplegic to relay her experience as a Christian, but please don’t include anything about your disability. Anyway, I just did it. So now that’s not hanging over my head. It’s a good thing, I think.

They were generally supportive. And at the end of my 15-20 minute “testimony”, I opened the floor for questions. I explained that I understood I might be the first person they know who is gay, yet still claiming the Christian faith. Of course this would prompt questions for me if I were in their shoes. There was silence for a while, then a few people asked questions. Some of them weren’t questions so much as “good for you!” type statements. All heart-felt. Then one person asked, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” I was kind of confused, so I asked if he meant whether of not I was going to continue trying to live after Christ. Yeah, that’s basically what he meant. I explained yes, my values and faith system were very important to me and that God did something in my heart long ago that went very deep. No, I won’t be dumping Christianity. I thought this was a fairly clear answer, but it obviously didn’t get at what they wanted to know. So, the next question:

“What about now? How do you feel about the….homosexual….lifestyle?”

I should have been more blunt, sarcastic, wry, anything other than how I reacted. I explained that “lifestyle” is a broad thing to say, and that I didn’t intend on changing anything in my life that I haven’t been doing for the past 20 years. But, here’s a few thoughts. What the HELL does “homosexual lifestyle” mean? Manicures every week and trips to Nordstrom’s? Flipping my wrist and calling everyone “dear”? Rainbow flag pins on my fashionable new man-purse? Or perhaps many lovers and much promiscuity?

Here’s a hint to anyone on the outside of this bubble – don’t ask about the “homosexual lifestyle” or I’m going to start asking about the “heterosexual lifestyle.” You know, (for guys) buying lots of beer, watching football, adjusting yourself, and lacking all social tact. Because,let’s be honest, all straight men are exactly the same.