A Year Away From Church

I think it was November of 2016 that I stopped going. I didn’t know how long it would be before I went back, or if I would even go to that church again. I just knew that I needed a break. I was tired of walking into church and knowing I was out of place. I hated feeling like everyone was looking in on a club that I was not a part of. I couldn’t stand being present but feeling distant.

I had recently come out to some, though not all, of the church community. Even to the ones I was not officially “out” to could hardly ignore the fact that I was different. The church had rapidly expanded over the past few months, and I couldn’t help but notice the new faces that stared a little too long at the girl with very short hair who habitually wore button-downs.

Among the people who did know my story, the responses were varied. All spoke of love, but I know many worried that I was headed down the wrong path. It’s hard embarking on a new journey when the people around you openly question your decisions.

I remember driving out of the church parking lot one Sunday and thinking, This is it. I’m not coming back next week. I may not come back ever. And when I got home, I glanced at the stack of Bibles on my bedside table, and I decided not to read them for a while. I couldn’t stand the thought of reading out of a sense of duty anymore. I walked away from the church that I loved and set aside those books that I had read cover to cover. I took a break from the religion of Christianity.

Separating from church gave me room to breathe. I was able to hear my thoughts and feel the pain and anger that had accumulated from years of being told that my orientation was something that I needed to be healed of. I ran a lot, shedding my frustration along miles of wooded trails and exhaling the toxins that had poisoned me for so long. I asked questions. I listened to music, loud over the radio, with my head out my window and the wind whipping my hair. I drank lots of coffee and I talked to strangers. I blogged.

And through it all, I met God in a different context than I’d known him before. Away from sermons, religious verbiage, and familiar verses, he was nonetheless always there. I saw him in the glowing sunset, and in the persistent rain that Northwesters learn to love. I saw him in my friends–Athiests, Muslims, and Mormons alike. I heard him in song, and I felt his warmth in my heart every night before I fell asleep.

As the months went by, I saw the words I’d read so many times proven before my eyes. I felt the truth in the teachings of Jesus.

I’ve been told that Christians who stop going to church risk being trapped by lies and being separated from God. But that always bothered me a little. If my faith can’t survive without a weekly dose of church, then is it really worth having in the first place?

It’s been over a year, and so much has changed. I’m stronger than I was. Some things that I knew in my head before, I now feel in the core of my being.

There was bitterness threatening to set into my soul in the wake of the spiritual abuse I endured for so long. I know forgiveness now. I was able to brush away the caustic ideologies that had damaged my heart, and allow time for healing.

I don’t intend to stay away from church forever. There is so much to learn from others’ knowledge of God, and there is much to accomplish together. I don’t think I’ll ever feel at home in the evangelical circles I came from, but I am certain there is a community that will welcome me.

 

 

 

A Sheep in Men’s Clothing (the night I dressed in drag)

If you don’t believe male privilege is a real thing, I encourage you to spend an evening at a bar dressed in drag.

That’s what I did, albeit unintentionally. A few days ago I decided to check out the open mic at a bar downtown. I’m a musician, and I was interested in getting into the local music scene. And I went alone because sometimes I like to go on solitary adventures. It was a cold night, and I dressed practically–Timberland boots, skinny cargo pants, a red and blue flannel, and a black puffer jacket (a recent acquisition that is the warmest article of clothing I have ever owned, despite making me look like the love-child of a trash bag and a marshmallow).

I wasn’t really paying attention to how I was presenting, but it is true that everything I was wearing except the cargo pants originated in the men’s department. And I keep my hair short–buzzed on the sides and back, and longer on top. The bar was dimly lit, and apparently my fabulous winged eyeliner went completely unnoticed. Aside from the bartender, who immediately carded me, I think everyone in the room assumed I was male.

Now, I am pretty used to being misgendered. I’ve written about it before. Since writing that post, I’ve become quite secure in my femininity, so being called “Bud” or “young man” has ceased to bother me. But my experience that night still amazed me.

I was amazed because I was suddenly inconspicuous. I was amazed because I felt safe. As a young woman, going alone to a somewhat dive-y bar is not the wisest thing to do. Even though I carry pepper spray and have training in two martial arts, as well as general self-defense, it was a risky situation. But that night, I was invisible.

I’m a soft butch lesbian, so I’m used to stares and double-takes. People notice me, and I notice them noticing me. But dressed in accidental drag, I walked up to the bar, hung my jacket on the back of my chair, sat down, and ordered a beer, and everyone just glanced my way and then went on with their business. An older lady walked past me and said “excuse me, young man” as she brushed by. A slightly drunk guy in his late fifties sat on my right and told me I should sing karaoke. He told me about his kid, who is about nine and likes to sing. And then he left me alone.

As I sat there, sipping my Coors lite and waiting for the music to start (it never did), I realized, this is what it means to have male privilege. I should mention that I really do not make a very impressive dude. I’m 5’7″, and weigh a whopping 115 pounds. I have a baby face. I either look like a 20-year-old lesbian or a 15-year-old boy, and clearly that night I was leaning toward the boy.

But neither my size nor my face nor my girly little hands mattered. What counted was that, for those few hours, I was a man. And that protected me more than all the self-defense lessons I had ever taken could.

I’ve heard so many men laugh at the idea of male privilege. Women, too. They say it’s just an idea thought up by whiny liberals. But I’ve experienced it. For a few hours, I had male privilege. And I’ve lived the rest of my life without it.

It disturbs me that something as simple as work boots, short hair, and dim lighting could afford me the safety that should be a basic right. Not being stared or harassed shouldn’t be an exception. I hate that I’m so used to these experiences that I’m surprised by their absence.

If you’re a man who thinks male privilege isn’t an issue, try spending a day as a woman. It’ll be harder for most of you to pass as female than it was for my dyke-y little self to pass as male. But that’s okay, because it’ll give you the chance to see what it’s like for trans women. Take some friends with you, because it will be one of the most dangerous experiences of your life. Maybe practice your self-defense moves and get a canister of pepper spray.

And then tell everyone about it, because this is a big deal. Our culture needs to change. And the first step to fixing the problem is awareness.

 

For Those Who Can’t (hey Church, some of your kids are gay)

I left my church a little over a year ago. I left because realized that it was unhealthy for me to be there. The negativity toward the LGBT+ community was subtle, but I felt every barb. It got to the point that going to church was too stressful. I didn’t feel any closer to God, I just felt uncomfortable.

But not every LGBT person has the option to leave. Some have to silently endure hearing their orientation referred to as an “abomination” and “perversion.” Week after week, year after year, they soak in the negativity. And for most, it’s the only opinion they hear about the LGBT community.

I’m talking about the kids. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, about 7.3 percent of millennial respondents identify as LGBT. And the actual percentage is likely much higher than this, due to under-reporting. The poll doesn’t talk about the younger generation (Gen Z, the iGeneration, or whatever you choose to call them), but the numbers are steadily trending upward from the older generations to the younger.

Church, I see a lot of you worrying so much about your kids being around LGBT+ people. People like me. But you don’t understand. Some of your kids are queer. They are already like me. They may not even know it yet. But I was born this way, and so were they.

When you preached sermons about sexual immorality and included being LGBT as part of that, I felt uncomfortable, so I left. Your kids can’t do that. You are their ride, and logistics aside, you are their world. You shape their worldview, you gave them their moral compass.

At some point in their lives, they’re going to realize that they are different. They are what you’re afraid of. They are like me. I remember what it was like going through that. I will never forget the years of pain and self-hatred that stemmed from being told all my life that who I am is not okay. I spent so much energy repenting for something that wasn’t a sin, and searching for some moment in my past that responsible for the way I turned out.

I want your kids to be spared that. I don’t want them to have to make that terrible choice between accepting themselves and pleasing their parents. I don’t want them to face the depression and suicidal thoughts that plagued me for so long.

So I’m begging you to re-examine everything you believe about the LGBT community. Even if it makes your uncomfortable. Really question everything you’ve been taught, and be willing to consider that you may have been wrong. But don’t do it for me. Do it for your kids. Because I can’t tell you which kids in your youth group are queer, but I guarantee you . . . some of them are. If your children’s ministry has 50 kids, I promise you at least three of them are queer. Probably more.

Church, I walked away from you, but I can’t turn my back on you. I have to speak up, not for myself, but for those who can’t. Because I know that sitting among you are kids who are just starting to question their sexuality. And there are others who already know, but they’re afraid to tell you.

Those kids need role models. They need to see that there are people like them, and that it’s possible to love God and be queer at the same time. I didn’t have that when I was growing up. But your kids can. It doesn’t have to be as hard for them as it was for me. You can create a safe atmosphere for them to come out of the closet and embrace the way that God made them.

Please stop seeing me as a broken person who needs fixing. I left you because it wasn’t healthy for me to stay. But I will always love you. It’s okay if you don’t understand everything yet. It’s okay to ask questions. But church, please remember: when you talk about the LGBT community, you’re not just talking about some faceless heathens, and you’re not just talking about me. You’re talking about your kids. And they hear every word you say.

Discovering Me

You would think that after living with myself for 23 years, I would know pretty much everything there is to know about me.

But I don’t.

I’m still learning more about myself every day. And I’m learning about learning about myself. I know, I know…that’s very meta.

But it’s fascinating to discover parts of myself that I never knew existed. Every time, I feel myself come alive a little bit more. And the more alive I become, the farther I move from that hideous black hole called depression.

I spent way too many years of my life trying my best to not feel anything. Because I was afraid of what I might feel. And I know I’m not the only one went through this.

My experience of numbing my heart out of fear and shame is all too common among gay kids growing up in the church. One of the first things I remember is feeling out of place. I knew I was different, even though I couldn’t quite say how. I didn’t fit in. Something was wrong.

I learned to stifle that difference when I was very young. I learned not to trust my heart. I made decisions based not on what I really wanted, but on what I thought would please the people around me.

I wondered sometimes how other kids could be so confident. How was it so easy for them to be themselves? But me, I didn’t even know who I was in the first place, and I certainly didn’t know how to be myself. I was too afraid of messing up. I was too afraid that people would see.

I was afraid they would see me naked. I’m not talking about my physical body, although my shame did extend to encompass my appearance. But it was more than that. I was afraid of being exposed.

I didn’t really trust anyone until I was 19. And when I did open up, it wasn’t because I had built up some sort of courage. It was because the pain of isolation was so intense that I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought I might explode if I stayed in hiding any longer.

It was when I was 19 that I finally admitted to myself that I was gay. I had suspected before, I had seen the signs–but I kept on denying it until I couldn’t ignore the truth any longer. Back then, the idea of being gay was the most terrifying concept I could imagine. I had been taught so many lies about sexuality that the beautiful truth seemed like a repulsive monster. Telling another person that I’m attracted to women was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I’m still amazed that I managed it.

Coming to really accept and embrace that side of myself took me another three years. I questioned everything I had ever been taught. I battled debilitating depression. I cried a lot.

And I came through the other side. I came through it with a strength I didn’t know I had.

Since then, I’ve been getting to know the parts of myself that I kept hidden away for so long. I buy clothes that I like instead of the clothes that women in their early 20’s are supposed to wear. I get my hair cut in a style that makes me feel confident. I listen to the music that makes me happy.

I’m learning to hesitate less. I don’t have to think so hard about what I like and what I don’t. The battle in my head over what’s expected, what’s accepted…I ignore it and just go with my heart. If some people don’t like it, that’s okay.

It’s funny how similar I am now to the little girl that I learned to repress. Some things are just ingrained in me. The same girl who wore that blue polo shirt every day until she outgrew it now wears all manner of button-down shirts, and most of them are blue. I still tuck them, even though everyone always told me not to. I still love belts and watches and pens and knives and flashlights. And I still kind of wish that my eyesight were worse so that I could have an excuse to wear glasses.

I’m gaining the kind of confidence that would have shocked ten-year-old me. I’ve become the kind of person I used to envy.

I’m boldly different. I love being me. I’m used to being stared at–it doesn’t bother me anymore. I wish it didn’t take me 23 years to get here. It shouldn’t have. I should never have felt shame over being myself. I should never have felt the need to hide it. But now that I’ve learned to shine, I’m going to shine as bright as I can.

For the kids growing up who are afraid to be themselves. For the adults still hiding in the closet. For those who can’t, I’m going to shine.

 

 

 

Dear Jane, (a letter to my ex-girlfriend)

I miss you.

Even after the way you hurt me, I still miss you.

I miss the way you’d stand on the tops of my feet with your arms around my neck. I’d put my hands on your waist and you’d tip your face up to kiss me. Your little rosebud lips were so soft. I thought I’d never grow tired of kissing you.

I miss the way you’d lie in arms with your head on my shoulder and our legs all tangled up. We just fit together. Your skin was so soft and you were always warm. My hands were always cold, and you’d hold them in your own tiny hands, and fret because they were mottled purple. You’d tell me to take more vitamins and stop drinking coffee.

I miss walking hand in hand with you through the grocery store. Some people would stare, but we just smiled and pulled each other closer. Even a trip to buy milk was fun with you. You would tell me about your day at work, and I’d tell you a story about my childhood. And then we’d go back to your apartment and you’d insist on cooking so I could study.

I don’t miss the times you shut me out. It would happen so suddenly, I never saw it coming. You would angle ever so slightly away from me, and the shutters would come down over your eyes. In an instant you were cold, unreachable. And I’d wonder what I did, what I said, that drove you so quickly away.

And then the next day you’d be fine, and in your warmth I could barely remember what it was like when you pushed me away. If I asked, you’d say it was no big deal, and I’d chide myself for reading things in. But I wasn’t. I see that now. Those moments were warnings, and I ignored them.

When you cut me off for the last time, you were that person again. Stony, distant, cold as ice. You wouldn’t look at me, you were too busy cooking your dinner as you calmly told me it was over. Your voice was flat, completely emotionless, as you said the words that broke my heart. And when I left, you didn’t even bother to turn around. You didn’t say goodbye.

I wonder what you’ll tell her–your next girlfriend. When she asks about me, what will you say? What reason will you give her for ending it? You accused me of lying about what I believed. That’s not true–I told you on our very first date. I was always honest with you, even when a fib would have made things so much easier. But you’ll tell her I lied, I tricked you, I pretended to be someone I wasn’t.

But what else will you say to her? Will you tell her about the first time I took you on a date, and I brought you a rose…red, because it’s your favorite color?

Will you tell her I made you feel safe? Will you tell her about that time at a concert when people were getting drunk, and elbows and fists started flying? And I put you against the wall with my hands on either side, and people kept slamming into my back, but you never got hit.

Will you tell her that I loved you, and treated you as well as I knew how? And when we fought, I was the first to say “I’m sorry” and try to make amends.

I loved you so much. And I know you loved me. We loved laughing together, and holding each other, and talking about the future. But between the time I shut your front door for the last time and the moment I walked through my own door, your words had turned into hate. The texts that kept pouring into my phone were vitriol. You taunted me for believing in God, you cursed at me, you cursed at God.

You took your anger out on me, but I know it’s not me you were really mad at. I loved you, I never did anything to incite such rage. You have a lifetime of pain that’s accumulated in your heart, and that day you unleashed it on me.

I don’t blame you. Growing up a gay kid in a conservative atmosphere is a particular kind of hell. You spent your formative years being shamed for the most vulnerable, beautiful part of who you are. Instead of exploring your identity and building your confidence, you were forced into secrecy before you even knew what it is you were hiding. I know because I went through that as well.

I’m sorry. I’m so sorry for the way that religion has hurt you. The people who treated you like that were so wrong.

I hope someday you come to the point where you can forgive. I know they don’t deserve it. Most will probably never even say “I’m sorry.” But I can see how the hatred is poisoning you. It’s clouding your judgement and making you lash out at people who love you. It made you lash out at me.

I can’t be close to you anymore. You broke off our relationship and told me to leave you alone. And I will respect your boundaries. But I wish you well. I wish you peace and happiness and love.

Goodbye.

 

Mental Illness and Toxic Relationships

I’m getting really frustrated with all the posts I see (mostly originating on Tumblr) to the tune of “I need someone to love me even when I’m a total jackass to them, because I can’t help that I have a mental illness.” And I say this as someone who has struggled with anxiety and depression for at least the past ten years.

Having a mental illness sucks. It’s horrible. One of the worst feelings in the world is having your own mind betray you. Anyone who has suffered from a mental illness will concur. I do not want to downplay the very real pain that goes along with mental health issues.

Friends, family, partners…they all need to understand how our minds can be affected. They need to know that we don’t do it on purpose, and that something that may seem laughably easy can be the hardest thing in the world for us.

But I’m so tired of seeing people excuse their bad behavior by pulling the mental health card. It’s childish, and it’s dangerous. Because depression or not, anxiety or not…we are still responsible for our own actions. And what we do still affects the people around us. The bruises are real, even if we weren’t in our right mind when we threw the punches. The consequences are the same.

Part of growing up is learning to cope with mental issues in a healthy way. It’s learning how to not be toxic. It’s possible to have a mental illness and be healthy at the same time. And we don’t have to do it alone. There are ways to reach out for help without damaging the people who try to help us.

And the first step is to take responsibility. Understand that whatever legitimate struggles you may have, the effect on other people is the same. When you lash out, you cut the people around you. Usually the people who love you the most. Stop blaming them for being hurt. Stop blaming them for pulling away. Stop being a victim.

Take ownership of your own life. Don’t let your mental illness run the show. Before you act on a thought, take a good hard look at it. Don’t make decisions based on what you feel in the moment. Make them based on what you know to be true.

Write it down. Read it over. Ask your friend to read it and tell you what they think. Listen to what they say. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. But also don’t demand it. Don’t use guilt or manipulation to get what you need. Just humbly ask.

And when you mess up and something you do ends up hurting someone, don’t blame it on your mental illness. That’s the easy way out. Grow a pair and say “I’m sorry.” Don’t try to absolve yourself of responsibility. Own it.

I’ve had depression and anxiety for at least the past ten years. Everything I write about it, I write from experience. I’ve been close to people with depression, and been burned when I tried to help them. And I’ve burned my friends who tried to help me.

But I’ve also learned. I’ve learned to be a healthy person who has mental illness. I’ve learned to check myself, and watch my words, and ask for help, and say “I’m sorry.” I’ve said those words a lot. And I’ve grown stronger, I’m more resilient, and my relationships have flourished.

Break-ups and Grace

My first girlfriend broke up with me today.

We’ve known each other for a little over a month. It was a wild, wonderful month…the best month of my life.

She fit into my arms like we were made to be together. When we hugged, her head rested on my shoulder, at just the right height for me to kiss her hair. She smelled like flowers and freedom. She could make me laugh by whispering a few words in my ear.

I loved her. She was the first girl I ever fell in love with who loved me back. It was a magical feeling. And it was terrifying. Because I knew she could hurt me like no one else could.

I also knew I could hurt her. I was so afraid of hurting her. I wanted to protect her from everything, but how could I protect her from myself? So I told her everything. I was brutally honest with her. I told her the worst things about myself. So that she would know ahead of time. So that maybe when I messed up, she wouldn’t be hurt as bad.

She is an atheist. I told her I’m a Christian on our very first date. I said I’m a Christian, but I’m not religious. I believe in God, but I don’t believe in all the rules that Christians teach. She said her religion is love.

I thought it was a match made in heaven. My religion is love as well. It’s just that to me, Love has a name. Love is a person. Love is my Jesus, who found me in my darkest moments and lifted me out of shame.

I knew it was risky, dating an atheist. I knew many Christians would shake their heads and click their tongues. A Christian woman, dating an atheist woman. It’s proof of the totality of my fall from grace, they would say.

But I believe in a God of Love, and I believe that many people know him, by many different names. I’ve met so many people who love so purely, and they profess many different faiths. Or lack of faith. I think we need to move beyond the boundaries of religion and see into each other’s hearts. I believe we are far more alike than we are different. I believe in Love.

Yesterday, we were talking about faith, and I told her a little bit more about what I believe. I explained that there is so much tradition and broken theology that many Christians believe that can’t be validated by anything in the Bible. And I explained that I have personal experiences with God that no one can take away.

I thought we would come to understand each other better. I thought she would see that what I believe is not so different from what she believes. I thought it would all work out.

And then she told me she hates Christians. She said she is not just an atheist, she is anti-Christ. She said how dare I call myself a Christian, when Christians say it’s wrong to be gay? How dare I associate myself with a religion that says that everyone else is going to hell?

I have studied the Bible, including every clobber passage, and come to the conclusion that nowhere does God say that gay love is wrong. All I find, on every page, is God commanding us to love.

And I don’t even believe in hell. I have read the Bible and I have yet to find substantial evidence for a place of torment after death. I’ve read about fire as purification, I’ve read about refinement by fire, but I have not found a basis for the existence of the flaming pit.

I explained all of this. And she wouldn’t listen. All she could hear was me saying that I am a follower of Christ. And she couldn’t take it. She couldn’t stand to be in a relationship with a person who called herself a Christian. So she told me she never wants to see me again.

Today, she sent me a stream of texts that culminated in “Fuck off” and “fuck Jesus.” It’s amazing how quickly her love for me turned into sheer hatred. She accused me of lying about my faith, even though I was up-front about it from our first date. I was as honest with her as I knew how, but I guess her mind twisted my words into what she wanted me to say. So now she says that I’m a liar.

But that is the only thing she can accuse me of. She hates me because I am a Christian, but she can’t find any fault to blame me with. Because I was good to her. I was kind to her. I was gentle with her. I made her feel safe. I made time for her. I bought her chocolate. She accused me of lying, but I always told her the truth.

She is so full of anger. She is so full of bitterness. She hates the Church for what they’ve done to her and to her friends. She hates religion.

The Church has hurt me too. At least as much as it has hurt her. I grew up in it. I grew up hearing that the way that I am–the most beautiful part of who I am–is wrong. I was told I was broken. I was guilted. And it hurt deeply.

I feel anger toward the Church sometimes. I remember how cruel, how uncompassionate they were toward me, and my breath catches in my throat. But I love them. I see an institution that has hurt me and the people that I love, but I also see individual people. I see faces. I see souls. And I can’t hate another person’s soul.

I believe that one day, the Church as a whole will come to see that it has treated the gay community unfairly. I may not live to see that day. But the people I know, the people of love…I will keep loving them, and I will show them that the person that I am is beautiful. I may not be able to change the Church, but I will change hearts. Because I will love. I’ll show grace, the same way that Jesus showed me grace. I’ll forgive, as I have been forgiven.

My first girlfriend broke up with me today. In one day, her love for me turned into hatred. She threw away every beautiful moment we’ve experienced together, because in her mind she can’t separate me from the religion she hates. I’m so sorry that she’s been hurt. Over the past day, she’s really hurt me. But I will never hate her.

Today I Bought a Bow Tie

I found a fabulous store today. It’s next to the hella gay coffee shop where I just started going (has a rainbow flag hanging in front, is full of hipsters, lots of tats and piercings and plaid). Sweet coffee shop, very cozy. Anyway, back to the store…it’s a mostly-vintage boutique with an owl logo, and there was an arrangement of bow ties in the window, and I couldn’t not go in.

I felt at home right away. It’s a small store with clothing-racks and tables packed tetris-style. Everywhere you turn there are button-downs, blazers, waistcoats, worn brown leather…and ties, ties, ties everywhere.

I think I went cross-eyed for a minute, trying to take in every detail at once. Almost immediately I ran into a girl I had seen half a dozen times at the farmers market. We had never spoken, but we recognized each other instantly, introduced ourselves, and chatted comfortably about bow ties. She was there with her partner, who was around the corner looking at wool sweaters. They knew the owner, and apparently the owner knew half the town.

It’s at times like this that I forget that I am painfully shy, with anxiety that sometimes nearly paralyzes me. I forget that if a situation is stressful enough I can have a panic attack, which are horrifically embarrassing and leave me physically and emotionally drained.

I forget because I am safe. In a place I’ve never set foot before, my smile comes easily and my words flow uninhibited. I’m a whole different person from the awkward girl who faithfully attended the same church for years and never stopped feeling out of place.

It makes all the difference in the world to realize that it’s not that there’s something wrong with me, but the environment I grew up in. The world doesn’t hate me–just a tiny fraction of it.

I guess I knew this already, at least in theory. But I’m slowly starting to trust it. It’s becoming my truth, rather than a mantra I repeat to myself to keep from going crazy. People still stare sometimes, but now they’re just mildly irritating individuals, they’re not representatives of the rest of the world.

So anyways, I found a fun little coffee shop, and because I went there I discovered this store that’s basically lesbian heaven, and when I was in the store I made a friend and bought a bow tie. Two years ago I would have let my anxiety over what might happen–what people might think, the funny looks they might give me, what they might say–psych me out of trying anything new.

Something else that happened yesterday–a guy at the table next to mine in Starbucks gave me a three-glance stare. That’s a stare that lasts long enough for me to glance at them three times and it’s still going on. I deadpan stared right back and then forgot about him. Half an hour later, I got up, bussed my table, and walked down the street to the farmers market. I passed lots of people walking in the opposite direction. I met their eyes confidently and smiled warmly. Most of them smiled back.

 

Finding my tribe

It dawned on me yesterday as I was leaving the farmers market, after chatting amicably with half a dozen vendors and strangers. I am likeable. It may not seem like much of a brainwave, but for someone who spent most of her teen and young adult years feeling like most of the world disdains me, it was a welcome realization.

I grew up in evangelical churches and conservative home school groups. My most pervasive memory of growing up is feeling out of place. I always looked different, talked different, felt different, than the people around me. I remember the panicked feeling that would rise up in my chest every time I found myself standing in a lopsided circle with the teenagers I was supposed to be friends with. Say something. Say anything! Don’t  be so awkward! But I had no words.

As a sixteen-year-old, I couldn’t comprehend why it was so hard for me to communicate with these people. And I couldn’t understand why they had such an easy time communicating with each other. What secret had I missed growing up? What lesson had they learned on the playground that I hadn’t, that enabled them to mesh so seamlessly?

It wasn’t until my first real foray into the Real World that I experienced that kind of instant bond. The interactions that were conspicuous only in the absence of discomfort. It was at a music camp in New York, and the friends that I met there were closer than the kids I had known since I was fourteen.

And then we were wrenched apart, and I went back to the stilted friendships that were now painfully wrong for me. The memory of what had been taunted me with its frustrating inaccessibility.

It was many years before I found friendships like that again, and this time it was not music that bonded us.

The fact is, it doesn’t really matter what you have in common. You may not even know exactly what it is. What matters is that your souls are invisibly connected, and you undersatnd each other in a way most people can’t.

I find members of my tribe everywhere, now that I know to look for them. I find them at the grocery store and my bank. I find them behind the bar at my favorite cafés and in the seat behind and to the left of me in my humanities class. They’re the people who go to social justice fairs and have cute dogs at the farmers market.

Knowing that they exist has changed my life. It’s changed the way I see the world. For so long, the people around me were always potential threats. Their eyes flicked over me and judged my clothes and my hair and my makeup. They made me not want to leave the house. They made my life exhausting. But now I know there are people everywhere who can encourage me by their mere proximity. There are spaces I can walk into where I immediately feel accepted and embraced. There are people in the world who are my instant friends because we see the world the same way.

It’s what I always imagined I would be able to find in the church. All those times I volunteered, all those missions conferences I attended, the home groups I joined. I wished and I hoped and I faked.

Except I never really made it. I just morphed and molded myself until I couldn’t recognize the person I had become. And then I left. And I stumbled on my tribe by accident. I found it in the people the church had always warned me to stay away from. But I was like them before I even knew them. And they taught me things about myself that the church had never told me. They showed me that I belong, and I’m free to just be myself. No faking, no pretending.

Just be.

It’s Time to Be Quiet and Listen: An open letter to the Evangelical Church

Dear Church,

You chose an interesting time to release what you call the Nashville Statement. Amidst devastating natural disasters, anxiety over the fate of DACA-recipients, and the threat of North Korea’s growing nuclear capability, you published a manifesto that proclaimed . . . nothing new. The Nashville Statement is simply a reiteration of the Evangelical Church’s position on marriage and sexuality, in a conveniently concentrated form.

Collecting your main points and organizing them on paper is a useful exercise for reaching a consensus on a complicated topic. The issue with the Nashville Statement, however, is that it is irrelevant.

While the conversation regarding sex and marriage and orientation and identity has been evolving steadily over the past 50 years, your talking-points have stayed the same. “He created them male and female,” “go forth and multiply,” “Sodom and Gomorrah,” . . . the same litany of Christian catch-phrases I’ve been hearing since I was in Sunday school.

You keep repeating the same things over and over, but you don’t stop to listen. If you did–if you really stopped talking for a minute and paid attention to what we are saying–you would know that your arguments have been considered, and they have been answered. The Nashville Statement not only adds nothing to the conversation, it fails to take part in the conversation at all.

Your understanding of the LGBTQ+ community’s basic stance is flawed. In the manifesto’s preamble, you say “It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences” (para. 1). This idea that we are intent on attacking the concept of biological sex is a recurring thread throughout your text. And it is preposterous.

Our qualm is not with the existence of biological realities. We do not contest genitalia. Rather, we take issue with the narrow restrictions you place on people because of their sex. You say that because a person is male or female, they must be one way and they cannot be another. You refuse to recognize the beautiful spectrum of variation that God created. But we are the way that we are because it pleased God to make us this way. We do not fit into your description of what you say we should be, but we are made according to God’s design.

There are so many points in your manifesto that I want to address. You make many claims, with no scriptural justification to back them. But to do so would be redundant. Because others have come before me and written much more eloquently on these matters.

I encourage you to listen to them. Listen to the scholars who have devoted their life’s work to gender studies. Listen to the theologians who affirm LGBTQ+ Christians. Listen to the humans who have walked a road you know nothing about.

The conversation has developed substantially in the past 50 years. Stop repeating your tired arguments and take the time to catch up. It will take effort. You will have to learn an unfamiliar language. You will have to step outside of your bubble and into the shoes of people who are very different from you. You will feel uncomfortable. But in order to engage, you have to understand what others have said before you.

The Nashville Statement was a line in the sand. It was a boundary you established between you and us, between the Church and the World. But I ask you to re-examine its necessity. You feel so threatened by us, but all we want is the freedom to exist in peace and safety.

Stop fighting us for a minute. Stop talking about how sinful and immoral you think we are. Listen to what we have to say about what we believe and who we say we are. You may be surprised by what you hear.