for pride

This is a big long post about faith, identity, queerness and things that affect me deeply. Just a disclaimer.
Noon Keeping by Hollie Chastain

Amy Ray wrote an incredible song called Laramie for her first solo album Stag. There is a particular lyric that stuck with me far beyond the months that the album was in my regular rotation, back in the infancy of my queerness:
Tolerance it ain't acceptance. I know you wanted it to be.

I've been challenged lately by a lot of feelings that I'm not sure how to resolve, mostly because they involve tuning out the world. With every "triumph" for the queer community comes a certain heightening of sensitivity with regard to how the world perceives us...at least that's how I see it. Obama's comments about marriage equality sort of amped up the collective hysterical shrieking of the religious right, and subsequently I've had to unpack a lot of residual trauma from a lifetime of being somewhat tethered to Christianity and never feeling like I belonged, and also giving every single straight person I know the side-eye, wondering if they too adhered to the "love the sinner, hate the sin" model.

As a queer person, no matter how much I believe in God or want to connect with a higher power, I feel an unwavering sense of hesitation and dread at the thought of fully engaging in a community sense. To me, for me, being actively religious means raising my hand to the nameless faces who shout so energetically and enthusiastically about the Biblical condemnation of my entire sense of self and saying, "I know you're here, but I don't hear you". If I avoid organized faith, then I can, to some degree, avoid them. I realize there are niches and communities that rally for justice and make every possible effort to disassociate their groups and churches from mainstream religion (I consider myself to be connected to one, actually), and faithfully do the work that Jesus did, but that awareness still doesn't stop me from pacing nervously. I can't stop talking to and liking every conventionally Christian person I know just to "feel safe", not only because on some very basic faith-based level I identify with them, but because separatism is so second-wave. And while it's untrue to say that all Christians have Leviticus'd perceptions of queerness, the majority seem to operate from that perspective, either because they are afraid to question religious authority (and thus, God) about it, or because they actually believe the Bible is the word of God, or they are just completely incapable of grasping metaphor. It it obviously taxing to engage each and every one of my friends and ask them how their Christianity plays a part in their understanding and acceptance of LGBTQ people, especially when it comes to legislating their faith/morality.

That instinct to separate myself, however, has created awkwardness and defensiveness in my personal relationships that I would rather not exist. The Christians who actually don't have tow-the-line feelings about queerness, and who aren't in progressive faith communities, are usually the people who don't speak up about it beyond the socially-acceptable "like OMG I have a gay friend, look here she is!". Imagine never knowing where you really stand with a friend. A few weeks ago I said to a queer lady friend that it felt like I was finally rebuilding the queer community I had [intentionally] lost a few years ago, and how important that is to my sense of belonging, my sense of well being, and just my sense of self - because I know where I stand with them. While I told her how much our burgeoning friendship meant to me, I decided that I needed to stop integrating myself as deeply as I have been into worlds that don't fit my political, social, and personal needs...be that obvious or assumed, because it was making me kind of crazy, but mostly lazy about asserting my own identity in social spaces. I'm aware that to my friends who aren't queer, this might sound hurtful, maybe scary, kind of confusing. Or awkward. I have few people in my life who understand on a deep level what it's like to walk the world in a queer person's shoes, be they spiritual or not...or, as an alternative, who construct their political and religious conversations with me (and the world) in such a way that doesn't make me/us feel excluded OR like a novelty.

I want to know people who believe that Jesus was an enthusiastic, compassionate, loving activist; that faith is as much about healing yourself as it is about healing others through your good deeds and dedicated service to those in need. I want to know people who understand that I can never stop thinking about how I'm different, and how profoundly exhausting that is for a person. I want to know people who understand that the word "privilege" isn't about how much money is in your savings account, or a person's theoretical access to the "good things in life", you know, if they just work really hard and grab life by its cajones or whatever. I want to know people who stop talking about how much they love and support me as a queer person and instead reflect on what they are actually doing to prove it to someone like me but who isn't me; the kids on television who are bullied by their peers, the queer people in small towns who want someone to approach them and say "I see you, and I love you", etc. I want to know people who stand up for what's right at moments when it's not personally advantageous to do so. I want to know people who aren't obsessed with asserting gender rules on other people; I want to stop hearing straight dudes call each other fags, please. I want to know people who are willing to be as uncomfortable as I am when I have to stand up for myself on a daily basis in a world that hates my very existence far more than it celebrates it, or at least people who compassionately understand that it is something I have to do while they get to avoid it.

So this is my letter to straight [Christian] friends, basically, for Pride 2012. This is what I have to say this year for the month out of a year where straight people delight in the rainbows, glitter, and magical amusement that is gay people. It would be easy enough to just float above all of this and live my life without worrying about these beliefs and the people who share them so freely, but after almost 33 years of trying, I still can't do it. Tolerance is not acceptance, even if you want it to be enough. I want acceptance. Maybe I don't speak for the entire GLBTQ community, but I'm also not surprised if I do. I don't want to constantly have to wonder how these type of friends, acquaintances, and strangers feel about me, and my access to the rights afforded to me by the Constitution, especially when there's a Christian wall up. If someone says near me, to me, or through someone I love, that while they don't "judge" me, the Bible condemns homosexuality, I will turn on my heels and march away. A day doesn't go by when I don't have to feel invisible in this world to make myself feel safer, or to make the people around me more comfortable. Spending time obsessing about convictions and "sins" that are rooted in a belief system that's been corrupted by fear and patriarchy are not of my concern; they are, in fact, not real to me. I don't accept those beliefs. And God damn it feels good to say that.

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts so eloquently, Meaghan. Your bravery gives strength to others!!!

    I was raised Catholic but left after some conflicts within my church over issues of acceptance. The way I've always looked at Christians who judge is thatconcerned unless you're an orthodox flavor who follows *all* of Leviticus, then you don't get to lecture others about Biblical principles & how to live one's life. Because you know what Jesus had to say about homosexuality? ... ... ... Yup, absolutely nothing. Now love, and acceptance, and honor? He had a whole lot more to say about that. Not to mention the guy hung out with a bunch of dudes & folks who had been disenfranchised/shunned by their society. Imagine what people would think about that, if it happened today. So wish folks who feel like that would just live &let live! :-)
    guess this is my long. winded way of saying, rock on Sister -- you do what you gotta do and just remember that

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  2. Sorry for the attrocious grammar and punctuation btw... thatll teach me to type on ye olde phone

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  3. not a ton of straight Christian people will understand the feeling of deep and disjointed difference that you feel, though they may think they do. (though they probably feel their displacement in other ways. faith communities are uniquely alienating spaces even as they draw us into intricate and comforting webs of support.) anyway, i'm not straight but i fulfill many of the other criteria you listed. there are lots of us out here navigating queerness and faith communities and faith and healing etc etc. waaaay more than we sometimes realize. on a somewhat militant activist level, it's easier to articulate - change the church! and so on; but it's harder to describe the rootlessness you so beautifully verbalize here.

    not sure what the point of this is - just, i guess, that you're not alone, and we're all around.

    xo

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  4. I really love this post. It's been sitting with me since I first read it, and it actually mirrors a lot of feelings I've been having lately about the people in my life (there's a post brewing somewhere in my head until I can get it all down).

    Thank you for writing this. You expressed it perfectly.

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All content © Meaghan O'Malley, 2009-2012. Header image by Rebekka Seale.