Monday, March 20, 2006

Tired of Christians, tired of Christianity

On the ride back from Kansas to Chicago two weeks ago, I had the chance to for several extended conversations with Tom, who has been alternately mentor, shepherd and border-collie on my journey out of the closet. One conversation was on the to-Kansas side of the trip, just catching up. But I had two conversations with him - one while I was there, and one on the way home - discussing the various coming-out encounters that I had during that extended weekend.

During one call, as I told him about my encounter with my friend and former pastor (who recommended that I consider what Exodus International might have to offer to me), Tom said, "At some point you're going to have to address the harm that the Christian church has done to you, and how they've screwed with your head for so many years. I know you've got the tools to deal with all the resentment, and I know you'll get to it. Just know that it's coming..."

(He probably used some more colorful language than that, come to think of it.)

Well, that process started in earnest over the last couple weeks, and really came to a head starting Thursday, I think. A number of things happened that really got me to resenting Christians and Christianity a bunch.

First, two horrific stories on GeekBoi's site just absolutely appalled me. This one, where a gay man died because a cop wouldn't allow anyone to give him mouth-to-mouth resusitation, was awful...the kind of thing that movies like "Billy Jack" and "Walking Tall" were made of. People who would rather let people die or rot in jail rather than even consider their vicious little stereotypes have always infuriated me.

But it was this posting, describing the actions of Catholic Charities in the very Arch Diocese of Boston, who basically closed up the adoption activities of Catholic Charities, rather than risk any child being adopted by gay parents, that really got my ire going.

God damn their pious bullshit!!

How dare they speak of the all-encompassing love of God, and yet consign homeless children to unending foster-home care rather than even consider the possibility that a couple of loving, caring, committed homosexuals might adopt them!

GeekBoi's words are so much clearer and to-the-point than mine would be that I'll just point you there. (You preach it, brother.)

But the real frosting on the cake was not in Christians rejecting homosexuals - but in one man accepting me, exactly as I am.

When my seminary career ended, I started a blog where I spent a lot of time (and way too many words) wrestling with God's will for me, given that His church didn't want me as a candidate for ministry (long before I came out to anyone!). And in the process, I came across a pretty fair number of loving, caring Christians who thought as I thought, and who seemed to understand God as I was coming to understand God. So far, I have kept that blogging community and this one pretty separate - largely because I hadn't come out to several family and close friends who frequented my "other" blog.

One of them, my friend Chris, is one blogger who I've actually met face-to-face a year ago here in Chicago when he came in for a conference. A week or so ago, in posting to his blog, I realized I probably should be out to him, and sent him a brief coming-out email and a link to this site. In the email, I said that I didn't expect he'd have any problems with my announcement, but I was still we wee bit nervous, given the polarizing effect of GLBT issues in the church. His email back was instructive:


I'm not polar on this issue and love you (still) as a result. I know that my attitude on homosexuality is polarizing among Christians, but I will stand before God on that one. I don't envy your process, but it changes nothing as far as my friendship and personal regards for you. Count on me to walk with you, talk with you, pray with you and quite frankly not consider the fact that you're gay to blip my radar.

After this week of banshee like screeching (otherwise known as term paper writing), I look forward to reading your intro posts.

I honor your honesty and respect you for "coming out" in an intimate way. Peace to you my brother...Jesus loves you. How odd, a Savior who loves the very people he died for...people like me.
There were many, many excuses I had for why I hid in the closet for so long. But I allowed my buy-in to Christian homophobia to keep myself hidden away in the closet, hiding my truth for the last fifteen years from people like Chris - folks who would have very likely accepted me anyway.

What a fucking, fucking waste. Sorry, but there's just no other way to say that.

By the way, in the middle of all this, I made the mistake of watching the DVD Priest. Don't get me wrong; it's a great movie. But the synopsis gives a hint as to my problem with it:
A Priest tries to reconcile his love for another man with his love for God, but when a girl steps into the confessional and reveals that her father sexually abuses her, he's frustrated by the laws of the church and questions his faith in a God who would allow this to happen.
It's a good story, but it's not a happy story, and it surely doesn't present organized religion in a light that says, "Gee, I think I need to go back to that!" Anything but, in fact...

The rainbow sprinkles on the frosting on the cake, so to speak, has been reading Jeffrey Siker's Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate. While it seems (so far) to be well-balanced between traditional and liberal views on homosexuality, I just find myself getting so damn weary of the Christian biblical party line, which is basically:
1) God made everything. Male and female he made them. Not Adam and Steve, but Adam and Eve. That's the way it works here - God built it that way. Get over it.

2) The bible has seven texts, five and a half of which condemn homosexual activity in varying ways (depending on how you read and translate them). Yes, we know, the Bible has just hundreds of verses about how we should be struggling for economic and social justice for the weakest among us, and and just as many about how we really ought to be treating folks with care and compassion - but we don't have to worry about that crap.

3) Yes, poverty, joblessness and miserable education have a devastating effect on family life everywhere. And yes, we keep claiming that our concern is with the family. But we're going to focus on you fags instead, because it's easier to go after a minority group than to pry those supposedly good, loving Christians away from what really matters - their SUV's, suburban houses, wallets and purses.
Yup, I think I've had enough of this particular group for a while....

Monday, March 06, 2006

Busted - and blessed

I need to wrap up my adventures in Kansas with two interesting encounters - one very unintentional, and one intentional - both of which turned out quite well.

On my way home, I met up with my friend Norma just north of KC in Liberty, MO. She was a fellow seminarian from KC whom I met in 1997 when I was first starting the whole part-time student thing at St. Paul School of Theology. She was one of the part-time/evening students, and we managed to pal around as part of a group of evening folk, frequently in each other's classes. We started dating around 2000 - just dinners and such, at first - and it became very clear that she really would have liked the relationship to go forward more than it was.

I wasn't completely clueless about my sexuality back then - but was definitely not ready to come out to my school and church. And although there was a great deal of affection between us, I just couldn't manufacture the desire or passion even to go past cuddling on the sofa - though I tried repeatedly. I tried to tell her at the time that it wasn't her - but she wasn't buying it, and she felt pretty rejected. The friendship recovered, and actually deepened over the years - but the relationship remained a pretty chaste one.

So, fast forward to the Kansas weekend. I'd arranged to meet Norma just for a casual lunch, and was also going to take advantage of the time to come out to her. As lunch was served, we were talking about stuff in her life and her work when down the aisle came this truly stunning-looking waiter - think Chris in Latter Days. And I did what my homo-mentor has been encouraging me to do - I looked. He and I locked eyes for just a moment, he smiled and walked on by...and I turned back to see Norma with this odd expression on her face. She asked, "What's up with that?" I must have blushed, and I muttered something about he looked like someone I knew. Norma gave me another weird look, and then said, "Steve...have you ever considered the possibility that you might be gay?"

Whoops. Busted. Big time.

"Actually, that was on the list to talk about today, Norma..."

"Oh, really...?"

It actually went pretty well from there - although the "Why haven't you said anything until now?" issue had her a little miffed. And there were some tears - at least a few of them healing, I hope - as I told her how much I'd wanted things to work out romantically between us, but I had just known that it wouldn't (even though I wasn't willing to admit, even to myself, why it wouldn't work).

I think it helped her to know that it was me, and not her, that was the breaking point in the romantic aspirations. She told me she knew that I loved her - that simple friendships would never have endured what we've endured - and I told her she was right. And as I left for Des Moines, she gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek, and wished me well.

The visit in Des Moines, with my friend Nathan, was entirely different. I'd emailed him before I left, and linked him to this blog, and he emailed back to say, "Looking forward to seeing you." We had a delightful Lutheran-church-basement casserole dinner - pure comfort food - and we talked about everything under the sun except my orientation. And yet it didn't feel like "the rhinoceros in the living room" - we just talked about what was on our minds. And as I got in the car to leave, I had to wonder - was I avoiding the topic? Was Nathan? Or were things just that OK between us?

The answer came by email late last week:

I know that you are 'Steve.' Your new announcement is a scary thing to you, thus it can be so big. You are still the man who is my friend and the best man at my wedding, that has been successful. Nothing in our relationship has changed. It seems that even though you were not out at the time, you really have not changed since the day we met. You have just realized and accepted some things that are just are, since then.
Take care,
As the old song goes, "Who could ask for anything more?"

At this point, I'm wondering what else to do in the circle of church friends. There's a circle of about a dozen folks at the level of "good friends that I care about, have significant history with, but don't keep in constant contact with." Most of them I won't see, other than funerals or weddings, and part of me says, "Who cares if they know?" But part of me says that I need to come out to them, perhaps, most of all. Because there's a number of them - loving, caring people who have supported me and encouraged me - who are nonetheless Promise Keeper members and Focus on the Family supporters, who probably need to at least hear my story, even if they don't want to agree with it.

Decisions, decisions. For now, though, I'm pretty content with where I am, and the journey so far. And that's a good feeling to know.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Baby-steps, and "Why are you doing this?"

First, to my blogging friends, my apologies. It has been a long and emotional week, and I have light-years to go to catch up with your writings. That's the goal for this weekend, anyway. So please be patient...I really have missed the chance to be able to stay connected with y'all.

Lots of baby steps on the road to Gayopolis - so get a cup of coffee and settle in...

I had not intended for this weekend to be a big coming-out time - as I wrote earlier, it was a weekend for the memorial for a friend, not discussions about my sexuality. But there were a couple folks who I was going to be able to see face-to-face for the first time since deciding to come out publicly, and it seemed like a good chance to come out to them while I was visiting in Kansas.

Friday night, I had a late-night coffee-n-conversation with my friend Eric, who I've mentioned a couple other times in this blog (here and here). It was his dad who died - and so we talked a while about how Eric was doing, and the events of having his dad die while he was out of town. He asked me about stuff about my spiritual life - where I was going to church (no one specific place), how I was doing, and so forth. But when a lull came in the conversation, near midnight, I said, "OK, I know this weekend is not about me, but while it's just us, I have one burning question I have to ask..." He raised one eyebrow and smiled, and I said, " really weren't surprised?"

Turns out that Eric had more-or-less guessed my orientation back in 1997. Back in college, Eric's roommate Rick came out to him, and the two of them remained friends and roommates throughout their KU days. Rick came to stay with Eric's folks in late 1997, as part of recuperating from some surgery. During that visit, I'd met Rick, and evidently I asked Rick and Eric both about Rick's being gay, and how it affected their relationship. In the course of that visit, Rick had evidently asked Eric if I was gay, and Eric said I probably "had some tendencies in that direction." (Yeah, Eric...just a few...)

Eric asked an interesting question, though. As best I remember it, it was, "So really - why are you doing this? Most of the time, when people have come out to me, they are generally looking for approval of their adopting a homosexual lifestyle. Is that what you're looking for? And if not, why are you bothering?"

It's an important question - if only because in many ways I am coming out without the "carrot" of a same-sex relationship, and yet without the "stick" of gay-related disease. For a lot of straight folks, there would really be no other reason to come out. And (for better or worse) I have neither issue in my life, for now.

I gave this answer several times this weekend, when the question came up, and I think it's important to share it here:

"First, because I'm tired of living the lie, and having the folks who care about me not really know me. For me, my sexuality is a non-issue, in many ways - but it's a non-issue that I've expended incredible amounts of energy to hide from people. So the first part of this is simply about being honest - with myself, and with you. It's just easier to be open and honest."

"The second part is more general, if no less important: there is a very prevalent stereotype of homosexuals and the homosexual lifestyle that absolutely does not apply to 90% of the gay and lesbian folks I know. Everyone keeps talking about this 'homosexual lifestyle,' but so far I haven't received my Homosexual Lifestyle Starter Kit, with the hot cabana boy, crystal meth and and a spandex outfit. Maybe it was sent out, and I just wasn't there to sign for the delivery."
(hat-tip to GeekBoi for that classic line...)

"But the only way that this stereotype is ever going to die is going to be when gay men like me are willing to step out of the closet and stop hiding their 'gay lifestyles,' which are so damn normal in so many ways!"

"The only way that people are going to come to understand gay life is when they realize the vast number of relationships
that they already have with gay men and lesbians all around them. The fact is, it's simply harder to hate what (and who) you know."

"And especially in the Christian church, when people debate 'the homosexual question,' when my straight church friends think about them, I want them to think, Oh, yeah - they're talking about my friend Steve..."
So that's why I'm doing this. And Eric appreciated the answer, I think.

Of course, there is another side of this topic for me, as well.

To be rigorously honest, yes - I'd like to have at least a slice of the homosexual lifestyle. I'd love to have a host of gay friends to go along with the wealth of straight friends I already have, and (someday) a loving and intimate relationship with someone. And in the couple times I was asked this weekend, I didn't shy away from admitting it either. As I've half-jokingly said to several folks, while celibacy is non-fatal, it certainly isn't a lot of fun. (And, thankfully, it is ultimately treatable, given willing practitioners.) For so long, I'd resigned myself to living and dying alone. While I don't know what God has in store for me, I do hope I can find a way to do better than that, with God's help.

And so the weekend went. The conversation with Eric ended well; the conversation with my sponsor Barry on Saturday morning went well, and he ended up in the "well, I'm neither surprised nor unsurprised - but it changes nothing" column.

I had a particularly interesting discussion with one of the young men I'd sponsored in AA before I left - I'd come out to him earlier, via email and phone. But Ryan actually asked a question that floored me: "Now I know that while you sponsored me, you never put a move on me, and I trusted you with my life more than once. But now that you've come out to me, I have to ask you, strictly as a gay man: Do you think I'm attractive?"

Trust me - that was an "oh, wow..." moment. He had me flustered for a moment or two.

After all, as an AA sponsor, I've always believed that sponsorship relationships are really a holy calling - even more so than I'd ever thought of my calling to ministry. And at the time I was sponsoring this fellow, I'd thought myself so personally unattractive that even if I found him attractive, I knew for certain that whatever was there would never be returned, regardless of his orientation (which is definitely near zero on the Kinsey scale). So I'd never, ever thought of Ryan in that way.

Until then.

In fact, it kinda ruined any chance I'd ever have of sponsoring him again. Because yes, to me he is a rather attractive guy.

When I told him that, along with how uncomfortable it was to admit it, he smiled. "You know," he said, "my wife keeps saying things like, 'Those women better keep their hands off you,' and I've always wondered why she thinks I'd be attractive to other women. I just never ever believed it from her..."

And then he smiled, a little sheepishly, and said, "...but I knew you'd tell me the truth."

That brought tears to my eyes.

At dinner Saturday night, before the Sunflower Roundup AA conference, I was listening to my buddy Mike talk about some struggles he was having with various lady-folk, and I half-jokingly said, "That's where we're both alike - when it comes to relationships and sex, it's the same old three problems - 'too much, too little, wrong kind.' You do 'too much,' and I end up doing 'too little' and 'wrong kind.'"

Mike smiled, and said, "Oh, so you're finally gonna tell me you're gay, huh?"

Trust me – that was not the reaction I was expecting...

So, I hemmed and hawed, and finally said, "Well, yeah, actually, that was on the agenda..." He laughed, and said, "Bruce [my first Kansas AA sponsor] and I have been wondering for years when you were finally going to tell us!"

Yeah, Mike...well, it took a while to figure it out for myself, actually...

And that was pretty much the end of that.

Sunday morning was one of my more challenging encounters. I was staying with a friend and semi-retired Lutheran pastor - one who I'd been a ministry-partner with in my original Kansas congregation. He and his wife have been good friends over the last seven or eight years, and they have been some of my biggest supporters when I came to Chicago to seminary. They were two folks I'd hoped to have some time to have a talk with over the weekend, but my schedule and theirs had kept it from happening so far.

So it was a little surprise when, over coffee and orange juice Sunday morning, John said to me, "So, Steve...I've heard that you've been telling people that you're gay...and that it was on your web-site. But I went over to your site, and I couldn't find anything. Is this true?"

Well, that wasn't the way I'd intended to start that conversation, but that worked...

To make a long story less long, John works part-time at the church I'm still a member of back in Kansas, and he'd heard this from my senior pastor, to whom I'd come out via email back in November. Since I'd told Pastor Joe that I was going to be sharing this with several other folks in my circle of church friends, he evidently talked about it with John...which was entirely cool.

John and Judy were the first ones of my friends to suggest talking to Exodus International. Exodus had started out as an "ex-gay ministry," and for years supported efforts to convert people back from homosexuality to a hetero orientation. Over the years, their success rate has dwindled - several of their public "success stories" have in fact returned to "the lifestyle" - and so their focus has changed to getting people to accept their homosexuality as a special kind of spiritual challenge, and to help encourage them to live a celibate life.

In fact, I've talked to folks from Exodus a couple times - both back in the "God can change you" stage of the game and in the more recent "you can live with this and not sin" mode. John and Judy likened homosexuality to alcoholism - in both cases, it's important to accept that you never stop being what you are. But so long as you don't take the proscribed actions (either taking a drink, or engaging in same-sex relations), you can live just fine.

I pointed out to them that I already had the celibacy thing down pat - the first 12 years ought to have proved that - and that, as part of my former plans for ministry, I'd planned on living celibate for the balance of my ministry life. So the whole celibacy thing was a non-starter for me.

For me, the central issue is that I was made this way - I didn't wake up one day and turn to the "dark side" (no pun intended). My sexuality is hard-wired at the core of my being - period. There was no choice made to be gay - and I've done lots of prayers and crying out to God to not be this way. So either God is a cosmic Creator with a quality control problem (the One who says, "before you were knitted together in the womb, I knew you" who nonetheless evidently dropped a stitch or two) - or the way I am is part of the order of Creation.

In the end, they told me they loved me, that I was always welcome in their home, and that God was going to use me in powerful ways. They also gave me a video from the Exodus folks, which I actually agreed to watch. And I sent them a thank-you note for their hospitality, with a link to this blog. I hope they read it. I love them both dearly, and I hope they can come to understand (even if they don't agree).

There is much more I have to write about this weekend, as well as a post or two about the idea of God as Crazy-Boy, but I need to get dressed and out the door to work. But if you've made it this far, I have to say thanks for sticking with me. This is an amazing journey...