Thursday, June 27, 2013

Please Stop

The last two days have been unexpectedly difficult. While I celebrate the SCOTUS decisions on DOMA and Prop 8, the responses of many Christians have re-opened some old wounds.

I thought I was over it. I thought I was past feeling the pain of the proof-text grenades. I thought I could handle the burning, fear-based rage that seems to consume the Religious Right after every political victory for LGBTQ equality. I thought I was properly shielded from the arrows thrown by theological scholars with no empathy.

Turns out I can still be hit right between the eyes.

I simply don't understand such hatred and ignorance coming from people who claim to follow JESUS CHRIST.

I'd like to live my life guided by the Holy Spirit. I'd like to live out Kingdom of God ideals taught by Jesus. But I don't want to share a label with these people. How in the hell can these people be my "brothers and sisters in Christ"?

I don't know how to resolve this conflict.

The thing is: I'm a grown-up. I'm 40 years old. I have a loving partner, we live in a progressive city, and we go to a loving and affirming church. I have wonderful and accepting friends. I have a family who are trying to learn and grow and accept who I am; they certainly haven't rejected me. And despite all these support systems and privileges, the potential for being re-wounded remains. Their words and attitudes still have to power to inflict profound shame.

If this can still happen to me, how is it for those who live in conservative areas, go to conservative churches, and hear day after day that there is something broken about them? Whose family would disown them if they knew? Even in the more "loving" churches, where the homophobia is covert rather than overt. Where they hate the sin but love the sinner. I don't think most Christians understand how this covert homophobia affects the soul. It eats away at the psyche. It prevents growth. It kills the spark of life within.

I'm using my tiny platform to plead with Christians to Please Stop, but I know it isn't going to stop. No one who disagrees with me and reads this will change their minds. I guess I'm not writing it to change minds. I'm writing it to document and to make known the very real pain that you are perpetuating with your words and actions. It's not love. And therefore, it is NOT from God. It just can't be. It just CAN'T be.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Gay Pride vs. Gay Shame

By the time I was 10 years old, I knew there was something wrong with me. I had no idea what it was exactly, but it was there.

Perhaps because I felt defective, I had a strong inclination to hide, cover up, and use deliberate caution in any situation. Even though I liked to be hugged, I pretended I didn’t like it. I was embarrassed to take my shirt off to go swimming. I couldn’t say “I love you” even to my parents. I craved the affirmation from those in authority, because their acceptance was the only thing that distracted me from feeling...not quite right. Therefore, I was an extremely well-behaved and compliant child. I remember my 10th birthday—and what happened—so vividly, because even by that time I rarely let my guard down.

We were at Timber Lanes Bowling Alley in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma on a Saturday afternoon. With me were my sister, two cousins who also lived in Tulsa, and two other cousins who lived in Toledo, Ohio, visiting. They were my best friends. Around them, I felt safer than anywhere else. We made each other laugh.

That particular day, we were really cracking each other up. It was the kind of laughter when tears are actually flying out of your eyes; when you’re actually bent over holding your stomach and gasping for breath; when “throwing your head back and laughing” actually happens in real life.

Laughter has a way of lowering your defenses. I was feeling great. I exuberantly flung the heavy black ball down the alley, flapped my hands and arms in excitement, and wiggled my body and hips to will the ball to hit the pins. In these moments of joy and freedom and vulnerability, I forgot there were other people around us. Watching us. Specifically, there were 3 or 4 boys a little bit older than us in the next lane.

How could I not have noticed this?

I can’t remember exactly what made me see him. But I remember what he said and how he said it. With a look of disgust on his face, he said contemptuously: “Are you a BOY or a GIRL?” His friends around him were laughing.

It was like someone had thrown a water balloon right in my face: a shocking *SLAP* that left me stunned and ice cold. I tried to cover and said, lamely, “What do YOU think?” And he said something like: “I don't know! That's why I'm asking!” More laughter.

I tried to ignore him, tried to recapture the momentum of the fun we were having. But it was gone. I was shamed back into hiding. I was careful before, but this clinched it for me: I vowed to keep my shameful exuberance in check from then on. I never wanted to feel that way again.


This past weekend was Gay Pride weekend in Portland. During the early years when I struggled to integrate my sexuality, identity, and spirituality, I was uncomfortable with that word pride. When you are raised as an evangelical Christian, pride is a sin—one of the seven deadly ones, in fact. Also, I wasn’t really proud that I was gay. In those days, I sincerely wished I wasn’t. Life would be so much easier. Even so, I had learned to accept it. If anything, I wanted to march in a Gay Indifferent parade.

“We’re here! We’re queer! And we don’t feel that strongly about it one way or the other!”

As more time went on, I learned not only to accept my sexuality, but to embrace it as a gift. This gift has given me a pathway of spiritual growth, as well as opportunities to develop empathy. It has given me numerous friends I never would have known, had I not been forced on a journey to find something better than a shame- and fear-based faith.

It was just this past weekend that it dawned on me: Gay Pride is the opposite of Gay Shame. “Pride” in this sense does not describe superiority, or blindness to others, or lack of humility, or obnoxious arrogance. It is the state where one can laugh, flap their arms, sing, and express joy without paralyzing caution. Being “Pride-ful” is being whole, more fully human, yourself.


Overall, my relationship with the LGBTQ community has been positive; I’ve received support, love, and wisdom from friends and from the community at large. But being a member of a large, supportive community doesn’t exclude tension, disagreement, or resentment within that community. I’ve written in the past about how confident and exuberant people expose my own Shadow.

You're not supposed to act that way! If you do, bad things will happen, like getting shamed at a Bowling Party!

This weekend, I discovered more nuance as to why I have such strong, negative feelings of resentment and social anxiety around such people, including those within the LGBTQ community. These nuances came to light by watching the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus (PGMC) Pride concert. I used to be a member of that group, but recently took a break to work through some issues. As I sat in the audience, I was feeling those same vague feelings of resentment and social anxiety.

WHY? What can’t I just enjoy the show and shed these negative feelings? So I tried something that my therapist often encouraged me to do when I was having confusing feelings—I “went into the weeds” of the feelings and just sat in them. Soon, I had an epiphany. To summarize:

  • When I see confidence and /or exuberance on display in people that I find to be shallow or unkind or insincere, the really negative shame and anger cycle begins. Cue resentment.
  • When I see confidence and /or exuberance on display in people that I find to be smart, kind, and sincere, I want them to like me SO BADLY! And if they don’t, then I feel horrible. Cue social anxiety.

IMPORTANT NOTE: there are so many wonderful men (and women!) in PGMC. My partner and I have established some wonderful friendships with other choir members. Because the group is over 120 people, and because of my own introversion and Shadow, it only takes a handful of people to set off these feelings—whether or not these few people actually are shallow, unkind, or insincere! My Shadow would be exposed by any group of 120+ people. I love and respect PGMC and its members; I only refer to it because I have learned so much about my own issues by being a member.

There is so much power in being able to give a name to something that oppresses. Now that I have greater understanding of what’s going on internally, my hope is that I will be able to honor and integrate these feelings—becoming more whole, more fully human, and more myself. Related to this, my friend Emily wrote a piece about identifying (and feeling) the negative emotions of loss. I believe it is so important to be able to enter into these negative spaces and feel them, rather than trying to hide from them. As children, we learn how to cope with a lot of pain by hiding. This develops the Shadow. A primary task we have as adults is to let go of these coping mechanisms and learn to face our pain.

The journey out of shame is long and arduous. But I feel incredibly grateful to have found joy (even exuberance!) as a result of taking this journey.

What about you? Is there a type of person or behavior that brings out the Shadow in you? When you recognize it happening, what do you do?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Interview: Ex-Gay Therapy

Earlier this year, I was interviewed by Luke Botham (for Siren FM in the UK) about my experience with ex-gay therapy. My interview snippet begins around the 1:33 mark. However I encourage you to listen to the entire 3 minute clip--especially the man featured at the beginning.

I would love to hear your reactions in the comments, as well as any experiences you may have had with ex-gay therapy!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Fundamentalism Trap

My partner and I live in a small condominium complex in Southwest Portland. Although the building is close to a busy road, trees tower over the neighborhood and the surrounding area, providing a sense of beauty and serenity. The backyard is shared by all residents, and it’s a great place for our dog Archie to run around and expend some energy. Other owners have dogs, including an older woman who lives on the bottom floor with her Yorkie. This woman happens to be deaf, and because my partner knows American Sign Language, they have conversations now and then while the dogs romp around on the lawn. She’s a lovely, kind-hearted person.

A couple of nights ago, someone smeared dog shit on her front door.

The message was fairly obvious: Clean up after your dog, bitch. This person chose a malicious act instead of sending an email (all residents have each other’s email addresses), posting a hand-written note to her door, or even talking to the HOA board about the issue.


Yesterday, a good friend told me a story about his neighbors, Reg and Paula (not their real names). A week ago, Reg got a call from the State telling him that his ex-wife in Eugene had been arrested for dealing and possession of meth. His 8-year-old daughter was waiting for him to pick her up. He did so. She had two ear infections and head lice.

While it is good that this little girl is now in a more stable home—with Reg and Paula and their two small boys—what horrific neglect and abuse did she endure? Reg was told that while the police were surveying the house, drug dealers and buyers were coming and going at all hours. This little girl was in an extremely dangerous place. It is now up to her dad and step mom to provide a home of love and the potential for healing. It won’t be easy.


Every day, in the news and in my own small corner of Oregon, I see so much non-love. Of course, for every agonizing question, there is a fundamentalist Christian answer (sin!), but it’s not good enough. I don’t see Christ’s love demonstrated by most fundamentalist Christians—all I see is judgment and self-righteousness. In fact, I’m beginning to think that fundamentalism itself is not a solution but a symptom of what’s wrong in the world.

What is fundamentalism exactly? Fundamentalism is usually applied to world-views or causes that have something good to offer the world and the individual. It attempts to create very specific rules, guidelines, policies, procedures, and processes in order to achieve a goal or a vision. However, this practice tends to choke the life out of something that can otherwise transform a person and provide a pathway for growth. Fundamentalism removes the innate humanity, mystery, freedom, and scalability of a world-view. Worst of all, fundamentalism is a hostile environment for the practice of love.

Among Christians of all types, other religions, atheists, and any cause or group you want to name, there is always some level of in-fighting and arrogant posturing. This arrogant posturing is another key component of fundamentalism. The posture of fundamentalism makes true love, relationship, and connection extremely difficult.

How does this happen?

The rules and guidelines created by fundamentalism attempt to make something complex and/or mysterious into something simple and tangible. I believe that removing this complexity makes us more apt to cling to the dogma—making the dogma itself a part of our identity. And when our dogma is questioned, our identity is questioned—we instinctually go on the attack. In the case of religious fundamentalism, we raise our dogma to the level of God. When our dogmas are challenged, God is challenged and must be strenuously defended. Thus, the posture of fundamentalism is one of defensiveness and (at its worst) arrogance.

Something that should be transforming us into more loving human beings turns us into defensive, arrogant, and unloving people.

It’s quite easy to find harmful examples of fundamentalist Christianity. Take, for example, the sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the Catholic church in recent years, as well as the Sovereign Grace Ministries sexual abuse scandals in the past few months. The posture of these institutions has been arrogant, indignant denial and public relations spin in order to protect those in power. They are so convinced of the correctness of their theology and dogma, that they seemingly will do whatever it takes to protect their reputation. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of victims and potential victims of abuse.

A more recent (and less drastic) example of a fundamentalist act was seen when John Piper tweeted a verse in Job following the tornado devastation in Moore, Oklahoma. There have been differing opinions on what was actually meant by the tweet, but at best he showed lack of discernment and lack of empathy. He also has a habit of coming out with declarations of God’s wrath after tragedy, so naturally many people assumed this was just another example in his pattern.

There are countless examples of fundamentalism in Christianity—the poster children being the Westboro Baptist Church. Although they are the most extreme example, they are an object lesson of where fundamentalism can lead when taken to its logical conclusion.

I believe that a fundamentalist posture can infect anything, even a progressive cause that isn’t normally linked with the word. One recent example of a more progressive individual with a fundamentalist posture has been Tony Jones, who has been criticized for being arrogant and unwilling to listen. I have found a lot of good and helpful information in what Jones has written in the past. He has been a champion for the LGBTQ community in the church, and for that I am extremely grateful. But even though he has battled against fundamentalist Christianity, he has also displayed the posture of a fundamentalist, especially when it comes to women and their lack of a voice within the emergent church. This has been one of the most painful things for me to watch, personally, over the last six months.

Another progressive who has sometimes taken a fundamentalist posture is Dan Savage. Recently, Savage wrote a book review in the New York Times about Jeff Chu’s new book, Does Jesus Really Love Me?. In the review, Savage compares Andrew Marin and the work of the Marin Foundation to Westboro Baptist Church, except “with hugs.”

As a gay man, I appreciate the work Savage has done on behalf of so many. His “It Gets Better” campaign is well known and has raised awareness of the problem of bullying. However, as a Christian, I’ve also appreciated the work Marin has done to build bridges with evangelical Christians. Honestly, I find I agree more with Savage than I do with Marin. However, Marin’s work is specifically geared to those who are outright hostile to LGBTQ individuals and freedoms. He is working to raise awareness within the more conservative areas of the Christian church about how poorly Christians have treated LGBTQ folks. Marin’s work is especially vital for LGBTQ youth who are being raised in these types of churches. Unfortunately, with Marin, Savage has taken on a fundamentalist posture. He sees all of Christianity as damaging; therefore, in his opinion, Marin is doing damage by not following the same path as he does with his activism.

I have also seen this type of fundamentalist posture within both LGBTQ and Feminist communities.

First of all, I do identify as a Feminist. As a Feminist, I understand that I have a great deal of societal privilege simply because I am a man (and especially because I am white). I understand that patriarchy in our society is a real thing, and that misogyny both within and outside the church is pervasive. I am a participant in these systems, and I am trying to learn how to change that. I believe that Feminism is a Kingdom of God ideal that we as Christians should be striving toward.

However, as a gay man and as a novice Feminist, I’ve seen occasions in both LGBTQ and Feminist spaces where honest questions and curiosity were shut down just because the person was one of privilege; occasions where there was unwillingness to listen to honest criticism; and occasions where shame was used in an attempt to silence dissenting opinion. I’m guilty of it myself, probably more often than I realize.

One important note: there is an inherent danger when labeling someone as having a fundamentalist posture within any religion or cause. As a (self-proclaimed) Feminist and a gay man, I think strong pushback and calling out damaging behavior is appropriate more often than not. As Suzannah Paul put it to me, labeling someone as, for example, a fundamentalist Feminist “can be used to dismiss legitimate anger/perspectives, too. It is hard enough as a woman to get a hearing without being written off as emotional/angry/bitchy/irrational/dogmatic/etc.”

What is my point in all of this? I began this blog post with two specific examples of my direct experience with non-love. Our world needs love so desperately. As people who follow Christ, we have to figure out a better way to love.

But then, perhaps there is an inherent danger here as well? If we provide a specific rubric of behavior for every type of situation, won’t we just be re-creating another type of fundamentalism? There is a balance here that I don’t yet know how to strike. All I know from observing the world is that we are in desperate need of humble hearts, thick skin, and the Holy Spirit, whomever or whatever it is. The fine line we attempt to follow is indeed a narrow road.

The Bible is overflowing with passages about love. Love is mentioned over and over as the most important concept to grasp—the greatest of all things, greater even than faith and hope. I know that I personally, desperately, want a step-by-step procedural manual on how to do this well. But that, again, is a tendency to “fundamentalize” something that is too complex for rules.

There is so much risk involved by stepping outside of our various paradigms in order to love well. In the end, it’s something we must all individually choose to do. We can never force anyone else to love. To try to do so is just another act of fundamentalism.