TW: Homophobia, transphobia, conversion therapy, purity culture.
J.K. Rowling’s 2008 proclamation that Albus Dumbledore was gay is usually contrasted with her trans-exclusionism, in the video essays and articles I have consumed on the topic, though her resistance to showing him as such in the Fantastic Beasts is seen as part of her journey to the dark side. In hindsight, I think rather the tragic celibate gay man should have been foreshadowing of her queerphobia, given the parallels with homophobic propaganda in conservative christian spheres.
Let us use this character as a magical introduction to the key role queer people are made to play in their own oppression, within purity culture. And why asexuality may serve as a long-awaited Finite.
I have read Harry Potter more often than I’ve read the bible. As a teen, I could quote the books the way serious bible-thumpers could pull out a verse for every occasion. It is our choices that make us who we are was the millenial confession of self-determination in the face of our elders’ overwhelming expectations. I bought paper and printer cartridges with pocket money so I could print out my favourite epic slash fiction to read on vacation, back when wireless internet was rare and smartphones were for adults. So my heart soared, along with millions of others, when Word of Rowling came down that, yes, canon contained a gay character, our beloved quirky mentor.
But on the threshold between 2020 and 2021, Albus Dumbledore reads like a conservative gay young man who fell for charismatic fascist Gellert Grindelwald. His ‘weakness’, same-sex attraction, led directly to the tragic death of an innocent maiden, his sister Ariana Dumbledore. After failing his family, he repented, too late, and forever after led the life of an eccentric celibate bachelor who guides bright young minds to lead a better life than he did. He denounced all sexual activity in order to focus on working for the greater good.
At the end of his life, he personally mentors a promising, powerful young man, Harry Potter, who was mistreated because he was different, because a similar young man, Tom Marvolo Riddle, that he ignored, became an evil terrorist like his one-and-only love. So he guides Harry Potter into a life of heroic sacrifice that will kill the evil inside of him. Harry survives to live in middle-class bliss with a wife and children. Harry himself mentors his son Albus Severus Potter who is also, y’know, different, away from his best friend in the whole world, Scorpius Malfoy, in the sequel. Albus’ legacy lives on.
A queer person who grows up in purity culture today will be told they aren’t evil. No! Instead, God gave them a great challenge to overcome, same-sex attraction or maybe the feeling of being born in the wrong body. They might hear Jackie Hill Perry, (a queer woman of colour, sarcastic exclamation mark!) from Gay Girl, Good God give the testimony of how she chooses to live a heterosexual life. An older queer christian might point them towards therapy or offer informal counseling that, yes, is indeed a form of conversion therapy.
As Albus Dumbledore guided Harry Potter to nobly sacrifice his life to kill the horcrux inside of himself, that evil embodied by Tom Riddle, queer Christians only need to sacrifice their queer selves so they can live happily-ever-after. Every church will tell a queer person they are welcome. Most say so in the belief that welcoming the queer person is the first step in changing them ‘for the better’. This approach is codified in the doctrine Love the sinner, hate the sin. The repentant queer person has the starring role, as both road map and trojan horse. Save the person, kill the gay (or trans), and be granted the blessed living death of never coming out and never transitioning.
Looking back, Albus Dumbledore reads a lot like J.K. Rowling’s trying to give an ex-gay man a redemption arc like he needs it. He even kills the innocent white woman in his care, the capital crime in western literature. He – as the sole queer character from Harry Potter – sure looks like a precursor to Rowling’s transgender serial killer in that light. The difference being that Dumbledore was portrayed as (debatably) redeemed, and saving other ‘different’ young men from a life of evil. Finally victorious, posthumously, in Harry.
In all this, note that celibacy, or the not having (queer) sex, has become the crowning mark of salvation for the queer person, to modern purity culture. Note, too, that virginity, the not having of sex, is the more traditional mark of the virtuous young white woman. Abstinence, the not having of extra-marital sex, is the gold standard for the heterosexual person. The central conceit of purity culture is that lust is the most powerful force of evil and thus controlling it, by strict rules, lifestyle and yes, choice, leads to the eponymous purity. The intra-marital sex is the (heterosexual) reward this side of heaven.
Asexuality undermines that central conceit. It queers sexual attraction – lust – by making a spectrum of orientations for it. It centers consent and attraction in the choice to have sex. One’s attitude towards sex becomes a matter of feeling favour, indifference or aversion. Sexual ethic is framed as being positive or negative towards sex happening in general. Sexual activity is based on whether you choose to engage in that intimacy, on what feels good, on whether you’re trying to have children, on what you’d like to try, to see how it feels. Y’know, while safe, sane and consensual. Sexual violence is just violence, no excuses or titillation. It even questions the necessity and quality of that holiest-of-holies, intra-marital sex. People cannot be pure or fallen, only agents of good and evil. Our choices make us who we are.
Us asexual transgender people sure make a lie out of J.K. Rowling’s idea that we’re predators chasing after them innocent white ladies. I only wish for queer-platonic cuddles with consenting ladies. And other persons. Of all skin tones.
Finite incantatem. The illusion is broken.
Ariana was never the virginal victim of Albus’ sin, but a young woman whose life was cut short before she could become sexually active. Albus’ implied celibacy, after his one crush on Gellert, is only the mark of a deeply closeted conservative gay man who had a deeply traumatic experience, but who ought not get to dictate how we live our lives.
Honestly… I’m glad Dumbledore’s homosexuality is never portrayed in the Fantastic Beasts movies. Considering our luck, his making moon-eyes at Grindelwald would immediately be followed up by Ariana’s dying, with a clear causal relation. Representation as good as Castiel’s instant trip to Superhell after coming out, with none of the meme potential.
TW, cussing and internalised transphobia (yes, really, seriously so).
I haven’t been posting here because I haven’t been in a great place. Then I found my way back to my blog, looked around for some way, any way to start this post and decided to go see what this month’s Carnival of Aces was about… ‘reaching out, reaching in’ is the theme. What can we do to reach you? What do you do to reach out?
I’m in that unproductive frame of mind where that type of question only serves to make me feel harassed and guilty. I have done nothing, nothing, nothing all ace week. I also don’t feel I’m in a place where I need reaching. The ace community is easy enough to reach when I want it. I was just all clammed up and angsting my little heart out.
The irony is that it all started from something good. I got away from the church community that had started to feel oppressive, just because of the soft, insistent peer pressure that comes with unquestioned heteronormativity. I took some space, some rest.
I finally had the time to notice I’d gotten rather messed up.
Turns out, it wasn’t just the heteronormativity, it was the cisnormativity, too. See, I’m turning out to be one of those nice little white middle-class feminists who was so proud to try and be trans-inclusive, but the moment the question ‘am I really cis…?’ seriously crossed my mind?
I hate myself a lot more right now than when I was in the middle of ‘gosh I’m pan and probably that means queer, too.’ Fuck have I built up a lot of hate inside myself. I am somewhat twistedly happy that both times the subconscious prejudice exploded in my face when it was about myself, not about other people. I’ve probably made enough of the-ignorant-person-says-insensitive-shit mistakes without doing anything on purpose.
It was so easy to accept I was demisexual, by comparison. An orientation that was unknown, no stigma attached. I felt conflicted about adding the pan- to the -romantic, both relieved to fully accept gender plays no role when it comes to attraction for me, but so scared of the many what-ifs that came with it.
Now, oh fuck, fuck, fuck do I get why people are so scared to go through the questioning and acceptance. I get why people make a one-eighty straight back into denial. I sure want to put this shit in reverse and stomp on the gas paddle.
I. Hate. Myself. SO. MUCH.
It wasn’t long after I discovered asexuality that I felt I could be more feminine some days, less so on others. These last few years that gender shit had gotten rather tied up in the traditional gender roles being preached in church. So while I’d been able to explore how far along one end of the gender spectrum I wanted to go (dress, yes, make-up, nah), the other end had gotten rather neglected. I just tossed on jeans and a shirt on the days I felt less of a woman.
Overall, I just thought asexuality meant I’d gotten more comfortable, more happy with my body. Not so much, or maybe not just that. I’d gotten more comfortable with expressing my gender.
So I figured, I’d go wander down the other end of the spectrum to see how far I was interested in going. I’d been so happy being able to be more feminine on the days I felt like it, after all. Finding the other end of the line should have been therapeutic.
Yeah, that was a rabbit hole I fell down.
One that was dark and where I’d stuffed all the shit I’d never wish on another person.
I don’t know what label I’d have, if I even want one. I don’t even know about pronouns or how to express what I’ve found, when it comes to myself. Will I ever want to express it? I don’t know.
I only know that I found, which, well. Where “woman” ends, in my head, I continue. I don’t know what the hell to call that part of myself. Person? Man? Neither of those quite feel right. Masculine comes the closest, perhaps.
The problem with exploring it is I flip out every time I touch those thoughts for too long. And I have no one to talk to so I can distance myself enough by putting nebulous thoughts into more concrete words. So here we go, anonymous, on the internet, as is the traditional way with figuring out forbidden shit for my generation.
Transgression, there, that’s what this feels like. I transgress because the whole of me doesn’t fit in the one gender.
Wow, God, that’s already much better than hate.
And now I can poke that thought until I figure what shit I’ve internalised to make me feel like I’m going to go to hell.
In an addendum on my earlier post about how churches can be really unclear whether they are actually welcoming to queer folks – there’s a website that actually rates them on it, both on whether they honestly strive to welcome people from diverse sexual orientations and genders and how egalitarian they are (and how clear they make all of that online): www.churchclarity.org
They also did a better job of explaining why a church being clear about how it will treat queer visitors or members is crucial, comparing it to consenting to therapy fully informed of what it will entail.
They primarily have churches from the United States in their database, but also a decent start on churches in Canada, New Zealand and Australia, from what I can see.
It’s a work in progress to which you can contribute. Just sayin’.
Unfortunately less helpful if you’re from outside the English-speaking world, or even the UK, Ireland, India or South Africa. I’ll have to keep on looking to find a helpful website for my own neighbourhood. But hey, they exist, these resources.
This is a contribution to the July Carnival of Aces by The Ace Theist, on the topic of home. The short documentary that inspired this post: “The Dark Reality of Celebrity Endorsed Mega-Churches” by State Of Grace on the Refinery29 youtube channel.
TW: (internalised) homophobia
My asexual orientation, demisexual panromantic, is rather important to me, on par with my nationality, my college major, my gender. My religious identity goes even deeper, because to me, God is someone I love dearly, as close as a parent or a good friend.
I wished these deep-level affiliations to be in harmony. I wished to practice my faith and orientation without hiding one from the other. Instead, my church brought up all the homophobia I had internalised over the years. I was at war with myself as soon as I started identifying as queer, because it had already started to dawn on me that queer people weren’t welcome in my church.
It changed from a spiritual refuge to the source of spiritual conflict.
I blamed myself for being a coward. I blamed myself for all the fear and anxiety. I blamed myself for not seeing it sooner.
I have made peace with myself, but I am still negotiating how much I pass and how much I am out at any given time.
I still haven’t found another church where I’d be welcome, rather than tolerated. This in a community that is supposed to be a second home.
The truth was, I was told I was welcome, same as in my old church. The pastor made a statement to that effect several times.
Then I walked into a charity’s presentation after service one Sunday, all unsuspecting. They raved about how they, too, welcomed all queer people, so they could gently convince them how wrong they were. Could “lead them back to a more godly lifestyle.” I felt sick.
Later, it was confirmed to be the church’s stance as well, when they showed clips of a woman who had “graduated” from conversion therapy, and from a son who’d reunited with his mother after he “got over his rebellious phase as a homosexual.”
By this point, half my friends were from this church. Most of my social activities were tied to this church. I had just stopped feeling lonely in my new town. I couldn’t just leave, especially when I there was so much I liked.
I made like an ostrich, head in the sand.
I kept a tally of how many times I heard a homophobic remark in this community, either a quip in passing or a ten-minute sermon. The average came to once every two weeks, over the next half year.
Now that I have started exploring other (protestant) churches and trying to find other queer Christians’ experiences, mostly online, I find the answer to “are you open to queer people?” is always “yes,” in churches, but they mean any of the following:
- Hate: Yes, we are open to queer seekers (non-believers) or new Christians so we can show them the error of their ways. We consider queerness to be a) a curse, b) an addiction, or c) sinful behaviour that we will actively try to change.
- Discomfort: Yes, we are open to queer people… so long as they pass as cisgender and heterosexual, aren’t in a relationship and don’t try to serve as elder or deacon. We’ll allow it to be an open secret nobody talks about.
- Tolerance: Yes, we are open to queer people… they can even be members and help out with lay ministries. God loves all people equally and we’re all sinners, after all. However, they cannot marry or serve as clergy in our church.
- Love: Yes, we are open to queer people… God loves all people and they’re not sinners… we seek to be allies and stop the Christian persecution of queer people. Please tell us how we can pray for you, respect your gender and your relationship and if you need counseling for the hurt you have experienced in the past.
To be honest, even the church I was homesick for was only tolerant, for all that they do allow same-sex marriage now.
I find I have grown more critical in my search. I want to feel at home in my church, I want to be loved by my spiritual family, queerness and all. I want a church that exhibits the same love I believe God has: unconditional and inclusive.
Since churches cannot be trusted at their word on whether they are welcoming, I have developed the following search criteria:
- Follow the Money: If a church supports a mission organisation that is known for promoting abstinence, run. If a church supports a charity promoting sex education and handing out condoms to fight AIDS in Africa, continue. Charities and ministries a church supports are often listed on their website.
- Mission, Creed or Doctrine: I scan their “this is who we are” and “this is what we believe in” for evangelical phrases I’ve picked up like “family values” and how literally they take the translation of the bible.*
- Look at the Clergy: If the elders and/or clergy listed are a mix of ethnicities, genders, ages, etc. then they are more likely to be an inclusive church. Old white men in suits only? Stay away.
- Flag or declaration: If the church building has a rainbow flag or a statement explicitly welcoming people of all genders, sexualities, races, etc., they are likely to be tolerant at least.
- Did they go to Pride? Some churches will literally go to or participate in the parade, if their city has one, or have a Pride-themed service. This information might be found on the events page.
- (Affiliated with) LGBTQ ministry? I haven’t seen this with churches in my own area, but some offer counselling or a small group specifically for queer people, or work together with an organisation that offers it. Do read the description to make sure it’s not conversion-therapy-lite.
I also learned that review apps or third-party websites can be outdated or outright unreliable.
*Fun fact: the “Clobber Passages” in translation seem to condemn (clobber) homosexuality. In their original language and context they condemn a) normalisation of sexual violence (Sodom and Gomorra), b) sex with temple prostitutes and c) Greek pederasty (sex with underage boys).
I hope this information will be helpful to other queer Christians out there. I hope it also illustrates how hard it sometimes is to know if a church is welcoming and how disillusioning learning otherwise can be. I cannot stress enough that church isn’t just a club… it’s supposed to be a safe place to meet a God you love.
I continue my search for a church that is truly welcoming so I can make it my home. Many churches openly tolerate queer people, especially in 21st century Holland. And I can certainly understand staying in a tolerant church if you’ve been a member for a while.
I want to find a church where I am truly accepted. After the false welcome in my current church, I have no desire to settle.
TW: discussion of rationalisations behind queerphobia.
This post is a late submission to April’s Carnival of Aces hosted by luvtheheaven. Its theme is the 5 Love Languages, a concept authored by a Big Name Evangelical that’s crossed over into mainstream pop psychology. As a queer Christian I have much to say on it. Before diving into how I express love, I wanted to introduce how faith has influenced my idea of love, how this translates to a queer perspective. And in the next post, how I my being queer has influenced my view of what may be expressed through the 5 love languages.
Agapè and Eros and Storge and Philia
What love is meant to be expressed in the 5 love languages? The American-evangelical discourse on Christian life and love influences christian communities worldwide. Its conception of love is based on the Gospels, Acts and the Apostle Paul’s letters, which are themselves heavily influenced by Greek philosophy. The most common form of love often called platonic love in English, for God, for friends, for family but even when you have deep rapport with a stranger, acquaintance or enemy. According to C.S. Lewis these may be split into ‘storge’, the love you share based on belonging and familiarity and ‘philia’, the love you choose and cultivate such as for friends. The other two forms are ‘eros’, an amalgam of sexual and romantic love, and ‘agapè’ or charity, compassion or care you may cultivate by doing good or thinking well of others, but also the general love you may have for humanity or the planet as an activist or environmentalist. This is also the love God has for humans. The 5 love languages focuses on expressing affection for specific people: storge, philia and eros.
Christian Love Queered
How do these types of love translate to a queer perspective? Most Christians (that I’ve met) would say the core of their religion isn’t any organisation, or a holy text, a law or a doctrine. It’s a relationship. An exclusive relationship between a consenting human follower and an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God. All human-to-human relationships are meant to be reflections of this central relationship.
Some key features are:
Communal and individual: in human-to-God relationships the person-to-God relationship is almost interchangable with the community-to-God relationship. This is alien to and overlooked in Western culture. It means one’s love for and investment in community (friend group, family, team) is equally as important as one’s love for specific people. And that as community you can love a person (co-parenting! safe spaces!).
Consensual: an all-powerful God lets humans decide whether to enter into a relationship with Him, in which salvation is freely offered, not earned by good deeds. As such, relationships and acts of affection between humans should also be offered and accepted freely. It should also mean no one is barred from following God, regardless of their life. Logically meaning that whether being queer is a sin or not isn’t just a distasteful question, but an irrelevant one.
Equal: each human is loved by God. Each Christian’s first allegiance is to God, not spouse, family or leader. These two combined mean all humans should be treated as valuable and all humans have an authority higher than any human to which they may appeal. So, for example, a woman is not her husband’s property, but both are followers of God, should they invite his blessing over their relationship. Meaning Christians can often be found in equal rights movements, even when they have a reputation for being conservative in the Western world.
Amatonormative: since the highest form of love is human-to-God, all love between humans is potentially a good reflection of that. This does not hold true in communities that hold up marriage – and thus eros – as closest to the love between God and humans. This is why conservative media will style itself family- or marriage-focused, to express their (hetero-)amatonormativity. Such individualistic churches often skip agape, obsess over eros (in dos and don’ts) and rank philia and storge as less important.
Monogamous: the demand that one worship God and only God translates to a strong preference for monogamy within Christian communities. How strictly this is enforced within and without the community depends on whether loving people as they are is considered more important than how people love one another. This is reflected in the emphasis on exclusive long-term relationships between same-sex partners whenever acceptance of queer people in religious communities comes up.
Cis/heteronormative: whether queer people are accepted depends on whether they are thought to be loved and accepted by God. If one considers God’s love to be unconditional and people’s deeds less important, then the Christian (community) is likely to be very inclusive. If God is considered harsh; if certain behaviour or identities are considered to constitute a rejection of God, then the Christian (community) will reject those people.
Personally, the love I consider good based on my faith is equal, consensual and with a more communal focus than commonly found in the Western world.
I would be monogamous towards my partner, but mostly because that fits how I love, I’d hesitate to say others should be as well. I have found my love towards friends and family, philia and storge, to be truer reflections of God’s love for humans than what I felt when I dated, a chaste incarnation of eros.
I hate the near-obsession with marriage and ‘family focus’ I find in my current church. I consider churches that exclude queer people wrong because I very much believe God’s love to be unconditional.
Once again, please consider this a personal account. I do not pretend to speak for over a billion Christians, and I cannot cover the variety of encounters queer people have had with Christian communities. If you wish to share your experiences, I’d love to hear about it. I hope I’ve given you some insight into how my world view may differ from yours. Coming up, the 5 love languages!
Featured image from unsplash.
This post is a submission for March’s Carnival of Aces by Controlled Abandon.
The day after I went to the Canal Parade in Amsterdam in August of 2015 (a colourful procession of boats that pass a neighbourhood, with many parties and concerts during and afterwards, it’s great), I went to a jeweler’s. The elation from being in a crowd where anyone could be any gender, any orientation (and I was free to be myself, newly demisexual, newly not-heterosexual) hadn’t worn off yet. After browsing I splurged on a stainless steel ring with a black design and put it on my right middle finger. “There, I’m out,” I told myself out loud, in an empty cobblestone street between bent-over centuries-old brick facades. I went back to my room skipping (yes, a few steps literally, Pride, both the event and the coming-out phase, are heady).
I’ve worn a black ring ever since. I buy a new one every year to add to the collection. Some are partially black for when I’m feeling more demisexual than asexual. Some are delicate to go with more femme outfits. As a symbol, it’s been the main carrier for being demi, ace, panro, queer and living accordingly. Since I’ve worn it for nearly four years, that symbolism has become layered. Here’s a few of the layers…
… I go to a meet-up of asexuals. I walk around the cafe lost, nervous, ready to sit down at a table alone, when someone’s eyes fall on my ring. They ask if I am there to meet them. Gratefully I sink into a chair and stammer that yes, yes I am. My heart drums against my rib cage while I sit there, mostly listening, grateful my ring has spoken for me.
… I am on the point of coming out to a good friend. I can’t find the words until my eyes fall on my hands. On the visual prompt I wear. “So, I have this black ring on my right middle finger, because…” I feel deeply at ease around her until the next time we discuss dating. I realise she’s just… forgotten. In her memory I confessed to being a perpetual single, not asexual. It marks the point where I redefine erasure not just as invisibility in the media, but a real-world SEP-field or Sunnydale Effect.* People will forget I came out to them unless we regularly discuss the subject. That first time, I wonder if I’m in a waking nightmare and I clench my fists. The ring – the big, bold original – pinches my pointer and ring fingers. It becomes a symbol that yes, I’m awake. Evidence that yes, I did come out, even if I’m the only one who remembers.
… When I move, I start attending a more conservative church. I have to start dealing with the community’s lack of acceptance of queer people; the revelation I lived in a safe little bubble until then. It unleashes all my internalised homophobia – more than I could have predicted given the environment I grew up in. I have to read the Bible again, especially the clobber passages.** Go in search of queer Christian stories, buried underneath the dominant narrative of queers vs. Christians. I read up on celibacy and abstinence and realise exactly how much asexuality upstages traditional ideas of sexuality that are preached. Even when I’m conflicted I continue to wear the ring to church on Sunday. This is who I am. It’s on my hand when I raise it to worship God.
… It becomes a symbol of passing. Nobody recognises it for the declaration it is, even when their eyes fall on it. When they hold my hand in theirs and they stare at it, comment falling from their lips. It also becomes a symbol of defiance. I am queer in church. I am ace at work. I wear it because it’s an irrevocable part of me.
… I notice others wearing black on their right hands. I realise it’s the latest fashion in wedding rings. So, if you squint, it’s like I wear a masculine wedding ring and well… it’s related. It’s a sign of commitment, of being true, to the way I love rather than who I love. Should I ever wear a wedding ring, it will clink against my black ring like two champagne glasses meeting in a toast.
I don’t know how prominent black rings are as symbols of asexuality in the community these days. Less so than in 2015, perhaps. I see myself wearing it the rest of my life. It’s the symbol I picked for being out. It’s the symbol for staying true to myself in the face of all my anxieties of the past few years. It’s the symbol of my nature***, which’s had a massive impact on how I wish to love others, partner, friends, family and beyond.
*) SEP-field (somebody-else’s-problem field) is from Douglas Adams’ A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Sunnydale Effect refers to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where inhabitants supposedly disregarded the supernatural in their town because there was a sort of spontaneous, selective magical amnesia. It’s a common trope in magical realism, used to explain why the secret magical stuff is secret.
**) The six places the English and Dutch translations of the Bible supposedly mentions homosexuality, used to condemn every shade of queer. Interestingly, it sounds harsher in English than Dutch, which I think may be due to translation choices. Please note that studying the original text in its original context almost immediately undermines the condemnation, not least because our current understanding of the framework of sexual and other orientations developed in the 19th century. Yes, this is me being a calvinist and saying every Christian ought to study the bible for themselves and not letting clergy (or groupthink) do their thinking for them. I’ve had a very, very thorough lesson in how much nonsense we absorb over a lifetime.
***) Fun fact, orientation translates into ‘geaardheid’ in Dutch, which you can back-translate into nature.
I am incredibly late to the January edition of the Carnival (this being the second Friday in February) and it’s pretty much to do with this post. I wanted to close the book on my struggling with the church and move on with my life, and do it by seeing what good came out of asexuality and celebrate that… but it’s too close and I’ve followed that stupid, stupid cliche where you start writing something only to trash it, until you’ve a whole pile and your thoughts are all tangled.
Still it wouldn’t leave me alone. So here are, in random order, what good has come out of my internalised religious queerphobia in a more depressing post than I’d been intending to write. Please pay attention to what it says on the tin: discussion of prejudice. If you’re new to this blog: I use ace as umbrella for all shades of asexuality and aromanticism, transgender as umbrella for anyone not cisgender and queer as umbrella for anything not cisgender and heterosexual.
1. “Love the queer person, hate the sin” is lampshading.
You can be queer as a newbie. You can be queer if you’re celibate. You can be queer if you’re not like those other queers. This is the narrative that has sprung up in the church with the rising visibility of homosexuality and transgender folks. Its purpose is bridging the paradox between “All people may follow God” and “Queer people are so wrong they can’t enter God’s Kingdom”. The result being, a church may say they are inclusive even when they aren’t. They will truly believe that they accept all people and don’t understand when they’re called on their prejudice.
Lesson learned: ask what the church’s stance is not on queer orientations but on relationships. Another good check is asking what charities they support. (E.g. my previous church supported good sex ed in the fight against AIDS in Africa)
2. Love (and sex) are essential.
How people relate to each other and God are so important we literally say God is love. Not loving, but love. Not eros (romantic love), but agape, the more general love you may feel for anyone, portrayed as a choice, as active. If they accepted us, they’d make a wonderful ally against amato-normativity. So saying you love differently feels like you’re questioning the very heart of faith. Unfortunately, that’s seen as a threat rather than an opportunity for a good conversation. This also leads to sex, seen as an expression of affection, being part of that big conversation.
Lesson learned: ask what a Christian considers right and wrong on the subject of God and love and sex and you have a good conversation. Mention sexual orientation and it becomes a fight or a spiel.
3. “Sexual sin” is not (just) about sex, when done right.
The church’s talk about sexual sin is about love and relationships, not just sex. At their best, they are much-needed reflections on how humans can relate to each other in healthy ways. How to be a good partner, good family and a good friend. At worst they’re a top-down demand to conform to pre-marital abstinence and post-marital heterosexual intercourse. The latter is more relevant to aces specifically, who may want to marry without having to have sex. One assumption is always made: all people want to have sex.
Lesson learned: the church, conservative and liberal, subscribes to compulsory sexuality and will need educating. Outsiders also underestimate exactly how wide this discourse goes. The asexual community also encounters unique stumbling blocks, here, which should be taken into account when counseling Christian aces.
4. Queerphobia is mostly unspoken, unwritten, felt.
I had expectations, when my struggle with queer prejudice in my church started. Namely, that I’d either be the silent martyr that patiently suffered their misconceptions or the outspoken activist that corrected people. Neither happened. When rejection of queer people came up, it was often in passing or in a group setting. Not a place to speak out. The rest of it was the weight of the knowledge, flowing from these occasional remarks, that I’d be rejected if I came out as ace, as queer, in public. Neither did I want to upset people who confided their thoughts on homosexuality to me in private conversations. Even when I disagreed, gently, I wish to respect their privacy. What they told me is not fodder.
Lesson learned: Real life is not a story and struggling with prejudice is mostly a silent, one-sided mental fight. Invisible to the people who hurt me. The main victory is securing my own beliefs and then gathering up the courage to live as I believe is right.
5. Prejudice poisons the sanctuary.
I knew a good chunk of my church’s members disapproved of homosexuality. I discovered when my church preached acceptance of queer people, they meant they wouldn’t tell them to leave the room. They would tell them how to live their lives. I could at any moment hear a sneer, even while I passed as normal. This made me feel unsafe. I discovered that safe space, sanctuary, was essential to have a place to meet God. I cannot worship well when I am constantly bracing for incoming strikes.
Lesson learned: it wasn’t specific people but the general atmosphere that had the largest effect on me. Church is supposed to be a safe space and it wasn’t. It was a mindflip, accepting that I wasn’t a person gone wrong in the same place. That I was the same person, in a place that’d been spoiled for me.
6. Community makes it hard to leave.
Why don’t I just leave? I was asked, I asked myself. Church is a gathering place of people that can be tight-knit. It can be the only support network and social environment you have. Especially when, say, you’ve just moved to a new town, like I did. That can also mean there’s no one else to talk to, no other place to go and relax. It can make it really hard to look beyond that group and just… stall out. Even now, I feel affection for several people there that keeps me coming back.
Lesson learned: don’t leave a place that still feels like home. Instead, first grow a social circle and a support network beyond it. Find people that do accept me to break out of the mental prison first, even if I’m not ready to go.
7. I serve Jesus, not Christendom.
Going to other places, both Christian and not, as well as a good deal of reflection helped me to see I was scared of what people thought, not God. I grew up and first discovered my sexuality in a place where it was all considered fine. It’s only these last few years that far-off prejudice was echoed in my daily life by my community. I was in denial about the power that fear of rejection had over me. I didn’t want to see how bad I had started to feel about it. Mentally dividing my faith from my church on the subject of my queerness took some time. It took even more time to gather the courage to dare call myself right and my community wrong (it’s very undemocratic of me). Nevertheless, when I pray I feel loved. When I go to church I feel tense. I had to choose.
Lesson learned: in accepting myself as queer, I also needed to grow to accept that a queer person may follow Christ. I needed to accept the church, however many mouths shout however loud, can be wrong. I needed to be okay being a member of a religion where others may reject me.
While this hasn’t been a very cheerful post, I do count all these things as blessings. I have far more clarity on how to deal with queerphobia within the church. I have reconciled my faith and my asexuality again, this time including my romantic orienation and the queer label. I feel more free to believe that I do without reference to what others think. In seeking new places to belong I have met some wonderful people and I am now a lot happier. It’s a work in progress, but I’m glad it is indeed progressing.
TW: religion and queerphobia and this is honestly a rant.
I’ve been avoiding the news… and never feeling quite so stupid over it as right now. Reason being I can’t decide if my Carnival post was accidentally relevant or really stupid and hurtful considering what’s been going on. I’ve seriously thought about withdrawing it because, goddamn it, I am so, so ashamed and angry and frustrated.
So… I want to keep this as general as possible. A group of conservative Christians, give them what title you will in the context that makes sense to you, summarised their stance against anything queer, including but not limited to: homosexuality, transgender folks, extramarital sex and Attacks on the Institutions of Holy Matrimony. This manifesto is called the Nashville Statement. Please don’t read it if you want to have a good day.
The relevant fact here is that it was translated into Dutch and then signed by several hundred pastors and other orthodox-protestant men (that’s what we’re calling them in Dutch, apparently) after they got approached about it. Including Christian politicians, scholars and pastors (from my own denomination as well). This created a lot of backlash and debate and the media ate it up.
I was living under a rock.
Someone pointed it out to me.
I came out from under my rock.
I realised I’d been living in fantasy land, again. Namely, that Dutch Christians are different, despite running across casual homophobia in my own church. Namely, that in my mind people from my denomination, the majority of people in my country couldn’t be like that. Surely. That I’d drawn a line that really wasn’t there.
No, asexuality isn’t explicitly mentioned, I don’t care. It made me sick anyway and it hit home because I am bloody well a Dutch queer Christian and this is bullshit.
The worst part? The part where one side of the public debate’s wondering how any sane person can be a believer (rather than an atheist) and the other side’s proclaiming nobody who doesn’t subscribe to this shit isn’t a real Christian.
Fucking well respect my religion and my orientation, I want to shout (at nobody). At home I’m either preaching to the choir or to people who don’t consider ace people queer (so they can reject the latter without rejecting me, in their mind). I just. I don’t know where to go with this grief and hate and these fucking, fucking tears and fists and screams jamming my throat.
I feel stupid, too. Why did I mentally separate the Christians in my own country from the rest of the church?
I feel like I should apologise, too, for being Christian, for writing about Christianity a lot on my blog. I feel like it’s offensive, right now, the mere mention.
To be honest, I feel dirty, so very, very soiled. And I don’t know what to properly do with that feeling either.
Happy New Year to you all! I hope you’re able to fulfill your resolutions in a more timely fashion than I am posting this January call for submissions for the Carnival of Aces.
TW for queerphobia.
I’m snatching the hosting job for the Carnival of Aces again a few short months after the last time. I have had a theme jumping up and down in my head that I wanted to put in front of you. And, well… I’ve regained a good deal of my health which is great but it also means I’ll have more of a life, with stuff in it.
If you’re just here for the prompt, skip to the big, bold, centred sentence near the bottom of the post.
Bear with me as I explain where I’m coming from… that our orientation shouldn’t just be tolerated, but celebrated. Especially in the face of prejudice and dismissal.
Unerased and Celibacy
I have spent a year very conflicted about the acephobia and queerphobia in my religion. Especially because of my romantic orientation (pan, not hetero), which made me feel more queer. I have found some peace listening to the podcast “Unerased: Smid” from Radiolab, which summarised the formation of homophobia in its current incarnation among American Christians. I highly recommend it. It helped me make sense of the prejudice and also gave me some pointers as to how to counter it and move beyond it.
I also switched tacks in reading up about living without sex as a Christian, which I do as part of my research for writing about being an asexual Christian. Literature about Catholic clergy encouraging each other to live healthy celibate lives has proven a lot more constructive than reading about Protestants commanding their children to be abstinent. It also helped me distinguish between disregarding sexual attraction as choice and not feeling sexual attraction by nature, even when at first glance it may lead to a similar lifestyle.
What We Are Not
A lot of acephobia seems to stem from a single preconceived notion in Christendom. One that’s probably shared among a lot of religions and cultures. It is: all healthy, adult humans feel sexual attraction. God (or divine power of your choice) created them thus and therefore it should be so. Or evolution demands it. We call that “compulsory sexuality”.
The emergence of other sexual orientations questioned whether we should only have partners from the opposite sex. Our existence begs the question whether humans ought to have sexual desire (or romantic love) at all to live a full and happy life. It boggles the minds of people who can’t imagine what it’s like to not feel sexual attraction. Something must be wrong, or missing.
I have found the opposite to be true. Exploring sexuality (and gender) often helps in growing up and getting to know yourself. Being honest about desires leads to self-acceptance and healthier relationships. Living a life true to yourself is a big blessing, even if it is hard.
What we are is good (not just fine)
So I want to start the New Year with this theme. Not only is asexuality fine, shrug and move on… Asexuality can be good, very good. Trying to imagine my life with and without the concept, the identity, I would have been all the poorer for it.
I’m very curious if that’s true for you too. So here’s the proposed theme for the month:
Asexuality can be a blessing and here’s how…
I don’t mean blessing as coming from God, though you can take it that way if you like. I mean blessing as in a source of bliss, good change, a happier or more meaningful life.
I invite you to be critical of the idea, too.
I also challenge you to write about your own (a)sexual and (a)romantic orientation when taking this on.
If you’ve a contribution to the Carnival of Aces, please post a link in the comments or send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org. Feel free to send your response directly if you’d like me to host it as guest post.
Further reading and listening
“UnErased: Smid” a podcast from Radiolab
The political provocations of asexuality (short article)
How Mainstream Media Has Left the Asexual Members of the LGBTQIA+ Community Behind (long article)
The words I’m considering helpful in coming out and discussing not having sex in various contexts.
Asexuality – a natural or biological inclination to rarely or never feel sexual attraction. In short, the label for people who Mother Nature or God or evolution designed to be inclined not to have sex. Not an essentialistic description of entire races or genders or other groups. Not “lacking in functional genitals” or “lacking in libido” or “unattractive”. It is instead a useful term to say “I do not actively feel lust or arousal towards a person of any gender” with several labels available to give that more nuance, such as “rarely” or “in these very specific circumstances”.
Its primary use is describing “not (being inclined to) having sex” as a state of being, an orientation.
Celibacy – the choice to temporarily or permanently disengage from sexual activity. In short, the label for people who for personal, religious or other reasons decide not to have sex. This word lacks the implication “purity” has that one is better. It describes behaviour or a decision of an individual where “chastity” is more likely to be used in a judgment call. It lacks the deterministic implication that it precedes marriage.
Its primary use is in being the best candidate for a term to describe “not having sex” as choice and conscious behaviour.
Repression (when discussing sexual behaviour) – being barred from either wishing to engage in sexual behaviour or acting upon a desire to be sexually active. Can occur for an individual or in a community. Mental conditions or subconcious choices may lead to it, such as high stress or internalised queerphobia. Social limitations may include peer pressure or a criminalisation of sexual behaviour. May have neutral but, more often, a negative connotation.
Its primary use would be in describing a state of “not having sex” that is not by choice and feels more as stemming from experience/the mind/circumstances than natural/biological.
I find this third word to be more problematic… Because for others I think it may be as toxic as abstinence is to me. Plus there’s the conflation of asexuality and sexual repression that’s used to deny asexuality as a legitimate label.