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.
I, Queer Parent
“A small percentage of homosexuality is beneficial to the survival of a species, especially those that live in groups,” a tour guide at the Artis Zoo tells our group during Pride Week of 2015. “A same-sex pair will adopt abandoned young, or collaborate with the rest of the herd to raise young together.”
It takes me three years after that moment to accept I can be demisexual, queer, probably single and still want and have children.
The dream of finding a (male) partner and having children, is the heterosexual lie that I hold most dear. I mourn its loss when I realise I don’t want sex. I mourn it when my relationship strands. I mourn when I grow to accept I want a platonic partner, gender irrelevant. I mourn when I realise I don’t want my womb open for business.
I meet a single woman who will be a foster parent. I have a pair of friends who choose to adopt due to genetic conditions. I have family who decide to be resource parents for struggling single-parent families. Still the denial wanes only gradually.
Yes I’m queer, but I can want children, I finally accept.
Here’s the evolved plan I hold in my heart: I would like to adopt or have children within the next decade. I may coparent with a romantic or queer-platonic partner. I may coparent with friends. Now I have to look into how to do that.
The Rainbow Accords
Holland has held nuclear families up as the ideal since the 17th century. The last decade has seen some queering of the idea. A lot of parents choose to remain unmarried, living together has become the standard. Some women simply choose to have children on their own without a partner. Any civil partner or spouse of a birth mother may now register the child and their legal parenthood. Genetic parenthood and legal parenthood have thus started to diverge more and custody started to be more complicated.
While first steps have been made, the need for a comprehensive reform of parenthood has become more clear. This came to be known as multi-parenthood (meerouderschap) since one of the core demands is more than two people could be legal parents. Several years’ research into multi- parenthood (meerouderschap) was handed in to the government in 2016 and has yet to be made into a law (meerouderschapswet).
The Dutch LGBT centres have started organising Pink Debates before elections in the last few years, both national and local. After those, political parties sign what’s known as Pink Accords or Rainbow Accords, in which they promise to look out for queer rights. Among that is the promise to make the new parenthood law happen.
I find myself coming back to the initiative. I rather need parenthood to be redefined. Like everything my asexuality touches, being a parent seems to need thorough deconstruction in order to work for me.
Current scenarios for legal parenthood and custody, when having a biological child. I have chosen to reflect the cisnormative language used, but do not agree with it. Note a father may only recognise an unborn child and be acknowledged as father with permission of the mother.
Only a birth mother who’s the legal parent. There is a donor who has no custody and may be a legal parent or anonymous.
Two mothers, married or civil partners. The birth mother is a legal parent and has custody. The other mother may have custody, then the father is a known donor who is the legal parent. The other mother may be a legal parent and have custody, then the father is an anonymous donor.
Only a birth mother and a father, not necessarily spouses. The mother is legal parent and has custody. The father is a legal parent and may request joint custody when the child is born.
Two mothers, married or civil partners, and a father. The birth mother is a legal parent and has custody. The father may recognise a child before birth and become the legal parent and may or may not request joint custody after birth. The father may also recognise the child after birth and the two mothers will then have joint custody.
Two mothers, married or civil partners, and two fathers, married or civil partners. The birth mother is a legal parent and has custody. One father recognises the child before birth and may or may not request joint custody. One father recognises the child after birth and becomes the legal parent, but custody is awarded to both mothers.
Two fathers, married or civil partners, and a birth mother. The birth mother is a legal parent and has custody. One father recognises the child before birth and may or may not request joint custody.
Important to note here is that awarding custody to other parents is HARD if two legal parents exist.
I found the above very interesting because a) it heavily protects birth mothers and so with the current law it’d be far easier for me to actually have children naturally and b) it is heavily biased towards either heterosexual or married homosexual couples. This seems especially useless when it comes to asexual persons who wish to have children. The ability for two or more people of any gender and any relationship status to coparent would be crucial. These are heavily restrictive scenarios, especially for persons without wombs.
The state committee for redefining parenthood (Staatscommissie Herijking Ouderschap) advised the national government that having more (than two) legal parents (meerouderschap) and more (than two) people who have custody (meeroudergezag) benefits the child and ought to be made law on December 2016. They make recommendations based on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and seven principles they set out for good parenthood:
an unconditional personal commitment (een onvoorwaardelijk persoonlijk commitment)
continuity in the parental relationship (continuiteit in the opvoedingsrelatie)
arrangement of and investment in physical wellbeing (verzorging en zorg voor lichamelijk welzijn)
raising of a self-sufficient participant in community and society (opvoeding tot zelfstandigheid in sociale en maatschappelijke participatie)
organising and monitoring the upbringing in the family, the school and the public domain (the three spheres of influence) (het organisering en monitoren van de opvoeding in het gezin, de school en het publiek domein (de drie opvoedingsmilieus)
the formation of a heritage/ethnic identity (de vorming van de afstammingsidentiteit)
facilitating contact and socialisation with persons important to the child, including another parent (de zorg voor contact- en omgangsmogelijkheiden van voor het kind belangrijke personen, onder wie de andere ouder)
The recommendations the committee made for queer parenting, paraphrased:
Let the biological relationship between a parent and child weigh as heavily as the intention to raise the child in awarding responsibility.
Remove the demand for a father-is-unknown declaration when two mothers wish to be a child’s legal parents.
Replace “recognising” a child with “accepting (legal) parenthood” of a child.
In the case of more (than two) legal parents:
the candidate parents need to agree about legal parenthood, so the arrangement is not accessible to people who can’t agree on who plays what role in a child’s life.
The candidate parents need to make an agreement about having more than two legal parents before conception.
This arrangement will be accessible to at most four parents from at most two households.
This arrangement will be accessible to the birth mother, genetic parents and life partners of these persons.
The candidate parents make an agreement which will be seen by a judge, each child will require a separate agreement that must go before the judge.
The judge will appoint a curator who will speak for the future child and monitor its rights.
The legal framework for the multi-parenthood agreement (meaning all legal documents) need to be arranged before the child’s birth. Otherwise adoption is the only way.
Enable a wish to become a legal parent between unmarried parents to be made known before birth so that joint custody will be awarded to all legal parents at birth.
When a legal framework is in place, it also specifies custody among the legal parents, in the case of more than two parents. If not, custody may later be requested and a judge can see if the requirements for multiple parents have been satisfied.
Make partial custody possible for foster parents and step parents.
Make multiple parent agreements possible after the birth of a child, when more adults wish to be responsible for the care of a child, keeping the requirements for having multiple legal parents in mind.
Out of all the recommendations the committee makes that are relevant to queer parenting, I find the very last to be the most relevant. It alludes to an arrangement already possible in California, where one may adopt a child without giving the child up for adoption. This, I think, would be the avenue that would allow one or more asexual persons who wish to coparent to step into that role.
Having gone through the information and translating parts of it, I find it important to 1) know what parenthood entails and 2) be able to coparent. Knowing the current law I am very tempted to have biological children rather than adopt simply because it seems easier. However, I feel uneasy at the idea of pregnancy so I think I’d like to look into adoption further before moving that option from the top of my list.
I also recognise how very gendered the law is, the current one but even the recommendations for the revised one. Last year, a person was awarded a passport with X for sex/gender rather than M or V (for female), after a lawsuit. The law for this is still under revision, but… I’m thinking that’s something that should play a role in a parenthood law, if it’s truly meant to give queer parents equal rights… that non-binary persons be recognised, and not shoved into the role of either mother or father but be able to be just a parent. We did just sign a law that makes discrimination against transgender and intersex persons illegal. I do like that the revisions at least would make it possible for two gay fathers to have custody without adoption, which the current law does not allow.
Sources (All in Dutch)
Meerouderschap factsheet: https://pilpnjcm.nl/meerouderschap-een-juridische-factsheet/#_ftn2
Regenboog stembusakkoord: https://www.rainbowvote.nu/
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.
Well slap me silly, I was not expecting representation.
(Blank space to avoid spoilers in people’s preview)
(Hopefully it’s enough)
I saw Captain Marvel. I was most pleasantly surprised by a boldly portrayed queer-platonic partnership. Between two women. From the Air Force. Coparenting. In the early nineties. Sexuality not disclosed (and frankly, irrelevant to the emotional depth of their relationship as seen on-screen).
I’ve seen some reviews now, some took the “best friend” at face value. A few (queer women) argued they were totally lesbians and that that had been relegated to the subtext because of the American military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” rule back then in-story. And for the sake of the Chinese market on a meta level.
That they desexualised the relationship.
I believe it.
Here’s the thing: what they ended up with as text on-screen was still an intimate, years-long relationship with two adults who considered each other family, sharing their daily life, holidays and who were effectively raising a child together. I.e. even without sex or romance, still a partnership as deep as any marriage.
A queer-platonic partnership.
Complete with the erasure of being able to only grieve for “her best friend” after, for Maria.
I don’t think it was intentional. I don’t care. In fact, I consider it poetic justice that in probably trying to downplay a homosexual relationship, they ended up serving us another slice of the queer cake.
It took my breath away. I think I may go back for seconds.
Often, listening to the evening news leaves me melancholy. Now, I’m bouncing in my seat while I write about not one but two news items, on HIV/AIDS and transgender rights. Go figure. I really wanted to share them, so here goes.
A Dutch doctor has been involved in a stemcel treatment for people with both HIV and blood cancer, in the UK. The downside is you need to have both for this treatment to work, it’s not a cure for HIV/AIDS in general. The upside is that this marks the second and third people with HIV to be cured, changing the first patient from an anomaly into a breakthrough and starting the countdown… literally. The AIDS monument in Amsterdam’s counting down to an elimination of the disease by 2030. Cheers. If that isn’t motivation for HIV/AIDS awareness and campaigning for decent healthcare, I don’t know what is.
The Dutch First Chamber (indirectly chosen through provincial elections, parallel to House of Lords) has been debating a proposal to forbid discrimination against transgender or non-binary people explicitly. That amendment to the law would also include intersex folks. While gender is already mentioned as a factor on which you may not discriminate, this has proven insufficient in protecting those outside of the male/female binary. Since only two parties were mentioned as adamantly opposing it – the most conservative of the three Christian parties and the far-right populists – I am hopeful it will pass. To be clear, proposals for laws pass through Second Chamber, First Chamber and then only have to be signed by the King, so it’s pretty far along.
And since I’m a language nerd so I like words, I thought others might also like to know: Dutch leans firmly in the direction of borrowing the words gender and transgender from English, if you’re wondering how to talk to this. Firmly enough that in pronounciation the English “g” has been replaced with a Dutch gargle-rocks-in-your-throat “g”.
- “Genezing HIV blijkt mogelijk, betekent dat het eind van de ziekte?” has the picture of the AIDS monument counting down to 2030.
- “Has a second person with HIV been cured?” in Science magazine.
- “We halen niet voor de lol ons geslachtsdeel eraf” News around the proposed change to the General law for equal treatment (Awgb) is mostly focused on personal stories from activists, with sidebars explaining it’s going to protect about 100,000 people in Holland and is expected to pass as easily in the First Chamber of Parliament as it did in the Second Chamber. Trigger warning because of Dutch bluntness, including title.
- Couldn’t find an English-language article for this one
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.
In which I wrestle with prejudice.
The biggest problem I have in live conversations with people “explaining away” homosexuality, in lovely parallel to what they may use to “excuse” asexuality… I have no counter argument. I have no good reason ready why people are the way they are. I have no queer apologetics the way I’ve learned Christian apologetics (yes, there’s an academic field that’s Christians explaining their faith). I stand, as we Dutch put it, with my mouth full of teeth. Silent.
I found myself choking at one particular thread, having made the mistake of googling asexuality and Christianity. In a thread debating whether and why asexuality was sinful by some very, very conservative Christians, one mentioned why asexuality could not be accepted, according to them, though it might not itself be sinful.
See, if asexuality is a valid orientation that people can simply be, then the same will have to be accepted, by extension, of homosexuality and bisexuality. We cannot be normal, because that would make others normal. More widely accepted.
What makes it so hard for me to argue? Why was that person so scared of any non-hetero orientation being acceptable?
Here’s my pet theory: when an identity stops being controversial, it starts being taken for granted. When society accepts us, we don’t need to explain ourselves. When we accept ourselves, too, the truth of what we are, what we may feel and think and live, simply is. Our being resounds like a gong with the rightness of it. Not much ‘but why?’ to it, unless you’re a bit of a philosopher or scientist. Unless you’re still questioning, integrating this new component of yourself.
One of my better memories, when it comes to acceptance of queer folks, was the moment I realised being gay/lesbian was utterly accepted at work. I had a set of gossiping biddies for colleagues and we shared a room. There were a few side offices. The subject of the day were two men who’d been holed up in one of the offices for a longer-than-normal time. While they speculated on what two people could get up to in a closed room for that long, I realised with something like happiness that the two people’s genders had become irrelevant in pairing them off in office gossip.
When the discussion continued, the reason for the acceptance was revealed. They were compared to an gay couple in a mainstream soap opera. Having seen it occur on TV, the ladies were as happy to go slashy in their real-world shipping as any fanfic author. Representation was that powerful. Go figure.
It’s a thread I also see in Aut of Spoons’s post that no, trying to use autism to explain away gender noncomformity is not okay. I learn the word for it, etiology, trying to ‘diagnose’ sexual orientation or gender identity and yeah, doesn’t that put a lovely slant on those conversations I’ve been having? It prodded and poked at me while I try to write the round-up post two weeks ago.
I remember the easy conversations I’ve had with the few folks who’ve accepted me for who I am. I remember how I felt I couldn’t explain a large part of myself to people I haven’t come out to… telling them I’m a certain thing (mostly single, wishing for kids but leaning towards adoption, inexperienced in dating) and then… waffling.
I remember how utterly at ease I felt with myself a few years ago and now do not. How the periodic exclusion of other queer identities has made me wrestle with doubts (opgerakeld, in Dutch, churning things up to muddy the water that before was clear).
I find myself wishing I was represented in a soap opera and gossiped about at work, though I hate soap operas and I hate gossip, if only to have the evidence of being accepted by mainstream society. I wish I did not have be so inexplicable I’m ignored after I’ve come out to somebody, entrusted an important bit of who I am to a person.
I wonder to myself why this hate and these people have such power over me. Why not being accepted is such a big deal. Why I could simply be myself before, but now, being doubted, I doubt myself.
Maybe God has the right idea, with that name of his. I am here. I was, am and will be. I am who I am. I am.
In other words, JHWH is a great big bell the size of all creation resounding with BEING. The way each human resonates with rightness when they learn the truth about themselves in some way. C’thia, if you will.
No words, no explanations. I am.
Normally I’d leave a post like yesterday‘s alone, to be interpreted as you will, but it came out of a lot of feels and thoughts combining and sitting in a great big knot in my head this month (well, last month) and the poem was the overflow of the untangling… and I did wish to share that. You’re welcome to skip it and simply enjoy the post as-is, though.
As far as stages of coming out is concerned, I feel I’ve sat at synthesis for a long time. I wrestled anew with what it meant to be demisexual after I moved, what it meant for my faith (especially the expression thereof in commmunity) and what it meant for my writing. I lacked a sense of acceptance in my new environment, but that collided with a growing dissatisfaction of my own. Being demisexual has made me a different person, has put me on a different path and that has made me less sympathetic to those people that would only tolerate me out of privileged ignorance, rather than truly accept me.
What I’m far more new and hesitant to is the panromantic label, I feel I’m at about ‘acceptance’, certainly not at ‘pride’. Especially since it feels like it’s dragging the queer label in by the hand. That label is a loaded one, in my head. The publically known one I’ve placed al lot of the baggage on that I feel I dodged by being ‘only’ a type of ace… yeah. Add to that that living amongst more conservative folks, mostly in church but also the occasional colleague or friend I speak to during the week, most of whom I’ve had conversations with at one point or another when I mention I’m from a (politically) more socio-liberal church that raised the issue of blessing same-sex marriage* for member discussion and vote while I attended. All the ins and outs of religion-fueled homophobia have become much more well-known to me, suffice to say, and hit far harder because I’m not, myself, straight anymore and starting to maybe, tentatively consider identifying in private as queer. So I feel squeamish and conflicted. It’s not pretty.
Some of the biggest shifts in my progression from feeling included to excluded by the Christians I interact with are not about being queer, but the idea that everyone feels lust. For example, each sermon on the topic of reigning in sexual sin leaves me feeling more skeptical. Not just for the assumption that everyone has lust bleeding from their ears and eyeballs, but the assumption that one becomes more virtuous for having less sex. I certainly don’t feel more virtuous. The lack of peer pressure to have sex within the Christian community, which I liked so much initially, no longer makes up for the assumption I’ll have a ‘healthy’ sex life after marrying or forego a relationship altogether. I want a to have romantic-platonic or queer-platonic relationship, dammit**.
It also really doesn’t help when I have mental will-they, won’t-they-reject-me games with myself when I imagine bringing a woman rather than a man to church, when I have a moment to myself during coffee after service… Feeling out the roots I’d pull up since some of the folks have become good friends and I like several of the activities I’ve gotten involved in.
I also made the mistake of googling asexuality and Christianity together and read a lot of things that deserve warnings and zero screen time. Time and distance from my hetero-by-default frame of mind have made it a lot harder to step back into it, to sympathise with a point of view where I was part of the unthinking majority. I still stumble so much even when I encounter other minority identities, in speaking to and about them respectfully, inclusively, but at least I have a taste of how much work it is to bridge the gap when someone doesn’t really accept you, how hurtful being excluded can be, even in passing, impersonally, indirectly. I’ve sat in church so, so angry at a guest preacher rejecting ‘those unnatural homosexuals’ and how they ‘chose wrong’ and wanted to jump up and punch and yell and run out and instead wandered about the rest of the day with an unvoiced question in my head: I wonder what you’d make of me, then, sir. Until my poor unsuspecting mother casually asked me how I’m doing and it took me an hour to pour her ear full of all the worries now hanging off that initial question like it’s a set of monkey bars.
Also tied into the knot of thoughts, I would very strongly prefer to have a relationship that did not include anything more than kissing, call it asexual or platonic, regardless of the orientation(s) of my partner. Though I cherish each contact with a person for what it is, just as I have acquaintances as well as good friends, I’d ultimately want for one of them to flourish into a sharing-the-rest-of-our-lives, whatever that looks like. One contention in the QPR post really set me off**, namely, that the relationships – involving neither a formalisation nor sex and, in the case of the post, not the hallmarks of romantic relationship – could be dismissed as an especially deep friendship. Just as same-sex relationships used to be, still can be. Just as the type of relationship I desire, with romantic elements or not, may be.
This stings, because in Holland people are marrying way less because it’s not considered what makes a relationship ‘real’, like living together does or bringing your significant other along to meet friends and family. I feel it could be easily argued, by extension, that having sex or bringing flowers or the initial surge of territorial, sentimental obsession we call romantic love isn’t what makes a relationship ‘real’ either. The sexual drive, romantic drive and attachment drive*** are three separate instincts, after all, and I think we as a community could make a good case for them functioning perfectly well independent of each other. In short, you can have no sex, no romance, no marriage ceremony, (even no monogamy) and yet have a relationship that deep, that significant, that lasting, that it could arguably be equivalent to marriage.
I’ve seen enough couples together long enough that even without any outward sign, at some point people around them got tired enough of referring to them as “my boyfriend’s brother” or “my aunt’s partner” that they shifted to using terminology you’d normally use after a formalisation… so “my brother-in-law” and “my uncle”, in these cases. In other words, without anyone coming out and saying it, these relationships (often only defined by people always being mentioned together, Tom-and-Jane, Dick-and-Cathy) had passed some mental benchmark that made them as-good-as-married, in people’s minds.
What I’m saying in a roundabout way is, I think, that we don’t really know what makes a significant relationship a true and deep attachment with our chosen partner. We have some characteristics by which to identify them, but just like you can’t really define a woman by having breasts, long hair or a skirt, you can’t really define a ‘real’ marriage/relationship/person-and-partner based on whether there’s been a ceremony or sheet sharing or dates. I think that all the different folks in the ace community illustrate that truth beautifully. I also think that kicks some people into a big-ole existential crisis, if their ideas are broken down like that.
I like the idea though, that we can’t really define relationships, limit them within an absolute definition, the same way we haven’t really define life, or sentience, or reality. Gives us something to keep on wondering about.
So there I was, picking my own conflicted feelings about my labels apart, and my ideas on relationships, keeping the question in mind: what do I want? What would it look like if I had one?
What if… what if… this question I prefer to wallow in. My favourite pastor once said that the devil got so little attention in the bible because he wasn’t worth it, was deliberately omitted. The focus was on how people ought to live, ought to be bettering the world. On the promise of a better future, in defiance of a broken world with imperfect people making mistakes left and right. That we – Christians – would be harshly rebuked for how much we focus on fear, infighting, judgment, division. When I come to church to celebrate my faith and get rejected by a human in the middle of worshipping God, I can’t help but feel the truth of that. I think of the families that I saw come to Pride, three years ago, just to show their kids first-hand gay, bisexual, trans people were people too. I think Jesus would have loved that, I think he would have loved to be there.
In honour of that, I tried to put some of my hopes down on paper. To make it as accessible as possible, I decided to omit labels that might not mean much to outsiders. And I wrote this way-too-long author’s note about all the thoughts I carried around that led to writing “Marriage Without Sex or Ceremony”.
*) in our country, blessing civil partnership as well as marriage, both of which are legalised at city hall before the (Christian) couple has a bigger (optional) ceremony in church, both levels open for any couples as of 2001. Our denomination dumped the decision to be open to blessing them on the individual congregations, to avoid offending anyone (thereby disobliging everyone).
**) While I’m a panromantic, I figure my partner may not be, and that’ll influence the shape of the relationship, especially considering it may grow either out of formal dating or informally out of an existing friendship. I got schooled on the topic by this post on QPR’s, which also left me poking at what exactly I’d name the relationship I want to have, and that inspired the title for the poemish freewriting on my relationship fantasy.
***) This TED talk influenced my ideas on relationships a lot, especially its claim that one has three instincts or drives that make us partner up, that could trigger in that order, out of order or independent of each other.