This occurred at a gay club, on Latinx night. Let’s be clear about that. The media, your social circles, your pastors, probably glossed over this detail. The victims were queer and trans people of color, many of them Puerto Rican like myself. Innocent lives, gunned down in senseless brutality.
Bodies that were queer and brown, just like me.
There is a profound horror in that.
It arrests me at every moment, washing over me in waves.
It could have been me, I tell myself, over and over.
I’ve been intending to write about my sex-positive beliefs for some time, and this post has been precipitated and sponsored by STDcheck.com, an organization dedicated to safe and healthy sexuality by providing private, affordable tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Their work is important! Furthermore, anything I write here is a personal position and recollection of my experiences–not a reflection of my employer(s).
It’s wonderful, gross, beautiful, entirely underwhelming, and pretty fucking great.
Up until a certain point in my adolescent development, I prided myself on my relative “purity” to that of my classmates. This, of course, was complicated by my confusing thoughts and feelings directed at male peers, late-night internet searches, and varied experiences throughout my pubescent years–still, I’d never slept with a girl nor provided myself any opportunity to.
My virginity was in tact, whatever that meant.
When my awareness of my queerness expanded in college through the painful introduction of that nebulous concept we call love, I realized things were pretty dang complicated for me. And after I began dating the boy who would become my husband, the hard truth made itself known:
I spent my whole life guarding myself from experiences I would never have nor want.
When Christians start talking about “the law,” pay close attention. This might be code for anti-LGBTQ theology. I was enjoying a perfectly lovely day with Christian leaders exploring how to create an experience of church that would be meaningful for people currently in their 20s and 30s. Themes such as LOVE, JUSTICE, and BEAUTY were lifted up as foundational values of this generation.
Then after lunch things got weird. Someone in the front row asked the presenter the question “but what about the law?” And the room got quiet.
All of the sudden the room full of Christians wanting to make their churches more meaningful for young adults turned their attention to this question of how to make space for LGBTQ young adults in church when “they” are in violation of “church law.”
And in reply the speaker said, “I’m theologically opposed to marriage equality, but I accept them as members (of the church).” He then went on to ask why this sin of homosexuality gets more scrutiny than the sin of pornography or infidelity in marriage. My heart sank.
My dad is a mystic and dreamer. Throughout my childhood, I often heard the phrase “you can pick you friends, you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose”. With such wisdom and humor, my dad consistently brings laughter and moments of “what in the world?!” into my world.
For most of my growing up years, my dad was a pastor, and I watched him hold space for people to grow, break down, discover themselves (and sometimes God), while he listened with an open heart. He has been a chaplain, sitting with people in crisis, grief, huge and sometimes sudden change, giving them space to feel their feels and making them tea or a sandwich. I’ve always admired my dad’s ability to stay calm when someone else needs to freak out.
In “Advent and Queer Bodies,” Joey Rodil waits with his queer siblings, in the face of homophobia and transphobia, for the coming of Jesus whose table is for all.
But we’re still waiting…
This past summer, I remember walking in my neighborhood in Chicago to meet a couple of friends. As I approached a group of men waiting outside a restaurant, one of them yelled, “Look at that f@& in short shorts. F@&!” Walking by myself, my body seized with fear and I learned quickly that I am more of a “flight” person when I feel my life is in danger. I crossed the street and ran down the sidewalk as I passed them. For a second, I feared they might attack me physically, but fortunately they only resorted to verbal harassment.
As a cisgender gay man, I am used to these occurrences, but I know that others have fared far worse. As of November 2018, the Human Rights Campaign reported 29 transgender deaths this year*. My transgender siblings were violently killed. Their queer bodies and lives taken away from our community because… well … we’re still waiting.
We’re still waiting for our bodies to be viewed equally as human.
We’re waiting for our bodies to not be seen as a threat to the church.
One fresh spring morning, I sat down in the sparse meetinghouse I used to worship in. Sun streamed in through the window in the ceiling onto the bowed heads of people breathing deep and grounding down. We were all seated in a circle. Chairs and benches were the only furniture in the well windowed room. Everyone was bathed in light.
The silence was baited, tense. Waiting to be broken.
Then, out of a bench in the corner, a loud belch rose up into circle.
And for the rest of the meeting, this old, drunk man belched and snored cacophonous snores the whole time.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are different kinds of vocal ministry. And this man, in his big tattered coat and authentic presence in his body was the big fuck you to liberal quaker piety that meeting needed.
I have some friends where you can tell they experience their bodies as a residence, as a space. With some of them, it’s like they’re visiting their bodies. In their eyes you see them peeking into the world.
Their minds are their sanctuaries.
I’m not like that. I experience my body as my self. In fact, sometimes I struggle to stick with my thoughts long enough to think about what I’m thinking. Sometimes I’m not really sure what I’m feeling. Or how I’m feeling.
What I’m trying to say is that I’ll be out for a run – running – when all of a sudden I’ll feel rage or heartbreak or fear, rising up from my chest and catching up with me. I just keep running into my feelings. Sobbing. Shouting.
I think this is part of why I’m pentecostal. My body is how I know God. When I first came to know Jesus, I felt it. It was an emotional experience, yes, but convincement wasn’t a decision for me. Instead, I was overwhelmed. It took over my body. There were weeks of confusion over feeling compelled by Jesus, and I didn’t necessarily want to be. I tried to push it away. But I was falling in love. I was possessed by love, and I prayed. My whole body shook and shook, and there on the ground, on my knees, I knew God.
When I was five years old, my dad brought home a Dalmatian puppy for my birthday. He named her “Candy” for her sweet disposition. I did not want a dog. To make matters worse, Candy was not a nice dog. She barked, and she bit ankles. I was afraid of Candy.
I asked my dad to find a new home for Candy, suggesting that maybe Candy needed a family that would be more patient, more understanding, better equipped to love her in spite of all of her problems. My dad laughed. He thought I was funny. But I was desperate. So I prayed. I had learned in Sunday school that God answers prayer, so I asked God to kill Candy and take her to live in heaven with the angels.
“You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous–how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.” ~ Psalm 139:13-15
For Transgender Day of Remembrance 2018:
I wanted to write something eloquent to honor your lives
To remember all your beautiful faces and mourn you properly
But all I could think of was how your lives were cut short
I wanted to write something powerful to honor your lives
To remember all your names (YOUR names) and grieve you somberly
Well, I guess it wasn’t so simple. I grew up in a missional church, and one of my favorite aunts was a missionary. And when I looked into her eyes, and when I saw her come home from long trips out of the country in her Birkenstocks and her battered up guitar case, and she brought me a small ceramic dish from Turkey, I felt her commitment to God, no matter what.
I wanted her commitment to the lord, but it was all mixed up with my colonial gaze.
So when I graduated high school, I decided to go YWAM, an acronym that stands for Youth With a Mission. They had a program where for three months, you pray and study with other young people hoping to go into missions under the tutelage of more seasoned missionaries, and three months you went on an “outreach,” where you do charity work and preach to people in another country.
A couple weeks ago, I was FaceTiming with a fellow queer friend, and we got to talking about something that seems to be rather ubiquitous in the queer world, particularly for queer people who were raised in conservative Christian or other conservative spaces, the second queer adolescence that so many of us experience in our late teens, early twenties, or perhaps even later in life, depending on your individual circumstances. While this isn’t an uncommon occurrence or topic of conversation in queer circles, a quick Google search also shows that it’s not talked about nearly as much as many of us have experienced it. So, we’re gonna talk about it, and small disclaimer: there will be a little more academic language in this post, just because I’ve been studying this in grad school as well.
Developmentally speaking, there are usually certain ages and stages in life where people tend to sort through specific things, and for most people, adolescence, generally between the ages of 13-17, is when explorations into identity and sexuality tend to happen. This is usually when teenagers tend to date their first significant other, are sorting out their own individual identity as separate from their parents, and all the things that come along with those domains. Or at least, I should say…for most straight adolescents that is. This is starting to change for the better more recently, but for many of us queer millennials and older, this probably wasn’t the case, which is why we tend to experience a second queer adolescence at an older age.
This blog post is one I've been mulling over for a while. I definitely had some of the thoughts that'll be included several years ago, but most of these thoughts come from the last almost 2 years since the 2016 election.
I, like many people I know, was upset by the results of the 2016 election. I felt like there was nothing I could do. Things felt hopeless.
Sometimes, they still do. But something I'm working on is finding ways to be the change. I've always admired those who participated in activism. I've longed to go be at protests, to march, to join a group of people in resisting systems of oppression.
I've watched friends go and do. I've felt incapable of action. I've felt overwhelmed by the darkness of this world.
For queer kids, it's harder than most appreciate to find a safe space.
For those of us studying in Evangelical colleges, even primary and secondary private Christian schools, we're met with open hostility.
I'm one of you.
This is an experience few can understand and many belittle, and your peers' inability to empathize with your situation only adds to your pain. The emotional burden placed upon you time and time again by these same people is immense; most humans aren't asked on a regular basis to provide epistemic justification for their own existence. It hurts no matter the source.
Your family, your friends, your professors, your administrators, your pastors, the leaders pontificating in your space - it's suffocating. Somehow, your desire to love and be loved is a threat to the fabric of society. And you know that doesn't make sense. You know it's not fair.
There is a place – a family farm – that means so much to me. One hundred acres of trees, water, tall grass, and rocks. But getting there is the best part. The road to the farm is breathtaking: winding, full of dips and curves, bumpy in parts with stretches canopied by trees. Driving along that road, I can sense new possibilities, opportunities to explore. Life.
Which reminds me of a story. One night, not so long ago, I was preparing for an event for the organization where I was serving. I had been selected to lead in the formation and building up of the community through activities and intentional times of togetherness. As I was walking from my office to the room where we had planned the event for that evening, I was stopped by one of the executives of the organization.
“Hey, when you get a minute, I would like to talk to you. Are you going to be around?”
Are you one of those people who think of themselves as enlightened and progressive because you are “not conservative”? Do you ever make “I usually stay out of politics” speeches? Are you a person who believes “staying out of politics” is a virtue?
I have a word for you.
As this nation’s violence becomes apparent to more and more people, you need to know that it is a privilege to “stay out of politics.” It is a privilege to be able to wake up and only have to worry about your photography or your food blog or your hipster band or your grandma. It isn’t something to be proud of. It doesn’t make you better than anyone to “stay out of politics.”
You think you can choose to opt in and out of politics whenever you want.
** This posting contains language that may be offensive to some readers but is important to convey the true pain that many youth suffer at the hands of their peers.
October 15th has become a day when awareness is made of the bullying that many LGBT youth experience. It’s become the custom to wear purple to stand in solidarity with those who endure this type of harassment. This is a very important day for me because I was one of those youth. For years I suffered silently, not having a safe place to share my feelings and fears. No one knew the hurt that was building in me for so long…but here it is…finally…
In the middle of the night, I would hear things. I’d wake up screaming and thrashing. Every night, I’d wake my parents with my screams and then try to fall asleep again on my mother’s side of the bed, clinging to her hand. I had to hear over and over that the dream wasn’t real before I could calm down enough to sleep.
Once I finally started sleeping in my own room, the voices didn’t go away. But instead of monsters, I often thought I could hear my mother’s voice in the middle of the night, usually asking for something (her Bible, some food, nail clippers). No matter how many times she told me she had been fast asleep and to stop waking her up with these “jokes,” I continued to go into her room, convinced that, this time, the voice was real.
In the Old Testament, Samuel hears the false voice of somebody he trusted. After coming to Eli several times, he learns it was the voice of God, but the voices I heard were not the voice of God. They were evil. I was afraid. And later in my life, I continued to feel that God had left me alone, giving me no voice or guidance that I could trust.
Here goes nothin'. There are some of you I would have LOVED to tell this in person, but I felt I needed to be 100% authentically myself sooner than allowed for those face-to-face conversations with everyone.
Let me tell you a little about my story and what that means to me. (Be prepared for a lack of organized thought. I was nervous when I wrote this, and I decided not to spend a long time editing it before I posted because I just wanted to get it "out there".)
I grew up in a very conservative, heteronormative community. I wasn't around many LGBTQ+ individuals, and those I knew that were LGBTQ+ were gay males. I never felt that they should be treated differently, but I know that they were absolutely treated differently by the community I lived in.
This summer I’ve talked about the ways that people of faith, in every generation, have resisted the death-dealing powers of the world, the forces that dehumanize and dominate. In resisting these forces, people of faith have also re-imagined what the world could look like, from the Hebrew exiles recasting their Babylonian captors’ creation narrative in a way that dignifies every human being as God’s representative, up to Mr. Rogers’ television-based nonconformity. So I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about a major contemporary source of resistance, re-imagination, and sheer joy in serving God and loving God’s creation: the gift of queer Christians to the church.