On the last day of June 2018, I celebrated Pride month by coming out to the world as bisexual via social media post, and the aftermath of that decision has shaped the last year of my life, for better and for worse. Indeed, it's been a year full of encouragement, hope, trauma, pain and confusion, often all at the same time. Almost everyone in my life has been so tender with me, so affirming and lovely. But not quite everyone. In certain circumstances, certain circles, I met resistance. Fear. Shame. And it’s really messed with me.
In fact, a question has plagued me in the time since I’ve come out, sparked by hard conversations and suddenly-strained relationships: is God’s love still for me? Am I still included in His family?
To quote gay Christian writer Jeff Chu: "Does Jesus really love me?"
My gut says yes. The first idea I ever learned about God was that He loved me, that I was unconditionally, radically, holistically embraced by the Source of all love and light in the universe.
It’s a label I try and run from. When asked in bars or on planes what I did, I would respond, “I’m a community organizer” or something like that anything to avoid a label that carries so much gravitas and so much baggage. But looking at my life and reflecting on what I believe I’m called to do, only “pastor” adequately reflects who I am. Even in my law school applications, all I could do was preach to the admissions committees.
On December 23rd, 2018 I was checked into a hospital for people struggling with mental health issues. I didn’t go voluntarily at all, I went to the emergency room escorted by my pastor and a concerned lay person. I thought I would be a quick stop, the doctors and nurses would realize I’m fine, keep me for a few hours and then let me leave, but instead they transferred me from the emergency room to another hospital where I stayed for six days.
Sometimes I feel alone. Like there’s something wrong with me. Like I’m a bad person, a misfit – not fit for friendship. I feel that way tonight. I feel bad.
I think it’s because I’m remembering.
I grew up in the Unification Church. We believed that the Reverend Sun Myung Moon was the second coming of Christ. We were called Moonies.
My parents dedicated their lives to the cause of Rev. Moon – a man I called True Father. Their lives were directed and commanded by leaders in the church, and their marriage was arranged by Moon. Our church community was tight-knit, and even though my life was mostly normal, my identity as a Moonie was central.
Growing up, every morning started with a full bow to a picture of Moon and his wife. I would read his words. When Moon was in the States, we’d go to his mansion in New York and listen to him speak. To make space for all the members to fit in the room and to be as close to Father as possible, I’d sit seiza-style, legs folded under the thighs. I made several pilgrimages to Korea, the Fatherland. These trips cost thousands of dollars. I believed they were worth it. Someday, my parents would arrange my marriage to another member born into the church. Together, my wife and I would join in the work of building God's kingdom on earth.
Collectively, I’ve spent my twenties brushing off abuse from family dynamics and religious institutions which formed my upbringing. Through these words, thoughts and actions of such abuse, I have carefully crafted a narrative to aim at my own being.
It is self-hatred. It is shame and it is deadly.
I am tired of living into the narrative someone else programmed me to believe into and asked of me to lift for my own. I am exhausted with living disconnected from my mind and body out of continued internalized homophobia and regret of my existence.
Who wouldn’t be tired of such a subconscious and conscious assault upon your person?
This is where my mind lives these days. Battling between the illuminated truth and the false narrative of disparage of who I am as a human.
But, there is a new shift here for me in this struggle. I have found the on switch to my body, the on switch to the origin and the on switch to being able to call this treatment abuse.
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.
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.
“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
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.
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…
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.
Something that you'll know about me if you've known me for a little while is my complicated relationship with the church. You could say that things have been on-and-off for the last several years since coming out, for all the obvious reasons. Calvinism. Complementarianism. Oh, and of course, the bigger kicker, non-affirming LGBTQ theology.
Just the other night, I was sitting in my car, talking to my sister in the driveway about how for about three or four weeks straight immediately prior to me beginning what would become my 3-year hiatus from church, the head pastor felt the URGENT NEED to sneak something into the sermon about how depraved or broken or lost queer people are, by virtue of existing. It didn't really matter that the sermon had been about Peter denying Jesus three times or the Great Commission or some other completely unrelated topic. Apparently, this particular pastor happened to be massively convicted that he had to speak against queer people. Cool. Not relevant. But I guess we'll go with it.
That was the last straw essentially. At that point, it didn't even feel like a pastor reiterating the church's established beliefs on sexuality. At that point, it just felt like a cruel reminder that at this particular church, queer people were certainly NOT welcome, unless of course they were willing to entertain notions of lifelong solitude or conversion therapy.
(Content Note for talk of hell, spiritual abuse, etc.)
Growing up, fear and love were inseparable concepts. Because my parents “loved me,” they would punish me and my siblings physically instilling fear anytime I remotely thought I might be doing something wrong.
Because God “loved me,” and didn’t want me to die and go to hell, God supposedly killed his son, Jesus, on a Roman cross because of my sins. Unsure what “sins” a 6 year old can commit exactly, other than maybe being a kid and not always listening well to my parents, but I do know I believed all of that. And “got saved” at that age–which is fundamentalist/evangelical speak for I confessed my sins to God and “accepted” that Jesus died to take the punishment for my sins.
I wasn’t listening to my body. I was trying to ignore the anxiety building up in my chest as my stomach turned in knots. My palms were sweaty. My neck was tense. I took a deep breathe in. I held onto it for a few seconds. Then, I let it go slowly. I had forgotten what it felt like to breathe. I had forgotten what it felt like for my heart to beat, holding onto both excitement and fear. I had forgotten what it felt like to be alive.
About one year ago, I found myself feeling the most depressed that I have felt in a while. I had to force myself to get out of bed and I don’t mean that I had to push snooze on my alarm three times. Rather, I slept through my alarm and other important tasks that needed to get done. I ate because I knew I needed to, not because I felt hungry or wanted to. I felt that my mind was eroding. I was numb. I was breathing because I had to survive, not because I was living. I felt like a half functioning machine.
The main gist of this whole "guarding your heart" facade is supposed to be this: if you don't get too close to someone in the early stages of a relationship, "giving too much away," is usually how it gets phrased, then you'll walk out the relationship with less pain if it happens to not pan out. That might be a nice idea to start out with, but it really starts to destabilize when you throw in the parallel Christian notion that casual dating is bad and that you're always supposed to date with the goal of marriage. (I could write another whole blog post on the flaws of that, but I digress). The problem with this setup is that those two ideas are completely antithetical. It's not possible to simultaneously "guard your heart," aka basically hold a person at arm's length in the initial stages of dating while also dating with this laser-focused goal of getting married eventually. I might only have one year of therapy school under my belt, but it's enough for me to tell you that's not how things work relationally whatsoever.
“Who knows…some of you might even be struggling with your sexuality.”
My professor glanced around the room solemnly as he said this. He had just finished a story about his gay friend, who, after making the decision to live a “full-blown homosexual lifestyle,” eventually succumbed to drug addiction and died from a meth overdose. This, of course, being an example of the proverbial slippery slope– the one that starts with following Jen Hatmaker on Twitter and ends in Hell.
This is a narrative that so many LGBT folks grow up hearing from their pastors and parents. It’s the idea that anyone who does not currently identify as straight must be experiencing inner turmoil, anxiety, or agony over their own sexual thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Of course, there is a period of struggle for most Queer people. It is an oftentimes agonizing thing to realize that you are not what your friends and family expect you to be. It can be difficult to decipher what your mind and body are telling you when you grow up in a society that assumes everyone is heterosexual and cisgender. And it is terrifying to realize that you’ll have to come out of the closet and into a less-than-friendly world. Sometimes, being Queer is indeed a struggle.