Religion / Religious Families

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"I'm 20yo and recently found ur channel, where the vid w/ your mom really struck a chord.In the last yr, I've realized i am bisexual.My family is devoutly catholic, and so while i don't like the idea of them not knowing, i'm not really counting on a positive reaction(many think bi=slutty) Its really encouraging to hear you talk about working things out with your mom, but overwhelming to imagine doing that w/ my whole family to the point where I'm not even sure if it's worth it and idk what to do."

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Kristin says:

Hi, hi, hi.

Listen, I totally understand what you’re saying, and I want to be clear: my mom and I are in a pretty great place right now with my sexuality, but there were years where it felt overwhelming and super, super hard. To be honest, during many of the years that I was first going through the coming-out process with my family, I (unknowingly) closed myself off to a lot of the things that were happening; I think our bodies go into self-protection mode when we are around things that hurt us. I would often avoid conversations that might intersect with my sexuality, or, even more so, I would cloak myself in anger and spent years raging against the heterosexual-machine.*

I have the benefit of being able to now LOOK BACK at that time in my life and view it from a distance. I have the benefit of being able to sit down with my mom and reflect on those years that were super, super hard. I came out in 1998, and my mom and I made this video in 2016 – almost twenty years of work span in between.

Now, I do not say any of this to discourage you, Anonymous. As a matter of fact, I say it to encourage you, and to hopefully better inform and prepare you for what (might) lie ahead. My family – and especially my extended family – is incredibly Catholic. My mom, over time, has been able to integrate her love for me with her faith. That is an integration that took a lot of time, a lot of conversation, a lot of patience, and some serious, overwhelming hurt (for both of us). My extended family has done varying levels of that same integration (for both me and my wife as a matter of fact), but we still bump into places that are difficult, and I think we always will.

One thing I never bump into anymore, though, is the avoidance of speaking my truth. I no longer apologize for who I am, and I don’t to hesitate or avoid my truths when I am around my family. They know who I am, they know the work that I do, and most of us have chosen to focus on the things that we know to be true: we love each other, we have differing beliefs in certain places, and we have the same beliefs in many others.

Yes, my Catholic family can still tangle together my life and their beliefs in ways that hurt, but moreso than anything else they have chosen to center their actions and their words around LOVE. And as well they should! My understanding of Catholicism, Christianity, and most religions, is that love and community are core tenets of the larger structure. Those supports of love and community helped to bring my mom and I to where we are today, and I can say the same for many of my aunts and cousins, too.

I encourage you to take your process one step at a time. You don’t have to come out to your whole family all at once (and maybe give the people you do come out to a copy of This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids so that they understand that they aren’t to go telling everyone before you’re ready, not to mention gaining a whole bunch of other important knowledge!). Prepare yourself as best you can, which generally means surrounding yourself with supportive friends and online communities – places you can turn to when your family is processing in ways that hurt you.

Our website for parents is also a really great resource to offer them as you do come out (we have a whole section on religion!), and when things are feeling low, spend some time in this playlist of the best lipsycing that Dannielle and I ever did… that’s exactly what it’s for.

xo, Kristin

*Technically, I suppose I am still raging against the heterosexual machine…

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I'm A Gay Christian

by Alyse Knorr

I never expected that coming out would bring me closer to my faith, but that’s exactly what happened.

Despite (or maybe because of) my very religious upbringing in the Deep South, I could never quite “click” with Christianity. I went to a massive megachurch on Sundays, then a tiny rural youth group on Wednesday nights (because a girl I had a crush on attended), and I felt like a fraud in both environments. I didn’t weep during The Passion of the Christ like the other kids, and my heart was never warmed by the full baptisms on the Jumbotron screen above the rock concert worship stage.

I felt disillusioned by all of the historical injustices Christianity had helped perpetrate, while at the same time, I was terrified of going to hell. Over and over I “recommitted” to Jesus, hoping to feel something. But all I felt were confusing “impure thoughts” that haunted me during morning worship, surrounded on all sides by thousands of reverent born-again Christians who I just knew would soon discover the fact that I wasn’t really one of them.

Even though I couldn’t connect with Christianity, I still felt fascinated by the essential mysteries of creation, human consciousness, and the afterlife. I would have checked the “spiritual, not religious” box throughout most of college and graduate school. I equated “religion” with dogma and hate, and “spirituality” with freedom and open-mindedness. Still, I longed for the ritual, symbolism, and community of church. I wanted the daily practice of religion. I understand the world through words, and I wanted a text to refer to again and again for its beauty and metaphor.

After I came out, things started falling into place. I talked to a friend’s mother, who was a pastor, about alternate names for God. Instead of using the patriarchal term “Father,” I could use Holy Parent, Protector, Guardian, or Timeless One. I started reading the Bible and actually enjoying it. It helped to read the text with its historical context in mind, and through a heavily metaphorical lens. Truth is not necessarily fact, and vice versa.

I talked to my partner about her experiences growing up Presbyterian— the quietness of her religion, its emphasis on service and community. She asked if I wanted to go to church with her, and I was skeptical, to say the least. So we went to a Metropolitan Community Church (a Protestant denomination with an LGBTQ outreach emphasis) and my whole world changed. Families of all types sat in the pews. Inclusive language filled the hymnbooks. Loving gay couples lined up to take communion together and then pray with one of the ministers, arms locked around each other in a tight circle. For the first time, I took communion. The whole experience moved me to tears.

Soon after, I started attending a Bible study at MCC and learned more about what it meant to be a gay Christian. These men and women viewed Jesus as a protector, a champion of the weak, the Other, the outcast. They admired the Bible’s female heroes, and emphasized that there is more love and kindness in the Bible than hatred or dogma.

Sometimes people are surprised when I tell them I go to church, like being Christian and being gay are not compatible. I understand the misconception. But coming out is the reason I began re-exploring Christianity. Coming out helped me finally accept and love my real self. There were no more secrets or shame, no more lying or fear. I finally felt like I knew myself, and that meant I could open up to even more love and connectedness, this time through the framework of religion.

I’m still learning what Christianity means to me, and trying to determine how to live at peace with its troubled history. For me, it is deeply satisfying to reclaim the religion used to oppress and terrify me as a younger person. And the good news is that things are changing very, very quickly, with more and more churches of all kinds welcoming gay members, marrying gay couples, and ordaining gay clergy.

***
This story was excerpted from This is a Book for Parents of Gay Kids (Chronicle, 2014). Learn more about our writers, and help support their work, here on Patreon!

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"My partner is Muslim, and though she has told her family she is a lesbian and has moved out, she is struggling with not having told her family she is seeing me. How can I support her when she says she feels like she is living a “double life” and help her tell her family?"

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mahdia Lynn Says:

Family is hard. We can tackle that bit in a moment, but before we talk about parents, I want to bring something else up. Family can be messy and complicated, and feeling like you can’t reconcile two intimate parts of who you are (pitting religion and identity against each other) can be especially painful. But. It’s important to remember that if you’re here for your partner and close enough to be living together, you’re her family too.

There are two sides to a double life. We can strategize ways to help your partner reconcile her identity with her family, but there’s a part of this that you have much more control over. LGBTQ Muslim identity doesn’t begin and end with our relationships to our birth family. If your partner feels like she’s living a double life as a lesbian and a Muslim, here’s a question you might want to ask yourself: “How am I making room for my partner’s Muslim identity in our relationship?”

We don’t leave our faith and our culture behind when we move out of our parents’ house. It follows us everywhere. For a lot of Muslims who are also LGBTQ, it feels impossible to “be both”—and this isn’t just because of hostility to gender and sexual minorities in the masjid. The difficulty reconciling our identities with our faith is also (maybe just as much) because of hostility toward Muslims in LGBTQ spaces. People like to create a narrative with a monolithic, oppressive Islam on one side and an inclusive, accepting secular society on the other, and never the two shall meet. Queer and trans Muslims are sort of caught in the middle, vying for acceptance from our families and our chosen communities at the same time.* Fostering an LGBTQ movement that is inclusive to people of faith is, in my opinion, a critically important goal we should have for today’s generation of activists. It starts with us.

When it comes right down to it, you can’t change a dang thing about your partner’s family. Maybe it’s better to focus on the thing that you CAN do—help your partner feel validated in her Muslim identity within your relationship.So how can you help your partner feel validated in her Muslim identity? I fielded this question to my ever-inspiring WLW** Muslimah fam in the groupchat and there was one thing that really stuck out: educate yourself.

Learn about the experiences of Muslims in the West. About our cultures and traditions.*** Don’t come from a place of judgment—realize that just because a tradition may be a little different doesn’t mean it’s backwards or oppressive. In this age of The War on Terror, many people are quick to look at Islam through a very skewed lens. Don’t let those little Islamophobic gremlins get in the way of learning the truth about what is ultimately a very diverse, dynamic, and fulfilling faith practice. More than just learning, find a way to practice together. Do you know how friggin’ FUN Ramadan can be? Sure, it gets strenuous at times, but fasting and feasting together can create an opportunity for strong, lasting relationship-building (kissing a person with fasting breath can be an exercise in true love, and you really come to understand who a person is at her core when you first experience her hangry 15-minutes-til-maghrib face).

Understanding the faith may help you understand your partner a little better. Find a way to ask her, what can I do to help you feel fulfilled in this part of your life? Talk with her about what you can both do to make her faith as much a part of your family as anything else.

~~~

Now. Dealing with parents. Alright. One of the most frustrating parts about this whole being alive thing is this: the things in our life that require time to get better are usually the situations where it feels like time is the hardest thing to give. When it comes to dealing with our parents, sometimes the best thing for growth and understanding between family is a little bit of space and a little bit of time.

Now, I’m an old lady so I have a little bit of perspective. I came out to my parents ten years ago. There were arguments. There were tears. In all honesty, there were a few bad years between us. And those years where we were estranged from each other? They hurt like hell. But I didn’t give up.

The strategy I took with my parents is one I come back to again and again when dealing with difficult people or stressful interactions in my life and activism: prove them wrong by living well. When things get tough, just live the best life you can. Let them see just how good the truth looks on you. As time went on and the overt tension began to ease between us, we began to talk, and with conversation we found a way to come together from a place of respect and understanding. They knew how unhappy and afraid I was in the closet. They could see how healthy, fulfilled, and whole I felt when I was able to be open with myself and the world. They came to understand how the person in front of them now was happy and confident and nothing at all like the depressed, anxious teenage wreck who left the house at 18. After some hard conversations, eventually my parents came around to understand I was still their child, and we still loved each other, and we could use that as a jumping-off point to understand each other. My personal relationship with my parents isn’t perfect, but it’s stronger than it has ever been and comes from a place of mutual respect and understanding. It took time and work, but it’s worth it.

~~~

So what can you do right now? Be there for your partner, no matter how those hard conversations go with her parents. Come from a place of compassion and understanding, and let her know you’ll be there to support her (all of her—Islam and all) no matter how things turn out. If it goes poorly and family relationships get even more strained than they are now, then do what we do best: Prove them wrong by living well. Time can be the greatest healer of all. Insha’allah****, love and understanding win out in the end.

~~~

* — To learn more about LGBTQIA+ Muslims (most importantly, how awesome we are) there are a lot of great resources online but a great place to start is at the website for MASGD (Muslim Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity). If you’re on Tumblr, a great place to start is at this Queer Muslim Masterpost.

** — WLW = “women who love women”

*** — It’s important to recognize that there is no universalized Muslim culture. Muslims come from all cultures and countries of the globe

***  —- “Insha’allah” translates to something like “if Allah wills” and will often follow whenever a Muslim makes plans or is talking about things in the future.

***

Mahdia Lynn is a writer, feminist critic and activist living on the stolen and colonized land currently recognized as the United States of America. When she isn’t working as as coordinator of the Transgender Muslim Support Network or helping organize the annual LGBTQ Muslim Retreat, she is a chef and comic nerd who enjoys eating pizza and taking naps. She has a website with previously published work and runs a sorta-messily curated tumblr if you want to check in on what she’s up to.

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"Hi guys! I am getting married to my beautiful fiancee in 3 weeks! I couldn’t be happier. The only problem is that my dad refuses to attend the wedding. He welcomes my fiancee in his home and treats her well, but due to his strong religious convictions (and pastor’s advice), he does not intend to be there. (My fiancee is a lesbian priest, by the way… it’s made for some interesting discussion with dad) I’ve more or less accepted that it’s his burden to bear, but what would you ladies say to him?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous

Dannielle Says:

Honestly, I wouldn’t say anything to him. I don’t have good words when it comes to religion because I find it nearly impossible to comprehend having faith in something/anything that would tell you where the line was when showing support for the ones you love. That doesn’t make sense to me. The whole point of having faith is to believe in something bigger than you so that you can shoulder some of the doubt and hurt and find strength, forgiveness, and love where you didn’t think possible. Having faith in something is about loving without judgment, being kind to everyone around you and recognizing that on some level we are all the same little beetlebugs trying to make it in the world.

I would instead tell you that I think he is making a mistake. I think he will realize he’s missing something that I’m sure he’s looked forward to for your entire life and it doesn’t even makes sense because he loves your partner and celebrates your love for your partner. If he doesn’t support gay marriage, he doesn’t support it and you will have a much happier and fulfilled day if he is not there to tell you that he doesn’t support it.

Getting married is about tax breaks, picking your kids up from the doctor with no probs, and making a commitment to someone in front of everyone you love. For some, “everyone you love” includes a higher power. For others, “everyone you love” includes just your partner and your best friend as a witness. For others, “everyone you love” means your entire family (all 63 cousins included). The one thing all these scenarios have in common is that the folks who show up are the folks who love and support you and want to bear witness to this fucking cool thing you’re doing. Get married, share that day with the people who want to lift you up on their shoulders and say “fuck yea, you two are meant to be, this rules!”

Kristin Says:

I agree with a lot of what Dannielle has said, but I also carry a very specific set of convictions and beliefs when it comes to this very, very complicated situation. Last August I got married, and several of my relatives — relatives who love me immensely and who open their home and hearts to me and Jenny (my wife) — did not attend for religious reasons.

A few weeks after Jenny and I got engaged, I sent an email to my extended family, knowing that for some of them the wedding would create a very hard question in their lives: Do the thing that they were told was right and good with their higher power, or do the thing that meant supporting someone they loved. My email told them that I understood whichever way their hearts took them, and that my wedding was a celebration of a partnership with someone that I loved. It was a celebration in which I wanted to have only those people who could feel at peace while seeing us exchange vows. I told them that I knew, regardless of their presence, that they loved me.

Many people didn’t understand how I could say such a thing and truly mean it — because in most of our minds if you love someone, THAT is the thing that trumps all else. The common line of logic is: if you choose not to be a part of a beautiful moment in my life, how can you even say that you truly love me or truly support me? In my mind and in my heart, however, I truly believe the two experiences can co-exist; I think that you can love someone and simultaneously believe that your decisions are informed by more than just that love alone.

It is going to be painful to not have your father there. It was painful for me not to have some of my aunts and cousins with me — and those weren’t even my immediate family members. However, what I would say to your dad, if anything, is that you will miss him and that you wish that you could be together on this incredible day, but that you want to keep him close. See if he would want to come to the reception if you are having one — a couple of my family members felt that they couldn’t be there for the ceremony itself, but wanted to celebrate at the reception.

Now, I will tell you this: most of this makes absolutely no sense to me. I don’t understand the world the way my aunts and cousins understand it, and I certainly don’t understand why attending a reception is okay but seeing the ceremony is not… but I feel I don’t need to understand that fully. I know that the people who were not in attendance love me. Fiercely. As much as they love every other member of my family. That is how your father loves you.

This world is a fucking crazy place, and our brains are shaped by so many factors that it is impossible to ever truly know how someone else experiences things. Your father’s attendance is not a marker of his love for you. It will hurt, but I think that telling him that you know he loves you, telling him that he will be in your heart on your wedding day, and staying close to him as much as you can through this very tricky time (for both of you, by the way — no matter what he says this is not an easy decision for him either) is the path that holds the most clarity and the most love.

As a person who has gone through this, my heart is very much with you — and I know your wedding day is going to be fucking incredible. xo

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