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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.

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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.

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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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"I am a 21-year-old Arab American. My parents immigrated to the US with my dad’s brothers and sisters twenty-six years ago. My parents and most of their relatives are conservative Muslims. I’d like to be able to live freely from my parents and family, but I worry about what my coming out will mean for my siblings, as well as how my family will be received by the local Muslim community. I rely on my family for shelter and subsequently transportation as I am a college student. Got any advice?"

- Question submitted by hella-feic and answered by Aaminah Khan as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions.

Aaminah Says:

As a queer Muslim blogger, I get a lot of questions like this. They make me so sad, but more than that, they make me angry. I am angry that you are scared of your family and your community. I am angry that you have to be scared. I am angry that your ability to live your life – your amazing, potential-filled, young, exciting life – is contingent upon you hiding who you are. I am angry for you and for the dozens of other people who have written to me with questions like this. But I learned quite a while ago that my anger doesn’t do much and that practical advice is far more helpful, so here goes.

The first thing to know is that you are not alone. There are queer Muslims the world over, even in conservative countries like the one from which your parents emigrated so long ago. You’re in the US, so you’re in luck! There are LGBT-friendly mosques and religious communities around the country. Muslims for Progressive Values is a great place to start. They have a fantastic resource page for LGBT+ Muslims that I link to people very often. Reading about other Muslims like me was one thing that made me feel a lot more hopeful, so maybe it will help you.

About your family: this, like any coming-out situation, is delicate. When I came out to my mother, she was initially very upset. She is also a pretty conservative Muslim, and we differ in opinion on lots of issues. Here’s the important thing, though: she did eventually come around, and your family might as well! Lots of Muslims, even very conservative ones, can be made to see that love is more important than judgement. Talk to your family about LGBT+ issues if you feel safe doing so. Sound them out subtly and see what they say. You might find that they’re more accepting than you realize. You said “most” of your relatives are conservative. Find the ones who aren’t. I have a few cousins who call me “little sister” and treat me like one of the pack even though I’m out. Maybe you’ll find a few familial allies of your own in time.

Now, what to do if you realize coming out to your family and community would be unsafe? This is the hard part, and unfortunately, it’s the most likely possibility. Bigotry and intolerance run deep in a lot of communities, and one person can’t change that alone. So find a safe space – that might be an LGBT shelter, a friend’s house, whatever. Find that space and be ready to run to it if necessary. When my father kicked me out for dating a Christian, I was able to go to my mother’s family for help. Maybe you have a cousin who would let you sleep on their couch, or a friend with a spare room. Start making those emergency exit plans now, because you never know when you’ll need them.

It seems daunting, doesn’t it? When I left home I had about ten dollars to my name, an old laptop and a phone that barely worked. Sometimes you get thrown in the deep end. I’m here to tell you that it’s survivable. There are safe spaces and you will find them. You will never be entirely out of options.

You’re worried about how the community will take it. Unfortunately, that’s not something you or your family can control. Some people will be good about it and some won’t. Learn to smile and change the subject. People in my local Muslim community still talk about me behind my back. My mother is far more bothered by it than I am. If they won’t stand by you, they’re not really your community. Find the people that will – in meatspace or online – and stick with them instead. Remember that you don’t need their approval – you just need to be able to live in peace.

How do you carve out a little peace in your life? Find places where you can be yourself. If you live in a small town, staying semi-closeted can be hard, so look into online spaces. (I was out to my closest online friends long before I dared say a word to anyone else.) If you attend college away from home, it’ll be easier to be out without anyone unsafe finding out about it. Even if you’re not, I found when I was a college student that I could get up to all kinds of shenanigans without my parents knowing a thing. Join every campus extra-curricular you can and make a bunch of friends. You’ll feel less alone and you’ll end up having a lot of fun! If your parents are the “you need to focus on your studies” type, join a study group instead, or create one. And find a queer-friendly counsellor or doctor you can talk to. My doctor has been a literal life-saver – having someone I can vent to in a non-judgmental environment is really and truly invaluable.

I hope this was helpful – to you and to the many, many people going through what you’re going through. Remember: you are not alone, and Allah willing, youwill survive this. It will be hard, and sometimes it will feel impossible, but I have faith in you.

Allah loves you just as you are. So do I. So do many Muslims all around the world. We’re here for you. You don’t have to do this on your own.

May Allah bless you and guide you well, wherever your path may lead.

– Aaminah.

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"Some of my younger cousins are being raised pretty religiously as Christians… One of them said that gay people make her feel sick, I’m really afraid to come out to them, what if they don’t want to be around me anymore?"

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Broderick Greer as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Broderick Says:

Dear Friend,

I am tired of people using religion as an instrument of physical, emotional, and psychological violence against other human beings. I am tired of this becausereligion comes from a word that means to re-ligament. Religion, when practiced with human flourishing and the Divine’s glory as the end, it makes humanity, and the cosmos itself, more whole. The way your cousins are practicing religion is not re-ligamenting our fragmented world. It is, in fact, fragmenting it further. It is tearing our ligaments of shared humanity apart. With this in mind, I would like to offer a handful of observations that you may or may not find helpful on your journey toward wholeness.

1. You don’t make your cousin sick. Her sickness is prejudice-induced. We live in a world full of variety. There numerous kinds of species, linguistic families, academic disciplines, and reality shows (Ok. There’s only one kind of variety show: tasty trash). Variety in sexual orientations and gender identities is no different. Some people are asexual. Some people are straight. Some people are queer. Some people are transgender. Does seeing a person with a different color shirt than hers make your cousin feel sick? How about people of a different eye color than hers? Your cousin must learn to let difference empower her, not nauseate her. Her prejudicial posture toward you has nothing to do with you and everything to do with her inability to differentiate her emotional capacity to embrace difference from her weak stomach.

2. Fear is crippling and unsustainable. You stated that you are afraid to come out to your cousins because you disclosing your sexual orientation might cause them to not want to be around you anymore. This is a legitimate feeling. You don’t deserve to live your life afraid of the responses of people who supposedly love you with no strings attached. The fact that you are willing to wonder aloud about your about your relationship with your relatives is proof of your deep courage. You are not defined by fear. You are defined by the life you so desperately are embracing, question by question. Keep asking questions. Keep wondering about your flourishing and the relationships that matter most to you. When you stop asking those questions, your quest will come on to an end. Fear does not define you. Let your inquisitive, curious spirit define you and your courage sustain you.

3. God longs for your (and creation’s) wholeness. Since I am a Christian, I can’t help but speak as a person who believes that the God disclosed in the person of Jesus Christ is wholly love. Wholly. There is no fear in love. In love, in God, there is a deep longing for the flourishing of humanity. This means that God longs for not just your wholeness and flourishing, but the wholeness and flourishing of communities, nations, ecosystems, and the cosmos itself. Any feeling of fear, condemnation, or shame does not originate in God. It is from somewhere else. Any affirmation of your unique, beautiful humanity originates in God’s overflowing love and affection for you. Dwell on that affection. In Christian parlance, that dwelling is called contemplation. In contemplation, God invites us to be completely absorbed in the love that Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and the one whom Jesus calls “Father” share among themselves.

Throughout history, God has reached out in dramatic and subtle ways to share this love with you. Soak in it. Bathe in it. And, however difficult it might seem, invite your cousins to do the same. You, and they, will be better for it.

Though I have approached your question as a person firmly rooted in the Christian tradition, I readily acknowledge that compassion is not unique to Christianity. Anywhere a person or community is actively engaged in the difficult work of compassion, inclusion, and love, there exists true human flourishing. I encourage you to surround yourself with the people and communities that will embrace you with you compassion, empowering you to be the person you want to be, in deep and rich ways. Compassion knows no limitation. It is not bound by race, class, national borders, socio-economic immobility, or sexual orientation. Offer it freely and receive it freely.

Yours,

Broderick

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