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“Is it possible to be queer and Christian? It feels like those two identities are constantly in conflict in my life, but they both mean a lot to me :/”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Alyse Knorr Says:

Short answer: Of COURSE it’s possible to be both queer and Christian! Not only because you can be any damn thing you want to be in this world, but because these two particular identities actually go together like peanut butter and jelly or Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo or whatever other metaphor you prefer. Before we go any further, let me first say that I am a queer, Christian-identifying human, and so, as with anything religious, everything I say here will come from my own personal interpretation of Christianity. Everyone’s experience of their faith will be different, just as everyone’s experience of their gender and sexuality is different. So take that with a grain of salt and pepper. Or Dany and Drogo. Or whatever.

For a long, long time, I, too, felt like I could not be both queer and Christian–that I had to choose one or the other, and that never in a million years could those two identities coincide. And to be fair, there are certainly reasons why you and I and many others have felt this way–reasons that probably have a lot to do with our own unique experiences in our church upbringings and in our views of the role that some Christians play in debates over LGBTQ rights.

It’s easy to forget that, in the end, your faith–just like your gender and sexuality–is your own and no one else’s. No one can tell you what to think or do or what not to think or do when it comes to your faith. The key is to follow your heart and your gut and do what makes you happy. For some, that means opening themselves up to spiritual experiences through things like meditation, chanting, purposeful walking, you name it. For others, those spiritual experiences are made more meaningful, or occur more frequently, when governed by a set of ritual practices and/or occurring within a community. That, to me, is the difference between being spiritual and being religious. Religion is about practice and community.

For me, Christianity provides a useful framework within which to experience my spirituality, as well as a moral system to guide my actions. It’s the faith tradition I was raised in, and its rituals, central text, and emphasis on service work all resonate with me. Other Christians are drawn to worship, and still others to prayer. There are many ways of being a Christian, and I don’t just mean denominations! When you look past common stereotypes of “religious people” and Christians, you’ll see that you can be a religious skeptical scientist, a religious feminist, a brilliant religious pop star, or, yeah, a religious queer person.

As you point out, this identity is not without conflict. In some parts of the country it can be hard to find a welcoming church, or a welcoming church where you’re not the only queer person. And the history and political activism of certain Christian groups can feel deeply unsettling and can be difficult to look past. In the end, it’s totally fine to ask critical questions about your faith and your religion, because religion–any religion–can cause harm. But again, your faith is your own, and you can practice it in creative ways. For instance, I have never been that into all the language and iconography that represents God as an old bearded white man. So I like to use other language in my prayers and conceptualizations: God as a holy spirit, a comforting presence, the universe in all its complexities, or even a sacred mother. When I read passages in the Bible about how women must be subservient to men, I interpret them in their historical context, like the rule about not wearing clothing woven from two types of material (Leviticus 19:19).

So what do I mean, then, about how a Christian and a queer identity can actually complement each other in powerful ways? For starters, I didn’t identify as a Christian until after I came out. Growing up, I didn’t relate to my family’s religion at all, but after I came out and started to know myself better, I felt more in touch with the universe and more interested in big-picture questions about how to live a good life and help others. In an effort to continue to understand myself better, I looked back at the Bible and was totally shocked at what I found there.

Christianity, I discovered, is not a religion of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.” It’s a religion of radical kindness, peace, and inclusion. The New Testament, and the gospels in particular, are all about loving your neighbor, loving your neighbor some more, and, just for a change of pace, loving your neighbor. “Yeah, yeah,” you’re thinking, “That’s the easy stuff. The hard things are going to church and reading the Bible and doing all those things that queer people aren’t allowed to do. The hard parts are those religious parts.” I would argue, though, that this is totally not the case. First of all, these central tenets of the faith are the hard parts–and not just because I’ve had neighbors who gave me bed bugs and kept me up all night with crying babies. Loving your neighbor no matter what is incredibly hard. Letting go of anxiety and putting your faith into the greater universe is incredibly hard. Living your life in service of others is incredibly hard. But Christianity challenges me to do all of this every day, 24 hours a day. My faith presents me with this challenge, and my faith provides me with the tools to meet it. My faith provides me with comfort when I face hardships in my life, including hardships related specifically to my female or queer identities. My faith offers me the promise of justice when I’m the victim, and the promise of grace when I’m the perpetrator–when I screw up, as we all inevitably do.

So that’s my experience–but you will have your own totally unique journey as a queer Christian, and it’s going to be awesome. The great news is that if you want to practice Christianity as a queer individual in a community of accepting and affirming people, there are an overwhelming number of opportunities to do so. Do you have a certain denomination in mind–perhaps the denomination you were raised in? If so, hop online and find a nearby church of that denomination that’s welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ congregants. Lots of denominations have special names for such churches, such as the More Light Presbyterians, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, the Open and Affirming United Church of Christ, and Integrity Believe Out Loud Episcopalians. If you don’t have a specific denomination in mind, or you’re looking for something new or specifically gay-focused, try the Metropolitan Community Church, a Christian denomination specifically for LGBTQ congregants. I went to an MCC church and Bible study for awhile after I came out and absolutely loved it.

Finally, seek out classes (especially at the college level), books, and online resources to help you in your quest to negotiate your queer and Christian identities. Personally, I found most helpful the works of Christian scholar Marcus Borg, as well as articles on feminist readings of the Bible. Find someone you trust and talk to them about your journey. Be patient with yourself and follow your heart–I wish you the best of luck!

***
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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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“I grew up in a Muslim household. I’ve recently come to terms with being trans, and while I want to stay connected to my faith, I’m not sure how to reconcile my identity as a trans person with my identity as a Muslim.”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Mahdia Lynn Says:

Mash’allah! What a blessing, to be Muslim and trans. Islam is such a beautiful and dynamic faith. And! Trans people are friggin’ awesome. Being a TRANS MUSLIM!? This is awesome. You are awesome. Yes.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, of course. Holding on to your faith while being “different” can be a real struggle—and being trans is a pretty big “different” to deal with. The highly normative, gender segregated culture that is so common can make navigating Muslim spaces a minefield of gender feels. And while a lot of people in the community are more accommodating and accepting of trans people than you’d think, it’s often the bigots who yell the loudest.

That doesn’t mean Islam as a whole is unaccepting of transgender people. In fact, multiple well-respected scholars have ruled in favor of transgender people’s rights (like the Grand Mufti Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy of Al-Azhar, the oldest Islamic university in the world, who ruled in favor of modern transgender pioneer Sally Mursi in 1992) and many governments have followed suit (like when the Islamic Republic of Pakistan provided a “third gender” option on legal documentation in 2009 or how the Islamic Republic of Iran provides financial and legal support for its citizens undergoing transition ever since 1987). While the language we use to describe ourselves may change over time, gender variant people have existed since well before the time of the Prophet Muhammad(SAW) and Islam is a dynamic and diverse faith that makes room for all its followers—cis and trans alike.

Here are some strategies that have worked for Muslims like us: A lot of people choose to avoid the masjid* during the early stages of transition. Some start visiting a new mosque, making it easier to use the washroom without being clocked from that one nosy aunt who’s known you from birth. Still a great number of people—trans and cis—have begun creating our own spaces out of exhaustion and frustration with the heteronormativity of it all. LGBTQ friendly, gender-equal, and trans affirming Muslim space is becoming more and more accessible every day—if you’re near any kind of major city (or even some less-than-major ones), chances are there’s a family of queer & trans Muslims meeting up for coffee or having a potluck this Friday. If you can’t find a real-world community quite yet, the el-Tawhid Unity Mosque in Toronto Skypes its jummah services every Friday.

One of the many blessings of my life is that I have a great deal of transgender Muslim family to help field questions like this. Sitting back with such lovely friends last week I asked, “If you could give advice to a Muslim just coming to terms with being trans, what would you say?” It sparked a great conversation—inspiring and engaging, much like most of the conversations I have with such family—but it was what my gender-nonspecific-sibling Fatima said which sums everything up better than I ever could:

“Allah(SWT) doesn’t make mistakes and as such you are not a mistake. Your knowing in yourself is leagues more honest and mature, with wisdom and intelligence, than the things society says/thinks/enforces. Trust in yourself and Allah and make room for the process to learn yourself even though it may be long and confusing and sometimes painful.”

Our faith does not belong to the bigots. Whatever happens and wherever your path leads, there is family to have your back and provide support. The way society divides and stresses it can seem like there’s nobody else on the planet like you. But we’re here. Getting by in our own quiet ways, living out Islam as best we can.

~

A glossary for some Muslim-y jargon used here:

– “Mash’allah” is a phrase that means something like “Allah has willed it,” used to express gratitude or happiness at a person or happening.

– “masjid” is another name for a mosque, or Islamic community center.

– After the name of the Prophet Muhammad, out of respect Muslims often use the acronym “S.A.W.”, a shortening of the salawat, which translates to something like “may Allah grant peace and honor upon him and his family.” Similarly, after the name of God we can use the acronym “s.w.t.” which translates to “Glory to God, the Exalted.”

– FUN FACT! The world “Allah” is just a literal Arabic translation of “God”—the same one Christians, Jews, and Baha’i pray to, to name a few faiths in the diverse dynamic family of monotheistic religions.

***

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