Watching the coverage of NY State passing the marriage equality bill, along with a couple of other events in my life lately, have caused me to really reflect on a couple of things.
First, I was surprised by the NY State situation on two levels — one macro, one micro. On a macro level, I was naively surprised how?difficult?it was to get the bill passed in a state like New York… I think of New York (perhaps, naively) as a progressive, liberal, open-minded state. ?Though I guess the fact that the marriage equality bill passed under a Republican majority, does say something.
The other thing that surprised me — at a micro level — was how much I cared about the results. ?Not because I live in New York or plan on getting married soon, but because of the broader implication. Simply put, I think this issue speaks to how people (and society) view LGBT people. ?Are we seen as normal, equal, full citizens with all the full rights, privileges and responsibilities that come with that? ?Or are we something other, less than, abnormal, queer? ?Interestingly, I know many gay folks who think the marriage debate is the wrong issue to pursue. ?One good friend, who has been an activist in the community since the 80's (and is also a Christian) thinks that a focus on housing and employment rights would make more sense. ?Just about everyone agrees that LGBT folks should not be discriminated against in housing or employment. ?Either way — whether the marriage issue was the right one to pursue or not — it is now a symbolic issue that speaks to how people view gays. ?It matters and it speaks loudly.
Second, reactions I got to a link I posted on Facebook really caused me to reflect as well. ?The post was about how the culture war is pretty much over and progressives have one. ?This was written by a Christian, primarily reflecting on the issue from the perspective of church. In one respect I agree with him. ?I think we are only 10 to 15 years away from the vast majority of churches accepting gay people, gay marriage being the norm, etc. ?But a friend of mine (same referenced above) reacted strongly to this post, arguing that to call off the battle before it is complete is dangerous. ?But this comes from someone who lived through the AIDS crisis of the '80's (and lost many friends). ?As he said to me once, "we all thought we were going to die!" ?This from a man who has been attacked and abused by Christians and churches going back decades. ?I realized that, for me, the issues are very different. ?What strikes me about the Matthew Shepard case is that it was so shockingly aberrational; what strikes my friend is the reminder of how things were and how easy it would be to end up back there. ?I see the same issue with antisemitism?in the generations since the Holocaust. ?For my generation, direct experience of real antisemitism is?aberrational; but for my parents generation it is a reminder that what happened in Germany can happen anywhere (a message pounded into their heads by their survivor parents). ??All of this makes me realize I have a limited understanding of what the Gay community in this country has gone through and I need to listen more and learn more in order to understand more. ?And, if churches are serious about reaching and loving the LGBT community, they need to listen more and learn more in order to understand more.
Third, I stopped in at a gay-friendly bar the other night for a drink… for those who know me, this is unusual for me. ?I am not a big bar fan and am not a frequenter of gay bars, clubs, etc. ?But I stopped in for a drink and found myself, again, surprised and reflecting. I was surprised by how comfortable and welcoming an environment it was. ?There was something surprisingly nice about being in a place where I didn't need to explain who I was or how I was different. ?No explanations were needed. ?I could just be there. ?And it felt safe and comfortable. ?Reflecting later, I realized two things: first, the psychological cost of?hetero-sexism; and second, how thankful I should be to the previous generations of LGBT's who have fought the battles that have come before. ?At the core of hetero-sexism lies the basic assumption that everyone is hetero (and therefore the need to constantly explain "I'm not normal). ?We do this in our language all the time. ?I don't blame people for this — part of it is simply the fact that LGBT's are a statistical minority — but it does take a toll on people. ?And in terms of thankfulness to the past generations, I realized that I felt very safe in that bar. ?I didn't worry about walking to my car afterwards nor was I in fear of a police raid on the bar — things that gay men and women did legitimately worry about in past generations. ?And it made me aware that I am enjoying the fruits of their sacrifice having not had to make the same sacrifices — and I am thankful to them.
Fourth, I have been reflecting on the nature of friendship and community. ?These ideas have been strongly challenged in my experience of the past two years. ?Most of the people I now spend time with are people I have met over the past two years; but there are also a core group of folks I remain friends with (and often, close friends) from before. Many of these folks, by the nature of the community I spend time with, are conservative Christians who condemn homosexuality and homosexuals. ?Many of the people in my life think of me as somehow broken, other, lesser-than… they may not say it to my face, but that is the implication of their beliefs and their theology. ?So the question becomes, how long can I really be friends with someone who thinks that about me? ?So far, I have maintained those relationships and can even still interact within those church contexts. ?I know many gay people who can't or won't. ?I still financially support some ministries and?missionaries?that condemn homosexuality and homosexuals (but are involved with really great work). ?Am I really okay with that? ?I know many who are not and I respect that… I am just not sure where I am on this issue. ?Can I still support Compassion International
— which does great work — even thought they condemn homosexuals and homosexuality? Can I really be a big advocate for Rick Warren given his anti-gay statements and beliefs? ?And can I really be friends with people who hold those same anti-gay sentiments? The answer so far has been yes — I am a big Rick Warren fan, I still support Compassion International, and many of my friends condemn homosexuality and?homosexuals?(and by implication, me). I honestly don't know where I will end up on this one… but I continue to reflect upon it. ?I have no easy answers…
Fifth, I have been wrestling with the whole question of how "out" one needs to be. ?There was a time when many in the gay community considered being "out" (and identifying as "out" at work, school, etc) was an important moral and political statement. ?Today, that seems less so. ?Now I am clearly "out" (this blog makes that pretty clear), but I do not broadcast that I am gay everywhere I go. ?I don't wear it on my sleeve. ?I assume most people at work don't care, for example. ?It is a non-issue. ?So I never deny it, but I don't broadcast it. ?But the number of gay suicides this past year — and the start of the "It Gets Better" campaign — I am rethinking this a bit. ?Perhaps there is an argument to be made for being more out. ?If more teachers, more pastors, more accountants, more athletes, more journalists, more mechanics and more chefs were out… maybe it would help young people navigate through the issue more effectively and decrease the tragic suicide rate among gay teens? ?Again, I am not sure… but I have been thinking about these issues.
Sixth, all of these reflections bring me back to perhaps the m
ost important reflection of all… how does being gay either help or hinder my intimacy with Jesus. This is, for me, the fundamental question I ask about all things in life — relationships, behaviors, habits, hobbies, etc… how does such activity/belief/etc help or hinder my intimacy with Jesus?
Two years after being forced from the closet, one of the things that is happening is that my own sense of self is developing and I am experiencing some deep and significant healing. In other words, I learning more and more to (a) like myself as God likes me; (b) love myself as God loves me; and (c) be comfortable in my own self. ?Now comfort does not mean that I stop growing, challenging, etc. ?But my desire to grow in Christ-like character is a desire to be FULLY ME, HOW GOD CREATED ME TO BE — not a desire to be something or someone else. ?Do I wish I had more discipline, and do I work on developing it? ?Yes. ?Do I constantly need to get better at loving hard to love people? ?Yes. ?Do I wish that obedience in the small things was more second-nature and took less effort than it does? ?You bet. ?But this is what all disciples deal with… and the path to spiritual maturity will always take us through these issues. ?As my spiritual director often points out, it actually takes deep spiritual maturity to see one's own weaknesses, flaws, brokenness and sin. ?But I do all of this from a place of safety, comfort, love, and confidence in who Christ has made me and in whom I am becoming in Christ. ?In other words, my best me is being fully me — not someone else's conception of who I am supposed to be.
Well… that was a long post of almost (but not quite) random reflections… feel free to comment and chime in on any or all of these… would love your thoughts!