Tag Archives: acceptance

Too much information from this social leper.

Content warning- suicide attempts and all the sort of thinking that goes with them. Additionally apologies for length.

My way into the readings this week is via my own experience as a closeted lesbian. I was so closeted I didn’t even know myself. I married and had children, tried to marry again, tried all sorts of ways of performing heterosexuality believing from every movie or book I ever experienced that I was “meant to” be heterosexual. And after all I had the need to be loved and accepted and admired that leads us into romantic entanglements, the more-so because of childhood disappointments and traumas. I “needed to be loved”.

So in my childhood it was as though there was a “Lord” that warned us all about casting out the lezzos (rather than literally lepers), because lesbianism was (in my upbringing) not only dirty but potentially contagious (the latter I would argue has some truth to it). There was a sore upon my heart and soul, I always felt unclean and unworthy- hollow and dishonest in some way without being able to point out why. I was unhappy – I had a chronic discontent that infiltrated even into my happy moments (or things I was supposed to enjoy like sex and relationships). There was an unknown, unnameable pain behind every moment and I thought I was just “born that way” (unhappy that is).

At times I looked for escapist ecstasies to try to help me blank out the pain and emptiness. It was still empty but it was distracting.

I prayed a lot and I tried to be a good person. I grew very disillusioned when this did not seem to help my emptiness and pain.

I cycled between these “good girl” and “bad girl” extremes- sometimes keeping one up for months or years, other times rapidly cycling through both- usually blending a little of each. I wanted to be super-brat and super-saint in one. There is still a grandiose streak in me, I am more aware of it but it is not a temptation I am completely free from. It helps to name it to myself with compassion and self-forgiveness. I knew I could never really be good or happy and I prayed angrily to God for death. A lot. Sometimes I tried to kill myself but thankfully with such timidity and inefficiency that it didn’t really take.

I meant it though, I wanted not to exist. It would be easy to dismiss my attempts as “not serious” because I did not make one work. They were not well executed but they were serious. I am better at achieving my goals these days so it is a good thing that I am not suicidal.

But as the psalm tells us “blessed is the one whose (imaginary) fault is taken away, whose real sin (self-hate) is uncovered and to whom God imputes no guilt”. Ok I changed a word here and there but this is how I need to pray it right now. I am blessed. I am grateful. I am here. I am queer.

Queer

Lesbian

Gay

All those bad words that I was so afraid of. I am them. I embody them. I love them.

I love women and women’s bodies and women’s ways of thinking (yes I know that is socialised) and women’s laughter and women’s dancing and art and writing and….oh I love women. And I am a woman so in loving women I feel a sense of being good too.

This is not just a sex thing (though sex is a good within this way of being), it is an orientation thing. I was so afraid not just of potential female lovers but of mothers and sisters and aunties and grandmothers and friends. I was afraid of women doctors, of teachers, of hugging, kissing, even smiling and especially eye contact. At some point I must have grasped the danger- that I needed to repress myself very strongly to avoid the self-knowledge that I was gay. I must have grasped that subconsciously because I never remember making the decision. I learned to feel as little as possible and notice less in the company of women (any woman, however “safe”). I took great care to gaze in the mirror with hatred, to avoid seeing womanliness with any sort of dangerous approval. I hated my own masculinity (because in a woman masculinity is queer) and my own femininity (because femininity made me aware of my attraction to women). No wonder I couldn’t function- could not achieve, could not sleep, could not love.

I loved in a way though. I felt tenderness and compassion toward others. I feel it should count in my defence that I was someone who had a degree of empathy and a strong instinct to heal and nurture even when I was sunk so deep in (self) hate. I wish I had been a better mother for my children but they know I have always loved them at least.

The second reading talks about doing everything to the glory of God, in a way that will bring people INTO grace not lock them out of it. Why does the church not love and accept queer people better to the glory of God? Why do we not celebrate God’s act of creation by celebrating the created ones (straight, gay, trans and every rainbow hue)?

In the gospel Jesus recognises that healing is not just an “inside yourself” thing, it is not a matter of thinking positive or just staring down the negative self-talk. He heals the leper AND ALSO he helps him re-access the approval and belonging of his church community. I feel that lovely Sophia-Jesus did this for me too (better late than never), when AFTER the good seed of queer theory and feminism had been repeatedly sown in my brain by theological college and a couple of positive church communities, AFTER I had had to confront my own homophobia in reference to other, AFTER I had wrestled with the question of whether I would love a gay child of mine I finally and spectacularly fell in love with a woman.

“Spectacularly” only to myself as in the external sense nothing ever happened- and couldn’t happen. But what I felt shook up everything I thought I knew about myself and I came out of it wondering how people would respond to me if I was just plain old “lesbian” instead of a weird and terrified sense of never fitting anywhere and always being unhappy and empty.

God bless then the people I “showed myself to”. One of the first was a church group that met regularly to talk about faith, scripture and to share chocolate. From that I learned to be more confident, less apologetic about who I was and discovered JOY. I went back to a church community I had always loved for its very female energy. I showed myself to them also gradually- first just “I am back and I want to be involved” but then “by the way I am gay”. I was accepted. I was loved.

This is not what I was brought up to accept.

Jesus’ work of healing me from my estrangement from myself was completed by the receptive community who complimented my rainbow jumper and listened to my reflections. We all have that power- we who believe in God. We can be secure enough in our faith to advocate for the rights and inclusion of all others, not for a mean-minded and judgemental spirituality.

God may ask a lot from us, but all she asks for is geared toward JOY. I strongly believe that now that I know what joy tastes like.

So I pray

Loving God,

Thank you for challenging me.

Thank you for healing me.

Thank you that I am wrong every time I think I am broken beyond repair.

Thank you that I am wrong when I think I cannot be loved and accepted.

 

Thank you for smiles and words of encouragement.

Thank you for hugs and eye contact.

Thanks for small talk, affirmations, compliments

for the beauty of other people,

for the acceptance of other people,

for the way I have to learn to be larger

and wiser and more whole

to embrace other people.

 

God of love and loving and lovers,

I thank you every day

for that soul that touched my life

and jolted me out of my misery.

I thank you that I fell in love with her,

with the world,

with you

even I suppose with myself.

 

I thank you that I want to live.

I want to live.

 

Amen

Lazarus “comes out”: a rainbow connection

When my mum died I couldn’t bear the Lazarus story and I ran out of church when they read it a few Sundays after and I didn’t come back for a few weeks. I growled at God through angry tears about the injustice and stupidity of holding this story up to taunt those of us who mourn just as much as Mary and Martha (and perhaps Jesus) but don’t get the magical happy ending of our loved one coming back to life. I can’t say I have made much progress in understanding this story since that day a decade ago. I have heard so many pious readings about Jesus’ power and the need for faith and all that jazz. To me it is a painful story to consider when my mother (and now my brother) are never coming out of their respective caves.

Why does Jesus cry in the story? If Jesus’ connection to God and unswerving faith hold so much power, why does he need to grieve? I’ve heard pious (and unconvincing) arguments about that too! I will attempt to look beyond the magical to the metaphor of “coming out” and being “unbound” to go free…which then makes it a story about the living that we love not the dead.

For example, could we read Jesus’ tears here as being for a beloved but judged gay son who gets entombed in family and social expectations? A lesbian daughter who ought not get married but dies to her true God-given identity (or is intentionally thwarted by some families). A person who is entombed within a gender they cannot own, bound into an unhealthy reification of a body they did not choose to express themselves by.

How will this metaphor help me to gain something from the story? What happens when I think of Lazarus as gay or trans (or in some way socially unacceptable) and “his” good and caring sisters cry because they have lost their beloved brother to this lifestyle (many Christian families feel that way, equating the queer identity with hellfire). Jesus is invited into the intimacy of their grief and fear and when he sees the repression of his friend he is moved to tears. All this unnecessary suffering!

Jesus gets judged for not having tried harder to befriend Lazarus and help “him” have a strong male role model and turn out straight, Lazarus is seen as feminized because he has been left to be with just sisters. These sorts of clichés are demeaning and insulting to everybody involved. When communities (often churches) portion out blame for an individual’s queer identity, families rip themselves apart with unacknowledgable guilt and are blocked from loving and celebrating what is.

Jesus tells them to remove the stone, to get rid of the blockage from the truth of the situation. Martha quite rightly is alarmed about publically allowing the taint of this family shame to fuel the rumour and gossip mill. She equates the family secret to a festering smell that is in her community rightly bottled up. Jesus tells her off, tells off all the families that do not have enough faith in God to accept their own child, their own brother, their own kin. If we had faith we would be inclusive and brave and supportive and allow God to act in people.

He invites Lazarus to “come out” (yes those were the words that prompted this reflection). Lazarus tentatively takes the first steps to be “out” among his own family and friends. Jesus demands that they “unbind him”. Jesus is not calling the families of queer folk to acceptance/tolerance only but to full and enthusiastic inclusion. Lazarus must be unbound to follow his heart and bring his boyfriend to meet the folks. He must be unbound for a fullness of life and love in God and his family must see this happen instead of burying his true identity and mourning him as if he were dead.

Feast begins soon and I thank God for my late in life call to “come out” and to become “unbound”. I acknowledge my family who came to quickly see and understand the reality and non-negotiable quality of this part of my identity. With Jesus I cry with my whole heart for those whose families bury them, attempt to repress, change or deny them and their partners. Unbind your rainbow loved ones and let them go free!