What Do You Do When Your Son is Gay?

After reading this power story that Susan over at FreedHearts posted, I asked her for, and received, permission to post it in full here on the QPHC blog. It speaks for itself, and sadly is not the only story of its kind. Recently some friends lost someone in a way terribly similar to this one, only without the happy parts.

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“Mom, I’m gay.” Earth-shattering words to many conservative Christian parents — tragically, many view it as right up there with, “Your child has a brain tumor.” Actually, Christians will empathize with a brain tumor, but just try telling the church your child is gay and you will find the limit of grace withheld not only from gay Christians but from their accepting families. Not only what is said but unsaid can be oppressive for a family seeking love and truth.

I do not blame the parents in these situations for one nanosecond. Lord knows, they are trying to respond, with the wind knocked out of them, in an area where the church at large allows no breathing room. Parents blame themselves and Christians blame them. Seriously. No sooner do we hear the word gay or lesbian than we brace for impact — because we know the attack is coming.

This story was posted on FB. My daughter went to school with his brother. The mother, Linda, gave me kind permission to post this  in the hope of impacting lives and preventing tragedy. This is why our response as a Christian community matters. A real person with a real story.

The photo above is of Linda and Ryan Robertson.

Just Because He Breathes
by Linda Mueller Robertson (Notes) on Monday, April 1, 2013 at 12:35am
Written on December 5th, 2012
First posted on January 14, 2013 – Ryan’s would-have-been-24 birthday

On the night of November 20, 2001, a conversation held over Instant Messenger changed our lives forever. Our twelve year old son messaged me in my office from the computer in his bedroom.

Ryan says: can i tell u something
Mom says: Yes I am listening
Ryan says: well i don’t know how to say this really but, well……, i can’t keep lying to you about myself. I have been hiding this for too long and i sorta have to tell u now. By now u probably have an idea of what i am about to say.
Ryan says: I am gay
Ryan says: i can’t believe i just told you
Mom says: Are you joking?
Ryan says: no
Ryan says: i thought you would understand because of uncle don
Mom says: of course I would
Mom says: but what makes you think you are?
Ryan says: i know i am
Ryan says: i don’t like hannah
Ryan says: it’s just a cover-up
Mom says: but that doesn’t make you gay…
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: but u don’t understand
Ryan says: i am gay
Mom says: tell me more
Ryan says: it’s just the way i am and it’s something i know
Ryan says: u r not a lesbian and u know that it is the same thing
Mom says: what do you mean?
Ryan says: i am just gay
Ryan says: i am that
Mom says: I love you no matter what
Ryan says: i am white not black
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: i am a boy not a girl
Ryan says: i am attracted to boys not girls
Ryan says: u know that about yourself and i know this
Mom says: what about what God thinks about acting on these desires?
Ryan says: i know
Mom says: thank you for telling me
Ryan says: and i am very confused about that right now
Mom says: I love you more for being honest
Ryan says: i know
Ryan says: thanx

We were completely shocked. Not that we didn’t know and love gay people – my only brother had come out to us several years before, and we adored him. But Ryan? He was unafraid of anything, tough as nails, and ALL boy. We had not seen this coming, and the emotion that overwhelmed us, kept us awake at night and, sadly, influenced all of our reactions over the next six years, was FEAR.
We said all the things that we thought loving Christian parents who believed the Bible to be the Word of God should say:
We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. And this is hard. REALLY hard. But we know what God says about this, and so you are going to have to make some really difficult choices.
We love you. But there are other men who have faced this same struggle, and God has worked in them to change their desires. We’ll get you their books…you can listen to their testimonies. And we will trust God with this.
We love you. But you are young, and your sexual orientation is still developing. The feelings you’ve had for other guys don’t make you gay. So please don’t tell anyone that you ARE gay. You don’t know who you are yet. Your identity is not that you are gay – it is that you are a child of God.

We love you. We will ALWAYS love you. But if you are going to follow Jesus, holiness is your only option. You are going to have to choose to follow Jesus, no matter what. And since you know what the Bible says, and since you want to follow God, embracing your sexuality is NOT an option.

Basically, we told our son that he had to choose between Jesus and his sexuality. We forced him to make a choice between God and being a sexual person. Choosing God, practically, meant living a lifetime of loneliness (never to fall in love, have his first kiss, hold hands, share intimacy companionship, experience romance), but it also meant the abundant life, perfect peace and eternal rewards.  So, for the first six years, he tried to choose Jesus. Like so many others before him, he pleaded with God to help him be attracted to girls. He memorized Scripture, met with his youth pastor weekly, enthusiastically participated in all the church youth group events and Bible Studies, got baptized, read all the books that claimed to know where his gay feelings came from, dove into counseling to further discover the “why’s” of his unwanted attraction to other guys, worked through painful conflict resolution with my husband and I, and built strong friendships with other guys – straight guys – just like he was told to. He even came out to his entire youth group, giving his testimony of how God had rescued him from the traps of the enemy, and sharing – by memory – verse after verse that God had used to draw Ryan to Himself.

But nothing changed. God didn’t answer his prayer – or ours – though we were all believing with faith that the God of the Universe – the God for whom NOTHING is impossible – could easily make Ryan straight. But He did not.

Though our hearts may have been good (we truly thought what we were doing was loving), we did not even give Ryan a chance to wrestle with God, to figure out what HE believed God was telling him through scripture about his sexuality. We had believed firmly in giving each of our four children the space to question Christianity, to decide for themselves if they wanted to follow Jesus, to truly OWN their own faith. But we were too afraid to give Ryan that room when it came to his sexuality, for fear that he’d make the wrong choice.

And so, just before his 18th birthday, Ryan, depressed, suicidal, disillusioned and convinced that he would never be able to be loved by God, made a new choice. He decided to throw out his Bible and his faith at the same time, and to try searching for what he desperately wanted – peace – another way. And the way he chose to try first was drugs.

We had – unintentionally – taught Ryan to hate his sexuality. And since sexuality cannot be separated from the self, we had taught Ryan to hate himself. So as he began to use drugs, he did so with a recklessness and a lack of caution for his own safety that was alarming to everyone who knew him.

Suddenly our fear of Ryan someday having a boyfriend (a possibility that honestly terrified me) seemed trivial in contrast to our fear of Ryan’s death, especially in light of his recent rejection of Christianity, and his mounting anger at God.

Ryan started with weed and beer…but in six short months was using cocaine, crack and heroin. He was hooked from the beginning, and his self-loathing and rage at God only fueled his addiction. Shortly after, we lost contact with him. For the next year and a half we didn’t know where he was, or even if he was dead or alive. And during that horrific time, God had our full attention. We stopped praying for Ryan to become straight. We started praying for him to know that God loved him. We stopped praying for him never to have a boyfriend. We started praying that someday he’d come back to Jesus. We even stopped praying for him to come home to us…we only wanted him to come home to God.

By the time our son called us, after 18 long months of silence, God had completely changed our perspective. Because Ryan had done some pretty terrible things while using drugs, the first thing he asked me was this:

Do you think you can ever forgive me? (I told him of course, he was already forgiven. He had ALWAYS been forgiven.)

Do you think you could ever love me again? (I told him that we had never stopped loving him, not for one second. We loved him then more than we had ever loved him.)

Do you think you could even love me with a boyfriend? (Crying, I told him that we could love him with fifteen boyfriends. We just wanted him back in our lives. We just wanted to have a relationship with him again…AND with his boyfriend.)

And a new journey was begun. One of healing, restoration, open communication and grace. LOTS of grace. And God was present every step of the way, leading and guiding us, gently reminding us simply to love our son, and leave the rest up to Him.

Over the next ten months, we learned to love our son. Period. No buts. No conditions. Just because he breathes. We learned to love whoever our son loved. And it was easy. What I had been so afraid of became a blessing. The journey wasn’t without mistakes, but we had grace for each other, and the language of apology and forgiveness became a natural part of our relationship. As our son pursued recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, we pursued him. God taught us how to love him, to rejoice over him, to be proud of the man he was becoming. We were all healing…and most importantly, Ryan began to think that if WE could forgive him and love him, then maybe God could, too.

And then Ryan made the classic mistake of a recovering addict…he got back together with his old friends…his using friends. And one evening that was supposed to simply be a night at the movies turned out to be the first time he had shot up in ten months…and the last time. Ryan died on July 16, 2009. And we lost the ability to love our gay son…because we no longer had a gay son. What we had wished for…prayed for…hoped for…that we would NOT have a gay son, came true. But not at all in the way we used to envision.

Now, when I think back on the fear that governed all my reactions during those first six years after Ryan told us he was gay, I cringe as I realize how foolish I was. I was afraid of all the wrong things. And I grieve, not only for my oldest son, who I will miss every day for the rest of my life, but for the mistakes I made. I grieve for what could have been, had we been walking by FAITH instead of by FEAR. Now, whenever Rob and I join our gay friends for an evening, I think about how much I would love to be visiting with Ryan and his partner over dinner. But instead, we visit Ryan’s gravestone. We celebrate anniversaries: the would-have-been birthdays and the unforgettable day of his death. We wear orange – his color. We hoard memories: pictures, clothing he wore, handwritten notes, lists of things he loved, tokens of his passions, recollections of the funny songs he invented, his Curious George and baseball blankey, anything, really, that reminds us of our beautiful boy…for that is all we have left, and there will be no new memories.  We rejoice in our adult children, and in our growing family as they marry…but ache for the one of our “gang of four” who is missing. We mark life by the days BC (before coma) and AD (after death), because we are different people now; our life was irrevocably changed – in a million ways – by his death. We treasure friendships with others who “get it”…because they, too, have lost a child.

We weep. We seek Heaven for grace and mercy and redemption as we try – not to get better but to be better. And we pray that God can somehow use our story to help other parents learn to truly love their children. Just because they breathe.

Linda Diane Robertson

Written on December 5th, 2012
Posted on January 14, 2013 – Ryan’s would-have-been-24 birthday

An Interesting Take on Bisexuality

My fellow contributor, Alan Scott, brought this story by Chris OGuinn of AfterElton.com to my attention. The clips that have been compiled in the article (it’s 3 pages long) are from Make It or Break It on the ABC Family network.

Admittedly, I’ve never watched the show myself, but I have watched a handful of programs produced by ABC Family and I’m found them to be interesting enough that I’ve usually watched them in their entirety. One aspect that has stood out to me in the past is their protrayal of LGBT characters. They don’t use inflammatory material, tired Glee-style stereotypes, or the over-the-top hyperbole of The New Normal. What I’ve seen on ABC Family is primarily LGBT characters being portrayed as they exist in real society–dynamic, diverse, many-cultured, and going about their daily lives just like heterosexuals.

What stood out about this particular example was the description of Max’s (our character’s) sexuality. His true struggles are acknowledged. It’s not easy being in the middle. What is even more striking is Max’s straight friend’s reaction upon discovering that Max is bisexual. No hyper-hetero “I have to punch you/something to restore my manhood” no panicked fear and aggression. It’s very unusual to see this kind of portrayal. Personally, I want to think about it some more, but watch the videos, I’m curious what insight you readers have on the issue.

Patrick Henry College Herald Tackles Homosexuality

The Patrick Henry College Herald, a student-run publication, recently published this article on out friends and family members of current students [PDF], which also features the story of a current student who describes her former relationship with a woman.

It’s worth a read, not because I agree with what is said, but because it’s one of the first times that PHC students have openly wrestled with this issue as a student body. While the article was upsetting for me to read for reasons that I will explain in just a bit, it is also a relief to have the LGBTQ community acknowledged, and in a way that does not simply make the queer community into a faceless, vaguely threatening entity. And while I disagree strongly with the tone of the article, I commend writer Elizabeth Stinnette for taking on this project and pushing the PHC student body out of the comfortable silence that they have maintained on this issue.

Nevertheless, I wanted to highlight two of the major misconceptions in this article.

1. Being straight is part of the Christian gospel message

PHC students tend to discuss homosexuality in relation to marriage amendments and as signs of a decaying culture. However, gays and lesbians cannot be painted with a single rainbow-colored brush. A sizeable minority of students has [sic] experienced the complexity of the situation—their relatives and friends are publicly or privately homosexual. Additionally, a few students have struggled with same-sex attraction themselves. While all of these students acknowledge that homosexuality is a sin, they realize that they need to extend grace to their relatives and show them the light of the Gospel.

I just have two questions: how does one paint with a rainbow-colored brush? And where can I find one?

On a more serious note, it would be a good idea for PHC students to move beyond only acknowledging the LGBTQ community when talking about marriage amendments or the supposedly decaying culture. The first is dehumanizing, the second is demonizing.

But I still take issue with the more “loving” approach that is outlined. When a relative is gay or lesbian (the article doesn’t really acknowledge the bisexual or trans* communities), the suggested solution is extending grace and showing them the light of the gospel.

As a Christian who also happens to be a member of the queer community, I am all for grace and the light of the gospel. I want to extend it to others, and I want others to extend it to me. But when did sexual orientation become an integral part of the gospel?

I guess I must have missed that verse in Romans 10 where it says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and promise to be straight forever and ever, you will be saved.” I must have been sleeping in Sunday School when we studied John 3:16, where it says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him, and turns away from their homosexual desires, should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Now I know that some Christians don’t see sexual orientation as an integral part of the gospel. To them, homosexuality is a sin just like a bunch of other sins, and they believe that the gospel promises that God’s love has the cleansing power to get rid of all sins.

But other Christians take that idea and run with it, and preach the damaging message that you can’t be gay and a Christian, or that if you are gay, you have to be celibate if you want to go to heaven.

There is no room in this paradigm for the out, proud gay Christian who is in or looking for a gay relationship. In this mentality, you can be out if you’re celibate, or you can be out as a “former gay.”

2. Being gay or lesbian is synonymous with having emotional and/or psychological issues

And now we get to the part of the article that really broke my heart. A student with the pseudonym “Marie” tells the story of her longterm lesbian relationship with a girl named “Donna.”

Marie and Donna both grew close after dealing with incredible tragedy and hardship in their personal lives, including Donna’s abusive mother, the deaths of several of Marie’s close family members, and the death of Donna’s cousin “Trent”, who was “the only person who loved Donna.”

Marie’s parents forced her to attend PHC; neither they nor anyone at school knew about her lesbian relationship at the time. Meanwhile, Marie dreamed of getting a job at a law office so she could take Donna out of her abusive situation.

“Things were bad between me and Donna,” Marie said. “I felt like I had abandoned her.”

Marie didn’t realize how separated they had become until a high school quarterback took Donna out on a date, got her
drunk, and raped her. Donna called Marie while she was working on her second Spinney paper.

“There was nothing I could do about it,” Marie said. Both girls sobbed over the phone.

Donna became pregnant, but she lost the baby a couple of weeks later. She and Marie had always talked about having children together and had even picked out names.

“I felt that I had lost my own child,” Marie said. They named the baby Jasper. He would have had blonde hair, blue eyes, and Donna’s smile.

After a student at PHC witnessed to Marie, she “gave up the dross and took the gold,” and now considers herself straight. Donna is still trapped in her abusive home situation.

“I think about this woman who I loved, who I was engaged to for five years …. I have to look at her and know she will go to hell because no one loved her enough to show Christ’s love for her. And it breaks my heart beyond all bearing,” Marie said.

I can’t even begin to fathom the pain and personal tragedy that Marie has had to deal with. And it’s not up to me to decide whether Marie is straight, lesbian, bisexual, or some other orientation. But if Marie reads this post, I want her to know this:

Marie,

You and Donna had to deal with an overwhelming burden of pain that would have put strain on any relationship, especially one between two young girls who had to weather a long-distance relationship. Death, abuse, rape, a baby that you both loved and then lost — your strength and courage in loving each other through all of that is astounding. Such painful events would cause emotional and psychological trauma for anyone. If you had been a man, you might have still had to break up with Donna anyway. No one can be superhuman forever.

But you should know that loving another woman is not the problem. Loving another woman does not make you broken. You’ve decided that you want to be with a man someday and that you want to live as a straight woman. I don’t know you, and I don’t know the details of your situation. Maybe you will find lasting happiness with a man.

But you should know that if you are still attracted to women, that is OK. You can lead a full, happy, meaningful, moral life as a lesbian or bisexual woman. And if you remain a woman of faith, you can maintain a relationship with God that will only enrich your friendships and relationships with people of any gender and orientation.

If you fall in love with another woman, a woman with whom you could see yourself building a long and happy life, a woman with whom you could see yourself raising children, don’t run away from that because you’re afraid of losing God’s love. Not only does Romans 8 remind us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, but a love that beautiful (even if it’s with someone of your own gender) brings us closer to God.

Whoever you are, Marie, my heart goes out to you.

Ally Week: October 15-19, 2012

This week is GLSEN’s (Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network) Ally Week. According to its website, “Ally Week is a week for students to identify, support and celebrate Allies against anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) language, bullying and harassment in America’s schools.”

So what is an Ally? An Ally is someone:

Who does not identify as a LGBT student, but supports this community by standing against the bullying and harassment LGBT youth face in school. Allies can be straight or cis gender identified youth and adults, or LGBT identified adults! Anyone who takes a student against anti-LGBT bullying and harassment can be an ally.

If you’d like to become and Ally, you can sign the Ally Pledge here.

I believe all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression deserve to feel safe and supported. That means I pledge to:

  • Not use anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) language or slurs.
  • Intervene, if I safely can, in situations where students are being harassed or tell an adult.
  • Support efforts to end bullying and harassment.
  • Encourage others to be Allies.

Here and Queer

You guys, I fail at writing Fabulous Friday posts on time. I’m skipping it this week, but I promise it’ll be back next week.

Ezra Miller

Photo by Lauren Charlea Nolting

I love Out Magazine’s interview with Ezra Miller, in which he identifies himself as queer.

“I’m queer. I have a lot of really wonderful friends who are of very different sexes and genders. I am very much in love with no one in particular.”

He goes on to use the term “zefriend” in addition to “boyfriend” and “girlfriend,” in describing who he might date or be attracted to. I love this kid!

Miller’s choice to use the word “queer” is an important one. When we first started QueerPHC, we had a conversation about what we would call the site. We batted around the idea of calling it “LGBT PHC” but decided that it was too acronym-heavy. “Queer” is also used regularly in academia, in the context of classes on “queer studies,” something we very much lacked at Patrick Henry College. We also didn’t want to inadvertently leave out any group of people that fell under the queer umbrella but were not covered under the LGBT acronym.

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Why Did I Believe It For So Long?

I’ve known for quite a long time now that I liked guys, at least a dozen years, but it wasn’t until just recently that I actually comprehended it. For the longest time it didn’t really mean anything to me and I just assumed that I wasn’t really attracted to girls was because the ones that I knew didn’t really met my ‘list’ for what I was looking for in a wife. This heterosexual worldview was one of the 2 main reasons that it took me a long time to come to terms with my sexual orientation, but the other was that I believe for a very long time that homosexuality was sinful.

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Boy Scouts Continue to Exclude Out Gay Kids, Leaders

This morning, my Facebook newsfeed exploded with praise from my Patrick Henry College acquaintances for the continued Boy Scouts of America ban on out gays as members or leaders.

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Prayer as a Weapon

Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian household, I heard quite a bit about how prayer was the ultimate weapon. The first line of defense.

“A good offense is the best defense,” my mother said, citing some wartime cliche.

We were taught to pray offensively — to attack specifics in our prayers.

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There’s No Such Thing

This was a phrase I had heard a couple of times in my youth. But by the time I was ready to finally put some kind of label on my sexual personhood, I went with it anyway. Bisexual. There, I said it. I had heard people from both sides of the coin say that bisexuality just doesn’t exist–you have to go “one way or the other.” Interesting, I always thought, especially since LGBTQ/I advocates have been trying to deconstruct the binary conception of gender for a long time. But I digress . . .

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What is Being Gay?

By Alan Scott

For such a simple sounding question, it is anything but. Well, that’s only partially true. There is a simple answer, but as this is not a simple issue, that answer is often lost or ignored.

Straight up (excuse the pun), being gay means that I, as a man, am attracted–both sexually and romantically–to other men. (More generally, being homosexual means getting turned on by other members of the same sex.) And no, it isn’t a choice. Whatever the cause may be, it is most definitely not a choice.

However, for such a simple answer, it was not simple to answer that question for myself. Growing up, there was no such thing as just liking someone of the same sex. Being gay and the “gay lifestyle” were indistinguishable. Being gay was tied to acting gay and it was all a matter of choice.

Fortunately for me, reality never quite matched up with theory. I met quite a few gay people that didn’t fit the stereotypes at all. First off a lot of them were quite masculine, not feminine, which was quite the surprise to my sheltered self. And then they weren’t all drunken drugged out partyers either. And some of them even claimed to be Christians and love Jesus with all of their hearts. Oh, and let’s not forget that they also claimed that being gay was not a choice at all.

However, in spite of all the evidence it was no easy task to reconcile what I thought being gay meant with what the reality of being gay meant. I read books about it, I read articles about it, I watched videos about it, I talked to gay people about it, and above all I prayed about it. I feel as if I’m doing an injustice to what all I struggled through by being so short in my description, though I also feel as if I’m going on and on about it.

It took me years to come to terms with my sexuality, and even after I came to terms with being attracted to other men, I still struggled with the idea of calling myself gay because of all the baggage it carried from my past. But eventually I had to decide whether I was going to accept the definition and understanding of what being gay was from those who condemned it without actually knowing anything about it, or if I was going to accept the definition and understanding of what being gay was from those that were actually gay. Putting it like that makes me laugh at myself for adhering to the understanding of those who had no understanding, but then, as they say, hindsight is 20/20.

Of course, it is always wise to be mindful of the circumstances and the understanding of the different people that we interact with, but ultimately it is we who are gay or queer, not others; and thus, it is we who should say what we are, not others.