Homosexuality: It’s an Orientation, Not an Action

When the story of Patrick Henry College Chancellor Michael Farris’ threatened lawsuit was picked up by various news outlets and blogs in the past week, we at QueerPHC braced ourselves for the inevitable response from the Patrick Henry College community telling us that we were unnatural, immoral, unbiblical, you name it.

Instead, the response from Farris was far more disturbing. He said we don’t exist.

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Bishop Gene Robinson Reaches Out to Closeted PHC Students

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson, of the Diocese of New Hampshire, recently visited the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., where he spoke with former congressman Pat Murphy about Robinson’s new book, God Believes in Love.

Robinson spoke with Queer Patrick Henry College after the presentation, and offered some encouragement to closeted students at the college. He’s used to such appeals for encouragement, and said he receives several emails a week from “some kid in podunk Idaho who thinks they’re the only gay person besides me in the world.”

“What I usually say to them is there’s just a big, wide, wonderful world out here, and it can be wonderful for gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender people,” he said. “And you may have to stay where you are, you may have to be quiet about who you are for awhile, but find a few people that you can be open with, that you can be yourself with, because it will feel like an oasis in an awfully dry desert. And then when it’s possible, get out into this big wide world and meet some of us who are having the time of our lives and are not held back by being openly gay.”

Robinson said LGBTQ people who grew up in conservative environments as he did, and as many PHC students did, can do a great deal of damage to themselves.

“The hardest person to come out to is yourself, right?” he said.  “We learned all the things that everybody else was learning, and we became alienated from ourselves, not to mention our parents and our families, and so on. I think it’s a really tough row to hoe, but find some oases to feed yourself along the way, and then join this community that’s waiting to embrace you.”

As a queer Christian, it’s hard to overstate the impact that Bishop Robinson has had on the lives of people like me. To see someone who is both openly gay and openly Christian take on a bold leadership role in the church is nothing short of inspiring. At Patrick Henry College, there’s quite a bit of talk about “leading the nation and shaping the culture,” and Bishop Robinson is doing exactly that, with his ongoing role in transforming the cultural conversation on queer people of faith.

Robinson is retiring on Jan. 5 and leaving New Hampshire to move to D.C., where he hopes to assist St. Thomas’ Parish in Dupont Circle in founding a new Center for Non-Violent Communication, with the goal of changing “the nature of the debate” in the highly political city. Color me excited.

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.

LGBT History Month: Day 25 Holly Near

Day twenty-five of LGBT History Month features Holly Near, a singer and activist for social change.

From her bio at the LGBT History Month website:

“I do not separate my music from my heart, nor do I separate my ideas from my daily life.”

Holly Near is a singer, songwriter and activist for social change. She is an articulate political artist.

She was raised in Ukiah, California, by politically active parents who were cattle ranchers. She began her show business career acting in films such as “Minnie and Moskowitz” (1971) and “Slaughterhouse Five” (1972), and in television shows including “All in the Family,” “The Partridge Family” and “The Mod Squad.” After appearing in “Hair” on Broadway, Near decided to focus on music.

In 1972, she launched Redwood Records, becoming one of the first women and one of the first artists to own a record label. Redwood became a force in alternative music, showcasing the work of politically conscious recording artists.

Near has released more than 25 albums. In 1981, she was one of the first out lesbians interviewed by People magazine. She has been in relationships with both men and women, but rather than identifying as bisexual, she describes herself as a “monogamous feminist.”

Near was one of the “1000 Women for Peace” nominated for a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize. In 1985, she was named “Woman of the Year” by Ms. Magazine. Near’s autobiography “Fire in the Rain, Singer in the Storm” was published in 1993.

In 1996, Near was honored with the GALA Choruses Legacy Award for her unique contributions to the gay and lesbian choral movement. Her portrait hangs at The Freedom Center in Cincinnati, along with other artists for social change, including Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie.

“Singing For Our Lives,” which she wrote to honor the memory of Harvey Milk, appears in the official hymnal of the Unitarian Universalist Church.

After living most of her life in Southern California, Near returned to Ukiah, where she sings, composes, and teaches master classes in performance craft and songwriting.

Our Criticism of Your Bigotry Does Not Count as Oppression

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A straight person or a white person or an able-bodied person or a cisgender person or a man says that gay people or people of color or disabled people or trans* people or women are the true oppressors, because somehow

  • a gay person reacting angrily to homophobia
  • or a person of color reacting angrily to racism
  • or a disabled person reacting angrily to ableism
  • or a trans* person reacting angrily to transphobia
  • or a woman reacting angrily to sexism

is, first of all, a problem, and second of all, a problem that is equal to or greater than homophobia, racism, ableism, transphobia or sexism.

The main complaint of these privileged persons seems to be some variation of “We can’t criticize them without getting in trouble!” or “They’re taking away our freedom of speech.”

The latest iteration I’ve seen is a quote attributed to Voltaire currently circulating on Facebook in the form of meme-style text on a sketch of a giant hand crushing a tiny crowd of tiny people. The quote says, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”

I agree with this sentiment, but I was disappointed by the comments on one of these Voltaire quotes. Apparently, some of my fellow PHC family members believe that, according to this standard, women, people of color, disabled people, and LGBTQ people “rule over” them.

I sincerely hope that these comments were not meant seriously, though even as a “joke,” they are not funny.

If these commenters are correct, then black lesbians with disabilities should hold more clout in this country, proportionally, than any other demographic.

Of course, that isn’t true. And neither is the implied statement that men or white people or able-bodied people or straight people are not allowed to criticize women, black people, disabled people, and LGBTQ people.

These commenters think that an angry response to oppression counts as actual oppression.

If you make a negative comment about gay people, and someone tells you that you are being hateful or inaccurate or ignorant or oppressive, you aren’t being oppressed. You aren’t being deprived of your freedom of speech. The other party is merely using their freedom of speech to respond to you.

If you are a straight, white, able-bodied, cisgender man, you possess immense privilege. There’s nothing wrong with being straight or white or able-bodied or cisgender or a man, and the vast majority of the world will happily affirm you in your identity as all of these things. But there is something wrong with feeling entitled to your privilege, as if you deserve  special treatment because you are any or all of these identities. And when someone who is not straight or not white or not able-bodied or not cisgender or not a man complains about the inequality in society, you are a jerk if you claim that that person complaining about inequality is the one perpetuating it.

You have the right to squander your freedom of speech on hateful, inaccurate, ignorant, oppressive statements. And we have the right to call you on your bullshit. It’s how free speech works.

Welcome to America.

Why is Your Sexual Orientation Such a Big Deal?

I was having a drink with a good friend of mine, when she asked me why gay, lesbian, and bisexual people* made “such a big deal” of their sexual orientation.

I asked her to clarify what she meant, and she said that she would never identify herself as straight.

I asked, “Are you exclusively attracted to men?”

She said, “Yes, but I would never introduce myself like, ‘Hi, I’m [Name] and I’m straight.’ I just think of myself as [Name].”

I fumbled in looking for the words to express my frustration with this question. She’s always been supportive of me, even when she doesn’t agree with everything I think, say or do, and I knew that this question was merely coming from a place of curiosity and simple ignorance.

And I’ve been thinking about this question ever since. I knew what she was referring to. Why do we make such a big deal of our sexual orientations? Why do we take part in pride parades? Why do we make certain deliberate choices about what to wear, how to talk, how to act? Why do we keep posting about it on our Facebook walls? Why do we keep coming out to people? Why do we keep talking about it?

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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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Not Just Homosexual, But Homoromantic Too!

I was reading some of the blog posts over on Waking Up Now the other day, and came across this gem: “I’m Not Just Homosexual — I’m Homoromantic,” which is basically just the post with the title, one little line, and this video: (nothing explicit, but it does having kissing in it)

I really liked the sentiment expressed in the post. Especially among conservative anti-LGBTQ people there is a huge emphasis on “gay sex,” and often a complete ignoring of what it means to be gay. (The other thing is that there is typically a huge focus on gays and gay sex, but an ignoring of bisexuals and lesbians.) This of course plays into a lot of the stereotypes that conservatives have about LGBTQ people–many of which I once had as well. There is so much misinformation and ignorance in conservative and Christian circles about queer people and what being queer entails. It’s honestly quite overwhelming. I was not raised in a fundamentalist family, but it still took me several years to unlearn all the false ideas I had picked up over the years and replace my ignorance with knowledge and understanding.

Queers are often seen and portrayed as the frightful and evil “other,” rather than as people who are fully human. It’s a common human trait to vilify and fear what is considered “other,” especially when that other is a minority. I think this is one of the reasons that one of the best ways to bring about change in people is for them to get to know actual LGBTQ people. When someone has a human face to associate with their idea of queerness, it is no longer so easy to view us as other and vilify us.

(This is one of the ultimate reasons for the creation of this blog: to put a human face to LGBTQ people at Patrick Henry College. Of course, at the moment we are anonymous faces, but we do have faces and look forward to the day we no longer need to conceal them.)

I think I got a bit off topic there, but my point is that we are just the same as other people. We aren’t sex obsessed maniacs. We fall in love just as straight people do. We mourn the loss of beloved ones just as straight people do. We desire intimacy and tender moments just as straight people do. Many of us want families just like many straight people do. And yes, we do want sex, but then last I checked so do straight people. (You may find the idea of being with someone of the same-sex to be icky, but I find the idea of being with someone of the opposite-sex to be icky, so I can sympathize. Just do what I do, and don’t think about it too much if it bothers you.)

Romance and the love that it expresses is a beautiful thing. (And yes, I find straight romance to be sweet, even if I’m not interested in it.) So here’s to hoping we all get more love and romance in our lives, and of course, that we get “kisses for Christmas.”

I have to add one more video. This one is a truly beautiful portrayal of the romance and love of a developing relationship: