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.

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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Queer People Don’t Really Exist…

At least according to spokespeople from the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). This idea isn’t a new one, but it was recently restated by NOM and it came up in a conversation with a friend that I had last week.

Jennifer Roback Morse, who is the head of The Ruth Institute, NOM’s education arm, said in an interview by Michael Brown that as Catholics they don’t even “accept the category of gayness.” She also goes on to confuse gay men with being trans*, while dissing trans* people and saying that biological sex is a “permanent and basic characteristic” (as opposed to sexual orientation, which she calls “accidental”). She even agrees with Brown’s conflation of a woman having a mastectomy with being a post-op trans man. This is seriously one of the most whacked out, crazy, nonsensical things I have ever heard. Go listen to it and let your mind explode.

Then just a couple weeks ago at The Ruth Institute’s It Takes a Family to Raise a Village conference, Thomas Peters, NOM’s Cultural Director, said, “And so, as a Catholic, the church doesn’t believe in gay and lesbian people.”

They aren’t denying that people have same-sex attractions, but they are denying that makes them queer. To them queerness is about how people act, not about who people are on the inside. It’s purely physical and behavioral. I’m not advocating for queerness as the sole aspect of a person’s identity, any more than I would advocate for maleness or whiteness or tallness as the sole aspect of a person’s identity. However, those things are fundamental aspects of our character and bodies. They don’t exclusively define who we are, but they are a vital part of us.

I mentioned that I had a very similar conversation with a friend, who doesn’t know I’m gay, just this past week. She said that in essence she believes all people are inherently straight, and same-sex attractions, while they do exist, are just a distortion of natural feelings. To her being LGBTQ is a lifestyle and has nothing to do with innate characteristics. (This is like saying that black people are inherently white.)

This persistent denial of reality by anti-LGBTQ people is one of the most frustrating things. As I’ve mentioned before, I used to believe it as well, but I did so out of ignorance and changed over time when confronted with the reality of queer people. I know I harp on this a lot, but I really think that one of the most powerful tools we have in changing the way people think is for them to just get to know a LGBTQ person. My friend even admitted that her views and those of most conservatives are formed in a vacuum where they aren’t confronted and challenged by the reality of queer people. My hope is that when I finally come out to her that will start a process of changing her beliefs.

So here’s to a future where we exist in the minds of everyone.

P.S. I wonder if this is in some way similar to how God feels about people who don’t believe He exists.