Bridge to Nowhere

Last night, I was on Twitter discussing the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Summit.  Unsurprisingly, there is still a lot of ignorance in the Southern Baptist Convention about LGBTQ people and issues.  I won’t waste time quoting the worst of it; you can easily search for it if you’re that curious.

What I found interesting was the ensuing discussion about building bridges.  Just the term building bridges is often so loaded that it can be hard to have a conversation about it.  It’s been used to mean everything from asking LGBTQ Christians to make the first move to progressive Christians who won’t take a firm stand but want dialogue to liberal Christian allies sharing the burden for reconciliation.  There’s disagreement on all sides about whether any or all of those things are good.

To be perfectly honest, I’ve never been much of a bridge-builder.  I’m pretty fierce when it comes to standing with those I love.  When I was new to blogging about these things, I was in a much darker place than I am now.  I was immersed in a church culture that seemed intentionally unloving towards LGBTQ people while putting on a good face.  There was nothing in me that wanted to bring people together—I wanted them to change their minds!

To an extent, I still feel that way.  But now, I also believe it’s my responsibility to use my perceived privilege to reach out to people who might not be sure how to take that next step.  I’m still not convinced that “I don’t care if you’re gay, but you shouldn’t be in a relationship” is terribly loving.  In fact, I’m sure it’s not.  On the other hand, I don’t need to be hostile about it, either.  That’s the point at which I will do more good affirming people’s humanity than arguing my point.

With all of that said, there are some people who will never be able to have rational conversations about any kind of sexuality.  Their condescension, moral superiority complexes, and outright hate prevent any kind of dialogue.  It is impossible to claim, “But I love gay people!” while looking down your nose disapprovingly.  The sorts of people who would compare being gay to rape or who would deliver entire sermons outlining the finer points of gay sex for the shock value or whose gag reflexes are tripped by gay people are not the sort whose table I want to sit at.

I’m not the only one.  I enjoyed tweeting with Rachel Held Evans and Ben Moberg (as always; they are good people), and we had this exchange (it’s hard to read, so the text appears below):

TweetRachel Held Evans: And yet, in spite of all the misinformation etc. I sense a desire for grace from #erlcsummit. How do we build bridges? I really don’t know.

Ben Moberg: @rachelheldevans I’m unsure if we want a bridge going there.

Me: @Runaway_Writes @rachelheldevans I really kind of don’t. This is one case where THEY need to be the bridge-builders.

I’m in favor of working things out.  I may not agree with some of my more conservative fellow Christians, but there can be thoughtful conversations.  These people, though?  They need to make the first move.  It can’t always be us, LGBTQ people and allies.  And it absolutely cannot, under any circumstances, be them reaching out their hands beckoning us to join them.  We’ve done that for far too long.  If they want peace and reconciliation, it’s going to be on our terms, on our side of the divide.  They need to ask for a seat at our table.

These men (let’s be honest; even the women who agree with them have very little authority here) have acknowledged that they’ve lost the culture war.  Now they’re going after other Christians who disagree with them, and most of us just aren’t buying it anymore.  Ultimately, unless they decide to take those steps, they are going to find themselves alone on their island of hate, shouting to no one.  It’s up to them to decide if that’s what they really want.  If it isn’t, the rest of us reasonable people will be over here living our lives, ready to welcome them home if they choose to cross the sea.

Resurrection

In this post, I’m going to write about my experience of Easter this year.  I know Easter can be as difficult a holiday as Christmas for many people.   Almost universally, people who have come from abusive religious backgrounds find that it triggers a host of unpleasant memories and feelings.  I fully respect that, and I will not blame anyone in the slightest for not continuing to read this post.  Because my experiences are different, I want to be able to talk about that, but not at the expense of people who are hurting.  Take care of yourselves first, and only read this if you feel able.

Continue reading

Whole

I swore I wasn’t going to do this on my blog.  I told at least three people I wouldn’t, in fact.  And yet, here I am, finding that sometimes, when we speak publicly about things, then we are obligated to be honest about our own lives.  With that cryptic opening, I’m taking a deep breath and plunging in.

In the last six months, a lot of things happened that I won’t get into now but which sent me into a sort of blogging burn-out limbo.  Terrified of saying the wrong thing in the wrong way, I stopped posting much.  It wasn’t all bad; I focused on finishing a novel and starting another one, along with several beta-reading projects and some good, old-fashioned pleasure reading.  I hoped that my time away would be healing.

It wasn’t.

I was still occasionally experiencing mild panic attacks, bouts of having to hold back tears, and general anxiety, particularly related to the various messes on social media and among my fellow bloggers.  I had retreated so far into myself that I buried my feelings, which then leaked out in incredibly unhealthy ways.

Then, over the last several weeks, three things happened.  First, a friend contacted me and asked if I was all right.  At the time, I was cleaning up the final draft of my manuscript, so I was feeling pretty good.  I said I was okay, dismissed the offer to chat casually, and went on with my life.  I was honestly puzzled, as I had no real idea that my online bloggy drama was bleeding over into other places.  After all, I’d already cut myself away from the community that was eating me alive, and I figured my emotional state was just residual from that.

About four weeks ago, this article happened.  I blogged about it, in fact.  But just reading it triggered an entire day (I’m not exaggerating in the slightest) of on-and-off feeling overwhelmed, miserable, and teary.  Being Saturday, I lit my candles, said the rosary, and then collapsed into sobbing.  Even then, I had no idea why I was crying, only that I could identify the feeling as grief and loss, rather than some other emotion.

I tried to piece it together, and it wasn’t until about two weeks later that it all came together.  (In a future post, I’ll explain; this one is too long already.)  First, I talked to my husband.  Then my sister and two friends.  I decided I didn’t really have anything to hide, so I was just going to more or less do the live-and-let-live thing.  Mostly, I had myself convinced that, as I usually do, that I and my feelings are comparatively unimportant.

And then I read this. (You really should read it too; it’s important.)  And said to myself, Oh, shit.  No, actually, I did.  I felt like Janet Edwards was speaking to me.  She called me out on not acknowledging my whole self.  And oh, dear God, that hurt, mostly because I knew she was right.  Three things particularly struck me:

I identify as bisexual because I know I am able to love people of my own gender and of a gender different from me. I’m not straight, but I can pass as straight because I am married to a man.

and

I cannot love God with my whole heart when I am keeping a central aspect of my self—my soul and body—hidden from both myself and from others.

and

Because I am so solidly protected by being in a marriage with a man, this very protection compels me to speak up for those whose voices have long been silenced and whose sense of self or livelihood is still regularly threatened by the church.

I relate to—and agree with—all of that.  Which is to say, like Dr. Edwards, I am a bisexual woman married to a man, living with all the privileges and responsibilities granted to me as such.  If I’m to keep blogging, keep tweeting, and even keep writing novels, there is no way to do that without telling people who I am.

Because I am so solidly protected by being in a marriage with a man, this very protection compels me to speak up for those whose voices have long been silenced and whose sense of self or livelihood is still regularly threatened by the church – See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/confession-bisexual-granted-straight-privilege#sthash.PvbY15QZ.dpuf
I identify as bisexual because I know I am able to love people of my own gender and of a gender different from me. I’m not straight, but I can pass as straight because I am married to a man. – See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/confession-bisexual-granted-straight-privilege#sthash.PvbY15QZ.dpuf

There’s been a lot to process, and I do want to share that journey with you, if you’re willing to read it.  But first and foremost, a big part of me feels like I owe some people an apology.  I am honestly, deeply sorry if my own failure to acknowledge who I am has been hurtful.  Please understand that it’s not because I’ve ever judged anyone else unworthy but because of my own twisted belief that things are okay for everyone else but me.  (It would take a novel to explain how I ended up in that place.)  I have not been lying or pretending or even hiding; I simply refused to see what was right there in front of me.

Please also know that by owning my identity, I am not seeking some kind of authority.  I hold no claims on speaking for an entire and vastly diverse community of people.  I’m not even speaking on behalf of the comparatively small minority of long-time married, liberal Christian women who come to terms with their sexuality twenty years after their adolescence.  I speak for no one but myself.  I do, however, both acknowledge the privilege I’m afforded and stand in solidarity with other LGBTQ people.

I’m sure many of you will have questions for me, and I’m happy to answer them.  I’m equally sure I will lose friends over this.  That makes me a little sad, but I also understand why.  If it would be a point of contention between us, I’d rather we part respectfully than that we waste time talking past each other.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.  I would love to talk with you all more, and if you put any questions you have for me in the comments, I will do my best to answer them.  When I’m able, I’ll share my journey with you.  Being able to embrace my whole self is a process, and not an easy one at that.  But my hope is that in being fully honest, I can return to writing as a better person than when I stepped away.

Much love to you all, and I hope to hear from you.

I identify as bisexual because I know I am able to love people of my own gender and of a gender different from me. I’m not straight, but I can pass as straight because I am married to a man. – See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/confession-bisexual-granted-straight-privilege#sthash.PvbY15QZ.dpuf
I identify as bisexual because I know I am able to love people of my own gender and of a gender different from me. I’m not straight, but I can pass as straight because I am married to a man. – See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/confession-bisexual-granted-straight-privilege#sthash.PvbY15QZ.dpuf
I identify as bisexual because I know I am able to love people of my own gender and of a gender different from me. I’m not straight, but I can pass as straight because I am married to a man. – See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/confession-bisexual-granted-straight-privilege#sthash.PvbY15QZ.dpuf
I identify as bisexual because I know I am able to love people of my own gender and of a gender different from me. I’m not straight, but I can pass as straight because I am married to a man. – See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/confession-bisexual-granted-straight-privilege#sthash.PvbY15QZ.dpuf
I identify as bisexual because I know I am able to love people of my own gender and of a gender different from me. I’m not straight, but I can pass as straight because I am married to a man. – See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/confession-bisexual-granted-straight-privilege#sthash.PvbY15QZ.dpuf
I identify as bisexual because I know I am able to love people of my own gender and of a gender different from me. I’m not straight, but I can pass as straight because I am married to a man. – See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/confession-bisexual-granted-straight-privilege#sthash.PvbY15QZ.dpuf

WIPpet Wednesday: Broken

Why, hello there, Wednesday! This time last week, I was just starting to come down with a cold, courtesy of my 10-year-old. Apparently, we taught our kids a little too well about sharing. Fortunately, I recovered in plenty of time to play with my orchestra for our annual educational concert yesterday. It was a blast—several hundred third graders listening to us play Wagner, Handel, and Britton. Good times. Best moment: flute player demonstrated her instrument by playing a bit of “Let It Go” from Frozen.

On to this week’s WIPpet. We last saw Micah reflecting on his epic implosion. We’ll get more on that another time; right now, we join him at the house on the lake. For context, his father had attempted to clean it out before his death but never finished. The house is a mess—dust, stuff cleared out of the upstairs rooms, things to get rid of. It’s not clear yet what condition the house is in overall, but Micah suspects it’s pretty bad. He’s having a moment.

My WIP math is easy: it’s 4/9, so 4 + 9 = 13 sentences.

In addition to the thick layer of dust covering every surface, the house was a mess inside. The main living area was piled with junk—everything from old newspapers and magazines to what looked like the contents of his grandmother’s attic.

This was ridiculous. He assumed the rest of the house was no better, and he probably wouldn’t be able to sleep there until he’d done a significant amount of work. That meant driving back into town and finding a place to stay for who knew how long. Suddenly, Micah was angry—at his father for leaving him a heap of rubbish; at Elijah for gloating over it; and at himself for being foolish enough to believe for even a few minutes that maybe he’d meant something to his family after all.

He picked up the nearest object, which happened to be an oddly-shaped ashtray, and hurled it at the wall. It smashed and rained shards of broken pottery onto the floor. It was thoroughly satisfying. Micah spent the next five minutes throwing things and watching them shatter. He had managed to clear a space around him when he reached down and came up with a hand-painted birdhouse. It was too pretty to break, and suddenly the whole thing seemed impossible and strange. He tried to laugh, but that, too, broke into pieces, and instead, he sobbed, sinking down to his knees in the middle of the floor.

I’m kind of enjoying stringing you along, but let me list for you the clues so far as to what story this is:

  1. 3 sons, Micah (the MC) is the youngest
  2. Dead dad
  3. Inheritance wherein 2 older brothers get great stuff and youngest suffers, with financial hardship

Hmm…we’re missing an important piece here. No worries; in two weeks, I’ll introduce a character that will surely give you the answer. I’m not sure if I’ll be around next week, since I’m going on vacation with my family. I don’t want to post if I’m not going to read all the other lovely entries—there’s no fun in that! So I’m making everyone wait. Keep guessing in the meantime.

Thanks to K. L. Schwengel for hosting. Be sure to check out the other entries here. If you want to add your own, just post a bit of your current work that relates (in whatever creative way you choose) to the date and link up with us. Happy writing!

Flesh and Blood

The first time I remember hating my body, I was nine.

Oh, I don’t think I put it exactly in those terms.  It was more the certainty that I didn’t look like other girls.  I was short, for one thing, even at that age.  I was rounder, too, than my classmates.  I’ve seen pictures of myself in fourth grade, and I wasn’t even what adults would have semi-affectionately termed “chubby.”  But I wasn’t skinny, and for whatever reason, my peers latched onto that insecurity and spent the next several years calling me fat.  Taunting me about my hips and thighs.  Pinching me to show where I could “lose a few pounds.”

People say that girls today learn those lessons earlier than in previous generations.  No, they don’t.

When I reached high school and chose to reinvent myself through conservative evangelical religiosity, I thought I’d found a place where I wouldn’t be judged on my body.  How very wrong I was.

Instead of using beauty as the standard by which  I was judged, it became “godliness.”  I lost track of the number of times some well-meaning person asked me if I “really needed to eat that.”  It didn’t actually matter what I was eating; I could have eaten anything and I still would’ve been asked.  No one said it to my skinny friends under any circumstances.

As shaming as that was, that wasn’t the worst of it.  It was the way in which preaching spoke of “the flesh” as a dirty, evil thing that must be overcome.  I learned that my body was bad—not bad merely for being the wrong shape but bad because it wanted things.

In that graceless spiritual bubble, the mind, the body, and the spirit were disconnected.  The body had sinful desires to overcome.  The mind had sinful thoughts to overcome.  But the spirit was of God and trumped all of our sinful nature if we prayed and asked Jesus in to fix our broken humanity.

I’m sure some of my conservative evangelical peers must be saying, “It’s not like that!”  Perhaps it isn’t, for them.  Maybe they didn’t already go into faith believing they were broken simply by virtue of existence.  Or maybe they just can’t see it even though it’s right there in front of them.

It never occurred to me to medicate my shame.  Food, substance use, sex, even suicide—none of those were options because they were all “temptations” to be deal with through prayer and reading the Bible.  I didn’t touch drugs or alcohol or cigarettes because that would have been fleshly sin.  Eating the wrong things or in the wrong way was sin, too.  I stayed away from boys just in case my body betrayed my spirit and wanted more than hand-holding and innocent pecks on the cheek.

None of that stopped my body from wanting things, of course.  I used to hide my Easter chocolate in my room and make it last for six months by eating just a tiny bit at a time.  I would nibble, and then I would feel guilty—both for hiding and for eating.  Chocolate was sinful for bodies like mine.  I wasn’t disciplined enough.

I made sure I was covered, not out of modesty, but out of hiding.  It functioned both ways, though, and I was safe from the bodily sin of “causing my brother to stumble” in lust.  Not that I believed for even a moment that any boys were looking at me that way; I knew they all liked pretty girls with skinny waists and big boobs.  Privately, I could barely admit to myself that I wanted someone to look at me that way.

My language was clean, at least on the outside.  I pretended to be outraged once on a trip with some other Christian teens.  A boy from another city said “shit.”  I joined the others in telling him that wasn’t God’s best.  Secretly, it gave me a thrill to hear such a word on the lips of the faithful.  I wished I were that brave, but I felt ashamed for it.

I monitored my thoughts to make sure I wasn’t harboring resentment, anger, or lust.  There was a boy I liked.  I imagined what it would feel like to kiss him, maybe to have his hands on me.  But I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to be thinking about that.  I never asked him out because I was afraid both my body and my mind would betray me.

Alone at night, sometimes, I touched myself, all the time trying not to think about anything so I wouldn’t be guilty of lusting.  Except the very act of giving myself pleasure seemed to fall into that category—not to mention the impossibility of keeping my mind blank, separate from my body.  Orgasm and guilt became inextricably linked.

Everything was about overcoming the “desires of the flesh,” emptying myself of me so that I could be filled with the Holy Spirit.  The more Spirit-filled I was, the closer to God.  If I just let Jesus in far enough, he could make all the things my body—and my mind—wanted go away, replaced only by the desire to love and serve God in near-perfect holiness.

It didn’t work.

Instead, it left a gaping, dripping wound, a hole in the place where I should have been.  I tried harder and harder to not sin, convinced I was broken somehow for not having the faith in God to keep me from doing the things a Good Girl doesn’t do.  So I prayed harder, confessed more, and begged God to make me just not feel.

That did work.  In the wrong way.

A door closed, locked, bolted.  But instead of keeping my spirit safe from my own mind and body, it kept me from feeling much of anything for anyone else.  And it didn’t stop my body or my mind from their natural inclinations; it only served to prove they needed to be separated.

I want to open that door again, but I think I’m afraid that what I unleash will be very much like Elsa in Frozen, setting off an eternal winter.  That’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

Slowly, slowly, I’m unfastening the chains.  I let myself cry with someone from church who was feeling a deep, heavy hurt.  I asked after several friends coping with fresh grief.  It felt good to allow their pain in.

If only I could let mine out.

WIPpet Wednesday: Down in Flames

I’ve been a busy beaver since last Wednesday.  I’m currently beta-reading for several people, which has been a lot of fun.  I’ve only had one at a time for most of the last six months, so it’s nice to be back to having more.  The works are vastly different genres, which is also enjoyable.

Other than that, I’ve also blogged a little, something I haven’t done much of over the last several months.  That was a big change, as I’d been blogging 5 times a week for most of a year and a half before that.  There was just too much going on in my offline life for me to feel much motivation.  While I will probably never return to that kind of regular posting (nor the community in I was involved while doing it), I hope to be able to blog a bit more often.

In other happy news, I got Lower Education back from a beta reader who I asked to give me her overall impressions.  She said she really liked it, but she also gave me good feedback about something that wasn’t working well for her.  So, I’m pretty satisfied with that.

Aside from that, I’ve had a bit of time to work on my new novel, which I’m tentatively titling A Worthy Inheritance.  That could change, though.  I’m not ready to divulge too many details—I’m only about 11,000 words into the story.  Gee, that makes about 70-80,000 to go, right?  In this edition of “Welcome to Amy’s Brain,” I admit that part of my slow progress is that I’m just not confident in my own skills.  I spend about 50% of my time trying to convince myself to just write something, even if it’s not great.  No one but me ever has to see the crappy stuff!  But even in my own head I feel embarrassed to write junk.

No matter—I’m still forging ahead.  I posted the first part of the first chapter a few weeks ago, and you can go back and read it here.  The MC, Micah Forbes, has inherited a run-down house on Seneca Lake, a parting “gift” from the father he assumed had disowned him.  As I mentioned there, this is a fairy tale retold, and I promise you’ll be able to tell which one by the end of the month.  (I’m so mean, not revealing it today).

No fancy WIP math today.  You get 2 sentences because today is April 2.

Years before his father’s death, when Micah was in college, he’d sealed his own fate. His undergraduate career, along with the nearly-platonic, church-sanctioned relationship he had with his girlfriend at the time, ended spectacularly.

Yep.

If you’re just tuning in, we do this fun little thing every week where we post a bit of our current work-in-progress (WIP) that has some association with the date.  If you would like to be assimilated join us, feel free to post yours and link up here and read the other entries.  As always, thanks to K. L. Schwengel for hosting.  Resistance is futile Happy Wednesday!

Human Nature

It’s Saturday, and I should be finishing up some work and getting ready to take my daughter to dance class.  Instead, I’m writing a blog post because sometimes, things strike me so hard and so fast that I can’t process anything else until I get my words out.

When I woke up this morning, I was scrolling through my social media accounts and I read this piece by Jonathan Merritt.  Now, he’s a person that I respect very much as a writer.  I don’t always agree, but generally, I think he’s got good stuff to say.  The Christianity Today piece, though—that just felt like being stabbed.

My gut reaction was to be upset that it sounded like the same old, same old with regard to “Let’s figure out why people are gay.”  The piece certainly set off another round of arguing about the topic, judging by the reactions.  I had to take some time to process it because I truly don’t want to waste my time blasting one person for writing about his own journey.  It turned out that I was much, much more upset about the reactions to the article than the article itself, though that wasn’t without its problems.

I doubt very seriously that Jonathan Merritt is reading this.  I’m kind of a small-potatoes blogger.  But if he happens to see it, here’s my message to him:

I don’t blame you in the slightest for the things you said that came across as hurtful and dismissive.  It’s your story, and you have the right to tell it as you see fit.  I blame conservative Christianity for creating an environment in which people don’t handle abuse well and where people are taught that their sexuality is sinful.  I blame conservative Christianity for trying to find explanations for something they don’t like in order to “treat” it and pray it away.  How terrible that it sounded like you’ve internalized and repeated such a damaging message.  I hope that over time, you will internalize instead the message that you are worthy and your feelings are good and that whoever you are or choose to be is just exactly that—who you choose to be.  I hope that you will be able to live and love without regret or shame and that you will give yourself time and space to explore that without the heavy baggage of religious pressure.

The specific thing that troubled me, both in the article and the comments, was the implication that child sexual abuse is a possible cause for later sexual orientation.  This is a construct perpetuated by conservative Christianity, particularly of the evangelical stripe.  It gets trotted out a lot, despite the fact that it’s illogical and there has never been even a shred of evidence that it’s true.

I am of the firm belief that sexuality is (or at least can be) fluid and that it’s not any better to argue a “born that way” stance either.  But it is really, really awful on so many levels to continue to promote the lie that abuse leads to attraction.  I have no idea why anyone wouldn’t find that utterly disturbing.

What if we were to turn that around?  What if we were to suggest that the reason people “turn straight” is because they were molested by an opposite-sex offender?  That sounds horrifying, no?  It has a tone of creepiness which suggests three very bad things:

  1. That we are drawn to our romantic and sexual attractions as a way to reenact upsetting and frightening childhood experiences
  2. That offenders are not pedophiles but are including children as part of their overall sexual orientation (another tired assumption: gay men are child abusers)
  3. Abuse is a form of sexuality

I can tell you firmly as a survivor of sexualized bullying that I have no wish to find people who will do the same things to me.  I’m not interested in men because I think I deserve to be treated that way or because I’m confused or because I need reassurance or because of some other reason related to my unfortunate childhood experiences.  I cannot fathom why we wouldn’t see everyone’s sexuality the same way.  Of course it’s complex.  But why do we only ever question the cause of someone’s sexuality when that person is gay?  Why are gay, lesbian, and bisexual people the only ones who have to have a reason for their romantic and/or sexual attractions?

We simply have not achieved a state where we see variance in sexual orientation, preference, attraction, and expression as normal.  We’re still seeking causality because we can’t see the whole spectrum as healthy and good.  And that troubles me, because I believe that it is good—all of it.  The whole wide range of human love and sex is so vast and so beautiful and so amazing, an incredible gift we’ve been given.  How is it that we are still trying to scientifically or spiritually defend what should just be considered part of the human kaleidoscope?

Until we are all convinced that our sexuality (let’s face it, even we straight people now and again have to defend our natural desires in the face of conservativism) is truly good—not merely acceptable—we will continue to peddle half-truths and outright lies about the causes.  And until we stop selling falsehoods, people will continue to believe that they are broken rather than being fully, wonderfully human.