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just wanting to live

Sometimes you just reach a breaking point. It’s not that you don’t care anymore or even that it’s not important anymore, but sometimes you just grow weary of the constant tension, the constant sensation of being “always on.” Because why wouldn’t that be exhausting? That’s sort of how I feel right now when it comes to Christian LGBTQ things and LGBTQ things in general, the dialogues, the conversations, the controversies, the debates, the activism, all of it. I feel burned out if I’m being completely honest.

 

And it’s gotten pretty darn close to the point of cynicism when it comes to these things now. Maybe it’s because I’ve already had 4 years to think about and process all my own thoughts and conflicts. Maybe it’s because I’m already out to my friends, family, and whoever else might care to know. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had to deal with many of the harsher realities of what this life and what this identity means for some people recently. Maybe, like Taylor Swift, it’s been a case of overexposure over the course of the last few years, with all the writing, rambling, and rallying I’ve been a part of.

 

I feel burned out if I'm being completely honest.

 

But maybe it’s also just a natural part of the ups and downs and cyclical nature of life itself. Maybe feelings and sensations like this come and go in waves. Maybe in a few weeks, months, or a year I’ll be back on the activism train and maybe even working in a position that would require that. That seems logical to me. It’s burned into my heart and soul after all, and there’s no running away from this existence, from this life that I’ve been living and will continue to live until the Lord decides my time is up.

 

For now though, I just want to live. And maybe this is a pipe dream or a symptom of some sort of privilege I didn’t quite realize I had, but I just want to be able to live my life without having to continually defend my own existence, my own convictions, my own identity, my own choices. I just want to be able to live my life without endlessly needing to explain why I think a certain way or why I’ve reconciled my identity with my faith and the rest of my life. That’s all really. I just want to live. I just want to be, and I long for the day when people can look at me, another anomaly among many (read: LGBTQ Christians), and others like me and just accept it at face value, without needing a long, drawn-out explanation or a theological argument to satisfy their own inner nagging curiosities or bouncer-to-the-Kingdom mentality.

 

I just want to be able to live my life without having to continually defend my own existence.

 

I just want to live, to wake up in the morning and go to work, to go to dinner with my friends every once in a while, to love the people I love, to hold someone’s hand, to talk about the future, and to be able to go to bed at night not feeling like I stick out in the church pews with a neon sign above my head just by virtue of being here on this earth.

 

And maybe one of the ways to fulfill that longing to just be, to just live is take a step back and do it. Obviously, this is always going to be something kindling in the depths of my heart and spirit, but I think I’m also willing to go with the ebb and flow.

 

So, who knows? Maybe now that I’m starting to get settled at work and having a functional computer again (long, strange story…haha) I’ll be back to writing here semi-frequently, but maybe I’ll also just lie low for a while to try this whole “just being” and “just living” thing. I have no idea. That’s where I’m at, and I’m going with the flow.

Being Gay at Bethel: Revisited

Here's a piece I wrote back in the spring about some good changes and things I see happening back at my alma mater (that sounds weird to say...). Bethel is one of my favorite places, and I'm thankful for the ways God is moving there, especially in the sense that LGBTQ students are starting to feel safer and that the atmosphere is shifting for the better. Hopefully, this is just the beginning.

milestones and a spinning life compass

Disclaimer: These are some musings about how I feel in the days immediately following graduation and may or may not necessarily make sense or be cohesive in any way, shape, or form. Milestones have a way of turning things upside down, pulling them inside out, and then shaking them up, or maybe that’s just how I tend to feel about things like that. I keep thinking to myself that I haven’t really done anything yet, that I haven’t accomplished anything yet, and then I remind myself that college graduation was still less than a week ago, not weeks or months ago like I already feel it was. And then I have people tell me that I still have a lot of time to get wherever I think I’m going to go with life. That’s something that I think I need people to keep telling me until I actually internalize it, because I’m not going to lie, I’ve already laid awake in bed at night contemplating what course my life is going to take and stressing out about how I’m going to get to point A or point B or point J, and I haven’t even gotten a week away from graduation yet. I mean, let’s be real, I haven’t even gotten my actual diploma in the mail yet, and that’s probably not going to happen for another month or two anyway, so I guess I do have some of that time that people keep talking about. I keep thinking that I’m going a little crazy, and my sister even asked backhandedly asked me if I know how to relax. But then again, I suppose that’s how a lot of college grads are feeling right now, especially if you’re jobless, feeling a little aimless, and not debtless.

Then again, I’m not completely aimless. I have things that I’m doing and projects that I’m working on over the course of this summer and the next academic year when I won’t be in school. I’m finally picking up this blog again after all the hysteria that permeated senior spring semester, I’m learning French from the ground up, I’m attempting (and haven’t yet started) to re-learn the Mandarin that I learned last school year and get better at it, I’m playing piano again (real, written music) for the first time in probably four or five years, I’m going to try and sort through this idea for a novel that I’ve had floating around in my brain for about half of my life (no joke), and I’m also trying to fill the remainder of my time with tackling my reading list and some other LGBT advocacy related projects, among other things. Oh, and I’m slowly applying and interviewing for jobs, you know, since I’m graduated from college now and should probably be doing stuff like that.

But I think one of the biggest things that I’m torn over is the idea that I want to have this one last summer of freedom to do all the creative things that I want to do and the idea that I should probably start working and paying off my student loans sooner rather than later. That’s the logical and practical part of my brain in real deadlock with the creative and dreamer part of my brain.

So that’s where I am in the days comprising the immediate aftermath of graduation. There’s this strange and wonderful awareness of the complete infinity of possibilities for where life could take you, and also this terrible claustrophobia that says that you must do x, y, and z in order to have your life on the track that society says it should be on, because college graduation brings on the uneasy reality that regardless of whether or not you like it, money does sort of rule the world in a sick, twisted kind of way that you don’t quite realize until you have to start tiptoeing out into the real world. And that expedition out into the great unknown reveals a lot of other insecurities and uncertainties that you may not have had to deal with quite yet.

All of that being said, I’m still quite excited for what this year has in store. It’ll be an adventure that I can’t quite foresee, but I know that it’ll be good. So, having said that, I’m also trying to actually keep up this whole writing thing, so I’m hoping that I’ll have something up on here at least once a week, whether that’s a more creative piece or just a blog update. I think that I eventually want that to happen on a consistent day every week, but I suppose we’ll see which day it ends up being. I’m strangely picky about little things like that, but keep yourself current on that, which you can do by hitting subscribe, which will send you an email every time I post something new. This year will be a little crazy, and maybe you want in on that.

Until next time.

mark yarhouse talked to my christian college on sexuality and this is how it went

Alright, here's the full, unedited version of the article that was published in the Bethel Clarion earlier this week, detailing my stream of thought about the Mark Yarhouse sexuality event last week. The Clarion staff did a great job editing it, but it definitely read more like a newspaper article (as it should have) than some of my normal writing, so I wanted to stick the original version up on here. Take a read if you weren't at the event or haven't already. I checked the time on my phone as I speed walked through the BC on my way to the Underground. It was already 8:01pm and I was late, having just come from helping lead an exam review session for CWC.  Mark Yarhouse, a psychologist and professor from Regent University, was giving a talk on sexuality and I was going to be there, though a bit reluctant at first. From what I had heard and read of him in the past, I wasn’t incredibly optimistic about the event, but the Underground was relatively full, so I slid into the second row from the front and took out my notebook just as it was beginning.

Over the course of his talk, which consisted of a presentation of his research on sexual minorities at Christian colleges and a Q&A afterward, I found myself pleasantly surprised at how well he handled the topic and how nuanced many of his answers were, a sentiment that I found many other LGBT students in attendance shared following the event.

Among the positives in his presentation, he gave a mildly muddled, but overall helpful explanation of why it’s important to LGBT people to identify as “gay,” “lesbian,” etc., rather than “same-sex attracted” or “homosexual.” This is an important distinction for the Bethel community to realize because using non-standard terminology can often carry dehumanizing connotations for LGBT students, even Christian LGBT students, because they often have roots that go back to ex-gay reparative therapy movements or when homosexuality was still considered a mental health disorder, two things that he also touched on briefly.

In addition, he affirmed several fundamental truths of existence for LGBT Christians that often get glossed over the highly politicized culture wars over LGBT issues. Among these, he made it clear that it is very possible to be gay or lesbian or transgender and also a Christian, defending that those two things are not mutually exclusive, something that is still debated in some Christian circles. Further, he noted that even though he doesn’t take an affirming stance in terms of same-sex marriage or sexual relationships, that doesn’t mean that people who do are necessarily wrong. He explained that many of his LGBT friends hold different positions there, but that doesn’t have any impact on the quality or legitimacy of their relationship, because there are many good Christians who happen to fall on different sides of that spectrum of belief. This is so significant because these types of differences tend to be highly polarized, with either side being alternately considered morally right or morally wrong, so the fact that he also explicitly stated that he never questioned the faith of his friends who held to differing beliefs is a good example of how non-affirming Christians can and should react to those kinds of differences, choosing to maintain relationships with people who hold other perspectives rather than feeling the constant need to remind them that we disagree with them. And this goes for both sides, affirming and non-affirming.

Finally, he also spoke quite a bit on what it might look like to engage with these kinds of issues on Christian college campuses, his main point being that we should strive to create safe spaces where LGBT students can still feel wanted and fully included in those communities. Thus, he spoke against using the phrase “love the sinner; hate the sin,” a popular saying that has been used in reference to LGBT Christians and only serves to reduce those people to their sexuality while simultaneously dehumanizing them. In addition, he indicated that he’s not a proponent of reparative therapy, meant to make LGBT Christians straight, and only reserves the right of sexual orientation change efforts to informed adults who voluntarily seek it out. Rather, he advocated for the climate change on Christian college campuses and support for LGBT students, pointing out that LGBT students have no fewer needs for intimacy than straight students, that coming from interpersonal relationships and social and institutional support among other sources. Thus, while his claims that policy change is probably not the most realistic expectation for LGBT students might upset some and be considered less than satisfactory, his calls for broader and deeper support for LGBT students at Christian colleges are a bright spot and definitely a good starting point for schools like Bethel.

Overall, it was refreshing to hear a speaker that represented our stories more or less accurately, portrayed us in a humanizing way, and helped other students and faculty understand what it’s like to walk the journeys that we do a little better. Though ideally we would be hearing these stories from LGBT Christians and students themselves, the mere fact that this event occurred and that he was willing to engage with the difficult questions many of us raised is a positive step toward the right direction for a place like Bethel, especially for students who still harbor fears of alienation, unacceptance, or backlash related to coming out.

Beyond that, though events like this may be considered to be only baby steps by students who are looking for more sweeping reform and change, they are still strides in the right direction and help raise greater awareness for topics like this at Bethel. It’s my opinion that events like these are the beginnings of creating places of openness and safety where LGBT students can feel comfortable and supported coming out and being a part the community fully, not fearing reprisal, condemnation, or questioning of their faith, but rather feeling wanted, included, and valued.

Obviously, there’s still more work to do, but I personally hope that all the positive progress will encourage more students to come out and share their stories, being willing to help drive the movement to create safe spaces and be the change that they’re looking for, both for their own benefit and for the benefit of students that will come to Bethel in the future. Though it might take a while to get there, the progress and openness that I’ve seen gives me a vision of Bethel possibly becoming a model of how Christian colleges, though non-affirming officially, can become safe spaces that advocate for the humanity and inclusion of LGBT students.

coming out: on feeling normal again one year later

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It’s been just about a year since I’ve come out, and I think it’s only now that I’m starting to feel normal again, after two months of summer school in another state, four months living abroad in a different country and immersed in a different language, and a year out of church. Yeah, I’m only starting to feel normal again now. And what does “normal” really mean anyway, especially in this context? I guess you could say that I’m not really normal in any sense of the word. I’m a gay person of color who goes to a Christian university, is younger than everyone in his graduating class, and also happens to be the child of first generation immigrants. So, I suppose normal isn’t really the best descriptor of me to begin with. I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s taken a full year for me to start feeling like myself again, and feeling comfortable as myself again.

For a long while after coming out, I felt like I was trapped between two repelling magnetic poles. The church didn’t want me because I was an anomaly, unnatural, choosing sin, in need of healing, or whatever other spiritualized phrase they chose to describe me, and I certainly didn’t fit into the LGBT community because of my faith that many saw as being in direct opposition to identifying as LGBT. Even many of my closest friends weren’t immediately sure how to respond to me, which isn’t a bad thing. I know firsthand how complicated and difficult to navigate intersectional issues like this can be, but that didn’t keep it from being any less isolating or any less discouraging as I started out on that road. It felt like I didn’t quite fit into any of the spaces that I was accustomed to occupying, and I felt a little lost.

On top of that, I didn’t feel completely free to wrestle with the things that were spinning around me at the time. Even as I think about it now, I’m still not sure when I made some of the personal or theological decisions that I did, because it all sort of blends together in my mind. Still at a sort of fragile place, I wasn’t sure who I could talk to or externally process with, because I was still reeling from the shock of actually having come out to begin with. I didn’t know who or where my safe places were, and as a result, a lot of my processing got pushed down because I felt like I had to have everything figured out before I could talk to anyone about it.

How could I talk about a boy that I liked if I hadn’t even figured out if that was an okay thing yet? How could I talk about whether it was okay to like a boy if I was still shaky on whether it was even okay to be gay yet? I mean, how could I be sure that God really wouldn’t change me, even though that’s not a realistic option in 99.9% of cases?

Compounded with all of the things that I was trying to figure out in my own head, I also found myself on the defensive more than once. While well-intentioned I’m sure (for the most part anyway), it was hard not to take the questions that some raised as attacks in that nervous, beginning stage. For a while, I felt as if I had become an apologist, having to explain and reexplain everything that I believed, when I wasn’t even quite sure if I believed it that strongly yet. What about this verse? Or that passage? The questions went on and on, only contributing to the massive sensation of feeling stuck in a dark valley between two mountains where nothing was completely safe and worry was a constant companion.

I worried about what people thought of me all the time. After all, there I was, the rebel Christian, trying to say that being gay and being a Christian were compatible. And I worried about that too. What if I was wrong? What if how I interpreted the Bible and how I thought about all of these things was wrong? What if the mainstream church and Christian culture were right? Would I go to hell for it in the end? And being involved in visible leadership roles at a Christian university I wondered all the time if I would be stripped of those positions and asked to step down, lest I become a bad example for other students. When was I going to get called into some dean’s office to explain the entire situation? What would come of my decision to be open about this hot button topic?

Suddenly, I felt like I was always holding my breath, waiting for the ball to drop, or for the secret police to find me, or whatever other suspenseful plot device you can think of, and the driving force between all of that was simply my existence and my human experience. So, while I continued to write and express some overt views, other things started to shift around in the shadows. I quietly adopted a Side A perspective, sort of dated a guy for four months, and began supporting same-sex marriage all from the recesses of my mind where it was safe to do so. Yeah, a handful of people I trusted here and there were privy to these developments, but for the most part, they happened underground, where I wouldn’t have to defend my choices, my morals, or my faith to any random onlooker who wanted to raise a candle to my incomplete internal thought process.

Slowly but surely, I grew more and more comfortable with where I stood and I told more and more people about the paradigm shifts that I had experienced until I got to the point where I again lost track of who I had told and who I hadn’t. Concurrently to this nascent opening of myself again, I found myself abroad, living in a wonderfully historic Spanish city just an hour northwest of Madrid. There, the culture was looser, more liberal, and more accepting of everything in general, and I found that I could actually talk about things like this with my host mother. An artsy, theatrical (literally) woman, I remember her telling me (in Spanish, of course) that “the only thing that matters is whether they are a good person,” and that was so refreshing in such a subtle way that it took me off guard. There was no spiritualization of that statement, no theological argument backing it, no doctrine or dogmatic infusion, just that. It was a statement that said so much more to me at the time than she really could have understood or maybe ever will, but I believe that first conversation with her led to many more than would come to heal me in a way that I can only begin to fathom now, three and a half months back into the United States, where I’m once again forced to wrestle with the complex intersectionality of faith and sexuality. Those conversations with my Spanish actress mother placed me beneath a healing waterfall where all the spiritual and theological arguments and debates tied to my sense of self were gently washed away over the course of my four months in Spain, where I was implicitly told that regardless of what the church or other Christians told me, my feelings, my emotions, my desires, and every other sensation I experienced tied to this part of me were okay, were normal, were not in need of defense, and were nothing to be ashamed of. And for that part in my healing process, I will forever be grateful to the most wonderful host mother I ever could have had for my time abroad.

Stemming from that lowkey, but also intensive therapy period, I find myself where I am today, feeling normal again, at least by my own standards. All of a sudden I found myself denying the nonsensical notion that I had to choose one side of the binary and allowing myself to feel and be real again, rather than feeling like I was obligated to explain and justify myself to anyone who had a problem with me. I didn’t feel God pushing me into conversion therapy or celibacy, and I decided that was okay, because God isn’t binary. He doesn’t tell us to choose this path or that path and that’s all we get. Instead, He chooses to meet us where we are, wherever that may be.

And where I am is feeling normal again. What does that mean? I think to me, it means understanding that I can be comfortable as myself because I’m not going to be able to please everyone or satisfy everyone with a Biblical, theological argument and that’s okay. It means knowing that not everyone is going to agree with me on this, and that’s okay because I can’t control the way that other people are going to react to me and who I am. So why keep bending over backwards trying to appease everyone when I’m the only suffering from it?

To me, feeling normal is knowing and being confident that I’m right with God and letting that truth set me from all the other things that I was wrestling with when I began this journey. Because living in fear of possibly being wrong is not how God intended us to live our lives. Rather, I think that in the gray areas He wants us to press into Him, take hold of His hand and trust that He will guide us to the places where He wants us to be, regardless of whether those places line up with where the institution of the church or where other Christians think we should end up. Because in the end, walking with God isn’t about fearfully following a set of rules; it’s about embracing Him and saying that you’re going to tackle this mess of life together, loving as hard and as intentionally and as unconditionally as you can along the way.

So to me, feeling normal is also being assured that being gay and being a Christian are not two polar extremes, but rather they are two states of being that can coexist without causing inherent detriment to each other. And it’s being able to recognize and remember that all the emotions, feelings, tensions, and everything else that arises out of that intersection are valid and not in need of fixing or hiding, because all of those things are also normal. They show that we’re human and that we’re still alive.

Feeling normal is (in the vast majority of situations) not needing to think twice before saying something about a boy that I like, or dating, or anything else that might normally be an off limits or sensitive topic, because the way that those things get interpreted isn’t necessarily my responsibility to deal with and I should be able to talk about those things without worrying about whether or not I’ll offend them. It’s being able to act and talk like any other person without having any of it tied back to my sexuality or faith or their legitimacy or lack thereof. And it’s also feeling like I’m being treated like a normal person, which I do have the great fortune of, something that cannot be said in a lot of Christian circles unfortunately.

So, it’s been a year since I’ve come out, and I would be lying if I said I had known it would take this long to start feeling normal again. But I am, and I’m thankful for that. Though my journey has been rough, with many dark places along the way, I know that others’ paths have taken them along much more precarious turns, and I long for the day when that is no longer the case. Until then, I write to tell my story in hopes that it will end the cycle sooner, to inform, to educate, and to open eyes.

It’s been a year since I’ve come out; just the rest of my life to go.