To My Friends in the Closet

Hey, friend.

How are you doing today? How’s life? I hope you’re taking care of yourself and filling your time with things that bring you joy. You were just on my mind this morning, and I wanted to take a moment to check in and say ‘hello.’

As you might have heard, today is National Coming Out Day. It’s a holiday of sorts, founded in 1988 to honor the anniversary of the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. The idea is to erase shame and stigma and to let the rest of society know that we’re here, we’re queer, we’re not going anywhere.

It’s actually one of my favorite days of the year. In fact, last October I dyed my hair purple for the occasion. And today I’m covered in glitter and wearing three different articles of rainbow-colored clothing (my gay apparel, if you will). This is a day that makes my little heart grow three sizes bigger and makes my chest swell with more pride than any parade has ever inspired. Coming Out Day makes me overjoyed to be who I am: a tiny, dapper lady who loves Jesus and likes girls.

But wow, I definitely did not feel that way two or three years ago, and I imagine that you probably don’t feel that way today. I get it. In my not-at-all distant past, nothing filled me with more intense horror than the idea of coming out. The very mention of this supposed pinnacle of the queer experience made me physically ill with anxiety. Because no matter what your situation is, coming out is a vulnerable, intimate, and absolutely terrifying thing to do. Which is why you’re probably going to see a lot of people online today talking about what a beautiful and awesome and wonderfully brave act it is.

And they’re not wrong. Coming out is a brave thing to do. It’s personal and it’s political and it’s radical and it takes a whole lot of guts.

But do you know what else takes a lot of guts? Being closeted and waking up every morning. Being closeted and going to school. Being closeted and eating dinner with your family. Being closeted and going to church. Being closeted and living your life and taking care of yourself and learning and growing and loving people to the best of your ability. Existing as a queer person in the closet takes a LOT of guts.

I just wanted to make sure you know that. I wanted to tell you that I haven’t forgotten about you. I see you. I’m on your side. Lots of people are. And we think that you are so damn brave.

I don’t know what it is that’s keeping you in the closet. I don’t know if it’s out of choice or necessity. I’m not going to pretend to fully to understand your situation. But I am going to tell you that whatever your reason is, it’s a valid one. And that’s because coming out is not something you owe to anyone but yourself. It is not something you do for your family or friends, nor is it something that you must do in order to earn your Queer Card. You don’t have to come out today. You don’t have to come out next year. You don’t have to come out at all if it doesn’t feel safe and good and right.

Because your “outness” does not determine your worth or your identity. It does not make you any more or less a part of my family, and it most certainly does not affect your status as a Child of God. Coming out, though a brave and beautiful choice, is not a prerequisite for being a whole human being who deserves dignity, respect, and peace.

Please remember that. Stay safe and take care of yourself today. If that means coming out, then know that there is a whole community of people ready to drape you in a rainbow flag and shower you with glitter. But if it means hanging out in the closet a little while longer, that is ok. You are ok. Things will be ok. Listen, I know it’s an obnoxious cliche that probably doesn’t help one bit right now, but I promise you, it gets better. There are people rooting for you and working hard to make this world a kinder place for you eventually step into if you ever decide to crack open that closet door.

One step at a time, my friend. Just try to breathe deeply and find a little bit of joy today. And remember that no one else has the authority to define that joy for you.

With pride,

Caitlin

 

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“But you CHOSE to come here…”

Last week, for the second year in a row, Campus Pride released their “Shame List,” calling out the “absolute worst college campuses for LGBTQ students in the nation.”

And for the second year in a row, my campus made the list.

As I’m sure many of my readers know, being gay at an Evangelical university is a WEIRD time. I attend a school that has repeatedly made the news for its anti-LGBT policies and controversies over the years. Our administration has successfully received an exemption from Title IX (which is meant to prevent gender discrimination) because of its Christian affiliation. I check a box on my housing application every year, promising that I will not engage in any kind of “homosexual activity” so that I can qualify for a dorm. I sit through sermons by chapel speakers who speak as if there could not possibly be any queer students in the room. I watch straight couples hold hands and fall in love while knowing that I could get expelled for having that same beautiful experience. I get nervous every time I write a new blog post because I’m not sure which professors or administrators are reading it. I am against the rules.

But when these kinds of frustrations are discussed in mixed company, one of the most common and most frustrating rebuttals queer students hear is, “Well, you did choose to come here.”

In other words, “All of the pain you have experienced here is actually your own fault.”

In other words, “It’s not really discrimination if we warn you about it first.”

In other words, “You already knew that we didn’t want you.”

Oh, classmates. Friends. There’s so much that could be said. There’s so much that I want you to understand…

I want you to understand that some of us did not choose to come here. Just like you, some of us were destined by parental pressure, financial aid, and youth group socialization to continue our educations in safe, Christian settings. For some, secular universities were never an option. And for some, they became even less of an option when our parents began to notice “dangerous” or “unholy” tendencies.

Some of us thought those tendencies would go away after freshman move-in day. Some of us came to our Evangelical colleges so we could turn ourselves straight. And some of us are still trying. Some of us are still being told by counselors and chaplains that trying is the right thing to do. Some of us will try harder tomorrow.

Some of us are just now starting to realize that we don’t fit in here like we thought we would. Some of us have yet to put words to our differences. We have yet to explain the heart-stopping panic that happens when a conversation turns to LGBT issues. Some of us have yet to verbalize that ineffable ache of realizing that that one friendship that might have been a little bit more than a friendship will never really be more than a friendship.

And many of us will not bother coming out until after commencement. Because many of us have no reason to believe that we are truly welcome in these institutions that we have tried so hard to call home.

Not all of us, though. Because to be fair, I did choose to come here. And throughout my coming out journey, despite dehumanization at the hands of the student handbook, I have chosen to stay. This has led to several instances of people (straight or otherwise) asking me, “Why don’t you just leave?” It’s a valid question, and it’s one that I have asked myself. But now, as a senior, I think I finally know how to answer it.

First and foremost, I don’t leave because I shouldn’t have to. My sexuality should not limit my educational opportunities. That’s Equality 101.

I don’t leave because I have made a family for myself here. I have people who make me feel like a person. I have friends who I would do anything for. “Fictive kin,” if you want to get sociological about it. And I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

I don’t leave because, despite the brokenness of the institution as a whole, I have met incredible professors who have shown me what Jesus really looks like. I have mentors who inspire me to continually seek God, who have affirmed my calling to ministry, and who make me more deeply aware of my status as a Child of the Creator.

I don’t leave because I know that there are more queer students on campus who need to know that they are going to be ok. And the idea of them feeling scared or alone is enough to keep me right here, reaching out.

I don’t leave because, for some stupid reason, I love my school enough to want to make it better. 

So as I work towards graduation, I submit and I subvert. I check that box on my housing application. I write blog posts. I sit through chapel. I volunteer with LGBT organizations. Most importantly, I learn how to see beauty and growth in the midst of heartbreak and pain. I learn to bridge gaps, love enemies, and believe that people are truly Good. And although attending a conservative Evangelical university is not always easy, I have no doubt that it has made me a better person and a more committed follower of Christ.

Just maybe not in the ways that administration intended.

 

Evangelicals, Stop Making Me Care

The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood released The Nashville Statement today. It condemns—not just those who choose to live authentically as LGBTQ Christians—but also those who affirm their choice to do so. Evangelical leaders have decided, and put into writing, that this is not an issue that we can disagree on while still being part of the same faith. They have effectively declared entire Christian denominations to be sinful for daring to accept and include folks like me.

Here’s the thing. Personally, I could not care less about this statement. I think it’s absurd that this debate is still happening, and to be completely honest, I actually laughed out loud when I read the name, “Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.” The Nashville Statement won’t affect my life or how I live it. It won’t affect affirming denominations or their stances on scripture. It won’t affect the rest of society, and it will not change anyone’s mind.

Because between their responses to the World Vision debacle, Ferguson, the election, the continued support of Donald Trump, Charlottesville, and countless other crises, evangelicals have completely squandered whatever moral authority they once held. They have zero credibility in the eyes of those outside of their echo chamber. No non-evangelical is putting any stock into John Piper or Francis Chan’s signatures. Evangelical opinions about queer people hold no weight whatsoever to those who are committed to social progress.

However…

There are questioning and closeted queer kids sitting in those evangelical pews. Queer kids who are already four times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. And they don’t know that there’s a world outside of the evangelical echo chamber. They’ve been told that the evangelical church is The Church. And those kids are going to read that statement. They’re going to see their pastor’s signature on that statement. They are going to feel terror, shame, and hopelessness, and they are going to believe that it’s from Jesus.

Because for some of these kids, evangelical Jesus is the only Jesus they know. No one has told them that the Body of Christ is queer. They don’t know that it’s queer and it’s black and it’s disabled and it’s undocumented and it’s sleeping on a park bench. They’re growing up in a church that tells them that their sole purpose is to share the Gospel, the Good News, with everyone they meet. But they don’t know that Jesus is good news for them, too. They don’t know that God is even better than some Christians are willing to believe.

I really don’t want to care about what evangelicals are saying anymore. They have no sway over me. They have no relevance. I’ve found a church home outside of evangelicalism, and I’m more in love with Jesus than ever before. In four months, I’ll graduate from my evangelical university, and my last tie to fundamentalism and conservative Christianity will be cut. I shouldn’t have to care about The Nashville Statement. It has nothing to do with my life.

But I can’t not care. Because when I graduate in four months, those kids will still be sitting in those pews. There will still be folks who are full of terror and shame because of the kinds of teachings that their leaders have signed off on. There will still be good Christian parents losing their kids to suicide because of this theology. And I care a lot about that, you guys. We all should.

So as long as evangelicals are promoting this kind of fruitless and exclusionary distortion of Jesus, and as long as they continue to drive Image Bearers away from the arms of Christ, as much as I don’t want to…I’m going to care about what they say. And I’m not going to shut up about it.

LGBTQ folks, 
You are loved by God.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made. 
You are worthy of wholeness and happiness. 
You belong here. You are not a burden. 
I’m so glad you’re part of my family. 
 

How To Be Part of the Problem: An Instruction Manual for my Fellow White Queers

Alternatively titled: A Grassroots Guide to Making Sure that Nothing Gets Better and The LGBTQ Community Loses All Credibility as a Social Movement as Well as its Humanity


Witness a tragedy of white supremacy. Tweet a few times. Believe that you have done your part.

Ease your white guilt by reminding yourself that you are also oppressed! Do whatever mental gymnastics you have to do in order for that to somehow make you feel better.

Let go of all the standards you have for straight allies. If you don’t, you’ll have to hold yourself to those standards as well. Try to forget about what it was like after Orlando. Repress the pain of silent loved ones. Forget about the sickening rage you felt so deeply within yourself when politicians and pastors refused to utter the words “hate crime” or “homophobia.” Don’t think about how devastating it was when you realized that some people were completely unaffected by an event that left you sobbing on your bedroom floor and scared to face the world. Do not empathize.

Or, if you can’t make yourself forget, then focus that pain in a different direction. Assume that your trauma and your minority status mean that you understand the PoC experience perfectly. Draw every parallel you can and forgo nuance. You already get it. And if you already get it, then you have no reason to actually listen to people of color. Don’t bother listening.

Let people know that you are sad and angry about white supremacy. Be sad about Charlottesville. Be sad about Charleston. Be sad about Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Kendra James, Freddie Gray, Darnisha Harris, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, Shereese Francis, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson, Trayvon Martin, Malissa Williams, Alberta Spruill, Eric Harris, Alesia Thomas, Rumain Brisbon, Yvette Smith, Tarika Wilson, Darrien Hunt, Ezell Ford, Dontre Hamilton, Shelly Frey, Shantel Davis, Bernard Bailey, Miriam Carey, Rekia Boyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Kathryn Johnston, Aura Rosser, and Sandra Bland.

However, remember to prioritize self-care! Tell yourself that you simply do not have time to worry about every single issue.

IMPORTANT: Pretend that white supremacy and LGBT oppression are two separate issues.

Pretend that the modern gay rights movement was not started by trans women of color. Pretend that our community would still exist if it weren’t for our black brothers and sisters. Pretend that “gay culture” is yours. Pretend that we were borne out of “unity” and “kindness” and a respect for “all sides,” and not out of bloody riots in rebellion against police brutality.

After you’ve decided that you don’t have time to care about racial justice, don’t let that stop you from using AAVE and borrowing black culture when you go to the club with your white friends. Have a great time.

Have such a great time and be so in love with the queer community that you can’t see any of its faults. Preach the gospel of queer inclusivity. Remember how welcomed and celebrated your fellow gays made you feel right after you came out. Assume that every gay person feels this way. Do not talk about racism. Do not make anyone uncomfortable. Do not entertain the idea that white supremacy still exists within the LGBT community.

Do not entertain the idea that white supremacy still exists within you.

Wait until there is a tragedy of white supremacy.

 

Let’s Talk About Lifestyles

Sometimes internet strangers tell me that they don’t support my “lifestyle.” This is always a bit confusing to me, because while I’ll admit that my lifestyle isn’t the most exciting one in the world, it seems pretty agreeable.

I usually wake up around six in the morning. I try to listen to a podcast before I go to work or class. If it’s a Saturday, I take a walk to the farmers market to buy ingredients to cook dinner. If it’s a Sunday, I go to church and then I take a nap on the couch when I get home.

I drink a latte every day with two extra espresso shots and a honey drizzle on top. I have a couple of tattoos and piercings. I dyed my hair purple one time and that was cool. I take a multivitamin. I don’t eat meat. My favorite La Croix is the orange one and I have a weakness for bagels. Sometimes I go on runs, but I prefer bike rides.

I’m a student, and during the school year I spend most of my spare time in the library. I study. I read. I write. I watch a lot of Netflix. I try to keep my evenings free so I can spend time with my friends. Sometimes we go out for food and drinks. We really like road trips. Sometimes we go dancing, but usually we just stay in and watch movies.

My lifestyle has some faults. I spend too much time on my phone and too much money on my clothes. I don’t eat as healthily as I’d like to. Sometimes I stay up later than I should and then I’m grumpy the next day. I care too much about my hair. Sometimes I let my dishes pile up and leave my dirty clothes on the floor.

But the people who tell me that they don’t support my lifestyle don’t know any of these things. They never email me about my caffeine habit or my nose piercing. They’re never calling me out for buying another pair of shoes that I don’t need or for forgetting to clean my room. They just know that I’m gay.

I think the word “lifestyle” makes a lot of folks within the LGBTQ community cringe. Whether or not there is ill-intent behind the use of the word, its connotations are incredibly objectifying, and it carries with it a whole host of frustrating assumptions. Because here’s the thing…if we’re being honest, “lifestyle” is really just a thinly veiled euphemism for gay sex. When I get a message from an internet stranger who is concerned about my lifestyle, what I hear is this:

“Hi. I see that you’re gay. I am assuming that you’re having tons of gay sex. Maybe even with a bunch of strangers, because I’ve heard that that’s what gay people do. I have put a lot of thought into your sex life, and I want you to know that I do not approve of all the gay sex I think you’re having.”

Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I’m not sure what else they would be so concerned about. The sex is the supposedly “sinful” part, right? I mean, a lot of us grew up hearing that that we could still be fully accepted by the Church and by God as long as we stay celibate. Some of us have been taught that it’s not a sin to be attracted to people of the same gender, it’s only a sin to act on it. But a lot of Christians who teach that kind of theology do not treat LGBTQ people as if they actually believe it. The reality is that if you are a person who cannot pass for straight, or if you decide to be openly queer, there will always be Christians who automatically assume that you are living in sin. We are so often told that we need to stop identifying ourselves by our sexuality, but straight Christians seem to be the ones who make the conversation all about sex.

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What y’all think my gay lifestyle is vs. what it actually is


Here’s where the miscommunication happens, and also what straight people really need to understand: A person’s queer identity is in no way dependent upon their actions. In the same way that a straight person is straight even when they are single or celibate, a gay person is gay even if they’ve never so much as kissed another person. This is not to say that physicality doesn’t matter. But identity runs so much deeper.

Reducing the LGBTQ community to what we do or do not do in the bedroom is not only gross and dehumanizing, it erases all the beautiful and fascinating facets of queer culture that have made the world a better place. It ignores the empathy, sensitivity to injustice, and heightened compassion so many queer folks have. It ignores our abilities to overcome hardship and to love in the face of opposition. It ignores all the creative ways in which we surpass binaries and challenge the status quo. It looks past our contributions to art, music, fashion, theater, and literature. It overlooks our rich history of civil rights activism. The word “lifestyle” does to gay people exactly what it accuses gay people of doing: objectifying and oversexualizing human beings made in the Image of God.

Straight friends, for the sake of intelligent, effective, and dignifying conversation, let’s go ahead and remove “lifestyle” from this particular lexicon. And let’s all agree to stop putting so much thought into strangers’ sex lives. Because, like… gross, you guys. Come on.

Queer Joy, Saint Francis, and Skipping Church

I want to write about joy. I want it to be profound and eloquent and make us all feel better.

I also wanted to skip church yesterday, but apparently I can’t figure out how to do either.

I wanted to skip church because I was tired and frustrated and angry. I’ve been angry for the past couple weeks. I’ve been angry at homophobic blog comments. I’ve been angry at the dude who rolled down his car window as he drove by just to call me a dyke. I’ve been angry at myself for letting that Eugene Peterson interview make me feel better. I’ve been angry at myself for being surprised and hurt when he took it all back. I’ve been angry about all the chances I’ve given Evangelicals, all the grace I’ve shown, and all the bitterness I’ve still managed to feel. I’ve been angry at myself for being angry.

So I thought that one Sunday off might do me some good. Because, guys…I don’t want to be angry at anyone anymore. I want to sleep in and I want to write about joy. But I don’t know how…

It has become a running joke among some of my friends to justify ridiculous life choices with the phrase “Queer joy is resistance.” It doesn’t matter if I’m getting Chipotle for the third time in one week, sticking birthday candles in my pancakes, drinking a La Croix in the shower, or ditching class for a Tuesday road trip to Chicago. The personal is political. Queer joy is resistance. Let me live.

Although I’m usually just making fun of misguided activism and my own propensity for hi-jinks, I’ve been using this phrase a little more earnestly as of late. Joy hasn’t felt natural. Joy has been an active and difficult series of decisions. And in a society where queer people are still expected to hate themselves, there’s something to the idea that being publicly, unapologetically gay and happy is kind of a radical thing to do. So last week I took lots of walks. I bought myself flowers. I went to a drag show. I took more selfies than usual. I danced to Beyoncé in my apartment. I ate a really good donut. Because queer joy is resistance. It really probably is, I think.

But damn. Is joy supposed to be this exhausting? Because as much as I love the idea of resisting, I’m getting a little tired of my “joy” being a giant middle finger. I don’t want to be joyful just because society tells me not to be. I don’t want to baptize my rage in glitter and call it happiness. But sometimes that’s what we do. Sometimes queer anger and queer joy look a lot alike. Sometimes we burn our anger like gasoline and then dance around the fire. It’s good and it’s important and it’s beautiful. But I don’t think I can do it forever.

I wanted to skip church yesterday. I wanted to once again sarcastically claim my queer joy by sleeping in and eating waffles. But I couldn’t sleep in, and I ran out of waffles, and yeah, ok God,  I also really needed to go to church.

During liturgy, I sat next to a stained glass window of St. Francis of Assisi, and I remembered his prayer that I prayed every day last summer as a closeted evangelical camp counselor…

Lord, grant that I may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love.

I prayed the prayer again. I thought about some of my blog comments. I thought about the guy who yelled at me from his car. I thought about Eugene Peterson and the people who share his “biblical views of everything.” I thought about queer joy and wondered where on earth it was supposed to come from. I repented of the belief that it comes from people like Eugene Peterson.

Sure, queer joy is resistance. But I don’t know if it can exist without queer love, queer peace, queer patience, queer kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness…

For it is in giving that we receive,

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Amen.

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