“The greater the gap between the person they think you are and the person you actually are the greater will be your anxiety, depression, feelings of shame, and guilt.” These words spoken by one of the most famous American women of my adolescent years, Monica Lewinski, have been rolling around in my mind lately. I think she meant them pretty differently than I experience them, but they ring quite true in my life.
On one hand, I am gobbling up a variety of lesbian blogs, usually linked to that great hodge podge that is autostradle.com My latest find has been butchwonder . I never would have called myself a butch, until I started listening to a butch voice. I don’t like the label because I associate so many characteristics with butch that I don’t want to embrace. However, when she talks about clothes or makeup or feeling like she’s wearing drag when she puts on a dress, I discover a kindred spirit.
On the other hand, I am hanging out with conservatives, sharing a meal with someone who would weep for my soul if I told them I consider myself a lesbian. This me says all the right conservative things and let’s comments about the evils of gay marriage roll right off my back. This me keeps my hair long so people might not guess I’m a lesbian. This me makes sure that I don’t speak up too loudly about gender equality, or really gender at all. I go to work and play happy little Christian all day, praying, listening to Christian speakers, and listening to Christian songs.
Here’s the thing. From what I can tell there are a lot of lesbians and even allies who would never understand why I choose to spend time with and care about people who would condemn them (and me) to hell. Meanwhile the conservative people I spend time with would be absolutely horrified to learn about my sexual orientation. In each place there is an expectation. An expectation that isn’t me. Even in my affirming church, I don’t dare speak the truth about my sexuality openly, because word might get back to those who would make my life miserable. I do experience a higher level of anxiety in general because there’s that underlying anxiety – will today be the day I slip up and they find out? There’s a measure of dispair – will I ever find a way to integrate these two opposing parts of myself? Of course there is shame. I know that they would reject me if they really knew me. And there’s a little bit of guilt because I know that in each place I’m not being completely honest. Should I have spoken up about that? Am I enabling with my silence?
I have discovered that there is a space where the gap comes together. There are other people out there who, like me, live in the tension between their religious communities and their sexual orientations. Every year these people come together in a conference. They strive to create a space where you can bridge that gap. A place where you can embrace your sexual orientation in whatever way you believe alligns with your faith, and you can be loud and proud of your faith. It’s called the Gay Christian Network. This year that space was in Portland. I was not. But I was sitting in any quiet space I could find, watching live feeds of the general sessions and hanging on every word. Yes, I watched Vicky Beeching speak while sitting in my car with tears running down my face. The evening sessions I watched in my room with my headphones on. God forbid that my roomate hear the “heresy” coming from my speakers.
Jeff Chu spoke of saving seats. Saving seats for Leelah Alcorn, for Tyler Clementi, teenagers who found that making their sexual identity fit into their reality too unbearable to face. Teenagers who died before they could find such a safe space to be both queer and Christian. Cue tears. He went on to speak of a friend, who like me, couldn’t imagine being able to attend such a gathering because he, like me, has too much to lose by coming out of the closet. Oh, now I was really crying. There’s a seat at that table for me. Even if I couldn’t figure out how to get there. That gives me hope.
I’m going to get there next year. It’s a really really rotten time for me to get off work. I won’t be able to request permission to take the day off. I’ll have to call in sick. I so very much want everything I do with my sexuality to reflect as much integrity as possible. But if I tell my bosses that I’m headed to the Gay Christian Network Conference, they won’t even care whether I’m gay. Just the fact that I believe you can be gay and Christian could cost me my job.But for now, life goes on in that tension. Figuring out exactly what kind of lesbian I am (hopefully the good kind) and what kind of Christian I am (agian, pulling for being a good one).
Here’s Monica Lewinsky’s talk
Here’s the transcript from Jeff Chu’s Talk.
Videos from the keynote addresses are available here for a limited time.
Learn more about the Gay Christian Network.