Monday, March 26, 2007

Dragged Out of the Spiritual Closet

The workshop that Momma and I presented on Saturday was a HUGE success. (nearly as huge as the news I get to share with all y'all next week ;-)

Loads of people packed the theater--all sorts of folks--young old, queer, straight. our theme was spirituality and sexuality, particularly being queer and being spiritual. These two usually diverge.

Much of my life I assumed I could not have my God and my queerness too. I had to choose between one or the other like a child in the midst of a bitter custody battle. Each side smeared the other and often with plenty of evidence to back the claims.

At a recent presentation in North Carolina, an audience member remarked in the after-show feedback form the organizers provided,
After all the damage the Church has done and still does to LGBT people, how could anyone in their right mind choose to be gay and Christian?
I understand the sentiment. Worthie (Momma) and I spoke about this throughout the weekend. So many queer folks we meet who once had a faith background come OUT and want NOTHING to do with God or religion. Makes total sense. Even many "open and affirming" and gay churches are not always the safest and healthiest places for queer folks. The hierarchy, the baggage others carry and the theology itself often oppresses rather than encourages.

Then among certain types of conservative Christians many people believe and proclaim that LGBT folks do not have any valid spirituality. They talk about our "lifestyle" and continue to propagate the lie that we all live immoral and irresponsible that will bring destruction to society itself. I heard such talk in the brief BBC interview of James Parker on staff at Living Waters ex-gay program in the UK.
We see that there are more serious health implications for people who live a gay lifestyle. Even the gay research shows that this is a more fragmented lifestyle and relationship choice. So actually we are trying to equate, I believe, something, um, that is less healthy for society with something that is in the best interest of society.
Perhaps Parker learned from his US counterparts how to allude to "research" without actually citing sources or even the actual findings of the researcher.

For someone who stresses concern for the fragmented lifestyles of gay men (and with a course called Journey into Manhood, it sounds like they are most concerned for the welfare of men), Parker would do more to help gay men live more unified lives which would include a full embrace by the church and society. Instead organizations like his, perhaps seeking to do good, actually cause people to become even more fragmented.

When folks like the leaders at Exodus say things like, The opposite of homosexuality is holiness, the message comes across loud and clear. You cannot be queer and live a holy life.

Yet, in our workshop, participants clearly stated that they believe same-gender loving people and other queer folks need to live responsibly as they adhere to a moral code. They expressed vales of self-respect, loving choices towards others and most importantly an integrity to do what they have come to understand is God's will for their lives.

The divide runs deep though where many of us feel unsafe both in church and in the "gay community". I have said it before, it is sometimes harder to come out Christian among queer folks than it is to come out gay among church folks.

But when I came to made senses and came out of the closet, I had to rediscover and drag out ALL the parts of me, not just the gay part. Early in life I had a significant personal encounter with the divine. I am wired for God, and to deny that is to deny part of myself. As a Quaker, in the silence of meeting for worship, and in my own quiet times as well as through healthy relationships, I have begun the process to fuse all the parts of my personality together and stop the insanity of living out of little separate boxes.

As queer folks, as straight folks, as Christians, pagans, atheists, queer Christo-centric and quite eccentric vegan Quakers, or whatever identifiers we use, we can live authentic lives. Such lives always cause trouble for some or for many around us. For some we defy logic and history and "research".

But the coming out experience is one of becoming real, becoming solid, becoming ourselves. Some of us are wired for spirituality, and no one should allow some religious folks or any other folks to shove us back into our closets--closests that functioned much more as tombs.

In the words of a sorta drag queen (and Good Witch of the North) Come out, come out wherever you are.

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At 7:40 AM , Blogger Allyson Dylan Robinson said...

Wonderful sentiments, Peterson.

Someday, I'd love for you to elaborate on how the theological context of welcoming and affirming churches can become oppressive. I don't disagree, but as my family and I approach the time when I can come out fully, we're recognizing that one of the most important factors in our emotional/spiritual health will be finding a community of faith that can become "home" for us. Any thoughts on what to look out for?

At 9:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the show talking about spirituality in an exclusively Christian context? I often feel like I'm in kind of a no-man's-land; on the one hand, as you say, gay people generally don't want anything to do with spirituality...on the other hand, when you find ones who do, they're nearly always Christian, and usually of the variety that doesn't take kindly to Buddhists like me.

At 10:15 AM , Blogger Peterson Toscano said...

ally, will do. I will have to think before I write because I don't want to bash queer friendly churches. They are most often life savers.

m. good question. Momma and I intentionally focused on spirituality and not Christianity. Other participants in the workshop voiced the same experience that about their non-Christian beliefs. We had some Wiccan, Buddhists and a Muslim person in the group.

Our take was that as queer folks who are wired spiritually, we do not need to judge each other on what type of spirituality. If so, we exercise the same sort of oppression that kept many of us in the closet sexually.

As queer folks, we need to be respected that we can connect spiritually, that we can be trusted to find the divine without someone imposing their understanding on us.

For me that is as a queer Quaker Christo-centric Vegan. One size does not fit all.

At 1:41 AM , Blogger Phoenix said...

Here via QuakerQuaker, wanted to say "thank you." I started venturing into the queer community only recently, and one of the first things I found was that people tend to be either silent about religion -- mostly the Abrahamic religions, but all to some extent -- or very negative about it. It's uncomfortable for me, because being a Quaker is very important to me, but so is connection with the queer community. Reading this post while wrestling with how, when and where to "come out" as religious is, to me, strengthening.

At 6:57 PM , Blogger Contemplative Activist said...

I wish I had time to really dig into the literature about this - but as I understand it - gay people are more likely to experience mental health difficulties like depression, anxiety etc.

But the first law of statistics: CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION!!!

From what I understand of the research, it seems that there are social factors (e.g. family and community acceptance of difference & gay sexuality, or rather, lack thereof) that mediate the link.

Perhaps James Parker would also like to cure ethnic minorities of their race, as they are also more at risk of experiencing poorer social, psychological and physical wellbeing?


At 7:01 PM , Blogger Contemplative Activist said...

Ha, I just realised I didn't cite the papers or their actual findings :(. Bad researcher me (*slaps own wrists*)

However, I have read lots of stuff, just not assimilated it properly into a coherent commentary. Perhaps I will do day...

CA (bogged down with academic work atm, which is sadly not particularly interesting. Statistics...*yawn*...)


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