other

Sometimes I forget that I’m gay.

Seriously. I’ll just be walking around, doing my thing, thinking about coffee or tennis or sleep or whatever, and suddenly:

Wait a second, I’m attracted to guys. Woah.

Then I resume my espresso daydream and life goes on. I probably don’t need to explain why such an occurrence is a little odd.

I mean, I’m going to just assume that straight people don’t know what it’s like to spend all day worrying over how straight they feel and wondering if other people can tell. “Oh crap, a beautiful woman! Was I staring? I think I was. Was someone watching me stare? Everyone must have noticed my eyes dilate. That man over there looks like he’s judging me. Great, now I have to leave the country…” “Did I play this sport too competently? Ugh, I hate myself…” “That old woman said she had a niece I should meet… does she think I like girls? How did she find out? Oh god, what if she tells my mom?” “Maybe if I just wear scarves and skinny-jeans no one will question my sexuality.”

But I could be wrong.

Either way, I used to be entirely preoccupied with image-control. I was almost always aware that I didn’t quite fit in and, therefore, pathologically tried to disguise that otherness, certain that should people find out I was gay the internal isolation that scraped and slithered around my brain would become an external reality and encompass me.

But a couple things are happening now: I am feeling less “other,” and my otherness is slowly shedding the fear and stigma of its youth.

I am not saying I expect, or even hope, to ever be “non-other”. Not at all. So long as I’m attracted to men, and so long as the late Jerry Fallwell’s elite team of ninjas succeeds in stopping President Obama’s diabolical plan to infect America’s drinking water with the gay gene, I will experience the otherness that comes from being a sexual minority until I die. However, such difference is no longer an inevitable occasion for anxiety because it is starting to reveal its role in the grand unfolding of God’s grace in my life.

(It is necessary to say that, even though I will be referring to “otherness” in the abstract, I can really only speak to my particular experience as an evangelical Christian man attracted to men – which is a reality that doesn’t externally mark me for marginalization. More than that, I happen to have inherited almost every other kind of socio-cultural privilege imaginable, which has, I am sure, significantly diminished the potency of my experience with “otherness.” While I may find myself occasionally camping in the margins, I do so with a $500 tent.)

The reason I’m even commenting on these brief flashes of “unawareness” or whatever-it-is, of not being consumed with feelings of “otherness,” is because this is the last place I expected to experience something like this. I flew down to Central America alone, re-entered “la bodega”, and have daily come up against rampant and incessant homophobia from the teenage boys I live with (and Central America’s machismo culture in general) – a recipe for angst and feeling super-gay and isolated. And yet…

I’m intrigued by the fact that I can feel so at home in my body while in a context where, honestly, I think bad things would happen if it got out that I’m gay. I’m experiencing almost-ideal self-perception in regard to my sexuality* in a less-than-ideal environment to be gay because, I think, they do one thing really well at the orphanage: work with the kids through diverse gifts and histories. I may not be “out” here, but the fact that I’m gay, and the way I’ve grown and deepened because of that fact,** has enabled me to serve these kids in a manner that is different from other staff members and yet still important and valued – namely, I tend to be more aware of how certain kids are being pushed to the fringes, more aggressive against bullying, and less rough in my behavior toward even the most obnoxious boys (one of whom, as I type, is randomly pressing buttons on my computer forcing me to engage in manic typo-prevention).

This is why I think the Church has so much to offer those attracted to the same sex.***  So many people can only dull the ache of difference by staying in communities comprised of those who are equally “other” and thus experience a kind of normativity.**** Though the Church does, in some ways, serve a similar function, it does not do so through the normalization or flattening of otherness; the Gospel is not about homogenization (this is one reason I think we have four notoriously idiosyncratic Gospels accounts), it’s about redemption, conformation, and scandalous equality before God.

I don’t love Christian community because I get to spend time with people “just like me,” though Christ-followers do share certain unshakeable foundations. I love Christian community because it reminds me that I am united in purpose and worship with a bunch of crazy people around the world who aren’t like me at all and who reveal Christ to me in ways that would be otherwise unknown.

In this community my otherness, once an occasion for feelings of distance and loneliness, can, and should, take its rightful place as a site of revelation of the goodness and beauty of God. And thus, somehow, otherness – the multiform, embodied experience of being wrongly marginalized for one reason or another – becomes a catalyst for a more profound unity and depth. And while I hesitate to ascribe any sort of moral exceptionalism to marginalization, we must acknowledge that we serve a Christ who seemed far more at home on the dusty fringes than in the cushioned halls of privilege.

There is so, so much more to this, and I apologize for all the nuance I couldn’t include in less than 1000 words.

But I want to finish by saying that I am hopeful. I am hopeful that the Church (specifically the North American church) will become less concerned with the maintenance of social power and position and more passionate about proclaiming the Gospel through myriad stories of redemption lived out in a community dedicated to loving service of the world.

Jordan

Edit – Please do not think I am glossing over the gross sins of the church in regard to the LGBTQ community or the serious hurdles we face as we try to move forward in love. For slightly more critical posts, see What Is Love (which I think is one of the most important posts I’ve written), and Family Talk, among others.

* Almost-ideal not in that I forget that I’m gay, but in that my sexuality does not dominate my self-perception as it used to.

** Though such growth and depth are, I would say, the result of interacting with my sexuality through the primary and total filter of my Christian faith.

*** Aside from the, you know, relationship with Jesus and eternal life and all that.

**** I’m not saying such communities are bad. Not at all. In many ways they can be both necessary and life-giving. I greatly benefitted from my time in the gay student-group at Wheaton, which is but one example among many. I just don’t think they are an adequate substitute for what the church is called to be.

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12 thoughts on “other

  1. Hi Jordan –

    You say “This is why I think the Church has so much to offer those attracted to the same sex.” then go on to articulate a vision for a Christ-centered, diverse, supportive, inclusive church community that I could totally get behind (except for the gay-intimacy-is-a-sin part that I think is emotionally abusive). I would say my home church strives to be (and often succeeds at being) this type of community for all believers. “Blessed be the Tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.” Beautiful! I’m so totally with you. Sign me up.

    But I think it’s important not to gloss over the fact that all too frequently the Church does not remotely resemble your vision of a community in which people who are gay are loved and supported.

    It’s not just the other that has a tendency to congregate with PLUs. In my experience, especially with more conservative churches, there is a tendency for us to be isolationist and exclusive. We create the “ins” and the “outs”; and the desire to be an “in” engenders a very real homogeneity.

    Unfortunately, the “ins” don’t always treat Christians who are gay with grace or charity. In fact, it is often en vogue to fight the “righteous” fight against the “normalization” of homosexuality. To have a different view is to fail the “in’s” litmus test.

    There is much, much work to be done to make the Church as safe space for people who are gay. There is still a lot of fear, ignorance and anger being preached both in the pulpit and in the small group. The loudest voices of conservative Christianity still insist on spreading vile lies like gay people are diseased pedophiles who incapable of monogamy (case in point….did you see the evangelical response to the mere suggestion that gay boys be allowed to tie square knots alongside their straight friends?!). There are still too many kids who fear rejection, feel emotionally stranded, and see the closet as their only choice.

    By all means, let’s be Utopian in our vision; but let’s not be myopic about our current reality.

    • I absolutely agree with you that the church has to answer for a distressing load of sins and failures, especially in regard to the LGBTQ community. The difficulty with blogging, at least for me, is that I generally want every post to express every nuance and qualification I have about a subject, but sometimes I just don’t have space (and sometimes I don’t have nuance!).

      I had hoped that some of my earlier posts like What Is Love or Family Talk would provide the necessary balance. I’m often told I am too negative about the church, actually. I even had one person who is close to me accuse me of allying myself with church-haters so I could say acidic things about it. That both hurt and surprised me, as I love the church with everything in me. I *am* the church, for crying out loud.

      Just as I think there are times to stand back and honestly excoriate the church for its sins and hypocrisy, I think there are times to let our hopeful imaginations run a bit wild. Yes: realism, pragmatism, discretion – we need them badly. But so often I feel that the church gets so bogged down in what it thinks is “realistic” that is fails to aspire to be what God has called it to be. We serve a Christ that was raised from the dead; that kind of tears up the manual about what is “possible.”

      But still. Over-realized eschatologies are dangerous, you’re right, and I do doubt the church will ever resemble my hopeful vision. But Jesus prayed his disciples would be one as he is one with the Father, which seems quite unrealistic, so sometimes I think it’s ok to pray that we will love others as God loves us, which is really all this post is: a prayer and an imaginative thought born from the hope that we would love better.

      I was divested of an internship and accused of some pretty hurtful things by my local church just because I am attracted to men. I’m not unaware of the painfully fallen attitudes that some, many, Christians have regarding homosexuality. But I’ve tasted a bit of hope in a place I didn’t expect / couldn’t have expected it, and I just wanted to share.

      I hope that makes some sense. Thanks for your comments, I always find them helpful and thoughtful. Maybe I should have qualified myself in the post. I may go add in some links to earlier ones.

      Jordan

      • Hi Jordan –

        You say: “But I’ve tasted a bit of hope in a place I didn’t expect / couldn’t have expected it, and I just wanted to share.”

        I love that, and it’s beautiful – and I totally got that from your post. In Christ there is always hope and I’m glad you’ve experienced it! I should have said that before (really sorry – I didn’t intend to come across so critically).

        I guess I’m hoping that your unique insights can help us see how our Church can travel from our current location (which can be a pretty tough part of town) down the road to Utopia.

        My best to you
        David

  2. Jordan–
    This is such a beautiful post! Oftentimes, I just like to let poetry like yours sink in. But sometimes, it deserves comment. Perhaps in contrast to David above, I don’t know.

    Your posts always embody subtlety, the essence of gray vs black and white thinking. I love your persepective on “otherness”, that you are able to share your gifts with the Church and the world better because of having experienced being “outside”. I have lived this myself and always thought that I would have been less kind, compassionate and tolerant had I not gone through what I have. I also watched my younger daughter, who struggled with a speech defect, respond with great sensitivity to autistic and other learning disabled kids, primarily because she understood what it was like to be obviously different.

    I could say much more, but this will suffice.

  3. “Sometimes I forget that I’m gay.”
    Just as your homosexuality does not dominate your self-perception, my friend’s homosexuality does not dominate my perception of him. I sometimes forget it myself. I think it’s important for Christians to not let someone’s sexuality dominate their perception of him.

  4. If also find that when I am in other cultures my sexuality does not dominate my self perception. Not at all. Maybe because they are not so preoccupied with, “is he? type of questions”. When abroad, I’m just me, hanging out and living life. I think because some don’t care, it is not a big issue or culturally inappropriate to inquire. Whereas in America people will actually ask you who you sleep with. And tell you who they think you sleep with, and why they think you are gay and, and, and.

    I find that improper, in any context. Image-control is still an issue for me. The other day at the gym I wondered “did anyone see me checking out that guy?” I decided no since he was quite a distance away. But I still needed to tell myself that.

    • Ever been to Amsterdam? Gosh, that was the gayest I have ever felt. Seemed like I was attracted to, oh I don’t know, every other guy.

      I think it’s probably much more complex, but I do agree that with the heightened sense of controversy and public discourse happening in the States about homosexuality (and sexuality in general) it can definitely be a bit overbearing sometimes! But it also may be that I’m just not aware of the cultural “triggers” for questioning someone’s sexuality.

      For instance, where I live now (and in much of the world) it is totally, totally not weird for two males to be affectionate toward each other in public (to a degree). But the moment I sat with my legs crossed one of the kids blurted, “Why are sitting like such a woman! Only women and gay people sit like that here.” when in the States it’s not quite so “alarming.” I wonder if the lack of worry comes from unawareness! Once I get back to the States I imagine I’ll start wrestling with image again in a big way… especially because of clothing.

      Thanks for the comment! I hope you are well.

      Jordan

  5. I don’t get it, why does it take so many words to make no sense?
    All people should be loved
    All of us People with a sinful past and tendencies toward sin and still struggling and failing in sin should be loved and excepted in the church
    But no sin should ever be allowed in the church body of fellowship or go unrebuked.

  6. Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing. Like you, I was a Christian traveling/working in other countries and “incognito” gay. It’s odd. The older I get, I think more about how unsafe it is for me to travel as a gay man alone. Even if I never said a single word about it. If I have to go somewhere less developed, I’ll be wearing a fake wedding ring.

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