This morning I met with, a fellow Queer Quaker,at the Friends House near London’s Euston Station.
Mark, a teacher who recently relocated to London, will do something that very few teachers in the UK have done. He will work in a state school as an openly gay teacher.
For those of us in the states, the concept may not seem that foreign, but here in the UK after years of living under the oppression of Thatcher’s Section 28, LGBT bullying worsens, and most, well, virtually all queer teachers are still in the closet.
As a Quaker though, Mark understands that part of the truth testimony (also known as the testimony of integrity) he needs to be honest about his sexuality on the job. It is not a matter of flaunting his gayness or making an issue out of it, but simply being open and honest. Anyone who has taught knows that students often express interest and curiosity about their teachers. Are you married? Do you have children? Are you gay?
How does a queer Quaker respond to these questions?
The Testimony of Integrity is not simply telling the truth. Rather it is applying ultimate truth to each situation. For example, Friends (Quakers) do not believe that one should trick others by making statements that are technically true but misleading. (from wikipedia)
How many times have I used ambiguous pronouns when talking about a boyfriend?
Q: Do you have a girlfriend?
A: Um, yeah I’m seeing someone right now.
Psalm 51 speaks of cleansing from sin. Many of us queer folks have lived with lies. We lied to our families. We lied to our friends. We lied to our faith communities. We lied to ourselves. Homophobia and heterosexism in the religious and secular worlds encourage lies about our sexuality. Don’t ask; don’t tell. Just shut up and make believe that you are normal–heteronormal that is. It is safer and easier that way for all.
But these lies eat away, cause many of us to become secretive, isolated and distrustful. It also breeds shame.
In the midst of crying out to God for cleansing from sin, the Psalmist declares:
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom.
Inner Truth. But Truth lived only internally without outward truthfulness is still dishonesty. Coming out is a process. Before we come out to the outer world, we often come out to ourselves. Then we are free to be honest with others. Sadly too many of us walk around with portable closets that we dash into when we’re on the job, with family, with fellow worshippers.
Like Superman hiding his hero identity from the public, we make quick changes linguistically and culturally to put on a false front–our straight jackets–much more constricting than Superman’s tights.
As a Quaker I need to be true to myself, to God, to others. It is yet another way of speaking truth to power.
loverly. I love the term “straight jacket” used in that context. brillant.
Mark is a courageous man – I really admire his stand. I know a couple of gay teachers and as far as I am aware they keep their sexuality well and truly under wraps at school. (Certainly I know at least one gay teacher who would be horrified if their sexuality was known).
What Mark is doing is so empowering and liberating for himself, other gay staff and gay students…not to mention all the straight people amongst us who need to be reminded that we’re not the only ones in the world from time to time 🙂
What a guy!
It was in the classroom that I saw most clearly just how far gay rights still had to come in the UK. “Gay” and “fag” are still the ultimate insults among schoolboys, and standing up to teach them knowing your sexuality could be exposed at any moment is a daunting task.
Sometimes it is hard to be truthful to one’s self, it takes courage to stand up and be counted. Sometimes the fight takes its toll, to the fight the battle day in and day out wears on one’s soul. But to go out and to have to fight the battles again and again, you keep asking yourself, is it worth it? Then one day you are standing in line waiting and someone comes up to you and saying, “You talked in one of my classes, now I have a transgendered patient and because of that lecture I knew how to connect with her.” and suddenly it all became worth it.
We are called to be truthful. Every Christian knows The Eighth Commandment: “DON’T TELL LIES”. OK, so I lied about liking broccoli. Little deal. I lied on my tax return. Slightly bigger deal. I lied when I faked orgasm with K. A shameful lie. I have sometimes denied being a Christian through my un-Christlike thoughts and actions. And I have lied every day for the last 40 years in pretending to be heterosexual. Please God, forgive me.
Man, I really need to be a Quaker.
I’m been living out of the closet as a gay man since 93 and it had never been problem for me to come out as a gay. But for me to come out as a gay christian it has been really difficult, sometimes I’ve felt ashamed of myself as if been Christian was an anachronism. I feel insecure, is like if I wasn’t sure how to react if people get a negative reaction.
I can completely identify with what you’ve had to say on this subject. Though I have passed myself off as ambiguous many times before for the sake of not making people uncomfortable or not wanting to answer personal questions, maybe this isn’t the best way to go about it. I think that you are quite right that we, as the LGBTQ community, need to be more forward with our lives instead of hiding… hiding breeds paranoia on both sides. But much depends on where you live also… what about the issue of gay folks who live in extremely intolerant areas where showing your sexuality could result in unpleasant physical repercussions? It’s true that such horrible abuse, if made public, brings more light and attention to the issue, but nobody wants to become an unfortunate statistic.
A few thoughts, as always.
1. I love this sentence: “Truth lived only internally without outward truthfulness is still dishonesty.” It speaks to my condition.
2. Mark’s story and the comments around it here reminds me of the words that Nelson Mandela borrowed from Marianne Williamson, especially the last part: “As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
3. My life has become easier since I started treating my relationship with my partner as being normal–including talking about her in the same way that straight people talk about their relationship. But I also recognize that I live in one of the most queer-friendly cities in the U.S., which helps a lot.
Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up
Afew years back a young colleague of mine, who I hadn’t known was gay, told me he was gay over lunch. It turned out that his reason for coming out to me was that he knew me pretty well and knew that I had been happily married for over twenty years at the time and he was contemplating making a lifelong commitment to his lover. He wanted to talk about commitment and what works and how sure you had to be that this person was the right one, etc. I was pleased that he came to me.
The point of this is that it is far better for people to be open about who is gay and who is straight so we can stop thinking that gays are so radically different from straights. Gays have the same sorts of strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, as anybody else. We are taught to bear each others burdens and to do that we must share who we really are with each other.
RichardM, what a touching and succinct way of putting it. Thank you 🙂
Peterson, I just wanted to let you know that you as well as some of my heavily respected friends (who also happen to be in the Society of Friends) have moved me to start checking out Quakerism in my area. I attended my very first Friends meeting on Sunday. What a lovely and grounded group of people. Thank you for helping to open my eyes to an entire aspect of Christianity that (because of misrepresentation from the fundamentalist sect I was raised in) I had been blind to up until now. I will be attending more meetings in the future.
I feel moved and inspired by all your comments here. Liz, that quote of Mandela’s! Wow. So true. I need to think more on that.
Thank you all for sharing your lives in these comments. I love how on a blog community sharing occurs.
I will feed off of these comments for days. Thank you.