I just spoke with a 20 year-old who is faced with what seems an impossible choice. He comes from a conservative Christian family. His father is a pastor, well known in the area where they are from. This young man chose to be a Christian years ago, but he also is gay. He tried for the past few years to “fix” his gayness, going to Christian counselors, reparative therapists, ex-gay programs. Three years ago he began to suffer from depression and is now undergoing medical treatment for it. He recently came to the conclusion that “change” is not possible. He has heard it from ex-gay leaders themselves, leaders who still struggle on a daily basis with their own desires, ex-gay men who secretly look at gay porn all the while seeking to maintain their heterosexual marriages and public ministries.
The young man has a choice to make. If he accepts the reality that he is gay, he will likely lose his family and his church friends. If he stuffs his orientation, it seems things will only grow worse for him, that he will stave off the inevitable only to come out later in life suffering from psychological, emotional, spiritual and developmental harm that can come from repressing one’s sexuality.
He has few gay role models in the world around him. He knows hardly anyone who is gay, and has only begun to branch out an connect with people. He has witnessed a gay party crowd that he has avoided and has heard from conservative anti-gay leaders that gay men have no morals in regards to families and faithfulness. He’s a thoughtful, intelligent, deep person who doesn’t want to party, but to be a person of integrity, a person of faith and in good health. He has begun his journey of self-discovery and of education about the world around him. With each step he comes closer to having to make a choice–one filled with risks no matter how he chooses.
What a dreadful choice to have to make. For those who wonder why it takes some of us so long to come out, consider this young man and the challenge of having to lose something no matter how he chooses.
Those of us who are transgender, bisexual, lesbian and gay, we offer our communities and our families a great gift. So often “the other” is someone on the outside–the foreigner, the person who practices a different religion, the man or woman living on the street, etc. But with queer folks, we pop up in the middle of our churches, communities and homes. Suddenly those around us face a test–How will you respond to “the other” in your midst? Too often people fail this test, react in fear and thoughtlessness and drive “the other” (who is also their own) far from them.
Others rise to the challenge. They read, research, think, consider, pray–no just in one direction, the one they have been programmed to go in, but they allow themselves to hear new voices, to take in new perspectives. They do not let fear rule them, but they trust that they will find the truth and not assume they already have it. As a result, their faith changes, their lives change, their outlook changes. They too may experience loss, friends who cannot abide them as long as they accept their queer child, sibling or friend. They may lose their standing in their community, acceptance by their peers, opportunities to serve in their faith communities. They may get treated as “the other,” a problem to be removed instead of a person to be understood.
I too am a Christian, and from what I understand of Jesus is that in his ministry, he did not concern himself with politics and instead demonstrated a deep and growing concern for people. He challenged the thinking of his day, of the religious leaders around him who had gotten stuck, who sought to keep everyone in the boxes these leaders constructed and insisted God wanted them to maintain. A few of these religious leaders opened themselves up to see beyond the rules and regulations and got to the heart of the matter. They received the gifts “the other” brought them and grew wise. The boundary lines demarcating their religion grew fuzzy, and their faith grew stronger.
I pray for this young man, and I pray for his family that they will be happy and close and loving and that they will see beyond what they have been taught and come to a place of understanding.