Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

Just Be You.

I was watching House of Cards, casually scrolling through my Facebook feed, minding my own gay business, when I see this:

Vicky Beeching tweet

Great. There goes freaking Vicky Beeching, making my mind work. After my initial internal, “Aaaaaaamen, girl, YES! Mmmhmm! #preach 🙌 🙌🙌” moment, my mind immediately went to the last few days, specifically the story of my fiancé and the airport.

He returned from a work trip yesterday and I had the distinct honor and privilege of picking him up from the airport. It was a lovely, studly birthday present!

As I waited for him inside the airport, I thought about what I would do when I saw him.

Would I hug him? Kiss him? Hold his hand? Just smile and start walking along with him? What reaction would any of these things get from people around us? Would someone call us “faggots”? Would someone say it was disgusting? Would people start giggling? Shaking their heads? Would someone get physical?

And if any of this negative stuff happened, what would my reaction be? Would I say what first came to my mind? Would I respond with kindness? Would I act at all?

In the days and minutes leading up to him returning home, I spent far too much time (meaning any amount of time) focused on this hypothetical stuff and not on how exciting it was going to be to see him. Now I know this was silly, but it’s reality. It happens.

I was talking with a new (but already wonderful) friend of mine the day before the fiancé’s return home and we were laughing about how much we worry about things that may not even come to pass. We talked about how part of it is societal and part of it is personality, but we both agreed to what I already knew by that point, and really knew the whole time: I should, and will, greet the love of my life in whatever way I want and let the potentially bigoted chips fall where they may.

So, what happened?

I saw him walking toward me. I smiled and waited. When he got close, I took the photo I knew I had to take of my “birthday present,” and I couldn’t help but hug him and kiss him and put my arm around him.

And you know what?

The world didn’t end. The sky didn’t fall. No one said a single damn thing, at least to us.

So fast-forward to me seeing Vicky Beeching’s tweet this morning. I think it’s essentially the main lesson from yesterday’s airport adventure and it’s what I knew all along. I think, deep down, most of us understand her point, although it’s sometimes difficult to put into action.

And for anyone thinking, “Well, it’s your own fault for caring about what others think of you,” chances are you’ve either never been part of a hated, marginalized group and/or you’re just lying to yourself in thinking that you’ve never cared what anyone else thinks of you. Whether we should or not, most people, at one point or another, care about what others think. And the people who shout, “I don’t care what others think!” from the rooftops are usually folks who really care about what others think.

Beyond that, though, for many of us, it’s not actually so much about what others think of us as it’s about navigating our lives peacefully and happily. My primary concern wasn’t feeling bad or shamed by someone’s words. My primary concern was that some jerk would try to start a fight. My primary concern wasn’t our feelings — it was our safety.

So if you’ve never really had to do your best not to worry about potential hatred for simply existing and living and loving, be thankful. Because even for those of us who are able to just let those worries roll right off our backs, they’re still worries that we have that others simply don’t. To know this is true, one only needs to look around in public and see how straight white couples tend to interact with each other, then look at how LGBT couples tend to interact with each other, especially in a setting that may not definitely be a welcoming space. I fully understand I’m generalizing, but I’ve seen it enough to know there’s truth to it. And certainly everyone has worries, but not everyone has this worry this often.

I’m thankful for this reminder to focus on our peace of mind and to not let anyone else’s crap get us down. Because it’s just that: crap. And it’s their issue to deal with, not yours.

Happy Pride, by the way! Let’s go be proud of who we are and who we love! Always.

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Part 1: Deep Dinner Chat

So I’m sitting in a restaurant with my boyfriend. I don’t know how it comes up, but it does. 

“I don’t know what I’d consider myself…I don’t really know what I believe,” I say.

Silence. 

I felt bad, but it was true. And he’s an awesome boyfriend, now fiancé, so there were no ultimatums given or anything. We were both just kind of surprised by the conversation, unsure of exactly where to go from there. I think I explained that, though it had crossed my mind at times over the last few years, there hadn’t really been a need for me to think about my faith at length.

I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew it was time to think about what I believed, particularly regarding faith.

So for the last few years, I’ve been on this journey, but it’s not one I’ve talked much about publicly. Naturally, my increasingly introspective nature leads me to think about why that is. I don’t think I have the complete answer, but I think I can summarize it: Fear.

I can confidently and comprehensively discuss LGBTQ issues with pretty much anybody now. For more than a decade, these issues have dominated my life. And while many conservative Evangelical Christians love to talk about how my sexuality is only one small part of the complete “me,” they’re also the ones who force many of us to focus on it because we’re constantly defending our love and our livelihoods. Fighting to be equal. Fighting just to live in peace. So while I certainly don’t claim to know everything when it comes to the LGBTQ community, or even myself within it, I can definitely discuss it. 

When I was a child and into my teenage years, before I knew for sure I was gay, there was something else I could discuss at length, something else that dominated my thinking and world: my faith. And I loved it. It helped me understand the world. It gave me guidance. Friends. A family of sorts. It gave me hope and love and fun. It gave me a chance to perform, write, and speak to groups. I realized I could be influential in others’ lives. It gave me a sense of mission.

But I also had questions and doubts. Big ones. Even before my sexuality became an issue, I learned that doubts and questions were not welcome at church. Disagreement was not welcome.

I’ve always been one to value education, logic and reason. More and more, I felt these were also not welcome, so I, in turn, was not welcome. As I got older, I started to notice other things, like misogyny and racism. Things just didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem like the Christ I had read about, whose love, compassion, grace and peace I thought I had at least occasionally felt. I realized I needed to leave. As you can imagine, once I realized I was gay, I knew that was it. 

All I knew about “other” non-Evangelical Christians back then was that they were few in number, were all wrong, and were giving into “the world” to make people more comfortable. That’s what I had been taught. Fortunately, I was going off to college and didn’t have to deal with any of it, so I didn’t.

While away at college, I was able to really come into my own. The big, bad, liberal university I spent my entire childhood hearing about turned out to be an awesome, caring community that allowed me to meet other people, learn new things, and gather valuable new perspectives on the world and the people living in it. It solidified what I already instinctively knew: Higher education and interaction with people who were different from me were good things, not bad things. My biggest regret about college is that I rushed through it. 

My drifting away wasn’t entirely my childhood church’s fault. It was inevitable. So-called “Christians” have repeatedly been the most hypocritical, hate-filled, fear-filled people I’ve encountered. And some of the nicest, most caring people I’ve met have been people of other faiths or of no faith. Plenty of “Christians” pushed me farther away. I have to say, though, that I never doubted my childhood church’s love for me. There are certainly reasons to be thankful to them, though I have to wonder what would’ve happened had I known I was gay back then and been open about it.

So there I was, at that table with that adorable man. For years, I hadn’t had to think about my faith, so I didn’t. But it was time. What did I believe? And if I did really still ultimately think I was a Christian, there really wasn’t any welcoming place for me, an openly gay man, right? Turns out, there was, but it would take time to figure that out.

Why Should I Stay?

A friend of mine recently came across a series of questions that one of her friends had asked on social media. She thought I might be interested in weighing in. I was, and thought the interaction could be beneficial for others. I think many people probably have these questions, or a variation of them:

“In light of Kim Burrell’s recent homophobic statements, I have a few questions. Specifically for gay men who identify as Christian and still attend church… WHY?? For the life of me I can’t imagine why anyone would go to church, just to be condemned. Maybe it’s tradition, maybe it’s guilt, but either way you’re allowing a community (often paying for it) to degrade you as a human…

Why worship a ‘god’ who believes that you are an abomination?”

I totally understand where this question is coming from. Frankly, and sadly, it’s a reasonable one to ask. After reading through some of the additional commentary, I decided to offer my perspective (note: some minor edits for clarity have been made):

To answer the initial question asked above, my journey back to Christianity (although I am far from regular weekly church attendance at this point), at least as it relates to my sexuality, could probably be very generally summed up in three steps:

1) I discovered that Jesus never actually said anything about homosexuality, or people in committed same-sex relationships, and that the six “clobber” verses often used to justify condemnation of homosexuality were stripped of historical context and typically taken in a way in which other texts are conveniently not. Basically, I discovered that God — and Jesus — loved me just as I was when it came to being gay. Certainly, not all Christians think this is the case and not all gay Christians feel this way, but I do, through and through.

2) I discovered that the “Christianity” that tended to make the headlines was really just one subset of a broader group of people who call themselves followers of Christ. I learned that there are millions of Christians who don’t believe that simply being LGBT is a sin, and who do truly behave with love and compassion. The negatives of any group or story pretty much always dominate any media headlines over any positives that are happening. This, combined with the fact that often times the loudest voices are the ones who get heard, makes for a dominant narrative of the American Christian as basically a conservative, evangelical Christian who really believes in more of an “Americhristianity” — to borrow a term from someone else — than anything else. The reality, however, is much different — there are many, many other Christians out there who do not behave in this way.

3) I discovered that it was going to take some major research, study, prayer, grace, and forgiveness — to name a few. But, more importantly, I realized that that’s just how life works. Sure, this particular situation may take some folks even more grace and more forgiveness and more prayer, etc. Understandably so. But we’re all screwed up in our own ways, and if I’m asking for a group of people to try and be more compassionate to me, I should strive to be more compassionate toward them. That does not, however, mean putting up with physical and mental abuse or downright hatred. But it does mean trying to meet others at a place where I wish they would meet me — as a listener, ready to show compassion, grace, and trying to understand their perspective.

As for this part — “I can’t imagine why anyone would go to church, just to be condemned” — I’m in 100% agreement. But the Christian faith is filled with many, many churches and congregations who do not condemn gay people for simply being gay. Yes, I wish that number would rise, and I do think it will go up, but there are welcoming churches out there, nonetheless. I have made a commitment to only go where I do feel truly welcomed. And yet, I’ve also become more comfortable with the idea that each individual congregant doesn’t have to fully agree with everything I believe, including that Jesus is OK with my being in a relationship with another man. Now, will I tolerate extended bigotry, hatred, fear, contempt, etc.? No, of course not. But I’m willing to engage in conversation with a person who seems to really want to learn, and seems to be approaching the whole situation with an honest, open heart.

I fully agree that one shouldn’t worship a “god” who believes that they are an abomination simply for being gay. But I don’t worship that God, and neither do millions of other Christians. We worship a God of love. We worship a God of grace and forgiveness and of peace. We worship Jesus, who spoke far more about love and peace and of not fearing than he spoke about judging others’ sins and rejecting them for those perceived sins. What I believe in is life-giving and fearless.

The other thing I just want to say is that I’ve had to learn to let go. Does that mean I’m going to put myself in repeated harmful situations? No. Does that mean I’m going to forget the things that have been said by some, etc.? No. It means that I try — and have to keep trying — to remember that we are all human and are all trying our best. I try to remember that, if I’m asking for compassion, understanding, and a willingness to at least have a conversation about faith and the LGBT community, I should be willing to provide that same compassion, understanding, and willingness to have a conversation to those I disagree with.

While I’m sure there are also plenty of LGBT Christians who continue to place themselves in such toxic environments, the LGBT Christians I know tend to be in affirming churches — not churches that “avoid” or “ignore” the six “clobber” verses, but churches that believe the Bible says something different about “homosexuality” or about the LGBT community. Or that what it has to say about these things isn’t enough to defeat the ultimate commandments to love our God and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.

There are two more things I’d like to add to this for the purposes of this post:

  • The thought process as outlined above took years to develop.
  • As at peace as I may sound about it all, the realities are much tougher, and I’m not going to sit here and pretend that it’s super easy to “love your enemies,” etc. Honestly, for a lot of these types of folks, I don’t really even see them as enemies. But whatever they are — it can be tough to show them the time of day, much less even kindness.

So no — I don’t have it all figured out and I’m never going to always get it right, which is tough for me to admit and realize. But life is a long series of smaller decisions, and I can do my best to make as many good ones as I can.

“For The Love of Christ”

For the second consecutive year, I participated in the Coming Out Monologues Jacksonville, a community-created, community-inspired and community-led theatrical production dedicated to transformation through storytelling.

Last year, we had the pleasure of opening the show on the same night national marriage equality became a reality. It was one of the best nights of my life.

This year, we opened our show in the shadow of the tragedy in Orlando. It was quite a different feeling, but opening night ended up being one of the best nights of my life yet again. The audience’s love, acceptance and understanding was entirely unexpected by me when it came to my monologue in particular. It was humbling. And awesome.

My latest monologue focused on Christianity and its relationship with the LGBTQ community. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Matthew Vines’ book “God and the Gay Christian” as a wonderful resource in both the writing process and in my personal life. For those of you interested, I’d also recommend Rachel Held Evans’ “Searching for Sunday.” She’s great to follow on social media, too, as are John Pavlovitz and Benjamin L. Corey.

One of the performances was recorded, but I’m not sure when the final video will be available, so I made my own! Additionally, I was asked to provide the text of my monologue, so I hope you find it valuable.

I…am…tired. I’m tired of defending myself and having to go on the offensive. I’m tired of defending my faith to people supposedly of my faith. I’m tired of willful ignorance. I’m tired of fear-mongering…especially from people whose God told them three things repeatedly – don’t fear, love God and love your neighbor.

I’m tired of the First Baptists of the world claiming authority over the Bible and over what’s right and wrong. I’m tired of hearing things like, “Well I’m just preaching the word of God” and “I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear…I’m going to tell you what the Bible says.” Ok, no. You’re going to tell me what you think the Bible says. You’re going to choose to take a few verses completely out of context while ignoring the fact that you add context to so many others.

And I’m probably even more tired of churches that mask the same old, uninformed conservative evangelical rhetoric with flashy graphics, fancy rock concerts, a marketing department and tatted-up pastors with drug-addicted pasts. Places like this pretend you’re welcome…right up until you even suggest that same-sex relationships are OK with God. Then it’s time to find another church. At least First Baptist doesn’t try to hide that I’m not welcome.

The fact is gay Christians exist. And there are MILLIONS of Christians out there – straight, gay, whatever – who do not believe that same-sex relationships are inherently sinful. So here’s what we think the Bible really says – or doesn’t say – about “homosexuality.” I want to set the record straight. Wait…uh…anyway…

First of all, the Bible never discusses sexual orientation or committed, same-sex relationships and neither does Jesus. But there are six verses people refer to when claiming the Bible is against homosexuality. The first is in Genesis. The claim is that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because the people did gay things. But as Ezekiel explains, the story is really about not showing hospitality. It’s about the people being arrogant, overfed and unconcerned. It’s about people not helping the poor and needy. Also, the only form of same-sex behavior mentioned in the Sodom and Gomorrah story is gang rape, a far cry from a committed, same-sex relationship.

The two verses in Leviticus that people love to reference about the issue are part of what’s known as the “old law,” which the New Testament says no longer applies, thanks to Jesus. Leviticus also says that eating pork or shellfish is worthy of death. Combining fabrics is wrong, too. Don’t me wrong – as a gay man, I realize you have to be really careful about which fabrics you mix, but we don’t think it’s worthy of death. Well, most of us.

In the New Testament, Romans 1:26 – 27 basically says people refused to know God and got sexually confused and “abused and defiled each other…all lust, no love.” This, too, has nothing to do with people in loving, committed same-sex relationships.

There are also verses in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy, which use two really fancy Greek words. Many people translate these words to make sweeping negative generalizations about gay people. But there’s debate over these translations. In fact, others think a closer translation in modern times would be something like “dirty old men.” God knows there are plenty of those in the world today. I mean we all have that uncle, right?

Oh…and the apostle Paul — who wrote 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy – also calls men having long hair “unnatural.” And he says women shouldn’t speak in church. I’m pretty sure most churches let women talk these days. While I’m not a fan of women in the bedroom, I certainly don’t mind them talking. Usually. In Biblical times, same-sex behavior was mainly between men and boys – a master/servant sort of thing. Also, I just want to point out that the word “homosexuality” didn’t even appear in the Bible until 1946.

Really, the Bible says more about accepting others and about so-called “religious” people than it does about sexual orientation or committed, same-sex relationships. In fact, Jesus never condemned homosexuality, but he did challenge divorce, wealth, spiritual pride and exclusion. 

Besides, no one believes 100% of the Bible literally. No one. Here’s an example: In the book of Matthew, Jesus says his followers need to sell their possessions, give to the poor and follow him. But I don’t see First Baptist’s pastor giving up his 600-thousand-dollar home in Deerwood. I don’t see Celebration’s pastor giving up his 900-thousand-dollar home in Queen’s Harbour. And I don’t see Eleven22’s pastor giving up his 300-thousand-dollar home in Highland Glen.

Now surely, these men and their congregations do great things for the community. But Jesus says to sell all possessions and give to the poor. It’s pretty clear. So if they believe that the few verses on homosexuality should be taken 100% literally, surely they believe this literally. Or don’t they because it directly affects them?

1 Timothy tells women not to wear gold or pearls or expensive clothes and to be “modest” and “discreet,” yet plenty of women wear gold or pearls or costly clothes, especially to church on Sundays.

Then, there’s the elephant in the room…or should I say “sanctuary” – divorce. In multiple scriptures, we’re told it’s wrong. Yet, plenty of Christians get divorced. And you don’t hear these people fighting to outlaw divorce or Christian business owners refusing to serve divorced people like they are with our community.

In the New Testament, Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is. You know what he says? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” That’s number one. Do you know what number two is? “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Romans 14:1 says, “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but don’t quarrel over opinions.” There is grace in the non-essentials of the Christian faith. Whether or not being gay is right or wrong is most certainly not essential to being a Christian. But loving God and loving others is.

At best, no one really knows for sure what Jesus thinks about gay stuff because he didn’t say anything about it. But we have a way to tell what’s right and wrong, even if the Bible isn’t clear. It all comes down to fruit. Ironic, right? Jesus says a good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. As gay Christian author Matthew Vines puts it, Christians can use this to test beliefs based on the outcome. So let’s think about this…

Humans are created for love and companionship. But these anti-gay Christians just want us to turn that off. And they speak out against who we are so loudly that they make it even more difficult for our community to receive Christ’s message, which is for all people. They say hateful things and perpetuate fear. Their actions and rhetoric lead people to depression and – in some cases – suicide. They’re too concerned about protecting themselves from some invisible gay boogeyman to realize or care that they are doing harm. This seems like bad fruit to me.

But what if these Christians realized that we don’t know for sure what Jesus thinks about the issue and it’s not essential to being a Christian anyway? What if they focused on what we do know – that Jesus wants us to love each other and share his message? Maybe more people in our community would listen to their message – one that should be of love and inclusion. Maybe fewer people in our community would try to kill themselves. That seems like good fruit to me.

What “good fruit” comes out of forcing a gay person to a life of loneliness? While we’re at it, what “bad fruit” does my same-sex relationship bear? Pastors love to say that gay people feel so burdened because we know we’re sinning. I promise you – my boyfriend and I feel loved by God and do not feel guilt or judgment from him for loving each other and being with each other.

But even if it is a sin – I ask Christians this: What is the ultimate goal of the church? To be right? Or to show people the same love that Jesus showed us? To speak out harshly against the gay community – or to speak out about poverty, economic inequality and a general lack of valuing ALL people as Children of God?

So I’m tired…but I am not giving up. I may not convince everyone that same-sex relationships are OK or even that we deserve the same rights, but I can sure keep trying. The struggle is real…but the struggle is worth it.

Don’t fear. Love God. Love your neighbors.

My Coming Out Monologue

As many of you know, I participated in this year’s Coming Out Monologues, benefitting JASMYN and PFLAG Jacksonville. I can’t really describe how amazing the experience was. I can’t wait to be a part of next year’s show in some way — either on stage or off. For those of you who don’t know, people write their “coming out” stories around a certain theme and either perform them or have someone else perform them. This year, we all performed our own stories. This can be liberating…and scary as hell. This year’s theme was ‘labels.’ I’m thankful for the hundreds of people who attended, but I realize not everyone could. I wish I could share every monologue with you because they are all insightful and worthwhile. But I can only tell you my story. With that in mind, here is my monologue:

Delivering my monologue at "Coming Out Monologues" over the weekend

Delivering my monologue at “Coming Out Monologues” over the weekend

I love to tell stories. I can’t tell you how many family members have told me I never shut up as a kid…or as an adult. But I love to tell stories. And I love to write. Over the years, I’ve been called a lot of things. Good and bad. It’s all about how you take what’s said to you. Wasn’t it a famous lesbian who said that no one could make you feel inferior without your consent? I don’t know. But it’s true! Being called something – being labeled something can be a good thing. It’s the stereotypes that go along with them that can be problematic.

An example: I’m gay. I own it. I’ve earned it. To those who would say, “Are you sure?!” I would say…yes…I’ve double-checked. And triple-checked. And…well, you get the point. Anyway. There is a whole community out there of people like me and people who support me.

The trouble comes when people try to tell you how you’re supposed to act because you’re gay. One of the first people I ever came out to was one of my best friends. She’s amazing. We’re still best friends. Closer than ever. I knew she was totally OK with “gay,” but it still took me two attempts to actually tell her. She basically knew and I still couldn’t say it out loud. Finally – over Chinese food and beer – I said the words. “Great! Now we can go shopping together,” she said! As you can probably tell by looking at me right now, shopping isn’t exactly my forte.

I knew coming out to another best friend at the time would be tougher. Like me, she grew up in a strongly conservative Christian environment. When I told her, she thought I was kidding. Side note: I have yet to hear anyone say that as a joke. So anyway, I say it again. Her hands go to her mouth and she starts to cry. A lot. It took her a week to formulate this response: “Love the sinner…hate the sin.” I eventually had to end the friendship entirely after she compared my “lifestyle choices” to getting a tattoo. I just can’t call somebody a “friend” if they believe I shouldn’t be allowed to marry someone I love. Or if they feel my love is somehow inferior. Or if they think I shouldn’t have equal legal protection.

A lot of people like to use “sinner” as an excuse to discriminate, which is funny because most of those people were taught that everyone is a sinner. Everyone needs forgiveness. But being gay — sorry — “homosexuality” – is different. Gays aren’t people who have sinned, we are sinners who happen to also be people. It’s funny – popular Christian evangelist Billy Graham himself once said:

“What really matters is how God sees me. He isn’t concerned with labels; he is concerned about the state of man’s soul.”

Guess not everybody got that memo.

Coming out to people really shows you their true colors. And yours. My best friend’s dad joked that I didn’t hide it very well. My Grandma, on the other hand, told me she would’ve preferred I said I was going to jail. I really wanted to say, “But Grandma…do you know what happens in jail?”

My mom was always one of my fiercest supporters. As a kid, if I ever had trouble with other kids, she’d tell me she’d kick their ass. Her words. That didn’t change when I came out. She unexpectedly died a couple years ago. I can’t remember the last time my mom set foot in a church, but my grandmother – not the one who said the jail thing – decided to have a memorial service. I spoke at it and I was honest, emotional and unfiltered. After I finished, the pastor, who had never even met my mom, launched into this sermon about how “America has gone down the drain, especially with things like gay marriage.” I thought about just sitting there, like a proper lady might. But then I thought about what Mom would do and knew she wouldn’t tolerate it. And I thought, “She’s my mom. Fuck this.” So I walked out. As I walked down the center aisle, with eyes turning toward me from every direction, the pastor shouted something about how “the Lord can hit moving targets.” I really thought about swerving right about then.

I can’t remember a time when I was angrier. I threw my iPad down and I don’t throw Apple products down on the ground. Ever. I like to think I made my mom proud by walking out of that place. Fortunately, I know many more wonderful Christ followers who were just as appalled as I was at how that so-called “pastor” behaved. He misrepresented his faith in some of the most egregious ways.

A few months ago, I was at the wedding of my boyfriend’s best friend. He’s a great guy. Clearly, my boyfriend really knows how to pick ’em. Anyway, the groom and his now wife are also both from conservative Christian backgrounds. While they knew my boyfriend and I were more than just friends, few others likely did. I was watching the rehearsal when the wife of another groomsman walked over and sat down near the rest of us, saying something about how it was lonely where she was sitting. I said, “Welcome.” As she sat behind me, she said something like, “Yeah, I figured I’d come and sit with the other significant…” and then she trailed off before she said, “significant others.” I definitely thought of finishing her sentence for her. The next day, one of the groomsmen asked my boyfriend if I was his brother. I’m not.

Some people freak out when they don’t have a definition or answer for something. And they try to mentally sort it out by playing a game of 20 questions. They want to put a name with something so they can wrap their minds around it, even if what they’re thinking is inaccurate. I want people to know me as, “Kyle, the awesome guy who happens to be gay” and not, “Kyle, the gay guy who happens to be awesome.” Regardless, I hope to teach others that “gay” is OK. And we’re not all the same just like not every Christian is the same.

It’s not as much about the label as it is how you let it define you — confine you — relegate you to something lesser than what you deserve. Labels — even bad ones — can motivate you to be better. To change. To break the mold. To be bold. They can be transformative. They can make you a part of something. Someone asked me a while back why gay people always seem to want to hang out with each other. She asked if it was a sex thing. I told her – for many of us, at least – it’s about community. Shared experiences. Labels help us connect – to better understand our world and ourselves. But placing too much of an emphasis on them can be devastating. Everything in moderation.

My favorite label these days is probably “significant other.” Boyfriend. I look at him and I can’t help but think about how lucky I am. And how lucky he is. In all seriousness, I had kind of started to think that my standards were just too high. I was looking for a needle in a haystack…someone who didn’t let only one thing define him. Someone who wasn’t afraid to be himself, but someone who also wasn’t afraid to change. Someone with a smile that could make me melt. Someone who was hot.

I had given up on all that. Turns out, he was in front of me like the whole time. He just didn’t know he wanted me at first. Or that he wanted boys, for that matter. Safe to say, he knows now. And while I may not understand why, he doesn’t just want any man. He wants ME. Obviously, I have better taste than he does. A few months ago, my Grandma – the one who made the jail comment in 2008 – finally met my boyfriend at a family wedding. As she was getting in the car to leave, she pulled me in and said, “I like your friend.” To which I replied, “Good! So do I!”

And that’s what all of this really boils down to: Love. Community. Transcending that which confines us. Learning from each other. All I want in my life is love and equality. And someone to walk through life with me, every step of the way, through the good and the bad. Willing to learn from me and from others. Willing to love me and love others with me.

It’s interesting and perhaps ironic that – when it comes to how important love is — I’m reminded of First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses one through three:

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith to say to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give all I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.”

And “lover” is a label I’m willing to accept.

The "Coming Out Monologues" cast and crew at the end of the show

The “Coming Out Monologues” cast and crew at the end of a performance

All money made from Coming Out Monologues ticket sales benefits JASMYN and PFLAG Jax. If you’d like to support the Coming Out Monologues mission, there is a GoFundMe page set up, as well. Or you can of course donate directly to JASMYN and PFLAG. We are already kicking around some amazing ideas for next year and beyond and I’m excited to be a part of such a wonderful movement in Jacksonville.

Christians: You Are Pushing Me Away

In recent months, I’ve become more thoughtful and inquisitive regarding my faith, or lack of it. I’m still on that path. It’s a challenging one. It’s an internal struggle. Mostly. That said, many “Christians” sure aren’t helping me on this path.

I’ve been listening to Christian music more often. It’s typically positive and uplifting versus a lot of the crap on the radio. Between the music, these stations sometimes have 30-second or minute-long sound bites from pastors offering advice and whatnot. It’s usually also pretty positive. But a few days ago, as I’m driving to work, one of the pastors starts talking about how we can’t redefine marriage and it’s between a man and a woman and blah blah blah. And I’m reminded that, even if I agree with this pastor or this radio station or other Christians on 99.9% of everything else, I clearly disagree on this point.

I occasionally attend a young adults ministry at a popular local church. At first, I was skeptical. It’s like going to a concert — flashy, polished, loud, etc. And I see all of these people just doing what they’re being told to do — raising their hands, for example — and it seems like it’s lacking meaning and the very authenticity that they’re all so quick to toss out as a buzzword. But, over time, after looking inward, listening to the words of the songs and sermons from the various pastors, I grew to like it. Sure, I still think that many in the audience are there for the show. And as a media person, I understand how much the whole “performance” can influence attention spans, adrenaline, make people feel all “warm and fuzzy,” etc. But it’s not my job to judge these people. It is my job to focus on me. What matters is that get something out of it.

A few months ago, a church panel had a conversation of sorts on topics young people may have questions about, but which aren’t typical sermon topics — things like abortion, abstinence and of course homosexuality/gay marriage. I was actually interested to see if they had anything different to say than what I’ve heard my entire life. They didn’t. In fact, the lead pastor brought up a psychologist or psychiatrist from a conservative Christian university to talk about it. The pastor talked about how even people with “same-sex attraction” in his life had problems with their fathers in the past or didn’t have fatherly figures. (I love my dad, by the way. He’s amazing.) The pastor even quoted a recent reputable study that talked about gay suicide, but indicated that the suicides were happening because gays were clearly struggling with conflicting emotions inside because they really knew it was wrong and against God’s will. This is not at all what the study said. Needless to say, I lost a lot of respect for this pastor. Again, I was reminded that — even if I agree with 99.9% of everything else this pastor has to say and believes about Jesus and Christianity — I clearly disagree on this part. He would consider me misinformed. I would consider him misinformed.

As I mentioned, I’m still working out some stuff regarding faith. But for the sake of this post, let’s say I agree with a majority of what this church preaches or what that radio station plays. Let’s say I agree on all the basics of Christianity. But I disagree on homosexuality. Why, then, does it matter? If I agree on most other things — the key things like salvation, who Jesus was/is, how we should treat others, etc. — why can’t I just agree to disagree on what the Bible says about homosexuality and leave that between me and God?

Many times, I think I can. And so I ignore this obvious difference and continue to try to learn from the church or from other Christians about other Christian things. But then it comes up. And the problem is that this one thing we don’t agree on is something so engrained within me and mainstream Christians seem to think they need to scream their opposition to marriage equality or to “the gay lifestyle” so loudly.

I grew up in the church. My ideas on things have changed dramatically from then to now. I’ve learned that there are far more opinions out there regarding Christian doctrine than just the one narrow-minded group of people I grew up around. That said, one key thing has never changed from my understanding of this faith: You love your God. You love your neighbor. And your primary goal is to bring others into your faith and share Jesus’ love with them.

Given this, why are people spending so much of their time on such a divisive issue? I’m not saying all churches should come out in favor of homosexuality or gay marriage. I’m not saying pastors should preach based on the whims of the world. I know a lot of people will read this and think that’s what I mean. It’s not. But far too often, we all pretend like we have all of this stuff figured out. We pick and choose which parts of the Bible we believe literally and which parts of the Bible we say needs interpretation based on the context in which it was written. We do this with tons of scripture. Even the people who say generic things like, “I believe in the Bible exactly as it is written” and don’t believe that it is a living, breathing document open to interpretation actually do interpret and read into things based on their understanding, education and perspective. Nobody follows it as literally as they claim.

Jesus didn’t hang out with the religious people. He hung out with commoners. Prostitutes, even. And he didn’t spend his whole time fighting against these people. He didn’t spend his time coming up with worldly ways to stop these people from living their lives. He spoke of love. He taught people about who he was and who his father was. He talked about loving God. Loving your neighbor as yourself. He spoke of redemption, not division. Healing, not demeaning. Shouldn’t the priority for Christ’s church be telling people of his love for them, not singling out one group of people and telling them how sinful they’re being? They say their priority is bringing people to Christ, but in many cases, their actions suggest otherwise.

As a teenager, I spent a lot of time thinking about my sexuality for obvious reasons. I prayed about it. And I have peace about it. I am comfortable with who I am and who I love. I don’t have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that I’m doing something wrong in God’s eyes by being in a loving, committed relationship with a man. In fact, I’m beginning to feel more spiritually whole than I have in a long time. More comfortable praying. More comfortable asking questions. More comfortable having doubts and working through them. More comfortable talking about it. More comfortable seeking answers in multiple places. And I feel less condemnation for asking questions. For having doubts. For seeking answers in multiple places. Where did I feel all of that condemnation in the first place? The church.

If Christianity is true and one day I stand before God, maybe I’ll learn I’m wrong about being gay. Maybe he will say, “Actually, Kyle, despite that peace you felt in your heart, simply being gay is a sin.” Do I know with 100% certainty that it isn’t? No. I’ve researched it. I’ve read scriptures and point-counterpoints on them, etc. But I do know that it is NOWHERE as important or relevant to salvation or being a Christian as mainstream Christians make it out to be. And that’s the point! Some Christians think dancing is a sin. Or playing card games. Other Christians would laugh at those notions. Some Christians put a heavier priority on baptism. Others take communion more often and consider it more important. But they’re all Christians. They’re all united under Christ. They consider themselves children of Christ.

Far too often, we’re scared to admit that we just don’t know. Maybe we think we do, but we really don’t. All I can do is continue my personal spiritual journey and keep constantly reminding myself that Christianity isn’t about the church. It’s about Christ. But it would sure make it a lot easier to seek him and clear up doubts I have if churches and so-called Christians weren’t screaming at all angles about how bad being gay is or how bad gay marriage is. In other words, it would help if the people who are so quick to loudly call themselves Christians would actually take a long, hard look at how Christ acted and actually act like him.

No one is perfect, but we should strive to be more understanding of others and to be better, Christian or not. At the end of the day, regardless of what you think is a sin and what isn’t, Christians are taught that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. So we should strive to love more and condemn less. I’m reminded of what has become one of my favorite scriptures:

“If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith to say to a mountain, ‘Jump,’ and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give all I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” – I Corinthians 13:1-3

Love God with all your heart and soul and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. People seem so focused on what God has to say about ‘gay’ that they’ve forgotten the greatest commandments of them all. And Jesus makes these points pretty darn clear.

Weddings.

Every now and then, one needs to be reminded that one shouldn’t compromise or hide who he is. This weekend, I was the “one.” Let me explain:

I love weddings. I love marriage. I’ve written about both before and I think about them a lot. When I think about why I love weddings, I think about the couple’s love for each other. I think about how they’re sharing it and demonstrating it in front of their friends and families. I think about the commitment of a lifetime. I think about how I can’t wait to make that same commitment or to even be given the option. Everything, all of it, is about love. So as I sat in a church pew last weekend, watching two people preparing to get married, I was shocked. Not by the couple, but by one of the first things the minister leading the ceremony decided to say:

“No matter what society tries to tell us, marriage is between a man and woman.”

Yes, I was at a Southern Baptist Church in relatively small Florida town. Yes, I was surrounded by a group of presumably conservative evangelical Christians. Yes, I assumed this was the general opinion of most people in the sanctuary. But no — I did not think that an anti-marriage equality stance merited one of the opening lines of a couple’s wedding.

Let me back up a bit.

I happily agreed to go to this wedding with someone so they didn’t have to go alone. I knew that I would be presumed straight. I assumed I might get frustrated along the way, or hear things that I’d disagree with. I did not know the couple getting married until the night before their wedding. They both seemed very friendly and welcoming to someone they saw as a good friend of a good friend. Their families were also nice. I never felt intentionally unwelcome. There were times it felt awkward, but that’s the nature of going to a wedding of people you just met in an environment like that. The person I was with was in the wedding party, so we arrived at the church hours before the ceremony. I quickly asked if there was anything I could do to help.

Carrying balloons for the wedding/reception.

Carrying balloons for the wedding/reception.

As you can see, I made the best of my situation. But then the ceremony started and the minister began to speak. And he said what he said. So now I’m staring at this young couple staring at each other, preparing to be married. They’ve been nothing but nice to me. But now, all I can think about is how the pastor has taken this (presumably) once-in-a-lifetime moment to make a statement about gay marriage. I’m not only personally offended, I’m offended for the couple. It’s hijacking their big day. But of course it was not likely as big of a deal to them as it was to me. Who knows if they even noticed. And perhaps they agreed.

A wedding is supposed to celebrate a couple. It is not a chance for the minister to give a sermon. And surely if the couple had asked him to give one, he wouldn’t have decided to make it about gay marriage. I seem to find myself in places where ministers somehow get this mixed up, whether at weddings or at funerals or memorial services (my mom’s service comes to mind, which you can read about here and here). Unless the couple said, “Hey, we know you probably want to talk about things like love, commitment, honoring each other, etc., but we really want you to start off with ‘gay marriage is wrong,'” I just don’t see how a minister can justify using such a positive time for such a negative purpose.

The rest of the afternoon was spent with me tagging along, smiling politely, engaging in conversation only when I had to, and remaining so silent that my friends wouldn’t have recognized me. We were some of the first ones there and some of the last ones to leave.

Throughout the day, I heard church people gossiping, complaining, pretending. I saw gluttony and heard inappropriate jokes. I saw jealousy, rudeness, and isolation. I can’t remember a time in the recent past when I’ve felt more unwelcome than inside that church. And I’ve felt more than welcome at places the church would probably call “sinful.” Biker bars, poor neighborhoods, foreign countries…I’ve felt comfortable in them all. But not inside this church on that day. It made me think about what the Bible says about Christians and the Church. Here are a couple examples:

“They sold property and possessions to anyone who had need…they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”  – Acts 2:45-47

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19 – 22

I must’ve missed the part about singling out gay marriage, condemning it whenever possible, and driving gay people, even gay Christians, away from the church.

So the daylong stint of playing pretend, fake smiling, and reliving the unfortunate realities of my childhood in a church that poorly represents Christianity is over. I don’t regret going because I know I made it better for those around me and that was the goal. I enjoyed meeting new people, whether or not they think I should be allowed to get married. And, as always, I learned from the hostility and ignorance of others. But I find it interesting that I’m  the one trying my best not to sink to the “minister’s” level.

Thankfully, I’m comfortable with who I am. And I know these people do not represent all Christians. But I really feel bad for the gay kids who have gone through that church and the ones still to come. They exist. Pretending like they don’t won’t help them, or Christianity. Nor will telling them they can change, they’re going to hell, or that they are lesser-than. Times like these make me laugh at the notion that I am somehow persecuting them or limiting their rights simply because I want to be able to marry the person I love.

It’s just plain ignorant. Simple as that. And ignorance is dangerous.

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