- by Amelia Markham -
In the months preceding coming out to my closest friends and family members (most of the Traditionalist variety) I developed a series of presentations in order to describe the evolution of my thought and belief towards my orientation. Putting aside how telling that is of my nerd-shaped heart, the reason I did this was because of the disagreement I knew would arise from what is a different theology on sexual ethics. Having attempted to live out the ex-gay narrative, transitioning out of that into a still non-affirming but nevertheless non-practicing model, and eventually landing on my present convictions of total LGBT complete inclusivity was a process that lasted nearly a decade. I consumed any and all resources that could offer Christian insight on the topic. I consulted pastors, scholars, and contemporary theologians whom are considered experts on the issues. I searched the Scriptures, prayed, and meditated for thousands upon thousands of hours. And alas I cried. A lot.
All of this to say, coming out first to myself and finding peace with my sexuality required the kind of time, energy, and thought that to this day puts me in a position where I wonder how I managed to graduate college…well, and really to wonder how I psychologically survived. Given the difficulty that I myself experienced with being gay it was no surprise to me when I was met with resistance, confusion, and rejection from many of the people who for years loved and cared for me. In fact, it was this foreknowledge that kept me in the closet for an additional 6 months even after transitioning from Side B to Side A.
I didn’t want to lose the trust, respect, and fellowship I had with other devout Christians and yet I felt compelled to share the whole truth about my identity and what I had come to believe about my orientation. So I did, and as previously mentioned it was bad. Sparing the details and offensive quotations from the first three months of text messages, emails, and a bombarded Facebook inbox, we will just say I was deeply hurt by the ideas and sentiments reflected through those mediums. As I consulted friends and other individuals within (or supportive of) the LGBT community I was met by the exhortation to take some drastic steps towards soliciting acceptance from the naysayers. I was told to not tolerate the judgment or ignorance I was experiencing from these people. I was told that if my mom could not support my existence as her daughter who happens to be gay that I needed to refuse her attention and affection. I was told that I needed to distance myself from all those who would or could reinforce the negative attitudes that I for many years had towards myself. I was told a lot of things that as a collective whole communicated, “forget the haterz,” in addition to another choice f word.
There are a lot of problems with this approach but my primary concern (besides not being able to personally) identify with it is that it doesn’t account for the fact that the most effective education and advocacy we can ever do is amongst the people who are closest to us. As the director of outreach in a non-profit organization that participates in the fight for LGBT equality there are conversations I (nor any other activist) can have with your mom, your sister, your best friend, and your pastor that only you can. There is more compelling argument in your story than any of the biblical or sociological arguments asserted by history, science, and or academia. I am not cheapening or diminishing the contributions such disciplines have made to guiding society’s and the Church’s understanding of human sexuality but what I am saying is that severing one’s relationship to their loved ones on the pretense that their views are disagreeable only perpetuates the ignorance that fuels anti-gay rhetoric and mirrors the same kind of conditional and vapid love that has caused us as LGBT people so much pain. In the words of MLK, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
This being said I have compiled a short list of important ideas to consider as one attempts to navigate relationships with their anti-gay parents and loved ones.
1.) You’ve been working through your orientation since it occurred to you that you were different; this is the first time they have had to acknowledge that you are not straight.
Your parents are going to cycle through an entire catalog of extreme emotions: shock, disbelief, anger, and guilt. They are going to ask similar questions that you asked; “Why did this happen?” “Where did we fail?” And “How do we as Christians and loving parents respond to this?”
2.) Your parents (and friends) are going to grieve what feels like the “loss” of you as the person they thought you were.
Obviously, we know we aren’t any different than we were the day before we came out, or any different then when we were 16 and secretly kissing a girl at Christian camp, or even any different then back when we were 8 and liked Britney Spears not because we wanted to be her but because we wanted to be with her…) The love that God grew in us for Gid because of belief in God's Son isn’t any different…and our personality in general isn’t any different… but many others are going to believe so. The expectations they had for your life (which in all likelihood involved you meeting an opposite-sex partner, falling in love, marrying, and producing adorable grandchildren) is no longer a possibility. The hope for you to live a good, healthy, and Godly life was inherently attached to the hetero-normative social construct and in order for them to believe that there is another alternative it is going to require that you both show & tell them. For some parents hearing that their child is gay feels like hearing that you have died…It’s obviously annoying to have to prove your existence, health, and beliefs are as in tact as they have always been and that you are still growing and developing into the person God made you to be but I am convinced that this is an effort worth engaging.
3.) Your family and friends have long been taught that the Christian thing to do in this situation is to withhold fellowship and affection in order to avoid appearing to condone what they believe is a “sinful lifestyle.”
Even though the Bible certainly exhorts people to refrain from judging those outside the Church if you are a Christian and amongst their faith community than there are other biblical texts that seem to suggest they should correct the “false teachings” you’ve come under. Naturally, this conversation creates a lot of fatigue for both parties but for you to become embittered and resentful of their opinions it is going to disable your ability to care about them as people in general.
4.) Once parents overcome the immediate shock and erroneous notion that this is something we did “to them” often they transition into a place of calling this our “struggle” or our “wound.” This often forms a kind of emotional distance from them to us and it is very easy to internalize and interpret as rejection or even hate.
Your loved ones are just as much in process as you are. They are going to make mistakes, they are going to say and do hurtful things, and they are going to live out of their unintentionally and unconsciously homophobic beliefs. If you are in a situation of blatant emotional (and or physical) abuse PLEASE consult additional help and GET OUT but apart from such harmful circumstances I think it can be incredibly sanctifying for us and life giving for them if instead of abandoning their relationships we lean in and work to find a way for all of us to thrive in the midst of our disagreement.
5.) Your parents do love you.
Given the fact that the above things (and worse) have happened to us it is easy to write off the fact that we dependently lived in our mother’s womb for 9 months, stubbornly refused entrance into the world despite her begging, pushing, and pleading, kept her and our fathers up at all hours of the night for years, made messes we couldn’t clean up, scared them half to death when we disappeared for the afternoon to go play with the puppies down the street, were encouraged to be creative, passionate, and genuine in all of our efforts, were picked up and dropped off at endless softball, basketball, and soccer practices, had pride taken in us even when we didn’t succeed, were pushed to become the best us we could be, were brought (albeit, dragged at times) to church so that we could have exposure to (whilst still given the personal choice in ) the gospel of Jesus, and ultimately were given the tools and opportunities to come to an honest conclusion about ourselves all by them and the people they allowed to be a part of your life. Even if they don’t understand now there is not a way they ever will unless YOU give them the opportunity. This requires forgiveness, patience, self-control, kindness, gentleness, and a whole host of other disciplines and qualities that are difficult apart from the Spirit of God but that resource is ready and available to “whosoever should believe.”
Ultimately this isn’t nor will it ever be easy. But I firmly believe that the only way to move closer to true and legitimate unconditional love is by asking each other “what is like to be you?” and living out of that discovered reality.
. . .
Amelia Markham grew up in the United Methodist Church in Destin, Florida and is a recent graduate from Columbia International University in Columbia, South Carolina where she earned her BS in Intercultural Studies and Biblical Theology. Amelia is now working in both international relief and LGBTQ advocacy serving as the Director of Outreach for the charity Planting Peace where she currently facilitates operations and programming ran out of their most recent project, The Equality House, better known as the little rainbow house directly across the street from America’s most notorious hate group, The Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kansas.