Two and a half years ago, as I was wasting away in deepest rural Iowa, I had an epiphanic experience. Jenna and I needed some time away from people just like us – white, middle class, middle income, heterosexuals living all together in a community of less than 1,000 people. In actually, we weren’t just like them, which people suspected and then decided it must be that we are strange. And, evidently, they weren’t wrong. Anyway, we went to a Holy Relationships conference in Iowa City, and there met Rev Dr Mel White who was one of the speakers. We also heard about Soulforce.org – a group Mel started to engage in non-violent activism for GLBT causes – especially for those damaged by churches. That day was pivotal for my survival – it saved my mind, if not my life.
Many people think that Jenna and I bend the norms of gender just a little too much. There aren’t really specific characteristics – oh, I guess I’m a little effeminite in some respects and Jenna appears a little butch, evidently – so people decided we had a beard marriage. That’s one, for the unitiated, in which a lesbian and a gay man marry in order to disguise their true identities. This, mind you, without ever seeing us in the privacy of our bedroom as we … well, that would be too much information. Suffice it to say that we both understand sexuality to be a continuum, we know where we fall on it and we don’t particularly think it important where other people land on that spectrum. Nor, I might add, do we really care where others think we fall on it. We know who and where we are, and we love each other very much.
Anyway, it was a joy to be surrounded by so many people being open and affirmed in who they are. And it was heart-breaking to hear the stories of pain, rejection, attempted and accomplished suicides, drug addictions and all manner of self-medicating because the institutional church, and the vast majority of Christians, think that GLBT should be damned to hell. It gave us renewed energy with which to survive in the uni-cultural wasteland in which we lived, and a new drive to be actively engaged in activism for our gay sisters and brothers who suffered so much at the hands of the church.
After less than a week, however, I was yet again feeling as if we lived in Mayberry. I decided to check out Soulforce.org. I found, on my first visit, the forums and wrestled with whether or not I would engage the regular inhabitants of this little part of cyberspace. Would they feel invaded, me being an old, straight man? Would they feel a need to behave? Would my presence open deep wounds in some of them that still hadn’t healed? Could I actually be of help?
Well, I can tell you that, after 2 1/2 years of being a regular participant on the forums, I was the one who has been helped. I was openly embraced, even called Uncle Andy by some of the younger ones, Soulforce’s old curmudgeon by others, and some names I dare not repeat by yest others – but all in love and acceptance. Jenna and I have met several folks form the forums and, each and every time, they have been as kind, caring, compassionate and beautiful as I imagined. I am, at Soulforce.org, at home with family. Of course, being straight and as bent as I am, I am the black sheep of the family, but no-one’s perfect.
If you have any doubts about how you feel about GLBT, go to Soulforce.org. If you are GLBT, and especially if you are wrestling with the ramifications of being told you are a vile abomination by your loving church, go. If you are a homophobe, but have glimpses of thinking you may just be wrong, go. Engage with these wonderful people and your life will be changed – if you have the stomach for being changed. The change that will occur, if you let it, is that you will begin to appreciate people for what they do in life – for how they feel about themselves – for the contradictions that abound to the stereotypical image of GLBT you have in your head. You may even feel strongly enough to love them as Christ loves you.
Some advice, first, if you aren’t gay. Being gay is not a “lifestyle” choice – driving a BMW is a lifestyle choice ; owning a $500,000 home is a lifestyle choice; tinting your hair is a lifestyle choice. Being gay is something that most people have tried to change – no-one chooses to be considered an anomaly. Also, being gay is not a bedroom issue. Don’t just talk about sex all the time. Goodness, just like you when you are having sex, there is another 23 hours 57 minutes that you are doing something else and, you know, they’re still gay during that time. Lastly, don’t go in there telling them how wrong they are – unless you like being verbally chopped up and spread over a virtual cornfield. Go in – listen – read – hear the stories and the, and only then, engage with some of the most remarkable people there are. They will love you, whether or not you love them.
This has been an unpaid advertisment for some of the most amazing and courageous and healthy people I have ever known. And you, too, can meet them at the forums – if you dare.