To the people who birthed me, raised me, taught me my worldview, and make up my DNA.
On that pleasant October day when I was born, you took pride in me. You were overcome with joy to have a new son. After wondering if you would be blessed with any more children at all, you had me, and subsequently, four more children. As I grew, you took pride in my first steps, my first words, my first songs, drawings, ideas. You encouraged me to play outside, to be imaginative, to write stories and music. You loved me. More than that, though, you loved me for the person I was. You were proud of me.
From a young age, I knew something was wrong. I didn’t even know what it was, but I knew to fear it. When we would have family conversations about cousins or church friends who had reportedly left the faith, I would often sit quietly, somehow knowing I’d one day be the rebel, the runaway, the traitor. When my older brother proclaimed himself to be an atheist for a moment and turned against the worldview we all held in such high regard, we were brokenhearted, and I all the more, knowing I’d one day be in those shoes, and you would all say the same things about me. “He’s giving in to the Devil.” “He knows the Truth, he’s just ignoring it to go chase what he wants.” I’m not sure how I knew. Maybe I didn’t know, but in my childlike mentality, I feared the worst, and just happened to be right. Later, when the secret of my cousin’s queerness came to light, I heard you speaking about her, your voice quiet, in ways that revealed what little respect you had for queer folks.
When I came out to you at 13, I didn’t accept myself. I assured you my queerness was a sin issue that I was resisting. Instead of telling me to keep my chin up, or be proud of who G-d made me to be, or seek G-d first and let Her work in me, or trust that G-d makes no mistakes, or really encouraging me in any way, you said, “It could go away. It could be a reaction to genetically modified wheat. Just keep resisting.” Yes, you actually said the part about wheat, and for years, I was paranoid that I simply had a strange gluten allergy.
For the next several years, you found “resources.” Someone said in some book that I just needed a better relationship with my father. Someone said if I got to know the guys I had crushes on, the mystery that attracted me to them would go away, and I’d lose interest. Someone (Pope John Piper XVII himself, actually) said I was gay because I liked myself and thus my own body more than that of a woman’s. Someone said it was an idol I needed to destroy. Someone said something that you decided was more trustworthy than what your own Queer child had to say. Over and over, you scoured the internet and the bookstore and the sermon archives to hear non-affirming people tell you what you wanted to hear. Your son’s sexuality is broken. He can be fixed. This isn’t who he is. G-d can change him. You never looked into the stories of the masses of Queer people who accepted themselves, who fought for their rights, or even the stories of Queer Christians who had come to an affirming position in their theology. You couldn’t, for a moment, imagine the mere thought of simply accepting me as I was. To cast aside what the evangelical establishment held in their core beliefs regarding marriage would be to pull a block far too low on the Jenga tower to continue upholding everything else. Remove your prejudice against LGB people, and you’d soon have to accept trans people, female and non-binary pastors, and women who didn’t submit to the authority (see: ownership) of their husbands or fathers. Once that happened, you could say goodbye to your career in the evangelical world, as well as the acceptance of your own parents. So instead of stepping into the pain of rejection, you pushed me into it. There was no way for me to avoid the inevitable, as I approached adulthood, predictably, I buckled under the pressure, and chose joy, and gratefully, in that moment, was reunited with the peace of G-d.
I have thought about these things more than I’d like to admit. I’ve turned them over in my mind, prayed you would come to see me the way G-d does. I’ve wondered how you’d treat a younger sibling if one of them came out to you as queer. Would you make the same mistakes you made with me? Would you try to treat them with a little more dignity, offer a little more freedom? Would you respect their new pronouns if they told you they were non-binary? Would you give them books written by fringe Queer people who happened to be on your side? And I wonder what kind of advice you’d give if a parent in your church came to you, asking how they should react to their own son or daughter or child coming out. Would you admit your lack of understanding? Would you be honest about your own failures? Or would you hand them the same books you read, and tell them the same ridiculous, demeaning theories about Queer and trans people that have caused me such pain?
If you regret the things you did and said in reaction to my being queer, by all means, confess them. Can you not see the sin in consistently communicating to your child that they are not valued as they are? That no matter how their life unfolds, they will never have your approval or blessing? I remember many occasions in which you claimed something I have no doubt you still believe: “Gay people who accept themselves and enter relationships are not happy, no matter how happy they may pretend to be.” Of course, I internalized that, and believed for some time that I would never be happy, because I sure as hell knew that I wouldn’t be happy following along with your ****. The darkness I walked through, so often alone, made me who I am; but it was a darkness you allowed me to wallow in nonetheless; darkness that arose when you blocked the light out. Remember the day I sat in my car, not wanting to get out, just crying, knowing you would never love me for who I am, never truly feel proud of me as a person? Remember that night we stayed up so late arguing, I never went to sleep, and went to work at UPS without as much as a nap? Remember the arguments, as recent as mere months ago, had in front of a team of isolated children you’ve raised to agree wholeheartedly that their brother is a backsliding sinner who must be rescued from the ways of homosexuality and liberalism? Remember when you told me it was “plain” to see G-d didn’t want me to be gay because of “the plumbing”? Did you have nothing better to say? What part of your so-called redeemed mind believes there is righteousness in convincing a young adult that the very core of their being is in direct conflict with the will of their Creator? Why didn’t you ever just admit you didn’t understand, didn’t know, didn’t have any idea how to approach this issue or me, and just trust G-d and let me live my life without your constant input?
When I joined the Air Force, it caught me off guard to know you were proud of me. Ultimately, it frustrated me. Simply joining the military is no accomplishment; all it means is that a person has the privilege of being able-bodied and (hopefully) mentally well. On the other hand, growing up the Queer child of a conservative Evangelical pastor, and making it to adulthood alive, and piecing together a new family, and learning to accept myself and love myself just as G-d loves me—those are accomplishments. Those are things I’m proud of. I have more strength in my feminine, Queer body and mind than so many of my straight, male counterparts. I have more love for those on the fringes of society, love just like Christ’s love, than so many heterosexual, cisgender people. These are traits that made the pain worth it. These are outcomes that made every night I cried alone somehow not a waste of a childhood. Perhaps you can understand my frustration, then, when you are proud of me for making a split-second decision to join the military, but you are ashamed of my queerness, and the difficult lessons I’ve learned from years of suffering. I wish it were reversed. If I could, I would exchange all the approval you’ve expressed for my writing, and my music, and now, my joining the military, simply to know you accept me for who I am. But that is a trade I can’t make.
The ironic thing is that I wouldn’t have joined the military at all if I had grown up with your parental support. If you had agreed to let me be myself while living in your home, I would have likely taken the same path my older sister did, getting a degree in some topic I’m passionate about with the privileges of financial aid and a free place to stay backing me up. I would have never needed the Air Force to be my parents if you had stepped up and been the parents you should have been. And yet, here we are, you so deeply proud of me for taking this step, somehow not realizing you were the driving force behind all of it. I would have loved to stay in Michigan, to have the relationship with my younger siblings that my older sister had with me. But you didn’t want that. You didn’t really want me to be celibate, either; you wanted me to pretend I wasn’t Queer at all. You’ve been uncomfortable with me at every turn, confused and disgusted. And then at the end of the day, you expect me to believe you when you say, “I love you.”
I am tired of hearing you’re proud of me for stupid things I don’t even care all that much about. I’m tired of the way my siblings talk to me and about me, because of your indoctrination. I’m tired of feeling like I need to prove my spirituality to you. I’m tired of hearing you tip-toe around any mention of relationships, because you don’t want me to talk about anyone, especially in front of the younger siblings. I’m tired of pretending to be someone I’m not just so conversations with you are less awkward. I’m tired of you talking about G-d as if you know Them, as if this great, big, ancient religion is black and white when in fact it is more colors than you have eyes to see. I’m tired of you trying to pass your feelings and opinions for the Word of the Lord. I’m tired of you putting the church over your relationship with your child. I’m tired of all the empty apologies, the vain expressions of regret, when I know you wouldn’t really change anything about the way you raised me—you couldn’t, for fear the community you hold dear would push you out. When church leaders sought to dehumanize me, to pretend I did not hold the image of G-d within my soul, you said nothing. You did not come to my defense. You did not stand up for me. You stood by, and watched me cry, watched me fall, watched me as I realized I should have never trusted anyone in that church.
If I must be your black sheep, I’ll turn myself into a goat, and find a place for myself on the mountain, on the High Places. I’ll ignore your calls, spend my Christmases with people who love me, and let you escape any conversations that could involve any male-identified person whose company I enjoy. And you can have six children, three boys and three girls, six people you can count on to be straight, and fall in love only with people they’re supposed to fall in love with. You can forgot about the odd person out, the one child who didn’t fit, until the day you can honestly say, “We take pride in you.”*
*List of things you can’t add to this sentence, because I know you’ll try it:
- “…we just can’t approve of your lifestyle.” (And you think Jesus approves of your lifestyle?)
- “…we just can’t ignore what the Bible says.” (Do you really think you’ll get in trouble if you just love your child as they are?)
- “…we just love you too much to let you think this is a wise path in life.” (You’re not my savior. Have some faith in G-d, thou Holiest of Heterosexuals.)