Happy Pride Month! With this colorful month coming to a close and the summer well underway, I thought it would be a good time to share a letter I wrote to my parents regarding a lie they told me many times while I was growing up, and my paternal grandfather has repeated within the last several months. I consider it to be a lie because I have found it to be demonstrably false, and the source text they quote for proof doesn’t, in reality, offer much support for it either.
To my parents–
When I came out, you wondered if I was gay because someone had hurt me, because you didn’t know anyone who was gay. All the years I spent in your household, the only books you read by gay people were written in expressed support of your agenda, because you didn’t want to know any better. You let a pack of straight, male pastors tell you what would hold your worldview in balance, and you wouldn’t let anyone else tell you differently.
The worst thing, though, wasn’t any of that. The worst thing, the best lie you got from the Devil’s mouth, was that I’d never be happy if I gave in. You told me that every gay person out there who seemed as happy as can be was lying to themself. And you told me this, over and over, until I believed it more deeply than I believed almost anything else. And it stayed in my ear until this very day. Early on, it helped. I’d see people who seemed joyful, who said they accepted themselves and knew that G-d loved them as they are. But I knew the secret. I knew those people didn’t know true joy, whether they admitted it or not, whether they even knew it themselves. And I’d remind myself that I was pursuing the path of joy.
I was pursuing the path of joy, I told myself, until I realized it wasn’t a path of joy at all. Over time, I pieced together all the ways your worldview is built on denying the humanity of me and of my people. And I realized that the LGBTQ people who were the most miserable were the ones most in the clutches of Evangelicalism. Your doctrine is scarring, and all your books and your podcasts and your ignorant, cruel sermons are salt in the wounds you inflicted. It is sickening.
You disrespect queer people. You push us to the margins of society. You force people like Christopher Yuan to find satisfaction in the darkest corners of society, and then you have the nerve to wonder aloud about why they become drug addicts, why they contract HIV, why they die from an epidemic that Reagan never bothered to mention because he knew it delighted White Evangelicals who were gleeful to see gay men dying. How dare you try to blame all of this on the inherent morality of queer people, when you know, when your own doctrine asserts that all people are born with the same human condition, that none of us are perfect, and that, therefore, a person’s upbringing and the way they are treated by society must be brought into light to understand why they are the way that they are.
That one lie you were so adamant about has always been there. And any moment life is sailing smoothly, but rocky waves come up, just as they would for anyone else, my mind wants to say, “they were right. You were right. What you were told to suspect is true. You won’t be happy this way.” And I know it’s a lie as soon as I think it. Because in an instant, I can see my life if I stuck with your way. And I can see my life if I had tried to push this part of myself away, and say “no, that good and perfect thing is not from G-d.” I know I’m on the right path. And I have so much joy. And even in the rough patches, even in all the disappointing moments any person goes through, I know it’s not because I’m gay. It’s because I’m human. And that’s what makes your lie so masterful. We all go through challenges in life, we all have low moments. But if you can manage to get a person to believe that the low moments are caused by something within themselves, you can get them to rip themselves apart from the inside. Then you bring them back into “the fold” and they’re too busy jumping through hoops and hoping to feel “normal,” to just be accepted by the people who claim to love them, that they don’t even realize the denial of themselves is making everything worse.
Straight Christians don’t have any more capacity for joy—nor any less capacity for sadness—than queer Christians, trans Christians, or completely irreligious folks. To teach young people that their adherence to a religion (and not just a religion, but certain very specific tenets) is the only thing that will give them joy is cult-like behaviour. As children, as young teens, we so desperately want to be happy, we hate feeling anything else, which makes this tactic so pernicious. Once you tie a person’s joy to something, it’s hard for them to leave that thing. And you can bet that—if they work up the courage to walk away—the next time something unfortunate happens in their life, they won’t take another step without looking back for a moment. It’s impossible not to.
Every time I mentioned “accepting myself,” or some Disney movie would have the line “follow your heart,” you were there to explain that we can’t trust ourselves, that our hearts are “desperately wicked.” Of course, whenever you got a feeling that something was the right decision, or the wrong decision, you credited the Holy Spirit. I wish I had learned that trick earlier.
Whenever anyone said that “happiness is within you,” you retorted that “true happiness and peace can only be found in G-d.” Of course, you explained that, for a Christian, the Holy Spirit is within, and the Spirit can provide joy and peace. This created an unhealthy cycle in which, whenever I was down, I would think it was because I had done something to push the Holy Spirit away. It took me a while to realize that most of my sadness was circumstantial, perfectly natural for a young person. Aside from that, most of it resulted from the myriad of lies you told me and the mistrust of my own spirit that you instilled in me.
The fact is, the happiness lie goes against your own beliefs. You claim that everything you believe is taken from the plain text of Scripture. And yet, nowhere in Scripture will you find encouragement to be happy, or instructions for the search for happiness. Instead, you may find contemplations on joy, but if you read closely, you realize the joy we’re meant to have in our faith doesn’t always feel like happiness. That’s what makes your lie so diabolical. Its sole purpose is to cause fear, and to linger around in a person’s mind. You’re well-aware that no biblical text is concerned with happiness, as fleeting and fragile as it is, but you also know how important happiness is to a young child or teen. You took an extra-biblical philosophy created to fulfill a human desire, and you tried so hard to get me to believe it. You thought to yourself, “if he won’t listen to our interpretation of the Bible, at least he will listen to his own human desire to be happy.” So you attached your beliefs of how the world works to my own capacity for joy, and hoped I’d come running back whenever I felt sad. Except, I figured it out. I realized the thing that has caused me the most stress and frustration and sadness has been you. It’s never been my queerness. It’s only ever been your response to my being queer that has made my life more difficult.
The core philosophy resting at the heart of Evangelical dogma is this idea of being a remnant, being the few good folks in a sea of sinners and idolaters and the like. It’s plain to see when you talk about Hell. You quote, “wide is the path that leads to destruction, and narrow is the way that leads to life,” and the lesson you hope to be gained is, “save yourself!” You’re not concerned about the Muslims, and the Jewish people, and the Hindus, and the Sikhs, and the Buddhists, and the atheists, and everyone else supposedly going to Hell and burning in conscious torment for all of eternity. Sure, if you can convert a few in your lifetime, you’ll be glad, you’ll feel better about yourself for it. But at the end of the day, if one interprets the Bible the way you do, the only thing to conclude with is that the majority of people are going to Hell. Yet you are thoroughly unconcerned. Not for a moment do you question, “how could a good G-d create 100 precious people in Their image, only to damn 99?” You don’t question it because you don’t have compassion, and you don’t have compassion because you don’t know the heart of G-d.
If you want to parent and pastor well, stop lying to people about what will and won’t bring them happiness, or pretending you know, for that matter. Don’t send them on their way in life thinking everything that makes them sad is sent by G-d as a punishment, and the only thing that will make them happy is pure religious devotion. Let people engage with G-d and G-d’s world on their own, knowing they have your compassion and support backing them up. Someday, I hope you can see clearly the moments in which you should have simply communicated love, and left out the wild and inaccurate predictions about what my life would hold. Until then, I hope you can treat my siblings and the people you minister to better than you treated me. And by the way, I am pretty happy, and super queer. Never again will I ask G-d to change me so that I can fit your small-minded ideas of what you wanted your child to be.