July 10, 2020

Tokah’s Journey

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Note from CM: Tokah is a friend. She has been a faithful reader and commenter here on IM for several years, and we’ve had the chance to meet and enjoy a meal together. Tokah has a unique life-perspective that has enriched this blog, from her participation in an Orthodox congregation to her physical challenges. A while back, when we were discussing LGBT issues, she wrote and asked if she could share a bit of her story. I welcomed the offer, but warned her that IM discussions on this subject often include commenters who are not always polite and affirming to all, and I would hate to see her get hurt. So she waited. The other day, she sent me the following post, which I urge you to read with careful consideration and with courtesy to the author, who was willing to share herself with us today. I will be watching the responses carefully and moderating more strictly today. Please listen and think before you post.

OrthodoxCandlesI fidget uncontrollably that night, standing with my pitch pipe in the unlit church. Around me, I hear whispered conversations and the sounds of people venerating the winding sheet as they come in. Once your eyes adjust, you can see the outlines of people but not their faces. The knowledge that I could sneak out right now, get in my car, and drive home won’t stop coming to the forefront of my mind. It would hurt the real choir director, emotionally and physically, but she is a kind woman who would understand and forgive me. Still, the inability to hurt her that way keeps me rooted, dithering, until my godmother enters the church. After venerating the icons she walks unerringly over to me, gives me a hug that feels as big as the equator, and says, “You look beautiful tonight, honey.” Thus strengthened, I regain my courage, prepared now for the moment the priest opens the curtains and intones the prayer that begins the Midnight Office of Pascha.

That wasn’t my most skittish occasion involving my current parish, merely the most memorable. Far more often, I find myself checking my email and seeing a fellow church member’s name in the “sender” column and I physically flinch. Considering that I have had four volunteer positions in this parish, that is pretty unreasonable, but being ridiculous hasn’t stopped it from being true. It is even worse if the email is a response to something personal that I sent them, in which case I am likely to need at least ten minutes to get a grip on myself enough to risk reading it. (The number of times in over three years that one of those emails has been hurtful: zero.)

Religious PTSD, maybe? After all, I had the bad timing to be coming into adolescence at the height of the culture wars as a queer evangelical kid. My heart became a battlefield for those wars. It still bears the marks of those old trenches and napalm burns. Vegetation grows there once again, but the land is scarred and the natives naturally distrustful of voices with the accent that once inhabited those trenches.

Growing up in a Christian bubble, the world seemed to be split into “gay” and its synonyms versus “not gay” and its synonyms. I obviously now know that was oversimplified significantly, but that portion of my life is the most relevant one to most of what I will be writing about here. So for this article, I am using “queer”, in sense of “ambiguous alternative to LGBTQIA that is easier to spell”.

So there I was, going about my life as a very churched, very happy evangelical kid. I had heard all about how dangerous gays were, how insidious the gay agenda was, and how Adam and Steve were trying to kick Eve out of the garden. I wasn’t really sure why anyone choose to be gay, given how disliked that would make them and how they wouldn’t be able to ever get married. Maybe it was because they hated babies? Somehow we always seem to talk about gays and abortion at the same time. At any rate, being gay seemed like a pretty stupid choice. I didn’t know any gay people of course, those kinds of people didn’t come to church, so the curiosity had to remain idle. This all became part of my presuppositional beliefs, unquestioned and unexamined.

I was that kid, the one who drove you batty in Sunday school, beating you in sword drills, raising a hand for every question, perfect attendance, disagreeing with the teacher and always having a Bible quotation to prove she was right. When I imagined my future profession, missionary was right behind astronaut on my list.

My fall from golden child to untouchable in the Christian caste system came as a very large surprise and left me feeling betrayed by the lack of choice in the matter. I fought it for years, but I lost. Worse than that, all of those things I presupposed about gay people were suddenly pointed at myself, and the self-hate was grievously wounding. It is this effect that has had the biggest long term impact on my life. I could wake up straight as an arrow tomorrow, and it would not fix the damage that this has done: a decade of belief that God loves me lost, two suicidal periods, and the religious PTSD described above.

Having lived through all that, kept the faith, and come on a long journey back to church membership, I was silent about all this here at iMonk for more than six years. It is only in this past year I have started not fleeing the comments section.

The thing I would really like for you all to understand is that there are queer people in your churches. Even if you have pushed all the adults out, the kids who will grow up to be queer are still there. (Even by the most conservative statistics, if you get 100 kids into a building a few of them will grow up to be queer in some way.)

Prayer RopeSo whatever your theological position on sexuality and gender, always speak as if the target of your words is possibly in the room. The harm you can do with your words is vast, especially to the young. Even those of us adults who have remained theologically conservative ourselves can be hurt or alienated, can cross you off the list of trustworthy people to talk to, can wonder if we’re wrong and God doesn’t want us around after all. Also consider what picture of God you are painting with your words for your kids and visitors – is He a God who would adopt lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and intersexed people? What behavior you think He asks of us can be debatable, whether we are even on His radar to save shouldn’t be!

Parents, consider what kinds of things are said loudly on this subject at your church. particularly from the pulpit. You are the ones who pick the church your family goes to, and your kids may well assume you agree with the prevailing sentiment. I certainly did of my own parents, unfair as that turned out to be. They have been as wonderful as I have given them the chance to be, but I didn’t give them that chance until after I ran off to another state with a lethal dose of drugs in my backpack and a fake, comfortably late, date to expect me back. If God had not intervened to show me His love in a special way…

Next, if your position on sexuality is traditionalist, you need to understand that celibacy does not just happen. It is a struggle for those who undertake it, and celibate folks (straight ones, too!) require support. If this is what your church teaches, what does it do to support those who take its teaching seriously? Do you make time in your lives for your single people, include them in your families and church life? Do you have a plan for how to provide the kind of sick and end of life care that a spouse/family would usually undertake? Do you have an environment in which queer folks can be honest about the help that they need without fearing censure?

There are practical and logistical things that need to be approached in general. How can a way be made for youth who don’t want to be subject to excess temptation not to be forced to change and sleep in group situations with others of the same sex? If protecting the heterosexual teens from that kind of thing matters, why aren’t we doing it for homosexual teens? Does your youth group have a plan for this?

A pastor from my previous church asked what in my opinion was the biggest weakness of our church activities. “Too many gender-segregated programs,” I answered instantly. They aren’t comfortable places to be if you have differences in sexuality or gender, especially if you think people don’t know about you and the possibility exists that they wouldn’t want you there if they did. I skip them out of respect, personally, but if they take over the schedule that makes the calendar awfully empty.

These things may not seem important to you if you don’t struggle with this stuff yourself, but trust me, it can make a huge difference in someone’s life. Maybe you can’t imagine being anything but perfectly straight, but you can be a force for good to give those who aren’t hope in life and God both. A whole church that does this well is potent, indeed!

I know because these past few years have been amazing in a way I could never have imagined before. My current church family is the reason I can write this at all. For the first time in my adult life, I have been able to let down my guard and let other christians, specifically ones I met through church, get to know me as a person. They have shown me love and kindness, and treated me as if I were 100% human. I have flourished with their care and support. They let me live honestly, no church facade.

A few months ago I was going on a trip, and just before I left our service that night I looked around and thought, “It’s possible these people would be sad if they lost me.” It was a revolutionary thought for me to have, that me being gone might be considered a “loss” by church-folk, ones who truly know me. It is a welcome paradigm shift, and it has allowed me to live more fully than I can remember.

Comments

  1. This is wonderful.

    A few years ago, in the middle of an open and nuanced inter-church discussion about homosexuality, someone stood up uninvited and blurted out that “yes, but homosexuality is an ABOMINATION to the LORD!”. It was at that moment that I realised that it is pretty much impossible for a homosexual to hear that without hearing “YOU are an abomination”.

    • Good insight! “Homosexuality” is a terrible and ambiguous term to use in that context, because it doesn’t indicate whether you are referring to a set of actions or orientation.

      Rick Ro made a comment this past October, “If God wants to predestine you to be gay then throw you into the fiery pit for it, who can argue with Him? ;)”

      He meant it as a joke, but if you grew up in a church that conflated orientation and action, it is likely a real thought you had at one point or another. I did, and I have heard it mentioned in other people’s stories as well.

      It is entirely reasonable to take the Bible at face value on the subject of gay sex. That isn’t an attack on someone’s personhood or identity. I have listened to conservative speakers that have done a great job of it. Unless someone is particularly sensitive or reactionary, they can “hear” that argument, even if they don’t ultimately agree with it.

      Condemning orientation/temptation drowns out anything else you wanted to say and leads some of us to have grown up thinking having premarital hetero sex was less of a sin than having involuntary attractions that were never acted upon.

      • (Thanks for pointing out that my comment was a joke, Tokah! Taken out of context – I think I wrote that as a knock against Calvinistic theology – it really sounds bad.)

      • I really love the last paragraph of this response. Thank you for your incredible post!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Nothing disconnects every neuron above the Christianese brainstem and waves a bright red flag in front of what’s left like even the mention of Homosexuality(TM).

      Which you often find the strongest alongside Complementarianism (Male Supremacy) types. Makes some sense in that case, they’re into Hypermasculinity which cannot allow anything “effeminate” lest “another man might use them like they use women.”

      • Richard Hershberger says

        I don’t disagree, but at the same time I predict that gay marriage will be widely (though not universally) accepted among Evangelicals within ten years–twenty at the outside. This will be analogous to attitudes about divorce: the demographic cost of holding firm will be too high. And keep in mind that for all that Evangelical churches idolize being “conservative” they historically have been quite flexible, when they want to be. A classic example is abortion rights, which they were quite enthusiastic about until 1980 or so, when they discovered that they were against it.

        • ^ this. The research and evidence is there for those who want to see it. It was one of those “can’t take this back” moments when I found all that out.

        • Richard – yes to everthing you just said. How soon we forget (like former stance on abortion).

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          With the difference that Homosexuality is always The Other (not ME), while divorce? Better keep that option open, never know when you might need it yourself…

          • Richard Hershberger says

            Except that Homosexuality is not always The Other. At least not for everyone. The Other is a culturally determined category, and can change. Consider how the Irish went from being, a century and a half ago, barely above blacks to their current exalted status of being nearly as white as the English. As more straight people know more homosexual people, and know that they know them, the hope is that homosexuality will become no more The Other than left-handedness or red hair.

          • Straight people already know lgbtq people – without being aware of it, in many cases. It’s the information about these peoples’ orientations that makes them The Other (for some, but not all).

        • The definition of “conservative” is highly flexible and its content is often the product of some creative re-remembering of the past. All this identity really needs is to have hard enough lines to distinguish it from some alternative, and to support an “us vs. the drift of the culture” posture. But you can have that posture and say almost anything.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          And keep in mind that for all that Evangelical churches idolize being “conservative” they historically have been quite flexible, when they want to be. A classic example is abortion rights, which they were quite enthusiastic about until 1980 or so, when they discovered that they were against it.

          Because before Reagan and the Kingmakers of Moral Majority, being against abortion was too ROMISH. Those ROMANIST Apostates/Heretics were against abortion, so us Real True Christians had to be for it.

          Then came the Reverends of the Moral Majority (GOP Kingmakers, at least in their own mind) and PRESTO! Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia, not Eurasia.

    • I’ve seen some try to backpedal from this stance but switch it to say “anyone who claims the name of Christ or serves in a church” is the *true* abomination.

      That makes me feel just as disgusted. But I’ve been accused of loving the “f*gs” more than holiness or Jesus.

      Which just…I don’t even know.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        There’s a reason why outside their own enclaves, Christians(TM) have a reputation of being more genteel versions of Fred Phelps.

        • ‘Phelpians’ (TM) sounds more honest for such people, HEADLESS

          they are everywhere . . . their ‘truth in love’ is neither true nor loving . . . and for Christian people like our strong but gentle Tokah, these people will have no problem spewing that venom which is meant to be hurtful

          yeah, ‘Phelpians’ works better for them

  2. Tokah – thank you for this very powerful post. We all need to listen, not lash out.

    As a survivor of another kind of religious PTSD, it resonates for me, though i have not walked in your shoes. But i would gladly be friends, if it was possible. After all, you’re already my sister.

  3. I have nothing but respect for those that actually struggle, and I respect the author of this piece for being honest about her/his (I’m still not sure which) commitment to celibacy.

    I have to admit that I’d never thought twice about sex segregated activities, but I am going to give the link for this one to the youth pastor. I’m not sure he has ever dealt with this situation.

    Tokah. you have my admiration.

    • Richard Hershberger says

      I’m pretty sure Tokah is a she, but I’m not sure why I believe this. Perhaps it is from previous comments.

      I don’t see anything in this piece indicating that she is celibate: merely that she has thought about what a church needs to do if it is serious about advocating celibacy.

      I have had many gay and lesbian friends over the years. I don’t know any who didn’t struggle. The baseline cultural assumption strongly favors heterosexuality. A gay or lesbian persons needs first to come to terms with his or her sexual orientation, then undergo the ordeal of coming out. This is difficult even in a supportive environment. I knew one guy who was terrified about coming out because he feared he would lose all his friends. The actual reaction was that we had all figured it out long before, but had respected his privacy until he broached the subject. It may be that our kids’ generation has an easier time of it. I hope so.

      In the short term, the ones who don’t have to struggle so much are those who are bisexual. They can, after all, pass: even in their own minds. It gets awkward if they meet their life partner, who happens to be of the same sex. In the longer term they often have the harder time of it, with less of a support group where they fit in.

      • (Tokah’s a she. So says CM in his lead-in.)

        Good comment, Richard. Yes, oftentimes people have already figured out who might be gay just based on some characteristics and mannerisms. But stereotyping is also often wrong. People might “appear” gay, but not be, and others might give no indication of that, but be.

        The key is to provide a healthy and loving church environment for everyone, regardless of whether we’re right about them or not, and regardless of whether they come out or not. Fear must NOT be a part of the equation. But it often is.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          People might “appear” gay, but not be…

          I’ve heard this called “pseudohomosexual”, i.e. someone who is straight but whose mannerisms or surface behavior is stereotypically homosexual. My private term is “Swishy Straight”, and it’s something I know from personal experience in High School Hell.

          • Whereas the jock who’s gay (and there are plenty of them) might well be able to “pass,” but the fear of someone finding out the truth + inevitable consequences of that are still killing those kids’ souls and burdening them with all-too-realistic fears.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          “People might “appear” gay, but not be,…”

          A fair point. I have known a few people like that, too. For that matter, I used to set off some people’s gaydar, for reasons that were never clear to me. Perhaps it is because I don’t freak out at being hit on by a guy: If he wants to give me a shoulder rub, I’ll take it, while keeping my pants on. It is a sad fact that no guy has hit on me in over a decade. I like to think it is my overtly married condition, but perhaps I have simply lost it.

      • Bisexual is the toughest from all I’ve read. There’s friction from everywhere.

        • Richard Hershberger says

          Ba-dum-bump! I see what you did there.

          • Pun not intended, but would have been great if it were I guess.

          • Except that it perpetuates a very bad stereotype about bi people – namely, that they all want sex with both men and women. The reality is that they csn be attracted (sexually and/or romantically – not always synononymous) to people of either sex, as well as (possibly) intersex and trans people.

            It’s about *orientation,* not about who has sex with whom. Stereotypes are held by many gay people, not just strsight people. There’s a tendency toward conformity in both groups, or an assumption that you either are on one team or the other. This is a gross misunderdtanding of both bisecuality and potential sexual fluidity, and people enc up getting hurt as a result.

          • Bisexuality = can be attracted to people of both sexes. That I 100% understand and didn’t mean to imply otherwise. Just because they can be attracted to members of either sex does not mean they want to have sex with any member of either sex. It comes down to individuals, as most things do.

          • Stuart – i know you didn’t mean that, but look around at sites for/interviews by bi folks, and you’ll see that they get bombarded with that particular idea from all sides. Then there’s the asdumption by many gay people that bi folks are afraid of coming out, and are denying their ttue iddntity, and….

            Misunderstandings abound.

    • Thank you for your kind thoughts, Oscar. A comment you made back in February was what inspired me to write it.

      My personal situation is complicated, and I couldn’t fit it into a reasonable length and keep the universal points I wanted to make clear. I also find that people who would be inclined to be judgemental tend to latch onto my personal complications to give me a pass without having to grapple with all of the other people who have shared my experience.

      Also, as I said in the article, I didn’t have concepts and language for those complications when it mattered. There was just “straight” and “not straight”, and it was clear which category I fit into.

      Richard is correct – I didn’t claim to be celibate myself. My path is easier in some ways and harder in others. I married against my attractions. I don’t think it was fair to the guy I married, who would otherwise be free to be in a proper marriage with a woman who reciprocates his feelings. I’m not free to have that kind of match regardless, so he got the raw end of the deal. One doctor thought that things would get easier if we persevered, and I did have some hope that the feelings I wanted to have in that department would grow. It didn’t happen.

      I’m not sure what we would do if we could go back and decide again. We have been married for over seven years now, and with a lot of mutual self-sacrifice we make it work. We have a deep friendship and a wonderful life partnership, but I wouldn’t blame him if he ever left me. In the meantime, neither of us has the kind of loneliness that a single person would have. We do have challenges that neither single people or most married people have.

      I think overall that it is easier than being alone would be on me, but I don’t think that ease is worth the cost to him. If he ever does leave, I intend to remain single, I wouldn’t put another guy in this position.

      Sorry to mess up your admiration – I’m not really deserving of it. :/

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Sounds like you’re making the best you can of a bad situation. Might not be optimal, but it’s better than many of the alternatives.

      • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

        Well I for one am thankful for your honesty and respect your commitment and hard work. Thanks for sharing with us today.

      • Tokah, this INCREASES my admiration! To stay in a marriage like that takes more work and perseverance than most people are willing to expend. You made a bad decision, probably based on external pressures and societal expectations. But the thing is that you didn’t quit.

        In the end marriage is about friendship and companionship. My wife and I have been married for 35 years, and because of physical problems we are no longer intimate in the most obvious way. Yup, I miss it, but she does not. In fact she admits that she rarely EVER thought about it. But love and commitment demand sacrifice and circumstances cry out for accommodation. You have done that, and more.

        • To Tokah & Oscar, beautiful repsonses from the both of you. I’m about halfway to the length of time that Tokah has been married and about a tenth of time that Oscar has been married. I admire both of you for your self-sacrifice and love for both of your partners and I hope to be able to emulate that in my own married life with my wife for the years ahead.

          Oscar, I think you said it best when you wrote:

          “But love and commitment demand sacrifice and circumstances cry out for accommodation.”

    • I respect the author of this piece for being honest about her/his (I’m still not sure which) commitment to celibacy.

      See my comment below, as this points out what I asked. The emphasis on celibacy, aka, don’t sin if you go to church. We’re happy to welcome you just as you are…don’t sin.

      This seems to be a stumbling block for many.

  4. Faulty O-Ring says

    But why Orthodoxy? Were there no queerness-affirming churches that offered the same sense of community? Your particular congregation may be friendly, but they go arm-in-arm with brethren who engage in *literal* gay-bashing.

    • How about you back off a bit? Tokah clearly isn’t part of the Russian Orthodox Church of Russia. That’s run by the Moscow Patriarchate, and a lot of Orthodox in the US and elsewhere are backing off from the ROC of Russia for this and other reasons.

      Your comment seems, at best, parenthetical. I mean, it’s not unlike saying to me “Why are you a Lutheran, since Lutherans won’t ordain women or support women in ministry?,” when in actual fact, my synod does both.

      • Faulty O-Ring says

        It’s not just the Russians–the same thing is happening all over Eastern Europe. American congregations vary a lot–many are elderly–but to the extent that they attract very many converts, these are likely to be ex-evangelicals who support a firm stance against homosexuality. (In fact some of the “cradle Orthodox” have been complaining about how gung ho the newcomers are on issues like this.) To the extent that the actions of other jurisdictions are criticized, it is because of ecumenicalism or jurisdictional conflicts–never for human rights violations.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That would explain the “Net Drunk Syndrome” you see among so many Net Orthodox. They bring over all their Fundagelical attitudes and behavior when they swim the Adriatic, except now The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is “Orthodoxy! Orthodoxy! Orthodoxy!” instead of “Scripture! Scripture! Scripture!”

        • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

          Labels? Really? In this day and age and stage of philosophical sophistication, you are still choosing to judge someone’s choice based on a label? I’m guessing this whole article flew over your head. At about 50,000 feet.

          • Faulty O-Ring says

            I doubt many Orthodox see “Orthodoxy” as a mere label. Even ignoring the violence issue, the fact is that as in Catholicism, there is wide agreement among Orthodox church leaders that homosexuality is a sin (though relative liberals emphasize the need to deal with it pastorally and with economy, as they do with “fornication”). Tokah’s priest may be okay, but his replacement will be a crap shoot, and the gay issue will always be considered to have “sides”. But there are a few churches (Quakers, UCC, UU) where this is not the case, and only the liberal side is considered legitimate. Why not join one of those?

          • FOR, you miss the point. Tokah said explicitly that she did not embrace Orthodox faith because she was looking for something gay-affirming, but for spiritual and theological reasons. Let’s drop the subject, please.

    • Comment deleted: off topic

    • Faulty, the point is that she has found a place that is good for her !!!! Tokah, thank you for your courage and insight as you shared yourself with us. If I was there now I would give you a big hug also. You matter to God and you matter to me.

    • WARNING:

      While the relationship of Orthodoxy or any other tradition to LGBTQIA issues may be interesting in and of itself, that is not the focus of today’s post and I don’t want the discussion to go down that road. So please refrain from bringing it up again or carrying this part of the conversation any further.

    • Comments are not a big enough place to discuss this topic in fairness, which is why I imagine Chap Mike didn’t want to go in this direction. If he thinks it is a good idea, I might write a follow-up that does go there, because FOR’s question is a very reasonable one in this case.

      The short, definitionally incomplete answer is that I didn’t pick a christian tradition based on my gender/sexuality identity and how they’d react to it. I was drawn to orthodoxy on theological and ecclesiological grounds. That it has gone as well as it has so far has been a very cheerful surprise, just as it would have surprised me if my last conservative evangelical congregation had been like this.

      • Good insight, Tokah. We’re drawn to what we’re drawn to, perhaps led by the Spirit, and if it is led by the Spirit, then sometimes what we’re drawn to is a fit for what we need. Cool God moment!

        • Richard Hershberger says

          “We’re drawn to what we’re drawn to, perhaps led by the Spirit,…”

          It took me a while to come to terms with this. I have seen here and on other forums Evangelicals or post-Evangelicals lamenting some aspect of Evangelicalism and comparing it with some mainline or Catholic or Orthodox church. This used to leave me scratching my head: if your current church is failing you, and you have reason to believe that other church over there would do better, why not just switch? When I ask, the reasons are unpersuasive, often reflecting some stereotype about the other church that may be true sometimes, or even often, but not always. I eventually realized that the real reasons why someone is drawn to a particular church often are ineffable.

      • Tokah – this.

        I do have a question, though, based on the youth group examples you raised in your post. How can a church povide safety for gay kids (by not requiring them to slep in same room w/same-gender peers) without it being obvious that they *are* being kept aprt from the rest of the group? Said kids might well be having problems w/peers and adults being nasty because they’re “different,” so wouldn’t a system of segregation based on orientation – no matter how carefully implemented – bring more of the same? I really am stumped as to how overnight/weekend camping trips, etc. could be anything other than a worse minefield than they are alreay, given those restrictions. The solution can’t be “no camping trips” *or* “parents of lgbtq kids discreetly keep them away from camping trips,” either.

        • That is a very good question, and I don’t claim to have a perfect answer.

          The most important thing, I think, is having some choice in the matter. Many might choose to just keep trying to pass, and I don’t blame them. For those who would rather get a stinkeye for being the only one allowed to have their own tent, risk being outed, etc I think it is important to have that escape option.

          The ideal, of course, would be a safe environment where we could all just be honest with each other and talk out the logistics. Then we could just admit that a lot more of these situations are effectively “co-ed” than they’ve been labeled in the past and react appropriately. I wish that was possible in more places.

          For instance, I am perfectly comfortable sharing a hotel room or camp in the same cabin as bisexual friend of mine. We aren’t under any false impressions that it is “just us girls”. We each change privately, even if that means one of us walking to the bathrooms to do it. We’re careful to be circumspect, as we want to stay faithful to our husbands. We respect each other’s needs in that realm.

          On the other hand, I often have to really spell things out with straight friends. A couple from church, very conservative and old school on most subjects, invited me to their house. I asked when I should arrive, and got an answer that seemed to suggest a time when their three teenage daughters would be home without them. Up until that point, I was sure they knew I wasn’t straight, but suddenly I wondered.

          So, I took them aside and we talked about it more frankly than we had up until that point. They said yes, of course they knew. Then I had to ask – would they, in all seriousness, invite a young married guy in his 30’s and leave him in their house with their girls for any length of time sans parents? Because if they wouldn’t invite him, they shouldn’t be inviting me to do the same. That was a very new thought for them, they had never thought out those kind of implications.

          Ultimately, we need a cultural shift in how we treat communal nudity – showers, changing rooms, etc. In conservative institutions (like church youth groups) the behavioral norm will need to change to be intentionally careful with good adult supervision. It is ridiculous that conservative institutions do things like making bikinis off limits for being too showy, but have a bunch of girls of mixed orientations changing together willy nilly!

          • It is ridiculous that conservative institutions do things like making bikinis off limits for being too showy, but have a bunch of girls of mixed orientations changing together willy nilly!

            Many are still getting over the “mixed bathing” ideas from the 80s/90s…

          • Don’t you think it depends on the individual, though?

            As for minors, i don’t see how anything much csn be done until *other* changes occur – like people losing their fear of teh ghey. And even then, there are hurdles that are just going to be there regardless, re. peer group acceptance vs. exclusion/isolation and more.

            Emotionally mature adults can make their own choices. I wonder if what you say about being alone with your friends’ daughters is, unintentionally, setting them up to view you and others as potential predators? (And i am all too aware that some adults – straight and otherwise – prey on teens. I saw it all around me when i was in HS, but it is not the norm, psychologically or otherwise, for responsible adults.)

          • That’s a fair point, and like I said – I lack perfect answers.

            The couple I spoke to I trusted enough to take what I said in the spirit that I meant it. The next week, the dad asked if I would sit down with their kids at some point to talk about LGBT issues in general from a christian perspective. So I’d say I made the right call there, but it could have been a misjudgement. I appreciate the feedback.

            I guess I am so used to assuming people would see me that way as to not imagine that I could influence them into doing it!

          • Tokah – glad that situation is working out well, but please be careful. I would hate to see you (or anyone else) get hurt by people who assume the very worst.

  5. The last paragraph is dynamite. And to flip it around a little, to personalize it, are we a church that would mourn the loss of every single person who’s a part of it? Am I a person who would mourn the loss of every single person who’s a part of my church? Am I making sure every congregant, regardless of their “sin,” feels loved and valued?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I remember the tail end of a poem from some high-school-level workbook:

      “Would it make a difference
      To you if I died?
      I didn’t think so.”

  6. Tokah, thank you for your bravery and brilliant writing. I am sure that you have been deeply wounded……although I would add that many of us have been wounded by our hidden brokenness and prettily covered-up failures to follow Christ and His path.

    Thank you for mentioning celibacy and its challenges, as I have struggled with this issue as well—-and sinned with gusto in failing at celibacy and sexual continence in my much younger years, prior to marrying the man God made for me. Our 35th anniversary is this month, and at times my behavior in the 1970’s seems like it happened to someone else. It is forgiven history, but still part of what shaped me into the woman I am today.

    Perhaps you get tired, very tired, of hearing this, but my issue (and that of my RC Church) is NOT with homosexual leanings, yearnings, orientation, or identity. The sin lies, as it did for me forty years ago, with sexual activity outside of the bounds of an open-to-natural-procreation marriage, as defined and defended by our Lord and Savior (and more than once, I might add). There is no sin in being attracted to the same gender, a Jack Daniels bottle, a Porche, or the big corner office with an assistant and stock options. The sin, which by definition separates us from full life in Christ and our own best interests, lies in what we DO with these feelings.

  7. “Do you make time in your lives for your single people, include them in your families and church life? Do you have a plan for how to provide the kind of sick and end of life care that a spouse/family would usually undertake? Do you have an environment in which queer folks can be honest about the help that they need without fearing censure?” Essential and challenging questions, Tokah. I’m going to ask my priest what he thinks about them.

    I always love reading what you write. It’s evident from what you say and how you say it that you have been through more — and thought more about it — than many other people.

  8. Thank you for honestly sharing your heart with us! I am so glad that you KNOW God loves you, just as you are. Your story illustrates how guardians of grace try to determine who gets it and who doesn’t . . .

    Your journey reminds us how a lack of love wounds and can hinder what God is doing in our lives and in the lives of others.

    We all would be wise to remember: nothing we have done and nothing we do can increase or decrease the love God has for His children.

    “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

  9. I am a large man and a construction worker. I have work weeks of ink on me. I was raised by a flannel shirt wearing beanie hat wearing man who was as tough as nails. Shot one of those in my leg yesterday and pulled it out with pliers after cutting the skin to relieve it because of the wire that held the nails together.

    My father bought me cases of beer when I was 14 and told me not to smoke that stuff. Beer goes good with smoking that stuff. Took me to my first strip club at 18 and yes I got served it was 78. So you can see the way I raised with a mother who took me to church till I got confirmed and a dad that never went.

    From early on I took all the wrong roads but still loved Jesus and believed He loved me too. I had what I would call now a very unhealthy view of sex. I liked it and I engage in it all the time. I have been with trans, men and multiple women at one time. It seemed to go along with the other stuff I was doing. Does anyone know that about me that is close to me….nope. Just Jesus and now you. I’m not sure my wife even knows. I think I might discuss it sometime but she already knows I’m broken goods.

    I’m not gay. I know this because when I’m not drinking and doing other things I have no desire for it. Now that I’ve been clean awhile I have no real desires for sex at all. Like I said I’m broken. If I engage my mind goes to things that I don’t want it to think about and I feel dirty. How would anyone know what I feel. Does anyone know what I feel. I know Miguel said some stuff to me and I tried but I ended up at the cross asking for forgiveness. I am broken. I wonder whether God can fix me this late in my life. I feel better celibate and go long stretches that way before I burn and try again only to find nothing has changed. I don’t want to feed my flesh and I feel separated from God when I do.

    I don’t discuss sex with anyone at church. I have been baited by men into discussions but I just smile and nod my head. It isn’t any of their business. It is strictly between God and I. God has loved me through it all and I know this. I understand the fear of parents and their children. I was never a phedofile but I have known of some and it always kind of sickened me. One in particular is doing the rest of his life in prison. One scary person that I even stayed as far away from as I could get. He ended up killing and at one time he led a Bible study.

    I know how God feels about us and how precious we are and I long to tell people and I know there are gays in my church and I have a pretty good idea who they are. At least on the men side of things. I’ve sat in and listen to men with addiction to porn which by the way breaks us. I am being freed of all things that once held me in bondage but it isn’t from my thinking and doing it is out of love and when I feel separated I can’t stand it and I just want to be close. Everyday I want to be closer and everyday I get one more step there.

    Wasn’t going to comment this week to busy and I need a break from it. God forgive me. How do we make room?
    IMO we let the Holy Spirit do the work only the Holy Spirit can do and in the mean time love, love, love and put an arm around someone who is suffering and if necessary keep our mouths shut. Sometimes I wish someone would have just put an arm around me and said it was going to be alright. God and I are working through it and I trust Him. I’m not so sure about anything else.

    • “Shot one of those (nails) in my leg yesterday and pulled it out with pliers after cutting the skin to relieve it because of the wire that held the nails together.”

      Umm…OUCH! Made me think of the movie “Ronin” there. Heal up fast!

      And as always, I appreciate the time you take to post, w. Your comments are always good, full of honesty and grace.

    • Faulty O-Ring says

      Comment deleted: inappropriate

    • ” I am broken.”

      Me too, w.

      “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen

  10. Thank you, Tokah, for your honesty and courage. You are not alone. There are many of us that hold on to God and our faith even if others try to push us away because of who we are.

    Big hugs for you!

  11. Thank you, Tokah, for sharing your life story with us. I always enjoy reading what you write and I am so glad that you are among people who support and love you. Enjoy this Christmas season!

  12. Thank you! I’m glad this was posted and so glad you shared this part of your story with us. Peace to you as you continue on your journey. You’ve encouraged me today, Tokah.

  13. I’ve had this conversation with our pastor. Our sign says “Everyone Welcome.” Our service, sermons, and sanctimony say, “Well, everyone but YOU.” There are a thousand different ways we telegraph our impressions. Thank you Tokah for posting this and letting us know what it’s like to be on the receiving end.

    • “God may have accepted you, but here at our church our standards are a little higher.”

      Thankfully there are churches out there that do NOT have that as their motto, and I’m glad Tokah has found one!

  14. Tokah, there is much I can relate to in the pain and isolation you mention. As there is much you share that I am guilty of doing or not thinking about with regard to others.

    I am happy you have found a safe place, may everyone be so fortunate.

    Peace to you.

  15. Any time sexual identity is discussed there are usually tons of posts, as opposed to, say, how we can show love. I commend our moderator for reminding us of our language. Folks feel very strongly about this topic, as opposed to, say, lying, cheating, etc. I have not seen many address the elephant in the room, tho, which is (to me): WHY do gay people have these feelings? My cousin is gay; my sister knew several lesbian women in her line of work, all good friends to my family. They all say the same thing, they always felt that way. I can’t imagine looking them in the eye and saying, “no you didn’t, you chose this, or Satan, demons are in you.” Some of the silly things I have heard. Why don’t we just let people be who they really are. Their feelings are natural to them, and “it is really none of my business.”

  16. Thank you for putting a human face on this issue and for sharing your story in such an elegant manner. My family has been torn apart since a brave young nephew came out a year ago. It is easy to make this a religious argument when it is about someone else. When it touches someone you love all that changes. Father have mercy and open our eyes to your wisdom and truth.

  17. Michael Redmond says

    Thank you, Tokah, for your honesty and bravery, and thank you, Chaplain Mike, for providing Tokah with this opportunity to tell her story.

  18. Tokah….BLESS you & THANK you! It takes courage to be so authentic and real. I have learned over the last few years in recovery (I am a recovering alcoholic), that above ALL else God wants me to be REAL and AUTHENTIC in my friendship and love for him. I pray you be as blessed as you have been a Blessing!

  19. 2014 has been a year of growth for me. There are many things I’m learning, sometimes painfully, and almost always by getting out there, meeting people, hearing their stories, and shutting out the voices from the past telling me not to listen.

    This has been so helpful to read. Thank you.

    I want to make a brief comment on this:

    Do you have an environment in which queer folks can be honest about the help that they need without fearing censure?

    How does this look in practice? Because it seems to me that the defacto position for most churches will always come back to “stop them from sinning”. Yet sin happens, and someone “sinning” still needs to have a place they can be honest and reach out in. So then…what? I honestly don’t know.

    • Last year I joined a strength training gym in one of the most liberal, modern, hippest part of my city. I work out each time with a handful of men and women who identify themselves as straight, gay, lesbian, queer, trans, other, etc. One of my favorite lifting partners is a queer married woman who just had a baby with her wife (wife had the child).

      And I love them and look forward to seeing them all the time. My life is better with their friendship, and I hope I’ve been an encouragement to them too as they adjust to parenthood.

      But I realize all of that cannot be understood by 90% of the christians I know. And I don’t know how I could ever create an environment of like that in any type of spiritual setting, church or not.

    • Some of that is covered in my reply to Numo above, so check that out. Some denominations don’t believe gay sex is sinful, so I assume that isn’t what you are asking about. Thus this response particular to denominations with a traditional stand on sexuality:

      Some of it is tradition specific. In Orthodoxy (and I assume Catholicism), where you are at in your struggle with temptations and sins in your life is covered in confession. The congregation trusts you and your confessor to be on top of that.

      So when I came to my current parish, people who were curious about my orientation would just ask very casually, “Hey, are you attracted to girls?” I would say, “Yeah, I am.” They never asked if I had a girlfriend, because that is my spiritual father/priest’s job, not theirs. So you only have to hash that stuff out with one person.

      There is a pair of people at my parish, a man and a woman. They live and work on the same property, but haven’t made any moves towards marriage as far as I know. I have no need to inquire any farther about what their relationship is beyond that public info, because it isn’t my job. They have talked things out with the priest and let him know what is going on, and he seems happy to have them at the communion line. I trust him to to do his job, and I am glad that I don’t have to be the relationship police. In the kind of evangelical setting I came from, this wouldn’t work – tons of people would feel individually responsible to make sure they weren’t living in sin.

      So in this environment, my orientation simply isn’t a big deal and doesn’t come up often. But if something is increasing my temptations or making me uncomfortable, I can ask someone to stop without worrying about being thrown out. If I need particular help because of my situation, I similarly am free to ask.

      I am less sure of what this would look like in another tradition, just because I have no personal experience with a church that did it well. At my last evangelical church, a friend who was living completely platonically with a male housemate was driven out socially for the “appearance of evil” and everyone and their brother trying to make sure she wasn’t “living in sin”. The pastor asked me not to talk about my orientation there (probably out of concern for me), and I respected his request until an annual meeting where we were suddenly voting into the constitution an amendment that related to sexuality. Reactions were very mixed.

      But that doesn’t mean it can’t be worked out well in an evangelical setting – I’m just not sure what it would look like. I think it would have to be rooted in trust, in the priesthood of the believer, and the Holy Spirit working things out privately in their fellow congregants’ life over time? I’d be pretty biased as an outsider now to that world even trying to comment on it.

      • What if the priest isn’t a trustworthy person, though? I say this only because there are some people like that in *every* denomination.

        While i can see that it appears to work OK in your parish, I’m willing to bet money that there are plenty of “relationship police” in others. That said, one of the things that you’ve got now is that others are treating you like a grownup who is capable of making decisions for themselves. Evangelicals tend to treat everyone like children who are intent on doing something “bad,” regardless.

        • This is up there with FOR’s post – very fair questions that a comment is not long enough to answer, heh.

          So for this short, definitionally incomplete answer: there are bad priests and unsafe parishes. Orthodoxy (if you accept it’s traditional ethic) has a wonderful approach to this on paper, but there are many places where the implementation fails in a huge way. But to talk about “what this looks like in practice” I can only speak from what I know.

          I think there are also great evangelical congregations. My mom talks to me about how things are going over there, and it sounds like one. But I don’t know it like I know my own, so I can’t describe it very well.

          • You’re right about there being good evangelical churches. I guess i tend not to see that, after having bern badly burned mysrlf. My apologies for making an unfair generalization.

            I’m glad you are where you are. And yes, dysfunctions can occur anywhere, because we are human.

        • “Evangelicals treat everyone like children?”. Without getting myself moderated, I would say that is one of the most foolish, ill informed, and blatantly stereotypical statements I’ve ever heard

          • Maybe so, but i had over 30 years of exactly that, so I’m speaking from personal experience.

            It was a relief to revert to the Lutheran church and see that jobody was ttying to police me, but trusted me to make good (or bad) decisions; moreover, we have a voice in all church decisions. In my experience of evangelicalism, the “leaders” told us what we were going to do and expected rubber-stamp assent. Those who disagreed had unplesant experiences.

            Maybe my experiences are atypical, as they took place in highly abusive, authoritarian churches. But many people who comment here and on other blogs seem to have bern through much the same thing.

            Which is what Tokah is referting to, to some extent, re. her prior experiences in the evangelical world.

          • Well, I’ve been an Evangelical my whole life, over 35 years, the majority of them in leadership. So much for numbers. Overall you’re actually correct. A lot of crap have I seen and Ben subject to. Mostly leadership. Superstar delusions mostly. But to be topic specific, I don’t think gays are welcome in my church or most of the Evangelical circles I run with. Some people would valve if a gay couple walked in on Sunday morning. It’s. Too our shame that the House of God suffers from this kind of extreme behavior. For years the battle cry is “hate the sin, but love the sinner”. OK, that I guess. Tokah’s post is marvelous by the way. She can dine at my table anytime. Boy, I sure I can grow up someday and truly learn what its all about

          • OP, i hear you. Also, please not that i did qualify my statement, via the words “tend to” (treat people in X way). That’s not the same as saying that all evangelical churches do X. I know there are exceptions.

          • I’ll second the evangelicals treat people like children bit. Can I hear a third?

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            I’ll third. I’ve lived in nine states and attended literally hundreds of evangelical churches and I can’t think of a single one that didn’t treat me like a child. Which is prolly why I’m not attending one now.

  20. Thank you Tokah, and CM, for sharing and posting this. It’s an important story that the broader church needs to hear. I’ve experienced some church PTSD for other reasons and the final paragraph really hit home for me and is a great insight. I’m not sure I’ve been missed much, if at all, in many of the churches I’ve left. I’m glad you kept your faith and found a home. Not all are so fortunate. I hope many will learn from your story. I know I have.

  21. Thank you, thank you, for this.

    I have been celibate and single most of my life, except for 5 years or so that involved marrying someone who identified as bi, but then changed her mind and decided she was a lesbian after all. She left, and I’m still picking up the pieces. We’re still friends.

    Which brings us back to celibacy. If you think about it, marriage vows are vows of celibacy, at the sole option of one’s partner. And every church I’ve ever heard of happily listens to these vows, and very few of them have any words to offer to support those who are celibate. Or even single but not vowed to celibacy. I’m sure raising a family is a hard job and people who are trying it should be supported. Many of us do not fit that mold.

    In my case, at least, the difficulty of celibacy is not so much the lack of sex but the lack of love, of companionship, of simple friendship when everyone is busy with their families and their lives. The churches I’ve been in were not very helpful in this respect, and I found in mounting grief over celibacy in general and my recent situation in particular that I had to walk away before I got even more cynical about love, faith, hope. I’m working on living with grief, but it’s hard.

    • Thanks for sharing.

      In my experience, the two most common images used to portray love are the “being a parent” image and the “unconditional love of spouse”. Not exactly effective for those who are single.

    • Richard – i hear you. And yes, it’s lack of companionship, hugs, building a life with someone else that’s hardest.

    • Richard, I can very much relate to your experience. Back in my mid-twenties, I was living with (and very much in love with) a woman I knew was bisexual. A couple of years into that relationship, she told me that she had come to realize that she was really an all-out lesbian. We could still be friends and housemates, but that was it.
      Though I made a show of just blowing the whole thing off, I was really devasted at a very deep level. I spent years running from intimate relationships like the plague. And then one day I woke up, and I was middle-aged and unmarried and feeling that creeping fear that I would grow old and die in abject loneliness. I still feel that fear, but, at the same time, that part of me that was wounded is still terrified of intimacy. And the solitude and loneliness grows deeper and becomes more of an entrenched part of who I am every year.
      Knowing the Lord helps, but part of me can’t help but be angry at Him for allowing that to happen to me and for seemingly ignoring the thousands of times I have prayed for someone to share my life with. Deep down, I know it’s not His doing. It’s mine. I let fear rule me too long until keeping a measured distance between myself and everyone else on the planet became an automatic response. I just pray that God will one day show me how to open that door again.
      In hindsight, I’d have to say that younger people tend to severely underestimate the power of sex — how deep and lasting an imprint it can make on your soul. I know I did. And while our society and even the church seems to be obsessed about sex these days — trying to dissect it scientifcally or codify it by religious or cultural norms — I think most of us (myself included) are no better than hormone-driven teenagers when it comes to applying true God-given wisdom and understanding in the realm of sex and sexual intimacy.
      Gay or straight or whatever, we’ve all got a long way to go before we get there.

  22. Thank you, Tokah. Hugs to you. Have always thought you are a terrific writer.

    Stuart, you might want to check out Fr Stephen Freeman’s latest:
    http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/12/08/sin-not-moral-problem/

    Dana

    • Saw that one. I do think it’s relevant to this post. Coming from an evangelical(ish) background I’m having a tough time grasping what he’s getting at in a concrete real life kind of way. Just my .02 – don’t want to distract from the original post.

    • Thanks. Read it, don’t get it…maybe I will one day. For now, I personally do not give any thought or worry about whether I am sinning anymore. And ironically, in many ways, I sin less than I did when I obsessed to the point of despair about avoiding sin.

      • +1.

        Plus, if I’m being made righteous by JESUS’ work, not my own…well, just because I’m not stumbling today but did yesterday…well, I just don’t worry about that anymore. So, so freeing!

  23. +1 to what others have said. Thank you for sharing your story.

  24. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    And Now for Something Completely Different:

    Every time I see Tokah’s handle, I keep thinking of that Sixties song “One Toke Over the Line”.

  25. David Cornwell says

    Tokah, I’m so thankful you have the courage to approach this subject. I’ve learned to avoid it as much as possible, especially in a public forum, and am hesitate to comment even today.

    However it is my dealings with gay individuals that in many ways changed me forever. I’ve also studied the biblical passages and theological understandings, but in the end they always seem to be just a reinforcement of Law rather than the good news of grace. However it was an Old Testament professor in the conservative seminary I attended who first started to shine some light of grace.

    Whether by pre-ordination, or by chance, in my last two parishes a good number of gay persons saw fit to approach me with either a mini-story at first, or a narrative of heartbreak, denial, and brokenness. Over time I heard about children forced into reparative therapy of a kind that bordered on abuse. I heard of parents who cast their children aside in order to protect their own little concepts of right and wrong. The stories I heard were complex on one level, yet on the other very simple.

    In most of these cases I found that the gay person was one of exceptional talent. Most were professed followers of Jesus who gave of time, energy, gift, and love. Yet they almost all carried around with them the knowledge that they were marked by pointed finger. They had disappointed their parents, friends, and most importantly, God. And there was no salvation offered. One told me that his mom had forced him into therapy with a “Christian” psychiatrist. He quoted the bible of course, but he also advised to find a young women to be “with.” This would cure him of his lust for men.

    I have friends on both sides. But there are only a few who bring along any understanding. Conservatives talk in abstract theological or biblical terms. They talk around people, not to them. They preach rather than understand. I may be in error on this issue in one way or another. But I have chosen to err on the side of grace, and this will not send me to hell. And it is so much more enjoyable!

    Gay people, once you know them, are not any different from any of us. They have the same dreams, desires, hopes, and needs. They experience the same maladies of body and spirit. And most have suffered in ways we cannot understand. But we must make the effort. Gay people have been a great blessing to my life. They have helped change the way I think about so many things.

    Tokah, may God be with you.

  26. Tokah, thank you for sharing some of the pivotal moments in your story, and for putting into words what shape your experiences have taken. Relating those experiences must, I imagine, take effort — not to mention posting your essay in such a public forum as this blog. I deeply appreciate it.

    Your writing is a joy to read.

  27. Tokah, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts here on IM. I don’t comment as much as I used to, but still love the community here.

    I’ve been a youth/college pastor for a number of years, and recently started pastoring a CBF church…even though I adhere to some different ideologies (I’m a sacramental theology guy, for sure…Wesleyan/Anglican…). In the small community where I pastor, there is an older gay couple who are an integral part of community life. I met them recently, and told them I would love to visit their home, which I’ve heard is amazing. They laughed and responded, “We would love for you to visit our house, but don’t be offended if we don’t visit yours” (referring to the church).

    Though I guess I’m conservative in many ways, it pains me that these guys, whom everyone in our church seems to love, would feel so unwelcome in the church-house, with their neighbors and friends. I hate the culture wars over human sexuality…It divides denominations, families, neighbors, and worst of all, the Bride of Christ. Who was it that said Jesus was coming back for a Bride, and not a harem? Isn’t it time for us to fix our attentions on something else…like, say, preaching the Gospel? Like I said, I am conservative in many ways, so I wouldn’t officiate a same-sex wedding, or even a civil ceremony for man and woman (I have declined to do more than one that didn’t want “religious stuff” in their vows), but I hope that doesn’t make people think that I’m a hate-monger, or some backwards Westboro peckerwood. I don’t want to be that guy (said thumping my chest and thinking, “Thank you God, that I am not like that Westboro peckerwood sinner! What a sinner I am…).

    if nothing else, Christians should be hospitable.. So, when the African-American, Libertarian, Gay, Pro-Gun, Pro-Life, Anti-Ten Commandments in the courthouse, Iraq veteran, flex-fuel car driving, baptized by sprinkling guy visits your church, don’t be ugly. And when I say “ugly”, I say it in the context of the American South, where “ugly” doesn’t have anything to do with physical appearance. Just be nice.

  28. Randy Thompson says

    “So whatever your theological position on sexuality and gender,
    always speak as if the target of your words is possibly in the room.”

    This is the most important sentence in this excellent piece, for me. And, it’s true for any topic which is controversial.

    Many years ago, I headed a non-profit organization in Connecticut that was in the no-man’s land between the evangelical subculture and the liberal Protestantism of the mainline churches. I quickly found that the only was I could honor friends on both sides of the divide, as well as my own personal integrity, was to imagine a particular liberal Protestant scholar being present while I was talking with evangelicals, and members of the local evangelical ministers group present while I was talking with liberals. This imaginative exercise taught me caution, wisdom and charity of speech. I could and did disagree with folks on both sides of that divide, but it became easier to do so in a way that honored and respected persons.

  29. I am surprised at the use of the word or phrase using the word “queer” in some of these posts. To me it’s kind of a Westboro baptist church phrase. “queer affirming churches; queer members; queer friends in workout session.” Etcetera. This was a common designation in the 1800’s, not now, now it is a deliberate slur. IMHO.

    • Ah, yes…the GodHatesFags.com. Jesus has left their building.

    • Hanni, there are many people in the LGBTQ world (s) who prefer the designation “queer,” and definitely not as a slur. Not everyone agrees, but that *is* one of the things that the Q in the acronynm above means. The other is “questioning.”

    • Lest we forget, it’s only a few decades since “queer” was mainly a synonym for “odd,” along with “gay” meaning celebratory, extremely happy, etc.

      I wish those usages were still with us, butmlanguage chsnges and there’s nothingni can do to stop it! 😉

    • Faulty O-Ring says

      Comment deleted

    • David Cornwell says

      “Queer” was a common designation for homosexual people in my high school in the 1950’s. It was a slur at that time. However appropriating a word such as this for self designation is seen by many as a way of robbing the word of its power. In other words “call me what you will, it has no power.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        And in the 1960s and early 70s as well. Led to some really lame “see how clever I am” attempts at grade-school and high school humor. Such as the punch line of one dirty joke about a “Queer House” (same-sex whorehouse), filked from a beer slogan of the time: “When you’re out of Schultz, you’re out of Queer.”

        After a Bart Simpson schoolyard education like this, things got really interesting when I read Father Brown Mysteries and ran across the Victorian London expression meaning going off on a wrong path: “halfway down Queer Street”.

  30. Tokah,
    Thank you so much for sharing. God’s blessings.

  31. Yea, yes, the word queer years (decades ago) was a descriptive word for highly odd. Odd person, we get it immediately; but queer person in blog about gay person, please! A way to get the knife in. Says more about the user than anything else. Today most people use the adjective “gay” . CM, confronting us with ourselves! God bless him.

    • My sister in law is gay and she calls herself queer. I was shocked she used that word as when I was in high school in the 80’s it was a slur. I think the meaning is changing again and after thinking about what she said it really suited her and was very cute.
      H

    • Hanni, Tokah chose the word for herself; it wasn’t applied to her against her wishes.

    • It is still a slur when intentionally used that way by others. Damaris is right; it’s Tokah’s self-designation, and as such, the opposite of a slur, because of how she sees both herself and the word.

  32. Thank you for writing this Tokah. This story was definitely worth the wait, and I am so glad you went through with it. There is much here we would do well to reflect on seriously, and so many things you said that I couldn’t agree with more. I’ll be quoting this essay for some time now. I’m sure you are taking a risk to be this open, but your vulnerability is a gift to us. If you ever stop coming here, that’d be our loss too.

    And I really wish I could have an opportunity to hear your choir sing! I LOVE Orthodox music, and I’m on the verge of an overly ambitious venture into it in the Spring.

  33. Thank you for this article, Tokah. We need your voice in this discussion.

  34. “Do you have a plan for how to provide the kind of sick and end of life care that a spouse/family would usually undertake?”

    Are there churches that do this for their single members (I mean, aside from cults or sects, like the Hutterites)? Obviously, some churches do this for people called to monastic vocations, but that’s a different subject. Outside of that narrow exception, I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard of a church that provided this level of care and planning for its single lay members. Is such provision feasible?

    Thank you for sharing part of your life story, Tokah.

  35. My wife and I have no children, and we’re both alienated from our families of origin. While we obviously don’t suffer from anything like the level of exclusion and rejection that non-heterosexuals have suffered in Christian churches, we nonetheless don’t fit the the mostly unspoken expectation of most congregations that being Christian means being married with children and extended family. There is a kind of loneliness and alienation in this that has made me more sensitive to the anguish that non-heterosexuals and lifelong heterosexual singles must experience in the churches.

    • As someone who has never married and has no family to speak of (due to many problems; i never wanted to be in this position, but…) i sometimes experience peoples’ shock (and more, along the lines of being pitying and patronizing) when they find out. Ditto for my elderly mom.

      We live in a rural area and, back in my mom’s generation, there was a very large extended family all around. But people of my generation mostly left, and are scattered all over the country. I don’t know them, and vice versa. It’s sad and difficult, and i do worry about who will be here for me in the fairly near future. Otoh, toxic people are toxic, and i feel better about many things now that i no longer have to put up with the things they say and do.

      I think more and more people ard in pretty much the same boat, especially after a spouse dies and/or there’s a divorce and they just don’t have muchmof a support network. These things are hard enough *with* one.

      • The issue of end-of-life care, and the much broader question of support networks, raises interesting questions. It doesn’t come up for explicit discussion that often, but it probably ought to given the mobility of Americans and the relative fragility and diversity of families in this society. The persistent assumption made is that one’s support network will consist of immediate relatives or children, even though this system obviously doesn’t “cover” a small legion of people, or only does for a portion of their lives.

        I wonder if it is possible for our culture to invent new categories of relationships or new / supplementary patterns – “friend” may or may not work, since this is meant flippantly or casually half the time, and so is ambiguous. If not, is it possible for smaller entities, like churches, to create alternative types of support, without being controlling and cultic? Christianity has a language for family identity outside of nuclear families or kin networks – in theory that is supposed mean more than verbal window-dressing and warm-hearted well-wishing. But as it is, we’ve usually got this highly spiritualized, which is another way of saying that we don’t really believe it.

        I’ve been wondering about it off and on ever since my husband and I decided, as a kind of leap of faith, to make the only standing connection we had in a new city one of my son’s two godfathers. We’d realized, with a bit nervous fidgeting, that we had almost no close connections within a day’s drive – but wanted one person to be local. Our friend K., who we knew mainly from work, had just become a close neighbor and is single. Joking about the oft-predicted zombie apocalypse one evening over dinner, it occurred to us that K. was actually the only person on the planet whom we knew at that time, who would actually have the proximity, will, and freedom to grab the kid on his way out of town during an emergency (in our darkly humorous scenario, we’d long since met our dooms while at work in Washington DC). So we asked him. The effect of this that we mutually adopted each other, more or less. Despite being an entirely fictional kin connection with almost no prior history to support it, the current status of things has developed in large part because we could give it a name and declare an intention. Notably, the connection grew out of the declaration as much as the other way around.

  36. Thank you so much for this, Tokah. I’m very glad God led you to a church where you can feel at home.

    When the Episcopal Church officially opened the door to gay people, there were several traditionalists even in my little church who left for “Continuing Anglican” congregations. I was sorry to see them go and I wish they could have held off until they got to know some gay members. Since other sexual issues like divorce and abortion are already settled on the “modern” side, why such strong responses to the issue of homosexuality?

    My church is made up mainly of elderly widows, a few couples including a gay couple, and a single straight woman, me. I love the church and have “hung my heart” on it. I hang around mostly with women who have families, and I enjoy hearing about them. But around the holidays, single does get very lonely. Mind you, if I opened up and told people how lonely and bleak I felt, I’m sure more than one would open their homes to me. But I have a great fear of looking (and being!) pitiful, so I don’t.

    I, like Robert, have never heard of a church that in any way “provided for” single people, except sometimes they set up Singles Groups where the obvious message is: get married.

    As for providing care for sick and dying people of any orientation, we in the church pretty much rely on that person’s family or, failing that, on occasional nursing home visits. It’s a dreadful prospect, dying alone in America.

    Well, I’m quite the little ray of sunshine tonight, am I not? Time to get some sleep. God bless you again, Tokah, for your openness and honesty and your fine spiritual insight.

    • I seriously doubt that the more traditional parts of TEC would still be in existence were it not for the many gay members and clergy who’ve resisted going in the direction of what i sometimes think of as the “wacky wing.” And i betcha a *lot* of congregations would find their largely empty pews starting to fill up, even if only a bit, if gay people were welcome and not made to feel “less than.” (And not just in TEC – everywhere.)

      • Now if only those gay members and clergy could put a stop to the kinds of things thatbcan be seen on the Bad Vestments blog!

  37. was thinking how it is that the holiday season which is a joy for most, is in fact a depressing time for many who struggle with various problems . . . my own husband needs some time by himself on Christmas Eve to remember his best friend’s father who died on that night long ago . . . that man had helped raise my husband and it was like losing his own father . . . Christmas Eve brings it all back and we understand to allow him some time to work through it privately, if he wishes to remember and to grieve

    for others, the struggles faced during the year are heavier to bear at the holiday time, and the gift Christians can give to them is to be there to help them bear their burdens . . . listening, trying to understand, and supporting any and all efforts of all anguished people to reach out for comfort . . . we must in our Churches stop saying ‘there is no room at this inn’

    around us, we will also see those very troubled among us who ‘act out’ at this time of year . . . we cannot know what they have been through or what they are going through, but we can respond to them best using what fruit of the Spirit that we may possess through grace, certainly some kindness, and a whole lot of patience . . .

    I’d like to thank Tokah and Chaplain Mike for this post. This blog is able to handle a wider breadth of difficulties than many, which allows people to wander in from ‘the wilderness’ and find a dwelling place to lay down their burdens for a time in a calming and nurturing authentic Christian setting.

  38. Tokah, I was struck by your statement: ” I have been able to let down my guard and let other christians, specifically ones I met through church, get to know me as a person. They have shown me love and kindness, and treated me as if I were 100% human. I have flourished with their care and support. They let me live honestly, no church facade.” You have a treasure in those believers, a pearl of great price! After I left my last church, it was obvious they didn’t miss me or my wife.

    • I’m sorry to hear that, Al. I know how amazing this bunch is, but I’ve had a hard time convincing them.

      Someday Jesus will give His whole “I was a stranger, and you took me in…” speech and I think they will be quite surprised to find Him saying it to them.