jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that


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Love and Sin

What is sin? Some would say sin is a violation of God’s law. They would point to the Bible, citing various lists of Do Thises and Don’t Do Thats. Some preach that it’s “missing the mark” or “falling short” of God’s desires for us. Some would say it’s mere imperfection.

It’s an interesting debate because, for Christians at least, we have the answer:

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” ~ Matthew 22:37-40

Humans are a complicated bunch. In the face of a simple answer, we contrive hundreds of rules covering everything from whether we can watch television on Sunday (or Saturday) to how long our skirts must be to whether it’s okay to kiss on a first date (or second, or third, or…).

But really, it all boils down to:Love is Love
Love God
Love others
Love yourself

Take a look at the phrase there that connects the first and second commandments: “And the second is like it.” Isn’t that interesting? When I read that, I hear that loving others is tantamount to loving God. This makes sense, since each human is made in God’s image! If we love God, we love God’s image-bearers. And don’t forget that loving yourself bit. You’re an image-bearer, too.

The story of Sodom is such a horrific one that it’s a favorite target of the anti-LGBTQ+ crowd. But what made Sodom so evil?

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” ~ Ezekiel 16:49-50

Sodom, the people of Sodom, failed to love their neighbors, and sought to do very unloving things to the visitors we read about in the story of its destruction. The sin in that story was not the sexual desires of men for other men, it was the intent to gang rape them, and the failure to be hospitable.

If you aren’t familiar with the Side A/Side B debate within the world of queer Christians, it can be summed up thusly: Side A folks believe that same-sex romantic relationships are just as fine as different-sex romantic relationships. Side B folks believe that if a Christian is gay, they need to be celibate, that a romantic or sexual relationship would be sin. (Neither side believes a person’s sexual orientation can be changed…anyone who still believes that is lost in the wilderness of seriously bad science and theology!)

So, if we are to call same-sex relationships sin, we must be able to point to the unlovingness inherent in them. I have never met a person who could do this. Each one who has tried has resorted to circular logic: It’s failing to love God because God said no, or it’s failing to love the other person because you’re causing them to sin. No, no, if Jesus himself says the law hinges on loving God and one another, we don’t get to add requirements to that. Especially not while pointing fingers at the Pharisees.

But here’s where I do find unlovingness: Side B theology. Because there is simply no loving way to tell someone that they will never be deserving of romantic love. There is no loving way to sentence someone to a life without the kind of intimate companionship we’re made to desire*. And trust me, there is no way to do so without stabbing at the very heart of the queer person.

I know, I know, we’re supposed to debate this peaceably. The thing is, a Side A person is not going to force a Side B person into a same-sex relationship against their conscience. But Side B churches (and people) insist on forcing Side A Christians to conform or leave.

And that is not love.

 

*I don’t mean to exclude Ace folks, many of whom desire a close relationship on their own terms, and who ought to have it!

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On Shame, Pride, and Going Home

I wrote a while back about how it sometimes felt like my sexuality was a burden on other people, and how I tried to avoid the topic while attending my parents’ welcoming-but-decidedly-not-affirming church. (Sadly, they’ve become less welcoming since my time there.)

I decided I would no longer be ashamed or apologetic for being bisexual. You don’t have to approve. You don’t have to like it. You don’t have to like me. But I won’t make myself less than I am to spare your feelings.

Now, new situations and groups of people I don’t know cause me all kinds of social anxiety. But I began attending a church that I knew to be affirming, and where I knew someone (the music director). At first, I would leave as soon as the service was over, avoiding the social hour (the social hour is A Very Serious Thing at this church). But someone I’d run into at Justice Choir practice eventually noticed me, and, as a method of memorizing my name, began introducing me to everyone who passed by.

That’s how I found myself in a group of women I had just met, with one asking me, “What brought you to this church?”

I took a deep breath. “I was kicked out of my church for coming out as both bisexual and affirming,” I said, ripping the band-aid off.

And oh man, the responses.

“Hey, I’m gay!” said one. Others assured me I was welcome and valued, another began listing every queer person in the church and expressing her sympathy for how difficult it is to be queer in our conservative area. And then we talked about pedicures and jobs and clothes shopping, like my sexuality was no big deal.

As the weeks have turned into months, I’ve been asked several more times what brought me to this church, and each time I’ve given the same answer. Every single time, without exception, the answer has been encouraging. One elderly woman exclaimed, “For shame!” when I explained (I nearly cried). Others have told me they, too, are queer. Some have had similar experiences. Every single one has assured me that I am valued there. The pastor came to welcome me, as well.

I joined the choir. I made friends. Somehow I ended up helping to plan the church’s participation in the local Pride festival, and our own Pride-themed Sunday morning service. Because they aren’t just tolerant, they put their time, money, and rainbow-hued decorations where their mouths are!

And somewhere along the line, my heart changed. Sundays no longer made me sad. I no longer wished that my old church would change their ways so I could go back to my church “home”. I no longer missed the fellowship of those who only loved me in spite of who and what I am. Instead, a couple of weeks ago, I looked around and realized I was home. And it is good to be home.

The words “pride” and “shame” both made an appearance in this story, and I want to say a few words about them.

I’ve often heard Christians express disdain upon mentions of gay pride. The logic seems to be that pride is in itself sinful, and thus queer folks are compounding their already sinful existence by boasting about it, which, in true circular fashion, proves that their queerness is sinful. I suspect this view is held by nearly all the people who also post ‘Proud to be American,’ ‘Proud to be Christian,’ and ‘I’ll repost this picture of Obi Wan Kenobi because a blue-eyed white dude in a robe must be Jesus and I’m proud to love Jesus’ memes. But in any case, to me, Pride is not about being boastful or haughty, but is about rejecting the shame that has been heaped upon us by the church and our culture. It is a way of shouting to the world that I love the person God made me to be, and that you have the freedom to love the person God made you to be, too, and love beats shame every single time, and aren’t we supposed to love one another?

So as Pride Season commences, I encourage you to enjoy the rainbows decorating all the things, and the beautiful spectrum of humans they represent. We are fearfully and wonderfully made.

rainbow flags


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At the Corner of Fat & Queer

Today is International No Diet Day. I used to write a lot about such things, before I went and got all queerified. And I thought today might be a good day to go back to that.

Kinda.

You see, my queerness and my fatness have a lot in common.

Being fat and being queer are both frowned upon by society. In most spaces, it’s only X markes the spotokay to be fat if you are ashamed of it. You have to talk a lot about how hard you’re fighting it, or how hard you will fight it, after you have this one last piece of cake. Excuses are given, resolutions are made. It becomes very performative, very competitive. A lot of energy is expended hating who you are.

Similarly, society in general, and the church in particular, teach queer people to work against who they are. Lots of theories are posited in an attempt to explain why we are the way we are. We’re supposed to fight it. Our own experiences are dismissed in favor of the newest bestselling book on the subject.

Having spent a decade being “out” as fat with no intention of losing weight, or letting my size get in the way of living life to its fullest, or hating myself because of it, or believing it makes me unlovable was good practice for living as an openly bisexual person.

Being a fat person who does athletic things has meant existing in hostile territory, and contending with disbelief. How can I possibly be fat and do a 12k? Or bike to work? Or this, or that. And if I am doing those things, then I must be doing them to change my size! Being queer and Christian is much the same. Hostile territory. Disbelief. And surely, if I’m in church and talking about being queer, it’s because I want my queerness “fixed,” my struggles prayed over.

Science is awesome but it hasn’t yet given us all the answers. A lot of money has been spent trying to pinpoint what went wrong in fat people that led to them being fat. It’s viewed, by science, as a type of brokenness in need of healing. A much better, much healthier, way of viewing body size is as a spectrum with no right or wrong or good or bad attached to it. I’ve written a lot, and others have written a lot, about this. We’ve talked about how research is beginning to show that the detrimental effects normally associated with fatness are actually associated with social ostracization, attempts to force the body into an ‘acceptable’ size, dismissive health care practices, etc. Fat people are in better health if they’re treated as, you know, people. Respected, listened to, trusted, treated as legitimate.

Science has also failed to provide an explanation for queerness. We’re certainly learning more, like how individual genes behave differently in different people, and can be affected by other biological factors. What we do know, though, is that sexual orientation is not changable, and that the life of a queer person can literally depend on whether the people surrounding that person are supportive or not, especially if that person is young. The church tends to view queerness as a type of brokenness in need of healing. But sexuality, like size, is best viewed as a spectrum. We are not all alike, and that’s a beautiful thing–not a bad one.

There’s another side to all of this, though, and that’s joy. I have found great joy in liberating myself from self-hate and fighting my body. Joy in 12k races and bike rides and hula hooping. Joy in buying clothes that fit me now instead of waiting until I became the ‘right’ size. Joy in being comfortable in my own body. I have also found great joy since coming out. Joy in being known for who I really am. Joy in liberating my affections. Joy in the community of queer people, and queer Christians, that I’m finding. Joy in being comfortable in my own soul.

And I won’t be letting the world around me steal that joy.


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All Aboard!

The other day a coworker mentioned that he was about to take his first ever train ride. I was stunned. How had he never been on a train? I’ve lost count of the trains I’ve been on. Big ones, little ones, zoo trains, city trains, scenic trains with coal-powered locomotives, fresh-off-the-factory-floor self-powered glass rail cars, freight trains. I’ve been on trains for romance and I’ve been on trains to calm a fussy baby (and I just now realized those are connected). I have packed my middle-school aged kids up in the middle of the night, hauled them across town to the rail yard, and put them on a freight train like little hobos off for an adventure, Natty Gann style*. And then there are the trolleys! Be careful with trolleys. They can get you married. (Don’t ask.)

trolley

My younger son’s first trolley ride. Wasn’t he just adorable? *squee*

My coworker and I were born in the same hospital, less than a year apart. We’ve both lived our entire lives within a 100 mile distance from where we work. We are both white. We both dropped out of high school. We even both took our GED tests at the same place. Yet our experiences are very different.

I recently heard an episode of Queerology featuring Kevin Garcia, and he talked a little bit about his experience with gender dysphoria. I thought, “I can’t imagine what that’s like.” And I really can’t. I don’t have any personal experience that I can draw on that comes anywhere near his. Many of the things he talks about, I can find parallels in my own life, but this one I just cannot.

When confronted by someone whose experience seems so alien to our own, we have choices. We can dismiss their experience, or we can listen to them. We can insist that we understand how the world works, or we can learn that the world works differently for everyone. We can remain comfortable and ignorant, or we can allow some discomfort to bring us enlightenment. Boiled down, we can value (love) ourselves above others, or we can value (love!) others as we do ourselves.

So often, people hang tightly to their own view of the world. They speak as if their experience is truth, and others’ experiences are fiction.

I don’t experience sexism/racism, so you can’t be experiencing it.
I’ve seen others pull themselves out of poverty, so you just aren’t trying hard enough.
Everyone has the same number of hours, you just aren’t using yours wisely.
I’m not angry, so your anger is wrong.
If you just looked at things like I do, you’d feel better about them.
I was a tomboy and still grew up to be a woman, so you must just be confused about your gender.

And on and on. But here’s what that sounds like:

Coworker: I’m going on my first train ride!
Me: Of course not, you’ve been riding trains all your life. Maybe you just didn’t notice, or you thought the trains were cars or boats or planes, but trust me, I know how life works, and it involves a lot of trains.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather be the person who says, “That’s awesome! Tell me all about it.” Because I don’t even remember my first train ride, but I’ll bet his is different.

*Relax, their dad was on the train with them and it was all mostly legit.


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Fences

I homeschooled my kiddos. One day during the grade school years we took a midday bike ride down the path near our apartment. That path winds past a grade school, skirting the property just outside the playground fence. It was recess, and we caused bit of a panic. Kids rushed to the fence and shouted, “Get back inside! Get back inside! You’ll be in trouble!”

My boys found it amusing, of course–little rebels on two wheels. I found it sad. Those poor children, with no idea of the freedom that lay just beyond the fence. (My own school years felt very much like prison; I know it’s not like that for everyone.) But really, how could they conceive of a world so different from the one they lived in? School, when you’re a child, is the clock by which you tell time. It anchors your days and months. It directs the seasons.

fence

Somewhere in the heap of parenting and homeschooling books I consumed as my kids were growing, I read of a study done on schoolchildren. The fence around the school playground was removed. Suddenly the children stopped exploring the outer edges of the playground, and instead huddled in the middle. The lack of boundaries frightened them. The moral of the story, of course, was that children need boundaries in order to feel secure and explore their world.

And I agree. But there comes a time when those boundaries are unhealthy, when they confine instead of guide, when they stifle exploration rather than support it. Wise parents move the boundaries outward and open gates as their children grow. In this way, the children gain confidence in their ability to handle the outside world. They learn how to handle tough situations while they still have the safety net of parents to fall back on.

And they learn that their parents are not always right. This is a very uncomfortable thing for parents!

Today’s sermon, at the little church I attend with the rainbow flag posted out front, was on doubt. The pastor stressed that doubt is not a bad thing; in fact, it is a necessary thing. To doubt, to struggle with something, is to learn what you really believe.

Too often, though, doubt is seen as failure. It is seen as disobedience. Too often, evangelicals are the kids inside the playground fence, terrified for the kids on the outside, sure that they’re risking their very lives. Too often, evangelicals are locking the gates on a playground that is far too small for growing believers. Too often, evangelicals are the parents who won’t let their children grow up for fear they’ll turn out ‘wrong’ somehow.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:11

A faith that is only faithful inside the fence is no faith at all. A God that can’t withstand doubt is no God worth following. And, I am beginning to think, a grace that can be confined is a weak grace, indeed.


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Bloomsday

Facebook memories: some days they make me giggle, and some days they make me blue. Lately it’s been the latter. Around this time of year, I’m usually training for Bloomsday.

bloomsday

You only get the t-shirt if you finish the race.

Bloomsday is a 12K race that takes place each year in Spokane, WA. Forty-thousand-plus people coming together to conquer and/or torture themselves. I generally dislike crowds, but there’s something exhilarating about it. In addition to the runners, walkers, and rollers, the entire town seems to turn out, lining the streets to cheer and wave and spray us with water. It’s a giant party. Live bands play, people sell popsicles two for a dollar and hold up encouraging signs.

Not all the signs are encouraging. One dude in particular dedicates himself each year to holding a sign that proclaims, “God Hates F*gs.” He’s a charmer, that one.

I wondered how I’d handle that this year; whether I’d lose my temper, or try to change his mind, whether it would upset me, or if I’d be able to ignore it.

Time out for a story: A little over a year ago, a neighbor and his pastor came to our door to assure themselves of our salvation, or lack of it, as the case may be. Now, I live with a woman. We are not romantically involved, and at that point I was still very quiet about my sexuality. Nevertheless, they must have possessed better gaydar than I do (or perhaps a startling ability to jump to conclusions), because they left us with a pamphlet about how God hates homosexuality. I really want to repay their kindness, but I cannot, because there is no such thing as pro-gay tracts! Why do we not have these? When I am done interrogating him about the satisfaction of his sex life, and whether his mother was distant and caused him to seek after womanly affection, I want to be able to leave him a little rainbow-covered pamphlet explaining that we have way, way more fun over here on the queer side of things. They call it gay for a reason. That should be the title.

But even if I had a pro-gay tract, I would not have the opportunity to bestow one upon the Bloomsday sign holder, because I will not be going. I will not be going because Bloomsday, for me, was a church trip. I went with church friends. We took church kids. We stayed at an affiliated church, where we supported their spaghetti feed and helped clean up. We went to the Saturday evening church service they held, so that everyone could be free on Sunday morning to participate in the race and festivities. We began the race side by side the next morning.

And every year my church friends would frown and shake their heads in dismay at the anti-gay sign holder. Why must he be so hateful, so mean? Why couldn’t he just love people? What good did he think he would accomplish this way?

From where I stand, I can tell you that the sign holder may hurt me, and hurt the cause of Christ, but he doesn’t hold a candle to the hurt inflicted on me by those who frown and shake their heads as they pass by, but who who turned their backs on me. Who willingly expelled me from their church family. Who claimed I was the problem. Who encouraged me to keep silent about who I am. Because I’m queer, and unashamed of it. Their rejection cuts far deeper because it comes from a place where love once claimed to live; from people who knew me, who ate and prayed and worshiped with me. People who claimed to be family, until I turned into the black sheep.

Why must they be so hateful, so mean? Why can’t they just love people? What good do they think they’ll accomplish this way?

I doubt I’ll ever know.


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Bi-onic Vision

I don’t date much. Never have. In the seven months since I came out as bisexual, I haven’t dated anyone of any gender. But I’ve discovered some interesting things about myself and society when it comes to dating. Things that went without thinking when I only pictured myself dating men are turned upside down when I consider dating women.

This became apparent during a recent discussion about my married name. I don’t like my last name, but when my marriage ended I kept it because of the kids. I thought, erroneously, that it would be important to the kids for us to have the same surname, and that it would help avoid rude speculation about their parentage. (If you’ve never been a single mother, just know that people suck, and they think they’re owed the details of your sex life. Oh hey, kind of like when you’re queer.) I also thought I would remarry. Why go to the trouble of changing it, only to change it again when I found my man?

That was twenty-one years ago. I never remarried. One of my children has changed his last name. I’m still stuck with mine. As I pondered this I realized that, if I ever do remarry, it will probably be to a woman. And if I married a woman, why would I take her last name?

No, really. Why? Why do we do this?

diceI could Google, but I suspect I’d find that the answer is ‘patriarchy.’ I suspect I’d find that the bride taking the groom’s surname is equivalent to a “Property of” label. And when the gender difference is removed from the relationship, so is the implicit ownership of one person by the other. Similarly, concerns about which of you is taller, which of you is older, which earns more money, etc.–these things no longer matter. They’re are all signifiers of power, and when the relationship is between two men or two women, there is no automatic expectation that the one is more powerful than the other.

I’m beginning to understand the discomfort straight white men feel about same-sex relationships. Heaven forbid people should see all those loving, equal partnerships and get the wrong idea.

But it’s not all rainbows and roses. The thought of dating women has revealed deep insecurities in myself that I did not know I had, or thought I had overcome. I’ve been surprised to find that the comfort and confidence I’ve worked so hard to develop in my own body is shattered in the face of my attraction to women with societally acceptable bodies.

I’ve had enough experience with men to know that the majority of them find me attractive. They may do so in secret, because they’re victims of this society as well, but I know that the average man would sleep with me if I offered. My theory is probably flawed, but I’ve always chalked this up to boobs. I have them. Men want them. But women…women have their own. They don’t need mine. And I know that it’s equally illogical, since I find a variety of women attractive, to think that other queer women are only interested in a narrow selection of body types, but that is still how I feel. Perhaps because I’ve been a woman for several decades, privy to women’s magazines and the constant striving of nearly every woman in existence for the perfect body? I don’t know. But whatever the cause, my insecurities abound, and I have yet to find a cure. *sigh*

♥Hey, did you know that today is International Transgender Day of Visibility? If you’re a cisgender person, I encourage you to pause and reflect on the simultaneous need for visibility and fear of being visible that trans* people experience. Spend some time reading and listening to their stories. Think about how you might create compassion within yourself and safety for the trans* people in your life. Thank you.