jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that


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Sticks, Stones, Pens, and Swords

I love language. I always have. The history of words fascinates me. I can, and occasionally do, happily lecture anyone in my vicinity about the etymology of a particular word. If I had unlimited time and money, I would learn ten more languages-at least! Language is how we communicate, and how we relate. Without it, there is no science, no history, no stories, no poetry, no love letters! It’s the timeless version of “pics or it didn’t happen.”

Years ago, I wanted to be a linguist. I spent some time in Guatemala with Wycliffe, learning about the thousands of people groups whose languages had no written form. The cultural impact of this astounded me. People groups without a written language are not just at a socioeconomic disadvantage, but tend to internalize this as being inherently less than those with written languages. And while they can, and often do, learn the language of the dominant society around them, it isn’t the same. Ah, there’s a reason we call it the “mother tongue.”

It isn’t the pen that is mightier than the sword; it is the words one can write with it. They’re sharper than the sword, too.

The Gay Christian Network (why yes, there is such a thing!) recently changed its name. The new name, Q Christian Fellowship, was meant to be more inclusive. “Gay” is not an all-encompassing term. Now, I cheerfully identify as queer, and find it to be a happy umbrella for LGBTQ+ people. But for many, it brings the sting of past insults, insults that hurt so much that the mere letter ‘Q’ causes them pain. Well, this is a dilemma indeed, because we’re a group of folks who have spent much of our lives being pummeled with words by people who could not accept who we are. What word is not linked to pain for at least some?words

I’ve noticed, over the last months, an unhappy effect of the Christians in my life being anti-queer. Words that ought to bring me joy instead bring me pain. People have used–misused, really–passages of Scripture against me, and thus tainted them. Sometimes, an entire chapter or book of the Bible will bring with it enough negative emotion that it distracts me from the truth of what I am reading. There are songs I can no longer sing along to. Sometimes I turn off the radio altogether.

The words of Christians are interfering with my worship, interfering with my reading of scripture. People, that is not okay. It is not okay that Sunday is the hardest day of my week. It is not okay that communion makes me cry. What are you doing with the Word of God? Be careful with that sword!

“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Matthew 15:6b-11

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Finding Ourselves in Fiction: Annie On My Mind

Annie On My Mind is the story of two young women navigating their discoveries about themselves and each other in the midst of adolescence and a homophobic society. It’s definitely a YA novel, but it held my attention (and made me cry more than once).

20180125_052358Amazon states, “One of the first books to positively portray a lesbian relationship, Annie on My Mind is a groundbreaking classic of the genre.” As you can probably tell by the artwork on the cover (mine came from the public library), it was initially published in the early ’80s. The story, however, is timeless and enjoyable.

While sex is discussed, it’s done in a roundabout and euphemistic way; you won’t find any how-to instructions here.


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Finding Ourselves in Fiction: Jenny’s Wedding

Jenny’s Wedding, starring Katherine Heigl as a gay woman whose family has to come to terms with her sexuality, was a bit of a disappointment. That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it–It was pleasant in the way Hallmark movies are often pleasant, with the added virtue of being pro-gay and giving a realistic representation of what many gay people encounter. Unfortunately, there was just no chemistry between Heigle and Alexis Bledel. While the love story was not central to the film, it felt as if a cardboard cutout could have been substituted for Bledel without much alteration to the finished product. Still, it was a reasonably enjoyable movie for a night in.

There are no steamy scenes about which to warn you. Not even cardboard ones.

roses


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Character Counts

Let’s say you’re friends with Sally. You’ve known Sally for ten or twenty years. You’ve been to her house, sometimes even dropped by unexpectedly. You’ve looked after her kids, and she’s looked after yours. You’ve called each other late at night, when you needed a friendly ear, and you’ve prayed for each other as hard times have come and gone.

One day, your Aunt Matilda asks you over for tea. As you sip from a cozy cup of jasmine tea, she says, “It’s a shame that Sally beats her dog.”

Stunned, you sit speechless while Aunt Matilda munches on a scone. Finally, you say, perhaps a bit too forcefully, “You don’t mean my Sally?”

“Oh yes, one and the same,” she says between bites. “I’ve always known she does. Ask around, and I’m sure you’ll find everyone knows Sally abuses that poor animal.”

You barely keep up with the rest of Aunt Matilda’s gossip, distracted as you are by this revelation. On the way home you ponder the news. You think over every interaction you’ve had with Sally through the years. You consider how gentle she is with her children and yours, how loving and compassionate she is. You can’t remember ever having seen her lose her temper beyond a muttered, “Oh for Pete’s sake,” here and there. You’ve played Frisbee in the yard with Sally and her dog, and once, when you were running errands together, she dragged you into the specialty pet store so she could buy the expensive canned dog food. “Rover will eat the grocery store stuff, but he’d rather have this,” she told you.

You’ve known Aunt Matilda all your life, and you trust her, but it just doesn’t seem possible that Sally abuses the family dog. You know Sally, you know her character, and that is out of character for her. You know it cannot be true. There must be a misunderstanding, and you’ll talk to her and get it figured out.

Right?

“Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.”
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21

Do you know the character of God? Just like our fictional Sally, we understand who God is by knowing Him. And by knowing Him, knowing His character, we can determine what is and is not true about Him (and unlike Sally, there’s no chance whatsoever that He’s hiding who He really is).

The God I know, the God I see in Scripture, from Jesus’ ministry here on Earth, and even from my own experience, is full of grace and mercy and love. He is holy and just and good. He loves us like a mother hen, sheltering us under his wings. He encourages and builds up and gives us hope. Relationships are of utmost importance to Him–so important that they merited Christ’s sacrifice to maintain them.

So I ask you, is this the God you know? And if so, does the church’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people fall within his character? Knowing who God is, does it make sense that He would want people turned away from their churches, friends, and families? Is it reasonable that He would wish entire segments of humanity to spend their lives without love, without a partner? Would He teach us to hate parts of ourselves that we cannot change? Does his Word build despair, the kind of despair that drives people to suicide in ever-increasing numbers?

Or could it be that the prophecy that is on everyone’s lips–what “everyone knows” about homosexuality–is hogwash? Could it all just be an awful misunderstanding?

Test everything. Hold fast what is good.

rainbow


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On Marching, and Marching On

(This post is an edited version of something I posted on Facebook-first as a comment on someone else’s post, and then as my own-a year ago, as people were fussing about the Women’s March. I know my position is a controversial one, and I know that people on both sides of the issue feel that I cannot be both pro-life and feminist.  Ah, well, I never have fit into boxes.)

You would be hard-pressed to find someone more pro-life than I am. I was an unplanned, unwanted child myself, and I was also unmarried, pregnant, and barely 17 years old once upon a time, so I’m not speaking from a lack of understanding of what many women go through. But I do think it is different from almost every other issue folks disagree on, because I firmly believe that the fetus is a person, and so a woman’s choice to have an abortion is a choice to end a human life. However, I also recognize that this is not an issue that can be solved by outlawing abortion, and doing so only endangers additional lives.

Abortions took place before Roe vs Wade, and they would continue to take place even if it were made illegal again. The only reasonable way to approach this issue is to remove those things which lead a woman to believe that her best (or only) choice is to abort her child. This would include negative attitudes towards ‘illegitimate’ children, the acceptance of rape and rape culture in our society, refusal to provide reasonable medical care (birth control!), negative attitudes towards women who use food stamps or other public assistance, the assumption that people on welfare are drug addicts, the push to work for minimum wage rather than use public assistance while in training for a decent career (not to mention the push for minimum wage to remain below livable), the blaming of single parents for society’s downfall and every little bad thing their kid does, the blaming of poor people for being poor, etc., etc., etc. And the truth is that these are not things most conservative folks are willing to do. I think this is why we saw, during the Obama administration, abortion falling to its lowest rate in decades. There was hope and help for those who were in tough times, and hope and help can make the difference between an abortion and having the baby.

The Farm, which is a commune that is known primarily for its amazing midwifery practices and maternal/infant outcomes, had a policy of allowing women to come live there, give birth, and leave their baby with the community for as long as they felt was necessary (perhaps forever). They instituted this policy so that women would not feel that they had no choice (and I believe that’s how most women who have an abortion feel, and I have certainly known many women who did not feel they had any other option). They saved many lives doing this. But these days it seems people just want to tell the women that they have no choice, and then walk away from the situation, congratulating themselves for being righteous, and firmly believing that the pregnant woman has made her bed and now has to lie in it.

Abortion is no better for women than it is for the babies whose lives are taken, and more than half of those babies are girls. Although many feminists would disagree with my claim to be both feminist and pro-life, I can only think that making life better for women will translate into making life better-and possible-for their children, too. And that is why I will stand-and march!-with my pro-choice sisters, for we have far, far more in common than not, and I want the best for them and their children, and the society that we share.

Since writing the above, of course, the situation has become even more dire. The Trump administration seems to be fighting to create those circumstances most likely to force women into having no options. It grows more critical every day that we who have the means to fight, fight for the disadvantaged among us.

wonder women


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Shush

I went to church with my parents (dad & stepmom) last Sunday, as I’ve been doing off and on through Advent and the new year. I was early, reading a book (Vines’ God and the Gay Christian) while I waited. Near the front was a group of young people chatting, and I was struck by how much one young woman looked like a girl I’d gone to school with-tall, strong, with long, curly red hair. She exuded energy. As I watched, she laughed a loud, boisterous laugh. A voice somewhere in the back of mind chided, “too loud” and “not ladylike!”

I know that voice. I’ve heard it many a time.

It’s the voice that tells me not to dress too brightly because it will draw attention to me, to my size. It tells me not to talk too much. Not to sound too smart or sure of myself. It reminds me of the men who called me ‘intimidating.’ It recently told me that no matter how much I love the giant rainbow umbrella my kid gave me for Christmas, didn’t it make me look out of place on the college campus, among all the dreary ones?

A few weeks ago I went to my parents’ church without them. Here and there during the singing, I would catch someone turning to look at me. My grandmother hasn’t remembered my name or relationship to her for years, but if she’d been standing beside me in church, she’d have elbowed me and said, “Don’t be a show-off!” It’s okay, Grandma, the voice did it for you. Even as I type this story it cries, “Pride, pride!”

The voice is the combined weight of centuries of expectations, handed solemnly down from one generation of women to the next. It keeps us in our place, ensuring we are not Too Much for the men to handle.

I have decided that the appropriate response is to summon my inner Carrie Fisher, complete with middle finger extended.

So, Dear Girl with the Fiery Hair and Powerful Presence:

Be bold. Be cheerful. Don’t let anyone tell you that you are too much, or that you are not enough. Don’t worry about frightening people away; everyone needs a challenge now and then.

Do not try to fit in their boxes, for you cannot be contained.

Much Love,
Jenny

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Doing The Impossible

According to James Dobson, I’m bisexualling wrong.

“L-G-B-T. You know what the B stands for? Bisexual. That’s orgies. That is lots of sex with lots of people,” he said.

No one told me I was supposed to be having lots of sex with lots of people! Geez, would someone send me my copy of the Queer Rule Book already? Make sure it still has the scratch-off code on the inside cover that grants me access to the Gay Agenda website, k?

I actually see my bisexuality as a gift: it is a gift that my potential to love another person is not constrained by which set of equipment they happen to possess. It’s a beautiful kind of freedom.

Anyway, back to the Dobson quote. He said this during a conversation with Franklin Graham. And in that conversation, Graham said, “But you cannot stay gay and continue to call yourself a Christian. You can’t do it.”

I appear to be doing the impossible! Now, if only I can figure out how to cram more hours in a day. I’m also happy to attempt to prove that money actually can buy happiness (I will provide grant proposals upon request).

I have to wonder if either man has ever met a queer person. And if so, did they listen to them? Get to know them? Did they see a person that their God had created? Or did they only see a label, a category, a caricature?

When the pastor of the church-that-used-to-be-mine informed me that I was being removed from my ministry position while the elders decided what to do about me, he told me that he had gay friends. He said one had “gone all the way and become a woman.”

I tried to point out that being gay and being transgender are actually two different things (though one can be both), but he didn’t listen. So I sat there, in my floral dress and high heels, wondering if he really thought I identified as a man. Was that the only way he could conceptualize my attraction to women? But what about my attraction to men? He wasn’t listening, so I couldn’t find out.

In a later meeting with the elders, I tried to explain that I had no plan to do anything but be myself. I talked about how studies show that the most racist people are the people with the least exposure to people of other ethnicities. I talked about how a study had been done showing that people exposed to images of active fat people became less prejudiced against fat people, less inclined to view them as lazy, etc. I said all I planned to do was be a queer person, and perhaps by knowing me, others in the church might be less inclined to ‘other’ queer people.

In retrospect, I think that may have sealed my fate. You see, by doing the impossible–being queer and Christian–I’m challenging the us-vs.-them narrative that the Evangelical church clings to as fodder for its persecution complex. It’s so much easier to hold firm on your one-dimensional stereotypes of people if you don’t actually get to know them, or listen to them. I guess my presence couldn’t be borne. People might see me worship, or hear me discuss Scripture, or talk about how I live out my faith, and…well, they might start to wonder and to think, and that might be dangerous.