jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that

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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.


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.