jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that


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Dear Christianity Today: No. Just no.

Christianity Today has published an article about transgender people, and now I have some words.

Let us begin with the title, “How the Transgender Narrative Perpetuates Stereotypes.” Yes, they are actually arguing that transgender people bear some responsibility for the continuation of unbiblical stereotypes about men and women.

Transgender people. The very people who are saying hey, gender seems far more complicated than we used to think and maybe we should rethink things. Perpetuating gender stereotypes.

*sigh*

I could go line-by-line and pick apart this article but I have homework to do, so I’m going to stick to two main points.

1. Anti-LGBTQ+ Christians cannot use complementarianism (the idea that men and women, by virtue of their physical sex, have different roles in family, church, and society) to support their claim that same-sex relationships are wrong, while simultaneously saying that transgender people would not feel conflict between their physical sex and their internal sense of self if they understood that your physical sex does not restrict you to certain sets of behaviors. Those two things cannot simultaneously be true!

2. Over and over the article references chromosomal sex as a binary thing. We are understanding now more than ever that it really is not. In actuality, people may have more than two sex-determining chromosomes (XXY, for instance). And in addition to that, we’re now finding out that chromosomes can be turned on and off, and their behavior changed, by other factors. Gender has, in fact, never been binary. It has never been simplistic. Very little about this world is!

Do the rigid gender roles promoted by both church and society cause conflict in people? Absolutely. I have known people who were secure in their understanding of their own gender, but who felt they did not fit into the space the world allowed for them based on that gender (actually, now that I think about it, I would fall into that category). But that is in no way the same thing as understanding that your sense of self and your physical body don’t match up the way they ought, the way others expect them to.

The Bible is silent on this issue, except to say that in the future, in our resurrected bodies, there will be no gender. Christians need to stop viewing things they don’t understand as things that need to be fought against. Now, as I am not transgender myself, I recommend reading these stories of transgender Christians in their own words.

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Sorry Not Sorry

There’s this odd phenomenon I’ve discovered, and I’m not sure if it has a name, or how to describe it, but it’s making me tired.

Somehow, my sexuality is seen as an inconvenience and a burden…not to me, but to those around me. And I’m guilty of thinking like this, as well.

For instance, several people at my parents’ church have told me I ought to be on the worship team. I know they meant this as a compliment, but it left me scrambling for something polite to say, some way to explain, without making them feel badly, that their church won’t allow me to do so because I like women, and if they knew I liked women, they probably wouldn’t be making this suggestion anyway. It left me in the position of having to apologize for being queer, or fumble for vague excuses (which is what I did).

I’ve worried that women might be uncomfortable around me, and whether I should still hug them, or sit next to them. I have been concerned about all the women who’ve ever been naked around me and whether they might be angry that they weren’t warned I was queer.

I’ve been told again and again that I’ve caused problems in the church-that-used-to-be-mine, that there’s division and unhappiness there since I came out, and since I was kicked out. As if it’s my fault that there are gay Christians and the church doesn’t know how to love them. As if it’s my fault that they dealt with that by kicking me out. As if it’s my fault that some people are unhappy that I was kicked out. I’ve been told the church might die…because of me and my queerness.

The other day I was confronted by one of the dozens of people I’ve let go from my life because they continue to support this church, which is not only not loving people as it is called to do, but which won’t allow me through the doors on a Sunday morning. This person seemed to think that I was indebted to her because she still “loved” me after she knew I was queer.

If you think me being bisexual is in any way equivalent to you and your church (because let’s be real, the church is the people whose butts are in the pews) oppressing and harming me and people like me, I don’t want you in my life. I don’t know what that is, but it isn’t love.

And being queer is nothing to be sorry for.

So I’m done being apologetic about it, though I might have to remind myself from time to time. There are many things in my life I have had, and will have, to apologize for, but being queer is not one of them. If it makes you uncomfortable, that’s gonna be your problem, not mine. If you feel guilty or have your beliefs challenged or whatever happens when you encounter me, you’ll just have to deal with it. It’s not my job to make you feel better about how you see or treat me. And I’m too tired to keep trying, anyway.

Remember the friend who wrote a guest post? I was expressing my frustrations with the well-meaning people at my parents’ church to her, and she said, “Jesus likes you. So should your church.” And she was right. So last Sunday I tried a new one, one that I knew to be affirming of LGBTQ+ people. The music director there happens to know me, and know I’m queer, and when he saw me, he said, “It’s good to see you! We have a choir, you know!” And it was all I could do not to break down in tears. I probably won’t sing, because of things like homework, but not because of who I am.

If there’s any apologizing that needs to be done, it’s by those who have treated me so badly that an invitation to join a choir has become something to cry over. And I won’t apologize for not holding my breath.

patience


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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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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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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.


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Don’t Look Down

Don’t look down. Standard advice to those hanging in peril, dangling above a void, walking a tightrope.

After years of wondering what I ought to be when I grew up–or rather, when my kids grew up–about a year ago all the pieces fell into place. Practically overnight I knew I should be a chemist, a dream that had been on hold since high school, when my AP Chem teacher turned out to be awful at both chemistry and teaching. When you’re 16, you don’t know that it’s the teacher who is awful; you think you’re just a bad student, not smart enough or talented enough after all. But now I knew better, and I was surrounded by scientists who would help me, and it seemed to be the perfect time.

In the spring, I found myself in my own Pit of Despair. I’d done the research and the math and I couldn’t see a way to go to school. None of the classes I needed were offered outside of work hours, I wasn’t eligible for any financial aid, and my job was about to get far more demanding. Decades of working for low pay and even less satisfaction stretched out before me.

But friends came alongside me and lent their support and we worked out a way-not ideal, but manageable-for me to work towards my degree. I had hope. I had a plan.

And then I came out.

I anticipated consequences when I announced my queerness to the world, but I underestimated the severity and extent. (And my experience is still better than many–I highly recommend reading this thread by another queer Christian for an understanding of what many of us go through). Fall quarter was spent in turmoil: school, work, church, friends, and so, so many emotions. My academic performance was dismal.

Winter quarter loomed. School was to begin on Tuesday, and on Saturday morning I still had no idea if I’d be attending. I could no longer count on the people I’d been counting on. I didn’t know how I would pay my rent on Monday, and refunded tuition was tempting. I couldn’t fathom managing homework and a 40 hour work schedule. I missed sleep and recreation. My youngest child told me not to worry about retirement, I could work my low-pay jobs and then live with him when the time came to stop working. I think he’s still offended that I wouldn’t agree to that!

My roommate says that dogs are never suicidal because they live ‘in the now.’ Yes, ‘now’ might unimaginably horrible, but it is just now. Humans, on the other hand, project the ‘now’ into the future, and are rightly terrified at the prospect of remaining in that horrible situation interminably.

Humans look down.

Although Philippians 3:13 is talking about Christian living, it is good advice when striving for any goal:

prize

Eye on the prize. Don’t look down. Don’t get dragged down by crap. One step at a time. Just keep moving forward.

I went to school that Tuesday. I found a way to manage this quarter, and I will not worry about how I’ll manage next quarter or next year or the year after that. I’ve begun severing ties with anyone who makes me feel less than fully loved and included, because that kind of negativity takes energy I cannot spare. I’m immersing myself, as time allows, in encouraging resources. I will be my own cheerleader, and try to build a new support network-one that supports everything that I am rather than only what it wants me to be.

And when it all begins to overwhelm, I will remind myself: don’t look down!


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In Which I Am Annoyed

This morning in the shower (where I do all my best thinking) I realized something, and it annoyed me. The realization, that is, not the act of realizing, which I could doubtless use more of.

I have some abandonment issues, which I will not go into here and you should count yourself lucky about that, but which were triggered by the whole getting-kicked-out-of-church thing. Consequently, one of the (many) things that upset me about that conversation in which a bunch of men kicked me out of my church family was that they affirmed my salvation–my place in God’s family–but they didn’t want me in their family.

That was really awful and excruciatingly painful. And by ‘was’ I mean ‘continues to be’. But it was not annoying.

No, annoying is my realization this morning that they were completely out of line affirming my salvation. How dare they? Of the six ‘clobber verses,’ at least two say otherwise!

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 states not once, but twice, that homosexuals (and the rest of the list of people) ‘will not inherit the kingdom of God’. And Romans 1 talks all about how homosexuality came about as a result of turning one’s back on God. At least that’s how anti-gay Christians interpret it, right?

Get your act together, guys! If you’re going with the “plain reading” method here, you’d darn well better apply it to the whole passage, not just one or two words. Tell me my faith is a lie. Tell me I’m damned to Hell. Go on, do it.

And if you can’t, if you’re unable to reconcile what you’ve seen of my faith and the faith of other queer Christians with the idea that we simply cannot be saved just as we are, could it possibly be that you’ve misunderstood? That translation and interpretation might have been skewed by cultural influences? That an inability to understand something might lead to an inability to accept it? Just maybe?