Thursday, October 9, 2014

Erasing a community

I was standing at coffee hour, drinking my tea, and chatting with a fellow parishioner, a sweet lady. As we were watching the two guys up front clean up the worship space, she turned to me and said, “Why do those people have to come here? I understand they can't help being gay, but can't they go find their own space?”

I found out what mug handles are really for, that morning. They're to prevent you dropping hot liquids when you're so shocked you forget to hold on.

“Would it be fair,” I said, “if they said the same thing about people who didn't like them? That people like you who didn't like gays needed to go find their own church and weren't welcome here, in the place you've made your home?”

“Well, no, but that's not the point. They're the ones who are different!”

I backed up and found an excuse to get out of that conversation, reeling. Because I knew she was more conservative than I am, that she and her husband belong to one of the more 'evangelical' groups in the Episcopal Church, but it still hit me like a ton of bricks that she would rather “they” would just go away, and leave her the territory of her church undisturbed. Erase them.

About a year earlier, when we were talking about our participation in Pride events, another older woman said, “Gays and lesbians I'm ok with, but I don't agree with this affirmation of Bi-people. They should just pick one!” I looked at her daughter, who was very carefully not making eye contact with anyone, embarrassed. I wondered how many people in the room knew that before the daughter's marriage, at one point she'd identified as bi. From the tone, her mother wasn't one of them.

These were both in a parish, in a community, that explicitly identifies as LGBT-friendly, with signs and rainbows and affiliations. All I could think was, “but this is supposed to be a safe space!”

Both of these women, who I believe try their very best to be the best people they can be, the most Godly people they can be, want 'those people' to stop making them uncomfortable, because the existence of the LGBT community inside the church challenges ideas and biases long held.

Erasure is a topic frequently covered by social justice activists of all stripes. What can be erased from view, what can be glossed over or excused as a one-time or not that bad or not really that good? Make that which challenges drop from view to maintain the status quo.

It's something I've been pondering for the last couple of months and esp this week, listening to people, allies and advocates and activists, celebrating the progression of same sex marriage across the country. I'm very happy for my friends, that they are no longer denied a basic civil right, that in 30 states (and possibly more this week, depending on what happens with the 9th circuit) they can marry their partner. But what about the people who can't? Or who won't?

There's an entire community of people for whom marriage is not the answer, or even an answer, at least in it's current configuration, and we in the church are particularly guilty of focusing on marriage as the Big Thing, forgetting, ignoring, erasing a large portion of the congregation and their equality.

Half of LGBT people identify as Bisexual*. A couple of different places I've heard disparaging remarks from gay or allied clergy, not just laity, about how bi people should just choose one, or that they're just confused, or it's a stage. That people who are "actively bisexual" are hurting the cause of gay rights. How it's not fair that they can "pass" in either community, with the implication that they're no better than double agents.

The comment about being "actively bi" made me angriest. That it came from clergy in the community was the worst. What does that even mean? Does it mean that someone can't date a guy, then a girl, then another guy, if they're out in the dating pool? Or that they can't have a boyfriend *and* a girlfriend at the same time? That they have to get married to one or the other, sooner rather than later, and ignore the fact that they might like both? That they have to "make a choice"? What happens if they don't, if they chose to not get married, or if they choose to acknowledge that men and women are both attractive, that restricting themselves to one or the other is a denial of who they are, who they were made to be?

Will the church still support the right to not choose then?

Bi people exist, they exist in our communities, and yes, they may be "passing", but if these are the attitudes in evidence when they do come out, is it any wonder the closet is still full?

This is destructive of lives and relationships, esp in places that are otherwise open and affirming to the queer communities. And while I know how lucky I am to be in a denomination that has stated full equality of all persons regardless of sexual orientation as a goal, this isn't how we do it, telling people that to be a Christian, they must hide their orientation (and possibly their partners) under a basket. We learned that already, with our gay and lesbian clergy.