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Entries in Queer youth (3)


The Truant God

Two weeks ago I attended the eQuality Scholarship Collaborative Awards dinner in San Francisco as 16 Queer and Allied students (from high school seniors to grad students) received awards and recognition for their extraordinary accomplishments. Some of these students were introduced at the banquet by their parents, some by friends, mentors, teachers. Each of them in their speech was candid about the challenges they had faced and the support they had received. Some thanked their families, some had been disowned by their families. Some talked about the challenge of starting or reinvigorating the GSAs (Gay-Straight Alliances) at their high schools. Some were grateful to organizations like LYRIC (Lavender Youth Resource and Information Center in the Castro, SF) Some talked about coming out in high or middle school as Trans, as Gay, as child of Queer parents. Some mothers spoke with pride about their feminist sons, their trans daughters.


The evening made us all cry – these were some of the most remarkable young people of whom the Queer community could boast. The strength, determination, courage, pride, and talent of these students was an inspiration. We all had such reason to be proud of all of them.


One thing I noticed in all the speeches made: Nobody thanked God, no one thanked a single religious authority or professional. Seemingly no clergy or congregation had helped any of these stars get to where they were.


I was so proud of them and so ashamed of us. Where have our institutions been, where have our clergy been? When middle school students were disowned by their parents where had the church or synagogue communities been? As these students had mustered their courage and energies and achieved, where had God been in their lives?


A generation of poorly led religious communities, and a lack of Godspeak among the Queer communities and institutions that supported these kids has meant that we are raising our next generation without a positive experience of God or spiritual community. Not everyone in the world wants or needs God in their life or consciousness, but when none of 16 brilliant and compassionate recipients mentioned God or prayer, we have done something wrong. The aversion from Godspeak among Queer adults has drifted down to the next generation. The comfort, the poetry, the more profound perspective that can come from a consciousness of Divinity in any form was conspicuously absent from these students' lives. A connection to God could make their lives even more dynamic and powerful.


Here's my challenge and my question to my adult readers: How much do you speak about God in your daily life? How much do you impart to your ownchildren or the children you encounter? What slows you down?


I think we adults have to move through our own discomfort, our own histories of abuse, and our own shame at being religious in temperament and rediscover the beauty of God that may have been concealed from us by a bad church or abusive clergy person. God is still there, God is still sterling, and God is a gift we should bequeath to our next generation.


Relief, revelation, revolution. The countless blessings of coming out.

In a recent Boston Herald interview MIT baseball player Sean Karson talked about the experience of coming out to his teammates. He said,

I have never been myself up until very recently,” he said. “Everything’s been just sort of cold and calculated. I’ve been in this fortress, I guess, and haven’t let my emotions out at all.“I worried that I had no emotions, that I didn’t feel much about anything. It was really weird.”


In my mind, what Sean describes is the difference between being alive and being the walking dead.


We all protect ourselves in the world, we all cover up some of our vulnerabilities. We have to. We can't go emotionally naked through the world any more than we survive in a blizzard or in the desert without clothes. What Sean Karson illuminates is the irreplaceable blessing of self-revelation, though. When we closet ourselves, when we “cover” our identities too drastically, we build fortresses around our hearts and our souls.


These fortresses keep us from our fellow human beings and from God. Because if we have no emotions, neither human nor Divine love will register with us.


Sean Karson mostly received immensely positive feedback from his teammates. “They came up and gave me high fives and said they’d have my back and everything,” he said. “It was so supportive, it was ridiculous.” Others said "how much they respected [him], but that they needed to collect their thoughts first."


The trade-off, though, is so clear, and our world is changing. Even in a context like male, competitive team sports, where coming out is still revolutionary, the blessings of courage outweigh the risks. The revolution of revelation brings on more revelation. Sean's revelation of self sparked the revelation of his teammates' compassion and love. Think what this will mean for the next athlete who hasn't dared to speak out, and the next, and the next.


Blessed is God who blessed humanity with life and with the capacity to love.


'Acting' According to God's Will -- Religion, Community, and Queer Teen Suicide



Act I: When Good Religion Goes Bad

Some of my perspective on the tragedy that befell Tyler Clementi and his family comes from my years directing plays and operas.


When we think about the damage caused by Queerphobic religion, mostly we think about children, whose sense of self is so undermined before they grow to have a clearer sense of perspective that they ultimately see dying as better than living as Queer. When we run to save lives, we rescue children first, but the extraordinary interview with Jane Clementi, mother of Queer teen suicide Tyler Clementi, teaches us that we are wrong if we think only children need rescue from Queerphobia.


The influence of religion in life is intentionally all-pervasive. Religion often teaches how parents and children should relate to one another. Queerphobic religion not only turns children of every age against themselves, it turns parents against children, can turn children against their coming-out parents, and put loving parents at war against their own parental instincts.


The story of the Clementi family as told in the New York Times article gives evidence of really bad guidance from their church.


Act II: Prejudice vs. Compassion


At the time Tyler sat down to tell his parents he was gay, she believed that homosexuality was a sin, as her evangelical church taught. She said she was not ready to tell friends, protecting her son — and herself — from what would surely be the harsh judgments of others.

It did not change the fact that I loved my son,” she said. “I did need to think about how that would fit into my thoughts on homosexuality.”

Yet it did not occur to her that Tyler would think she did not accept him.

In my former career as a theatre director I learned that if my concept of how the production should go was frustrating most of the cast, my concept was likely wrong. When religious doctrine contradicts basic human impulses to the degree Mrs. Clementi describes and makes that many people so deeply unhappy, the doctrine is likely wrong. A rule of thumb for directors and religious leaders alike: If concept proves irreconcilable with essential humanity, change the concept.


Here's what I see in just the brief excerpt above: Tyler couldn't communicate openly with his parents. His parents couldn't communicate with their friends. Their community was primed to judge its members harshly. One doctrine, one theory -- religious Queerphobia -- created so much dysfunction and dissonance. Acceptance, instead, of the truth of God's creation of a Queer and diverse world would have generated harmony and healing energy, perhaps enough that the Clementis might not have lost their son. Acceptance and celebration of Queerness not only saves anxious youth, but rescues loving adults from tragedy, also.


Act III: What Religion-Infused Communities Can Do Well, But Often Don't

Religious institutions, traditions, and authorities can be of unmatchable benefit in the life of their communities. They don't have to be without doctrine or concept or norms and just nod “yes” to everything. They can teach. However, they must look beyond the theoretical coherency of doctrine. They have to look at the lives being led. Who are the children of their community? Who are the parents and other adults? If congregants don't fit the concept, institutional leaders (lay and professional on every level) need to ask themselves why they themselves don't accept the lives of the people they are hoping to shelter and love. And when enough people are unhappy in the same way as in the Clementis' community, it is time to sit down with leadership and discuss the tension between the theory and practice of God's will.


In the months after Tyler’s death, some of Ms. Clementi’s friends confided that they, too, had gay children. She blames religion for the shame surrounding it — in the conversation about coming out, Tyler told his mother he did not think he could be Christian and gay.


What's wrong with this picture? Everything. Why should parents have to “confide” that their children are gay? If that many parents are experiencing it, then it's a natural phenomenon, not an aberration. Why should religion be the source of shame? Religion should liberate us from shame. Why should Christianity and gayness – two core elements of Tyler's identity – have been incompatible in his mind?


It may sound strange to describe it in this way (I'll happily take feedback on how to fix this metaphor), but God isn't the director of our lives, God is merely the absent producer. I say merely, because God requires human beings to intuit and interpret the Divine will, to act out and improvise the script of life. God needs us as actors and directors, as a collaborative team, to make something just and beautiful of life. Only within the narratives of scripture is God both the omniscient author of law and the omnipotent director of action. Not in the stories we live out from day to day.


Religiously infused life should be great, uplifting art, it shouldn't be tragedy.