Something deeply hurting still burns in my brain.
In the wake of “Memogate”, a controversial move by the board of trustees at Calvin College to quash discussion of gay rights in classrooms and around campus, there were a number of students who wrote in to the school newspaper telling us, the LGBT community, that we should’ve known better than to attend a Christian school. How could we expect that Christians could possibly be OK with our “lifestyle”, with our Bible-bending and slippery slopes.
Of course. What were we thinking? How could we have been so stupid?
The sad thing is that a lot of non-Christians agree. Since last fall, I’ve been kicking it in Delaware, basking in the religious apathy of the East Coast and appreciating a visible and reasonably well supported LGBT community at the University of Delaware where I go to school. But there’s another side to that.
I don’t want to get myself in trouble for what I’m about to say. So let me start off by making a compliment to Christians and Muslims and religious Jews and all other religions: Religious people have a sense of smallness. I like that. Religious people tend to realize their insignificance in the universe and to see things in a much broader scope. We are all a part of something much bigger, depending on what your particular religious persuasion is, whether you’re Baptist or Pagan or Buddhist.
I am not arguing that all non-religious people are vapid or big-headed or self-absorbed. In fact I think it’s often just the opposite. Some of my favorite people I knew in college were atheists. I appreciated the honesty and thoughtfulness. In a place like Grand Rapids, it takes no small amount of courage to be forthright about your religious views when you’re not an evangelical Christian.
But I think there’s a difference between religious apathy and atheism or serious agnosticism.
Often our problem as gay people is that we have limited goals: We set our eyes on adoption and non-discrimination laws and marriage equality when we could be aiming for something so much broader. Of course these are all great things we’re fighting for and I consider every single person behind these efforts a hero.
But fighting for inclusion in the system means we need to make sure that the system we want to be a part of isn’t excluding others. We need to take a hard look around us for who’s being left behind now that we’re moving forward. We need to see ourselves as a part of something bigger than ourselves.
In the wake of Memogate, the ever brilliant Stephen Mulder, the then editor of the school paper and one of the best allies the LGBT community has ever had at Calvin College, wrote an especially brilliant editorial in the Oct. 30, 2009 issue of Chimes. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to have someone outside our community without any personal interest at stake willing to step up to the plate for us, especially someone so articulate and thoughtful. It was a little insulting to be getting letters sent to me, as the co-editor of the opinion section, telling the gays to get out. Telling the gays to shut-up and take it quietly. And on top of that, having the audacity to accuse me of silencing their voices when I, a gay person, was also obligated to publish their dribble. Here I was, a student at a school that had decided that “advocating for gay rights” was unacceptable in the classroom, being accused of infringing on people’s free speech.
To be fair, one of the aforementioned individuals and I had an e-mail exchange the following spring at which point he gave me the high compliment of “Hey, you seem really normal. I expected you to be really militant.”
Obviously, he hadn’t read my blog.
In the time since “Memogate” I’ve been busy putting space between myself and this world where I grew up. Emotional and physical space.
Going to spend a year in Charente helped clear my head. It helped me readjust and learn to become a whole human being. The song “Ashes on Your Eyes” by the Weepies’ Deb Talan became my anthem. I heard it for the first time a week or so before I left for France. I remember sitting at my desk that I’d had since high school, clearing out my room and crying hysterically. Each word seemed written to me.
“Dry your wings in the sun/You have only begun to understand/When it’s time to move on/There is no one to hold your hand/So let go/Let go/Let go…”
Although I’ve vowed to never go back to religious institutions following my stint at Calvin, I wonder still why it has to be this way. I mean, of course I know why on some level. Cultural norms and religious exhortations get conflated. We mistake cultural practices for divine commandments. We even find a couple of excerpts from our holy text that we can use to support our beliefs.
So here I am. Exactly where I need to be.
But I’m broken-hearted that it has to be this way. I don’t think I could ever live in Grand Rapids again. At least not for a very long time. I’ve just started living, I’m done resenting and so I can’t go back. Not now. Going back to Grand Rapids would only trigger that resentment. Resenting that other people grew up being happy. Resenting that they’ve never felt like an outsider in any really meaningful way or know what it is to want to end your own life. Resenting the weddings, the high school proms, the heteronormativity. Resenting other couples getting to hold hands in public without people staring or laughing or worse.
That was 20 years of my life and I’m happy to be done with it. You can say “You should’ve known better” as many times as you want to me, and I can’t help but agree with you. I should have. I should’ve expected the treatment I got.
And I’m not blaming anyone else. I survived my childhood and, hopefully, I’m a better person for it.
All I’m saying is that we can do better. This dichotomy of Christian versus gay sucks. It’s a bad business calling the shots for God, especially when you have something so feeble as seven Bible passages to base it off of.
Shouldn’t we know better than to expect that such a place on earth existed that would be sufficiently thoughtful to welcome us in rather than to see us as a threat? Shouldn’t we know better than to expect that Christians might actually take their calling to love others as themselves seriously? (Seriously – that whole verse about the plank in your own eye? Have you crossed that out of your Bibles? How many of you are willing to hate your own sin the same way you hate gay people’s “sin”?)
I chose Calvin College because I wanted to find an academic setting where I could fully engage myself, where I would be encouraged to seek out a lifelong calling, a higher vocation and not just a degree that would help me land a job. I may have rejected religious institutions, but I don’t reject this idea that I want to be more than a cog, that I want more than a degree and a job.
People still ask me about what I want to do in terms of a job like I have a clue. I want to live my life – that’s enough for me.
I’m not stuck on my past. It’s difficult, though, and I would argue unhealthy to so quickly discard your past. It shapes you and in turn, in the present we transform and change the past into our present experiences.