I was reading Not all Christians the other day. It’s a group with a website that takes a pro LGBTQ stance to Christianity. They make a lot of good points about the disproportionate hatred directed towards a supposed sin which the Bible condemns ambiguously at best, while ignoring other clearly defined prohibitions (divorce, clerical structure, dietary laws, etc.). But the most interesting line I read was something I had been thinking about myself; it went like this: “By denying marriage equality to gay people, Christians are compelling gay couples to sin, because their intimacy must happen outside of marriage.” Therein for me lies the tragedy of Christianity, a religion which stresses the importance of community and a sense of belonging, but excludes certain populations from its ranks. It makes the family into a virtue, but would deny that virtue to those who need it most. It doesn’t comdemn sin, it creates it.
It got me thinking in a broader way about a gay person’s general place in society, and I guess the thought I have applies to any minority living on the margins of what culture deems aceptable. The fact is, that when you’re born into a mold you in which don’t fit, you are compelled either to remain there in uncomfortable stasis, to “pass,” or to leave. When a gay child is cast out of his or her or their home by their religious parents, they are not only homeless, but structureless. The Boston Lesbian Psychologies Collective made a similar point back in 1987. Since “lesbian parenting has remained so invisible,” they say, “the lesbian parent has the challenge of creating new family structures and family processes from scratch” (p8, Lesbian Psychologies). The same is doubtless true for men. Their focus here is on the parents and not the children, but nevertheless I think they’re coming from the same direction: marginalized or “invisible,” peoples just don’t have the same kind of guidance as everyone else. The culture they were born into provided them everything, from their moral code, to their expectations of the afterlife, to their after school activities, right down to the way they ought to dress. It’s important to note that these dogmas weren’t only devised as an oppressive means of control, but also as a way to facilitate life. I’m not defending dogma outright, but it’s true. It’s much easier to go about your daily routine if you aren’t constantly grappling with existential questions and trying to logically derive the most optimal and appropriate way to cultivate your thoughts on every issue by considering a milieu of ever-changing factors on a daily basis. When your barista asks, “would you like cream with that?” it’s not efficient to respond, “I can’t know whether the consumption of animal products is justifiable until I know whether or not God exists.” Trust me, it’s easier if you know these things beforehand. Not even the most stringent individualist can deny that dogma has an important function, which is to answer some of the questions and alleviate some of the stresses of life. When a child is shut out of his or her home, these answers and alleviations no longer apply. Each rejected queer is forced to create their own structures, or else find a new one which fits them. I can’t help but notice how the most aware and sensitive thinkers also tend to have the most messed up and jumbled backgrounds, as if the absence of certainty gave them no other choice than to forge one for themselves.
My two favorite celebrities (if you can properly call either of them celebrities), are Russell Brand and Hannah Hart. They fit this characterization pretty well. Brand is open about his past as an addict. For years he chased down the meaning of life as defined by the precepts of materialism, and for years he came up short. He became an addict “because it was too painful not to.” In his autobiography, Brand says that he chased the high to get out of himself, to beat the feeling that he wasn’t good enough. What he missed was a sense of connection, to be aware of (and feel like he was a part of), the unity that is us all. He might be an insane and verbose comedian, but he gets it. He knows what the greater truths of life are because he hunted them down tirelessly. Today Brand is clean and political and fighting for a revolution to amend the broken world that drives our growing sense of alienation, but everything that he is, he fought to become. Today he might have a heightened sense of awareness about the existential, but he only got to that place because he was forced to work from scratch. In my opinion, he got there because he had to.
Hannah Hart is a youtube personality (or entertainer or celebrity, I don’t know what the correct word is here). She’s got a popular show where she gets drunk and tries to cook stuff. It’s good fun. But she’s a little different than the other youtubers (there, that’s the word I want, made up and silly sounding, straight from the millennial lexicon). She’s a little pensive in her entertainment. She’s funny, but she doesn’t always go for the laugh. She’s got an acute curiosity for how to live a proper life and she’s not afraid to break comedic momentum for the sake of a ponderance or musing. It’s not a focal point of her show, but she’s an out and proud lesbian. She talks about it in some of her content, about how she came from a conservative and Christian family, and how her background was “unorthodox,” and “kind of fucked up.” She leaves out the details, but it doesn’t take a genius to make the connection: something in her background left her with an interest in finding out how to live a proper life. As a queer conservative Christian, her dogma failed her. The answers she was given didn’t match what she experienced, and the mold she wore didn’t fit how she felt. As result, she was forced to build her own philosophy. Today she’s got millions of subscribers, a live show, and a book. She’s on billboards across the country. It has a picture of her with a slogan that reads, “make happy from scratch.”
I’m a lesbian, too. All my life I’ve wanted to be a good Christian, because I desperately want to belong. Maybe the inherent exclusion a lesbian gets from this religion is why I carry that desire to belong in the first place. It’s this never ending cycle of seeking acceptance from an external source because of an internal sense of inadequacy feed to me by that same external source (head spinning yet?) which is common among queer kids who grow up in religious homes. Yes, some churches are changing today. The Episcopalians just changed their tune, and of course for every rule there is always an exception. But my Mormon parents are not the exception. Dogmas, religions, cultures, they all have important functions. They tell us how to live life properly and they help us find connection with each other and with the deity (or the unity, or the freedom from carnal desire, or whatever), but no paradigm can be absolute when it’s precepts are inexorably exclusionary to certain groups. Those of us who are born gay, or transgender, or just a little too sensitive or a bit too weird, we are told that that who we are is sin, and that the only way to achieve salvation is to be something we are not. The fruit of eternal harmony is dangled before us, but it’s held beyond our grasp. When the paradigm we are given isn’t exactly one-size-fits-all, we have no other choice but to create new ones for ourselves. Websites like Not all Christians make me feel relieved, and people like Hart and Brand are valuable (and thanks to the internet accessible), role models for kids like me, who have to strike out and find their own answers, ones that hopefully cherish love above all and exclude nothing but hate (and even then, is feeling hatred inherently a sin? It seems to be just an expression of futility, of frustration, of inadequacy, to me – but that’s another blog post). We have a need now more than ever for some flexible, inclusive, and truly loving worldviews. I wouldn’t mind a religion like that. Maybe it’s time we had a dogma of our own.