A reflection by Sarah
Everyone experiences betrayal at one time or another. It’s something we have to accept as part of the fallen world in which we exist. Sometimes people betray others intentionally; at other times, people inadvertently and carelessly betray one another. But regardless of the betrayer’s intentions, it can be very difficult to recover from the resulting harm.
Like most people, I’ve experienced betrayal in relationships. Heart-wrenching is the only term I know to describe how I felt upon learning that one of my exes had been having affairs with men and women behind my back in two different parts of the country. This feeling magnified when she decided to betray me still further by assassinating my character to our mutual friends during and after our breakup. Everyone has these kinds of stories. Nearly all adults can provide at least one tale of a relationship gone sour. But in addition to experiencing betrayal at the hands of specific friends, loved ones, and acquaintances, we can also feel betrayed by groups of people. While it’s possible to distance oneself from individuals, it’s not always possible to seek distance from certain groups, especially when you are part of those groups no matter how challenging it may be to engage with others on the inside. As a celibate, LGBT, Christian who is one-half of a celibate, LGBT couple, I find myself in a perpetual struggle with feeling betrayed by both conservative Christianity and the LGBT community. Quite often I get the impression that on the whole, neither group is willing to acknowledge my existence.
It’s probably not surprising to hear that as an LGBT person, I have felt marginalized in the Church, both in my current Christian tradition and in my former Christian tradition. I’ve been a Christian my entire life, and with the exception of some time I spent exploring more progressive Christian thought in college and early in graduate school, I have always been part of a conservative tradition of one kind or another. Over time as I’ve journeyed within traditional Christianity, I have developed a deep and abiding peace where I feel content, fulfilled, and (in the most positive sense) challenged by the Church’s wisdom. However, I cannot shake the feeling that there is nothing I can do to reconcile my faith and sexuality adequately in the eyes of conservative Christianity. There will always be someone who tells me, “Don’t do it this way. Do it that way.” There will always be a person who finds fault with my language, my process, and my way of life.
At one point in my former Christian tradition, I shared with a close friend that I was a lesbian thinking she would be supportive, and might even be willing to walk with me as I was navigating the tough questions of sexual ethics. Her immediate response was, “Don’t say that too quickly. People can always change.” For many dedicated straight Christians, it seems that an LGBT person’s embracing a celibate vocation will never be good enough. No matter what that person does, it seems that there will always be others ready to shake fingers and pronounce, “There’s no such thing as a gay Christian.” If a person displays any willingness to use language of the LGBT community, then he or she is immediately suspect as a rabble rouser out to upend the Church.
Furthermore, many people with the conservative Church have no appreciation for how their words might affect LGBT Christians. I’ve experienced instance after instance of people getting away with incredibly hurtful and damaging comments, even when I have tried to express, “What you just said about gay people being child molesters is untrue and unnecessary.” As I have sought redress for comments people within the Church have made to me and others, more often than not the ball has been thrown back in my court because according to the majority of priests I’ve known, I must have done something morally questionable that invited the hostile remark. I must have said something that gave people legitimate cause to wonder about my willingness to live a holy life.
Within many conservative church settings, I’ve interacted with people who have fought tooth and nail to block any sort of legal recognition for LGBT people. These people have positioned themselves as “defending marriage” without realizing that much of what they are advocating has nothing to do with the definition of marriage. I have heard Christians argue that LGBT people should not have access to housing or should not be able to find jobs. In recent years, some of the more egregious examples have gone out of fashion and, as far as society is concerned, are now relegated to the “only true bigots believe that” category of ideas. However, I’ve noticed that the same folks I knew ten years ago who were willing to wage war over the possibility that LGBT couples might be able to have legally recognized relationships of any kind are the same folks who are now touting the possibility of civil partnerships as an alternative to gay marriage. From where I’ve sat on the sidelines of much of the marriage equality battle, I can’t help but observe that on some level, reactions from conservative Christian churches have given significant steam to the marriage equality movement. Perhaps the most profound way I feel betrayed by conservative Christianity is that, by all appearances, it has devoted so much energy to painting me into a legal corner with as few options as possible for meeting significant needs.
But as much as I’ve experienced a sense of betrayal within the Church, I have experienced just as much alienation and disappointment within the LGBT community. For starters, many LGBT people have no place for those who are intentionally celibate. Celibacy is cast as an oddity at best and a sign of sexual dysfunction or self-hatred at worst. I’ve experienced consistent pressure from the LGBT community (both the secular and liberal Christian factions) to be sexually active. This pressure significantly delayed my readiness to embrace my own vocation, even though I felt called to celibacy comparatively early in life. Other LGBT folks I’ve known from different contexts in my young adulthood have been quick to tell me that my experience of life is not possible, and I shouldn’t talk about my relationship with Lindsey in terms of celibacy because others have been forced into celibacy against their will. People have gone as far as bluntly commanding me to shut up because, despite our total renouncement of ex-gay ideology, Lindsey’s and my story reminds them too much of past trauma associated with celibacy. By that same logic, would it be appropriate to suggest that non-celibate couples shouldn’t get to talk about their relationships out of respect for those who have been traumatized by sexual activity…or even by marriage?
Outside of the explicitly Christian subset, I have always sensed the presence of a strong animosity towards organized religion within the LGBT community. For a community that sees itself as accepting of just about every kind of diversity, I’ve found that very few LGBT circles include space for people who practice Christianity, particularly of a traditional variety. Very soon after I moved to a new city for graduate school, I realized that a local gay bar was the only place I could go to find other people who shared some of my experiences. Since I lived only a couple of blocks away, I went regularly and tried to get involved in various lesbian social groups. However, as soon as the other women learned I was a graduate student in theology, a significant majority would stare at me–to borrow Jean Shepherd’s line from A Christmas Story–“as though I had lobsters crawling out of my ears.” I became accustomed to receiving questions like, “How can you study something that is so oppressive?” and, “Why did you sign up for that graduate program? Vestiges of internalized homophobia?” There was joking among some of my lesbian friends that I would become a nun, enter into an illicit lesbian relationship with another nun from the convent, and eventually ride off with her like Thelma and Louise, throwing caution to the wind.
And for all of its distrust of organized religion, the LGBT community has surprising bandwidth as it relates to organized politics. There seems to be an assumption that all of us want to be activists and are waiting for every opportunity to flex the community’s political muscle. Last year, Lindsey and I experienced what we perceived as betrayal by someone who was either part of the LGBT community or a strong ally. I had posted on my personal Facebook account about our being treated in a way that I regarded as discriminatory, and one of my Facebook friends decided to forward my name and email address to various media outlets without my consent. I began to receive contacts. As Lindsey and I discussed how to handle the situation, we made some decisions that might not have been the best for protecting our privacy, but we tried to be fair to us and to the party that had caused the discrimination in the first place. We received all sorts of criticism from members of the LGBT community about how we chose to treat the party that had wronged us. Several people asserted that we “owed it to the LGBT community” to broadcast the story in as many ways as possible. While we did get great support from many of our close friends, strangers from within the LGBT community cared more about leveraging our story for political purposes than about how the incident had impacted our lives. And of course, there was no interest in how our faith informed our choices as we navigated the situation.
Let’s not forget the marriage equality issue either. A few years ago, I encountered significant diversity amongst LGBT people concerning views on marriage. Some friends thought the fight for marriage equality was stupid because they viewed marriage as a patriarchal institution that could not be redeemed. Others had different reasons for being critical of the marriage equality movement, but those thoughts were usually heard and validated (unless they were religious). However, today–at least in my circles–things look very different. Any criticism of the marriage equality movement, even if it comes from a place of believing that some LGBT people should be able to marry, gets met with hostility.
Sometimes it’s absolutely exhausting to be deeply connected to two worlds where I’m constantly hearing messages about how and who I ought to be. As I’ve gotten closer to 30, I’ve become comfortable asserting, “I am who I am. What you see is what you get. And if you don’t like it, tough.” I’m not going to change who I am just to appease the sensibilities of a conservative Christian who thinks I’m the scourge of society or an LGBT person who says I’m not a real lesbian. But a tough exterior doesn’t change the fact I’ve felt so deeply betrayed by both communities, and I show a marked hesitation each time I interact with either. It has been made abundantly clear to me that both conservative Christianity and the LGBT community would rather assert that people like me do not exist. The LGBT community would welcome me with open arms, until someone learns that I am celibate and I become the target of ridicule and pointed criticism. As for the conservative Christian community, my sense of betrayal stems from being excluded from the people of God. And when I consider how these different betrayals have manifested in my own life, I’m not surprised that many LGBT Christians have made choices to distance themselves from the Church, the LGBT community, or both.
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