How do you identify?
I identify as a gay man.
What does the word queer mean to you?
I think queer is a word that is used to describe a community that is hard to fit into one label. People are used to saying, “the gay community,” but “the gay community” is exclusive because gender identity and sexual orientation has complexities. The word queer, however, does justice by defining a community for what is it not, not being cis-gendered and/or heterosexual.
Growing up in Kentucky?
I have grown up with an appreciation for Kentucky, most notably from the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association. Through the organization I was able to meet people from all around the commonwealth, and I was able to do community service throughout the commonwealth. There is a lot to take pride in for Kentuckians. For me, I take a lot of pride in horse racing, and the natural beauty of eastern Kentucky.
However, I recognize that Kentucky can have a negative connotation for some, particularly for its associate with the south and the Bible belt. I’ve received a taste of this for four years when I lived in Murray, Kentucky. While I love Murray, Kentucky, being close to rural Kentucky was a cultural shock for someone who grew up in Louisville, and while there were aspects of rural Kentucky that I did not like, I also gained an appreciation for rural Kentucky. I love the religious landscape (as someone who was part of it); I loved continually running into people I knew, and I loved experiencing how knitted a small town can be.
What would you say to someone who is struggling with their identity and religion?
I think a lot of Christians are drawn to Christianity because Christianity speaks into the depths of us, and makes us confront the parts of ourselves that we wish to bury- our anger, lust, jealousy, failure to do justice, prejudices, etc. Christianity brings to us a message of salvation, through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is through our salvation that we are able to live into new life in Jesus, however, I do not believe that our queerness is what we need salvation from. Instead, I think the depths of us that we may need salvation from is our unwillingness to see the image of God in us. I think we need salvation from believing that our sexual orientation and gender identity is not God’s imprint on us. I think salvation looks like a queer person saying, “I am queer,” believing that being queer is okay, and living authentically. Salvation is not the condemnation of ourselves that may lead to self-harm and suicide.
Rather, you, along with all queer people, are beloved children of God, created in the image of God, and nothing of this world can separate you from the love of God.
How does being gay affect how you carry yourself?
For the most part I wear my gayness on my sleeve. If someone can perceive that I’m gay by how I walk, or how I talk, then that is pretty awesome. Having that confidence definitely takes time, and it is not something that I’ve always had, however, if a stranger were to call me a faggot I would flip my imaginative long hair.
I think worrying about how I carry myself comes more from being gay and religious. The queer community has come a long way in overall society, however, the church has a long way to go. While the majority of mainline protestant denominations have affirmed the queer community church wide, the universal church has not affirmed queer identity. As someone who cares for the entirety of the universal church I still feel as if there is pressure on me in carrying myself the “right” way, as someone who is becoming an openly gay pastor.
Issue within the queer community?
We do not have enough queer coffee shops. Queer bars and clubs have become sanctuaries for us because they are one of the few places where we can live authentically without judgment, and they are a place where we can be social and find people just like us. I love them, and I probably go to them too frequently. With that said, my gayness needs to go somewhere at noon.
Queer identity, especially for gay men, has been centered on the bar scene, and while that is okay, it is also exclusive. It is exclusive for those who are sober, and it is exclusive for those who are not into what the bar scene brings. I go to the bars semi-regularly; I see the same people and I know I’m not seeing all the queer people of Louisville.
So, in a mid-size city, let’s have a queer coffee shop where we can be queer, read queer books, and listen to Cher. And in rural Kentucky, let’s get a gay bar. Baby steps.
Do you feel excluded from the queer community?
Not really. My piety is either an enigma or a weird fetish, one being understandable the latter being annoying. I would not say that my religiosity has made me feel excluded because I have also found many queer people who I am able to be with in fellowship. Being Christian isn’t counterculture in the queer community; it is more of a subculture.
How do Christians feel about me being openly gay?
It’s a mix bag, and when I lived in Murray, Kentucky I always had to prepare myself for any response when a Christian was to find out that I am gay, especially since I was doing ecumenical work in the community. Typically, I get three responses. 1. I immediately get this figurative trophy for being opening gay and Christian, particularly as someone who has some status as a faith leader. 2. They don’t care, or seem to not care. 3. Unspoken but noticeable change in the air due to their un-affirming views (And in some cases I would hear what they have said about me later). No one has ever tried to make me think differently, and I think that’s because they know I’m not going to change my opinion, and because they know I can debate them.
Addressing God of Christians and Queer people?
The God of queer Christians is the same as the God of all Christian’s, but just as denominations may differ in theology that they emphasize, I think the queer christian (Queerstians) community does the same. As a community that has been on the margins, and many of us having to deal with harm from our Christian community and family, we cling to the identity markers of Jesus.
The God incarnate, Son manifested, chose to come to us as Jesus Christ, a man born of a refugee woman in first century palestine- Jesus Christ- a poor man who hung out with the outcaste and blessed the poor, meek, and persecuted. Queerstians cling to a God who is their advocate, and who’s love for them is radical, so radical that an all powerful – all knowing – all present God was willing to be part of humanity, and take on human suffering for the sake of the world.
Say to Christian families struggling with their child’s queer child?
Addressing Christian families who are struggling with their child being queer is challenging. I think many people within the queer community want to not care for them, which is understandable considering the pain that queer people go through. However, families often struggle because of their deep love for their child, which is why empathy is important.
For many Christians, faith is a cornerstone of their identity, and Christianity emphasizes the passing down of the Christian faith. And if a Christian from an older generation is struggling, it may be because the institution that has been part of them for their entire life has been uniformal on queer issues for the most of their lifetime. For a parent to simply question their entire spiritual upbringing is monumental and difficult. And conservative Christian parents are struggling because out of love they are afraid of what being queer means for their child’s faith, child’s salvation, and child’s daily living. With knowing this I have sympathy, and I address them as siblings in Christ.
To conservative Christian parents struggling with their child being queer:
“Siblings in Christ, while you may be reading conservative authors and listening to conservative pastors as a way to make sense of your child’s queer identity, I hope that through your child you are able to see that your queer child is the child that they have always been. And at what may be a difficult time in their life, love and support is detrimental for their faith and overall well being. As you may lean on your faith for comfort, as you should, I hope that you are also willing to challenge you faith. Through challenge our faith is deepened, and if you’re willing to listen to Christians who affirm queer identity you may find that their queerness is truly a gift.
In love for my siblings,
In all honesty, there is no “progressive denomination” because queerness is still debated in ALL Christian denominations (including conservative denominations), however, some denominations have made monumental strides in support of the Queer community, such as Old Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran (ELCA), Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ.
How does Christianity help me come to terms with my queer identity?
When it comes to Christianity helping me come to terms with my identity I caught myself in constant pondering. I knew of the teachings of evangelical Christianity, and because of them I struggled at early age. However, despite my struggle with religion, my faith was my rock. In my struggle I took comfort in knowing the love of God. By recognizing God’s love for me I knew that my fears and distress were not because of good discipleship to resist sin, and because of this, I was then able to ask, “what other thoughts are out there?” Upon studying I found comfort. I found salvation from my fears, which looked like me saying, “God loves me, and it’s okay to be gay.”