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Words For PRIDE

I couldn’t let June come to an end without saying something. I usually post a very casual well wish or quick blessing for Pride month, but this year I felt the need to say more and use my own words. I am aware of my social location. I realize that for the majority of the people I know, it is strange and very rare for a minister to speak about Pride. It is important, however, to remember that just because an idea is new to people does not mean it is strange to God.

There is a lot that I could say and there are so many conversations that I could have. I could write about all the reasons I have come to believe that homosexuality is not a sin. I could write about how it is not reasonable or responsible to lean on the Bible, an ancient, religious text, as a reliable source on the vastness of human biology and/or sexuality. I could list all of the things that Jesus did not say, write about the context of the verses that have been used to condemn same gender love, or I could name, as so many already have, that the use of the actual word “homosexual” in scripture is a mistranslation at minimum since that term wasn’t even coined until the 19th century. And all of that would be worthy conversation. I could also take the resource approach and introduce my community to Queer Studies. Many people who know me do not know that Queer Theology exists and I could usher them toward books like Sexuality and the Black Church: A Womanist Perspective by Kelly Brown Douglas, Our Lives Matter: A Womanist Queer Theology by Pamela Lightsey, or Will Horn’s The Handbook to name a few. I could encourage friends, family, and colleagues to read those texts and make myself available to chat about them and that too would be most worthy conversation but not the one that is on my heart today. The conversation I must have today is my own. I need to hold space here for my personal truth and the pouring out of my thanksgiving. Pride is personal to me.

Let me say now to prevent disappointment later that this is not my coming out story. I am not a lesbian (despite frequent assumptions). While I acknowledge that sexuality is fluid and that love can transcend gender, I have never been in a relationship with a woman or experienced same sex attraction at all. However, over the years I have been served hearty and heaping portions of gender/sexuality related mistreatment.

I am hyper aware of the fact that my gender performance does not always reflect the stereotypical standards of my sexual orientation. I certainly am not the most feminine woman I know. Never been externally soft or interested in “girly things.” Never have had a high, sweet-sounding voice. Because of truths like these, a number of well meaning adults in my life made it their mission to correct my appearance and mannerisms during my childhood. They would offer what they believed to be constructive critique capped with phrases like, “you’re a girl.”

In elementary school, I was told after getting my hair braided into cornrows one summer for a pool party that I should never do that again. Those braids were way too boyish and it would be best if I made sure that I always had bangs. I worried about making new friends entering into middle school. I already felt weird beside the girls who enjoyed wearing lip gloss and capri pants. I hoped that I would be able to generate and be emotionally protected by a balance of popularity and coolness. Things started out ok. I was a nice kid so I did make friends. One girl in particular was so much fun and I was so glad to have met her. I wrote her a letter to tell her how much I loved her and appreciated her friendship and she took that letter, passed it to her other friends and started a rumor that I was gay. This, of course, was eons before young people like Zaya Wade and Lil Nas X embodied a celebration of queerness in public. The rumor about me died within the week and those girls involved in my (then) defamation were pretty nice to me the rest of the year. They probably forgot all about it after report cards came out, but the lesson I learned at the age of 12 was that it was not safe to love people with my words. For the next decades, I suppressed my truest love language so that I might protect my heart.

High school was fine. Most things outside of band practice are a blur. I had a consistent boyfriend most of those years which was nice. In retrospect, we were a terrible match but we showed up for each other in beautiful ways at a time when the both of us probably needed to feel seen and desired. I will always appreciate the part of my youth spent with him. It is also true that my years with him were a much needed season of rest from rumor and question. I was a girl with a boy.

College was the greatest-rich with independence and newness. I had stumbled into a life in ministry through a Bible study in the lobby of Kerr Hall and I was beginning to make wonderful friends. A new place gave me new ideas and that made me feel like I could be a new me. I was still not the most feminine, but I had mastered self correction by then. If my hands should slip into my pockets, muscle memory would get them out and onto my hips (or anywhere else) immediately. Nobody had said anything about my gender performance at all and it was wonderful. It felt good to have miles of space between myself and the adults who had hurt my feelings with their commentary. I was relieved to think that that kind of trauma would live only in my past but it would not be so.

A new, spiritual mentor in my life came to me and asked me if I had ever struggled with the “spirit” of homosexuality. I knew then and I know now that her intent was to minister to me. I assume she thought I might have had a dis-ease which could be healed through prayer or oil or exorcism. I know that she loved me and wanted me whole. I responded through laughter that I did not think that was the case and it never came up again but her words triggered a mental spiral that I have not spoken of until now. Long after, I wondered who I was and what was wrong with me? What about my behavior was making so many people over the course of my life feel the need to prune and police my sexuality?

Pride does not belong to me, but it is personal to me.

To all who are reading this, if you take only one thing away, let it be that your words have weight. If you are speaking to someone, especially a young person, about their gender or sexuality, you might have what you believe are Godly intentions but please consider that your words might be removing Jenga pieces one at a time.

Her words deeply wounded me. Her inquiry brought back the heartache I had growing up and feeling overall insufficient as a girl. It wasn’t really that some adults I loved thought I might be gay, but the fact that being gay was something sinful to them. That made me feel defective and I wished that I could hide. For so long I have been living barely afloat with a fractured self worth and an absent self esteem. I have failed for years at attempting the performance of heteronormativity and I am exhausted.

Those children were only being what they knew to be at the time and all of the adults who did a tremendous amount of harm to me unknowingly are very much loved and forgiven, but I am the adult now. And it is my turn to have words. As I recover esteem and worth, I am not only speaking life into myself, but I am choosing to reclaim my love language and gifting my words to some of the members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have loved me, surrounded me, and changed the trajectory of my life.

Pride is personal to me because in every season, God has sent to me a rainbow wrapped in flesh. At some of my lowest and loneliest moments, it was a queer person who came into my world and blessed it. I thank God for my queer friends not just because we have some lived experiences in common, but because they are fantastic and in each of them is the promise that life does not have to be as it once was. Their love and friendship have enveloped and sealed me into the safety I always prayed for. I have some words for them now and oh, how I wish that I could tell you their names. But I can’t. Some are private and just wouldn’t want me too. Others do not live in communities that they could keep if I did. Some risk losing family members, holidays, careers, and church membership. So here are my words to you for today. I realize that the debt I owe to you all and so many other members of the LGBTQIA+ community will long outlive me. But while I am alive, the very least I can do is give you my words. From the pulpit, I can do my best to speak a church into existence that is worthy of your presence. And in my writing, I’ll simply tell the truth about you. You know who you are.

To my beloved church member: As long as you are alive, I know that I am not alone in this world. My family is yours and yours is mine. You are faithful and you are consistent. You have loved God without compromise and have been abundantly blessed in return. You are solid when everything around is sinking. You and I are a sure thing.

To my college friend: You are holy and you made our home together holy. Everyone knew me as the evangelist, but it was you who anointed my head with oil and asked Spirit to be with me. You are full of goodness and mercy and I’ll always speak your name in my prayers.

To my teammate: Thank you for your sweetness. Thank you for your radical acceptance and for treating me like a sibling. Thank you for the laughs and the trouble. Your voice and charm will always get you into sticky situations and I will always be here as chairman of your risk management committee. Thank you for drawing the tenderness out of me. I am soft around you and it is alright.

To the friend I had before my birth: How beautiful it is to know you now. Our friendship was written in the stars. Your energy is a delight and you leave a trace of fairy dust every time you come around. Thank you for the side-splitting laughter and the gift of your love. You are perfect and I’m name dropping all over the land.

To the one who is like a sister to me: I am living my life on your wings and I thank you so much for allowing me to ride. You are the very face of God in my life. Your beauty and your presence have restored me. I have so much reverence for you and I love you beyond the limits of my vocabulary. I lay my gratitude at your feet for the ways that you continue to heal me and save my life. Cheers to the future.

And to my newest friend: I didn’t know that I could love someone so quickly. You have made a crash landing into my heart and have built a home for yourself there. Your smile warms me and wakes me every time you show it. I’m convinced that you are magic. Your wit, your majesty, and your candor will keep the whole Earth spinning on its toes. You were precious to me at first sight and now you are stuck with me forever.

All of you are divine. I love you and I thank each of you for letting your pride drip on me.



photo by @jazzellamckeel

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