Is it harder to come out as gay in religious spaces or religious in gay spaces? The answer is yes — because it’s a trick question and they both equally suck.
One weekend after I’d done all of the coming out that grown queer folk are supposed to do, I bought a yellow pencil skirt (because curves) and put on my finest black heels. I was going to church!
Heels make me feel a little like Halle Berry in a James Bond movie so I swaggered down Christian Street, stopping short of the Ebenezer Church in South Philly. The historic edifice is huge and intimidating and imbued in me an ethereal, haunted feeling of the ghosts of grandparents past. My grandfather used to preach there when my dad was a kid. And thus, as I entered the double-wooded doors, half-expecting to see some straggling long-lost relative waiting for me in the wings of the foyer, my swagger reduced to a solemn, lazy clomp. All of the bravado melted away and a haunted poltergeist feeling swept into my soul. Even though I hadn’t told anyone, I just knew that they knew that I was a homosexual. I felt transparent, like I reeked of gay Pride rainbows and the morning-after breath of North Philly hipster whiskey.
Maybe the fear of church is a bit larger than life, but I felt it that day at my granddaddy’s old church. It only got worse as I climbed the steps and entered the sanctuary.
A woman in a baggy black suit-skirt greeted me at the entrance. She turned with a slow reverence and ushered me to a pew. I sat, eyes wide open. You ever get that feeling like the room is shrinking?
As the choir stood up to sing, I swore I saw the organ pipes bending down under the sudden sag of the vaulted ceiling. The pew, too, became increasingly more shallow, as if it knew that the full-figured bottom that rested upon it was a lady-loving lesbian. And when the usher came back and tapped me on my shoulder, I looked up like a child caught red-handed in a cookie jar.
“Yes?” I choked.
At arm’s length, she held out a white program. When I was slow to respond, she placed it on my lap. Apparently she’d forgotten to hand it to me at the door.
“Happy Sabbath,” she said softly.
The room snapped back to its original size. In her retreating footsteps I was left to dismantle the cartoonish church nightmare I’d been creating.
We all do it. Say the word “church” in queer spaces and watch a mixture of fear and indifference glaze over your friends’ eyes. Church brings fright to the gay heart as quickly as an onion brings tears to the ducts. I don’t know, guys (church was a little long that day and I left at 12:30 because I was hungry), but something’s not right. I have a sneaking suspicion that when it comes to gays and church, we have to look at it like a breakup: It’s not them, honey, it’s us. From what I discovered, we should probably throw out the cartoon because for those of us who crave it, church is pretty damn rad and clearly very gay.
First of all, group singing. It’s like karaoke. If you’ve been to Yakitori Boy, then you know exactly what I mean. There’s something magical (some may even say spiritual) about belting out the lyrics to a well-known song in mass choral fashion. We’ve all done it in a car with our friends. Why not in a big room with a full band?
Second of all, the message. Having a speaker get up and talk about how the moral of a literary story can be applied to our everyday lives is basically group therapy. It’s made complete with personal sharing time where you get to process your emotions after. If you know one thing about the queer sitting next to you, it’s that she/he/they go to therapy. (Am I right, Kristina Furia?)
There are snacks after and church-lady hats throughout. Need I say more? Church. Is. So. Gay.
This week alone in Wisconsin, a religious-extremist group got trans teen Jazz Jennings’ school appearance canceled. Also, the Mormons released new guidelines that target same-sex families by threatening their kids with a kind of excommunication.
The work of these extremists only creates a wider and more dubious divide between religion and queer people in general. It’s no wonder we are terrified of the politics. But in the brick-and-mortar, flesh-and-blood way that church exists, we just can’t keep believing in the boogeyman.