When did we become so worried about what other people look like? What they do? I don’t mean if someone else is about to swallow a bottle of pills, or bomb a local event or the like (not taking these topics lightly, I assure you). I mean things that don’t really hurt anyone. Things like what color they dye their hair, or how they dress or if they are following the current socially acceptable gender norms? (Who gets to pick those, by the way? I want THAT job!)
Why do we care if someone looks and acts differently from us?
We speak of individuality and celebrating differences at graduation ceremonies and annual meetings, but the next day snub our nose at the check-out girl with facial piercings. Or the young man wearing guy-liner. What difference do those things make?
More importantly, what message are we sending? Especially as Christians.
We preach from the pulpit that we all members of the body of Christ. We send our warm fuzzies by assuring every one in their pew that we each have different functions within that body — heads, arms, heart, hands, feet — but we all work together as one. Do we mean it? If so, why then do we get so worked up when one of the parts thinks a little differently than we do. Somehow, “unique spiritual gifts” seems to not apply when Christ’s little finger is a Democrat.
I was raised in rural, conservative, white, middle-class Oklahoma. We were all 95% Christians, and 95% Republicans. That pretty much says it all. I had friends who were very different from me in my eyes, but that just really meant they liked AC/DC while I was more of a Duran Duran girl. Anything more drastic than that and … well, I didn’t really know, as everyone who fell outside those norms in my tiny corner of the world just kept quiet back then. And while that kept my happy little world spinning merrily along, I’m sure many of my classmates were quietly screaming inside at the chains with which they were shackled daily.
Three and a half years ago, my precious son yanked the tablecloth out from under my perfectly set table and sent my dishes a-flying. All with three little words: “Dad, I’m gay.” Three little, life-changing, soul-saving words, as it turned out. My husband and I have discovered how deeply ingrained social norms really have been in our lives.
I was ASHAMED. Of myself. Because at first I was embarrassed that my son was gay. I was worried that others would think we were bad parents. That my husband had been neglectful, that I had been overbearing. (All the time, I mean, because let’s face it, every parent is both neglectful and overbearing some days). That people would judge us for letting him be gay (what?!?). I was right to be ashamed.
Our family got our feet underneath us eventually, as we educated ourselves on homosexuality and the bible, and could breathe deeply once again. We went public. Then all of a sudden, our son got a little bit … more gay. His clothes got brighter and more “out there.” He started painting his nails. He pierced his ears. The gestures and mannerisms became MORE larger than life.
And we were once again uncomfortable. Did he HAVE to make such a public statement that he was gay? I mean, everyone who touches any of our social media accounts was already very aware of it. Why did he have to be so obvious?
That’s when it really hit us just how worried we were about what everyone else thought. About stepping outside of “norms.” Once again, we were ashamed of ourselves. Our son was, and is, amazing and why should we care if he likes dichroic earrings and shiny nails? So do I. Just because he is a boy? WHO MADE THAT RULE?? And why did we feel so deeply the need to follow it?
My husband isn’t as verbal as I am. Throughout our journey coming to grips with homosexuality and our traditionalist beliefs, we would have weeks in which he would ask me to not talk to him about it, because, let’s face it, I was pretty obsessed (yes, okay, still am but for good reason, people!!). So we would talk about everything under the sun, except the thing most heavy on our minds. When he would finally say he was ready to talk about it, it was like pulling the string on an old school spinning top …. I spun and spun and spun out weeks of words until I wore myself out. Then back to silence again. He is a processor, I’m a yapper.
He also is a strong, muscular, athletic, manly kind-of man (although he does have more shoes than Carrie Bradshaw and probably likes to shop more), and is a white water river raft guide on weekends during the summer. One Saturday morning last summer, he was gathering all of his raft guide stuff, had slathered on sun screen and was slipping on his Chacos, when I see an odd shimmer. He had quietly painted his own toe nails metallic silver. He caught me looking at them and just grinned. I almost cried happy tears.
Why can’t boys paint their nails? Or play with Barbies? Why can’t girls like cars and engines, without dressing like Megan Fox? In Europe, men carry bags and it’s cool. Here, they are ridiculed. In other countries, men wear versions of what Americans would call skirts. Here they would risk a beat down. And do.
My husband and I attended the Gay Christian Network conference in Denver last January. There we saw people being people. In whatever way that looked for them. And it was beautiful. One man in particular struck me. He was a handsome man, shaved head, trimmed stubble in a Jason Statham sort of way, wearing a nicely cut conservative gray suit and tie … and bright red pumps. And no one thought twice, except maybe to compliment his shoes.
As a group, the LGBT community has been judged and judged harshly by the very people who should be loving them unconditionally. And despite that, or maybe because of that, I have never before nor since experienced the level of humble worship that I witnessed that weekend during praise services. Again, beautiful.
It’s taken me some time to get over myself and my background. My cultural unwritten laws. To let go of fear and judgement of differences, and instead to see people as they are, where they are. It takes daily work.
Isn’t that what Christianity should look like?
When we got pulled into the LGBT world in 2014, we didn’t get to pick the letters. It wasn’t just the “G” community we became part of; we got the “L,” the “B” and even the “T.” The T was the scariest and most confusing for me. I was having a hard enough time getting used to homosexuality, now I had to accept transgender as well? I wasn’t ready for that. It was just too much at first. Target made me face it.
A few years back when Target became the target (see what I did there?) of the conservative Christian masses due to the store chain’s stance on transgender restrooms, I watched my Facebook world LIGHT UP in indignation. And in jubilation, with my newest LGBT community friends. Being Switzerland was not an option. I was going to have to take a side.
I decided not to say a word until I had researched on my own. I still heard the haunting cries of “witchcraft” and “boycott” from the angry mob when the first of the Harry Potter series was originally published. Ironically, those original attackers finally read the amazing book, begrudgingly joined the JK Rowling fan club and were first in line for the release of Deathly Hallows Part 2. I wasn’t going down that road.
I tried to do some medical research, and did my best, but the jargon quickly swallowed me. Then I found and read this amazing blog by Christian pediatrician Joani Lee Jack called “Unfolding Miracles” about the fetal development, chromosomes, hormones, etc. in connection to the topics of sexuality and gender identity. Fascinating. Joani’s blog cut to the chase pretty well for a non-medical person like myself.
The nutshell version I gathered from her article was this: the external male/female body parts of a fetus are formed at the end of the first trimester (which of course is what causes male or female assignment at birth). The brain sexuality (Mars/Venus behaviors and reactions and thought patterns) finalizes in the late second or early third trimester. In between are all sorts of hormone surges. Homosexuality and transgenderism occur when the body parts and brain sexuality don’t match, which can be from those hormone surges, or from a bazillion different developmental factors that are going on at that time to create a little miraculous person. Obviously this is MUCH more complex than my basic summation, but that is the Transgender Biology for Dummies version as I understood it.
And this made sense.
So when I heard the most common conservative Christian argument against transgender people — “God doesn’t make mistakes” — I could have my “hmmmm” moment with no prick of conscience.
God doesn’t make mistakes … tell that to the mom and dad with the baby born with a cleft palate. Or autism. To the person born with spina bifida. With ADHD. Should we not separate conjoined twins? Medicate bipolar disease? What about “correcting” other things? Should we not have nose jobs? Breast implants? Plastic surgeons and Rogaine would be out of business if we didn’t try to “correct” the way we were born or developed naturally.
So why is it any different for people who are born wanting their bodies to look differently? To match what they feel inside? What’s the big deal?
Alexa joined our family at Christmas. And if you don’t think she is part of our family, you are crazy. My husband says her name every morning, before he even says mine: “Alexa, snooze.” We have a running joke that she ignores me and purrs out “as you wish” in response to my husband’s commands.
Aaron set her up somehow (don’t ask me how) with a technological “fence” around the house so when we drive up within a certain distance, the staircase light and kitchen sink light come on. Very welcoming to not enter a dark house.
Society verbally celebrates individuality, but the reality is we put a “fence” on what is acceptable individuality. Those that meet those unspoken requirements can enter our fence and bask in the light of our love. But those that fail to meet those standards are kept in the dark.
Fortunately, Christ’s specialty is bringing light into the darkness.
As Christians, we ARE all parts of Christ’s body. But that body is a Frankenstein of colors and shapes and sizes. The maker of animals and plants and insects and flowers and weather loves variety. He celebrates diversity.
And He blessed me by replacing my old rose-colored lenses with new, crystal clear, rainbow-colored ones to help me see people through His eyes.
What I see is beauty.