Some time before my mother remarried, I remember I was cutting the grass and reflecting on something I'd heard on the Rush Limbaugh show. Maybe it was just after my first trip to DC, a trip that coincided with DC Pride, a trip where my group ever-so-briefly encounter the Pride parade. I remember cutting the grass and thinking, "What they are is disgusting. What do they have to be proud of?"
In the seventh grade I started identifying — secretly, in online chat rooms — as "curious." I was "curious," but I knew that I couldn't be gay; I was a Christian.
In the ninth grade — on a band trip to Orlando — I wondered aloud to some friends if perhaps homophobic taunting early in childhood actually led to one being gay: did the tormenters speak the truth into existence? I also read CS Lewis' Surprised by joy where he comments about same-sex relationships in his boarding school simply by saying, "I will not indulge in futile philippics against enemies I never met in battle." In the ninth grade I also reconnected with Trey, a childhood idol who in the course of our friendship told me he was gay.
In the tenth grade I prayed crying on my face on the floor that my gay feelings would go away, and that my friend's would too. I hadn't prayed like that since the height of my parents' fighting, praying that they would stop the fighting without getting a divorce. Part of my hoping for my feelings to go away was some indiscretion in what I shared, and my being outed to the band — but no farther, and with need for deep protestation on my part. I met my first out peer at the end of sophomore year — he was the first of my peers to tell me he's HIV+.
In the eleventh grade I started dating Trey, if only for a few months and with basically two states between us. My mom found out, I broke up with him, and started identifying as ex-gay. I never did camps or counseling, but read the material and tried to internalize it. I let friends know that queerness wasn't a choice and gave them just enough to trust me without arguing. I also referred them to Lewis when they decided they needed to get on a soap box.
The summer after eleventh grade I went to a summer study program at a private university in Virginia. When walking back to my dorm in a costume (less clothing than more — I was 16), some undergraduate men who happened to drive by shouted "Faggot!" at me.
In twelfth grade I threw myself into work and school, doing my best to get out of the South for college, eventually failing. I didn't deal with my self, loved the easy answers of John Eldredge and Wild at heart, and my psychological health suffered.
My first week of college John asked me out — but refused to date me secretly. I was torn between what I felt and wanted, how I understood Scripture, and the explicit words of the Book of Discipline. I met my now husband in a Yahoo! chat room, had people close to me in my spiritual life come out to me, and started to know queer people of faith. As a freshman I was the co-founding president of a Gay-Straight Alliance, identifying as straight at the time...and causing friction among my immediate family. I fell in love with a man for the first time, but I just thought we were really good friends. He broke my heart when he moved on.
Sophomore year everything changed. I encountered future United Methodist leaders who supported queer inclusion — even thought I wasn't yet being honest with myself, I knew I wouldn't be alone. At long last, I realized that I had a crush. I didn't just want to be his close friend — I wanted whoever had written "What a hottie!" on my rear windshield to be Jake. I had come out to myself, for real, with much less shame, and no expectation of changing or even trying. I read Scripture without foregone conclusions of what it said, and let the Spirit speak.
The summer after sophomore year I dated Mark for a few weeks. I came out to God and had an epiphanic moment. Rather than the resurrected Christ appearing to me like on the road to Damascus, God the Creator basically thumped me on the head as I prayed and said, "Duh. That's how I fearfully and wonderfully you, knitting you together in your mother's womb." That summer my mother asked me if I was gay and I told her no, unwilling and unready to deal with the impending fall out.
The summer after sophomore year I broke up with Mark because I realized I was (and am!) in love with Brandon.
My junior year I bought For the Bible Tells Me So and watched it at least fifteen times: usually with people who hadn't seen it and were looking to reconcile their faith and sexuality...or at least were desperate for a different voice. Junior year I joined The Episcopal Church, even though I hid my sexuality from those in my process until after I'd been ordained. I saw Milk and started to learn the stories of my people. At the end of my junior year I came out to my mother, and it did not go well.
I don't remember specifics like all of that about senior year. I came out on Facebook (a big deal in 2008) on October 11, National Coming Out Day. I started answering Facebook messages from people I hadn't heard from in years asking about God and the Gay. I shouldered intensive emails from people who'd never met but were critical of my working for the Wesley Foundation.
College also included RENT and Brokeback Mountain. It was that James Corden Carpool Karaoke with Broadway stars. I misstepped at my graduation torn between my boyfriend and my mother, just wanting everyone to get along, not fight or completely ignore one another. I read Susan Russell and Elizabeth Kaeton. I went to the Integrity Eucharist at the 2009 General Convention.
In the way that sophomore year changed everything, so did moving to New York and going to seminary. I found out that someone had said, "If he thinks he's gay now, just wait until he gets to Chelsea." For the first time I didn't have to worry what might get back to my Board of Ordained Ministry or Commission on Ministry. I'd long since promised to not lie if someone asked me if I was gay, but I stopped worrying that someone would suspect or find out without my having told them.
I stopped worrying about controlling the narrative through silence and instead let the narrative unfold around me as I lived my life. I had found what there was to be proud of.
I met gay men, studying to be priests like me, who ranged from my age to their 60s completely comfortable who they were. I watched the old PBS documentaries Before Stonewall and After Stonewall. I saw Paris is Burning. I had a support network tell me about throwing all their things in their cars when their parents reacted negatively to their coming out, getting on I65, and just driving north. I had a support network tell me about coming out late in life because they just couldn't stay quiet anymore. I had a support network tell me about their three different commitment services, each getting more Christian and less neopagan.
I ran into friends from my neighborhood at Stonewall Inn the way I'd run into people in my home town at the grocery store. I made friends with queerfolk associated with the church and not. I marched in the Paris Pride Parade the same day that the New York legislature passed marriage equality. I closed down bars in Hells Kitchen and the West Village, and made it to chapel on time — mostly. I got engaged.
In seminary in New York I learned a lot about God: in church history, as God has revealed Godself through scriptures, God made incarnate in the person of Jesus, and God in whose image we are all created. In seminary in New York I answered cutting-the-grass-me's question.
What am I, what are we proud of? Being ourselves — not being scared or ashamed of who we are, not being afraid in the face and wake of systems that have told us and tell us we should be afraid, we cannot be ourselves, and we should be out of sigh, out of mind, and in the closet. We can be who we are because Harvey Milk recruited us to break down the myths and distortions for our sakes and everyone else's sakes — and he took a bullet for it. We can be who we are because trans* people of color stood up to police harassment.
The attack in Orlando yesterday morning is jarring. Someone who appears to have had accounts on gay networks killed 49 people at a gay club. This is especially jarring a year after marriage equality went into effect nationwide, and in June — Pride month. There have been posts noting how this attack was a violation of sanctuary. I'm consistently finding myself fewer and fewer degrees from people who died in the attack or lost friends in the attack.
We all grieve in different ways, and we all react to shocking tragedy in different ways. Yesterday I went to church then went to two soccer games before watching the Tonys. I actively avoided the 24-hour news cycle because new theories every 5-15 minutes don't give me information, and because I can't do anything about what happened there other than to join in lamentation.
What I can and will do, however — particularly if two men kissing is what got the gunman all riled up to begin with — is not let the bastards get me down, not be afraid, and be as proud as I can. I stand on shoulders of people who haven't been afraid, and I stand in the shadow of people who taught me not to be afraid.
I can work to expose hypocrisy of Christian politicians who enable homophobia through their legislative actions and then blame Islam for yesterday's attack. I can lobby and advocate for better gun laws and invite others to do the same. I can work so that it's not easier to get a gun than it is for same-sex spouses and partners to donate blood to their loved ones in need. I can work for reconciliation between me and my neighbors and let people know that granting real forgiveness takes time — and that that's okay.
What I think I can do that is most effective, though, is just continuing to be me: To keep showing pride, to keep watching the Tonys with gay friends, to keep closing down bars dancing from time to time, and to not be afraid.
Yesterday's shooting was a tragedy. We have 49 more names to add to the list of those who have died for being who they are, from Harvey Milk to Papi Edwards, Lamie Beard, and Ty Underwood. Time and again they try to scare us back into the close and back into our place...and time and again I and we refuse.
Be proud. Don't let the bastards get you down. Keep working for justice — and not for just us. We've come this far, but have so much farther to go.