You don’t belong here.
It was what I thought to myself as I walked the dirty streets of San Francisco, surrounded by thousands of cheering people — straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, intersex, genderqueer, tall, short, fat, skinny, white, black, yellow, brown, purple, red, clothed, not-so-clothed, and sort-of-clothed, just to name a few. The air was thick with the smell of big-city trash and marijuana, and what little breeze I managed to catch was tinged with the stale heat of the crowds. Rainbows dotted my vision as flags, bracelets, tie-dye shirts, and other paraphernalia seemed to shout: “I AM PROUD TO BE ME.” I was standing in the middle of the biggest inclusivity celebration of the year, yet in the back of my mind a tiny voice kept whispering, you don’t belong here.
Maybe it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. I went to SF Pride expecting not to enjoy myself, and I really didn’t. It was a learning experience that I felt almost obligated to go to; for a newly minted baby gay, Pride is like the coming-of-age ceremony of induction into the gay community. After coming out to my whole college a month prior, I considered myself newly minted and in need of effectuation. Thus, Pride Parade.
I had expected there to be a partygoer spirit to Pride that I knew I wouldn’t like, but apart from that I thought I would find at least a little bit of common ground with the people there. After all, it’s called the LGBT+ community for a reason. But with the exception of the friends I went with (who kept the experience from being outright horrible), I couldn’t see myself relating to anyone around me on any meaningful level. I called myself gay, sure, but my gay was definitely different than theirs.
With a theme like Equality Without Exception, I couldn’t help but notice the apparent lack of justice surrounding the city. Homeless people were still begging for money while heavily commercialized booths and floats populated the streets. The male-dominated industry within the LGBT+ community was overtly sexualized and marketed in every other display I passed by (though thankfully, there was a tiny feminist section I had to smile at). And after the Supreme Court overturned all same-sex marriage bans across the nation just two days before, Equality had effectively magnetized itself to the concept of the right to marry. Everyone was happy. Everyone was celebrating. Everyone except me.
Given how many gay-affirming friends I have, I had expected to be pleased with the SCOTUS ruling. I’d fully expected the outcome, and I was prepared to be happy for everyone, even if I didn’t fully agree. But when Friday arrived and the internet exploded with rainbows, I found myself unable to feel any kind of coherent emotion; my thoughts jumbled together and my identities seemed to cave in on themselves. I was gay, wasn’t I? So why wasn’t I happy for my fellow LGBs? I was mad at something, and the fact that I was mad just made me mad at myself.
All that considered, SF Pride was the last place I should have been at the time. Out of the million people there, I was probably the only one who didn’t morally support gay marriage, and by virtue of the disagreement, I felt unwelcome on some unspoken level. If I had advertised my beliefs, no doubt I would be met with a negative response. So did that make me not part of the gay community? Were there criteria apart from my sexual orientation that I had to fulfill to be fully accepted into the fold?
Before I got to San Francisco I knew I wouldn’t have fun, but I hardly expected to have such an existential crisis about community.
Part of me speculated that the reason I felt so out of place had much to do with my faith, which greatly outweighs the identity I draw from my sexuality. Pride was my first secular LGBT+ experience, so of course it made sense that a Christian would lack a sense of belonging, at least at first. But obviously, as you can tell from the pictures, I wasn’t the only Christian there. Side A Christians seemed to fit in no problem, joining in the celebration with a level of enthusiasm I could never replicate. This Equality Without Exception thing was starting to look like it had a lot of exceptions, at least to people like me. Where legal rights were concerned, sure, I could go out and marry a guy now. But whether I wanted to or not had a bearing, slight or otherwise, upon my status as a member of the party. With all my qualifiers — celibate, Christian, introverted, analytical — gay started to get buried and I wasn’t sure I belonged anywhere near the event.
By the time I got home I was exhausted from walking up hills and philosophizing my way through an identity crisis. Three main questions dwelled at the forefront of my mind:
- At my very core, who am I, and what kind of self-expression is most ontologically honest to that person?
- What defines the true nature of community, and how necessary is my involvement in the formation of my identity in relation to said community?
- Is pride, as a virtue, something that a Christian should resist (as opposed to humility), or am I just being a judgmental jerk?
I still don’t know the answer to the third question.
In the past week or so I’ve been able to begin tackling the first two, the answers to which are largely dependent on a metaphysical distinction every gay Christian has to make at some point — whether my sexuality is innately part of me, if it’s a product of a fallen world, or is part of the “old self.” This makes the difference between refining my desires versus completely denouncing them.
My theological understanding of human desire is that nothing I want is ever completely 100% good. Because we live in a fallen world, we are, as St. Augustine puts it, practitioners of “disordered love.” In this sense, every desire — sexual or otherwise — must be constantly reordered and redirected to the will of God. So the idea is that if my orientation is a sanctifiable part of me, then surely there must be a way to properly express it and refine it (and I realize that there are many strong opinions on this matter, but I haven’t yet come to a conclusion myself). The other option is to completely toss everything gay about myself out the window, and I’m not even sure that’s possible given how my orientation isn’t reducible to simple matters of attraction.
To take matters even further, a Side A Christian might posit that the appropriate self-expression of a homosexual orientation is to act upon the attraction and seek a same-sex relationship. That is, after all, how God made me, right?
At this point it comes down to a matter of theology, and I won’t get into that right now. This post is already long enough.
Concerning community, and the second question I posed, I’ve been able to gain some insight from recently meeting up with some fellow celibate gay Christians I met over Facebook (I’m personally fond of the term “celigays”). It was informal, fun, and marked by coffee shop conversations bookended by Italian meals. The time I spent mostly just talking to two other Side B-ers was the best I’d had all week — I’d never felt so at home, with people who understood me and were able to identify with the same struggles I did — and we all laughed well together.
It’s mildly disappointing that I didn’t find community with the secular LGBT+ crowd (or perhaps I just didn’t give them a fair chance), nor do I feel completely embraced by the Christian community at large. The kind of spiritual family that I find myself in is a tiny sliver at the crossroads — the celigays’ minority land that we call Side B.
So is it then appropriate that I still could consider myself gay, or Christian, as separable labels? Or do I experience them both holistically, intertwined in the messy and precarious moniker of gay Christian? Does the gay community make me gay, or can I be my own version of gay apart from them? And to the Church, is it feasible for me to place a foot in both camps and preach unity in the faces of human institutions that operate upon a kind of exclusivity by their very natures (that is, communities)?
John Donne famously said that “no man is an island,” but quite often it does seem that because people need other people, we form our own islands. The nature of community draws us into our own little niches where, by definition, someone gets left out. You have to be the right kind of misfit to fit into this clan, that tribe.
This cannot possibly be right.
Perhaps in secular circles this is to be expected, but to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “the Church is the Church only when it exists for others.” The kind of exclusivity we often find ourselves in the midst of is the normal state of human connection, but was the Church ever called to be “normal“? Perhaps we can still welcome the right kind of misfit, but what that means must become something else.
So what is the right kind of misfit? A sinner. Like you, like me. All misfits communing in our misfitness, and in a Savior who had just as much trouble fitting in.