“One night, I hear God speaking to me and God says, ‘Dave, do you know that I love you?’ and I say yes.” Dave pauses and his face tightens. Tears form in the corner of his eyes. The man sitting next to him puts his hand on Dave’s shoulder.
“Then God says, ‘Dave, do you know that you love me?’” Dave’s soft face breaks. “And I didn’t know that. I didn’t realize until that night that I thought I wasn’t allowed to.”
He looks at all of us sitting around the table, and when he looks at me, I cry along with him. [Dave’s name has been changed.]
I was at the Gay Christian Network Conference. All weekend, I heard stories of individuals who spent much of their lives believing in a God that didn’t love them or having been told they couldn’t worship, preach, commune with other Christians. For some, this annual conference was the only chance they have to be completely themselves: queer and Christian. Many have chosen to be in communities that only accept the Christian part of them. I’m the opposite. Most people in my life accept me completely, but they relate to the queer part, not my faith. GCN felt in some ways like coming home.
I’m having trouble writing about the conference because I don’t know which audience I’m trying to speak to — my Christian readers or my non-Christian readers — and in both cases, I feel like I’m arguing a point. I hate that. But the conference has made me feel paradoxically more whole and more divided.
See, I find myself wanting to explain why any of us would want to be a part of a religion that has rejected us.
And because I was surrounded by people who were still struggling with questions of purity, and I want to explain why I’ve gone to such an extreme: why I’ve embraced my sluttiness. But arguing this will feel like an invitation, and I don’t want it to.
Friday evening, W, a man I meet in a session, invites me to dinner with his friends. I tag along with them the rest of the night. This is where the conference changes for me. We end up at a gay bar, five of us grouped together to watch a show.
The emcee explains how consent will work during the show. He faces a woman on the stage with the microphone to his lips and his hips jutting toward her.
“Am I offering myself to her? Am I giving her permission to touch me?”
We nod, and she slips a dollar behind his belt.
The emcee turns his body away from her. She slaps his ass, and he asks if this was appropriate. We shake our heads.
“That’s right! No! Consent is sexy,” the emcee says. One of my new friends faces me smiling and nodding. “Consent is sexy,” he repeats. “I like that!”
I feel a little like an emcee myself, wanting to explain queer community to my friends, because I get the sense that some of this is new to them. Some have been to drag shows or are comfortable in gay bars, but they seem somewhat wide-eyed by the people selling corsets, the sexual explicitness in the show and in the air. Pointing to an ad for Fetish Night, B asks W, “Are you going to find out what your fetish is?” They all laugh, and I feel isolated.
One of my new friends gives me a stack of ones. Like an ambassador, I offer a buck to each performer, thanking them with a smile, then falling back.
When I offer him my dollar to one especially sexy drag king, he grabs my shoulder, swings me around, and kisses my neck. I skip back into place, and tell my compatriots, “I got a kiss!” Then the king grabs the hand of a woman in the audience, ushers her on stage, seats her in a chair and pretends to eat her out.
I look at my friends beside me who shake their heads. “Gay boys,” I say, shaking my own, and they laugh.
Afterwards, R says, “I came to the conference to learn how to be a better gay Christian, and now I’m here in this bar. I don’t know . . . when do we cross the line?”
“What are you worried about?” I push.
“You’re right. I don’t know. I guess it’s the residual stigma,” he responds, but I know it’s still there — the discomfort. Are we venturing into unhealthy temptation? Are we embracing sin?
I tell E, “There’s a part of being a gay Christian you can learn here that you can’t learn at the conference.“ But when he asks me how, I can’t explain.
Here is my explanation: If we don’t confront our desires, we can’t know that the whole us is acceptable, lovable. We will wonder if the parts of us that stay hidden in the dark are still found within God’s grace. We will wonder if the things we’ve always wanted to do with another human being are wrong, sinful. We will wonder if we are wrong, sinful. And we will be in danger of believing that we are better than everyone else who chooses to do those things.
Does that come across as an invitation? I’m not trying to convince people to become non-monogamous, kinky, etc. My life now is a result of peering into my dark corners, and I don’t think my lifestyle is for everyone. But I don’t think people will find the same things when they peer into their dark corners.
Why am I writing this? I suppose I do have an invitation. Or at least I’m feeling out what might be my own calling.
I’ve written about how queer community often feels more like church to me than churches do. When I hear queer individuals say that we have to take care of each other and provide safe spaces. I want queer Christians to belong to these spaces and be a part of this church. And I want queer Christians to be able to love themselves wholly. And I want non-Christian queer people to understand what it is we get out of our relationship with God — not to evangelize, but because the more we are able to understand each other, the more we are able to understand ourselves. We are all mirrors for each other, whether we are meant to reflect differences or similarities. We need these mirrors, and the goal . . . the ideal . . . is to always look into each other’s eyes and find acceptance.