Someone I know via social media posted the following update three days ago.
A friend and I went to the gym tonight. After our workout we tried to relax in the hot tub, when a random lady in an American flag bikini approached me.
The lady: ‘What does your tattoo mean?’
Me: ‘Oh, that’s my angry-feminist-bi-pride tattoo.’
‘Angry, feminist, bisexual pride. This is a feminist symbol, and it’s on top of the bisexual pride flag.’
The lady compliments my friend’s nails. An awkward silence.
‘Why are you bisexual?’
‘I don’t know how to answer that. I just am.’
‘Because I’m attracted to more than one gender.’
‘She’s attracted to all the genders’, my friend adds. We high five.
‘When I was little I was molested. Then I was told I was a lesbian.’
‘Well, that has nothing to do with me. I’m just bisexual.’
Banter ensues between me and my friend about how shitty men are and how glad I am that I never have to date one. The lady says something about how I should learn to tolerate men’s crap, then: ‘Have you heard about your personal lord and saviour, Jesus Christ?’
‘I don’t want to talk about Jesus at the gym.’
The lady continues talking about Jesus.
‘This makes me really uncomfortable. Please stop.’
The lady continues talking about Jesus, mentioning something about hellfire.
‘I don’t appreciate being told I’m going to hell for who I love.’
‘I didn’t say that. I didn’t say you’re going to hell. You’re the one who said that.’ (She tells me this in a ‘Gotcha now, queer! You know you’re gross’ tone.)
‘Don’t lie. You literally just quoted scripture to me about hellfire. Go away now.’
‘I didn’t say that. I’m not your judge. I don’t judge.’
‘Well, I judge – and you’re gross. Go away.’
‘Have you heard’, my friend asks me loudly, ‘about your lord and personal saviour, Satan?!’ We proceed to discuss the the black altar and orgasms. The lady walks away.
We reported her to the front desk for harassing us. They seemed to take the matter very seriously.
When I shared it with my followers, the exchange below happened between me and my Christian mum. (Her comments are in regular text, mine in bold.) It makes me want to write about a multitude of things – ally culture, the realities of queerness and Christianity, the fact I’ve lost offline relationships as a result – but for now I haven’t much left in me to say.
* * *
People who are abused as children are easy prey for the kind of hellfire-and-damnation preachers who misuse scripture and totally misrepresent Jesus for their own power trip. This woman has probably believed herself to be gross all her life.
‘Preachers who misuse scripture and totally misrepresent Jesus’ – that would be most Christians for most of Christianity’s history, then, on this issue? If your personal form of Christianity’s nicer than theirs, that’s fine, but you’re not more an authority than they are on what the ‘true’ version is.
Also: what makes you bring child abuse up? Why is it so hard to accept that ordinary, noncoercive, nonabusive Christian beliefs could inspire the behaviour my friend describes? That’s a perfectly sufficient (and uncontroversial) explanation – we don’t need to invent a different one to get religion off the hook.
I hope that your friend and this woman meet again. She was clearly drawn to the tattoo and I wonder if she is denying her own sexuality. There are many homosexual Christians, but those are often the ones who are most aggressively phobic before they accept who they are. But you’re right… I’m only guessing.
‘She was clearly drawn to the tattoo and I wonder if she is denying her own sexuality’ – stop it. Stop finding ulterior explanations. Bigotry exists and sometimes religious beliefs are the cause. Stop denying that: we don’t need a buried psychological explanation for why straight people (Christians included) attack queer people any more than we need one for why men attack women. (For your information, ‘homosexual’ is a slur and being queer is not ‘who I am’.)
If you’re a Christian and you want to be an ally, here is what you can say:
‘I’m sorry my religion inspires behaviour like this so often. Victimising LGBT people is totally contrary to my own interpretation, which I hope becomes more influential.’
At the moment, what I’m hearing is this:
‘Because I can’t stand acknowledging that in the real world, rightly or not, my religion often inspires queerphobia, I feel I’m the victim here. I’m inventing alternative motives for homophobes out of thin air so I don’t have to face up to my religion’s role in their behaviour, because I actually care more about defending Christianity’s image than defending queer people.’
Okay. I will, if I may, reply to this in full.
I first stood up in church and argued the case for homosexuals when I was 16 years old. I was swiftly silenced and pointed to scripture. That was half a century ago, and I have had ample time to look at this in depth. It was important to me as I had, through my work in the theatre, a great many gay friends before that term had been coined and at a time when things were very different.
What I see is that there are two groups of Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin: those are stridently homophobic for their own gain and those who are sincerely confused. I have spoken to a great many groups of the latter and have told them that scripture must be seen in context.
Old Testament law was for an ancient, nomadic, desert-dwelling people who had very little access to water. It was probably based on hygiene and was shown by Jesus himself to be questionable. Saint Paul, in the New Testament, would almost certainly have been referring to practices in the Roman/Greek world that were in effect paedophilia. Jesus certainly did not say that homosexuality was a sin. He didn’t even mention it!
What he did say was that his followers were to love one another, especially the ‘Samaritans’ (outcasts) and that we should spread the good news that God loves us all. Those ‘Christians’ who declare war on the gay community are going directly against his teaching. They are the sinners!
This is what I have shared with many individuals and groups over a lot of years. It may not mean anything to folk reading this, but I believe with all my heart that it is important and next year I intend to take it further. I have the loving support of many gay/lesbian Christian people and I would hope that I would be supported by those who don’t necessarily share my faith.
That’s not a response to anything I’ve said. You are still responding to a report of religiously motivated homophobia with ‘Yes, but’. You are still making this about you – you’re defending your own religious identity instead of defending us, which would involve acknowledging Christian beliefs often cause us harm. Why is ‘I’m sorry my religion inspires behaviour like this’ so difficult to say?
I repeat: when you describe homophobes as ‘Christians’ in speech marks only, you are saying most Christians for most of Christianity’s history – including, for example, every Pope for the last two thousand years – weren’t really Christians, and that most Christians around the world today still aren’t. Aside from this not being a very useful definition (and being, in my opinion, extraordinarily arrogant), you are still refusing to acknowledge that in the real world, rightly or wrongly, regardless of theological soundness, Christian beliefs commonly inspire homophobia.
When you read a queer person’s description of religiously motivated harassment, your first response was to say the aggressor’s Christian beliefs weren’t to blame because they were molested as a child. Your second response was to say the aggressor’s Christian beliefs weren’t to blame because they were repressing their own queerness. Your third response, just now, has been to say the aggressor’s Christian beliefs weren’t to blame because they can’t have been a real Christian. (According to your personal, entirely subjective, non-authoritative definition.)
Your behaviour suggests you’re actually far less concerned about Christians attacking queer people than you are about Christianity – in the real world, in one of the multitude of ways it plays out there – being blamed for something. You’re defending your own religious identity: you’re not defending us.
Christian organisations around the world overwhelmingly lobby against the rights of queer people. Hundreds of thousands of queer people are physically assaulted or harassed (as above) because of their assailants’ Christian beliefs. Thousands of queer children and young people are made homeless because of their parents’ Christian beliefs or self-harm because of their own. Personally, I had Christian teachers – some of whom you knew – who felt it was part of their job to declare in my lessons that God hated my sin. Your other son said when I was sixteen, in front of you, that I was ‘an offence against nature and God.’ Street preachers in towns where I’ve lived have publicly shouted as I walked past that I was an abomination. I get semiregular emails from believers to that effect. When I find out someone’s a Christian – especially one of your generation and especially, to be frank, one of your friends – I have to do a risk assessment in my head.
What do you do in response? You don’t say ‘I’m sorry my religion inspires behaviour like this.’ You politely tell us, as we suffocate under a mountain of Christian shit, that your religion didn’t really inspire it, so we should all stop being so mean as to blame Christianity for what its followers do explicitly in its name.
‘I’m sorry my religion inspires behaviour like this.’ That’s all you need to say. Why can’t you? You are defending your own religious identity. You are not defending us.
‘I believe with all my heart that it is important and next year I intend to take it further’ – seriously, sincerely, from the bottom of my heart: please don’t. The last thing queer people need is allies like you, who tell us how we should and shouldn’t understand violence against us. As long as I can remember, every conversation you and I have had about queer issues has consisted of you doing most of the talking to make yourself feel good and ally-like instead of listening to me.
You’re doing it now. I told you above that ‘homosexual’ was a slur – like I have, again and again, for the last two years or more – and now you’ve used the word again, repeatedly. I’m telling you now, because it’s all I have left: If you ever call me a homosexual again, or allow other people to call me that, we are done talking, online or offline, indefinitely.
You refer to ‘gay friends’, ‘the gay community’ and ‘gay/lesbian Christian people’. You’re erasing me, as well as my friend whose update this was and most if not all the other queer people in this thread.
I’m not gay. I’m bisexual. I’ve told you this over and over for the last five years, and I don’t you the first time riding in your car when I was fourteen. The reason you likely don’t recall any of this – the reason I don’t think you’ve ever perceived me as anything but gay – is that you don’t listen. The reason I’m writing you such an angry note is that it is the only way I have left of making you listen. If you want to be my ally, that’s what you have to do.
P.S. It would also be great if before congratulating yourself on being a wonderful ally and telling me you ‘support’ me, you could apologise for:
- assuming I was straight for the entirety of my childhood, labelling me that way and telling me I’d grow up to marry a woman and have children. (When we talk about the closet, that’s what it is.)
- introducing the concept of sex as something a man and woman did to reproduce.
- using the word ‘homosexual’ to refer to queer people.
- using it to refer to all queer people, including bisexuals (like me).
- pronouncing it as disgustedly as possible, so the first half rhymes with ‘promo’. (You might not think you sound disgusted. You do to me.)
- making me explain to you at the age of 21 that bisexuality existed.
- telling me when I was 7 that it worried you ‘when [I started] fancying men’.
- telling me ‘the easiest way to get AIDS’ (for a woman) was ‘sex with a bisexual man’.
- telling me AIDS ‘came from the gay community’.
- telling me how not to walk when I was 9, because it was ‘how some men who are homosexual walk’ and they might molest me.
- telling me to stay away from the cashier at a local shop because he was gay and had consequently molested children.
- describing the character in the blurb for the novel you wrote as ‘a sadistic homosexual’ who molested young boys.
- using words like ‘bent’, ‘poof’, ‘queer’ (in an unreclaimed sense) and ‘pervert’ throughout my childhood.
- consistently misgendering trans people and using transphobic slurs like ‘shemale’ (or allowing others to use them).
- responding ‘I’m glad!’ when I was 17 and said I didn’t understand the appeal of beards.
- telling me when I was 14, ‘It’s pretty disgusting when guys fancy each other’.
- telling me you ‘didn’t know [you were] homophobic until [you] discovered Graham Norton’ – telling me simply, ‘I don’t like gays’ – when I was in my early teens.
I could go on a long, long time.
‘Sorry’ is all you have to say. Don’t bother responding (or talking to me again) till you can, and don’t even think of calling yourself an ally. Your behaviour frankly disgusts me.
Alex… for God’s sake grow up and stop spouting such utter crap.