The following is the second in a series of featured AMERIQUEER GUEST POSTS that will focus on the intersection of spirituality and sexuality in America as more and more gays and lesbians come out spiritually. Similar features will cover all of America's major faiths and will run daily this week and into the next.
This guest column is by one of my dearest friends, Jenny Suidan. Jenny is an opinionated twenty something with an attitude on almost everything. She is an ally, a political fundraiser and generally one pretty cool chick.
So, I'm not gay and I'm not religious. I, however, am quite opinionated, spiritual and happen to be sitting in front of a computer typing out my thoughts. Right now, those thoughts are about religion, sexuality and spirituality. I have spent more than a week thinking about this topic and talking to a variety of my gay friends before I decided to start in on the actually writing business. Let's start this, my second chance as your guest tour guide in Ameriqueer land.
As a kid, I never knew that I was different. I grew up in a white area, a very white area and it wasn't until I was seven, maybe even almost eight years old that I knew I was different. My dad is a Lebanese immigrant (immigrated as a child so he's pretty f-ing American) and my mom is a Hawaii born Japanese lady and for some reason it never occurred to me that I wasn't exactly like my blonde haired blue eyed best friend. I was raised a CEO catholic (Christmas and Easter only that is) per my fraternal grandmother's insistence and my dad's belief that I needed some kind of religion. I never really understood what I was doing there, why adults drank out of the same cup or why we knelt so much but I guess I would have learned if I went more than twice a year. My dad then decided that I needed to go to catechism when I was 12 and 13 so I could learn about his faith (primarily because he wanted me to go to catholic high school) and so I went every Monday and Wednesday for two years. Well almost. I got kicked out a lot for asking questions like why can't I be an altar girl and how can you possibly think that a cracker is a piece of Jesus at least once a week. After a while, I started sneaking out with a friend to Hebrew school where she prepared for her Bat Mitzvah and found that to be way more interesting. My mom is in no way a religious woman. She always taught us (me and my two siblings that is) that we were supposed to treat people the way we wanted to be treated, that all of our choices have a consequence, to never to judge someone until we had a chance to get to know that person and that we should always do our best in whatever we did. I think that this was an excellent foundation for me that has lead me to be an open-minded adult who is happily standing shoulder to shoulder with my gay friends on the quest for equality.
Somewhere along the line, I decided I wanted to learn about other religions so I did before giving up the idea that I needed religion at all and happily idled around with my own thoughts about the world and kept to myself about it. It all seemed to work out quite nicely for me. Somehow I managed to make it to college before I met anyone who tried to save me or share with me a laundry list of reasons why I was going to hell. I had heard about people like this before, I just always assumed that we just didn't have any in Michigan. I was wrong. To be fair though, I grew up in a pretty Jewish area in a heavily Jewish county so where would a Pentecostal Christian fit in and start damning people to hell? I learned quickly upon my move to Central Michigan that there is an enormous population of people who claim that they are doing what Jesus taught them which apparently meant telling people the ways that they needed to change for God to love them. Suddenly I found myself learning about these alleged Christians and becoming well versed for debates with them to stand up for the GLBT community. In my time in college, I had the opportunity to protest Fred Phelps and debate about same sex marriage with Gary Glenn of the American Family Association and stood up against a rather annoying man that used to come to campus in the spring and fall that we called Preacher Rick. It had never occurred to me that people would use religion to hate. Probably because my catholic upbringing taught me to keep quiet about what I thought; a lesson I clearly failed at learning.
I was fortunate enough to meet some actual Christians in my time in college, people who practiced what they preached, who really believed when Jesus said to treat your neighbor as yourself and did what they could to better themselves as people. I am very proud to have been a part of my college GSA when we started our partnership with Chi Alpha, a Christian fellowship. I was given an opportunity to learn more about Christianity and they were given a chance to put very real, live, young, happy faces on the issues that face the GLBT community. That relationship continues between those two groups even now and it is so impressive to see how both groups have grown accordingly. I truly believe I am fortunate to have become friends with the leaders of Chi Alpha in my time in and since college.
So all of this came to mind when I started to think about this topic for what I hope to be a very relevant reason. Let me also add really quickly, I have helped a lot of people through various stages of coming out in my day, a role I happily assume because I like being helpful and on more than one occasion have been called one of those people that people felt safe trusting. I have had a lot of experiences with people who have struggled to balance being gay and religious or spiritual and originally I thought about talking about that until I asked a very close friend (first friend to every come out to me actually) his thoughts on his topic. As someone who was raised with no religion, I thought maybe his perspective would be interesting. He told me this: there are some people who are primarily religious, it is what they do and it is what they believe. Then comes homosexuality, if it is there at all because for a lot of those people, it never does. He described himself as the exact opposite. He is gay first and if there is religion, god, or something greater in the universe then it comes second, if at all. I found this to be a very interesting idea and it totally made sense for him. Of course, I asked another friend, one who is religious and I like his answer too. He told me that it was always his opinion that religion is meant to affirm who you are so there shouldn't be an instance where you can be religious and be made to feel awkward for being yourself.
All this information, all these opinions, experiences and my own personally beliefs have been floating around together in my mind and I think the bottom line is that it comes together like this. I don't' think that there is anything that should stop queer folks from being religious or spiritual. The idea as I understand it in most religions is that there is a god, a perfect god who created us in his image. So if god is perfect, then nothing going on down here is a mistake. We were meant to be the people that we are and if we are the kind of people who are both gay and religious then that is what is right or the kind of people who are multi-racial and get in debates with priests then it is what's right. I think that it has to be an all or nothing kind of thing. It can't be said that god is perfect and then say that being gay is a mistake that needs to be fixed. I feel like this is really the long and short of this business and it seems to be the conclusion that most of my experiences has brought me to.
You are perfect as you are. That is the good news and the moral of this story.
until the next daunting topic…