A letter to Pam Wilkinson…

You don’t know me and, with any luck, you will never know me. I was the confused teenager going through high school in the 1980’s. No one raised a rainbow flag back then.  What we raised for was religion. We still were standing for the Lord’s Prayer. Too bad for the kids who weren’t Christian but it wasn’t an option to avoid. We could stand in the hall but we were still standing for the prayer no matter where we went. And there was a teacher in the hall to make sure of that. I bet you loved those days.

My classmates all grew up with Three’s Company and Jack’s over the top pretending of being gay. Being gay was a joke… when it wasn’t simply disgusting. Fellow classmates and even some of the teachers talked about driving into the gay section of Toronto just to throw rocks at people on the side walk. It was fun, they said. I hardly thought it was fun for the people getting pelted by stones but they didn’t matter. This was the 80’s.

I don’t have fond memories of school in the 80’s.

I started having suicidal ideation in high school, strong urges to jump over the railings in our local mall, strong enough that I walked by the wall at all times, just in case. I pushed those thoughts away, just like I pushed away any romantic thoughts about girls. I was already being teased, I wasn’t going to be a joke too. Those weren’t my thoughts, they were an aberration.

Sexual education was strictly cisgender and heterosexual. We learned how to make babies and the names of the genitals. Thanks to that education, I learned that what I was feeling was wrong. I didn’t know my own sexual orientation until I was in my mid 40’s. And I certainly never saw a rainbow flag until I was an adult with children of my own.

You were interviewed in an article claiming the rainbow flag is a wall. I disagree. The wall in my school years was built with ignorance, hatred, and ridicule and it kept me from learning who I was for decades. The rainbow flag is a bridge and a sign of community and hope. Countless faith groups support it, it’s not anti-Christian.

The sad part is you have taught your own daughter hatred. The part of the song you disagree with? The song that was played at flag raising?

If you preach hate at the service/those words aren’t anointed/and that holy water that you soak in, is poisoned.”

It’s not anti-Christianity, it’s anti-hatred. He’s saying that hate is not part of Christianity and God will not accept those words. How much hate is in your religion that both you and your daughter felt personally affronted by this.

You said that the rainbow flag builds “walls, not bridges. You can’t get groups to respect each other that way. You cannot broker peace if half the stakeholders have left the table in anger.”

I say that if someone sees a flag, which is widely known as a symbol of love, hope, and unity and see nothing but a wall, there wasn’t going to be a chance to broker peace in the first place. If you can’t handle the symbol of LGBTQIA unity, how can you handle the reality of talking to actual gay, lesbian, and trans people? What are you going to do when a drag queen wants a say, in all their glory? How about when a lesbian couple wants at least one book in the library with same sex partners so their child doesn’t feel invisible? Or a gay thirteen year old wants a Gay-Straight Alliance in his elementary school?

How can you broker peace with someone who wants you to be less than yourself, wants you to hide yourself to make them feel comfortable? You can’t. First it’s the rainbow flag but that won’t be last. You don’t want peace, you want ignorance. You want to not have to face any sign that the LGBTQ community even exists. And that’s not going to happen. So many of us struggled to simply be ourselves and we’re not going to let you push us back into being less than we are.

The rainbow flag is staying. We are staying. Get used to it.

rainbow_flag_insert_by_torbakhopper_via_Flickr

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Religion, the original gated community…

Michelle, hope all is well and I am being very kind to myself. Thank you for asking but how are you doing?

Those words might sound mild, even a bit positive, but they brought tears to my eyes. Tim most certainly isn’t being kind to himself and there’s nothing I can do about it. His life is a tragedy in slow motion and one I’ve been watching for years.

The first thing I noticed about Tim was his vibrant personality. Even though he was still in high school, his enthusiastic energy was almost palpable; his smile as bright as his hair. The second thing I noticed were his mannerisms. Everyone knows the stereotype of a flamboyant gay male. That was Tim, right there. The kid might as well have worn a t-shirt with the caption “why yes, I am very gay”. We worked together for almost five years and I’ve lost count of the number of times a customer described him as “the gay one”.

He introduced himself to me by pointing out a young man as cute then watching to see my reaction. Several months went by with him being quite openly gay then he announced he’d met a girl for dinner. Once again he watched for reactions; this time he seemed quite shocked that people had trouble believing he’d invited a girl for a date. Later he told me he didn’t know why people were spreading rumours that he was gay. I found myself unable to think of anything to say. Within days he’d reverted back to being openly gay again.

I talked to Tim from time to time about Jeremy and why I wondered if zie was gay or bisexual. At one point I told him about how Jeremy had asked me, in grade one, if it was all right for zir to marry Albert when zie grew up. Tim’s face grew wistful. He’d made a similar comment when he was that age and one of his older brothers told him never to make a comment like that again or he’d be beaten up. I began to understand his flip-flopping.

Over the next few years he did a few more flip-flops regarding his sexual orientation. I tried my hardest to be supportive and I’m sure his other friends did as well. He slowly became more positive about being gay and joined PFLAG. Several years in a row he invited me to attend our local Evening of Hope; an event similar to the Transgender Day of Remembrance but for the whole LGBTQ community (the Trans Day of Remembrance is also observed). I made sure to attend. One year his mother called during the whole service. Candles were being named then lit and carried across the stage in front of a hushed audience. Meanwhile his phone kept ringing and ringing.

Mom, this is serious. I can’t talk right now.”
This is a memorial service.”
No I can’t leave.”
“Mom, please, you have to stop calling.”
I helped organize this. I’m needed here. I really can’t leave.”

Her son was working alongside the mayor and the police to help organize a huge event with dozens of vendors and approximately a hundred people. He hurried around, well respected and busy, taking donations, directing people to the right places, and organizing the set up. And instead of being there to support him, she was sitting at home harassing him to leave. I wouldn’t know this lady if I ran into her on the street but there’s a good chance I wouldn’t like her.

I watched as he matured into his early 20’s. He wanted to be an event planner and organize weddings. I listened as he fell in love and again when they broke up. Tim didn’t want to be a secret, he wanted a boyfriend who was willing to be out with him. Then he started looking for a new religion because the Catholic Church wasn’t supportive enough. He wanted a place that would accept him as gay. I suggested my own congregation of Unitarian Universalists and got a “maybe…” in response. I get that. I’m an atheist and he’s deeply religious; I’ve had a few friends assume that the whole congregation must be atheistic if I’m there. It’s not but I backed off, figuring he needed to find his own path. Unitarians are good at that. Maybe too good.

He continued to help with PFLAG and received an award for being a person who made a difference. His posts reflected the love he had for his family and a growing acceptance of himself. Then his posts faded, he was busy at work but fine. He couldn’t attend my parties due to work but was fine and we’d get together soon. The posts he did make were less about family and more about God. And then came this post…

Tim mormon

He deleted it almost immediately but a quick peek at his about page showed his religion as Mormon and his “interested in” section set to women. There aren’t many churches out there who are less accepting of LGBTQ people than the Catholic Church but the Mormons are definitely one of them.

There is no way this can end well. He’s not straight. He’s not even (from what he’s said during quiet, honest times) bisexual. And he’s joined a church that only loves him if he lies and only accepts him if he ignores his own romantic feelings.

I understand why people turn to religion. They look for acceptance, community, support, and (for some) a greater meaning to life. At it’s best, religion can serve these needs. What worries me is when religion is at it’s worst. It’s worst leaves people shattered and broken… clutching the fragments of their lives as they watch their community turn away. It leaves LGBTQ kids on the streets, begging and selling themselves to survive. Or walking in front of trucks convinced life will never get better. It teaches children that they are the chosen ones and the “others” are the sinners. Giving them a sense of pride for being chosen and a sense of fear that they might stumble and become one of the “others”.

Get a group of atheist parents together and you’ll hear a variety of stories about their children being harassed by other kids for not believing in God. Emma used to get chased off the bus by a girl who insisted she was going to burn in hell forever. A mother I talked to recently has a child who was having nightmares about Jesus coming to get him like some sort of bogeyman. Once again it was from peer bullying.

Years ago, our congregation welcomed an older man who had left a fundamentalist church. Every Sunday, for weeks on end, he’d come to the front of the room for  the pebbles of joy and concern ceremony and cry. He could barely choke out any words, he’d simply break down in heart wrenching tears. His former church had left huge scars on his soul. It took nearly a year before he could manage to speak. He was white, straight, and cis… with a good job, children, and a wife who loved him… and his scars nearly broke him regardless. He didn’t entirely fit into their mould so they tried to hammer him in place. They damn well shattered him.

Love isn’t trademarked, it just is, and it’s there for everyone; not just the ones religion deems worthy enough. Life is not a tragedy, love is not a mistake, and if your religion loves all the little children (except if they have a penis and are wearing a dress) then you’re doing it wrong.

God hates me…

Jeremy and I went out shopping last night. He needed a t-shirt to wear with his pyjama bottoms and a white t-shirt for signing at CanUUdle. And, since he only has one pair of decent pj bottoms, we figured we’d look for another pair too.

We started off in Target, which only recently came to Canada. I never thought I’d say it but I miss Zellers. Target (in Canada at least) does not have much selection. We were browsing through the men’s department when Jeremy asked a clerk where the men’s pyjamas were. They don’t have them. Alrighty then, onward to Giant Tiger.

Giant Tiger is a Canadian discount store. I figured we wouldn’t have much luck but Jeremy loves shopping and insisted (extremely vocally) that we give it a try.

“Is this the men’s department?” Jeremy asked. He sounded bored. I don’t know what he expected but it definitely wasn’t the clothes Giant Tiger was offering.

“Yes,” I confirmed. The section was filled with camo, dark colours, and fluorescent vests. The ladies department didn’t have the vests. “Look, I found the pjs. They have Duck Dynasty.”

Jeremy snorted. “Like I want his face anywhere near my crotch.”

We started walking toward the electronics department (if a rack of headphones, slimline phones, and blank CDs can classify as a department) then Jeremy did a double take at a photo in the men’s underwear section.

“Is that a girl?” he blurted in astonishment. He looked closer at the picture of a young, long haired man. “Oh, no wait… it’s just Jesus.”

I stifled a laugh. The young man really did resemble those paintings of Jesus, except I’d never seen one of Jesus topless before. It was that classic ‘sitting with his arms crossed on his knees while taking a dump pose’ that school photographers love. Maybe the photographer got a promotion from Lifetouch photographer to discount underwear model photographer. If that was indeed a promotion.

“You know? I’d never invite God into our house,” Jeremy mused. “God hates me. If I invited him inside he’d try to rip my face off.”

I found myself with no idea what to say. Meanwhile Jeremy curved his fingers then raked his hand downward before smiling. He thought a bit more.

“Jesus would probably be okay.” He nodded to himself. “Yeah, I’d invite Jesus in. He seems like a nice enough guy. But I definitely wouldn’t invite God. God doesn’t want me.”

I’ve raised both my kids as an atheist and both have grown up to be atheists (Jeremy spent a few years as a kid believing we went to the Pokemon realm when we died). Plus I’ve raised them in the Unitarian Universalist Church, which is not considered Christian (in Canada) and hosts a good chunk of atheists and pagans. So, thankfully for Jeremy this was more of an academic question. He might as well have been pondering whether Santa Claus liked him enough to leave him presents, knowing full well I’m the one who buys them and already have them bought. But I can’t help feeling horrible for the kids growing up in a religion that claims to be full of love and kindness for everyone except for you, you, and *tsk* especially not you. That isn’t love.

I wonder if the “love the sinner but hate the sin” Christians realize how much of a message of hate they’re preaching. Because the kids are hearing it loud and clear.