GayTaylor

LGBT Alumni & Allies of Taylor University

Who’s afraid of the big bad _____________?

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It catches my eye, Time magazine’s photo spread accompanying a story on the uptick in wildlife populations across the United States. A whitetail deer is caught in the glare of the camera’s flash while standing in a Wisconsin motel room; a moose wanders through the greensward of an Anchorage, Alaska apartment complex; a wild turkey perches on a patio table in a Twin Cities suburb; an 11-foot alligator curls up in the doorway of a home in Florida.

Of these, the photograph that most unnerves me is the gator guardian. This is in part because I have had little exposure to large-toothed scaly reptiles. Of deer there are aplenty in Indiana (though I’ve yet to meet one face-to-grill); I’ve spent enough time in moose country to have been warned off them, know to let them alone and not get between a cow and her calf; I’ve chased a wild turkey on foot down a state highway north of Kokomo; but I’ve never met an alligator in the flesh, much less given thought to stepping out of my front door and onto one.

It’s the old story: we fear what we do not know. We in the Midwest are famously afraid of living in California because an earthquake will some day deposit the entire state with a mighty splash in the Pacific Ocean. When the subject comes up we comfort ourselves with apocryphal tales of Californians who are deathly afraid of Midwestern tornadoes, icy roads or snow. All to say we’re better off than those poor schmucks. For pity’s sake, they even go so far as to think we’re the schmucks. We know better, of course. Our fears are justified. Theirs are misplaced.

Instead of wildlife, what if Time magazine had run four pictures of human beings? Whose portraits might the editors have chosen to unnerve the reader? I imagine a good many of my neighbors, former friends and colleagues might be spooked by photographs of LGBT persons. Sure, we’ve come a ways in acceptance and tolerance, but not so very far. Last week our local paper carried a news item about a man who attacked two male college students because he believed they were gay.

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What is it to be a self-identified LGBT or Queer student at Taylor University today? Via the grapevine I hear mixed messages. According to some reports there’s a certain level of acceptance, at least among some students. Other accounts say the intolerance is widespread, not so very different than when I was declared persona non grata by what passed for the Taylor community. As one who has come to terms with his gender variance, I sometimes smile to think how very frightening I am to the uninformed, the willfully ignorant, the hidebound religious. (I am scary, of course. I challenge their beliefs, their stereotypes, their neat little ordered views of the world.) Ooo-woo. Big scary me. Better to push me out, put me down, to assault me or anyone else who threatens the received wisdom that puts heterosexism at the center of the known universe.

Are you following me? There’s some truth to what I’m saying—but do you hear it? There’s also a strong whiff of “For pity’s sake, at least I’m better off than those poor schmucks who are crazy enough to be afraid of me.” Damn. There are days I wish my world were as cut-and-dried, as us-and-them as I once made it out to be. It’s not. It never was. Never will be.

The fact remains, I’ll never be altogether free of the fear of the unknown. Until after I die, if then. What about you? Whom could the photo editors choose to feature if they were looking for people who would come across as scary to you?

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Something to think about.

Church to gays: “Go to hell.” Amiel to church: “Go to jail.”

4134046143_5726eb96afSelf-hatred is a lifelong prison sentence. I know. I keep trying to make a jailbreak. My church upbringing, my family, my college—all these and more taught me to loathe myself. Since coming out as a gay man in mid-life, I have involved myself in the long process of healing from these early messages.

Fine for a church, a religious system, an religious-affiliated academic institution to preach. I expect it of them. I honor their right to free speech. But it doesn’t necessarily mean what they say is accurate. Doesn’t necessarily follow that what they’re promoting is even Christian. It’s no news that organized religion often promulgates attitudes and actions that make lgbt people out to be less-than, unacceptable, and immoral simply Go Premiumfor being who they are.

The effects can be devastating.

Jesus himself is quoted as saying, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” It’s not a new idea (what is?), but a time-honored way of testing the truth and utility of a teaching, a word of advice or system of thought.

Sogoyewapha, also known as Red Jacket, famed orator of the Seneca, made this same point is an 1805 speech in which I hear echoes of church efforts to “reach out” to lgbt people:

250px-Red_Jacket_2You say that you are sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to His mind; and, if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right and we are lost. How do we know this to be true? . . .

  Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest, and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again of what you have said.

Yeah, well. You tell me how well that worked out. Think the preaching and sermonizing really made the people more kind, honest, accepting, respectful, more Christian?

The Swiss-born philosopher, academic and poet Henri Amiel put it this way:

The test of every religious, political, or educational system, is the [person] which it forms. If a system injures the intelligence it is bad. If it injures the character it is vicious. If it injures the conscience it is criminal.

Seems to me a whole lot of erstwhile Christian institutions would be liable for criminal behavior under Amiel’s definition.

photo credit: Jason Nahrung, flickr

Oyez, oyez

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Tickled I am to receive notes from various persons who stumble across this blog. I am heartened to hear from people who wish along with me for my conservative alma mater to be willing to take a hard long look at some assumptions, prejudices, biases and religious beliefs that get in the way of the institution pursuing stated goals and aspirations.

Sometimes I pretend I am the only lgbt person to have graduated Taylor University who still feels anything for the place, who dares have pie-in-the-sky hopes the place will some day embrace her/his/its lgbt graduates, current students and staff. I am proven wrong nearly every time someone drops me a note privately or via the blog.

As one correspondent said today, “there is an appetite among some students to have a different sort of conversation on this issue than may have happened in the past.”

Hear, hear.

May our number increase.

Come ye thankful people, (ahem) come

Thanksgiving. In this country a traditional time for family gatherings and gatherings of thanks. It has set me thinking:

My family has had a tough time with my coming out gay. I am thankful we grapple with issues of substance.

Both my parents are now dead; we did not reconcile over this issue while they lived. I am grateful to have the sense that my father has since made some strides toward acceptance, my mother not so much.

I came out gay; my children will have nothing to do with me. I am thankful they have the courage of their convictions.

It’s been years since our divorce. Still my former wife communicates with me (when she does) via her attorney. I am thankful to have been able to reconstruct a life in which her reactions to me no longer figure so prominently as they once did.

To one of my siblings I am anathema. I am grateful for those family members who will still talk with me, grateful to have found acceptance by more distant relations at extended family reunions.

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The coming out process called me to examine and restructure my beliefs, my life, living and loving, I am grateful to find myself in the happiest place I have ever been in my life, to have survived (what was for me) the turmoil and upset, to have tasted incredible peace, and to continue to flourish within and without.

My husband of lo these several years loves me, cares for me, and partners with me in creating a world of love and acceptance within our home and circles of influence. For this I am profoundly grateful.

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photo credit: phostezel, sxc.hu

The glory gridlock that once was Rome

As part of a continuing education program offered by a local university, I’ve been attending a series of video classes on “Famous Romans” recorded several years ago by the late Professor of History Rufus Fears, PhD. He’s been walking us through the years leading up to the first century, the final moments when Rome still operated as a free republic, before it became a dictatorship. It’s been chilling to hear described some of the sweeping problems Rome was facing, problems that contributed to their losing their freedom:

(1) the demise of the small farmer and the rise of agri-business;

(2) elections were openly bought and sold—campaign contributions swayed the elections regularly; and

(3) the Roman people had lost faith in the ability of the Senate and their elected officials because those worthies experienced such gridlock they could not solve even simple problems.

It sounds way too familiar.

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Oh, and by the way, I haven’t heard the good professor once cite homosexuality as the reason for Rome’s decline and fall. But the preachers I sometimes hear on late-night radio programs have got that territory covered. There was a time when that notion was trumpeted in almost every fund-raising letter I received from a certain family-focused Religious Right organization.

The initials SPQR stood for Senātus Populusque...

The initials SPQR stood for Senātus Populusque Rōmānus (“The Senate and the People of Rome”). They were emblazoned on the banners of Roman legions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Holy Eukonkanto!

This week National Public Radio is airing a series on the afterlife. Well, on various persons’ own conceptions of those they articulate as standard bearers for their particular religion. For me it’s rather like listening on on a conversation in Sonkajärvi, Finland as to whether the Estonian carry (while a crowd pleaser) is better strategy than holding onto a woman via the fireman’s carry or piggyback-style. I mean, it’s interesting that people can get so worked up about something like eukonkanto  and have definite opinions on the subject, but the point of it escapes me.

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I feel something similar when I wade through the arguments put forward about why God does or does not love and sanction LGBT people, and if so, which specific actions on their part are sanctioned. The matter is obviously important to some people, and I bless them in chasing what truly gives them life and energy. I hope this is it.

Yet I find myself nodding in agreement to Daniel Ladinsky’s quoting Eruch Jessawala in the current issue of The Sun: “There is just one luminous existence; there is just one sacred well from which all thoughts and acts happen, and any interaction between human beings, especially that of romance and affection and giving comfort, is holy. All action between human beings is holy.”

In this passage Daniel Ladinsky reports his teacher’s take on his own teacher Meher Baba‘s opinion regarding homosexuality.

Any interaction between human beings . . . is holy. To which I say, “amen.”

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Photo credit: Steve Jurvetson

Are you my mother?

I remember seeing pictures of a scientist who did studies on imprinting, specifically ducklings. Or was it goslings. What lodges in my mind is a person walking across a lawn trailed by a string of ducklings. The little birds had come to see the researcher as Mama, even though the absurdity of this was obvious to every other creature who viewed the photograph.

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In some ways I too am a dumb cluck. A sitting duck. A turkey. A silly goose. (Or whatever fowl pun you can come up with.) My alma mater has somehow imprinted on my psyche and I continue to carry a connection to the school long after I know better.

Why should I care if they seem unwilling to admit the existence of people like me in the world? Why should I care that they insulate and isolate themselves from the larger world and pretend their cloak of holiness keeps LGBT people from appearing on campus, emerging from the chrysalis of alumni, raising the spectre of discomfited donors?

Why should I care? Let me tell you why I should care; because human lives are at stake, because the messages trumpeted can and do wound, because the people denigrated, discounted and declared anathema are not nameless disembodied figments of the imagination, they are Taylor University alumni, current and former students, staff and faculty; they are parents, siblings and relatives of alumni and current students; they are a part of the “Taylor family,” like it or not, and as human beings (let alone potential donors) are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity, recognized and extended common courtesy.

Photo by tifotter at flickr

After all, we’re to let our light so shine, not beat others over the head with our bedlamps

I don’t know how you feel about including side B (traditional sexual ethics) folks in the conversation. I commented here as “Neo” a while back, but ever since I started blogging on Spiritual Friendship I’ve switched to my real name. I graduated from TU in 2009, and I should finish up a Ph.D. this coming May. I’m bisexual myself, and currently single. Being that I’m side B, the only marriage I am open to would be to a woman.

I noticed that Veronica mentioned Choros. I’m glad they have that now. I actually spoke there back in March.

It’s even possible that I could end up back at TU in a faculty position in the future, assuming I don’t become number six among guys I know who have been fired or denied employment at Christian institutions on account of their sexuality, despite being side B and celibate. If I do end up there, I hope I can do things to advance the conversation.

Anyway, if something happens with alumni, I’m interested to hear about it and possibly participate. Although I won’t hide what I believe, I won’t try to subvert the purpose of a group or to proselytize for my viewpoint. However, I understand completely if you’d rather have private efforts that are limited to more like-minded people.

Jeremy

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Welcome back, Jeremy. Regarding a welcome to join the conversation, I think (un)common courtesy goes a long way. Thanks for putting yourself out (ahem) there, er, here. Following up on your initial post, I ordered and a copy of Justin’s book T o r n, describing his efforts at reconciling his gay sexuality and Christian beliefs. It’s written in fervent heartfelt style. While I appreciate this, I found myself unmoved by much of what he has to say when it comes to twining his sexuality with religious beliefs. I struggled that struggle for far too long to take it up again for myself or to wish it on anyone else. I am not in the place you are; I choose to direct my energies elsewhere and to other matters.

May we each and all find and follow a path with heart.

There is wisdom in living and letting live, in not subverting or proselytizing. It’s a tough enough job to live according to one’s own lights; we needn’t complicate matters by trying to live others’ lives for them. Here or elsewhere.

There is cause to speak truth to power, stand against injustice, empower the powerless. To live and love as best we know how. To stay open to wonder and surprise.

May you find employment suited to your temperament and ways of being in the world. May you live a life of integrity, wherever that takes you. May we live so long as to see Christian institutions repent of the wrongs they perpetrate in the name of Christ and strive to make amends.

Photo by AlicePopkorn flickr.com

Take the step

Hi guys – I’m a current Taylor student, straight but really wanting to begin discussions like this with people who are genuinely open. Involvement with Choros (a group created to discus human sexuality) seems to be my next step. Love from Taylor, on my behalf, to both of you. If you have any suggestions on loving my gay friends better, or how to start these conversations, or just want to stay in touch, please do.

Veronica

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Thank you, Veronica, for a gentle and encouraging response. You’re reaching out, I see, in wondering aloud what and how you (currently a TU student) can better love your lgbt friends (some of whom are also there on campus?). You can identify a starting point in joining the wider discussion of sexuality through the on-campus group Choros. Do take the first step, I encourage you. Often in life we’re given only a candle or a pocket flashlight, no miner’s headlamp to see far ahead down the path. We have to make do taking one step at a time, moving forward, finding purchase for our foot, first one, then the other. There will be more steps, of course, but we have to take the one in front of us first.

What’s your motivation, may I ask, in wanting to offer support to lgbt persons? The church I attended near campus was spooked of gay persons. “We don’t want no homos here,” I remember one person saying. To this, a church leader replied, “No, that’s not right. Let ’em come on in. We’ll sit ’em right down front and preach God’s truth to ’em, make ’em see the error of their ways, get ’em to repent and lead ’em to Jesus.” I’m sure I nodded and smiled my agreement. That’s what and how I once believed.

“The most difficult thing in the world is to know how to help someone,” said George MacDonald, or words to that effect. What we sincerely conceive of as helping may be the last thing a given person needs.

To love your gay friends better, look to your motives. Take a first step. Build your awareness. Educate yourself. Read a book or two or visit a website designed for straight allies. Ask questions. Have many more questions than answers. Be kind. Be true. Think critically. Love from your heart. Stretch your comfort zone. Speak up. And know you are doing valuable service in showing your support for people often marginalized in evangelical circles.

picture  by Toni Blay flickr.com

 

An alumni group for LGBT Taylor grads? Well now.

I am so glad to have found your blog. I have been searching for other lgbt Taylor alums recently…as you noted, we are hard to find. I came out as lesbian a couple years after graduating, part of a larger process of learning to ask questions and allow myself space to experience doubt. I very much relate to your thoughts. I would love to connect with you via facebook or email. I’ve been thinking about trying to start an lgbt alumni group that could support current lgbt taylor students 

Sarah

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Sometimes I think lgbt people speak a language known only to themselves. Sarah, you toss off so casually, “I came out a couple of years after leaving Taylor.” Perhaps it was so simple a matter for you; yet I read in the spaces between those words a whole history, imagine a tale entwined in the years at Upland, those couple of years beyond, then an unfurling, a bursting into life in a new way. Did your time at Taylor prepare you for coming out? Did it hinder you, slow your movement toward that event? What messages did you receive from the Taylor community regarding lgbt persons? Did you have an inkling you would soon or someday count yourself among them?

You say you’re interested in starting an alumni group for lgbt-alumni (and their allies, perhaps?) with the aim of offering support to current Taylor students. Do you have an idea of what that support would look like? What would you have or did you wish for along these lines while you were a student? What kind of support might an alumni group offer that would be valuable? (A few leap to my mind: Presence. Heightened awareness. Education. Advocacy. Role models.)

I imagine there’s be precious little support from the university proper for such an effort. Perhaps active resistance. Maybe I do the school’s administration a disservice to think they’d react in so stereotypical a fashion. Perhaps they’d be much more nuanced in their reaction that what I’m giving them credit for. Somehow I doubt it.

What drives your motivation to reach out, to be visible, to be heard and or felt? What systems of support do you have around you to aid you in this proposed effort? What connections can you count on?

I think it’s a worthy endeavor this one you’re contemplating. I think it has potential for offering support, connection, visibility and more.

photo courtesy transguyjay flikr.com