pain

I was talking about women and periods the other day.

When I normally do, I talk about it crassly because I hate how everyone skirts around it.

“Oh she’s just having her days.” “I’m just having a wee visit from Aunt Flo.” “It’s just that time of the month.”

As if she’s “just” having a “good ‘ole time.”

In contrast, I say, “Oh is the lining of your vagina peeling away slowly because you didn’t get pregnant?”

Some people may call it insensitive. I just like being honest about it because when I say it, people wince, which feels like a more appropriate response than a mild blush and a wave of the hand, as man-boss says, “Sheila, get over yourself. We’ve got orders to fill and emails to send. If you need me, I’ll be in my corner office doing nothing.”

(I have no idea where the Australian slang came in during these first few sentences. Wee? Sheila? Good ‘ole time?)

A woman’s insides are literally peeling away, and some straight men get annoyed when they can’t have sex with their partner or when their wife is “a bit moody.”

Meanwhile, as bosses and partners complain, a woman will roughly spend 6.25 years of her life menstruating, $1,229.83 on pain relievers, $1,773.33 on tampons, $2,280 on new underwear (I still have underwear from when I was in Bible school), not to mention the stress every month of whether or not to tell her employer or date (only 20% do), and if she doesn’t, what lie she’s gonna come up with if the pain becomes unbearable. And all of that doesn’t include the blood loss, hormone spikes, cramps, and another flushed egg.

Doesn’t this all just suck? No wonder there’s a daily Jewish prayer for men that says, “Thank God that I am not a woman (or Gentile or slave).”

So what the hell? Am I just putting salt to a monthly wound? (I vomited a little.)

No.

Women, I would genuinely say, as fucked up as this is (and granted I’m a man and could be talking out of my ass), I see this shared pain, this shared experience, as a super power.

Every woman, on the entire planet, regardless of culture, language, location, socioeconomic standing, or experience — everyone woman, in spite of all their differences, intimately knows another woman’s pain. And I’m not just talking about her bleeding vagina.

She understands that she will have to work twice as hard to be viewed as “equally” smart or capable as a man.

She understands that she will have to show less affect in the business world to make sure she won’t be viewed as “too emotional.”

She understands that she will have to endure everyone telling her what she should do with her body, her baby, her hair, her breast milk, her career, her sex life, her free time, her fucking ashes after she’s dead and gone.

But the same is true for other populations.

Every Black person, regardless of what state, intimately knows the pain in their gut when lights flash in their rearview mirror.

Latinx communities, regardless of if they are from Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, or the U.S. before the U.S. ever existed, will know the pain of being told to “Go back where you come from.”

LGBTQ+ people, regardless of color, religion, sex, or location, all know what it’s like to be rejected by loved ones.

That pain unites us, connects us.

Back in 2009, I went to a crazy Bible school. At that school, we had to do an event where we were sleep deprived, thrown into ice water, told to roll down a hill till we vomited, march through the woods with a log over our head, all while quoting scripture and a forced smile on our faces. To this day, if I meet a complete stranger who attended this school, I have instant access to their heart because we have an unspoken shared pain; we instantly connect.

Pain is a key. It can open our hearts to others, knit us together, soften us, make us willing to receive help.

And it can also lock us away. Harden us. Shut out the light. Tie up hope and drown her in waters of despair.

It’s a key.

When I first came out, I locked the door. I was scared someone was gonna come in and hurt me again, and it would be too much. Fear made me turn the key.

But I’m learning that pain is my gift. It’s your gift. To the world. To connect us.

Now, because of my pain, I can reach into myself when I bump into a kid who has been ostracized by their church, and feel with them, be with them, truly love them. They’re no longer alone, and it’s because of my pain. We’re not connected.

Now, when a daughter has her first cramp, a mother can reach inside of herself and say, beyond a shadow of a doubt, “You’re gonna be okay because you’re one bad-ass mother! And men will never understand, but you share this now with every woman who has ever been across the entire planet. Pain transcends language and culture, time and space. You’re connected to us all, now, connected to a great cloud of witnesses, and we are at your side.” (And is this not true? When was the last time a young girl was left to fend for herself when her vagina screamed and bled and she didn’t have a tampon or pain reliever? Other women always come to the rescue because they know, because they feel.)

I think this is one of the primary reasons why women are more empathetic than men — their shared pain.

Pain has potential for power. Empathetic power.

And why are we not surprised that our savior is suffering one. He’s not a savior that is high above. That’s what all the other gods were and it didn’t work. They didn’t heal. They didn’t save. They stayed in their towers and never wept for the plight of mankind.

But the saving God was a god that subjected himself to pain and cruelty, torture and death, a God that came low, who wasn’t too big for us and our pain. And then, after suffering, he says, “Pick up your cross, and follow me,” and “Be one as my Father and I are one.”

Pain, when used correctly, is a connector; it’s a key.

Will you use it to lock yourself away? Or open yourself up?

Side note: I think the world would be better if it were actually ran by women and not just sung about. Their pain could actually connect us, and we could see beyond our boundaries and borders to the humanity in us all, the pain within us all. I’m just gonna leave that there.

Sloppy Wet…

John Mark McMillan rocked us all with his song, “Oh How He Loves” over a decade ago. Christian artists, whether rocked by the lyrics or hoping to capitalize on the popularity, all started producing their version, many dropping the controversial lines “sloppy wet kiss.”

“Jesus’ love isn’t sloppy,” some would claim, ripping the lyrics out like an explicit cologne commercial in a magazine at the doctor’s office, breathing more easily now that the offense had been executed and no children would stumble upon the horror.

As a gay Christian, the most accurate description of Jesus and I’s relationship is sloppy and wet. But it’s not just the homos he’s sloppy with — it was also Peter.

In the final chapter of John, we are confronted with a story that’s both intimate and odd — Jesus decides to visit his disciples one last time before heading back to Heaven, and instead of a display of power or a vision of wisdom, He decides to cook fish for the men (really boys) he had spent the last three years of his life with.

While this act is incredibly beautiful and reveals something really special about Jesus (that he’d rather eat with those he loved in an intimate setting rather than boasting of his resurrection), I want to focus on what this chapter reveals about Peter.

The chapter opens with Peter deciding he’s going to go fish.

This man had spent the last three years of his life following a man he believed to be the Messiah, only to have him murdered. The man of power hung powerless on a cross and Israel remained in the clutches of Rome. What was it all for? What was the point? Yes, he was raised from the dead, but what on earth was Peter supposed to do now? The salvation he was hoping for — Jesus coming in as King and Conquerer — didn’t happen. Instead, he’s been abandoned by the man he loves to figure out life alone. Yes, Jesus went to Heaven. But I could imagine, being Peter, on that early morning, staring off into the distance, wondering, “What in the world do I do now?”

So he did what he knew how to do, what he felt competent to do: fish.

And there, on the waters of Galilee, Peter threw out his nets, finding some solace in doing something he knew he was good at, only to find he couldn’t catch any fish.

“What was the point of these past three years?” Net thrown out. No fish. “What am I supposed to do next?” Net thrown out. No fish. “I thought I could do this disciple thing. But I fucked it up.” Net thrown out. No fish. “And now I can’t seem to get fishing right!” Net thrown out. No fish. “Why can’t I do anything right?” Net thrown out. No fish. “FUCK THIS!”

They did this all night, and in the darkness of the desert, Peter was confronted again with his own darkness when all he just wanted was to escape. Escape his failure. Escape his confusion. Escape his terror of not being enough and not knowing what to do next… if only for a moment.

His soul was given no solace on that peaceful sea.

But as the sun rose, a man calls out, “Throw the net out on the other side.”

It’s not like it’s that big of a boat. What the hell does this guy know? Peter’s the fisherman. Not this guy.

But exhausted and angry, he throws it on the other side, completely forgetting that these were the first words his friend and Messiah had said to him three long years ago. He missed his Jesus entirely. But out of exhaustion, Peter just tried something that seemed dumb and pointless. Not because of faith. But out of a lack of options and delirium.

And they caught fish! Too many fish.

As the nets began to break and tear, John points to the man on the shore. “Peter, it’s Him.”

Peter stops struggling with the ripping nets. He turns to the shore. Because ultimately, it wasn’t about fishing. It wasn’t about staying up all night not catching anything. He was there, trying to escape his pain and failure and uncertainty and failed miserably.

But his Messiah was back. And that’s what really mattered; that’s what he really wanted.

In spite of betraying Him. In spite of the plan not working out the way he hoped. In spite of his uncertainty and confusion and terror about life, deep down, he just wanted Him.

But then Peter does something so odd.

He puts on his cloak before jumping into the water. He had stripped to fish, and now, seeing Jesus, he puts it on.

What the Hell?

Why would someone put on clothes before jumping in the water?

Here’s my thought: maybe Peter was trying an act of faith, thinking, “Jesus, this time I’ll keep my eyes on you. This time I’ll walk on water. This time I’ll get it right. I’ll show you. I’ll put on my cloak and keep my eyes on you. I learned. I learned that if I keep my eyes on you, I won’t sink. I can’t get anything else right. I can’t even get fishing right. But with You, I catch fish. With You, my life makes sense. With you, I can walk on…

“Shit.

“I’m sinking.”

But this is where I think there was a turn for Peter.

Instead of getting back in the boat, instead of throwing off his cloak to swim more easily, he just tried to get to Jesus.

It didn’t matter that he wasn’t walking on water. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t catch fish. What mattered was moving towards His Messiah.

And as he heaved himself and his sloppy, wet, heavy cloak onto the shore, there was fresh, warm fish.

In that act, I think Jesus was saying, “I know you were scrambling to find something to do, to curve your anxiety, to find some normalcy, to just escape for a little bit from this chaos. I know this ultimately wasn’t about the fish, but here it is. This is ultimately about Us, it’s about moving towards connection with me, towards the kingdom. Regardless of if it’s a sloppy pursuit or pleasant journey, whether you’re walking on water or nearly drowning in your tunic, whether your faith is weak and you betray me three times or you passionately cut off a guard’s ear in zeal and devotion to me. What matters is not the ‘quality’ of the pursuit, but the pursuit, moving towards me, period. That’s what matters. And I promise if you do that, I’ll take care of the fish.”

Seek first the kingdom, and all these things will be added to you…

This idea is affirmed yet again when Jesus asks Peter, after eating fish, “Do you love me perfectly?”

Peter replies, “I love you. But not perfectly.”

Jesus smiles. “That’s okay Peter. That’s all I need. Lead the others in this messy, fucked-up, sopping-wet pursuit. Show them the way. Lead them with your imperfect love. It’s not about the quality of the pursuit. It’s about continuing to keep me in your sights rather than staring at the waves, claiming you’re failing. You’re not failing. You’re learning. And this near-drowning is just as important as the passionate claim that you’ll call down fire. In fact, it matters more. Because this isn’t about your pursuit of me.

“I. Picked. You.

“Here, have more fish.”

Prayer House

Prayer House

Her

Colors of Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka dance on her olive skin, sunlight filtering through their flags. We sit with coffee between us at the local prayer house in the bookstore, while further in the building, diligent worshipers pace, kneel, cry.

But we are not pacing. We are not kneeling. We will be crying.

We’ve been laughing about nothing and everything for at least an hour. The coffee is now lukewarm, and as the exchange dies down, the only thing that drowns out the silence is screeching milk and cherished memories…

…Kidnapping my best friend on his birthday to watch one of the most disappointing sunrises in history.

…Napping on a mini-golf bridge after watching the elderly powerwalk through the mall.

…Dancing besides a pond under the moonlight after bailing out on Homecoming — the silence and discarded Chik-fil-A wrappers far better company than the beating music and throbbing bodies.

I smile as the memories return. Every moment meaning so much…

…meant so much.

“This has to end. We’re going in separate directions.” I don’t look up from my not-hot coffee.

I coach myself with the wisdom of an adult as the painful words exit my mouth, unable to be redacted.

But I’m not an adult. I’m sixteen.

You don’t think about mature things like marriage and kids and careers and all those heavy but lovely things at sixteen. You’re barely thinking about college. Instead, you should be thinking about the latest video game that just came out, the acne that refuses to go away after you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on skin care, the cliques at school that you both hate and want to be a part of, what homework you forgot about over the weekend, and, most importantly, cute, annoying, immature love.

But not for me. It’s always been heavy.

Love. It’s no joking matter. It’s for keeps. It’s for a future together. For marriage. It’s for propagating the world with more of your acne-ridden spawn.

So this had to end.

I take a deep breath. I muster courage. I act mature.  

“We’re going in different directions. You want to move to Africa and be a missionary, and I want to move to the city. I love you, but we’re eventually going to have to part ways, and that’s not fair for either of us. We need to stop now before this hurts worse than it already will. I can’t be your boyfriend, but the man who gets to be your boyfriend down the road will be so lucky to have you. You’re amazing! We’re just not going in the same direction. We need to end this.”

Silence floats between us. Then comes the foreshadowed crying.

Through soggy eyes and a weak smile, she looks at me and says, “Thank you… of all the things you’ve done, this is the moment I have felt most loved and cared for by you because you fought for my heart.”

I smile back at her, matching her tears. Of all the moments, of all those unforgettable moments, this is the one that she felt the most cared for — the moment we say goodbye.

Dad

We get out of the car. Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka are nowhere to be seen. Tonight, there is only one flag: the United States stands at half-mast. Someone has died.

There’s barely any wind. Just enough to have the cleats knock against the pole, clanging as we walk towards the prayer house doors.

My dad leads me forward. His pace is quick and determined.

“Pick it up.” He calls but doesn’t look back. His gaze is fixed on the door.

I quicken my pace but don’t look up. My eyes gaze at the ground, and my hands fidget in my pockets.

I don’t want to be here.

The two of us enter the main prayer room where he points to a chair, telling me to take a seat.

Still no eye contact.

He exits the room, leaving me alone with nothing but a massive globe slowly rotating for company… well… that and a pungent smell.

It’s hard to describe. But anyone that’s been to the prayer house knows it well. I grasp for the source of it. Clean sweat or sweaty cleaner. Makes sense.

Thousands of men and women have laid prostrate in this room, sobbing into that dated carpet. For years, desperate teens have paced and rocked and jumped till sweat danced down their bodies, joining the tears. They both find a final resting place in that rug.

Faithful custodians have attempted to remove it, day after day, but it hasn’t worked. The smell refuses to leave, only now the salty musk is accompanied with a hint of freshness.

The mingled scents produce a comforting affect; it’s as if hard labor will bring about cleanliness, as if simple tears and sweat will produce purification.

That’s why my dad had brought me here — to purify me with sweat and tears, to make me clean, to make me straight.

That’s right. My dad brought me here, to the house of prayer, to “pray the gay away.”

It was the only thing he could think to do after catching me looking at gay porn just moments prior.

 “What are you looking at, Brandon?!” The screen had frozen while my heart did nothing of the sort. It threatened to burst out of my chest, just like my secret, a secret so dark and shameful, I had been hiding it for five years.

But here it was. Frozen. In the open. For my dad to see. And I was terrified.

“Brandon. What. Is. That?!” His finger pointed to the screen, shaking in rage. He kept asking the same question over and over and over again, as if asking it enough would change the answer: his son was looking at gay porn.

But the relentless questions didn’t resolve the problem. He had to find a different solution.

The prayer house.

My dad returns, looking directly at me. He finally looked at me. But he didn’t meet my eyes. It’s as if my sin were his. He doesn’t say a word. He touches me on the shoulder and motions me to follow, leading me out of the main room into a side corridor.

He opens a closet and closes it behind us. The irony is palpable, stronger than the clean musk.

And there he prays. But he never says the word “gay,” as if saying it would make it real.

Instead, he closes his eyes, and looks with his soul to a reality he wants to see — a straight son, and maybe if he prayed hard enough, sweated long enough, and squeezed those eyes so tight, tight enough to form tears then maybe the reality in his mind would become real. Maybe his son would be made clean.

But just like that clean musk, the smell refused to go away. The gay refused to go away. And as the father prays, his son stands in shock. Frozen. Exposed. Like the men on the screen. But now it’s him. Sitting in a closet. Again.

Him

Outside my windshield, hundreds of American flags flap violently in the wind, just like my stomach.

It’s as if I had swallowed an entire hive of bumblebees — they refuse to be still as questions knock in my chest.

What will it be like?

What do I do?

Who pays?

Should I be wearing something less nice?

Were skinny jeans too much?

Am I caring too much about what I wear?

Should I care less?

Does he care?

Should I pretend like I don’t care?

What’s that smell?

We had been talking via text for weeks, never hearing each other’s voice. Then, we mustered the courage for a phone call, never seeing each other’s face. Then, we FaceTimed, never letting our bodies touch.

But now it was time. Now he was on his way to meet me. Now I was panicking.

At the prayer house.

The prayer house where I broke up with my girlfriend.

The prayer house where my dad tried to pray me straight in a closet.

And now, the prayer house where I was going to meet up with a man for my first gay date.

The bumblebees refused to be silent.

Is this what it’s supposed to feel like?

Am I supposed to feel this much?

Care this much?

Ask this many questions?

Did I put on deodorant?

Do gay guys care if you wear deodorant?

Do they want you to smell nice like girls do? Or do they want you to “smell like a man”?

I sit in my Jeep in silence. My mind, nothing but silent. The flags whip.

Then his Jeep appears in the distance.

My stomach lurches as the bees swarm louder.

Am I really doing this?

What will everyone think?

Do I even want this?

What happens if it goes poorly?

What happens if it goes well?

WHAT HAPPENS IF IT GOES WELL?

I really can’t remember if I put on deodorant!

He pulls up adjacent to me.

He smiles.

We roll down our windows together.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

The bees stop.

The questions stop.

And all that can be heard is the thunder of the flags as they violently thrash as two men hold each other’s gaze.

LGBTQ+ Oppression: Oh Let Me Count the Ways

I can’t believe I have to do this, but over the course of the past year (you know, while surviving a pandemic), I’ve had a number of straight friends/family ask, “How is the LGBTQ+ community oppressed in the United States?”

The question has come around the recent ruling over the summer from the Supreme Court that gave further protections to LGBTQ+ people in relation to employment.

Personally, I love questions from my straight friends. I truly do. But when they’re seeking understanding.

When I was asked this question again and again, it was rarely asked with genuine curiosity (because if there was genuine curiosity, they would do research and educate themselves and quickly learn there’s a lot of discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in the United States in spite of legislation). It’s asked with accusation.

Before I continue, I want to own the fact that I carry a lot of privilege.

I’m a white cis man. I will never need to have a conversation with one of my kids about how to not get shot by a police. I will not have to worry if my male peers are getting paid more than me for less work. I will not need to have anxiety about revealing my birth sex and getting assaulted.

My goal is not to say, “Oh woe is me for being gay!” This isn’t a “Who has it harder?” competition. My goal is to simply explain that just because LGBTQ+ U.S. Americans got marriage rights in 2015, just because they got further protections in the summer of 2020, doesn’t mean oppression stops.

Just because desegregation of schools was mandated, doesn’t mean oppression of BIPOC people stopped in the public school system. Just because women got the vote doesn’t mean that their voices are equally heard in board rooms. Just because a governor listened to the people around trans rights, doesn’t change the fact that they’re still the most likely to commit suicide.

Legislation and judicial rulings and executive orders don’t change hearts.

With this in mind, below you will first find stats, data, and stories from other people who have recently experienced oppression for being LGBTQ+. Then, I will share elements of my own story and how I have experienced oppression as a gay man. My ultimate goal is to provide one webpage where you can refer people who genuinely want to educate themselves on LGBTQ+ oppression that continues to perpetuate itself in the U.S. today.

Oppression of LGBTQ+ people in the United States:

  1. LGB youth are five times as likely to commit suicide in comparison to their straight peers.
  2. Forty percent of trans people attempt suicide.
  3. If a person who is gay or lesbian comes from a religious background, they are more likely than their non-religious queer peers to attempt suicide.
  4. Twenty-six percent of LGBT youth are forced from their homes after coming out.
  5. LGBTQ+ people are 120 percent more likely to be homeless than their straight peers — of those that are homeless in the U.S. 40 percent are LGBTQ+.
  6. Thirty-six percent of LGBT people do not reveal who their partners are in the workplace for fear of people’s reactions.
  7. Sixty-six percent of trans individuals experience sexual assault in their life that is often coupled with physical violence.
  8. Trans individuals are banned from the U.S. military, a strategy that is labeled as not discriminatory because trans people are not “mentally stable” for service and cause an unnecessary “financial burden.”
  9. Hate crimes, murder, and violence against queer people continue to occur in spite of hate-crime legislation.
  10. Even though the FDA has recently changed its position on gay and bisexual men from giving blood, gay and bisexual are still banned from donating if they are sexually active, regardless of if they are monogamous or not.
  11. In spite of the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2020, religious organizations can still fire someone for being LGBTQ+ due to protections under religious liberty.
  12. Depending on what state an LGBTQ+ person lives in, they can be discriminated against and barred from adoption.
  13. LGBTQ+ people are viewed as sexual deviants and child molesters when a recent study showed all offenders were either straight (the majority) or bisexual (severe minority).

The list could continue, but I think you get the point.

LGBTQ+ people are still marginalized and discriminated against for something they cannot change. But these are not just data points. Behind each percentage and case are real people — people experiencing oppression on a daily occurrence.

To get an understanding of how this may play out, here are some pieces of my story — pieces that, if I were straight, I wouldn’t experience.

Moments of oppression I have experienced personally as a gay man:

  1. When I was outed by my parents, I seriously considered suicide and was threatened with being ousted out of my parent’s home at the age of 16.
  2. Before coming out, I knew I would lose a career I had been working on since I was 16 — ministry. I left youth pastoring and missions work and needed to start over at the age of 25. I’m now graduating college at the age of 31 because I had to find a new career and education that would support that.
  3. The majority of my support system was found in the evangelical world. I went to Bible school, worked with churches, did YWAM. After coming out, I had to rebuild my support system. I couldn’t go to my parents about my relationship problems — they would be silent. I couldn’t go to most of my old friends — they would say I would need to repent to be saved. I was alone.
  4. As a gay person, I always have to monitor my behavior. Growing up, I couldn’t “look gay” for fear of being bullied. When in a relationship, my boyfriend and I couldn’t kiss, hold hands or even sit to close to each other for fear of ridicule. One time, when walking down the street, not even holding hands, we were called “Faggots!” for walking too close to each other.
  5. I have to reconsider my entire wedding. My parents will likely not be attending. Most of my friends who I grew up with will not attend as well for fear of “endorsing my sin.” If they do come, I have to wonder if they ACTUALLY support me. For example: if I have a marriage problem down the road and I come to them for help, will they actually fight for my marriage? Or will they secretly be hoping I’ll divorce my partner to save my soul?
  6. I must monitor/research my travel. I love traveling, but there are certain countries I simply should not go to for fear of my life. There are even certain parts of the U.S. I wouldn’t travel to with a future partner for fear of my safety.
  7. I have to be mindful of where I receive health care because I’ve been shamed for being gay and I have been more knowledgable than my provider about resources for my wellbeing as a queer person.
  8. While working for a Christian software company (yes… they exist…), I had to hide my sexual identity for fear of how my boss would react or how people would interpret me. And while I can’t confirm this suspicion, straight peers were able to support their spouse and kids while working at this company, when my salary would not be able to do that. I couldn’t even buy a home on that salary, let alone provide for dependents. Even though I was the highest producer on my team, I was receiving one of the lowest salaries.
  9. As a future English teacher, I have to be mindful about which district I choose because I have friends who have faced discrimination for their sexual orientation. Most of my friends who are educators are forced back into the closet, whether explicitly or implicitly for fear of how parents or faculty would respond.
  10. Because I’m gay, I’m viewed as a sexual deviant. I have multiple friends who were serving in youth ministry or working with kids who were called pedophiles and told to die by parents (yes, you read that right) because there is a false misconception that LGBTQ+ people are all child rapists when most child molesters are actually rarely gay. In fact, in this study, none of the sexual offenders were gay.
  11. I have to hide my romantic life. Period. The other day I mentioned a cute boy to my parents. My dad left the room, and my mom deterred me, rather than getting excited with me (which I know she would with a girl because she had in the past). One time I got into an all-out screaming match with a friend because I made a comment about not being attracted to women.
  12. I will never be able to have my own kids. This one is kind of a given, but it’s something that people forget. I will never have a mini-Brandon running around that is also the DNA of my partner without a TON of money and nerve-wracking science. So the solution to having kids is adoption. But if I do decide to adopt, I have a sinking terror that my children will be bullied or that they will be broken in some way because they don’t have a mom and dad (compliments of the rhetoric of my parents and upbringing in the church), even though the data out there doesn’t support this belief.
  13. No matter how much work I do on myself — no matter how much therapy, no matter how much social advocacy, no matter how much theological research — people will always think my soul is tainted and that I’m going to hell. And this is probably the one that hurts the most because this transcends my physical experience — this touches my eternity, my inherent value. It touches the very substance of who I am am as a human, a substance God calls REALLY GOOD, and twists that narrative to call me evil, twisted, perverted, wrong. From the same voices that tearfully sing, “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me,” come the voices of “love the sinner; hate the sin;” voices that bar me from grace and love. That’s the one that stings the most. I could take the harassment, the barring from adoption and job opportunities, even the opportunity to marry, if I knew my spiritual family — a family who proclaims love — would love and support me in spite of what the world says. The shame here is that the “world” has been doing a better job of loving than the church has, and it’s pushing queer people and allies alike from her arms — arms that should be embracing and holding and proclaiming the Father’s eternal love over His beloved children, queer and straight alike. Those are the arms that I wish most would hold me close, but instead turn me away, and that is the greatest oppression I have ever felt.

Greetings, Fellow Wanderer

I stumbled upon an old sermon of mine.

Yes, believe it or not, I used to be a pastor in another life. Of middle schoolers. Not adults. Absolutely not. You couldn’t pay me enough.

But, yes, that’s right, someone thought it was a good idea to put 19-year-old Brandon in charge of youths.

For three years, I served at The Springs Church, working with smelly, pimple-y, and rambunctious 11-13-year-olds … and I loved every second of it like a psychopath.

But this isn’t about how I chased children around an unfinished church in camo, commanding them to renounce their faith (that’s another story, one I will probably never share) or that one time I put a kid who couldn’t swim in an inflatable pirate ship in the middle of a pond like a dumbass.

Nope. None of those stories for legal reasons.

This story is about a sermon. (And this is where I lost all the ADHD friends who drew during the sermons. Yes, I’m referring to myself.)

In the sermon, I talked about Peter. I know. Super original. And about him walking on water. Even more original. And about him denying Jesus. Again. Super. Original.

But when I stumbling upon the CD this sermon of Peter was recorded on, my first reaction was to throw it away, thinking who the hell keeps CD’s. But for some weird reason, I felt a strong caution in my gut. Maybe Jesus? Maybe the Taco Bell. But I’ve come to a place in my life where if there’s a chance it might be divine, I just go for it and hope for the best. Maybe that’s a good strategy. Maybe it’s not. I don’t know. I’m trying as best I can to try and hear Jesus again. Back to the story.

So I kept the CD and tried to recollect the sermon because, again, I don’t have a CD player.

From what I remember, I started with Peter claiming he’s the best disciple. He had zeal and passion. He threw himself out of the boat and walked on water to prove himself. To prove he was worthy. To prove he would have faith that could shake mountains like the Teacher said.

Nearly got him killed.

But then we fast forward to another moment in a boat. Another time Peter sees Jesus. And this time, he has nothing to prove. He’s been found faulty, found broken. His faith, his love, is fractured. And he knows it. In fact, when Jesus asks him if he “agapes” Him (loves Him unconditionally), Peter says, “Jesus you know I ‘phileo’ you (I’m probably fucking up the Greek. It’s been a while. And even then, I didn’t have an education. I used the internet like every other evangelical mega-church pastor).”

He knows that in the depths of his being his love is not perfect.

But when He sees Jesus cooking up some fish on the shore, he no longer has anything to prove. He knows his condition.

He throws himself out of the boat.

Peter, the one who denied Jesus’ existence, puts on his clothes (it makes me wonder if he thought he would walk on water), throws himself into the water, doesn’t float this time, sinks, isn’t deterred, doesn’t question the reasons as to why not this time and why last time, and he starts swimming.

And there, by the coals, eating fish with the one he loved, smiling and savoring his final moments with his best friend, soaked, I think he remembered Jesus’ words before this whole shitshow began.

“You will betray me. You will fail. You need to. You need to turn away. So that you can lead those who have left me or back. Back to the love. Because you, above everyone else, will know that your love is broken and sloppy and very conditional. But I love it still. I love. It. Still. And I promise my love will be unconditional and perfect. You’ll know it in the depths of your being. Because the only way my love can be unconditional is if it is loved by a love of conditions. At times my love will be confusing and off. Sometimes you walk on water and other times your swimming your ass to shore. But it’s good. I promise it’s good. And you’ll know that because you’ll walk away.”

I walked away.

After being a missionary abroad, after getting on a mic, shouting to Germans that Jesus saves and that He made me straight (Newsflash: he didn’t), after I saw miracles and not miracles, after I spent my soul on Jesus, I came back and denied Him. Hated Him. Loathed Him. And above all, I did not trust Him.

It was in that space, that space of denial by the fires of the High Priest in shadows of confusion and contempt, that my sexuality could finally dare to surface from the depths, gasping for starved air.

I think people would look at this and say that my sexuality is definitely sinful because it came to the light in a time of rebellion. I thought that too. But talking about it with Jesus, I know that’s not the case.

Just like Peter, that time needed to happen. Otherwise, my sexuality would not have broken from the bonds I put it in. It would be begging for breath in the depths of who I am, thrashing and heaving.

But unchained, on the surface, face cleared of seaweed, and skin kissed with the sun of the day, I can bring that piece of me to Jesus, and Jesus can kiss him with delight. Pure, unconditional delight.

“You will betray me, Brandon. I’m not scared. It has to happen. Otherwise, you would never let me love this piece of you. Sure, you have questions and doubts and your love is sloppy and soggy and broken. But I love it. I love you, and this would have never happened if you didn’t walk away.”

I don’t know where you are in your faith journey. I don’t know if you are the eager believer who shouts “Jesus loves you” at a coffee shop full of worship pastors and their moleskins or the cynical saint sitting at the bar, full of doubt and short on faith. But if you’re the latter, I want to say you’re not lost. You’re on a journey.

If there really is a God who is Love, which I truly and firmly believe with an untrue and unfirm heart, He sees you; He’s not scared or concerned like that one family member. He’s patient. He is kind. And this part of your journey is important, critical even.

“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sit not down first, and count the cost, whether you have sufficient supplies to finish it? Lest haply, after you have laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who behold it will mock you, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’”

You’re just making sure this is something you want to finish, counting and running estimates, wondering if this whole circus is for real. Maybe part of it is real. And that part is good and right. Maybe it’s all a wash and poppycock.

Regardless, He sees you. He’s not done with you. And He’s not going anywhere.

And when you’re ready, with your pathetic faith and skeptical heart, He’ll be ready. And you’ll be better for it. I know I am … Most days.

Much love, my fellow wonderer. Safe travels. Better yet, important travels.

A Letter to My Younger Self

A quick intro…

Being gay, you don’t have a “gay dad.” Well… you have daddies, but that’s something totally different. What I mean is, there isn’t like some magic mentor you just automatically get after you come out. I wish gay fairy godparents were a thing. But this Cinderella is just sitting in a mushy pumpkin.

Here’s what I mean: as a guy, you have your dad who can help you figure out how to date women. But what about when you’re trying to date a dude? As a woman, you have a mom that can help you figure out how to put on makeup but teach you that you’re more than you appearance and stand up for yourself in patriarchal society. But what about trans men? As a person of color, you have Black parents or a Black parent that can tell you what it means to be Black in the United States and what you do when you get pulled over to make sure you’re gonna be okay.

But what about LGBTQ+ persons? Who do we “inherit” as parents to show us the way we should go (to quote a Bible verse)? Who shepherds us in the night and tells us how to date and transition and have sex and come out and how to navigate our faith when there are versus that look like they’re saying we’re going to hell?

The sheer lack of parental figures (whether by ignorance or complete absence) is pretty troubling. We’re left trying to figure out how to live with our sexual and gender identities alone in the dark, unsure of how to proceed. And that’s hard. Really hard, sometimes.

So I decided to write my younger self a letter, in an attempt to process some parenting I wish I had, and maybe, just maybe, allow it to be a signpost to younger LGBTQ+ persons who are trying to figure this out, stumbling through that dark forest called life.

With that in mind, this post will be very personal, direct, and sometimes explicit. It’s gonna talk about things I wish I knew about, like coming out and sex and my body, mind and spirit and who the heck pays when you go on a first date. Some of it may not be helpful for you, especially if you’re a straight person. But if you choose to keep reading, my hope is that it will empower you to be a little breadcrumb when you encounter a lost queer child on their journey.

And with that, we begin…

———————–

My dear Brandon,

I know you’re scared. I know you think no one understands. But I do. I see you. I see you scared and confused on what to do with all these feelings inside you. It’s okay. You’re okay. You’re more than okay. You’re perfect and safe. Just where you are. But more than you being okay, you’re liked. I like you. A lot. I think you’re pretty great.

I want to take some time and tell you a few things that I wish other people had told me when I was your age. It would have meant the world, and I don’t want the same thing that happened to me to happen to you. Okay?

First and foremost. You are not broken. Your sexuality isn’t because of some trauma in your past or because you didn’t like sports or because you ate lettuce sandwiches as a kid and there wasn’t enough protein in your diet. It just is. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay. It’s really beautiful. It may be really hard to handle some days. I get that. And you are right, a lot of people you currently know are not going to respond well. But it DOES get better. With this in mind, I want to take some time to give you some practical help on how to navigate this whole thing. I know it’s not easy. Maybe, with these words, your journey won’t be as hard to navigate. With that said, I want you to do a few things:

  1. Learn to love and accept all of who you are, especially your sexual identity. It’s not a sin to do it. God sees and loves all of you. Be His hands and feet and love yourself. But I don’t want you to take my word for it.
  2. Go read some books on progressive theology. A great place to start is The Reformation Project. They have a ton of resources, and they exist to educate people on how your theology can be affirming of homosexuality. But regardless of resources, take some time (And don’t get impatient. I know how you are. I promise you it’s worth doing the work.) to REALLY think about how you feel theologically about your sexuality. It’s not enough for me to believe it for you. You have to believe it in the depths of your being. Because if you don’t, the opinions of people are going to wreck you. You don’t need to prove this to anyone else. Just you.
  3. Don’t fall in love or give your heart to anyone till you come out to yourself first. If you do, you’ll end up coming out for them. It’s not for them. It’s for you and God. Then, once you’re out to yourself, you can bring another person into the equation. Why? Because you may come out for the wrong reasons. You may come out for a boy. And if he doesn’t measure up to the pain you’re experiencing as a result of coming out, you’re going to resent him. You’ll want him to be perfect so that your relationship with him will compensate for all the loss in your life. On top of that if he’s not out, you’ll think it’s not fair. Come out for you and only you. It’s a beautiful act of love that you can bestow on yourself and a brilliant act of trust with God.
  4. Don’t come out all at once. Do it with a few people that you’re pretty sure are going to respond well. And I know what you’re thinking: “Who in my life will be okay with this?” They’re there. I promise. You’ll be surprised by who ends up being the ones that stick around, and they’re going to become some of your best friends. But more than that, they’re going to be the ones you turn to when everyone else responds poorly. Which brings me to my next point…
  5. Don’t waste your time where you’re tolerated; go where you’re celebrated. You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone. And if you feel like you have to, you’re in the wrong place. Christ has already approved of you. Don’t spit on his sacrifice by seeking the approval of others. Just be true to you and lean into all that you are. If you don’t, the world is missing out on something very beautiful and bright. As the good book says, “Don’t hide your light under a rock,” and don’t place yourself near hot bags of air that are just trying to blow you out. You’re worth more, and the world needs to see that light. With that in mind…
  6. Some of your friends may not theologically line up exactly where you want them to. That’s okay. As long as they can:
    1. Celebrate you and get excited with you when you’re dating someone
    2. Stand with you on your wedding day
    3. Fight for your marriage when it’s going down the tubes

Honestly, if they can do all those things, then it doesn’t really matter where they land theologically. They’re loving you well, and they’re worth keeping around. But if they think you’re going to hell, you’ll see that nasty weed pop up everywhere. It’s an undercurrent that bleeds into every interaction, and you’ll smell it.

Now for some nitty gritty things that may seem like TMI. But one, you’ll thank me for it, and two, you and I both know that there’s never too much information. You love it all. Especially the weird stuff. Quit pretending.

  1. After you’ve figured out your theology around sexuality, figure out your sexual ethic. News flash, guys are horny. And now, you’ve got a group of guys all dating each other. So things go from “Sup?” to sex real quick. Crazy, right? But the Christians are just as crazy because they don’t believe in dating. And I know you also don’t think dating should be a thing, but it’s because you’re gay. Relationships don’t actually work that way. But not dating is convenient for you because you’re closeted, and to everyone else you look like a good Christian boy. Well you ain’t fooling me. And if you don’t believe me that you need to date, remember that “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” guy? Yeah. He’s divorced, an atheist, and apologizing to the millions of people who are now in therapy because they can’t experience pleasure in bed even after they’re married. Figure out what makes sense to you — something that honors yourself, the other person, and your faith in Jesus.
  2. Date a lot. Do not fall for the first guy that gives you attention. And this won’t be a problem if you are doing the hard work of loving and accepting yourself. I’m trying right now, but we’ve got a lot of baggage to take to the dump in the future. We didn’t make the best choices and we’ve got some trauma to unpack. In the meantime, set up lots of dates with lots of different guys so that you can decide what you like in a partner. You only get this time once. Enjoy it and figure out who you are before you jump into a long-term relationship with someone.
  3. Find a progressive church… STAT! You may have to move. You may have to travel. But it is worth it, and they are some of the kindest, warmest, honest humans you will ever meet. And I know what you’re thinking: “But if they don’t go to my mega church, they probably aren’t even Christian.” Wrong! They’re actually wrestling with the oddity that is the Bible. And yes, it is odd. There’s a God who is love at the back of the book that commands genocide at the beginning of the book… that includes women and children. It’s complicated. Own that and just TRY going to a progressive church. You’ll thank me for it later and your faith and mental health will thank you in return.
  4. DO NOT GO HAVING SEX WITH SOME RANDO ON CRAIGSLIST OR GRINDR!!! In fact, never go on that site or download that app. EVER. Because sex is like Pringles — once you pop, you just can’t stop, and you will not stop. Listen. Sex is GREAT. But you want to do it with someone that you love. If you don’t, you’re going to interpret sex as something that is NOT love. You’ll view it as something cheap, as something that’s more of a commodity to trade than an expression of intimacy. How do I know? Because I’m your future self and that’s me now. Save us both some money on therapy and STI tests and trust me on this one. It is NOT worth it. Plus, your first time is not that great anyway. Might as well share that awkward, humiliating moment with someone you actually trust. Speaking of awkward moments… we’re about to have one…
  5. Have penetrative sex with yourself first. Yup. I went there. Listen, being the receiving participant in sex is tricky. And if you don’t trust the person you’re with or if you’re scared, it shows up in your body. In other words, your booty hole gets tight and sex does not feel good. Do some research. Get some toys. Get a douche. Find out what you like. Yes, all the Christians say that masturbation is from Satan. We know. We’ve spent many a youth group talking about it and coming up with code words for it. But there’s actually not a single verse on masturbation. Just lust. So think of bridges or something while you’re doing it, and you’re in the clear.
  6. Find LGBTQ+ Christian friends and JUST be friends. You’ll need them and a cocktail every so often because there will be times that no one understands you, but those people will. You’ll go from not being able to articulate yourself well with anyone to simply saying, “guuurl,” and they’ll know exactly what you’re going through. On that note, I have another one that you’ll have to do…
  7. Kill the homophobia inside you. You have been taught to look manly (whatever that means) and perform gender roles that aren’t event Biblical. It’s as if you act feminine, you’re less than. Newsflash: women are strong as hell, giving life to the world while fighting to have a place of significance in this misogynistic world that continually stacks the cards against them. They’re powerful. Who cares if you have some feminine qualities. The world could use a bit more femininity. After all, 96% of all murders are perpetrated by men… just saying. And regarding the gays. LGBTQ+ people are some of the most resilient humans you will ever meet. Yes, some of them are mad as hell and bitchy. But you would be too (and will be for a bit) because of the pain they’ve had to endure. You try not being pissy after seeing all your friends die during a pandemic that sweeps throughout the nation while everyone ignores you or jeers at you with signs that say, “God hates fags.” It’s not easy. Which brings me to my next point…
  8. Learn your history. You don’t have a dad or a mom that was gay, and the United States likes to think that gay people don’t exist, so it’s tricky to find your history. But it’s there, and it’s important to understand where you come from. It doesn’t mean it defines you, but you’re inheriting that history, whether you want to or not. So do some research. There’s actually a ton out there, but a great place to start is The Deviant’s War. Speaking of books…
  9. Read The Velvet Rage. It helps you understand shame and how that plays out in an LGBTQ+ person’s life, not to mention this terrible thing called second adolescence. In short, people call it the gay Bible. No, that’s not blasphemous. Calm down.

Alright, I need to wrap this up fast since I know you hate reading (even though you love writing… what the hell???).

Above all, Brandon, know that there is no height, no length, no depth; there’s no angel or demon or demented pastor that can separate you from the love of God. Believe that. If you can’t trust a single thing I say, trust this: you’re God is big enough. If you’re in the wrong, He’s big enough to speak up, to intervene, to rescue you. If He can’t, why are we worshiping Him? But the truth is He is that big. And even if you are horribly wrong, He’s faithful to save. So trust and start this journey. It’s worth it. Even when it’s really hard and painful, it’s worth it.

I love you. So much. I’m so sorry for the times I haven’t. I’m so sorry that I joined in the voices of everyone else when I should have been your biggest cheerleader. You’re fantastic, and I am so proud of you. Knock ‘em dead tiger. You’ve got this. Because we both know you’re one stubborn SOB.

With sincerity,

Your 30-year old self (yeah… we made it to 30… I know, I’m surprised too)

Reneging on My Six… Maybe

A while back, I wrote I was a counter-phobic, sexual six. If you’re not an enneagram nerd like myself, no, I’m not having sex with six people.

In short, a sexual six is scared and presents courageous to prove to themself and others they’re able to beat anything.

I promise I’m getting to sappy, personal stuff like I normally do in a moment. But first I need a witty lead-in to reveal myself.

When I first heard of the enneagram, it was in passing by my friend, Taylor, like five years ago, before it was actually cool. He shared how a friend told him about it, and how it’s all about your deepest fears and wounds.

That got my attention, for reasons that’ll make more sense if you’re ARE an enneagram nerd like myself.

He shared how he was a two and how he loved to get love in return. He then shared how the test was a big deal for his friend because it revealed a deep secret: he believed he was inherently flawed and wanted to be rescued.

I was halfway paying attention, mainly because I can be selfish, and I didn’t really see how this was about me (sorry, Taylor). But when he talked about his friend, I remember thinking, “Other people feel like that too?”

His friend is a four.

Ever since I could remember, I’ve wanted to be rescued.

I’d run away to the end of the street when I was spanked, wishing someone would drive by and take me away. I’d walk the fence at school, hoping someone would see me and come to me. In middle school, we’d craft foam swords and fight each other. I was always the captured prince needing to be rescued. One time my friends even put me in a dog kennel as my prison. It felt oddly safe and right, as fucked up as that sounds.

By high school, I learned that wanting to be rescued as a guy wasn’t cool or manly, at least, that’s what Eldridge said. “Every man desires a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue.”

… uh… question: what if we want to be rescued? Never mind. I’m gonna sit back down.

Over the years, I stuffed down my desire to be rescued. I acted strong and independent. I’d sit on the side of the school, looking out at the other boys, hoping one would come talk to me and rescue me from my pain and loneliness. But if anyone asked if I was okay, I’d get angry and say I was fine. After all, boys don’t need to be rescued. I’m supposed to be doing the teaching. I’m supposed to be tough and strong, not needing anyone or caring about anything. An emotionless rock.

Or so I thought.

I’m not sure when I made the promise to myself or at what point I decided to go about this all differently, but somewhere along the way, I started moving towards things I feared to look like I could do more than handle myself. I could take on anything.

I signed up to do a missionary training program where you get kidnapped and have to kill a goat and get fake murdered. But that school got shut down (I wonder why), so I went to the next best thing: a Christian leadership academy built around the methodology of the military, equipped with its own hell week. We prided ourselves in “beating our body and making it our slave,” (yes, that’s a Bible verse) and “doing all things through Christ who strengthens me” (especially the hard stuff). After that, I ran a ministry by myself for three years, not having any clue what I was doing, but I was capable and the Lord would provide. Right? I flew across the world to Haiti and Germany and India with no friends or family, to show I could do the hard things. When that was done, I hitchhiked through Europe just because the idea terrified me.

Anything I could do to prove to myself that I didn’t need anyone to rescue me, I could save myself, I did.

But lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling helpless, that yearning to be rescued crawls to the surface.

In spite of all my endeavors to look strong and independent and prove I didn’t need anyone, this thing in my chest, this thing latched to my bones, this thing to be saved by someone else screams to be heard.

Through all the years, the thing I wanted more than anything in the world was for someone to not be fooled by all the bullshit I hide behind, all the fake courage, and to see the scared little boy that just wanted to be rescued. The boy who believes he’s irreparably broken and unworthy of anything except standing in the mud as it rains, alone. And yet, in spite of the belief that they’re not good enough, a yearning for someone to see me, take me in, and keep me warm.

I know this doesn’t sound manly. I know this looks weak. And that’s what probably scares me the most: I don’t want to show this piece of me because it feels so scary, so vulnerable. So much so that even as I’m typing these words, I’m thinking of people reaching out to me or calling me on it, and me pretending like it was just some emotional, midnight blog post. They shouldn’t think anything of it. Because if they do, I’ll feel infinitely exposed, and in the past, when I’ve been exposed, I’ve been hurt. I’ve been called too much or too sensitive, and eventually pushed away.

Lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling my helplessness and wanting someone to rescue me, I feel guilty. Guilty that I don’t turn to God and say, “You know what? You’ve saved me! You’ve rescued me from all my fears! Hallelujah!” (Insert hand wave and stopping foot.)

But lying here with a fever, unable to sleep, feeling my helplessness and wanting someone to rescue me, I hear God prompting me when I push down these truths. “Nope. Don’t hide that. Not from me. I see it. Say it. Say all of it. Every word that you’d rather me not know, every emotion that feels like betrayal, g it to me. Let me hear it.”

The fact is: He did save me. But that doesn’t change how I feel. That doesn’t change how much I’d rather a human rescue me, than Him. It doesn’t change the fact that it meant the world when I walked outside to “be alone” and a man came outside looking for me. It felt like a long-withheld inhale. It doesn’t change the fact that when I was in pain and reeling last week and yelling at a friend in a bar, trying to defend myself and stand my ground, that what I really wanted was someone to step between us and defend me.

That means so much. That matters so much.

When my friends know something was likely hard or they call me on my bullshit, I feel seen and known and like I matter. When my family says, “Oh! That makes sense!” in relation to my sexuality and the struggle I have as a gay Christian man, I feel known.

And that’s what I ultimately want: to be known, past my façade.

I try to be authentic, but I put it out there with this, “Yeah that’s me! Deal with it!” (as most fours do). I don’t present myself with a naked heart, laid bare and exposed to the world because that is risky. That’s scary as hell. Because what if someone attacks you and your vulnerability? Or worse, they don’t even see it and acknowledge it?

But how is someone supposed to be rescued if no one knows they need help?

I think what I’m learning, again and again, is that, in spite of me not feeling it, it’s in my vulnerability that God can prove Himself rescuer, and in doing so, make me genuinely strong.

That doesn’t change the fact that I desperately want a partner that can see past my bullshit, who can actually see me, who can be strong for me when I desperately yearn to be weak.

But even writing that here is vulnerability, and I’ve learned that that’s where God can work.

Final thing, and then I’ll shut up. I am CONVINCED that things would have been different if Adam and Eve would have stepped forward from their hiding when God called for them. But they hid. They covered their nakedness, their vulnerability.

God is the “I Am.” How is He supposed to step into communion, to show up as the “I Am” when we’re hiding.

He yearns for us to say, “Here I Am,” when He asks, “Where are you?”

Right here. In the wake of the consequences of my decisions. In the wake of me not trusting Your word. In the place where I believed a lie over Truth. This is where I am. Right here. Here I am.

It’s a millennia later, and He’s still asking the same question, and He’s looking for people who will remember we are made in His likeness.

The Great I Am asks us to align with who He is and say, “Here I Am.”

Here I am, God. All of me. Especially the icky, fucked up parts. The scared parts. The irreparably broken parts. The parts begging to be rescued.

Here I am. Save me.

Purpose and the Politician

I spent a few days in Texas. For those of you who don’t know, I went to a Christian leadership school called Teen Mania’s Honor Academy. Acquire the Fire and all that Jazz. In spite of the trauma that was our education, or rather because of it, I came out of there with some amazing friends and memories—one of whom was getting married. Thus the trip to Dallas, Texas.

But as I’m sitting there, watching my beautiful friend get married, surrounded by our old friends from school, I wonder, “Who will be at my wedding? Would any of these people come?”

The thought sent me to the car where I pounded back two hard ciders where a crazy man was walking the center of the street yelling at passerby’s, and I pretended to be talking to someone on my phone because the anxiety of friendless weddings was overshadowed the the anxiety of the stranger man coming at me for not giving him a cider. **Reads back over previous sentence, wondering if that’s actually a complete sentence, and pats back for one long-ass sentence.**

No one really talks about the cost of being gay these days. Which is great! Because there are happier things. There’s gay prom and lesbian marriages and trans-visibility day and surrogate mothers and adopted children.

We’ve come a long way… but it’s still hard.

It’s ended friendships; it’s parentless weddings; it’s no babies that you and your partner create; it’s reaching for your partner’s hand in public and wondering if people care, and it’s getting kicked out of churches and evangelical spaces, spaces you found a lot of purpose and belonging and passion…

I watched the Politician tonight. If you haven’t watched it, do it. It’s a stroke of genius. But as I’m watching, the main character, Payton Hobart, is depressed and hopeless while playing the piano in a local bar and it’s because he lost access to his passion. To deal with the loss, he killed any hope of returning to the very thing that gave him life: politics.

I’m not political. At least not like Payton. I’m not sure if anyone is as political as Payton. But to steal one of those annoying pages from those middle school grammar books: Payton is to politics as Brandon is to ministry.

Stressing to sell out an event. Staying up till four to set up a stadium. Kneeling in the snow as a fake Jesus in a skit you’ve done for the 200th time. Praying with a stranger. Holding a dying woman’s hand. Laughing and spooning friends you met three months ago, but you’d call them family. Talking with a kid over coffee about Jesus. Leading a congregation in worship.

All of it. I miss it.

When I came out, I felt as though I was disqualified from all of it. It was as though I was sacrificing all of these things related to ministry and family and friends for the sake of love, which is why I felt like my relationship needed to be perfect. If it wasn’t, why was I giving all of this up?

Watching Payton Hobart come alive while debating politics made me miss the things that make me come alive, the things I feel so disqualified from.

“My people perish for lack of vision.” It’s a verse… somewhere in the Bible. I could go look it up, but I’d rather keep writing.

I feel that. I feel a perishing or squandering in myself that yearns to wake up and feel and know it’s worth living, to know it’s doing something only it can do, a sense of purpose and destiny. I miss destiny. I miss believing every word and movement had intention, a kiss of the eternal, and not something passing and wasteful. I miss that.

I yearn for a kiss of destiny, to burn again.

How does one get fire back when life has thrown snow and rain on not only the embers but the wood and coal? How do we rekindle the flame?

I miss that Brandon. I want him back.

No Man’s Land

In Lady Montague’a “Turkish Embassy Letters” she describes a people group in South Eastern Europe, during the Ottoman Empire. They existed between Islamic nations and Christian nations. Out of fear, they kept both holy days, refusing to work on both Friday’s and Sunday’s.

I resonate with that—binding yourself to fear so intimately you live in two worlds instead of one, two realities instead of one, caught at a crossroad, committed to nothing, becoming a citizen to this space between countries: no man’s land.

———————

I’ve been depressed lately. About four weeks to be exact.

I’m not positive of the catalyst. What I do know is that I’ve been paralyzed by fear, watching as much Netflix as possible, so I can just not feel for the next x amount of episodes. (I’ve nearly watched all of Grace and Frankie, and finding a new show is really hard!)

The amount of nights committed to ice cream and television is abhorrent. I need to get homework done.

But it’s hard to live. If I’m being honest. It’s hard to live when it feels like an elephant is stepping on your chest. Makes it hard to breathe.

I came out 3.5 years ago, and if I’m honest, it hasn’t “gotten easier.” It’s gotten harder.

Being gay isn’t easy. There are some days I wish I never came out. Not because I want to hide the truth but because it doesn’t feel true most days.

Most days I deal with imposter syndrome, like someone gave me a script I’m not familiar with and I’m fumbling through the lines. I don’t get being gay. It doesn’t fit, like an oversized, hand-me-down sweater.

I can’t do the drag shows or the hyper sexuality or the open relationships or the club scene or the death after thirty or the gym-ing or the kinks or the sex on the first date or the need to be fashionable and interesting.

I don’t like any of it. It doesn’t fit.

But then I attend an old church and they feel like clothes that shrunk in the wash.

The with-every-head-bowed-and-every-eye-closed faith that doesn’t amount to anything, the come-Lord-Jesus-come’s when He said He’ll never leave us nor forsake us, the mini-money sermon before the plate passes, the every-one-is-welcome-but-not-really, the bless-you’s and shake-the-hand-of-the-person-next-to-you. I can’t take any more of it.

It’s like when I came out of the closet I looked behind the curtain of church and all the churches feel fake, the Bible feels like a weapon, and Christians feel like vacuum salesmen who are selling a product they don’t believe in but they’re terrified of not making their quota.

But I get it.

I’m terrified of Hell. I’m terrified of wasting my life. I’m terrified of being gay. I’m terrified of marrying a woman. I’m terrified of marrying a man. I’m terrified of being a father. I’m terrified of doing anything or believing anything.

I’m paralyzed.

So what do I do? I honor both days. I don’t do anything on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

I’m exhausted. Like feel-it-in-my-bones exhausted. Like God-please-take-me-home exhausted.

In my cult school down in Texas, we did an activity where staff members pretended to be a hostile government while we students were persecuted Christians. The role-playing led to my friends being thrown in jail (a camp shower house). I was supposed to rush the door, but a man with an automatic paint-ball gun stood between me and the door. Instead of rushing him, smacking his gun away, and freeing my friends like some Christian McGiver, I slunk away.

That moment haunts me. It haunts me because it reminds me of what’s happening again and again: I’m to scared to throw myself at either country: gay or Christian, and you best believe people will tell you can’t have dual citizenship. Both countries are separated by a big Trump wall and missiles pointed at each other, just waiting for any excuse to jump on the other.

The two identities i carry within me are at war with each other, not just externally in the world around me, but inside me as well, and I don’t fit into either of them anymore, and I’m scared as hell in this no-man’s land.

I just want to be comfortable in my own skin, to know and believe who I am, who God is, and be unapologetic about it. But I can’t find a mirror or God, so I’m a bit fucked at the moment. So I’ll watch this really cool movie where a nerd falls in love with Arya with cancer, because I would rather feel that than feel this unresolved mess of confusion that is my life.

Netflix: your next episode starts in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

How Can I be Gay and Christian — A Look into My Methodology

In recent news, there’s been a convergence of two major groups: Christians and the LGBTQ+ population, two groups that are normally at odds with one another. These animosities are beginning to reach a boiling point as more and more entities are choosing to create space for both identities, challenging the conception that they are incongruent.

An openly gay Christian man is hoping to become the Democratic party’s presidential candidate for 2020; a gay Christian dating app is hitting the market this year; and some Methodist churches are fighting against a recent vote within their denomination, a vote which labels homosexuality as a sin.

As I share these stories, I know there are individuals and communities alike who are angry. The reason I know this is because I’ve experienced it. As I came out as a gay Christian, friends threatened hell, parents left the room, and strangers blasted me about how I’m not actually a Christian. Even with the launch of this post, comments have soared on social media with people arguing vehemently their point and how they’re right.

When Mayor Pete Buttigieg, an openly gay Christian man, announced his intention to run for president, crowds screamed “Sodom and Gomorrah,” and major Christian figures like Franklin Graham demanded his repentance. Side note: why hasn’t Graham demanded repentance from other presidential candidates for fraud, embezzlement, infidelity, lying, or pride? I digress.

It’s as if the words “queer” and “Christian” are combustible, but instead of a chemical reaction, there’s an explosion of emotion and opinion.

But why? Why the knee-jerk anger, especially from a people whom Jesus said are supposed to be known by their love? Why is it that I’ve seen multiple YouTube videos of Christian parents throwing out their gay children, while I’ve never seen a Christian parent throw a coming out party for their child? Why is it that, according to San Francisco State University’s Family Acceptance Project, highly religious homes are far more likely to kick their kid out for being gay than non-religious parents?

One reason: the Bible, more specifically, how Christians relate to the Bible.

I was defined by being an Evangelical Christian. That identity permeated every moment of my life. At a very young age, I remember coloring in the pews as my dad played the drums and my mom led the Children’s Ministry.  As I grew up, I started volunteering with children and youth at a very early age. I was at church at least three times a week. But I was just getting warmed up. Following my high school graduation, I attended a Christian leadership academy, became a youth pastor, served as a missionary in Europe, and led worship at multiple churches. All of my immediate friends and family were and are Christian. But when those closest to me were confronted with my existence as a gay, Christian man, the majority felt torn, torn between obeying a book or loving me.

“Brandon, I’m trying to love you and your brother,” my mother said through tears, months after my younger brother came out, “but I’m caught between obeying the Bible or loving my son. It’s so hard!”

Without this book, my mom would have no problem loving her sons. Without this book, my friends would not be apprehensive about standing with me on my wedding day. Without this book, people wouldn’t feel pulled in two directions, unable to decide, and scared to form an opinion.

What does this mean? Is the Bible a bunch of garbage written by European men to manipulate and control the populace? Some would argue this opinion. But that is not what I am arguing.

As I said above, I’m a gay Christian man, and many would challenge my existence, claiming those two identities cannot cohabitate one body. But my argument is that they can. My argument is that Christians have been relating to the Bible poorly and that there is a relationship we can have to scripture that allows mothers to love their kids and sanctions peers to stand by their gay friend’s side as they declare their vows. And just as many of my opponents would start with scripture, asking me, “But what about Sodom and Gomorrah? What about the two verses in Leviticus? What about Romans one?” (As if they are the first person to introduce me to these scriptures, which I’ve been aware of for the majority of my life because they directly affect me.) That’s where I would like to start — scripture.

There are six verses in the Bible concerning homosexuality. Six. For comparison, according to Blue Letter Bible, there are 16 passages on divorce, 62 verses about pride, and 111 verses concerning money.

For those of us who are gay and Christian, we call these six passages, the “clobber” passages because most Christians use these verses to clobber us. Regarding these verses, many publications and organizations, such as The Reformation Project, QCF, Unclobbered, God and the Gay Christian, Torn, Bible Gender Sexuality, Changing Our Minds (to list a few), all talk about how these verses are contextual and are actually not talking about homosexuality how we think of it today. They are either talking about idol worship that included using boys for prostitution, pedophilia, or a lack of hospitality to the foreigner. They were not talking about loving, committed gay relationships.

But people would argue, “You can’t read into this. You have to take the Bible for face value. It says what it says.” If that is the case, women should be silent in church (I Corinthians 14:34). If that is the case, we should not allow divorce on any grounds but infidelity (Matthew 19:9). If that is the case, we shouldn’t have tattoos (Leviticus 19:28), we shouldn’t eat meat with blood in it (Acts 15:20), we should yield to corrupt government (Romans 13:1-7), and we should cut off body parts when they cause us to sin (Matthew 5:29).

My list could continue for far more than a paragraph, but I think you get it. What’s my point? My point is that we contextualize all the time.

How is it fair to contextualize certain parts of the Bible and then not others? We have to look at what was applicable for ancient Israel or the early church and translate it for those of us who live in a modern world. Scripture cannot stay locked in a cultural vacuum, and I’m not just saying this because it benefits me. I’m saying it because it’s exactly what the early church did in Acts.

In Acts 15, there’s massive dissension concerning Gentiles (non-Jews) who are being baptized. Many are saying that they should be circumcised and follow the Jewish law in its entirety, a list of over 600 commandments, including two of our “clobber” verses about homosexuality.

In the end, it is determined by the 12 apostles that the Gentiles shouldn’t be forced to obey the law. They scrap it altogether. Instead, they gave them four rules: don’t eat meat offered to idols, don’t consume blood, abstain from sexual immorality, and don’t eat meat that was strangled.

In one meeting, the whole law is ruled inappropriate to a different culture and new instructions are given to non-Jews. Why? Who gave the apostles the right to change the rules?

Jesus.

“Whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,” Matthew 16:19.

So where’s the law? Should we just scrap all forms of morality under the grace of Jesus Christ?

No. Instead, Jesus gave us a new law. Well, two, actually.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” John 13:34.

Not some of the law. All of it.

The apostles gave instructions that would help the Gentile believers serve God, to help them obey the first law. They did this from a place of love, obeying the second law. They were obeying the teachings of Christ.

In spite of the six verses in the Bible about homosexuality, Jesus doesn’t mention homosexuality once during his time on Earth. Instead, he talks about love — about loving your God, about loving your neighbor, and about people knowing you’re one of his disciples because of your love.

Can we say that this is true? Do people call Christians “the most loving people”? Are we known by this today? No, instead we’re known as judgmental and ignorant and hypocritical, picketing queer political candidates and abortion clinics.

Is this love? Or have we done what early enemies of the church did — reimplementing the law out of fear?

As a gay Christian, I know I can exist and hold to my faith because, one, there are contexts to the verses we use to batter LGBTQ+ people that need to be considered, and two, Jesus’s commandment to me was not to be straight. His commandment to me was to love my God and to love people, that’s exactly what I intend to do.