On Not Taking the Bait

I was traumatized by my time in church. The years of sitting in pews, Bible studies, and coffee shops with Christian leaders, listening to variation upon variation of how wrong homosexuality is, slowly eroded me. Words might not seem that powerful, but if they are a steady trickle, coursing over your young mind which is porous as fresh soil, they carve out whole canyons of self loathing.

Despite the love – and there was a lot of love in my family and church – despite how much they told me we all have struggles with sin and that my inherent value as a child of God was uncorrupted by my sexuality, that did not negate the deep damage of their words. To try to separate my sexuality from myself, to call it bad but the rest of myself good, was to vivisect myself. It is only a part of myself, but it is still part of me. To say that my sexuality was broken was to say that I am broken, period, and while I didn’t have the words to understand that and the Christians around me didn’t have the capacity to see it, I felt it deeply.

I’ve been recovering from this damage for years now, and I thought I would share a crucial part of that recovery: not taking the bait. 

When I first came out of the closet, I was so sore, so battered by that slow, trickling invalidation that I couldn’t be around anyone who did not affirm gay marriage at all. I flew into a rage, went blind with hurt and fury. It would get into my psyche, it would work deeper and deeper, like razor blades under my fingernails. I had to take a good, long soaking in the gay community, and that’s exactly what I did.

But inevitably, I had to learn to communicate with the world again. I had to move through the work force, family, and friendship with the capacity to navigate disagreement.

The world is full of disagreement. There are going to be many people along my path who will have varying degrees of discomfort with my relationship and orientation. That’s simply a fact. And life is a short flicker – do I really want to spend it being triggered by people who see the world differently? As I went through recovery, the choice became clear to me: either I learn to not take the bait and dedicate my energy to that which I choose, or I spend my life hiding, cowering, and being overwhelmed by impossible feelings.

The first step here must not be neglected: the feelings of hurt, rage, and brokenness are real. Any LGBT person who has been hurt needs to take the time to heal. We will never feel safe around those who disagree with us if we do not first viciously protect boundaries, and create a context for healing. 

For me, that involved spending lots of time in the gay community, distancing myself from the church, and finding mentors and therapists to help me work through my anguish. Now, after several years of this work, I can finally interact with those who are conservative, and not feel the trembling in my soul.

Whenever I encounter someone who disagrees with me and I’m tempted to take the bait and feel threatened by them, I ask myself a series of questions:

  1. Does this person want to hurt me or my partner in any way? If not, then why am I frightened?
  2. Can this person actively take away my right to live freely and fully? If not, I have no reason to be uncomfortable.
  3. Am I giving them too much authority over my life? am I relinquishing my power to them out of habit? They certainly have the power to judge me, exclude me from their inner circle, but I wield that exact same power of them, too.
  4. Am I trying to win their approval or control what they believe? Could that be why I feel like I’m going crazy around them?
  5. Why should I let any other person who can’t hurt me have such power over my life?

There have been seasons in my life when this list of questions was inappropriate: when I was a teenager in ex-gay therapy, for example. I was genuinely powerless, and I needed people to fight for me. Similarly, there are many people who truly don’t have power, and this list doesn’t apply to them. What they need are advocates to fight for them. However, as an adult who has found autonomy, I can ask myself these questions.

If it is impossible to answer these questions, it’s important to go back to step one: a safe healing place to work through the wounding of growing up gay in a straight world.

When I ask myself this series of questions, I find much of my anxiety retreats, and I am able to communicate with the person productively. I find that I am able to make clearer choices about friendships, and which ones I want to pursue. I am also, most importantly of all, able to relinquish control over other people and turn my energy to things i can control: my own principles, goals, and integrity.

 

5 Comments

  1. One Bible verse I used to struggle with was the one where Jesus said, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brother and sister, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26). Today, I get it. The word “hate” means “detach.” If you cannot distance yourself from the emotional need to please the people closest to you, then you cannot please the One who made you the person you are supposed to be. Our only task, gay, straight, bi or trans, is to fully be the person God created us to be.

  2. I learned the, “Will he hurt me?” question as a child. Most girls do. But it’s no longer at the top of my list. Our Lord has called me to increasing transparency and vulnerability, so the questions I ask myself now are a little different.

    I recently agreed to an interview with Dr. Michael Brown of AskDrBrown fame. He’s a well-known anti-LGBT Christian. I’m a Christian and intersex. I also was raised as a boy for a while, though that was more than forty years ago.

    One commentator asked me if I was mad at God for making me intersex. I replied that intersex is what God has used to keep me coming back to the cross.

    I don’t expect to achieve healing in this life. Not in the sense of working through the anguish. So I take the bait.

    I don’t expect to win arguments. Nor persuade listeners. But I do hope to put a face and a voice to intersex and show them that I’m human, much like they are. Let them see the pain they cause. And tell them about Jesus.

    1. You are very brave to agree to an interview with Dr. Brown. I find him incredibly toxic – you are a strong person to be able to converse with him. Thank you for sharing your heart and vulnerability here. Like you, I desire to put a face to LGBT+ people, and I do that through telling stories as honestly and vulnerably as I can. It’s the only thing I know to do.

  3. This is a great list. One additional question I’ve learned to ask myself is, “Why does this person want to talk about my sexuality?”

    If they genuinely are interested in learning how I came to reconcile my faith and sexuality, great! I’d love to talk about it, even if I know the odds of changing their mind are slim. If they just want to hurl clobber verses at me, I’m going to move on. They’re not going to say anything I haven’t heard a hundred times before, and they’re not at all interested in hearing my side of the story.

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