Monsters in the closet

Geez Magazine; April 2007

We all had monsters in our closets as children; I was the monster in mine. Wondering, at the age of 11, whether suicides go to hell. And being told that they do. I was a closeted queer Christian kid. Call it osmotic pressure: in a world of gods and monsters, Bible bedtime stories, and the birds & the bees courtesy of Dr. James C. Dobson, damned if I knew the way Out.

“Paint me red; paint me dead,” I wrote of the countless times I eased the pressure through my private practice of bloodletting. The truth about me flowed in secret out of my veins and heaved out of my stomach into the toilet. For years I stitched it up and flushed it away. I was praised as an exemplary Christian (who could stand to gain a few pounds).

By the time I came out of the Good Christian Closet, with 22 notches on the wall marking my years, I was skeletal, scarred, and empty. After feeling like a monster for so long, I finally looked like one. Predictably, I received no Brownie points for truth. Abandoned, excommunicated, or a runaway, hard to say. Churchless, one way or another.

Which landed me in Toronto in July 2006, where my partner Sharon and I attended Together in Toronto: Claiming an Open Spirit, a joint ecumenical conference sponsored by the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, Affirm United, and Lutherans Concerned/North America. On a quest for rainbow connections and bootlegged faith for queers, we communed for three days with this colony of sexual lepers, people crippled by faith, mended by faith, crippled again, and still seeking. It was a weekend of fierce catharsis for me alongside tragic heroes, religious quacks, drama queens, and of course, a fairy or two. All of them wonderfully blasphemous and deeply spiritual:

The Reverend Irene Monroe. Writer, speaker, theologian. Impossible to ignore. A lesbian African-American woman, she taught me about righteous rage, passionate forgiveness, and reckless patience. She was tireless and fearsome; so many people to defend.

The aged transgender woman. She fiddled helplessly with her keycard outside her dorm room. Taking in with great affection her faded pastel dress, her ‘80s lipstick, and the thin strands of gray-blonde hair that framed her rugged face, I gently slid her card through the reader. Slowly, as if painfully, she walked in, and I smelled the embarrassment of stale urine on her as the door swung shut.

The Reverend Maris Sants. A gay Latvian priest who joined his country’s first pride parade in 2005: two hundred queers, two thousand protesters. He told us about being slapped with a crucifix by the wife of a local priest (so absurd it ought to be funny). A series of photographs documented queer marchers being battered with eggs and splattered with shit by Neo-Nazis and Christian fundamentalists holding crude and disgusting signs side by side.

The lovely John Abigail. Bigendered, they called her. He wore a conservative practical dress and an Edith Bunker wig. By day, John was a high-powered lawyer. At home, she was Abigail. It was as Abigail that she had learned to talk to God. She possessed remarkable dignity and wisdom, but never looked me in the eyes.

On the first day of the conference, I sat among these people like a fool, out of one closet and into another as I pretended that all was well with me, that I didn’t also suffer. I wanted to deny my brokenness as I dreamed of reintegration into normative society. I wanted the picket fence and the Brownie badges.

In the end, for all my physical and spiritual deformities, I was embraced by this community of spiritual outcasts and experienced the joy of unfettered faith. I have never felt closer to God than I did that weekend, sitting at the bottom of the human heap, honest, humble, hurting, healing. It made me question why we seem unable to bridge the divide that leaves us queers on the bum end of the Church’s body of acceptance.

I'm a monster. Always have been, hopefully always will be. God forbid that I ever leave behind this community of broken and blessed queers on my path to healing. This is my church, on the front lines of queer faith. I look forward to a long and deeply connected future with these beautiful abominations.