allyship, aromanticism, asexuality, disability, faith, Mental health, neurodivergence, queer, resources

Naming

As you might assume from my content on this site, I carry a lot of labels. Some are less well-known than others, and some carry inaccurate connotations. Some I am constantly working for greater awareness of, and others I keep quieter about. These labels have been immensely helpful for me, whether they are as specific as a microlabel on the spectrum of aromantic and asexual identity or as broad as the unifying and nebulous umbrella terms that I’m not sure where all I fit within.

Naming is important to self-concept and acceptance of our identity, but there are equally important stages that we move through before and after we first say, “Hi, my name is ____ and I’m ____.” These aren’t strictly linear, but they are numbered for the sake of organization:

  1. Awareness—Congratulations! The first step to putting descriptive words to your experiences and self-concept is to be mindful of how you are interacting with the world and what you see around you, particularly in ways that potentially diverge from the scripts and norms you were given. Notice what’s important to you, what may be missing, and what you feel drawn to.
  2. Curiosity—What does this have to teach you? Are you just reexamining assumptions and norms or is this a new part of yourself that putting a name to might lead to healthy changes? Don’t get too overwhelmed with labels, plans, and changes yet, simply stay curious and open to new growth.
  3. Learning—Research what others with your experience are saying, from a diverse array of angles, not just stereotypes or dominant narratives. This may be uncomfortable as you push past assumptions, but don’t worry about the identity part yet for yourself or taking stances on intercommunity issues. You’re gathering information as an observer to become more informed.
  4. Connection—Ask others you trust or who have expertise in this area, especially lived experience alongside connection to the community and knowledge about things you are learning. The goal isn’t to find a guru but to try to find a whole community that is accepting and welcoming of those exploring and doesn’t gatekeep or enforce rigid behavior rules of who is “in” and “out.” If they seem like potential friends and not moral purity police or a clique to impress, you’re on the right track.
  5. Fitting room—You may return to this place often over your lifetime as you add and change and mix labels, but for now try on some names for your experience and new identity based on what you’ve learned that feel right to you. Something that makes you nervous isn’t all bad, especially if you aren’t sure you’ve “earned” it or “count” or are “enough.” Those are incredibly common at this stage. Hold the term loosely, working through any self-judgment or shame you might feel about claiming it for yourself. Doing this work with a therapist can be really useful, as well as with those connections you’ve made to educators in this area and research you’ve done. However, when in conversation with those who already hold that label, be aware that they are obviously in favor of it for themselves, may try to persuade you to claim it, and will likely not welcome any reservations you have that rest on prejudice or biases against them as a community or individuals. Be kind and considerate of others’ feelings and perspectives as you question your own and keep things about what fits true to your experiences and identity, not about your hesitancy to become “one of them.” Using time in therapy for this can be wiser for this reason so you can work through misconceptions and negative feelings.
  6. Naming—Start thinking of yourself with this new identity name, knowing it is the best information you have about yourself in this moment. It is just one part of the whole of you, even if it feels huge right now. It can help to practice before sharing with others, thinking through what information is important and what the terms involved mean to you. What does this change in you and how are you going to integrate that information into your life for a more authentic, healthy identity, even as you continue to grow and evolve as a mature person?
    • Grief—Finding a new identifier or name for your experience can be liberating, but it can also come with layers of grief. You may regret not knowing earlier; you may resent those who should have helped you along the way and did not; you may wonder how no one saw the signs, have trauma from situations related to this identity, or grieve being forced to conform to norms you could never fully fit. You may lose people, organizations, and places you love or feel comfortable in. Grief in this journey can encompass a wide array of experiences from discomfort to profound loss and can include every stage, including anger and bargaining and denial, not just sadness and acceptance. You may be surprised at the emotions you feel as you begin to examine your past, verbalize your current experience, and connect more with others’ similar experiences. This is normal, and again, something you may want to work through in therapy as you come to accept both the grief and pride in your new self-concept.
    • Pride—Share what you’ve learned about yourself with those you love and who need to know! This could be only a few people or the whole world, and there is no deadline or rush to share it. It is your information to reveal or not. With close connections, you may want to be clear about how you feel about it so they know how to react, and be prepared with a few resources if others want to learn more about your identity and ways they can support you in it. Starting with those you already know and trust (especially if they carry the same or similar labels) can help ease you into more difficult conversations. Try not to generalize if someone reacts poorly; it doesn’t mean everyone else will. It is simply one person’s reaction, and others can celebrate with you or grieve with you or talk through it with you in the ways you need them to.
  7. Get involved—Chances are, there are others out there like you who aren’t aware of this part of themselves. It’s your turn to be one of those connections in stage 4 if you want to be or perhaps create resources and raise awareness like in stage 3. Or you can support your community in whatever way feels best for you, even if it’s more subtle, quiet, or behind the scenes.

Caution: It can be tempting here to conform to “tells” or expectations of your group. The battle at this stage is to stay true to your authenticity in both directions: with the others in your life who may resist this change in you and with the new community you’re part of that may have a preexisting culture, norms, and expectations. These can be as subtle as speech patterns and lingo or as obvious as appearance and lifestyle preferences. Be careful as you find yourself changing your behavior, opinions, presentation, and more that these are truly changes that make you happy, not what you think you are “supposed to” say, think, and do as a member of this group, especially if those cultural unifiers begin to ostracize, judge, or exclude those who don’t conform. Some of those expectations might be healthy with good motives, and others might be silly or even harmful. Stay grounded and true to your own journey, not in anyone else’s concept of “cool” or “enough.”

  1. Stay open—Others’ experiences aren’t going to reflect yours exactly. You know how important it was when you were exploring this part of yourself to have people who could hold space for that. Avoid generalizing everyone’s experiences in the way you personally experience this label, and stay open, curious, and nonjudgmental as you continue to learn and grow, raise awareness, and welcome others in. Even if someone ends up moving on from a label you embraced, their time in that space was still a vital part of their journey, and the same applies to you as well. Don’t let your entire self-concept rest on this name, and continue to hold it loosely even as you identify with it and work for stronger community around it, knowing that “home” and belonging lie within you, not in a label or specific group or lifestyle. At the same time, endeavor to be a safe refuge for others finding that sense of belonging within themselves as well. You never know when they might teach you something too, just when you thought you had become the expert or educator!
essays, faith, queer

What do we do with all this grief

Today, Sarah Bessey asked her readers on her Substack about all the losses that come with deconstruction/faith evolution. It made me think of a related, often simultaneous loss when that deconstruction is part of coming out as queer:

There’s something I tell queer people when they come out and lose so much (or publicly identify as allies). Yes, you will lose belonging and comfort. Maybe your job, church, friends, family, sense of stable identity, certainty, easy acceptance into your communities, even safety. But by being vulnerable, that courage opens many doors as well. You are not alone in this. You are welcome to grieve together with others who have lost the same. You are now part of a free, inclusive, authentic family. It is so so so painful, and there is so much to mourn and lament in the rage and tears. No, it isn’t fair. Yes, it would have hurt so much less if people saw and loved the full, real you.

But you are part of a very long human history of people who have gone through this. Your queer ancestors fought for this and you will too for someone coming after, so it isn’t so hard and so lonely for the next one and on down through the ages. Some nights, when the apartment is too quiet and the ache burns at the friends who no longer speak to you, the events you’re not welcome at, the churches advertising to you that would encourage you to change to earn God’s love and approval, the family you have to lie to and hide from and put on a smile for… some nights… there will be a post about an LGBTQIA+ meetup group. An affirming church trying to scrape together two nickels to buy Christmas gifts for a foster family inviting you to their fundraiser. A trans pastor will pray for all like you to find found family. A gay therapist starts a Facebook group for others like you to share your story and maybe one of them is in your area, so you meet up for coffee.

Some nights you scream inside and write sad poetry and plan on what to tell your therapist in words that convey this hole in your heart where all those people from your past who loved you when they thought you were cis and straight used to be. But some days and nights light up with rainbows. Some days and nights your willingness to be open and say “me too” and seek community and even post online under a pseudonym or go to a church with a Pride flag on the sign or click the Zoom link or bring your lunch to a park with the LGBTQIA+ group in town or volunteer at the homeless shelter where kids like you go when their parents kick them out…

Sometimes that makes it worth it all. Every tear. Every stomach ache and bout of nausea as the words left your tongue and hung in the air: “This is me.” Every pioneer who came before you. Every DEI meeting you will sit in and future ally you will educate and lie you will debunk. Every table you sit at and gently correct and hold boundaries. They will be worth it. Because you will tell your story and it will help someone else get free too. It will help them show their true colors and you witness it burst forth, slowly at first and then in full spectrum, as they embrace who they are and stand up for themselves and bloom into something spectacular.

And I’m just speaking from one experience, but even if queerness or allyship that costs something doesn’t resonate so much with your story, maybe you can replace those words with your own: neurodivergent, antiracist, a faith shift, progressive/liberal, disability pride, body positivity… whatever works for you, I hope you have those moments when that vulnerability cracks the clouds wide open and the light gets in.

faith, Poetry, queer

Politicized

We say

Your theology leads to harm

You say

That’s tough love for rebels

We say

Your politics lead to death

You say

Words can’t hurt

We say stop killing us

You say

Stop being dramatic

We grieve at headlines

We cry in news photos

We raise the alarm

And violence still comes

We say we told you so

You say now is not the time

To politicize a tragedy.

allyship, essays, faith, guest post, queer

Raising Affirming Kids When You Weren’t Raised That Way

I’m honored to introduce you to my friend and former coworker Bekah McNeel. Bekah is an author, journalist, and podcaster (check out our episode together here!) who works tirelessly for those on the margins to have their voices heard and to bring about real change through the power of storytelling. I asked her if she would be willing to share with us her perspective on raising kids in affirming theology and modeling allyship as a parent. Read her wisdom here and then read her book, Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down: A Guide for Parents Questioning Their Faith, which covers many more topics relevant to this community. 


By Bekah McNeel 

I knew before I had kids that we would be an affirming family. My own childhood in the Presbyterian Church (PCA) had not made room for queer family, friends, and neighbors, but my heart always had. Dutiful, obedient, and fearful, I regurgitated the arguments when pressed, but in my heart, I always felt a tug, a tinge of sadness, a little gap growing between the dogma I’d accepted, and what I knew love required.

Even before I reconciled the law and the Spirit in myself, I knew I would not be able to put my children in the same position—to make them choose between loving others and defending doctrine or social positions. It wasn’t just the LGBTQIA community I wanted them to freely love, but people of color and people of different faiths. In big and little ways, I’d heard the Bible weaponized against people who were not like me, if not against their personhood, at least against their social well-being. 

My journey toward affirmation—full-throated, unequivocal affirmation—is also the story of how I am raising affirming kids. I document that journey more broadly in my book, Bringing Up Kids When Church Lets You Down (Eerdmans, 2022), but in this post, I wanted to get more specific about the stepping stones that have carried my children and me forward on the issue of gender and sexuality in particular. I’m not comfortable saying this is THE way to do it, or the way YOU should do it, because how we raise kids and manage our own deconstruction/affirmation depends on the cards in the hand we were dealt, spiritually speaking. 

These stepping stones have helped me as I navigate the streams of parenthood and deconstructing a queerphobic religious tradition. They do not form a linear step-by-step pathway from nonaffirming to affirming. Like rocks in the river, my family hops back and forth between them when new dimensions of sexuality and gender challenge us, and we learn what it means to be more affirming, more loving. The stepping stones are always there to revisit when old fears and “whatabouts” pop up, as they often do for those whose formative spiritual experience was stringently nonaffirming.

I hope these stepping stones provide some help, a place to land for a moment, for others navigating the stream. 

Stepping Stone One: Relationships

No matter how affirming we become, the most meaningful stepping stone will always be relationships with people who are not like us. When I first tried to deal with the gap between love and dogma—my early 20s—my motivation was to keep my queer friends and family in my life and welcome more relationships with Christians and non-Christians. 

By “keep in my life” I do not mean that I refrained from formally breaking a relationship once a friend had come out, as though my friendship was a status that I alone could give or revoke. Intimacy is a two-way street, and for someone to want to stay in my life in a meaningful way, I have to treat them how they want to be treated. “Keeping in my life” meant continuing to offer a safe, loving, reciprocal relationship. Engaging their stories and dilemmas and longings with curiosity and solidarity. If I got weird and theologically rigid every time my cousin wanted to talk about a boyfriend, he would feel alienated, and soon would not want to share life. 

I have had to repent of the times in my early 20s when I was compelled by my ministry job to “speak truth”—usually to younger women in the ministry. I’d bought the lie that to love them meant to guide them back to orthodoxy. It makes me sad to remember those conversations, because I know they must have felt like rejection. Even in the moment, my heart would ache not over “their sin” but over the pain I myself was inflicting. I grieve the fact that I did it anyway.

But outside the ministry job, in places where people weren’t asking me to reconcile my beliefs and my relationships, things were changing quickly.

At 26, I married someone who worked in a normal office, not a church, and realized how ensconced I had been in my homophobic community and how little room that had made in my life for anything but straight people. Choosing schools, neighborhoods, and activities in the general population—places not defined by homophobia and hell-avoidance—increased the religious, racial, and sexual diversity of our friend group and continued to shine light into the darkness of the breach between love and doctrine. We continue to pursue that kind of diverse, open community with our kids, welcoming people whose beliefs and families look different from ours, and let our love for those people lead us to the next stepping stone.

Stepping Stone Two: Spirit

As a child and young adult, I’d been taught that belief was the most important thing, the criteria by which I would be judged. But given how mysterious and ironic Jesus often was, and seeing how corrupted my beliefs had been by cultural, social, and political positions, I found my church’s version of orthodoxy harder and harder to defend, especially when it showed up in the world like exclusion and cruelty. It felt like pouring water on the Spirit—the Spirit that was celebrating with those who celebrated, weeping with those who wept. I felt joy and harmony when I would follow the Spirit’s expansive internal guidance to weddings, voting, protest, and vocal support for LGBTQIA rights. As Cornel West said, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” 

If pressed throughout my late 20s and early 30s, I could not say that my position was biblical or orthodox, though I was reading and exploring affirming theology. But the fact that I was choosing to own and live affirmation anyway was important. It placed love in the lead, instead of subjecting it to arguments and intellectual debate. It’s really important to be clear on this: it is not the same as being “accepting but not affirming.” It was the decision to be affirming without waiting for the knots tied by my church upbringing to fully untangle. It was a deeper decision to stop putting boundaries around love, and to walk away from the trash definition of love that still allows the church to exile queer people and people who disagree with it. This would end up reshaping my entire theology, but at the time it just freed me to love my queer friends and family publicly without caveat or distortion.

We do this with our kids as well, ask first “what does love look like?” They know sometimes it means protest, sometimes it means celebration, sometimes it means standing up for others. They don’t need us to defend this biblically, because they have never known a Christianity that would not affirm queer identity. But to do a good job of advocating and affirming with those who do believe God is opposed, it helps to have words to explain, which nudges me to another stepping stone.

Stepping Stone Three: Words 

To fully love my friends and family, I would have to find the words for an affirming theology, because the people trying to deny their rights, their healthcare, and their inclusion in the family of God like to argue. 

I also want to give my kids some good doctrine, something to lean on when they encounter the still-prevalent homophobia of our society. They’ll have good examples and data from their life, but I want them to have a faith that aligns with that.

So I did the work. I started by trying to argue the few “clobber verses” used by Christians to exclude queer identity and love from the family of God. It can totally be done—plenty of biblical scholars have done it. But for me, the clobber verses weren’t my only collision with biblical inerrancy, and the final untethering of my mind, the unwinding of those knots tied so tightly in childhood, would not come until I had reached a different understanding of how Scripture actually works, what the Bible actually is, and the role of the Holy Spirit in applying ancient words to modern times. 

I’m more comfortable saying, now, that the writers of Scripture were doing their best to understand God and to live as God’s people. They were telling stories and catching glimpses that are helpful to us today as we do the same. But they didn’t always go as big and inclusive with God’s kingdom or God’s values as they would in the future (Hello, Gentiles! Hello, women! Goodbye, slavery!). I understand the role of canonization better, what is lost in the institutionalization of religion. 

So when I am talking to myself, that part of me that still brings up old arguments; this is the doctrine we discuss. When I talk to either “concerned” evangelicals in my life or to my own kids, I don’t have the burden of biblical inerrancy hanging over my head. With those who want to argue, this quickly changes the debate—and frankly, makes them more concerned for my soul than my social positions. With my kids, it opens up more conversation, another stepping stone, one specific to raising kids. While the other stepping stones help me deal with my internal work, and then my public-facing affirmation, the fourth stepping stone is specific to the work of formation, something parents are called to do with their children. 

Stepping Stone Four: Conversations

When I was a kid, anything other than cisgender, heterosexual identity was sinful. Simple. No discussion necessary. But when you do away with that simplistic write-off, things get more complicated. We have to help our kids work out their own identity, understand the world they live in, and process the differences between people as something that is not “good vs. bad” but beautifully complex. 

Some have argued that if they grow up not hearing anything bad about queer identity, then kids will be automatically affirming, and they won’t struggle to come out themselves if they are queer. I think we have to be explicit, because the world is explicit. I think kids process differences in not-always-prosocial ways and they need guidance. But that doesn’t mean they need “the talk.” I think it means lots of little conversations in the context of our hops back and forth between the other stepping stones: relationships, Spirit, and words. 

At dinner one evening, my cousin and his husband welcomed questions from my kids about how a family worked with two dads. There was no question of whether it was okay, but there were practical questions. Was it possible to have babies? How did they know whose shoes were whose? My cousins, who have been together for decades, consented to answer these questions in the genuinely curious spirit they were asked and were gracious when my kids acted like kids. We coached them as well, helping them understand the difference between curiosity and judgment. It was uncomfortable, but there was love there to get us through.

 When our friend came out as nonbinary, we talked to our kids about the mechanics of their identity, the pronouns, the ways gender might be expressed. We did this before our friend joined us on a family vacation, knowing that it was most loving if we did the explaining ahead of time. It was confusing at first for the kids. But since we have taught God as neither male nor female, there was no question of right and wrong. Just adjustments.

Learning these things in the context of relationships—not as abstract “some people”—has been helpful, because they are learning more about people they already love. We also discuss the queer characters in books and movies and ensure that we are doing our part at home to answer questions that could be hurtful or uncomfortable for the people in our lives. We also try to be wise when our kids need to understand that not everyone loves the LGBTQIA community. If they don’t understand this, they will not be able to be in true solidarity with people whose rights are still very much contested. (We live in Texas, so I mean, like REALLY contested.) 

But there’s a difference between bringing our kids into a doctrinal debate—to deconstruct something that was never constructed for them in the first place—and preparing them to advocate for love in their unjust world. 

When I’m talking to my kids about the rainbow flag in our neighbor’s yard, I’m really not concerned with what arsenokoitai means. We talk about all the people we know and love who are represented by that flag. But when my daughter wanted to wear a “free sister hugs” shirt with a rainbow flag on it to a Christian event, I went ahead and told her that there would be people there who might ask her questions or challenge her. I let her decide if she wanted to take on the advocacy that day and offered to help her figure out what she would say in response, starting with love. 


Thanks, Bekah! More resources for parents can be found on my Queer Christian resources list.

asexuality, Poetry

Ace Bewareness Week

This is a silly little poem about Twitter, but I really do hope we can recapture the joy and belonging and welcome this Ace Awareness Week in the midst of all the creepy, scary, and ghoulish opinions on the internet. Hope you find all treats and no tricks this year!

Smell it approaching.

It’s coming up fast,

haunting our Pride with dread.

The bad takes change colors

hot as the spices in your cup.

The ringing cheer in the air

from the stadium chants,

“Conform, conform conform.”

The ignorant blue checks moan

with laments they have no knowledge of.

The biting wind of aphobia

swirls the rotting leaves. 

It’s that time of year again!

Ace awareness week is coming.

asexuality, queer, resources

Ace and allo partnerships

Recently, I was asked about ace and allo marriages, and I didn’t have any resources about marriage/partnership and asexuality, especially when one of those partners is allo. In fact, there really aren’t many resources like this out there in general. I’ve never been in a partnership like this as an adult, so I don’t have any experience in this area to draw from. However, aces and their allo partners on Twitter were eager to help and share what they have learned. We all hope these stories and links can strengthen ace/allo marriages and long-term committed partnerships of all kinds. 

My thanks to M.J. Weissenberger, Mitchell Atencio, Grey, Loxley Blaine, Russ Walker, Case, Cody Daigle-Orians, Kate Wood, our anonymous friends, and everyone who replied to my tweet here.

Many mentioned setting boundaries, trying nontraditional things that work for you (separate beds or bedrooms, for example), honest communication, being willing to compromise when you can but be honest when you can’t, and learning more about various ace labels and experiences to have clearer language to communicate your needs and desires. While therapy in general is a good fit for this kind of relationship issue, many therapists are not ace-informed, especially marriage and relationship therapists, so be careful going in to choose someone who understands your situation and won’t pressure you into sex or relationship structures that don’t work for you. For example, some ace/allo partners found polyamory was a good fit and enjoy multiple relationships, but others didn’t and resented how it was assumed or presented as the “solution” to fix their relationship. Some of these answers may work for you and some won’t. They are not blanket solutions, simply lived experiences of those in these partnerships.

Here’s more of what aces and allos in relationships with aces had to say:

Continue reading “Ace and allo partnerships”
disability, essays, neurodivergence

It is for freedom we have been set free

Content warning for child abuse story. Start at 3:24 if this is a trigger for you

First, it is a great feeling to be able to understand and process every word from a speaker without needing the captions. That almost never happens. I feel like I actually processed every word!

Aside from speaking skills, this was so healing. And not only as someone with APD but the heart behind it holds several jewels I think we all need to learn from. Dr. Alexander approaches her work in a way that feels more like ministry than many “ministers” we hear about online.

“I know what it feels like … to be imprisoned, but I also know how it feels to be set free.”

This is the crux of it, right from the start. Those of us deconstructing or evolving or just plain leaving conservative and evangelical church traditions know that feeling of being “set aside and dismissed.” Queer people who have lived in the closet know the feeling of being restrained inside that metaphor, of being not only hidden but trapped. Neurodivergent and mentally ill and disabled people know this prison that is their own mind and body. So many of us who resonate with a name like “Invisible Cake Society” have had to work through our traumas while it felt like no one could perceive us and no one would believe us.

Until we are seen and refuse to be silenced. Until we come out, whether in a quiet, subtle way or an explosion of colors. Until we learn more and advocate for ourselves. Until we hear our therapists and doctors say, “Look how far you’ve come.” That doesn’t always mean physical healing or acceptance of others or a thriving faith or that life is smooth sailing. But at some point we take a step, usually with help from those who have gone before, and walk into freedom out of that system or organization or way of thinking or relationship. Out of places of (or internalized) ableism and queerphobia and trying to pray it all away or hustle our way around it. Out of the cage.

That step is the first part of our story. We know how it feels to be set free. But our freedom isn’t just for us.

“I have made the conscious decision to believe every client who tells me they are struggling.”

So many of us need this from our leaders, our friends, our family. And now, being on the journey of learning freedom, we can offer that empathy to others. We can believe them when they say they are grieving instead of comparing suffering. We can listen instead of ranking and gatekeeping identity. We can learn before dismissing and ask the deeper questions.

Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu have been talking about this a lot for The Evolving Faith Podcast this season. Your healing is not just for you. Your journey into the wilderness is not a solo trip forever. You may feel alone at the start, but there have been many before and many alongside and many will follow. What will you do with the gifts you have been given? Who has been hurt by the systems you were invested in, and where do you invest now? What will you do with the vulnerable stories shared and the wisdom you have learned through hard experience and the responsibility to do better now that you know better? We can’t answer these like homework questions. They too are lifelong companions we bring with us.

You are good,” and we are so lucky to have you.

This is our work. To speak imago Dei, to make sure that we have treated everyone with respect and value and dignity, to continue the word of goodness to the next generation and to our neighbors who have been traumatized too. Who have been marginalized too. Who have been desperate to escape. Who have been given the diagnosis with condescension and no options. Who have been told to change themselves to belong. Who have been trapped in need of freedom.

The freedom we have felt.

As Kate Bowler says, “You are not the bad thing.”

You are good, you are believed, you are seen, and you are free.

essays, faith, Mental health, queer

For those whose bodies are policy issues

Today, there is much discussion on embodiment, what it means to show up in a space as your full self, and to be present in your body wherever you are. The topic du jour, in particular, is church attendance. Can we experience the “real” church online?

This got me thinking about how if you’re going to talk about embodied presence, you need to be aware of what it means for someone to show up in their marginalized body, whether in a physical or online space. The risks it takes and the emotional cost it demands.

Continue reading “For those whose bodies are policy issues”