Speech-Act, Pt. 1

In an upsetting turn of events, I have recently had to admit that I’m only a human. I know, I’ve really backslidden. Over the past few months my aspirations to be an indomitable, blogging war-machine have been systematically dismantled by a resolute and immovable weariness. Like, a do-I-really-have-to-bother-putting-on-pants-today kind of weariness. If I didn’t own such awesome jeans I probably wouldn’t have made the effort

A large part of it is biological; my hormones (my actual hormones, not my metaphorical ones) are, shall we say, a crazy-making combination of hyperactive and functionally dead. In other words, my body is constantly using massive amounts of inefficient adrenaline to get me through each day because the more sustainable sources of hormonal energy are about as non-existent as unironic Nicolas Cage fans. Supplements are helping, but I still spend most of my time hovering between just wanting a nap and begging God for someone to accidentally shoot me with a rhino tranquilizer.

But it’s more than that. Honestly, the whole idea of blogging exhausts me, especially in regard to so contentious a topic as the intersection of homosexuality and faith. There is little grace in the conversation, with a seemingly new explosive controversy erupting every week – one more ugly comment to become outraged over, one more person to burn at the stake, one more setback to worry about. The idealistic activist in me wants to indulge every combative reflex, the peacemaker/reformer in me cautions that real change will only come through a controlled-yet-passionate nuance, and the tired whiner in me would rather just watch funny cat videos because Mr. Mercury was right and “nothing really matters,” anyway.

So I’ve watched a lot of funny cat videos, all the while growing more and more frustrated by the tone of the online discourse and my own apathy toward it. Over and over I’ve sat down to write something to no avail, the sheer enormity and ambiguity of the situation slowly bringing my spindly fingers to a full stop.

I realized recently that I’ve felt this way before.

I was halfway through my brief tenure at a Guatemalan orphanage, living and working with eleven teenage boys just outside of the capitol. One afternoon, and I’ll never forget this, I saw footage from a nearby government-run institution that held 800 children. Underfunded and understaffed, the way the orphanage handled the large volume of kids was to try and suppress individuality and personality; at age thirteen they all began to wear a nondescript uniform, and they marched. Everywhere. A slow, rhythmic, soul-killing march.

And then I heard about the “pink room.” When a boy who had been sexually abused came to the orphanage he was put in the pink room, a special ward separated from everything else and blocked by many locked gates. Without the personnel to constructively deal with the traumatized boys, and convinced that they were all going to turn into sex-offenders anyway, the orphanage left them to waste away and suffer behind bolt-latched doors.

It’s hard to describe how utterly powerless I felt at that moment. I couldn’t sleep, so aware of such injustice being perpetuated only a few miles away and yet so incapable of doing anything about it (and I asked if I could, trust me). I was already expending all my energy to invest in just one group of kids in one orphanage in one district in one city in one country; I couldn’t handle how finite I was, entirely trapped within the borderlines of my skin cells. The myriad systemic evils that create street-kids and orphans seemed so great, and my own life so pathetic, that I lost all sense of purpose and direction.

And then, at 2AM, one of the younger boys opened my door; he’d had a nightmare and didn’t want to be alone. I walked back to his room and sat with him, not letting go of his hand as I prayed and prayed and prayed. After a couple minutes his shaking was replaced with the deep breathing of a peaceful sleep.

I started to cry.

None of my questions, fears, or inadequacies had been addressed, but I saw that they didn’t need to be in order to serve the kids right in front of me. I couldn’t do anything about the abuse occurring down the winding mountain road, but at least that night I had left my door unlocked so that this one child could know that he wasn’t alone, that he didn’t have to face the night by himself. At least this one child could know, at that moment, that he was loved.

Two hours later I dragged myself out of bed without ever having slept and began packing their lunchboxes for school. It literally felt like the least I could do, but I was going to do it, and with a greater sense of meaning than ever before. I couldn’t salve all the pain of the world, but I could still do small things with love.

In a way, I find myself in a similar place now.

I’m tired. I’m tired of the general climate of the blogosphere that is so inhospitable to gracious dialog. I’m tired of how many people are ensconced in a self-righteous blindness to the suffering of others, I’m tired of how many people respond to such blindness with an equally self-righteous vitriol, and I’m tired of how often I find myself contributing to it all.

I’ve been tempted just to call it quits. The situation seems too complex and too enormous, and we really don’t need another blog.

But a recent conversation with the incomparable Brian Gee (read all the things!) served as a helpful reminder of what I already knew: that perhaps my frustration with How Things Are should motivate me to do what little I can in my own imperfect way to improve the conversation and speak love to those who need it. Rather than simply giving up, perhaps this is worth a little bit of exhaustion.

For me, I guess it’s not so much about influence as it is about integrity – this is just one small blog in one crowded niche of one sprawling conversation, after all. But at the same time I can’t ignore how blessed I’ve been over the past year by the numerous, bewildering opportunities I’ve had to remind someone that they are loved and their story is worth telling. In the midst of questions and silences that is what is getting me through, and I’m starting to think that this may just be how life goes – beautiful in its own maddening way.

Honestly, writing isn’t easy for me at the moment. But slipping into an effortless silence doesn’t seem right, either. Not yet, at least. As always, I appreciate your grace as I try to figure out what on earth I am doing.

I will soon put up a post detailing how I hope to engage the conversation, a vision to which I want to be held accountable. I have so much to learn,* but I look forward to what these next few months will teach me as I explore the shape my speech and actions should take.

Matt

* This phrase receives the award for “Painfully-Obvious, Anthropologically-Universal Platitude Matt Has Employed the Most In His Short Life.” It would like everyone to know that it “couldn’t have done it alone.”

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Going Public, Part 1

If you would have asked me four years ago whether or not I’d consider writing publicly about my experience as an evangelical Christian guy who is attracted to other guys, I’m not sure what I would have done – except maybe stare at you awkwardly for ten seconds then leap into the nearest hedge and try to escape.

I had just begun to acknowledge and wrestle with the fact that I really wasn’t anywhere close to being straight, that the feelings I experienced in the pit of my stomach whenever I saw him (which felt nothing like butterflies and everything like an explosion of spastic badgers) actually meant something that I should have understood long, long before, but didn’t. But couldn’t. I was afraid and deeply ashamed.

Now, however, if you would ask me the same question I’d be all “I can’t talk to you right now, I’m busy writing publicly about my experience as an evangelical Christian guy who is attracted to other guys.”

So things have changed.

But is it for the better? Has this decision to move into the open been the right one? And, perhaps most importantly, why? Why does the internet need to be witness to my existence and growth as a gay (celibate, side-B) Christian? Is it dangerous narcissism, an exercise in humble vulnerability, or a little bit of both and a whole lot else? The point of this two-part series is to work through, briefly, the pros and cons of, well, this, of offering up a generally misunderstood part of my life to the scrutiny of the generally misunderstanding world.

Today, let’s take a look at the downside of “going public.”

Cons: Have you ever read the comments section of a widely shared article, from any perspective, about faith and homosexuality? I did once, and I was blind for a week. People can be mean, you guys, and the internet seems to encourage otherwise kind men and women to exercise their powers of self-righteous proclamation, sarcastic name-calling, and ignorant assumption-making.

What is more, writing under my real name (I’ve previously done some pseudonymous stuff) invites such attitudes to creep out of my computer screen and confront me in the flesh. Now, I’ve had people say hurtful things about my sexuality before, but usually in the context of intentionally trying to work through theological differences. Writing publicly about this has the feeling of climbing onto the Sacrificial Altar of Unsolicited Opinions. I expect to lose some friendships. I expect to be stared at. This scares me. It’s hard to describe the unique ache of making eye contact with someone you know who finds you, ideologically and ontologically, wrong.

I know some amazing people who have been denied ministry positions or lost jobs because their sexual orientation came to light. I was once restricted from helping lead a high school Bible-study because of mine. I chose to wait until now to come out so publicly because, well, I love working with teenagers, especially orphans and street kids, and I was afraid I’d be barred from an opportunity I desperately wanted because of somebody’s baffling, entirely unfounded, and distressingly hurtful fear that because I’m gay I’m also likely to be a child molester. The first time someone implied that connection, it did something horrendous to my soul.

But perhaps the greatest danger is found within me (sort of like Alien, you know?). There’s a kind of mania that comes with writing something and putting it on the internet, and it directly threatens to undermine the very reason I came out in the first place. A central part of my decision to be honest about my sexuality is the desire to foster authenticity. To be closeted usually requires a constant and exhausting self-awareness, a meticulous and intense image-management that can only be maintained through various forms of manipulation, half-truths, and, at times, outright deception.

I found such an existence to be increasingly antithetical to my faith and thus I “stopped lying.” But the internet poses a similar problem. Suddenly, that dimming impulse to assess everything I say and how it might affect my image begins to flare up again, and “authenticity” is infected with sensationalism to increase reader interest. Writing becomes less about sharing my story so that others may be encouraged and more about others listening to my story so that I can feel affirmed. It is a rather magnificent perversion that what should be an important step toward healing and wholeness can just as quickly plunge me back into the very sins I’m running from.

Being human is crazy.

Simply acknowledging these drawbacks to coming out doesn’t really do much to minimize them. They’re just a part of my life now, and that makes this whole process a little bit scary. And yet, as I’ll talk about in part two, I think the pros outweigh the cons, the reality of redemption overwhelms the fear of rejection, and that something truly good can come from this small step into the open.

Blessings.

Matt

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