“Who knows…some of you might even be struggling with your sexuality.”
My professor glanced around the room solemnly as he said this. He had just finished a story about his gay friend, who, after making the decision to live a “full-blown homosexual lifestyle,” eventually succumbed to drug addiction and died from a meth overdose. This, of course, being an example of the proverbial slippery slope– the one that starts with following Jen Hatmaker on Twitter and ends in Hell.
This is a narrative that so many LGBT folks grow up hearing from their pastors and parents. It’s the idea that anyone who does not currently identify as straight must be experiencing inner turmoil, anxiety, or agony over their own sexual thoughts, feelings, and experiences. Of course, there is a period of struggle for most Queer people. It is an oftentimes agonizing thing to realize that you are not what your friends and family expect you to be. It can be difficult to decipher what your mind and body are telling you when you grow up in a society that assumes everyone is heterosexual and cisgender. And it is terrifying to realize that you’ll have to come out of the closet and into a less-than-friendly world. Sometimes, being Queer is indeed a struggle.
If I’m being honest, I have been struggling quite a bit lately. This past year has been marked by a depression diagnosis, lots of sleepless nights, a new patch of gray hair, and a noticeable dip in my academic performance. I am weary, in the most profound sense of the word. And I am so scared to admit that, because I know that people like my professor will hear it and say to themselves, “Well, that’s just what happens when you give in to sin.”
I think he might be right.
I think maybe depression is what happens when you are constantly told that you are inherently broken. Maybe anxiety is a natural response to multiple anti-gay harassment incidents. Maybe stress takes its toll when the responsibility of speaking on behalf of an entire community is placed on your shoulders. Maybe joy feels elusive when you spend your evenings comforting friends who have been rejected by their families. Maybe it’s difficult to concentrate on homework when you’re busy meeting with school administrators to ask them for equal rights. Maybe it’s fair to be tired when you’re constantly made to fight.
Maybe this is just what happens when the Church gives in to the sin of homophobia.
I don’t know the full story of my professor’s gay friend, but I know that something typically comes between realizing that you’re Queer and dying from a meth overdose. Unfortunately, the narrative that my professor employed, the false dichotomy of “straight-or-struggling,” is one that effectively absolves non-affirming Christians of the role they play in that process. It allows them to read the staggering statistics surrounding LGBT suicide, mental illness, homelessness, and addiction, and trace the blame back to the victims. But what they don’t realize is that gay people do not kill themselves because they are gay. They kill themselves because homophobic ideology makes it clear that there are those who would prefer them dead.
Yes, Church, your Queer siblings are struggling. We are struggling to breathe with the boot of oppressive theology pressed against our throats. We are struggling to keep each other safe and off the streets. We are struggling to maintain our faith while being rejected by the faithful. We are struggling to hold on to the promise that God is with the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Church, I am not struggling with my sexuality. I am struggling with the fact that my Queer family is dying, and I can’t seem to make you care.
Church, this is what happens when you give in to sin.