Lez Plan a Wedding – Part 2

I am in my third semester of my Counseling Program and am currently enrolled in a Group Counseling class that provides an overview of how to run a therapeutic group. I have learned a great deal in the class – everything from the stages of a group, the skills required, and the basic process of facilitation. Our culminating project has been to develop a Group Proposal on a kind of group that we would like to lead in the future. I chose to research, design, and present a group called “Gay & Lesbian Premarital Counseling” to provide a space for gay and lesbian couples preparing for marriage.

In my research, I was reminded that marriage is not wholly welcomed in the gay and lesbian community. Certainly, gay and lesbian commitment ceremonies and other rituals to celebrate relational milestones have existed for great lengths of time. However, because marriage has not been accessible for the community, it is received with sometimes mixed reviews, often referencing the idea that marriage is a product of a heteronormative society.

My group, then, postures an opportunity for gay and lesbian couples who DO want to express commitment and to do so through marriage, to reclaim this rite of passage. The reclamation process – among many other reasons – is a guiding force behind Chelsea and I’s wedding planning; not only do we want to signify our love, but we want to showcase the relatively new reality that gay and lesbians can (and should) participate equally in society.

Historically, and even present today, marriage includes sub-steps that all work together to create what we know it to be (i.e. engagement parties, bridal parties, rehearsal dinners, etc.). Chelsea and I, of course, are looking at all of these steps, and are careful to decide which ones we would like to incorporate and also, which ones we would like to do-away with.

An important step that we did want to include was engagement photos. Photos, we recognize, are like tangible artifacts that represent a season of life. We wanted to honor this experience, and we wanted a way to remember this exciting season of not yet married, but very much committed.

We decided that because our wedding is going to be outdoors and have a classy but “earthy” vibe, our engagement photographs could showcase the more artsy and urban side of our relationship. Prior to the shoot, we mapped out several stops that highlighted our favorite murals downtown. Most of these were in the RiNo area of Denver and it was energizing to decide which designs and colors would be the backdrop for our shoot.

Our photographer, Steve Tinetti, did an incredible job. He mastered the art of capturing both us and color while still creating perspective in the photographs. In addition to his immense talent, we also had a lot of fun and felt very comfortable in his presence. For nearly three hours, Chelsea and I snuggled, smiled, and ate ice cream (true story) as he snapped away with his camera. We had a blast.

Here’s some of our favorites.

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If you don’t have anything nice to say 

Best not say anything at all. 

Some old idioms do have meaning and wisdom – don’t they?

And hey, I’m all about public discourse, enriching conversations, and working to find spaces for disagreement. However, when it comes to a person’s individual life, I have yet to figure out why it has become culturally “okay” to offer unsolicited commentaries.

I won’t dance around the elephant in the room – I am speaking specifically to my experience as a lesbian. I came out several years ago and even today continue to encounter pushback in the form of texts, Facebook messages, and the like from individuals who are affronted by my “choice” to be gay.

The most recent message just came a few weeks ago; a scathing, loaded message that, quite literally, was “a message from God” from the person who wrote it. Included in this long note was comments about the surprise and shock that came with realizing that I was gay, specifically that I was touting myself as both gay and Christian.

This person wrote, “I was once again surprised and devastated to see on one of your recent posts that you still consider yourself to be a Christian even though you’ve chosen a lifestyle of homosexuality. That is not possible, Heather. Please believe me that it is not my desire to preach to you: my utmost desire is to obey God in reaching out to you in love and truth, and I do so because I care for you as a person.”

Mhmmmm.

You can imagine I had lots of thoughts about this. One, I didn’t choose this identity. What I did choose to be was a Christian. Also, homosexuality is not a lifestyle. IT IS NOT OKAY TO SAY THIS. A lifestyle is how a person chooses to live (i.e. “a lavish lifestyle” would imply lots of vacations and luxury travel). It is problematic to assume that an LGBTQ+ person has a specific kind of lifestyle. LGBTQ+ people are not robots and certainly do not live in one particular kind of way.

And lastly, it is probably best not to make presumptions about my relationship with God OR how God sees me. Nobody can say this definitively. We are humans. I am tired of communities or individuals thinking that they have their market share on who or what God stands for. The entire premise of faith is that of mystery. Faith is expounding on certainty; it is finding solace in the inexplicable. Faith is trusting something bigger than yourself. Faith is vested in hope, love, and humanity. Yet, so many of these kinds of messages reek of self-righteousness, doctrine, and a prescribed kind of religion.

I wanted to share some other comments, words, questions, and conversations I have had to have in the last few years since coming out. Many of these have been so uncomfortable. And so, I write this with the hopes that if you do know someone struggling with their identity or someone who has already come out, please please – don’t ask them these questions. I’ve listed them below for reference.

Whatever you think about LGBTQ+ people, understand that your opinion does not carry more weight than the right for that person to exist. Their story is just as important as yours. It is tempting and often the norm to feel as though you MUST share what you think about a person’s life experience. Here’s the thing: you don’t.

All you need to do is listen. Hold space. Make no assumptions. Be curious (but respectful). Be open. 

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“Why can’t you change?”

This question assumes that a person a) should change or b) hasn’t already asked this question. I prayed at least a hundred times for God to change my identity. I wanted it so badly. I even tried to be straight. It doesn’t work. At one point, I even considered trying conversion/reparative therapy. The “therapy” works on a premise that having a non-conforming gender identity or same-sex attraction is a mental disorder. Conversion therapies are largely discredited by governing associations the psychological and psychiatric realm. Countless studies show that the therapy is ineffective and harmful.

But to the point – how would you feel if a core piece of your identity existed and someone asked why you couldn’t change that? Could you help that you were born with a particular skin color? Could you help what nationality you have?

It is offensive to postulate that a person must change to be “better” or accepted.

“Have you tried to pray or talk to God about this?”

See above. Yes. A million times.

LGBTQ+ individuals who also hold a faith tradition have likely explored this within a faith lens. It’s no wonder that many LGBTQ+ individuals leave or shift away from the church as an institution – if they are not welcome there, why would they go?

And after all, how do we know God hasn’t already created us as the people we are meant to be?

“But, Heather, it’s not possible to be both Christian and Gay.”

If you believe this, then fine. That’s your prerogative. However, your experience and understanding of faith and Christianity is bigger than you. Leave room for other ideas. Leave room for experiences you can’t necessarily understand. Christianity has not and could not look the same across the world. I am telling you – Christians in Rwanda do not look like Christians in the United States.

It would be important to then ask (to yourself), well, why do I believe this to be true? Why couldn’t a person have a different sexual identity and also be Christian?

Perhaps this will conjure up the six bible verses (known as the clobber passages) that mention this.

Is it possible the text was written for a different context? Is it possible that the writer could have been speaking to something else? It is possible that the text does not hold up today? I am not suggesting the answer to these questions, rather, these are the kinds of exploration a person who would make a statement about someone else’ faith should be asking themselves.

“You have so easily fallen into this lifestyle…carefully consider the choices you are making.”

To say that a person’s exploration and understanding of their sexual identity has been easy is ludicrous. More than anything, it’s also dangerous. According to the Trevor Project, LGB youth are 5 times more likely to consider suicide than heterosexual youth. That’s a big number. And, we’re talking about lives. We have to be more delicate than assuming the road for an LGBTQ+ person has been “easy.” It is anything but that. It breaks my heart to think about the isolation, anxiety, depression, fear, shame, and loss that comes with this process.

Stick by your person. It’s scary. They need you simply to love them, regardless of what you think.

“How do you know your gay?”

To that question, I can only ask: how do you know you are straight? Exactly. You just know.

I remember as a young girl thinking I was different because I wasn’t attracted to boys the way others were. I pretended, and of course I can objectively recognize a man’s beauty, but I was not drawn to it the way I felt I was supposed to be. I know I am gay because I am attracted to women. In the same way, I know I am a vegetarian because I don’t eat meat. I know that I have green eyes because I was born with them. Much of what makes us us, isn’t easily extracted with explanations. It just is. 

“Maybe you just haven’t met the right guy.”

Oh boy. I tried being straight for a number of years. I believed this. I thought that maybe I just hadn’t met the right one. And so, I went on a dating blitz and had dinner with boys from all over the place (Denver, Centennial, Parker, etc.) I dated some more seriously. And trust me when I say, it was not a fit. Even when I met someone who was everything I would want on paper, when it came closer to physical intimacy (or really, any intimacy at all), I balked big time. It felt so, so wrong. This is not about meeting the right man, it is about knowing which gender is the one I am attracted to.

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NOTE:

Full transparency: this was hard to write.

It is hard to revisit these painful wounds that I have experienced. Yet, when they keep happening, I know it’s then time to say something. I still struggle the residual impact of coming out. I wrestle with anxiety and shame. I fear I am doing something wrong, sometimes. But I am happy to say, that BECAUSE of my faith and trust in God (and myself) I know who I am is good. I know I am worthy. I know I am loved. No matter what questions or words come my way, this truth cannot be altered.

Thank you for reading. Keep spreading love.

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Cakes & Things

If I have learned anything as a budding adult it is that saying “yes” to some things requires a “no” to other things.

Classic example: sleeping in is saying “yes” to rest and “no” to an early morning work-out. It might vary on a different day; we are constantly making choices that fluctuate depending on our environment, our situation, and our needs.

I have found that since starting graduate school in January I have said “yes” to pursuing my dream to be a counselor and “no” to lots of other things – extra time with friends, more time write, and the ability to read books for fun. However, I would choose this “yes” a thousand times over so truly, no regrets.

One of the other sacrifices I have had to make is my deep immersion in the plethora of podcasts I listen to (CPR, The Liturgists, TED Radio Hour, Fresh Air, and Queer Theology). This means that I do not always have the most up-to-date news insights or analysis of current events. I am trying to keep up, but in full honesty, it is hard.

And so, the only reason I heard about the Supreme Court ruling on Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission is because my news ticker on my computer alerted me right away – somehow, awhile back, I set a reminder to send me the ruling when it was released. And low and behold, it was decided this past week.

As I read the decision and court brief I was shocked. However, undeterred, I read more.

The case, was actually quite complex in the process to reach the Supreme Court, proposed two sides: the right to create (or not) “art” that is line with a person’s beliefs and the right for a person to not be discriminated in a public space (business).

Ultimately, the decision of the court was with Jack Phillips (Masterpiece Cakeshop) because of the hostility he faced from the Colorado Civil Rights Commission (which certainly failed to remain impartial during the proceedings and ruling process.

However, even in the majority opinion, the rights and protections of LGBTQ+ were affirmed. I wondered, could this still be an advancement for the LGBTQ+ community?

Justice Kennedy, in releasing the majority opinion wrote, “Our society has come to the recognition that gay persons and gay couples cannot be treated as social outcasts or as inferior in dignity and worth. For that reason the laws and the Constitution can, and in some instances must, protect them in the exercise of their civil rights. The decision clearly states that it is a general rule that religious and philosophical objections “do not allow business owners and other actors in the economy and in society to deny protected persons equal access to goods and services.”

While the case failed to be a “win” in the traditional sense for the plaintiffs, Charlie Craig and David Mullins, there are undercurrents in the decision that I hope will bode well for anti-discrimination cases in the future (I am sure there will be many, many more).

After reading (and reading some more) about the case, I spent some time reflecting and honestly found myself slightly lethargic. Though the case may actually fuel protections for LGBTQ+ people, I feel a bit weary in trying to remind people that really, people are just people. It would be nice if we could all treat each other with basic decency. We do not have to agree. Not even a little.

I keep hoping that we can arrive at a place that acknowledges (no matter what you think or what politics that you hold) the humanity central to all of us.

We are all just people. I get that we have beliefs. We have ways of seeing the world. We have ideologies. But my goodness, if we continue to bicker about who we can (or cannot) sell cake too, I’m worried about how we can move forward in other dialogues and other forms of living together.

I guess this is a bit idealistic, eh?

I am no law expert, but I do rest on the fact that I would rather spread more love than not.

I would rather welcome more people than not.

I would rather say “yes” than not.

You can still hold your beliefs and decide to acknowledge the humanity in another human being. I promise, it is not impossible. What’s the worst that could happen?

When you have experienced exclusion, you know the pain and you know the hurt of being outside of belonging. Inclusivity, I think, propels us forward far faster than exclusivity. For this reason, and more, whatever and wherever I end up, I will press for the inclusion of everyone. This is the work of social justice.