To the Queer Kids
For queer kids, it's harder than most appreciate to find a safe space.
For those of us studying in Evangelical colleges, even primary and secondary private Christian schools, we're met with open hostility.
I'm one of you.
This is an experience few can understand and many belittle, and your peers' inability to empathize with your situation only adds to your pain. The emotional burden placed upon you time and time again by these same people is immense; most humans aren't asked on a regular basis to provide epistemic justification for their own existence. It hurts no matter the source.
Your family, your friends, your professors, your administrators, your pastors, the leaders pontificating in your space - it's suffocating. Somehow, your desire to love and be loved is a threat to the fabric of society. And you know that doesn't make sense. You know it's not fair.
So this is for you.
You, fellow member of the LGBTQIA+ family, are quietly advocating justice if only by breathing, scarred by those whose religion should prompt them to love, wounded by systems pitted against you whose aim is mischaracterized as "love", whose impact is far from it. You sit quietly in your classes, your chapel services, your social gatherings, jaded at the flagrant dehumanization emanating from self-righteous exclusivism.
It can be far too easy to forget who you really are and the worth you already possess. Self-affirmation isn't easy in the first place, far less so when few around you are willing to affirm you as you are. Feeling loved is particularly challenging when love, the generous and inclusive kind, is scarce.
With that being said, I want to remind you of a few things:
You are good.
If you have a Protestant Evangelical past - I'm sure we could swap some stories - you've spent much of your life internalizing a theology of inherent wrongness. You may know it as "original sin", and it probably did a number on your conception of self-worth. A whole lot of people over the years have ruminated on our imperfections extensively in books and sermons, conflating a potential for wrongness with wrongness as exclusively inherent.
Here's the thing: You possess an inherent goodness. You are not irreparably broken, nor are you an aberration in some idealistic created "order". The ancient Hebraic origin story in the text many of us call Genesis tells of a Divine Other speaking all that is into existence. Standing in stark contrast to contemporaneous origin stories in the Near East, this Divine Being uses Her voice to construct our universe, beginning with light and concluding with humanity. Yet, rather than follow the same pattern, She does something different: She forms us out of dirt and breathes into us, imparting splendor and worth in a uniquely powerful way.
Even a couple thousand years later, this story and its implications are pretty different, pretty - dare I say - progressive. It pulls us ahead of our time, away from dehumanizing prejudices that plague society, pulling us towards equity, justice, and the recognition that we have been called good. The Divine calls all that's been made, from the watercolors of a sunset to a black hole's distortion of space-time, good. The text doesn't say "perfect" - in reality, the original language means something akin to very good. God is emphatically pleased with you. Perhaps the act of seeing this deep, indwelling goodness is a step towards a more just and whole society.
You, made of interstellar dust and wonderfully complex in ways not yet given scientific articulation, are good. Your sexuality, your gender identity, your primary and secondary sex characteristics - they are all part of what makes you you and they are all very good. Nothing and no one can take that away.
You are not the one in need of change.
No matter how many times you hear it preached and taught by those granted the influence with which to do so, you - gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, pansexual, asexual, gender nonconforming, intersex, and more - need not change who you are. Your sexuality, gender identity, and personal expression are themselves good and an outworking of how God has made you, and there is no need to capitulate to harmful rhetoric suggesting you must change. For most of us, we know change to mean repression and suppression - it's coded language whose product is trauma. Insofar as you experience "aliveness", you are experiencing the deep welling-up of God's goodness in your being.
Keep breathing, keep loving, and remember that the burden of change is not on you: If anyone seeks from you an epistemological defense for your existence and right to live, you have every right to say no. In no way do you owe that labor to anyone - it isn't on you.
When you hear others call you "sinful", attack your "lifestyle", and suggest you must repent for who you are, remember this: Those calling you out are themselves in need of change. To suggest you are anything less than the glory of God in all its diverse and creative expression is sinful and premised in a lifestyle whose fruit is injustice.
You are not alone.
Oh, how it feels that way, and it may look that way from where you sit. While your story is entirely unique, there are others experiencing a similar form of pain, that familiar kind of rejection, walking a dark road in hopes of finding acceptance and wholeness. Your story with theirs forms part of a tapestry woven across a diverse experiential landscape.
In Evangelical and conservative universities around the world, students like yourself are awakening to their inherent light and fighting the darkness with each and every breath. This collective effort is given strength through community, and if you've not yet found it in person on your campus or in your home, reach out through online platforms. If you can, leverage databases to seek out an affirming spiritual community nearby where you can find critical support.
Twitter is a particularly great place to find affirming writers, advocates, podcasters, and the like. You'll quickly find you're not alone - your academic environment needn't be a silo. The internet, with its many faults, is where I was introduced to others like myself seeking space in toxic environments. Books can serve as another rewarding mental and emotional investment.
As long as you occupy space where your identity is considered other, you will be confronted with isolation; it's never an easy thing to fight. While it may be hard to believe, remind yourself of this: you are not alone. You never have been, and you never will be.
You are loved - wholly, completely, and unconditionally.
You may hear this a lot, and perhaps your mind recites these words when things get tough. But believing them? That's hard. Internalizing your value and beloved-ness is a battle you will fight for quite some time. If you were raised to believe in the wrongness of same-sex love or that your gender assignment is a static absolute, seeing past these strictures takes a lot of strength, a lot of support, and won't feel initially natural.
If I could go back a couple years, I'd walk into East 73-204 and find a lonely college sophomore sitting on his dorm bed, holding back tears in the midst of an existential struggle for self-acceptance. In hopes of speaking over his growing walls, I'd tell him that striving for "rightness" - his quest for the model for God, the world, and self that answered deep questions of identity and purpose - is a fruitless and exhausting endeavor. I'd remind him that epistemology doesn't work that way, and he won't be the one to answer two thousand years' worth of unanswered questions.
No, I would tell him something simple and likely frustrating to his sensibilities: You are loved without condition, without reservation, and without exclusion. If there's anything that lonely queer kid needed to know then, it was of a deeper worth and a deeper beloved-ness that was never premised on answers, but that celebrated the humanity in asking unanswerable questions.
Even now, it's hard to believe. But I have to remind myself: I am loved.
Though you may not always feel it nor believe it, you are loved in ways you could not imagine by people you may not even know. I believe you are loved by a God Whose Love is not bound by human conceptions of worth. You are loved beyond capitalistic, cisgendered, heteronormative, patriarchal value systems whose purpose is to commodify your dignity.
All of you - your identity, your particular form of expression, your crush on your classmate, your heartbreak, your longing for companionship - is loved.
There's no exception.
Nothing I've written here is particularly exciting nor original, but I certainly hope it's comforting. If you're walking through a lot of questions, doubt, and striving towards self-acceptance like I was and still am, the very best thing I could hope to achieve is comfort. Encouragement. And I think I may have even done that for myself.
Remember: You are so very good, and you're good just the way you are. You're not alone. And most of all? You are loved.
May we all lean into our beloved-ness.