Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Cross-Dressing Saints

A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this. - Deuteronomy 22:5

This has come up in the coptic church albeit very rarely.   Like homosexuality, the church does not really address the issue of cross-dressing, because it is not a "coptic problem", along with such things as abortion, domestic abuse, and AIDS.    So what is the church's view of cross-dressing?   In bible studies and youth groups, I've heard coptic clergy say that trying to imitate the gender opposite of what you are is sinful because it is not how God made you.  Let's take the clergy's opinion out of the equation, the bible makes it pretty clear, as stated in the quote from Deuteronomy, above.

So how does the church seem to reconcile this with all the crossdressing saints that the church has canonized and recognized over the years?   Wait, what?  Cross-dressing saints?

Actually, yes, the Coptic Church has in its Cloud of Witnesses, a bunch of saints who have lived their lives as a gender different than what they were, biologically.    There are even Coptic Churches named after these saints.  Most of them are women, who lived lives as men, for survival, or for the mere fact they wanted to be monks themselves.   Some of them have amazing stories of courage as they attempted such a lifestyle in order to serve God in the best way they saw fit, and moreover, many of their genders were not discovered until after their death.

An example of such a saint is St. Marina:

On the fifteenth day of the blessed month of Mesra, the church celebrates the commemoration of the departure of the nun St. Marina, who was the daughter of a very rich Christian man. Her name was Mariam, and her mother died when she was little girl. Her father raised her, and brought her up well. When he wanted to give her in marriage, and to go himself and become a monk in one of the monasteries, she told him, “O my father, why would you save your own soul, and destroy mine?” He answered saying,” what shall I do with you? You are a woman.” She told him, “ I will take off my woman’s dress and will put on the garb of a man.”

She rose up straightway, shaved off the hair on her head and put on the garb of a man. When her father saw her strong determination and persistent desire, he gave all his possessions to the poor, keeping only a very littler for himself, and he called her Marina instead of Mariam (Mary).

From the Coptic Synaxarion, 15 Mesra. Read more: http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/synexarion/marina.html

I don't think anyone could argue the direct conflict we have with the words of the Bible, however, could this be an example, where context and spirit was more important than the letter of the law?    These women were courageous, and faced severe punishment for their choices of living life as a man, yet they persevered and were greatly rewarded by God, to the point that the Church herself has recognized them as canonized saints.    Makes ya think....  

Some others of these saints include:

  • St. Anna/Euphemianos of Constantinople
  • St. Eugenia/Eugenios of Alexandria
  • St. Theodora/Theodorus of Alexandria
  • St. Thekla of Iconium

Monday, November 8, 2010

Voluntary Imprisonment: Why I Joined The Ex-Gay Movement

One of the main questions people ask me, is "why?"    Why did I spend time and money trying to change something that obviously could not be changed?  Why did I make the effort for years to be "cured" from something that was obviously not an illness?    Well the answer is, because none of those facts were obvious to me at all.     In fact I entered into the whole experience with a certain assumption, and it was that homosexuality was sinful, and not only sinful in the eyes of God, but also a sin in the eyes of the church, community, and my family, and when you sin in the eyes of the community, there is far less grace, and far more hellfire.  There was actually more fear instilled in me growing up, about the repercussions of sinning against the community, in a way, it outshone the notion of Hell, in regards to the fire and brimstone and suffering arena.    I never quite understood this before this very moment as I'm writing it out, but I was more afraid of shaming myself and my family, than I ever was of eternal fire.

Imagine that.

Coming from a family which had problems (as if we were the only one), it made sense to me the day I read on the internet "You can be free from homosexuality because your jacked up family made you this way."   You see, I had spent most of my life living as a straight man.   While I had no aching desire for sex with a woman, I was convinced at a young age that the devil was the cause of these feelings that I had, so I pretty much lived life as a straight guy, while secretly lusting over other men, looking at gay porn in secrecy, but I was not really fully conscious of it.  It was as if it was this other part of me that was doing it.   This other persona, that only existed when the room was empty and the computer was on; that only existed in my dreams.    I even got an elaborate tattoo of a coptic cross on my wrist for many reasons including an attempt to curb the perpetual need to touch myself in response to ungodly feelings.

At the same time, I was never quite present in life.   Being so split off from my sexuality made me sorta a-sexual, without emotion, without real matter.   I always felt ethereal and I connected to things that were ethereal and above the plane of reality.   I loved the tasbeha or midnight praises of the Coptic Church, and I found peace there so I spent a lot of time at the church, but this ether made me also lack concentration and focus, it made me lack real direction as far as who I was, and who I wanted to be.  Church became an escape, a place where I didn't have to deal with me.  In fact, I had no idea who I was, and would have liked nothing more than some natural disaster to wipe us off all the planet, because that made more sense than the nothingness I'd always felt.   Don't let the friends, grades, activities, fun, trouble, and girls fool you:   I was completely lost, lacking any sense of who I was.

People always saw me as asexual and safe, I was the nice fun guy with a good personality who wasn't quite hot, and wasn't quite anything, so relational life just didn't exist for me in high school and college.   After falling in love with a guy who was a surfer who lived in my dorm (this inlove-ness i felt was from afar: he ended up being straight), it hit me like a rushing wave (of sulphuric acid), that I was not like other boys.    I think the birds who sang outside my window as an 8 year old could have told me this.   I don't think it was any secret, but the reality hit me like a ton of bricks.  The kind of bricks that had been molded with jagged edges and painted with scary colors, and screaming faces.   In a matter of hours, as this reality sunk in, I found myself in a daze, and could no longer function, like this whole new reality that made sense over everything I was feeling.  My friends remember that week for me, because they said I was like, not well, they saw a lack of focus in my eyes, and a heaviness on my heart.

But there was another very real aspect of my life that I had to take into account, the fact that I had a very real relationship with both God and the church, and I had believed in the teachings of the Bible to the letter, where I was shown that homosexuality was something that was not only displeasing to God but was something that was unnatural and worthy of damnation.   It wasn't the kind of church relationship that kept me being a good boy, no it was far deeper than that.  It was a place where I found real peace and joy, it was a place where I saw big healing happen in my family.   The tenants of the gospel in how to treat others was just so real to me, and I saw the real deep truth in it.   And that's where I found myself in a huge conflict.  Two opposing truths, both very real and relevant.   I know I did not choose my sexuality because I was so young when these feelings became present, and the "normal" feelings of being attracted to girls just weren't there.    

I went back to my dorm, and I got on my knees beside my bed, and I admitted something that I had never even admitted to myself up until that very day, 21 years old, honest for the first time, on my knees by my bed, sobbing my heart out, while at the same time, this huge burden lifted off my shoulders.  I was…    gay.  Took me a long time to say the word, but I said it.   I came out to myself and to the good Lord almighty.   I felt free and clear, I felt like everything in my life made sense, except where did God fit into all of this.    At that point, I really didn't know, but for a moment, I contemplated coming out to my family and friends, and just letting them know the truth.   This was all way too much at the time, I just needed a moment to rest into this new reality.

I told a Coptic priest about what was going on, and the first thing he told me was "do not tell anyone." It was a stern warning, it told me that what I was experiencing was shameful, and why bring further shame by admitting this to anyone.    He told me that there are others who feel the same way I do, some of them have "fallen into a life of sin." while others were able to be married, while others living celibate lives.   He also told me that he would give me resources on area support groups who can help fix the problem.   Fix the problem?   You mean, there was a cure?  

It just so happened that I never heard from that priest again, till this day.   I made appointments with him to follow-up, to which he never showed up, or he would make the appointment, I'd wait for him, then he'd have to leave suddenly.  It was "weird", but I tried not to take it too personally.    Yeah, he was a nice guy.

While searching on the internet for answers to this Gay vs. Christian conundrum, I encountered the story of an HIV positive man, who claimed that God had healed him from homosexuality.    I reached out to him and he told me his story and we emailed each other for several days.  He told me that my being gay was the result of a turbulent childhood (which I had), and lots of pain in the father department (which I had), as well as a separation from other boys at an early age due to lack of shared interest (which was not exactly true but, sure, why not).  The point was, there was a cure, or so I believed, or at least I wanted to believe, so I took the words of this stranger and he pointed me to internet resources containing claims like this:

Eventually I was lead to a support group of folks that I later joined, and went on retreats, as well as the Exodus International Conference, three years in a row. 

For me, the teachings of these places made sense at the time.   They fit with my interpretation of the bible.    They were able to connect the dots, they were able to dig, dig, dig in my life and show me how x,y,z contributed to the homosexual disease that I was being experience.  I was for the first time, facing a past I had locked away, one that involved a lot of pain and abuse.   I was admitting things to these people that I had never told a single soul.   This is very hard to write, but I did experience a lot of abuse growing up.  All kinds, I experienced it.    For the first time I was telling people about these things, and moreso, this terrible gay secret, this secret that had kept me for so many years, I was telling people face to face these things, and being completely accepted for it.    My peers were wonderful, and the leadership, well-intentioned and compassionate (but from what I know in the ex-gay world, that was VERY rare, and I got extremely lucky on the one hand, I have heard horror stories).

Ex-gay ministries are expert marketers: they know how to appeal to men by showing photos of models, hot masculine guys embraced in hugs, and rarely but sometimes, and I remember this one fringe site, featuring shirtless hot men,  or in bathing suits, happy and newly-heterosexual, all to sell poison to hungry youth, and I was among the hungriest.  I was hungry for truth and understanding, and I was hungry for peace.   And let me tell you, that poison is expensive: over $5000.00 in conference fees, airline tickets, hotel stays and all I have to show for it, is a lousy t-shirt, and a few emotional scars which even more money has been spent trying to undo.   Actually, I also have to show for it, some of my best friends in life.   People who I want by my side holding my hand when I breath my last.

But what happened at these ministries is another story for another time.   But I want to tell my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters,  there are legitimate reasons why folks will find themselves in programs like this.   It is not as easy an answer as "those uptight conservatives are self-hating queers"   Many of us were just searching for the truth.   And truth seekers will fight to the ends of the earth to discover what is real and just.   It's just that sometimes, we ended up looking in the wrong places… very wrong places.     

Saturday, November 6, 2010

What Is A Homosexual?

In the church, you'll hear every so often an opinion about homosexuals.   "Homosexuality...", "Gay people...",  "I think so and so is gay.... ", "This is why gays should not be able to (fill in blank)"....   People use the word homosexual, and with it comes a lot of assumptions about the people behind the word.  So I want to ask my fellow parishoners and our esteemed clergy a question:

What is a homosexual?

Is a homosexual a man:  a man who has sex with men?  Constantly and insatiably?  Is a homosexual a man whose sole desire is the penetration of other men, at whatever cost?  And not just one man, but any and every man: At work, at school and on the battlefield?   Is a homosexual attracted to every man on the planet?   Is every man God's gift to the homosexual man?   

 Is a homosexual a man who has abandoned rules and adopted chaos, a man who has abandoned discipline and adopted hedonism?    Is a homosexual a man who is barely a man?

Does a homosexual man reject gender roles?   Does he eat fancy foods and live in a big house?  Will a homosexual man eventually get a dog?  Is the dog of the homosexual man exposed to the daily episodes of rampant gay sex and golden girls re-runs?   Is the dog of the homosexual man well fed or abused or is he simply an innocent victim?

Is a homosexual man a weirdo?   Is a homosexual man ignorant to societal rules, and constantly on the fringe of what is normal?   Does the homosexual man hate normality?    If normalcy is natural and humans are nature, then does the homosexual man hate what is natural, and therefore hate others as himself?

Is the homosexual a man only known as a gay man.

Is a homosexual man weak?   Does he throw like a girl and kiss like a boy?    Does he break like a toothpick in the absence of joy?  Does he bruise like a peach and play with girl toys? 

Is a homosexual man, the enemy of God?   Does he sit in his room, petting his cat, and plotting the next attack to the Creator and his people?

Is a homosexual man a man who likes men, and by men, I mean boys?   

Is a homosexual man, trapped in a marriage to a woman he loves…  to email every once in a while?

Is a homosexual man, a man who has friends who are more than just friends, only they think they're just friends, but to him they're best friends, and his girlfriend get jealous but thinks: well, boys will be boys!  Does the homosexual man dream of his friend?  Does he steal glances at the gym?  Extra long glances at the gym?

Or is a homosexual man, confused and needs Jesus?   10 Hail Mary's to please Us.

Is a homosexual man, the only kind of man, unable to give love, because his love is not love, but is gallons of lust?   Can a gay man know love?   And if he cannot give love, should he even get love or is that asking too much?

Is he the only exception to "God so loved the world"?

Is he the only exception to your love and respect?

Is he the only exception... period?

Shout Out!

I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice shout out on the Leftmost Few blog.   It helps to have friends in cyberspace.   The more we come together, the more those who are actively seeking answers will know they are not alone, in fact, far from it.


Thanks for the props!