Queerly Beloved: Unlearning the Lies We’ve Been Told

By : Rev. Jakob Hero Shaw
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Years ago, in one of my seminary classes, someone posed the question, “Why do we trust people with our bodies who we wouldn’t trust with the keys to our car?” This was in a class on queer theology (yes, you find classes like that in seminaries, at least in the seminaries that are worth attending.)

The question was not an attack on queer life and it was not a critique of the sexual freedoms so many people in LGBTQ spaces enjoy. Instead, it questioned where in our lives we assign value and how we choose to protect our bodies, our possessions and our hearts.

This question has stayed with me for at least 15 years and over the years my own answer to this has changed a few times. The reality is that many of us do value what we drive more than we value our own bodies. This statement is not a criticism; rather it is an invitation to consider how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.

If you are having trouble reading this because you are rolling your eyes and thinking, “there goes another pastor judging people for having sex,” hang in there and keep reading, because that is not what I am saying. My problem is not with the sex that happens in our community—sex is awesome, sex is a gift from God, yay sex!!—my concern is that sometimes we lose who we are in the pursuit of it.

Sexuality is a blessing, no matter who you are. I truly believe that being queer is a gift from God. Whichever way you are oriented, you are blessed! But being queer is also a challenge and being different is very hard. It can be so very lonely. When we look around our LGBTQ spaces, we see pride parades and dance parties. We also see beautiful people on the pages of magazines, and sometimes we really don’t see ourselves.

What does it mean to truly be seen? I remember being unsure of exactly who I was meant to be in life in my much younger years. While I was not sure who I was, I was acutely aware that I was different. I craved the experience of truly being seen by someone else and I longed to know someone whose difference reflected my own difference. When you are queer and feeling alone, it is easy to believe you are irreparably broken. In that place of brokenness, we desperately want to put the pieces back together—but instead of reaching for glue, we grab a sledgehammer.

We are taught that those who are different should just accept any harm that comes to us. We are taught this at a young age by our families, by our faith communities and by our peers in school. By the time we reach adulthood, we have already been well trained in inflicting harm on ourselves. Perhaps nothing can damage us more than believing the lies we are told about ourselves. We have been well trained in self-doubt. For generations our people have been told that we should not ask for a seat at the table, and we should be grateful to eat the crumbs that fall from it.

Just a few short years ago we watched as people, whose marriages are never questioned, debated whether ours could possibly be equal to theirs. For many years we have seen transgender women of color misgendered as the media reports their murders. We have adopted the hateful language of “clean” and “unclean” to discuss HIV status. We have heard from pulpits and pundits that we are not whole; not worthy; not equal and not worthwhile human beings.

We have been lied to about the value of the love we share. Is it any wonder that so many of us treat our cars with more care than we do our own bodies and the bodies of those we desire? Do we even need to wonder why we sometimes lose ourselves in the pursuit of affection and validation?

The good news is that those of us in the queer community do not need the approval of those who willfully choose to not understand us. We do not have to perpetuate the mistreatment we were taught was normal. The love we share and the communities we build are beautiful and sacred. We get to define our value for ourselves. We do not have to beg for a space at their table. If there is no room for us, we get to build our own.

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