Vulnerability Is Not a Dirty Word

Hello, everyone! I hope this finds you doing well. I’m back after a four-month hiatus. I haven’t been kidnapped, nor have I fallen off the planet. I’ve just been taking some time off to reflect. A lot of life changes have taken place unexpectedly, and I haven’t been able to write as much as I would like. Today’s topic is particularly relevant to me on several levels, and I think it’s extremely relevant for those of us who are LGBTQI.
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broken heartWhat does it truly mean to be vulnerable? For lots of people, the very word drudges up negative emotions… things like fear, judgment, rejection, and loneliness (to name a few). Societal norms tell us that success is preceded by strength and power, not vulnerability and weakness. Throughout the course of my lifetime, I’ve adopted vast and varied philosophies about the pros and cons of vulnerability. When I was young—before I became jaded—I saw it solely as a positive thing. You open yourself up, give it all you’ve got, and let the chips fall where they may. If people don’t reciprocate or appreciate it, then it’s their loss. At least that’s what I told myself. It seemed pretty cut and dry.

Once you live a little, you learn the hard way that people aren’t always what you hope they are. Intentionally or otherwise, eventually someone will let you down. You realize that there are certain people who have the ability to cut you deeply, and leave wounds that never fully heal. You even discover that you, yourself, are capable of inflicting this kind of pain on someone else, however unintentional it may be. Suddenly, vulnerability seems like a terrible idea. Why put yourself out there at all when there’s a good chance you’ll end up heartbroken and forsaken? Over the past couple of years, this is how I felt. Because inevitably, you will have your heart broken. You will be betrayed. You will—at some point—feel as though you’re too weak to take the chance on someone again. So you make a decision… one by one, you build indestructible walls of protection around your heart. But what does that do to a person in the long run? I think C.S. Lewis said it best:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

So what are we to do? Vulnerability has the possibility of cultivating both extreme joy and extreme pain. It’s the ultimate catch-22: If you build those walls of protection, you’ll never know the full extent of the love you could experience. If you let your guard down, hurt may not be imminent, but it is certainly inevitable at some point. It’s lose-lose, right? What if I told you I may have discovered the secret to living in and surviving the risk of vulnerability? You see, I’ve come to believe that successful vulnerability is directly related to a person’s sense of self-worth. If your self-worth is solely defined by what others think of you, you’re going to have a rough go of things. This mindset can occur slowly. You may not even realize you’ve gradually allowed your dignity, self-regard, and value be determined by other people’s opinions of you. It doesn’t take long to figure out why vulnerability would be a bad idea in this situation. If you open yourself up to someone who defines your self-worth, and they hurt you in some way… that pain and rejection is difficult to overcome.

So how do we appropriately define our self-worth? Simply put, we need to love ourselves. It’s imperative that we take time for self-discovery… to figure out exactly who we are, and learn how to embrace it. We have to love ourselves before we can experience—and depend on—the love of others.

I’ve been spending a lot of time in solitude. Subsequently, I’ve learned there’s a big difference between loneliness and being alone. I used to be afraid of solitude; But now I’m learning to utilize that time to nurture my spirit, to seek out the sacred, to appreciate the frailty of life, to simply exist. This solitude serves as a catalyst for self-discovery—to determine what I like about myself, and also what I despise. Sequestering myself helps me to better understand my own thoughts, feelings, and belief systems. It prepares me for my time out in the world, among my friends and family. Is this simply the mark of an introvert? Perhaps. But it is a practice that I am learning to embrace.

So what’s the verdict on vulnerability? Is it healthy? Personally, it scares the heck out of me. Yet, as true as that is, I crave it. I desire to share those deepest parts of myself with those who mean the most to me. Human nature instills in us an eagerness to live in community and fellowship with one another. By all means, I say go for it. Take chances. Open yourself up. Live in the risk of vulnerability.

Just be sure to love yourself first.

Bisexuality in a Heterosexual Marriage: Thoughts From the Inside

bisexual flagAdvocacy is vital to the LGBT community. Allies are the single most important factor when it comes to the overall education of society. Of course, one of the most effective ways to change hearts and minds is to share personal experiences. I had the chance to speak with two dear friends about the issue of LGBT advocacy. What makes this couple unique? They are in a heterosexual marriage, yet both of them are bisexual. They could choose to obscure their orientation—to hide behind their marriage license. No one would be the wiser. But they choose advocacy. They choose to openly support the rights of LGBT folks. I thought their point of view was well worth hearing. Without further ado, meet my wonderfully bisexual friends, Fred and Carrie.

Mandy: Is your bisexuality an important part of your identity? Why or why not?

Fred: I would say, in a private, personal sense, yes, as it relates to my wife and I. Publicly  not as much. I don’t publicly identify as bisexual (such as on Facebook or the like), not out of any sort of fear of reprisal or shame, but because I feel it would be somewhat disingenuous. I have never had a romantic relationship with another man, although prior to meeting my wife, it wasn’t something I would have considered completely out of the question. I suppose the best way to put it is that I am emotionally relatively straight, but physically relatively bisexual. I do find myself occasionally attracted to men, as my wife does towards women. We are romantically and emotionally attracted to one another, but appreciate the physical attraction that we are capable of harboring towards people of our respective genders.

In that respect, I don’t believe my capacity/tendency for physical attraction to other men terribly important to my self-image (when compared to the things that more definitively make me “Me”, such as my love of music, the films, movies, and books which I love, my hobbies, my history and accomplishments, et cetera). On the other hand, though, my cognizance of my own internal compass of physical attraction highlights and puts into greater relief the struggle that (I suppose what I would casually call) “true” bisexual, gay, lesbian, and trans-gendered people endure. I could not possibly recognize the potential for same-sex desire within myself and simultaneously call homosexuality or any non-hetero sexual identity “wrong” or shameful. Adding to this, seeing the many varied expressions of homosexual behavior in thousands of other animals throughout nature, the entire moniker of “unnatural” proves laughably false. It is no more “unnatural” than the rarer-than-average expression of a recessive gene, or red hair, or predilection for a specific type of food or music.

I suppose it could be said that my own personal attractions inform my beliefs and opinions, but as they distill into a sort of “straight with exceptions” rather than a true “bisexual” (meaning, romantically and physically interested in both genders equally), I do not publically identify as one, except while having these sorts of conversations with friends who ask.

Carrie: My sexuality is an important part of my private life. Although I’m physically attracted to other women, I’ve only experienced romantic inclinations with men. I embrace my sexuality and don’t consider it a source of shame; in fact, I frequently discuss it with close friends.

Mandy: Why do you choose to identify as bisexual, even though you happen to be married to someone of the opposite gender?

Fred: Well, see above for part of this answer. I married Carrie primarily because we are best friends who happen to share a physical attraction to one another. We emotionally innervate one another, and function as one whole. We enjoy many of the same things, and share many of the same views (though we still argue like anyone else, haha). The emotional component is much more important to me than the simple, primal one of  “am I solely and wholly sexually attracted to her?” I doubt anyone could say that about their spouse. While we are faithful to one another completely, we are still human, gladly so, and still experience attraction towards others of both genders. The most important thing to me is that we love one another for who we are, that we weather the storms and springtimes together, and that we HAVE these kinds of conversations in order to best understand one another.

Carrie: My husband and I understand and support one another’s sexuality. I don’t feel insecure because of who he might be attracted to, because these feelings of attraction are normal and natural.

Mandy: When did you first discover your sexual orientation?

Fred: I experienced the physical attraction to both genders from a very young age. Through years and years of conditioning, I suppose, I grew into being “straight” for the most part. However, as I grew older, and especially as I discovered the many and sundry nooks and crannies of the more adult corners of the Internet, I realized that I had never truly dealt with my internal attraction to males or accepted it as a part of myself. Now, of course, I know it’s nothing to be ashamed or afraid of, and it has done me a world of good to move on as a more “whole” person, one that can acknowledge who I am without issue.

Carrie: When I was a teenager, I never seriously considered the possibility of being anything but straight, as my entire social circle constantly reinforced that “straight” was normal and moral. It wasn’t until I was in college and studied the psychological aspects of human sexuality that I realized there are many varieties of sexual orientation beyond simply “gay” or “straight.” I then began to accept my feelings of attraction to both genders.

Mandy: You take advocacy very seriously. According to most people, your lifestyle would be considered “heterosexual”. Could you tell other straight people why it’s so important to advocate for full-inclusion of LGBT’s?

Fred: Well, I tend to liken it to what our nation went through around 60-70 years ago. Why should white people care what happens to other races/ethnicities when it doesn’t concern them? My answer is the same to both: because the folks concerned are human beings with worth and value who deserve dignity and respect. Today, like then, I think we who are not exclusively gay, bi, lesbian, or trans have to ask ourselves- “What side of history do we want to be on, here?” 
As for myself, I want to always be on the side of the oppressed, on the side of the underdog, on the side of those who are fighting for truth and fairness and egalitarian equality. Sexual preference should not determine our treatment of other human beings.

Carrie: Sometimes people struggle to empathize with others whose lifestyle differs from their own. However, they need to stop measuring people’s worth by their sexuality, just as we shouldn’t measure someone’s worth by their race or gender.

Mandy: Do you think we will see full marriage equality in your lifetime?

Fred: I sure as hell hope so. Like the prior question, I believe this shift should occur as soon as possible. Every day that we don’t institute full, open-armed inclusion and respect of others is a day that we allow more Matthew Shepards to occur. It’s another day that hospitals may not allow partners to say their final goodbyes due to angry, unaccepting families and lack of Power of Attorney. It’s another day that full insurance benefits may not be available to who would otherwise be a spouse. It’s another day that children in foster care go without loving parents because agencies won’t recognize the legitimacy and love present in a same-sex home, as if it would be different than a heterosexual household. Both my father and my wife’s father walked out on our families, and I and my sister are adopted. Now, while the plural of anecdote is not data, that still (to me) says something about the purported strength of hetero families over same-sex ones (it’s nonsense).

Carrie: I certainly hope so. The tide is shifting in that direction. While ultimately the decision lies in the hands of lawmakers, there is much that citizens can do in terms of advocacy.

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Wait.

I love getting mail from readers. Yesterday, I received something that I related to on multiple levels. Many of us know the pain of waiting: Waiting for clarity, waiting for change, waiting for acceptance, tolerance, and love.

When I received this from Jill Lippard, she didn’t have the intention of sharing it here on the blog. But I thought it was something worth hearing. With her permission, here is Jill’s poetic experience of a life on hold. -Mandy

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I am tired of waiting.

I waited for seven years before I accepted that it was okay to love the love of my life. Seven years in the closet. Seven years sitting on the fence. Seven years of life on hold.

After wrestling through those years of doubt and indecision, I decided this love was a gift. A gift from God. A gift that I didn’t have to be ashamed of. I didn’t have to hide it. I didn’t have to fear for my salvation because of it. I was exactly who God made me to be.

So I came out. I told the truth about who I was and who I loved. Then I waited.

I waited for loved ones to recover from the shock. I gave them time to adjust to the idea. Time to cope with the perceived loss of who they believed me to be. Time to question. Time to arrive at a place of acceptance and, I hoped, eventually support. I waited.

A few years later, I married the love of my life. And, although I have a piece of paper from a state that recognizes our marriage, it is nothing more than a symbolic gesture in the state where I live.

So I continue to wait.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Cor 13:4-8, 12-13)

Why are people so afraid of love? What are we waiting for?

I am still confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (Psalms 27:13-14)

The End Of My Double Life

I grew up in Christianity… the same faith I still claim, just like many of you. Although the process of reconciling my faith and sexuality in the midst of a conservative Christian denomination was challenging and painful at times, I now consider it a blessing. For those of us who grew up within fundamentalist belief systems, we have the advantage of remembering what it was like to hold those beliefs. Therefore, we are fully present in the fight for equality, yet we have the ability to understand why some Christians are still fearful of dialogue about LGBT inclusion. If we look hard enough, it’s not difficult to see the reasons why.

Over half of Americans are now in favor of LGBT rights, including same-sex marriage. Couple that fact with the marijuana laws passed in the last election, and you’ve got a good ol’ fashioned recipe for end times disaster. Many religious-righters are trying to save as many homosexual souls as they can before our pride parades usher in the Rapture. But we must remember that most people who have this mindset are acting out of love. They are not bigots, narrow-minded, or shallow. They are clinging passionately to the fundamental beliefs they personally hold as Bible-believing Christians. The views they hold stem from love and compassion for their fellow man, not from intolerance and hate as many people tend to suggest.

However, the above approach is not working. It hasn’t worked for decades. “Ex-gay” ministries are being exposed as fraud, people are getting hurt, and LGBT folks are leaving the Church altogether. Something has to change. We cannot keep doing the same thing and expect different results. Culture is shifting. Science is teaching us things about human sexuality that we never knew before. More and more churchgoers are taking a healthy dose of reason and experience with their Scripture-reading. Society is changing. And if the Church doesn’t change as well, it will die.

So the battle lines are drawn, both sides refusing to budge. It’s going to take more than picket signs to change the world. The only answer? Conversation, plain and simple. We must be willing to have those intense discussions with people who disagree with us. We must be willing to be honest about who we are. We must be willing to tell our stories. It is only then that things will change.

This past week, as the Supreme Court held hearings regarding Prop 8 and DOMA, I had a choice to make. Would I continue to compartmentalize my life, or would I publicly declare my advocacy for the LGBT community? In the end, I learned that my silent days are over. I will publicly support equality because it is the right thing to do. Period. I will be honest about who I am because of the millions of young people out there who feel they’d rather die than admit they’re gay. And I will tell my story so that all those who share it will know they aren’t alone.

This is how we change the world.

If you want to tell your story, I hope you choose to do it here, so others can be encouraged. Have a great week, everyone!

Marriage Equality Vigil in Nashville

It’s been an eventful two days for the LGBT community. What an encouragement it has been to be in community and fellowship during the Supreme Court hearings, and to watch social media turn “red” with overwhelming support. Although we most likely won’t hear any rulings until June, this week has been proof that intolerance and discrimination of LGBT’s is a dying trend in this country. (Can I get an AMEN?) All across the country, organizations have held events to educate the public on these hearings. Last night, I attended a candlelight vigil here in Nashville. I thought you guys might enjoy a few photos. If you attended an event in your hometown, please send the pics my way so I can share them on the blog!

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In the end, I had to choose between the sign or a candle. ;) I couldn’t hold both.

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Nashville’s Out Central, an LGBT Resource Center

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The sidewalk was packed!

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There were more people in attendance than expected. We couldn’t all fit in the room to hear the speaker.

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Just before we lit the candles…

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The TEP puts in countless hours to fight discriminatory legislation within the state of Tennessee.

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Let your light shine!

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You need a microscope to see us, but we made the front page of the Tennessean! :)

 

 

The Era of Marriage Equality

As I sit here on the eve of the Supreme Court hearings of Prop 8 and DOMA, a lot of things are running through my mind. First and foremost, my thoughts are with all of my fellow LGBT Americans who would be affected by the outcome of these hearings. My mind can easily run away with hypothetical questions: What kind of dress would I wear to my wedding? Where would my partner and I go on our honeymoon? What would equality feel like and look like as a daily part of our lives?

But we know it won’t be as easy as that. Unless you live in one of the nine states that already recognizes same-sex marriage, then you will still have to wait on individual state government to make a ruling regarding same-sex unions. So, this won’t be an all or nothing thing. Nonetheless, I am in good spirits. If DOMA is overturned, then it means that the federal government is taking a monumental step in the right direction.

Although sometimes it’s difficult to see it, things are changing all around us. We made history in the last election, and the momentum is not stopping! Even in the small, conservative towns… LGBT advocates are everywhere, fighting the good fight for equality. It is an exciting time to be alive right now! Marriage equality is inevitable. It will happen. It’s just a matter of how long it will take.

Be sure to check your local calendars this week for a listing of equality events. (I’ll be attending a candlelight vigil tomorrow evening.) HRC is encouraging everyone to wear red in support of marriage equality. Also consider changing your social media profile pictures to red. If you haven’t already done so, you can use this one from HRC:

HRC red

So, how will you be spending Tuesday and Wednesday? Feel free to share information about the events that will be happening in your area. Have a great week, everyone!

Release Hurt. Embrace Healing.

releaseWriting is an act of healing for me. Releasing my deepest inner ramblings into the universe feels cleansing. As I grow older, I try to make it a regular practice. The longer I’ve done this, the more I realize that this catharsis actually helps me to embrace forgiveness. By organizing my thoughts, my hurts, my emotions, I can experience them fully, process them, and begin healing.

For those of us who are LGBTQI Christians, there are certain hurts that can cut deep. When people in our lives cease to understand us, support us, or even love us… we can’t help but take it personally. We take it to heart because their rejection attacks a fundamental part of who we are.

So, why not try this out here and now? I’m going to recount one of the first times that homophobia cut deep… a time where words hurt. And in the comment section, you can do the same if you like.

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A couple of years before I came out, I was at my old university for a music performance. This particular show is a tradition at my alma mater… it’s directed, written, and performed solely by the students. Every year, at the end of every performance, they have the audience stand up, join hands, and sing a hymn. It’s always the same one. (We are all about tradition.) This particular year, they had a young gentleman come forward to lead the hymn. My friend sitting next to me—who had been a long-time family friend—leaned over and whispered in my ear: “Isn’t singing this song against his religion?”

Confused, I asked her to repeat herself.

“You know, he’s gay. Isn’t singing a church song against his religion?” She chuckled as she said it.

“Oh,” I said. I might have given a half-smile or an empty laugh. I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember is that my hands began to sweat, I felt lightheaded, and my heart sank. My throat tightened and my eyes welled. I managed to choke back the tears, but the emotional scars of those few words stayed with me for years.

She had no idea that the person sitting right next to her was a lesbian. We had spent years singing side by side in our ministry… but if she knew I was gay, it would somehow change things for her. Those few words spoke volumes to me. What I heard was that my songs of praise were worthless. They were meaningless. That they could only be pure and right and true if a straight person were singing them. Had she known back then that I was gay, she wouldn’t have said it. But she spoke her true feelings that night, and they’ve haunted me ever since.

What she expressed in those few words that evening is a product of fear and ill-education. She’s never been told that gay people love God, too. She’s bought into the rhetoric that is preached—and sometimes screamed—from certain pulpits every Sunday. And if I can’t find a way to have that conversation with her, then I can only pray that one day, someone else does. For everything that loving discussion can’t heal, time itself will. With the passing of each year and each decade, there will come a day when the exclusion of LGBT’s is a thing of the past. Our future generations will look back on it as a shameful memory, and wonder what made their ancestors so unloving, barbaric, and exclusive. And all of us who are considered “too progressive”, “too open-minded”, or “too liberal” will have ended up on the right side of history. Until that day, we will be prepared to endure ridicule, to be misunderstood, to experience way too much “conditional love”. But we must also be courageous. We must tell our stories. We must engage in loving dialogue…. because our day is coming!

There is strength in numbers, and there is power in telling our stories. Have you been hurt by someone because of your sexual orientation? Have you been bullied, made fun of, or rejected? Release it. Let it go. And let the healing begin.

Please feel free to share your story below, or on the submission page.