Being effeminate

Years ago, while living with my grandparents for a short time, my grandfather and I were driving home from work when he took the opportunity to bring up some things about me that he had issue with. As he drove, he lectured me about helping them out more financially before getting to the heart of what he really wanted to talk about.

He started by telling me I needed a hair cut. I had been letting my hair get sort of long. It wasn’t even shoulder length, but was several inches long on the top and sides. Although having short hair was a requirement for men in the Holiness faith, this wasn’t exactly the reason he brought it up. As he talked, he recalled a verse in the Bible about being effeminate.

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

Now we were getting to the root of his issue with my hair. It wasn’t just that it was longer than normal for men in our tradition, it was that he thought I was trying to look like a woman (I was really trying to look like Michael Jackson, but whatever).

Not sure how to respond, I brought up two highly-respected men in the Holiness community who were very effeminate. Both had soft voices, had never married or exhibited any interest in women, and were perfectly manicured. “No,” he said, “They are just different.”

I began to get angry, more at his refusal to admit these men fit the very definition of effeminate than at his insistence that I did. Surely he could see what I saw, but just refused to accept it because these men claimed to be holy. My anger took a more personal slant when he told me I was being a bad influence on the younger males in our church. I realized this talk we were having was more about his fear of me being gay than the length of my hair.

When I get mad, I usually clam up and stew in it. That means I have to find other ways of releasing my anger. When we arrived home and he finished belittling me, I decided to go for a walk. I removed the cap I normally wore to work and let the wind blow through my hair as I journeyed down the country road in front of our house. I always loved the feeling of having my hair in my face, so I enjoyed it as long as possible. Then I returned home, grabbed the clippers, and shaved my head in the bathroom. From my perspective, this was an act of rebellion. If I couldn’t have long hair, I would have barely any hair at all.

After showering and getting dressed for church, I walked into the kitchen. My rebellious act wasn’t seen as such, but was embraced as me having finally seen the light. Both of my grandparents exclaimed how much better I looked, but the damage was done. I knew I no longer wanted to live with them, and I moved out a few weeks later.

It is worth noting that a couple of years later while visiting a local gay bar, I bumped into one of the effeminate Holiness men that I had mentioned to my grandfather during our conversation. That was definitely an enjoyable moment for me.

The other man never married, but maintained a close relationship with a single Holiness preacher. Apparently they traveled around the country together and often slept in the same bed. Maybe they were in love, maybe they weren’t. It was a long time ago and doesn’t really matter anymore since they have both passed away.

So, what does that verse in Corinthians really mean? I don’t know. Some newer translations have changed it to “men who have sex with men,” but I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Perhaps the Apostle Paul just had a problem with women, and by extension, men who looked or acted like women.

Misogynistic, if you ask me.

Judge not

My cousin’s birthday is tomorrow. She won’t be around to celebrate it, because she died in a car accident in 2001 at the tender age of 25. Her father called my mother today and sobbed on the telephone as he remembered. Even 13 years later, the wounds haven’t healed.

I remember Tammy’s funeral. People wept and talked in hushed tones as expected, but this one felt much different from other memorials. Most were quite obvious in their belief that Tammy didn’t go to heaven. Some were so convinced of this they dared to say it out loud. You see, Tammy was reared in a strict Pentecostal home, and she wasn’t living according to those standards the morning she wrecked on an ice-covered road.

Years later another young person I knew passed away. Like Tammy, they had left the faith of their childhood and weren’t living what you might call a “righteous” life. This time, however, things were much different. The same people who judged Tammy clung to hope that this particular person had gotten right with God in the final moments of their life, and the funeral was filled with admonishments about letting God be the final judge. There’s nothing at all wrong with that line of thought, but I wonder why Tammy was treated so differently?

If God is truly love and if God truly loves us more than we can possibly love each other, why would he cast a young person into Hell before they even have a chance to figure things out? I can’t think of anyone who deserves an eternity of torment, nor can I reason what it would accomplish. Even the worst criminal is given a shot at redemption.

I saw Tammy in a dream a few years ago. She looked lovely, and we walked together for a while as I wept. It was probably just a meaningless creation in my sleeping mind, but I treasure it. I prefer to think of her happy and at peace. I just wish those who call themselves “Christian” would give her the same courtesy.

Happy Birthday, Tammy. I remember your lovely smile and your wonderful sense of humor. I remember the fun we had driving with the windows down and the music turned up loud. I hope I made you feel even half as loved as you always made me feel. Maybe I’ll get a chance to see you again one day. Until then I’ll see you in my dreams.

Quote

Remember it

Some people say homosexuality is a sin. It’s not. God is perfectly cool with it, God feels the exact same way about homosexuality that God feels about heterosexuality. Now you might say, “Whoa, slow down. You move too fast. How could you have the audacity, the temerity, to speak on behalf of God?” Exactly, that’s an excellent point and I pray that you remember it.

- Ted Alexandro

HBO’s ‘The Leftovers’ and childhood trauma

HBO’s new series, The Leftovers, looks very intriguing. And a little scary. After roughly 2% of the world’s population disappears in a rapture-like event, the show follows what happens to those who remain behind. This reminds me a bit too much of the movies I was forced to watch as a child while attending a Southern Baptist school.

I grew up without television, so when our teachers decided to show us a movie it was usually a treat. Not only did we get to feast our hungry eyes upon delicious cartoons like Bambi, we got to skip the monotony of classroom activities. Unfortunately, the movie selection wasn’t always so innocuous.

While still in elementary school, we were shown A Thief In The Night and A Distant Thunder – films that detailed the Rapture and the horrifying events that followed. These movies not only showed people being forced to receive the Mark of the Beast, but what would happen to those who refused. The first movie in the series had a particularly haunting song that is stuck in my head to this very day.

There’s no time to change your mind; the Son has come and you’ve been left behind. I wish we’d all been ready.
Children died, the days grew cold. A piece of bread would buy a bag of gold. I wish we’d all been ready.

Because the Holiness church had taught me nothing about the Rapture but everything about what would happen in the End Times, I knew I would be one of those who was left behind to either take the Mark or be put to death. I wept hysterically throughout both films, so much so that my teacher mistook my tears for a desire to be born again. She led me in prayer a couple of times, but soon realized she was getting nowhere and told me to talk it over with my parents when I got home.

Needless to say, it was a traumatizing experience. Almost as bad as the time my aunt and uncle (also Baptists) showed my family a video of people dying in car accidents and going to hell. Good times.

So, it is with trepidation that I am actually looking forward to watching The Leftovers. Hopefully I have watched enough horror movies and reality television over the past 20 years to desensitize myself.

Losing my religion

The first week of February marks the last time I attended Sunday service at our church, and although I have had many periods of up-and-down with regard to religion, I am finding myself less and less inclined to participate in anything having to do with it.

My whole life through, Christians have been telling me how to live, how to believe, how to love, how to encounter God. They have also told me on numerous occasions that I’m not doing any of those things correctly. Christians are usually the most vocal group against social justice, equality, gay marriage, science, peace, etc. Anything that pushes humanity along a more gentle pathway almost always seems to meet resistance from those who claim to be followers of Christ. Oh, the irony.

It has gotten to the point where I simply don’t want to be associated with it anymore. Maybe I’ve outgrown it, or maybe I have just hardened my heart over the years. Whatever it is, I can’t deny that I feel outright contempt for most things religious.

I still believe in God. I even believe in the message of Jesus Christ. I just wish modern-day Christians weren’t so concerned with the size of their congregation, the amount of money in the offering plate, and being entertained on Sunday morning. And why does it feel like Christianity has been hijacked by right-wingers who love war, revel in patriotism, and hate their fellow man? Maybe because it has been.

I might feel differently on down the road, but for now, I’m content sleeping in on Sunday mornings.

Imagine no religion

I am not a deeply religious person. I was reared in a home that attempted to be very Christ-centered, but I left the majority of those beliefs behind as I grew into adulthood.

Even though I have been attending church regularly for a few years now, I do not consider myself a person of faith. I don’t even identify as Christian, since I consider the meaning of that word to be Christ-like. I do my best, but I’m far from being anywhere close to the seemingly unattainable character of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament.

Whenever something comes up the news pertaining to religion – whether it be something as horrifying as Muslims killing one another over cartoons or movies, or something as inane as Chick-fil-A’s donations to organizations fighting against same-sex marriage – I find it embarrassing to even consider myself part of an organized religion.

Although my church is a member of a very progressive denomination, that fact isn’t always evident to outsiders looking in. Someone driving by our church would have no reason to believe it to be any different from the multitude of ultra-conservative churches in the area. Why would a woman or a gay person have any reason to believe that our congregation supports equal rights for both?

During times like these, I wholeheartedly believe that religion is at the root of the world’s problems. Sure, poverty and class warfare play some role, but religion almost always seems to be the catalyst for violent uprisings, terrorist attacks, and various other forms of human rage. Let’s not forget the corruption and sexual perversions that are running rampant through the world’s biggest Christian denomination.

Although certain religions seem more prone to violence than others, the phenomenon certainly isn’t exclusive to any one religion. Christianity still has its fair share of extremists running around calling for the deaths of those considered to be sinful, so to say being a Christian is more peaceful or God-like than any other religion is fruitless.

So, basically, I am embarrassed to be associated with any organized religion. I love my church and many of those in attendance, but it causes me great discomfort to realize that most of the world assumes our congregation is no different than all the others. How can I ridicule other churches for their archaic views when my church is part of the same machine?

Religion isn’t all bad. It helps fill a desperate need that mankind has to be a part of something larger, and provides peace to people in times of suffering. It just seems that far too often, religion is the cause of the suffering.

Many years ago, John Lennon asked us to imagine a world with no religion. I don’t think he was asking people to become athiests; I think he was referring to the way we use religion to divide people and create untold agony. Perhaps he was onto something.

Out of order

mose_gingerich_out_of_order

I recently began watching Amish: Out of Order on the National Geographic Channel. The reality show features Mose Gingerich, an ex-Amish man who is struggling with issues pertaining to faith and family. Because Mose left the faith of his childhood, he is shunned by his family and considered damned for eternity. I can empathize with him on many levels and had a very visceral reaction to the show.

Like Mose, I was brought up in a strict religious home. My family worshiped at a small Pentecostal Holiness church that placed much emphasis on appearance and behavior. Our church leaders were able to pick verses out of the Bible to back up all of the strict rules we lived by. Women were required to have long hair (most wore it up in a bun), long dresses, and no makeup. Both sexes were expected to wear long sleeves and no jewelry… wedding bands included. Our pastor went as far as preaching against women shaving their underarms and legs.

Like the Amish, Holiness people didn’t fit in very well with the outside world. This “outsider” status wasn’t considered a negative attribute, but was actually taught as part of God’s plan for his people. Verses like the following were often used to explain why we were supposed to be different.

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” - John 15:19

As I grew older, I began to question many of the things I was being taught. On one hand I was being told the world was bad, while on the other I was hearing how God loved the world so much he sent his only son to die for it.

It didn’t help matters that my sister and I were attending a Baptist school where we were learning things that contradicted what we were hearing at our Pentecostal church four times each week. The differences weren’t huge but large enough to make me realize religion wasn’t so black and white. My Baptist teachers were reading the same verses but coming away with a different meaning. I began to understand reading the Bible and creating a belief system based off of it was completely subject to interpretation.

As I grew into a young man, I parted ways with organized religion – although it wasn’t so much a conscious decision as a slow weaning away. I didn’t feel like there was a place for me anymore in the little concrete block church where I spent countless hours as a child, so I simply quit attending services.

Although pulling away from the church community alienated me from most of my friends and family, I don’t think I was prepared for the rejection I was to experience after coming out as a gay man. While I may not have been shunned to the degree of Mose or other ex-Amish, I have had my share of rejection by members of the faith of my childhood.

I have now been living my life openly for almost 18 years. I have a wonderful partner, and I have been attending a loving and accepting church since 2006. Regardless of how stable and normal I might consider my life to be, I realize most of the people I grew up going to church with believe I am deceived and damned to hell.

Like the Amish, most of my family believes the only possible path to spiritual reparation for me would be returning to the Holiness community. Like Mose, I have no desire to participate in a denomination so encumbered by dogma and tradition and so separatist that they relish in their alienation from the rest of humanity.