“So I heard you’ve been dating a lot of guys this summer,” my lesbian friend asks me over a beer, elbows on the sticky table at the divey gay bar down the street. “So are you like… straight now?”
Well, I try not to be snappy about stuff like this but I was super snappy to her.
“No. I’m still queer. I’m always bisexual. When I date girls I’m bisexual. When I date guys I’m bisexual. That’s what being bisexual means.”
She leans back on my bar stool with her Pabst can, and makes an ehhhhhhh face. “But aren’t you – more straight right now than normal?”
I’m not proud of how snippy I got. I soap-boxed. I gave a speech about biphobia and bivisibility and the heteronormativity that is also a problem in the gay community. I think I dropped the word patriarchy in there, too (because, I mean, why not?).
At thirty, I know myself well enough to know that when I’m that thin skinned, it’s usually not about Them, it’s about Me. And when my gay friend takes a sip of cheap beer and asks, “so are you straight now?” I snap at her because she’s only saying out loud what I wonder, too. Every date with a girl makes me wonder if I’m gay, every date with a boy makes me wonder if I’m straight. And I have to tell myself the same thing I said to her: When I date girls I’m bisexual. When I date boys I’m bisexual. That’s what bisexual means. Some people have one “Coming Out Day.” I have a lot of them – to other people, and to myself. I identify as “queer,” partly because it encompasses my tricky relationship with gender that I write more about here, but also to avoid the awkward word “bisexual” and all its baggage and questions.
When you’re a woman who loves binary systems, loves the black and white, loves cute little boxes for Answers and Ideas and People – being bi can be uncomfortable. It’s hard to see being queer as a gift to myself, the world, and the Church. And frankly, the Church doesn’t help. I’m not just talking about homophobia and anti-LGBTQ things in the Church, although Lord knows that’s difficult enough. I’m talking about the Church’s discomfort with ambiguity. The Church’s discomfort with anything that is difficult to classify.
The Church never gave us good maps for navigating in-between places.
I spent college hanging out in the closet, where every good evangelical Intervarsity leader should be. I secretly dated a girl and split my free time between campus ministry events and hanging out with the closeted and uncloseted lesbians in my all-women’s dorm (shoutout to Scott Hall!). I flirted with the LGBTQQA group, and when we went around the room and identified, I always said that I was a “straight ally” (another reason to invite “allies” – we could be entertaining Queer Angels unawares). I started arguing about LGBT issues and obsessively following Soul Force, the bus of gays that drove around to Christian colleges to discuss gay Christian issues. Me and my girlfriend snuck around, making out in the arts building, holding hands at Wagon Hill where no one would see us, drinking wine on the beach at midnight. I was gay as a penguin, but outside, looking in, to all the Pride parades and gay parties and queer activists.
I gathered up a handful of crushes after that, and some of them seemed really legitimate and also were boys, which kept me solidly in the closet. If being gay is a sin, maybe I’m only *partly* gay. But in my mid-twenties I fell in love with a woman, hard and fast, the kind of crush that hits like a flash flood. She sauntered into the room in cowboy boots, quoting Paul Newman and Catherine of Sienna, running her hands through her chopped off hair, and the world felt fresh and fierce and I was totally lost. Whatever else I was, I wasn’t Straight.
So I started to come out, a little bit at a time. First it was in a hushed voice over a sneaky cigarette. Then it was chugging beers out in the back driveway, yelling “I. AM. GAY!” to my roommates on the back of a white pickup truck into the thousand-acre woods. It started to feel natural. It started to feel like Me. It was less scary to say out loud. And then, right when I was finally used to saying “I’m gay” to myself, and when I was finally saying it out loud to people around me, when I was finally ready to go to Pride wrapped in a rainbow flag –
I fell in love with a boy.
Well, there goes that tidy box of identity that I had been crafting so carefully.
Am I not gay now?
But I just got used to it!
I just finally got an answer!
Are there more questions now?
Do I get to bring my boyfriend to Pride?
Do I say something when a gay friend
casually refers to me and my girlfriend as “lesbians”?
What if my regular hang when I’m single is a gay bar –
can I bring a boy there on a date?
(I don’t even *know* any other bars, OK?)
Do I even bother “coming out” to Church People if I’m single?
I mean, I’m just as likely to date a boy as a girl.
Why rock the boat?
Being queer mean asking all those questions a heck of a lot. Being queer also means having to come out – again – and again – and again – and again. Most uncomfortably, not only will you have to watch conservative friends be disappointed when you break up with a boy to date a girl, you have to watch gay friends’ disappointment when you break up with a girl to date a boy.
And here I am, the absolute reigning queen of boxes and labels and check lists, and God, in God’s infinite wisdom, created me good, and created me bisexual. Instead of a settled, set in stone, immutable, solid Answer about “Identity,” I got handed a set of Questions that feel nebulous and unanswerable.
Answers are anchors, roots, stone foundations you can build houses on.
Questions are sailboats on the ocean, tumbleweed, tents.
Questions are traveling words.
But when we’re on the road, we meet Jesus.
LGBTQ folk are always on the defense in church, asking basic questions like “am I allowed,” fighting for scraps and feeling relief when we get them.
And bisexual men and women can feel like we’re fighting on two fronts – jostling for space in the LGBTQ community while we’re fighting the church for a place under the table (because asking for a place at the table is just too much).
But instead of fearfully wondering “am I allowed,” what if we were courageous enough to ask “what is the particular gift to the Church that I’m uniquely qualified to give?”
Being queer means that we carry with us questions, traveling words, and feeling like we’re on the road more often than not. And being on the road teaches you things about God and yourself that you can’t learn in any other way.
I wouldn’t wrestle so much with grey areas if I didn’t have a huge grey area that I carry around in my own body. My discomfort with bisexuality, or anything that flirts around between labels and communities, points me to the truth that there are fewer labels in the world than we wish there were.
The universe is complicated. The labels we take for ourselves are rarely 100% accurate. The labels we give to other people are, at best, incomplete, and at worse, completely wrong. The categories we sort our experiences with can help us navigate more quickly and simply, but they don’t always reflect true things about the world. When we get too committed to our labels, not only do we hurt ourselves and other people by trying to force square pegs into round holes, but we miss out on all the beauty that our rainbow world is trying to show us.
Labels are good training wheels. But we’ve got to be brave enough to take the training wheels off, trust our ability to balance, and fly through the world on our bikes unafraid of tipping off one side or the other.
I’m grateful to live in a body that just won’t take a black and white answer as the only answer. Because God knows I spend most of my time looking for black and white answers. God knows I spend too much time trying to put myself in a box. And I don’t fit in one.
And if I don’t fit in a box, neither do other people.
And if I don’t fit in a box, neither does God.
The gift of queerness for the Body of Christ is a constant invitation to see the world, the Other, and our God, as bigger, stranger, more beautiful, more diverse.
The Church has always been in the business of denying in-between places. It’s a difficult process, wrestling the Church to a place of Unknowing where there will always be a Cloud between ourselves and God. It’s difficult to acknowledge that there will always be more things that we don’t know about God than we ever will know about God. It’s difficult to worship a God who isn’t just a reflection of our best and worse impulses. We use metaphors to try and name the Divine, but our attachment to the metaphors gets so strong that we’d prefer to keep our language for God over any real experience of Her.
Learning to stand in front of the Cloud of Unknowing isn’t something that only the conservative church needs to learn. The liberal church doesn’t like it either. My gay liberal friends have just as much problem with my queerness as my straight conservative friends. Learning to be comfortable moving in and around ambiguity takes practice for every religious and political persuasion.
Learning to pitch a tent in the in-between places means believing Jesus was serious when he said that foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to rest His head.
If we’re gonna pick up and follow Jesus seriously, our hearts will need to learn how to live and breathe and trust in the wilderness. We’ll need to learn how to have our boxes dismantled as quickly as we can rebuild them. Our ideas of Who God Is will be shaken out, aired out, shattered, as quickly as we try to recreate them. We don’t just learn new truths about Jesus, but we’ll have to unlearn old untruths. And yeah, our tables will definitely be turned.
And who is better equipped to help the Church navigate the wilderness, the places without labels, the things that don’t fit in boxes, than the Faithfully LGBTQ?
So to my Church family, to my Christian brothers and sisters in power – walk with us, the gay folk in your midst. We have things to teach you about what it feels like to unlearn as much as you’ve learned. Our eyes can see new colors on the spectrum, the ones that aren’t quite blue but not quite green. We know how to pitch a tent in the wilderness. Come sit with us.
And to my bi’s and queers and all the in-betweeners who wonder how exactly they “fit” – you are a gift. You are a gift to the world. You are a gift to the Church. You are exactly who you are supposed to be, and you belong.
Happy National Coming Out Day, dears, and Happy Pride. God is proud of you.