All aren't welcome
Hello and welcome to Episode 26 of This Little Light Of Mine. My name is James Powell and I’m glad that you’re able to join me for today’s story episode, ‘All aren’t welcome’.
I always dreamed that there would be peace on the other side of the rainbow. I thought that once I was fully out to my family, there would be no more secrets, and everything would be good.
Isn’t that what all of our Pride celebrations are about? Celebrating the freedom to be who you are created to be?
I had always been so fixated and terrified on coming out to my family, that I never really looked beyond that point. The years that followed were some of the loneliest of my life… but I didn’t realize that until recently.
Coming out of the closet with my family simply meant that I was no longer hiding one aspect of my life. People talk about having a huge weight lifted from their shoulders after coming out, for me, my anxiety and depression increased… but again, I didn’t realize or understand that until recently.
My big secret was out, but my shame continued to grow and multiply.
And now, here’s today’s story called ‘All aren’t welcome.’
In the years that followed many of the fears, hunches, and assumptions that I had as a younger closeted Christian started to become my reality. It didn’t feel like I had come out of the closet. It felt like I had removed my bullet proof vest.
Five become seven
One of the first changes we experienced as a family was seeing our family of five grow into a family of seven. My little sister and brother weren’t that little anymore. They had started to date, eventually my sister got engaged, then got married, next up, same thing for my brother. They were both on the Christian church conveyer belt. They were doing everything like it was ‘supposed to happen’. I could see their happiness. I could see how their happiness made my parents proud. But for me, their happiness only deepened my shame and increased my feeling of loss, but again, I didn’t realize or understand those emotions until recently.
The emotions that I did understand at the time, were anger and jealousy.
My little sister grows up
My sister met her American husband while they were on a mission’s trip to Israel one summer. The conveyer belt journey towards marriage included the long-distance phone calls, the visits back-and-forth, meeting the parents, planning the wedding, her husband moving to Canada to start, moving down to the US, and getting pregnant within the first few years, everything seemed to work out perfect for my sister. And as things were looking up for my sister, our relationship shifted. That shift started with the word ‘we’.
In the early days it became common practice for many Christian family members to offer up questions and the sharing of helpful verses they thought that I may had missed during the first quarter century of my life.
‘So Jim, What about Genesis and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah? And clearly Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 show how this choice isn’t right. And 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, you can’t get more black-and-white than that? Let me read it for you.
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolator nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
I would understandably get quite defensive during those calls and conversations and I’d pull out my well-worn copy of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians and quickly scan through my highlighted notes to find a response that would prove how wrong my sister was.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is talking about men engaged in exploitative sex with minors. Pederasty was a cultural practice in biblical days where older men would use younger boys for their sexual pleasure. The verse says nothing about loving consensual same-sex relationships. Do you really think that verse is talking about me?
Well Jim, what we believe.
There it was… WE…
My little sister was no longer her own person. She had become a ‘we’. Her opinions became ‘their’ opinions. It felt like I was being ganged up on and I felt even more separate from my family.
Along with the bible verse wars, came the ‘what God really thinks about your choice to be a homosexual’ books that would come in the mail from a loving aunt, and the long-drawn-out conversations that continued to search for the source of my gay.
Why the church hates and fears homosexuals
Let’s pause for a quick history lesson on where the Christian church got their theories, thoughts, and opinions on gay people… cause it wasn’t from the Bible.
White man #1 – Back in the 50’s a psychoanalyst from Austria named Edmund Bergler moved to the US to flee the Nazi’s. He hangs up his shingle as a psychoanalyst and builds a practice that includes 11 homosexuals over his 30-year career (let’s not forget that 7 of the 11 were also under his care for schizophrenia). Based on these 11 homosexuals, he fudges his numbers a bit, rounds up and claimed that he cured 100 homosexuals and made them healthy heterosexuals. But that’s not the only damaging part and theory that he created. The stain that Edmund Bergler left on the world was his claim that homosexuals have a secret conspiracy to recruit innocent children.
White man #2 – Next up we have Irving Bieber, in 1962 Dr Bieber wrote ‘A Psychoanalytical Study of Male Homosexuality’ using information he had gathered from 106 homosexual patients (again, let’s not discount that of those 106 homosexuals that had come to him for help, 28 were schizophrenics, 31 were neurotics, 42 had addiction issues). With a research budget of $5,000 and without studying a single homosexual who wasn’t already in therapy, Dr Bieber’s study became the bedrock medical proof that conservative Christians use in reparative therapy. His study was used as proof that a person can change from homosexual to heterosexual.
White man #3 – in 1967, Dr Charles Socarides becomes the psychoanalyst who brought the now debunked ‘pathology’ and the now debunked and illegal practice of ‘repairing’ the homosexual to the masses in America. Appearing alongside Mike Wallace on a CBS Reports special ‘The Homosexuals’, Dr Socarides, shared the following myths and theories that he made up.
- Myth #1 – homosexuality is the result of unhealthy childhood development before the age of 4
- Myth #2 – homosexuality can come from a smothering or overbearing mother
- Myth #3 – homosexuality can come from a passive or absent father who didn’t protect their son from their overbearing mothers.
- Myth #4 – you can help fix your homosexual children. He shared that if a boy did not display “maleness,” fathers needed to take their sons fishing, or perhaps play tennis. Teaching a girl to bake, do laundry, and clean house would likewise “lesbian-proof” a daughter.
- Myth #5 – children become gay because of their parents. Socaride’s shamed and blamed parents and compelled them to help ‘fix’ their children.
And who was Dr. Socarides? He built his entire career to help cure the homosexual. He didn’t do any research, didn’t have any scientific evidence, but he was great on TV and he was everywhere, Dateline NBC, 60 Minutes, Larry King Live, and CBS. He was just a really passionate parent who made a business for himself ‘helping’ other parents be successful with their wayward children.
Socarides was the father of five children himself. A son and daughter, from his first marriage, two children from his second marriage, and one from his fourth marriage. And little Richard, his son from his first marriage, while Dr. Socaride was working away in his basement office or appearing on TV sharing his theories about absent fathers, Richard turned out to be gay himself. Thank God he didn’t go to his own father when he needed help. Richard sought help outside of his family and later became Bill Clinton’s Senior Advisor for Public Liaison for gay and lesbian issues.
And that’s it. The work of all three men has been disproven, debunked, and in some cases deemed illegal. These three white men laid the foundation and created the so-called research that was used (and continues to be used) by evangelical church leaders to shame, blame, maim, and kill our LGBTQ2S+ children.
These three men created the lies that continued to haunt me and my parents to search for the source of my gay.
My sister’s wedding
I’m ashamed to remember how I treated my sister during her wedding. Unable to temporarily detach from my own shame and focus on my sister’s happiness, I refused to be part of her wedding party. If my church wouldn’t consider marrying me, why the heck would I be part of a wedding for someone else?
I was also really paranoid being around my sister’s fiancé’s family. Has she told them about me? Do they know about our family’s dirty secret? How did that conversation go? What do they think about me? They’re even more conservative than us, will they disapprove? Will they confront me? Then it hit me, maybe my sister was so ashamed and afraid that my brokenness would risk her reputation. Maybe she’d kept me in the closet for his family. These were the thoughts going through my head, but I was too afraid to ask.
Nephew’s & Nieces
Our family dynamic changed again when my siblings started to have kids of their own. I’ve always loved being around kids and I couldn’t wait to meet my nieces and nephews. I was hopeful for our next generation. Maybe they would be raised differently, maybe they wouldn’t have to feel so alone, and unwanted.
When my first nephew was born it was important to me that he had the opportunity to know who his uncle was. I didn’t want him to know the same shame that I was raised with. I did some research and found the perfect baby gift to welcome him into our world. ‘The Sissy Duckling’ is an award-winning children’s book that follows the story of Elmer the duckling who is mocked for being ‘different’ but who ultimately goes on to prove his bravery for being himself.
The Sissy Duckling did not go over well at all. I received a stern warning from my sister and her husband. I was told that if I wanted to be part of my nephew’s life that I had to respect the beliefs of their family and respect that they are the parents and not to overstep any boundaries. That message was received loud and clear, and I quickly learned to play the role of the fun uncle.
Summer Black Friday
A few years and a few kids later our family celebrated what I now call Summer Black Friday. I had taken a Friday off from work and was excited to travel out to my sister’s place to spend the afternoon with my mom, my sister, my sister-in-law, and their kids. I brought the snacks and treats for the kids and we were going to have a fun afternoon together. We shared a hot dog lunch and as the kids were playing together my sister said, ‘we need to talk’.
She went on to explain that a couple week’s earlier I had been at one of the kid’s birthday parties and was sitting on the couch in between my boyfriend and my Dad. She pointed out that I had been sitting with my arm extended on the back of the couch directed towards my boyfriend.
Okay… so what do we need to talk about?
Well, Jim, we’ve been talking and as our kids are getting older now we need to raise them in a household that praises the Lord. We can’t confuse them by allowing that type of homosexual lifestyle under our roof. We can’t condone that type of behaviour. We need to protect our children.
I was stunned. I really didn’t know what to say. I looked over at my mom for some sort of support, I could see the pain in her eyes, but she remained silent.
My sister continued by explaining the new rules that had been created by my siblings and their spouses. Moving forward I was welcome to events at their home, but my long-term partner Peter was no longer welcome.
My mom spoke up and affirmed that Peter was still welcome at any events at their home and was still considered part of our larger family.
This made absolutely no sense to me and I started to ask questions.
What are you going to tell the kids when they ask why Peter isn’t coming to their birthday parties or dinners? They’ve known him for their entire lives and quite frankly, they think he’s more fun than me! Peter can’t come here but he can come to mom & dad’s place? How does that make any sense? How does any of this have to do with protecting the kids from anything? What do you actually think you’re protecting them from?
My questions were futile, they had made up their minds and their rules were black and white. I could accept them, or I could reject them and not take part in any family events at their homes.
You can’t come in MY house!
The next few years were heart-breaking as we complied with their homophobic rules. Peter would drive me out to kid’s birthday parties and then read at a Starbuck’s for a couple of hours before picking me up and driving me back home. The kids were confused and their first question whenever they saw me was always ‘where’s Peter?’.
Looking for love in all the wrong places
Several years after coming out to my family I felt a pull to have a conversation with the lead pastor of my family’s church. Jon Thompson, who is only a couple of years older than me, has always been family friend, we grew up together, went to youth group together, and he was now the lead pastor of our family’s church.
I made an appointment to see him and made the trip out on a weekday afternoon. In hindsight, I think I was looking for his approval, surely Jon wouldn’t uphold the same homophobic views that older pastors held onto. Boy was I wrong.
Let’s agree to disagree
The long conversation that I had with Jon that afternoon ended with him saying “I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree”. It was that easy for him. It was like having a debate over ‘is pineapple a real pizza topping?’. Agree to disagree? We were talking about my life, how God designed and created me, my ability to love and be in a relationship with another man. I was cast out. I wasn’t welcome. His agree to disagree was telling me that he considered me to be a sinner.
These were just some of the experiences I had after coming out that affirmed why I had stayed in the closet for so long. I was right. My family, my church, and the people who were supposed to love and protect me… they weren’t safe. I wasn’t crazy for being afraid to come out. I was right. The sign on the church might have said ‘All are welcome’. But that didn’t include me. All aren’t welcome. That needs to change.
What about you?
What have you observed in your life? When you’ve come out of the closet and shared something big in your life, did you feel like a giant weight was lifted? Or did you continue to experience uncomfortable shifts and changes like I did?
What I’m learning and experiencing is that ‘coming out’ is not a one-time event only for LGBTQ2S+ humans. Coming out is an ongoing lifetime process for every single one of us.
Being fully seen
Our life’s purpose is to continually evolve by learning and growing through the pain and discomfort of facing our fears of being authentically seen.
Somewhere along my journey on the evangelical conveyer belt I started to believe that if I was living a life in alignment with God, and free from sin, that I would have a reasonably comfortable life free from extraordinary pain and challenges. I started to believe that pain is bad, doubt is bad, questioning authority is bad, being different is bad, stumbling is bad, and that sin is bad… but guess what… none of these things are bad. In fact, we need all of these things in order for us to grow, evolve, and live our life’s purpose.
Growth is scary
We naturally start to live our life’s purpose when we create a space and a practice to accept the discomfort that naturally comes from being with our fears. Growth is supposed to feel awkward, uncomfortable, scary, and unnatural.
I like to use the example of going to the gym. I don’t walk into the gym and expect my muscles to grow without experiencing any discomfort. I walk into the gym and know that I need to exert myself. I know that muscle growth actually comes from ‘hurting’ my muscles.
When I’m working out, I push myself and create small micro-tears in my muscles. The workout increases blood flow that starts pumping and targeting those micro-tears, and after a couple of hours starts the process of healing and repairing them. It’s the healing and repairing process where I feel the pain (usually the next day… or two days after hulk like leg workouts with Kristen). This healing is called regeneration and your muscles are designed to heal stronger than before the micro-tears… this process is called muscle growth.
Pain is good
After years of going to the gym I’ve learned to associate this pain as GOOD. I know that this pain means that I’m producing the results that I’m looking for. In fact, I’ve programmed my brain to miss (and sometimes obsess over) this pain… like right now after being locked out of gyms for nearly six months.
I get that this type of pain is good and needed when it comes to my muscles… but I continue to resist any type of pain when it comes to other forms of relational growth. I’m learning that this comes from years of trauma. Trauma from being excluded, marginalized, and shamed. And my trauma is quite common.
This trauma comes from our lack of inclusion in our world. We’ve created a mind-blowing array of manmade systems to exclude, marginalize, and oppress others. We’ve been programmed to think that we need to believe, behave, think, feel, look, and love in exactly same way. We’ve been programmed to have a fear-based scarcity mindset. Programmed to search out and identify an enemy and fight to keep them out or to hold them down. We’ve been programmed to think that by oppressing others and keeping them on the outside that that makes us safe. We’ve been programmed to feel comfortable and safe when we feel like we’re part of the ‘in crowd’ or at least part of the majority. We’ve been programmed to believe that we’re safe when we exclude. We’ve been programmed to believe that it’s bad to be the black sheep.
The sad part is that much of this programming is correct and it works! Excluding, marginalizing, being unwelcoming, oppressing, and using a scarcity mindset is effective. But it’s only effective to those at the top of the pyramid. The person, politician, CEO, and pastor need us to believe and act based on this programming. When we follow their script, it secures their position and keeps their power structure in place. Think about that for a minute. What might happen if we all chose to give up our scarcity mindset and our addiction to labelling things as our enemy? If we didn’t have FOMO, stopped obsessing about what we don’t have, and stopped trying to fight against an invisible enemy… our westernized civilization would crumble. Most people in power need you to live a fear-based life. Fear makes humans feeling dependant and comfort helps take the edge off. Those holding onto power and looking to control are invested in keeping you comfortably miserable.
Breaking the cycle
But you know what keeps the people at the top of the pyramid up at night? They are afraid that we might discover our collective power and possibility of living an uncomfortable purpose fuelled life.
We can do that right now. You can do that right now. We already have all the tools. You already have all the tools.
Radical inclusive love
This is the message that Jesus came to share with our world. Love yourself and love your neighbour, all of them. Not just the ones that look, think, act like you. Not just the ones that love in the same way as you. Not just the ones that believe in the same things as you. We are called to love and welcome everyone. This is a call for radical love. The message of Jesus was one of social justice and inclusion, especially towards those on the margins. We are all wonderfully, beautifully, and uniquely designed.
You should be different
The way that you think, feel, look, and love has been designed to be different from the person next to you. And that SHOULD be uncomfortable. That feeling of discomfort means that you’re alive and that you’re growing.
We’ve been designed to thrive in this state. To all my fellow LGBTQ2S+ humans, to all who have been oppressed or excluded because of the color of your skin, your perceived gender, your intellectual or physical disabilities, how your body looks to others, or for any reason… you have been designed to thrive and the feelings of discomfort you’ve experienced throughout your life have been like micro-tears on your muscles. This pain is also your regeneration. You are designed to heal stronger than before… this process is called spiritual growth.
And moving forward, this is how I’m going to experience this pain. The pain and discomfort that I’ve tried to avoid is my pathway to spiritual growth.
Meet my parents
And next up on my pathway to spiritual growth is my next interview episode. Even announcing this one makes me feel uncomfortable and awkward. Coming up in two-weeks’ time I’ll be sharing an intimate interview with my parents. As I get ready to close out season one of This Little Light Of Mine, I want to invite my parents here to share their personal thoughts, feelings, and insights on our shared journey. I’m going to be asking them some of the questions that, quite frankly, I’ve been scared to ask before.
I hope you’ll join us in two weeks’ time, and who knows, maybe you’ll even invite your parents along. For me, it’s time to start some of the deep, healing, and uncomfortable conversations that I’ve avoided for a lifetime.
Until then, go, be safe, and get uncomfortable. Be the black sheep. That’s your signal that you’re growing, that you’re alive, and that you’re loved.