We sat along the edge of the stage after her talk. In the quieted, small, storied college auditorium where MLK Jr. once spoke, the four of us exchanged dreams from the margins we inhabited. We conjured heady hopes that history would break open for us with the weight of our theory, praxis, casting visions of fullness, self & community actualization. Rebecca Walker was with us to discuss To Be Real, the then recently published book she had edited on emerging feminist thought: the personal was political as we brainstormed. I spoke of my desire to organize a small caravan of queer folx and allies to drive across the country into small towns to support and provide critical mass for first-ever Pride Parades. Perhaps inspired by Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and anticipating by decades the HBO show We’re Here, my daydream details were far more low-budget. Picture VW busses of rag-tag activists with poster board and sequins and chaplaincy training accompanying Melbas of the Upper Midwest or Annies of Appalachia while creating a rural queer network of organizers of the early internet age.
Though the vision didn’t come to pass, I recognize that it continues to encapsulate something of what I imagine realness means. Any realness I, or anyone else might manifest entails a community context: to be seen, recognized, for all of who we are, who we want to be, whether children of chiffon, leather & studs, plaid, or silk lamé. None of us reaches such a salvation alone.
The first time I came out to anyone as questioning my sexuality, it was at a church lock-in, perhaps 2am, in the intensity of an adolescent existential conversation next to the altar in the darkened church chancel. The sanctuary “Jesus Candle” burned above us, casting flickering shadows. It was a holy moment. A few months later, the second time I came out as questioning, a few hours away while I attended a synodical youth leadership meeting, it was in another church sanctuary similarly late at night. My coming out journey started at church.
Did the church and its promises make these spaces seem safer? Did the sacred architecture of worship, the cross looking down above all, allow me a level of comfort, a container to hold my fear and trembling? Nestled in these confessions, the fortunately kept secrets, did I seek absolution? Can we find solace in the institution that caused the wound?
These were my first attempts at being real. Almost 30 years later, with deeper repeated church wounds, and joyous recognition of how much my denomination has indeed begun to accept people of all gender identities and sexual orientations, I wonder if I would still be Christian if I weren’t queer. Taking seriously the theology I was taught, that God comes to us in love, that we in turn love our neighbor, I have stubbornly insisted that the church recognize my realness, fullness, and beauty. As I even now speak my truth beneath the cross, bringing my vulnerability into worship spaces and beyond them, I invite the church, in expectation, to live into its own message, promises of grace. As I continue to work out my own realness, salvation in fear and trembling, still I ask the church to embrace its own.
“Your love is my love
My love is your love
Our love is here to stay…”