Jesus at the Intersection of Fear and Disapproval

Content warning: religious hate of queer people, queer self-hatred.

Some of this has been a long time coming. Parts can be found in several drafts hiding out in my private notes. Until today, I've been too afraid to say what I need to say.

But something I came across gave me a nudge. This poem from Jay Hulme has been making the rounds. (Jay wrote about this, if you're interested in more.)

Jesus at the Gay Bar

He's here in the midst of it -
right at the centre of the dance floor,
robes hitched up to His knees
to make it easy to spin.

At some point in the evening
a boy will touch the hem of His robe
and beg to be healed, beg to be
anything other than this;

and He will reach His arms out,
sweat-damp, and weary from dance.
He'll cup this boy's face in His hand
and say,

                   my beautiful child
there is nothing in this heart of yours
that ever needs to be healed.

I read this the other day, and oof. It hit me hard.

I grew up not just in a Christian church, but also a community where, as the joke went, there were "more churches than people." We were all some form of Christian. Specifically, we were the form of Christian that presented a Jesus who strongly disapproved of queer people.

I will always remember the first exposure I had to queerness that really lodged in my head. A letter from Focus on the Family's James Dobson was in my family's kitchen, warning us in what I recall were apocalyptic terms about "Gay Day" at Walt Disney World.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?), I can't actually locate a copy of that letter. But what I do remember is that I loved Disney World. That letter told us about how gay people were destroying something I loved. Poor children who just wanted to meet Mickey Mouse were exposed to unspeakable perversion.

Around the same time, I was also discovering I was bisexual. But the Jesus who I was introduced to was firmly behind Dobson and his dire warnings. And I didn't know "bisexual" even existedโ€”I just thought I was broken inside.

Was I one of those terrible perverts? No, I couldn't be. I was Christian! I'd bury it all deep down, hating myself a little bit more every time I had any vaguely queer thought.

The Jesus I had been introduced to wanted me to beg forgiveness every time I had homosexual thoughts. I needed to work hard to not sin like this, or he would tell me he never knew meโ€”an eternal death sentence.

The right-wing media diet I consumed at the time reinforced all of it. Gay people were out to corrupt and destroy good Christians. So, of course, I had to avoid it at all costs.

It took me some time and a lot of searching, but I was, thankfully, eventually able to let go of that Jesus.

Unfortunately, the indoctrination remained. I may have finally let go the Jesus they foisted on me, but I was still deeply afraid others would be disappointed in me if they found out my secret.

This was a key reason why I literally turned 40 and had to move away from the conservative communities I had been a part of before I was finally able to come out.

And coming out didn't solve everything. I had to cope with a string of people who thought they already knew everything about what I was trying to say about myself, thought they were entitled to my emotional labor so they didn't feel bad about themselves, thought I should conform to their idea of a "good" queer personโ€”and usually some combination of the above.

Those people didn't know what being queer meant. They equated bisexuality with promiscuity, for example. Leaned into the requisite disapproval that brought. Argued with the idea that I should even be talking about any of this at all.

My fear of what people might think of me took the place of the stern-faced deity who had been disapproving of me for many years prior.

That Jesus was the embodiment of an idea that I'm still working to shake. The idea that there's something broken about me. The idea that someone was looking over my shoulder, evaluating whether they'd approve me or require me to beg for forgiveness.

And that's why the Jesus who was At the Gay Bar hit me so hard. Same name, but a completely different person and concept. Had I been introduced to that Jesus as a kid, would I also be able to love myself unconditionally today?

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