Social Invisibility and the Light of Christ
“I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids - and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me… It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves. You ache with the need to convince yourself that you do exist in the real world, that you’re a part of all the sound and anguish, and you strike out with your fists, you curse and you swear to make them recognize you. And, alas, it’s seldom successful.”
-Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
As a gay woman at Biola, I experience days so full of alienation from my own sense of self that I must come to terms with my own identity through the books I read and people I meet. I frequently find myself attempting to understand my personal experiences through Ralph Ellison’s book “Invisible Man," which focuses on the social invisibility and discrimination African Americans face. On such days, I come to see my struggle for a coherent self-understanding as what Ellison describes as the basic human desire for identity illuminating light. At Biola, where I can be expelled for revealing my true identity and discussing my relationships openly, this desire for illumination is dangerous. Like many other Biola queers, I try to appease my desire to come out of the closet through vague confessions (i.e. I went on a date with someone and they were nice) and outspoken political opinions. Generally, this half-exposure leaves me feeling even more desperate for true communication as I realize the vacuous nature of so many of my conversations and friendships. Even though I have a lot of friends at Biola, my constant lying and hiding leaves me feeling not only isolated and lonely, but deeply frustrated and embittered. There are so many days when I live a secret inner life full of resentment. Sometimes I feel bad for the people I spend my time with at Biola; little do they know how angry I am with them on the inside. There are times when I lash out when someone asks if I have a boyfriend, or tries to set me up on a date with a guy. I know if I tell them about my attraction to women, they will just see me as someone who “struggles with homosexuality;” they won’t see who I really am: a happy and proud gay woman who is madly in love with Christ and His gospel and her girlfriend. I hope my friends understand that when they talk to me about men, its not that I don’t appreciate their friendship, I just frequently feel like people aren’t talking to me at all, because they, as Ellison relays, insist on seeing “everything and anything except for me.”
One theme we chose for the website is “the invisible spotlight,” which captures the instant feeling of fear LGBTQ students experience when topics such as homosexuality are discussed in the classroom. In such a setting, we are suddenly struck with paranoia, reading into every glance from the professor and every comment made to us by a student. Not only is this environment oppressive, it is dangerous. What is a Biola student supposed to do if they feel stuck in an abusive same-sex relationship? What if a transgender student is being secretly harassed for their gender identity? They can’t talk to anyone without simultaneously outing themselves, and risking social shame or expulsion. This oppressive atmosphere must be replaced by a strong and willful revolution of openness guided by the true light of Christ. As Christians, we know the paradoxical truth that when Christ, the Light of the World, reveals your deepest sin and evil, this is actually the first step to true and complete freedom. While this is a spiritual reality we experience as Christians, our lives at Biola do not mirror our inner Christian freedom. Ralph Ellison wisely echoes the sentiment of Christ saying that “The truth is light, and the light is truth.” If queerness is as morally detrimental as some claim, let us come out of the closet and into the light, so that the fruit of our actions may speak for themselves. Allow us the dignity of honesty, and please don’t be afraid of the truth.
“I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I've tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
I always was of a romantic disposition. I always thought that one day I would fall in love with a nice girl with whom I would spend my life. I always loved the poetry of romance. And then, it is not good for man to be alone.
Well, I grew older, and I never felt that way for any of the girls I knew. But I grew closer to my male friends. I didn’t really know how to think of this attraction. I mostly thought of it as devoted friendship. Your love has been more than the love of women.
Slowly I realized that my feelings were sexual. But I still hoped that these feelings would pass, that as soon as I got to university I would finally meet a woman for whom I could feel what I felt towards my male friends.
But nothing changed. I still felt the same. In fact the desire grew worse. I burned in lust, men for men working that which is unseemly. I hated myself for what I desired, and I honestly fought it as well as I knew how for years. I did not succeed. For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
It is better to marry than to burn. But what about those for whom marriage can do nothing to quell the flames? The apostle Paul tells us the singleness is a gift and that it is blessed, but is it not better to marry than to burn? I drank from the cold reason of those who preached eternal abstinence, but many waters cannot quench love.
My first year at Biola there was a speaker who explained homosexuality’s roots in sin. That it stemmed from the sin of the parents in shrugging their god ordained roles, or in the child for not accepting theirs, or perhaps in some other person’s sin of abuse. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered that neither had sinned. And research has failed to show any connection between abuse or bad relationship with parents and homosexuality. Neither have ex-gay ministries had a very good success rate for converting their patients.
Many waters cannot drown love.
Male and female he created them.
I do not know. Yet Paul has also said that in Christ there is neither male and female. Not male or female. He harkens back to Genesis and negates the statement “Male and female.”
Your love has been greater than the love of women.
Lord have mercy on me a sinner.
In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.
Lord have mercy.
For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
Christ have mercy.
Many waters cannot drown love.
Lord have mercy upon us.
Shadows Hold Their Breath
I can already tell it's going to be a Bad Day as I step out into the hallway, purposely running late
for chapel so that, ideally, I won't run into anyone who lives on my floor as I leave. It's always
awkward – it's an all-girls hall, and then there's me in short hair and boy's clothes, and they might just see me as another tomboy, if a rather scruffy one, but they have no idea –
A girl walks out of the bathroom just in front of me and as our eyes meet I wish desperately that
the ground would open up and I would sink down into its dark depths, because they have no idea how much I don't belong here.
I would sink down, down, until all the light was sucked away and the soft swell of breasts and
hips on my body that should be smooth flat planes would vanish from my sight as thoroughly as if they had been plucked away.
Down further, deeper, until I'd surface spluttering on the other side, gasping in the air of a world
that didn't give confused and disapproving looks at my hair cut close to my skin, at my button-downs and my bow ties. Here I could dress however I liked, be the gentleman I couldn't be there.
I would surface in a world where my mother wouldn't beg me to stop cutting my hair, where my
father wouldn't try and tell me to be more ladylike, where words like daughter sister niece girlfriend ladies ma'am miss wouldn't send sharp painful bursts of hyperawareness through my ribs, wrapping around the bones and pulling them apart to expose frail trembling organs to the harsh and oblivious outside world. Here I could just be a sibling, a partner, a friend, and no one would ask no but what are you really? because that's what I am, really.
It's nice there, down in the dark. No one sees me; no one can tell if I am a boy or a girl, just the
way it should be because in Christ there is neither male nor female, right? That's what they keep telling me, but there is still no option for other on my Biola ID. No one will see the F on my birth certificate, my driver's license. No one will see what I wear when I marry him. No one will wonder when I wear boxers and a Dodgers cap one day and a sundress and heels the next. No one sees; compared to there where people look too closely, it's paradise.
In the dark, M or F aren't the only options available to a world that isn't either/or. In the dark,
people don't need me to explain what it means to be genderqueer – they'll already know. In the dark –
“Hey!” the girl – long hair and makeup and jewelery – greets me brightly. The ground is still
firm beneath my feet, I am still here, and I manage a smile back.
“Hi,” I say with a wave, and I keep going. I don't meet anyone else as I head outside, and when
I step through the doors I lift a hand to shield my eyes against the light.
"Freckles are small patches of melanin that accumulate in the skin and can be made more noticeable and more abundant by sun exposure. Freckles don't seem to play any role in disease or in any other aspect of one's life. They neither harm nor help - they just are."
Freckles. You know the kind that show up on your arms a few weeks into the school year? after the summer sun has had time to soak its way through your skin and up your veins into your heart? the ones that color the face of a girl, her cheeks red like the leaves on the trees that she walks under. Those little specks of beautiful imperfection, like the ones that dot the leaves that crunch under her worn out shoes as she walks. The little gold ones that I can find hidden in her eyes if she lets me look long enough. They're gorgeous. Some sit on her chest as if to represent the burdens that she carries. The ones that keep her up at night in a panic. Part of me wishes that I could take them from her, but another knows that they're a part of her, and longs to never change her. She's beautiful. In every way a person can be beautiful. Strong, determined, compassionate, funny, smart, brave, charming, needy, and beautiful. And the freckles that dot her skin are a part of her.
So, with my arms just as freckled as her, I embrace her marks, along with the rest of her. I love her. And that's what love is right? Taking all of someone and dying for them. Giving them everything and not asking for anything in return, not even change?
Love is not conditional. It's free. You don't buy it. You can't sell it. It's not bound by rules of any kind. It just is.
God is love. And he died for us too. Sometimes I think you forget that. Sometimes you forget about His perspective. Cause we sit here and we bicker about whether the freckles that I hide under my jacket are made of dirt and disease or of light. I imagine that God thinks that that is silly.
I love my girlfriend's freckles, and I love mine too and I wouldn't change them for the world, no matter what you think. I'm done trying to live up to your standards. All I want to do now is live up to God's.
Growing Up in the Church
I grew up in the church, loved the church. The church told me they were about love, and that’s all I wanted out of life. I had very few friends, but the ones I had I would have given up anything for. Then, high school happened. While my girlfriends were chasing after boys, I was running from them. I wanted to be known, to be respected, to be loved, and I was tired of sex being a prerequisite for those things. There was one boy I didn’t run from, but he was different. He cared. He gave a shit about me as a person. Outside of my family, I felt like he was the only boy who ever truly loved me. Senior year of high school he came out to me that he was gay. I suddenly found myself at war. I was at war with my parents, at war with the church, at war with my own soul. I soon discovered the limits of my church’s love, and was plunged into a year of deep depression, self-harm, and a constant pleading with God to have mercy on both of our souls. We both felt alone. The church showed hatred towards him, called it love, and I seemed to be the only one who stood up for him. The church told me I should be trying to save him, but, I never quite understood from what. When I compared myself to him, he was the better person by far. If anybody needed saving, it was me. He soon discovered he couldn’t survive in our small conservative town without committing suicide, so he moved to the city. I soon realized the same was becoming true of me. I left. I went to college 2,000 miles away from my small town, and have run into the same kind of hatred. But, there is hope. I’ve found more hope here than back home. I am still in a war, but it’s always been a war worth fighting. It’s a war for love. This battle isn’t about ideas. This is about souls, and I’m tired of hatred being masked under the name of love, of Christianity, of God.