Daniel B. Clendenin
If you grow up gay, this book shows, you have two choices.
First, you can manufacture a false and increasingly neurotic self that must lie at all costs, to all people, all the time, merely to survive. You must compartmentalize your public and private lives, deny what you know to be true about yourself, and vigilantly censor yourself in everything you do, say, and feel. Living this way leads to mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, self-hatred, suicidal ideation, cutting, and chronic frustration. This first scenario begs the question, "how long can you deny who you really are?" As one contributor put it, "the closet is a terrible place to live."
But there's a second option. You can let down your guard and live spontaneously as your true and authentic self. But in this scenario you face catastrophic losses in your church, synagogue, family, job, school and community. For some gays, living authentically comes at an unacceptably high price. Among religious believers and before God, could you live with being called an abomination who ought to be stoned to death (Leviticus 20:13) and who will suffer forever in hell? Would you be willing to risk full and final rejection by your family? How well do you think you could endure daily taunts and physical abuse at school? Do you think you'd risk your career for the sake of authenticity? Nor is honoring your true self psychologically easy: "The only way I survived as a gay man," writes one person, "was by embracing everything I was taught to hate about myself."
I was deeply moved by these short (4-5 pages each), simple, and intensely personal stories. They're organized around four themes: religion, family-community, work and school. The authors come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from white evangelicals to black Baptists, devout Mormons, orthodox Jews, and conservative Catholics. There are young teenagers, famous politicians, and two professional athletes. Most of the stories (31 of 40) are written by men, and there's no story written by a transgendered person. The last two stories are written by mothers who describe how they lost their gay teenagers to suicide and a brutal murder.
With remarkable regularity and similarity, every story witnesses to "the power and tenacity of our social conditioning" which punishes gay people. They refute the discredited but prevalent ideas that people choose or can change their sexual orientation. In fact, almost every gay person in this book has done everything in their power to try to change--denial, aversion therapies, "reparative" therapy, behavior modification, overcompensation, electric shock treatments, prayers, counseling, and even exorcism. But if you flip the question you understand the futility of trying to alter what cannot change: did you choose to be heterosexual or could you change yourself to a gay orientation?
This tragic mental health crisis, writes Gold, is entirely preventable and solvable. His book does a tremendous service in taking readers down that long road to wholeness and healing.
William D. Lindsey
This is an extremely valuable book, particularly for communities of faith struggling with the request of gay believers for full inclusion, full communion,a and equal rights within churches. The book documents well the tragically deformative role that religion often plays in the lives of LGBT persons, by fueling condemnation and often outright rejection or hatred.
In doing so, it provides a valuable reminder that religion can, and often does, play a different role in human life and human communities--a liberating rather than oppressing role. This study suggests that, in order for communities of faith to move from oppression to liberation of gay human beings, they must begin to know actual gay human beings--as human beings and not as stereotyped threats to Christian morality. The book's most important contribution is its first-hand accounts that permit people of faith to hear the stories of gay brothers and sisters and to see the faces of gay brothers and sisters.
Through all of the stories in Crisis there runs a common thread: the thread of shame, depression, isolation, overcompensation, and fear of rejection and failure that gay persons all too often encounter as we claim our identities in a culture (and in religious communities) that reinforce these negative self-images. The stories in Crisis document well the hard work required to sustain self-worth in a culture so unrelentingly negative, a culture in which the the name of God is too often used to create obstacles to gay human beings claiming their identities.
As a number of the book's autobiographies suggest, in the uniquely religion-imbued culture of the United States, culture is often informed by religious assumptions and biblical citations, even when those making the assumptions and using the citations have little familiarity with religion. In this regard, there are strong parallels between the struggle of gay persons for liberation today and similar struggles in the past. As with the struggle to overcome slavery, racial segregation, or the subordination of women, gay persons have to deal today with oppressive norms that have been inculturated as religious norms, even when those norms have detached themselves from actual communities of faith.
In dealing with this social inculturation of quasi-religious norms demeaning gay human beings, communities of faith need to remember (by looking back on their response to slavery, segregation, and the subordination of women, for instance) that religion can sometimes be spectacularly wrong. It can end up on the wrong side of history, and of the liberating impulses of history.
Religion has the potential to be salvific, but it also carries the power to be demonic. Look at the Holocaust, burning of witches, Crusades, pogroms, slavery and how can one doubt this? This historical perspective ought to give churches that are certain today of their scriptural warrant for oppressing gay persons and for supporting that oppression in culture pause to think.
I found the Crisis chapters on the risks of being openly gay at work particularly important. Those risks clearly vary from profession to profession. As a theologian who has taught and done administrative work in church-sponsored colleges, I have learned that the churches may well be the last places in the nation to welcome openly gay employees.
There is, sad to say, a unique lack of shelter and welcome for openly gay persons within many churches and church-related institutions. It seems to me that, before communities of faith can call on society to treat gay human beings with respect and justice, they must set their own houses in order by dealing with their history of disrespect and injustice towards gay brothers and sisters--disrespect and injustice still apparent in the personnel policies of many churches and church-owned institutions.
In the final analysis, gay people may bring to the churches gifts that the churches refuse to accept at their own risk. As Crisis demonstrates, in a world in which children are often abused despite our culture's and churches' professed concern for the welfare of children, the gay community demonstrates an extraordinary concern for the well-being of bullied children. Despite the claim by many in both church and society that gay persons are anti-family and non-generative, gay persons can do an admirable job of sustaining families, and, in particular, of reaching out to assist children enduring abuse from peers.
This is a valuable and often unacknowledged contribution of the gay community to church and society. The book documents it well.