When Institutions Fail

In a previous post (I’m not sure which one), I mentioned that the institution of academia would fail me completely if I put the totality of my existence inside it. I did, anditlooks as though it will fail me soon.

(UPDATE: This provision has been removed from the bill.)

As I’ve also stated in a number of previous posts, I am still trying, after three years of not being able to enter a church without my heart racing, my skin sweating out ice cubes, or my lungs losing their ability to take in an adequate amount of oxygen, to find my way back to Christianity. It’s difficult. It’s really difficult for a number of reasons, not least of which being I don’t even know what I believe anymore aside from the cosmic significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The truth is, I used to love the community I was involved in and I would defend it fiercely, even from people who predicted accurately that I would not be accepted as an equal member if I came out as Side A affirming. In fact, a person I was dating around the time I came out asked me if we would be accepted at my church, and I said yes without any hesitation. I assured her that we would be welcome in that space. And, some would argue that we would be welcome, but to those people I respond by asking them to tell me just how welcome I am if I must relinquish my positions of leadership for doing something based on my conviction that queer relationships are not inherently sinful.

At one point, I would feel compelled to divulge the secrets of the other leaders to demonstrate the hypocrisy of their response to me. At one point, I would focus on the fact that they outed me in order to make a point about who is considered “righteous” and who is not. Some small part of me still does because that small part of me still yearns for the days in which I participated in a community that sustained me.

No, I will not focus on those things. I will instead focus on these things working together for good, and this will require me to explain clearly the things which have been broken along the way, but these things will not end in their brokenness.

Some may say that the things I am about to discuss are written with the intent to disrupt Church unity. To those people, I would respond by saying that my presence and my influence were expelled from the Church in order to ensure that I would not disrupt Church unity. My existence in their spaces would never cease reminding them that anomalies exist, and the Church has to find a way to deal with anomalies. Therefore, according to this view, I cannot disrupt Church unity because I am no longer a part of the Church. I have no power, and therefore, I am in no way a threat.

With this out of the way, I will make my best attempt to explain what God is doing in my life.

My relationship with Christianity began to deteriorate years ago when a friend I knew from church sexually assaulted me. At the time, I blamed myself for her actions because she claimed no responsibility for them whatsoever. She expected me to remain friends with her, and I did. I had no close friends aside from my friendship with her. Months later, she stopped speaking to me.

After this, she and I were still attending the same church, and I isolated myself. I grew resentful, harbored hatred, and began to notice everything about Christianity that protected people like her. It felt like the veil that separated my consciousness from perceiving the insidious power holding toxic people in place was torn to shreds. Actually, it didn’t feel like it was torn to shreds — it felt like it was never there in the first place.

But I kept at it. I kept attending and I kept worshiping and I kept serving and I kept searching. It got better. I started connecting with different people, my former friend ended up leaving the church, and I started working in a ministry with middle and high school kids, teaching them music and helping them foster strong friendships with each other.

This continued for several years until I met someone at school and began to date her. Because of this relationship, I felt compelled to come out to my sisters, who supported me wholeheartedly from the moment I told them. During this time, my grandmother died, and because of her death, the pressure associated with having a secret relationship, and some serious objections I began to have with some of the things my church was teaching, I was under an extraordinary amount of stress. The leader I was serving under asked me if I needed a break — I said I did, and I said the break would be indefinite.

I then began attending another church with my friends so that I could heal from everything that had happened. I returned infrequently, and had little to no contact with the church at all.

A few months after I stopped attending, I received a message from a friend indicating that there had been a rumor floating among the leadership that she and I were in a relationship. I was not and had never been romantic with her. After talking to a few of the leaders involved in the situation, it was clear that I had been outed as bisexual to the staff of the church, but I had no idea how many people knew. I spoke with each person individually and told them two things: the rumor about my friend and I was not true, but the rumor about my bisexuality was.

I then asked for a one-on-one meeting with the leader I had been serving under and asked him if I would be able to return to serve again if I was out as bisexual and Side A affirming. He said the church wouldn’t want to promote the lifestyle. This meeting marked the end of my relationship with that church.

For a few months after that, I tried to continue attending church, but I couldn’t without suffering an overwhelming amount of pain. My parents still attended my former church, and I distinctly remember breaking down in the middle of the worship set at their Easter service I had attended with them. I was absolutely devastated.

None of my former friends from my former church reached out to me. I found out later that the pastor had told my closest friend that he should stay away from me because I was toxic, and that he had given him a pamphlet for some camp that would, in his words, “help people like her.”

For three years I flirted with alcohol abuse. I self-harmed. I thought about suicide constantly, and I had panic attacks that almost left me unable to continue school. I hated every single person involved in hurting me, but most of all, I hated myself.

The only thing left for me was school. No longer able to be seen by anyone — Christian or not — as a real Christian, I let that part of my identity die and I threw myself into my studies. I saw myself as an academic. Other people saw me as an academic.

I entered grad school and I devoured content as if it sustained me more than food sustained me. I attended conferences, I presented at conferences, and I excelled in my classes. I became obsessed with people seeing me as an academic and interacting with me as one, and when I wasn’t, I was thrown either into a crippling depressive episode or into an attitude of bitterness so sharp I felt I could cut someone with my words alone.

Now, with the news of this tax plan, I feel as though this identity is going to die, as well. If I am to continue on with my education, I will require a tuition waiver. Seeing as the current iteration of the tax plan floating around in the Senate classifies waivers as taxable income, it makes no financial sense for me to continue with my studies if this is to be the case. Just as the Church has failed me, albeit in extraordinarily different ways, academia is likely to fail me, as well.

A year ago, I would have been devastated, angry, confused, and lost. I would have lost my mind, lost (in extreme cases, quite literally) my sense of balance, and lost my identity. Please make no mistake: I am angry. I’ve called my senators’ offices every day this week, and I plan to call senators from other states, as well. This will cripple my career, if not make it come to an abrupt end.

But it won’t end me.

For most of my formative years passing as straight, I put my identity into other people and the institutions in which I was participating. And, for most of my formative years thus far out of the closet, I’ve done the same thing. I’ve put my identity in relationships, in friendships, in jobs, in Christianity, and in academia; every single one of those things has already failed me in some way, and with each failure came an abjectness, the pain of which was sometimes impossible to bear.

This time, I’m open to what happens in the future, and I know that regardless of whether I never work a day in academia again, I’m alive, and each moment I’m alive I will treat as a gift. Accepting myself as the offspring of God herself makes all attempts to treat me as inferior into a rejection of objective reality itself. The beauty of that real faith, of placing my identity in the person of Christ, rather than Christianity, is that no matter what is given to me or taken away from me, or by whom, I am alive. Because I can no longer receive my identity from the Church, the only place that remains is Jesus.

I do not need academia to know that I am an academic.
I do not need a relationship to know that I am worthy of affection.

Above all, I do not need the Church to know that I am a co-heir with Christ and a co-creator of the future. I do not need the Church’s approval to know God, to grow strong, and to do great things because for three years I’ve been doing exactly that without their approval. I do not need to be called “sister” to know that I am their sibling, but I sure as hell will treat them as if I am.

This act of acceptance is my resistance. I will walk — through the halls of my university, and down the aisles of the next church in which I find myself — with my head up and shoulders straight.

And I will look forward — always forward.

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