In and out of closets (Part 1)

For me, coming out makes me feel more honest, relaxed, and free to express myself, but it is also a political choice. I believe that it is harder to hold homophobic views if you know someone who is queer and realise they are pretty ordinary and likable. By being visible I can draw attention to issues which affect us. It also helps me connect with others so we don’t feel isolated. I started coming out to people when I was 13, and from then until the past year I have attempted to be out in all contexts of my life. Friends, workmates from previous roles, people at church know that I am queer, and anyone who has seen me carrying a banner in rallies and parades!

Then I got pregnant, and suddenly I became aware of how much we are in the closet unless we are explicitly out. I was doing my fieldwork placement, and so meeting lots of new people, and it felt like I was constantly being asked questions like “What does your husband do?” or “Is the dad going to have some time off?” Then I realised that it wasn’t just the people I was working with making those assumptions. I suddenly became aware of all the people I could pass by in a day who would be seeing my big belly and thinking there was a dad in the picture.

Now that we are mums the questions about husband/dad continue, and I am also aware of all the subtle messages that we don’t quite fit: little things like filling out a form for a healthcare provider and it only has space for “mother___” and “father ___.” There has been a lot of coming out to people I am meeting when I am out with children and without L… and even some coming out together, e.g. turning up to a childcare centre or a doctor’s office as a family and the one not carrying the child being asked “and who are you?” Even once we have come out to people they forget, which bugs me now that Windhorse is old enough to comprehend what people are saying. We saw one nurse together as a family, and then I went back with Windhorse and as we left the nurse said to her “are you going to pick up daddy now?”

Being the non-gestational parent this time was very weird, especially once we were close to the due date. Sometimes I told people, like my new workmates, “we’re having a baby soon” and was met with confusion. On the other hand some people understood immediately and were excited. Miromiro has had a few health problems, and doctors and nurses have often spoken only to whichever of us is holding him, and sometimes say “mum” when they are talking about something which is relevant to both of us. We have generally been very supported. The midwives in hospital were fantastic. Once people know I am the other mum, most of them treat me no differently.

On my placement last year, the subject of self-disclosure came up in supervision, and specifically whether disclosing my queer identity to clients was ever OK. While my supervisor didn’t say outright that it was not OK, in our discussions she presented a number of reasons it could be “harmful.” For example, various hypothetical situations such as a client not feeling ready to come out and feeling uncomfortable. Changing the therapeutic relationship in a negative way, revealing too much, making someone feel I wouldn’t understand their situation? I don’t remember all the “problem” scenarios.

It didn’t sit well with me – particularly as a number of the people I worked with mentioned having an opposite sex husband/wife, in their introductions, as a way of building rapport and partial reciprocity, and this wasn’t seen as problematic. There were other forms of self-disclosure that could, in my view, potentially make people feel uncomfortable, such as wearing a cross on a necklace. For me, as a queer person, seeing a sign that someone was Christian would make me feel cautious about mentioning being queer to a therapist.

In my new workplace I wondered if people would have the same kind of concerns as my previous supervisor. I was considering talking to my manger or my supervisor about it. Then, before the boy arrived, my workmates put together a basket of baby things for us. Some of the young people we work with saw it and started asking questions, and my colleagues gave some matter of fact responses. Well, that solved the dilemma for me… it was out in the open, and nobody made a big deal of it. As new people come to the service, most will probably assume I’m straight because of the hetero -normative culture we live in. But if it does come up, or if they hear me mention my partner to a colleague, I’m not going to stress about it. In our work context, there is a lot of self-disclosure about partners, kids, and small details of our lives. By hiding that part of myself I would be contributing to queer invisibility. In my view, for a young queer person coming through our service, knowing someone who was queer, and open and happy about it, could be really positive.



From the outside

(Part one of two on the 2014 General Assembly)

These are my reflections, from outside and far away from the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ). I have so many thoughts and feelings I have separated them into two posts. This one is about the process stuff. The next one is my reaction to another decision which excludes.

This year, there were several proposals to ban ministers from marrying same-sex couples, and a couple of proposals to remove the existing  leadership rule (banning people in same-sex and de facto or civil union relationships*) The official report states:

The Rev Hamish Galloway spoke during debate saying that there had to be a better way forward for the Church to discuss what is a complicated issue. He ended his speech by laying down his voting cards and leaving the Assembly floor. Approximately 100 commissioners subsequently also abstained from voting by leaving the floor. People returned to the voting floor once voting on all sexuality and marriage matters was complete.

With a third of commissioners absent from the floor, the marriage rule passed easily. As Tim Watkin points out, it is a deeply un-Presbyterian rule. Traditionally, diverse views are recognised and ministers have liberty of conscious on matters that are not fundamental to our faith (and the learned people of the “Doctrine Core Group” have advised that this is not a matter of the substance of the reformed faith).

From unofficial reports I have heard that many people left in tears, that the moderator was in tears, that debate was curtailed on the next motion. I have heard that people saw signs of hope, that they felt something incredible happened, that there was some movement at last…

I am glad that people I like and respect saw signs of hope. I have been hoping for years that someone would come up with some sort of dramatic symbolic action. I have been advocating for a different sort of conversation, outside of the Assembly debates…

And yet I cannot bring myself to celebrate people walking out of the debate.

The national Church has been shutting me out for years. It has ruled, Assembly after Assembly, that I am not acceptable, that I am not welcome to participate in the full life of the church.

The Church has been literally shutting LGBTIQ people out of the debates about our future. General Assemblies are made up of ministers and elders (and a few youth reps). These are the decision makers in our church… and people like me are no longer allowed to become ministers or elders. While there is a lifeboat clause for existing ministers, the number of out gay, lesbian or bisexual ministers in our church has dropped. There were only a few to begin with, and with some leaving the country, or leaving ministry roles, or leaving the church all together… I only know of a couple who are left and I don’t know if there were any out LGBTIQ voices at this General Assembly. If the leadership rule is upheld, one day there will be none. We will have been silenced in the courts of the church. Despite the church’s attempts to exclude us, some of us are sticking with the church.

I want those who can speak to stay part of the Assembly, to speak for us. Our stories need to be told. I know that some allies did stay, and I am grateful for those who spoke. I know that some who walked out are allies. I am trying to understand their action as a sign of support.

I also feel frustrated at the walkout, because last Assembly the marriage ban lost by one vote. We will never know how it would have gone this time if all the commissioners had voted. Now we have another rule which excludes us.

I have heard a lot of people saying that they are sick of the debating. That it is getting us nowhere. I’ve heard that people are being “wounded” by the debates. I struggle to see how they can feel as wounded as those who are directly affected, whose lives are being debated.

As I’ve said before, the “sides” of this debate are not equal. The debates started because a group within the church decided we should have rules so that the whole church must abide by their views. Some of us keep debating because we want to create space for our views. We want space to live faithfully to God’s call in our lives. We are not saying that the whole church should abide by our views. We are not saying that all congregations should have an LGBTI minster. We are not arguing that all ministers should be obliged to marry same-sex couples. (Weird, anyway, to think that a couple would insist someone who did not support same-sex marriage would be ideal to lead their marriage.) The state recognises a diversity of views and gives ministers the right to discriminate if that is what their faith calls them to do. This church is not leaving ministers the right to NOT discriminate.

As Rob at St Ninian’s sums it up, the issue is not about marriage. “The issue is whether the PCANZ is a church that means what it says when it says all are welcome.  Whether the church is able to allow a diversity of deeply held views alongside each other or whether there can be only one point of view acceptable.”

Walking away from the debate does not leave us in a neutral position. The current situation is one where there is space for only one point of view.

So yeah, I’m glad that there is a desire to do things differently… But I wish a dramatic stand had been taken before Assembly. Or I wish that a symbolic action, a disruption, could have happened without walking out. I think only a different sort of conversation will help us move forward, but it needs to happen alongside Assembly processes, because that is where decisions are made. For a diversity of views to be respected, General Assembly will need to vote to change the rules.

Rob reminds us (after Edward Hayes) to associate with the hopeful.

I am trying to understand the signs of hope some saw at Assembly. I am wondering how the signs of hope are going to be shared. I have had several conversations with people who had similar reactions to me when they heard about people walking out, but they had not heard anyone say that there were signs of hope. I am trying to feel hopeful that the walk out will inspire people to take action, to make meaningful conversations happen, to find a way for us to move forward.

I also am glad that at General Assembly there were people who stayed, who raised their voices speaking out for justice. Their voices give me hope.

So, these are my thoughts about the events of General Assembly. They won’t match up with the experiences of people who were there, but the PCANZ has said this is all I can have: General Assembly from the outside. The church from the margins. This is my point of view.

The rule bans anyone “in a relationship outside of a faithful marriage between a man and a woman” from holding leadership positions in the church. A cynical person might think that it was carefully worded so that those who supported could argue that it’s not discriminating against people. But it is. Only some of us are being told that we have to choose: we can choose to be with the love of our life; that means choosing not to be accepted by the church.

The “sides” of the LGBT Christian debate

The book I wrote about in my last post reminded me that we (people with differing views within the church) have some similarities in how our every day theologies are shaped and in how we relate to one another…

…but we are not experiencing the debates about the place of queer people within the church from equal positions.

Quite often I have heard comments implying that the debate about queers in the church is characterised by two opposing groups, both equally extreme in their views, with ordinary people in the middle just wanting to get on with being the church.

We are not equal.

The current Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa NZ law denies congregations the right to call ministers who they are led to call. It denies people the right to follow God’s call and offer their gifts to the church as ministers and elders.

Those of us who oppose this rule are not telling other congregations that they have to call gay, lesbian or bisexual ministers. We’re not even telling them they can’t call homophobic ministers. We are just saying that we want the space to be able to call our own ministers, and to follow God’s call in our own lives.

There are people in the denomination who want a ban on ministers officiating at same-sex weddings.

Those of us who support same-sex marriage are not going to force any minister to marry a same-sex couple. We are asking for the space for ministers to be able to discern for themselves who they should marry… and for Presbyterians in same-sex relationships to be able to have their love affirmed and celebrated in a church ceremony led by a minister if that is what they want.

Some people are debating. Some of us are debated.

There are some of us who are at the heart of this debate. It’s not about abstract issues, it’s not about theology, it’s about us. Our lives.  Our identities. Our right to be believed when we speak about the ways God is working in our lives. Our right to offer our gifts to our church. Our love. Our right to experience the gift of sexuality and the joy of a loving relationship.

As well as the “two extremes” line, there’s the “why do people have to keep bringing up this issue over and over? We just want to have a peaceful time at General Assembly…”

Some of us can’t stop bringing up this issue. It’s about our whole lives.