The following is my coming out letter to my extended family and the remaining people in my life to whom I was not out. I am now out in all facets of my life, a place I never thought I would reach, even two months ago.
In my letter, I wanted to get across my humanity and really have people understand the impact that their words have on me and on other trans and LGBQ+ folks. I wanted to encourage them to be more kind. Judging from the responses I’ve received, I managed to do that.
Deepening new and old friendships with LGBTQ+ folks and allies brought me to a place where I knew I had enough support to do this. And thus far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. So it may be cliche, but it does get better!
Dear friends and family,
Writing this letter is difficult. It’s hard to know what to say; it’s intimidating to be vulnerable. But I think it will be better for all of us having written this letter.
I just wanted to let you all know that I’m nonbinary transgender, explain a little bit what that means to me, and make a request.
So, step one—coming out as nonbinary—accomplished, we move on to step two—what that means to me.
It’s hard to articulate what nonbinary means. Officially, it’s about being a gender that isn’t a woman or a man. But it doesn’t really have a concrete definition or experience, just like being a woman or a man isn’t a concrete experience. I’m still the same person in many respects, just happier and freer.
Some notes and definitions:
- Sex is based on biology, including internal and external sex characteristics, chromosomes, and hormones. People are generally divided into two groups (male and female), but some people are intersex, meaning that their sex characteristics don’t fit into one of those two groups.
- Gender is how a person identifies/feels inside. It is socially created and can have expectations and roles put onto it, usually based on a person’s sex characteristics. Thus, people often incorrectly assume that a person’s sex will determine their gender. Some genders include female, male, and nonbinary.
- Gender expression refers to people’s external articulations of gender, like clothing, haircuts, names, pronouns, and mannerisms. Society reads different things as “masculine” or “feminine,” but people’s gender expression doesn’t always match the stereotypes of their gender identity. Different societies code different things as “masculine” or “feminine,” so gender expression can vary with time and place.
- Transgender refers to people who do not identify with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth.
- Cisgender refers to people who do identify with the sex/gender they were assigned at birth. (You may recognize the cis- and trans- prefixes from chemistry, as referring to “the same side” and “another side” respectively.)
What nonbinary means to me:
It’s easier to explain what nonbinary is not. Being nonbinary for me isn’t about my interests. I still enjoy music, art, sewing, hiking, books, writing, and laughter… It’s not really about the clothes I wear or how I cut my hair. Coming out to myself freed me to do and wear some things I was scared to before, but people of all genders wear different clothes and hairstyles. It’s not like I think there is something wrong with being a woman or that women can’t be uncomfortable with gendered expectations. It’s not about stereotypical gender roles.
It’s more that when I tried to be a girl, and then a woman, I was uncomfortable. It felt inaccurate. Not because of my interests or clothing—girls and women have a multitude of interests and wear lots of different things—but just because. I knew for a long time I was uncomfortable when it came to gender, but I never articulated or even acknowledged that in my head, because it was too scary, and there were no other options as far as I knew. This created a lot of shame.
I know “because” is not a concrete answer, but once I finally read that it was possible to be something other than a woman, or a man, I couldn’t get it out of my head. I tried. I looked at my friends who were comfortable in womanhood and tried to be, but couldn’t. When I made nonbinary friends, I finally found people who articulated the same inexplicable discomfort, and the same freedom in being nonbinary.
Dealing with shame:
Being nonbinary feels accurate and takes away the gross feelings of shame. The only negative feelings left relate to society’s response. Many people don’t understand, because—like me when I was growing up—the only thing society knows is male and female. When I’m with people who get it, I feel so much more comfortable than before. Because ultimately, it’s not really a big deal. Identity is only a big deal when it’s repressed.
Most people don’t think constantly about their gender. Most people don’t feel particularly confined or defined by their gender, and neither do I, until I’m in a situation where it is a big deal, like when people call me a woman. Then it feels icky, like how you might feel if you were constantly called something you weren’t.
What you can do:
Which brings us to part three, my request. It would really help me feel more comfortable if people used the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “their(s)” to refer to me, rather than “she,” “her,” and “hers.” You might already do this for people whose pronouns you don’t know.
Some examples of they/them pronouns in everyday life:
- You move to a new city and need a new doctor. Your friend says, “I love my doctor!” You might say, “What’s their name?”
- Someone leaves a textbook behind in class and you don’t know whose it is. You might say, “Someone forgot their textbook. I hope they don’t need it tonight!”
- Your friend says, “We got a new supervisor at work.” You might ask, “Are they a good supervisor?”
- Your friend gives you cookies. You say, “Yum! These are really good!” Your friend says, “I can’t take credit. My friend gave them to me.” You ask, “Could you ask them for the recipe?”
I know the grammar can feel awkward—I also had to adjust. You may find it interesting to know that singular “they” has been used for centuries and that both the AP and Chicago style guides support its usage. If you want to read more about singular “they,” this blog post is rather fascinating.
My pronouns and language:
You can similarly use “they,” “them,” and “theirs” pronouns for me. I’m also using the name Beck, which feels more comfortable, and would appreciate it if you could use it when referring to me, not as a nickname, but as my name. So you could say:
- “I talked to Beck the other day. They told me they’re nonbinary!”
- Someone asks, “Do you know where Beck is? I can’t find them.” You say, “They’re in the living room.”
- Someone asks, “Do you know whose sweater this is?” You say, “Talk to Beck, I think it might be theirs.”
I’d also appreciate if you could avoid using gender-specific language for me, or lumping me into groups based on gender. Some examples:
- Instead of saying, “She’s my granddaughter,” you can say, “They’re my grandchild.”
- Instead of saying, “She’s my niece,” you can say, “I’m their aunt/uncle.” (Still working on what to say if both parties are nonbinary. Then you basically get to make new words up, which seems fun!)
- Instead of saying, “She’s my cousin,” you can say “They’re my cousin.” (Cousins get off easy!)
- This also applies to words like “girl,” “woman,” and “ladies.” Replacements include “friend(s),” “folks,” “person,” and “human(s).”
Practice makes perfect:
I know my mental health improves when people use these words to refer to me, so I’d really appreciate if you could all do so. It takes some getting used to. You might have to practice using unfamiliar pronouns and names in sentences—I know I did. Practicing aloud even when I’m not around can help with muscle memory, too. You might have to correct yourself or each other. It’s a learning curve. But who knows? You might someday meet a new friend or coworker who uses different pronouns than you expect, and I’ll have given you a head start on acing their pronouns!
Being misgendered (when people don’t use my name, pronouns, and other language) is emotionally exhausting and painful. It is much easier to spend time around people who make an effort to use the correct language when referring to me. I want to maintain and improve my relationships, and my feeling safe and comfortable around you will really help with that.
If you have questions, I’m including a link to a PDF document that’s been helpful for my parents. It’s rather long, but if you’d like to read it, feel free. You could also google questions, ask my family, or ask me. I ask that you be considerate about which questions you ask me.
I know for some of you, this concept could be difficult to reconcile with your religious beliefs. If you would like some resources on the intersection of Christianity and LGBTQ+ people, I’d recommend the following sources:
- Generous Spacehas a lot of excellent resources, including the book Generous Spaciousness by Wendy VanderWal-Gritter and the documentary Belonging in the Body, about trans Christians. I’ll be featured in the upcoming documentary Belonging in the Body 2, about nonbinary people. Part of the documentary filming involved an interview panel I was on, which should be available for viewing shortly if you are interested.
- Austen Hartke’s blogdeals with theology and trans identity.
- Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests
- The book Torn, by Justin Lee really helped my parents when I first came out.
A note on sexual orientation:
I’m attracted to people of various genders, so just so it doesn’t come as a surprise if I ever date someone, my partner could be of any gender.
Love you all lots!
The Village is about a trans person facing unaccepting family, and emphasizes that the problem isn’t with the trans person, it is with society’s attitude. This song gave me confidence and reminded me of the power that I have. It also reminded me of the need for supportive community, and that I have that in many areas of my life.
There’s something wrong in the village
In the village, oh
They stare in the village
In the village, oh
There’s nothing wrong with you
It’s true, it’s true
There’s something wrong with the village
With the village
There’s something wrong with the village
Be More Kind gave me hope—a hope that has not been disappointed by the response I’ve gotten—that in hard times we need to be more kind to each other.
Like a lighthouse I will shine
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind
To you and yours from me and mine
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind
That it’s going to lose its mind
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind
I had this poem cross-posted on mennoQmunity for maximum reach. Check out their blog—they have a lot of neat stuff happening at the intersection of queerness and faith.
I also can’t format my poetry properly on WordPress, so if you’d like the original format or would like to print it off, here it is in PDF: Bill C-16: A Lament and a Call to Action
Do you know what it feels like to have your very existence constantly up for public debate?
If you don’t, please, listen closely.
If you do, I am so sorry—
Feel free to come and find commiseration.
Feel free to leave if reliving this pain is too much right now.
But if you don’t know what it feels like to be trans, I implore you to listen!
Bill C-16 is currently in its second sitting in the senate.
It would add gender identity and gender expression to the protected classes in the Canadian Human Rights Act and in the Criminal Code.
Sounds great, doesn’t it?
Apparently protecting a vulnerable group of people is too much to ask if our existence makes you uncomfortable.
How is this even up for debate?
In 2015, after three years of being eviscerated until the remnants were meaningless, a similar bill died in the senate,
Victim to the lie that trans peoples’ safety is less important than cis peoples’
That trans people having the same rights as cis people will endanger society.
Two years later, another bill offers protection,
Offers to help heal this wound.
Yet the accusations and fear-mongering have come back once more:
Your pronouns are plural; they’re not even real!
Men will sneak into women’s bathrooms!
You are betraying the feminist cause!
These sentiments never disappeared;
They just lingered under the surface for a while—
Lies that are easy to ignore if they aren’t about you
Lies trans people can’t escape from hearing.
This conversation keeps on coming back in different iterations,
Like Mozart’s Variations on a Common Theme,
Like Pachelbel’s Canon coming back to haunt our music decade after decade.
But it seems cruel to music that I would even use such an unflattering metaphor to describe how
The demonization of trans people
Of trans bodies
Keeps cropping up like a sludge you can never clear away,
Burrowing into our psyches like mould
Innocuous in appearance until you realize that
The tendrils have dug in deep under the surface,
Spoiling something that once was pure,
Villainizing the innocent.
Even fellow members of the trans community criticise each other, and I learn that
I am indecisive.
I should choose a side.
Non-binary identities are invalid.
This has been brought up in the Senate:
“The transgender community… believes there are only two genders… yet, seventy-plus genders will be included in this bill.”
The problem is,
They only talked to a small group within the trans population,
Science corroborates that gender and sex are not binaries,
And gender identity and expression also impact people who don’t identify as trans.
Does my having rights,
in addition to your having rights,
somehow diminish your rights?
Jordan Peterson has stirred up fear that this bill heralds the end of free speech,
That he could be jailed for not using my pronouns,
That his rights are on trial here.
This lie, too, has entered the Senate debate:
“This bill compels speech. It doesn’t just work against freedom of speech. It actually compels certain speech.”
This bill protects people from genocide and
From having hatred incited against them
It extends the same protections for people on the basis of gender identity and expression
As are extended on the basis of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”
These are not “special protections.”
These are basic human rights.
Every human deserves to live free from fear for their safety
Free from having their humanity diminished
Free from being a constant representative of an entire group of people,
From constant analysis and scrutiny and judgement.
But this bill does not guarantee these rights for trans people.
It just guarantees that it will be a specific crime to encourage genocide or incite hatred against us.
There are even protections in place for you:
If your hate speech is
Stating a truth,
Part of public debate, or
Part of your religious doctrine
You are protected from prosecution.
Intentionally misgendering someone
Intentionally using the wrong pronouns
These are acts of violence.
But you are within your rights to attack our dignity.
In the last year,
More than a third of trans youth have attempted suicide,
Almost two-thirds of us have self-harmed,
Over two-thirds of trans people are homeless, unemployed, or underemployed,
And you’re worried about losing your right to disparage us?
This bill is just trying to ensure that
All people really are equal before the law.
There is still a long way to go before this will ring true
Before all trans Canadians actually have access to basic human rights.
Basically, this bill enables the government to collect stats on hate crimes towards trans folks.
Is that too much to ask?
Your right to continue speculating about my gender,
To continue ignoring my pronouns,
To continue being unaffected by my pain,
Will still far outweigh my right to feel safe in society,
To feel respected and dignified,
To not worry about my existence.
Tell me, whose rights are in jeopardy?
In all the talk around Bill C-16,
In which Jordan Peterson’s voice has been elevated louder than all others,
Drowning out the cries of trans people for justice,
I have yet to hear a Mennonite individual or organization speak up.
Maybe I missed it;
I’m not the only trans Mennonite.
But I lament that in all the conversation surrounding LGBTQ+ inclusion,
You only really talk about the L and the G.
Your concern that two people who love each other,
but don’t fit your vision of Family—
that they could create something beautiful
This concern dominates the conversation,
Burying the identities and concerns of
Yes, we do exist
And we need you to hear us.
Jesus said to love your neighbour.
I guess I missed the part where he qualified that statement.
Love your neighbour—so long as they agree with you.
Love your neighbour—provided their existence doesn’t make you uncomfortable.
Even if you disagree with us,
Even if you think that we are somehow misguided,
When we are telling you over and over again that we don’t feel loved
That your words and actions are making us afraid
That your rhetoric is painful
That your decisions are literally killing some of us, especially trans women of colour
Isn’t it time to reconsider?
Jesus also said that if someone asks for bread you shouldn’t give them a stone
Yet you are trading fish for snakes and eggs for scorpions.
You are hurting me.
I am frustrated and hurt that you don’t know I exist
Frustrated and hurt that even in my affirming congregation,
I don’t feel safe enough to be out.
I’m tired of people using the wrong pronouns
Tired of limiting my out-ness and gender expression
Tired of being afraid.
I’m mostly feeling frustrated, hurt, and exhausted when it comes to the church.
It is exhausting to be trans, and to be trans within the church.
I’m tired of constantly thinking about my identity
Tired of trying to figure it out for myself
of worrying about coming out or being outed
of wondering what people think of me
Frustrated that this “issue” is the main thing I think about
That my existence can be reduced to an “issue.”
I have other interests; I have school!
If the church really wants to exhibit the love and justice of Jesus,
You’ll make the church a safe place for humanity to authentically be
So that trans people have energy to live life, form relationships,
and contribute to the church.
Stop hurting us.
If you hurt a member of the church, you hurt the body,
And trans people are the church.
Please help improve the lives of trans people in Canada by writing to or telephoning your senator and asking them to vote for Bill C-16. You can read this article to learn more.
The song for today is a song of lament by fellow Mennonite, Phil Campbell Enns. It’s called How Long. You can listen to it here and find lyrics, chords, and music here (in a long list of his songs, which are pretty great).
“Too queer for your binary.” This is a common phrase used by the non-binary and gender non-conforming community to protest against the enforcement of the binary gender system and to celebrate our queerness. I love the sassiness of this sentiment that says, “We are here and we’ll make our own lack of rules, thanks!”
However, in spite of my identifying as queer and non-binary, I often find that I feel awkward vocalizing this to people, even to those who are affirming or queer themselves. A great deal of this certainly has to do with all the internalized homo-and-trans-phobia that I am still working through, but another component I’ve been noticing is that I’m just not queer enough for many peoples’ idea of what it means to be non-binary.
I’ve often been told—both by people to whom I’m out, and otherwise—that I “wouldn’t understand what it means to be a gentleman, because I’m such a lady,” or that I “look quite feminine, so it’s to be expected” that people wouldn’t be able to remember my pronouns. Friends to whom I’ve come out still regularly ask, “What’s up lady?” or “How’s it going girl?!” I appreciate the sentiment of affection they are trying to convey, and how I deal with these uncomfortable situations is a topic for another post, but I use these examples to highlight how common it is for me to be misgendered. (Never mind all of the iterations of “Have a great day miss!” or “Thank you young lady!” doled out by strangers).
Non-binary gender is slowly coming more into the mainstream in the last few years, but there are still many assumptions made about what it looks like to be queer. I do not have short enough or bright enough hair, wear expressive enough makeup, or have the right blend of sass, piercings, and stylish “gender-neutral” clothing to fit in with a certain image of queerness.
My hair is too feminine. My voice is too feminine. My clothing, body, and sensitive spirit are all too feminine.
This is in part because I’m not yet fully out, don’t have money to spend on my physical appearance, or feel too timid to try to pull off some of the looks I enjoy on others. Yet it is also partly because I enjoy some elements of the ways in which I present myself.
Regardless of why I look or behave the way I do, my physical appearance does not dictate my identity or my pronouns. This is true for me, and it is true for all people.
One day my appearance may be more in line with what I envision. One day I may actually figure out what this vision is. For now, regardless of what others might imagine, I am too queer for your binary.
In the spirit of not defining people by our expectations, but instead welcoming all to come and be loved fully as they are, I offer this song:
Draw the circle wide.
Draw it wider still.
Let this be our song,
No one stands alone,
Standing side by side,
Draw the circle wide.
“Welcome! Let’s go around the circle and introduce ourselves by saying our name, our preferred pronouns, and the oddest thing you’ve ever eaten.”
For anyone who has introduced themselves within a queer-friendly environment, this is a pretty common experience. Which is great! Pronouns can be an important part of our identities, especially as trans and gender non-conforming (TGNC)* folks.
I was recently at a retreat where we went around introducing ourselves in this way. Though I was really glad for the multiple opportunities to share my pronouns, this experience got me thinking again about my continuing journey with pronouns, and some critiques I have of the process.
1. “Preferred pronouns”
My pronouns are my pronouns. They are not an optional thing for people who know which pronouns I use. Since I’m early in transitioning to they/them pronouns, I’ve sometimes said things like, “Oh, I don’t really mind if people use she/her pronouns so long as they also use my preferred pronouns.” I’m not great at correcting people and still sometimes accidentally refer to myself using the language I was assigned at birth.
But in reality, I do mind, and when people catch themselves and use the correct language, I feel wonderful. My pronouns aren’t a preference like my love of cookie-dough ice cream or reddish hues. They are my pronouns, and the use of she/her pronouns and traditionally “female” language is incorrect and makes me squirm. When asking people to share their pronouns, do just that. Don’t use language which implies that respecting peoples’ pronouns is optional.
2. “Male” and “female” pronouns
At this retreat, people often introduced themselves saying “I use male pronouns,” or “I use female pronouns.” This language implies that gender identity and pronouns are equivalent. They are related, but not everyone who identifies as a certain gender uses the same pronouns.
There are enbies who use she/her or he/him pronouns. Some people identify within the binary, but use some form of gender-neutral pronouns, either alone or in conjunction with she/her or he/him pronouns. People of any gender identity may use one or multiple sets of pronouns. Sure, it takes a bit longer to say, but detaching pronouns from being masculine or feminine helps those of us for whom our gender identity does not “match” our pronouns.
3. Pronouns aren’t comfortable for everyone
Mandatory declaration of pronouns assumes that I am cis and should therefore state my pronouns as an ally, or that I am comfortably TGNC. However, this excludes a lot of people and makes things really uncomfortable when you’re first coming out. Not saying your pronouns can make you look like a bigot; saying your pronouns can mean you intentionally misgender yourself or out yourself prematurely.
I hated the pronoun question a few months ago, and had many an uncomfortable moment. I didn’t even know what my pronouns were! How was I supposed to say them? Sometimes I launched into a stumbling explanation of my confusion. Other times, I just said “she/her” and squirmed inside. Even now, there are many spaces where being asked to share my pronouns would make me supremely uncomfortable. I am not ready to come out to everyone at church, yet would hate to be forced to misgender myself out loud. Even in “safe spaces,” we can’t assume that people feel certain about their pronouns or safe enough to share.
This said, pronouns are supremely important for many people, and acknowledging them is a must. This article isn’t perfect (let’s get away from saying that someone’s appearance can match their pronouns), but I really appreciate the suggestion to acknowledge and invite people to share as they prefer. This will, I’m sure, still result in awkward feelings for new and questioning TGNC folk, but hopefully not feeling an obligation to share can help.
Acknowledging pronouns can be a super important means of affirming our identities and creating safe space, but it can also be the opposite experience for many people. Being aware of our language and assumptions when discussing pronouns is crucial to helping to create safer spaces for all.
*TGNC includes MTF and FTM, as well as genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary, gender-f*ck, gender-bender, two-spirit, intersex, and anyone else who does not identify as strictly cis-gender or the gender they were assigned at birth. People under the TGNC umbrella may not identify with this language (for example, two-spirit Indigenous people who may or may not identify with settler language). Erasure of identities within the non-cis umbrella is a good topic for another post, but I’ve selected this as a more inclusive term. As always, I’m open to feedback from other TGNC folk!
The song Will you come and follow me, by John L. Bell, has a verse that really resonates with me in my coming out journey. Our discomfort with pronouns often has to do with uncertainty and hidden selves. You can see the whole song here and listen to it here.
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
Through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
This is a fabulous video featuring the voices of LGBTQ+ Mennonites. It was created by the Listening Church Project in conjunction with Mennonite Church Canada’s Being a Faithful Church process. The voices highlight the joy, pain, and hope of being LGBTQ+ in the Mennonite church. I thought I would share it here for people to hear some more stories!
Dear Willard Metzger and Mennonite Church Canada,
Over the past few months, I have come to embrace my identity as a queer Mennonite. However I am still in the process of coming out to my larger circle, and I trust you and the BFC committee to respect my confidentiality in this matter.
The Mennonite Church was essentially silent with regards to sexuality as I was growing up. In conversations with others, both heterosexual and LGBTQ+, I have found common threads of shame and confusion. For years I struggled with feelings of shame in relation to my sexuality, though I was too afraid and ill-informed to put words to my feelings. It was only after becoming more independent and moving away from home that I was able to acknowledge my identity, which is fortunate, as in high school, I would have felt trapped and unable to access resources. I wouldn’t have felt safe to come out. I am learning to love myself, and after months of prayer, conversation, and research, identify as queer—someone who falls outside of the hetero and cis identities society presupposes. My prayer is that the church can open itself to talk openly about sexuality, so that kids and teens today, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, won’t have to hide in shame or wait until they are adults to discover a beautiful aspect of themselves.
Thus, I write to you not to talk about some other group of people, outside of the Mennonite Church, theoretical and distant. I write to you as someone very much in love with the Mennonite Church, but also very frustrated with the narrative I see playing out. I am queer. I am the people of whom you speak. LGBTQ+ people are very much present within the Mennonite community, either currently (whether covertly or out in the open), or within the church’s history, having left because they do not feel welcomed. It is not acceptable to continue to silence our voices, ignore our pleas, and constrain or even ignore our identities. LGBTQ+ people are not some outside group, even if that is the place that has been allotted to us. It is not a matter of “the church” versus “those people.” We are the church! We are all the church, and we need to move away from oppressive social structures which erase the identities of some of our members and move to a place in which the church does not merely tolerate, but openly accepts, includes, and loves even its minority members.
I love the idea of the Mennonite Church. The belief in non-violence, active pacifism, reconciliation, love, and inclusion. But “everyone” needs to actually include everyone! Jesus didn’t rebuke or shun those on the margins. He rebuked those who rejected those on the margins, and sat down to eat with people in the minority. I am frustrated with the slowness of our church to realize the vision of the early church. Mennonites love reconciliation, but not among ourselves. We love to bring healing to other people, but we are scared to dialogue in our own churches and denomination. Mennonites don’t like to rock the boat; it is easier to let discontent and disagreement ferment under the surface until the rift becomes too great and we divide rather than mend. We need to actively practice reconciliation as a church.
An area where I see a failure to live out the fullest expression of Christ’s love is the Being a Faithful Church process and documentation. I call upon the BFC committee, and Mennonite Church Canada to consider the following concerns with an open heart:
- I am frustrated and saddened with the timidity of the proposal. I believed that the church was further along than to say “that we do not have an appetite to change the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective” (BFC7:1). Many people, myself included, are placing their hope for a more inclusive future in this decision; many are thirsting for change. Several churches and individuals within our denomination celebrate the sanctity of covenanted and committed LGBTQ+ relationships, and believe that God’s blessing is not constricted to hetero-cis individuals. The current Confession of Faith does not represent these voices, and it is important that the wording in the document reflects that our church is not unified in the belief that “God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life” (Confession of Faith, Article 19).
- First of all, the church practices hypocrisy in applying this statement to the exclusion of LGBTQ+ marriages, but not to couples who divorce. I say this not to cast a value judgement on divorce, but to call out the inherent flaw in judging LGBTQ+ relationships more harshly than divorce.
- Secondly, sex and gender cannot be divided into the binary of “woman” and “man.” Some people are born intersex, or do not fulfill all the biologic and genetic criteria to fit one sex. Gender expression is a societal construct with no clear boundaries. Thus, to use binaries to define people erases the identities of many individuals.
- The document uses the phrase “same-sex attraction” to describe the experience and identity of LGBTQ+ individuals. This phrase does not accurately represent the LGBTQ+ community or their preferred words for identification.
- The phrase “same-sex attraction” was popularized by people in the ex-gay movement who wanted to remove LGBTQ+ identities and instead label people as suffering from the temptation or sin of same-sex attraction. The LGBTQ+ community should be addressed using their preferred identifiers, not with language that makes people outside these identities more comfortable.
- The phrase also suggests that LGBTQ+ individuals are all attracted to people of the same sex. As previously mentioned, sex and gender are fluid, and this phrasing ignores those who are attracted to multiple genders, or who do not identify within the gender binary. It also places emphasis on sexual identity, when LGBTQ+ people are much more than their sexual orientation or gender identity. Even though the concern with Article 19 in the Confession of Faith deals with marriage, all members of the LGBTQ+ community should be welcomed to the church, regardless of marital status or identity.
I ask that the Church reconsider their commitment to the current wording in the Confession of Faith, and that the wording of the BFC documents be changed to reflect the diverse identities of the LGBTQ+ community, in a way that respects our preferred terms of identification.
The BFC process is only the most recent program of a thirty year process. The Mennonite Church has been talking about LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church since 1986. It’s time to stop limiting our expression of God’s unlimited love and extend what has been freely given to all people! It is time for the church to start acting like the church! I urge you to consider the following points regarding the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ Mennonites:
- The Church needs to show God’s unlimited love to all instead of placing human limitations on that Love. This means making the church a safe place for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, or any other superficial characteristics.
- The Church needs to include all people as active members of the church, able to use their unique gifts and talents, and pursue calls to ministry. Personally, I have been encouraged many times to pursue pastoral ministry. Why should this change when my orientation is something other than “straight”? I have always been queer, even if it is only recently that I have been able to attach a specific word to my feelings. Thus, I have already preached as a queer person and been encouraged in that calling!
- The Church needs to work for healing and reconciliation where bonds were severed, societal assumptions were made, and proclamations made against LGBTQ+ people. Whether through explicit discrimination and judgement, or through complacent silence, Mennonites have caused the LGBTQ+ community harm and allowed that hurt to continue. Services of reconciliation and grieving of past harms could help to heal our Church communities.
- The Church needs to move forward with respect, engaging in conversation with LGBTQ+ individuals. Why is my discernment, and the discernment of other LGBTQ+ Christians, not valid at the same level as the voices which cry “sinner!”? Many of us have come from places of extreme pain, and have earnestly sought God’s guidance in this area of our lives. I understand and respect that many people have searched equally fervently, and come to a different conclusion. However, many voices have parroted what they have been told the right interpretation is, without actively discerning for themselves. Through careful discernment, people have come to varying conclusions. Why do we assume that one interpretation, based off of uncertain and widely debated translations of ancient Greek, is the right one, simply because it has the popular vote or has been touted in recent days? Jesus was a champion of minorities, and called out those who persecuted the outcasts. The church needs to hear the voices of minorities who have walked with Jesus and found a welcoming companion.
- Because we do not all agree, our documentation needs to at least reflect that we are a church in turmoil. Continuing to state that we believe in one definition of marriage excludes all members of the church—both LGBTQ+ and not—who do not hold this belief. As Jesus stood up for people on the margins of society, our words need to reflect the rights of the minority group.
- It does not just do to say, “We are a welcoming church.” We are not a homogenous group inviting in the outsider; many of our members are LGBTQ+. Thus we need to express that “We are a diverse community of people with a variety of backgrounds, identities, and orientations.” To ignore this is to cut people out of the church! We need to then be that community for all people, showing our faith through our love for all people. We all make up the body of Christ, and I encourage you to consider the following excerpt from 1 Corinthians 12, and to read the entire chapter at length: “19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many members, yet one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,23 and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; 24 whereas our more respectable members do not need this” (1 Corinthians 12:19-24). We need the entire body of Christ; not to sever a part of that body.
Mennonites believe that “[i]n individual and communal worship, the Holy Spirit is present, leading us deeper into the wisdom of God” (Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 18). In my faith journey, I have constantly struggled with the dissonance between literalism and interpretation, logic and faith, written word and Spirit. A close friend once told me that it is appropriate and healthy to approach faith, God, and Biblical interpretation from a logical perspective. However, she also emphasized that to rely solely on rational thought is to limit the ability of God to speak into our lives today. The Holy Spirit was sent to “guide [us] into all the truth” (John 16:13, NRSV), and it is only when we are open to the Spirit’s guidance, rather than repeating what we have been taught without question, that we can experience a growing and authentic faith.
I have cried out to God in my darkest hours, and felt God saying that I am loved. That I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” by a God whose “eyes beheld my unformed substance” (Psalm 139:14-16, NRSV). God created us with intention to be relational beings. God created us to love each other, and to love the One who is Love. Genesis says that it is not good for us to be alone, and that we seek partners to walk with us. How can we as humans limit a creative God who doesn’t make mistakes on what that love can look like? Science now supports the fact that sexual orientations and gender identities are inherent to at least some extent. I do not believe that a God who is Love would make something so core to a human’s identity, so integral to the way they express and experience love, in such a way that some people are predisposed to be excluded from that love if they desire a committed marital relationship. Many, many people have come to the same conclusion, and it is time for the church to celebrate all sexual orientations, gender identities, and relationships. We need to listen to the prophetic voices of our time which call the Church to reconsider and extend the Love of God as far as God extends it.
I am saddened and scared that a future relationship of myself or others may not be blessed by the church that I love. I am speaking out because I cannot be complacent any longer. I love and share many of the church’s beliefs, and seek to live in a way that follows Christ’s call in my life. Right now, that call is telling me to speak up and challenge the church’s discrimination. Jesus called out the Pharisees who cast judgement against those on the outside. Regardless of theological perspective on the sanctity of LGBTQ+ marriage, it makes no sense for the church to dwell on this one attribute above all others. “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone”—it would be wise for the church to consider Jesus’ words as we deal with our different perspectives.
It is scary for me to speak out. However, my personal comfort is less important than the rights of my LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ. I say the same thing to people who are uncomfortable with LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. Your personal comfort is not our concern; the rights of people on the fringes are. Many have discerned and feel the Mennonite Church is ready for change. It is time to embrace all people, and I plead with you to consider the many people the BFC decision affects. The pain can stop here; future generations can feel safe and celebrated. LGBTQ+ people are here to stay. We are the church. We will not be silent.
God, we pray for a hurting world; a hurting people.
We are so diverse
With many different identities and attractions
All created and loved by You.
We pray first for ourselves:
When misinformed prejudice
Threatens to destroy our love for ourselves
And blinds us to Your love,
When our shame and doubt overpower us,
When we are injured by the judgement of others
Or of ourselves,
Help us feel Your comfort, peace, and joy.
Help us love ourselves as You do, without judgement.
Help us find community
Where we can be supported and offer support to others.
We pray for the LGBTQ+ community:
When we experience condemnation
Or feel like our identities and gifts are not valued,
Strengthen us to stand secure in who we are.
Give us opportunities to serve and lead.
Guide us as we support each other.
Let our voices be heard,
So that one day there will be no need
For separate communities
Because all are welcome in the body of Christ.
We pray for the church:
We confess we have used Your name in the name of hatred.
We have not always shown love,
Or have failed to reach the needs of a hurting people.
Work in and through Your church to bring us to a place
Of love and understanding with our friends in Christ,
Remembering that we may not all agree,
But that we can all reflect your uninhibited love.
As we learn and grow in community
And as individuals,
Fill us with Your Spirit,
Leave us open to Your guidance,
And embrace us with Your grace
As we live love to those in pain
So that all may be renewed and find healing in Your Love.
I am a queer Christian who is still struggling with internalized shame to come to a point where I can love myself. My prayer focuses on love, and the importance of community to support LGBTQ+ persons in their journeys. I wanted to have space to pray for ourselves as individuals, because the journey of self-acceptance is often difficult for LGBTQ+ folks, and people who are not LGBTQ+ usually have their own things they struggle to accept about themselves. A supportive community is so important in this process, and while it is fantastic to have groups where we can be surrounded by others who understand, I long for a day when society reaches a point where all types of relationships (and singleness!) are celebrated, so that no one feels “abnormal” or is ostracised. This prayer could be used in a group where LGBTQ+ and allies are present, perhaps in a service of healing and reconciliation. It expresses longing, confession, and hope for a present and future with more love.
“Jesus… got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me’… He said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you… Whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.’” ~excerpts from John 13:1-20
“Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you? Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.” These words by Richard Gillard are from one of my favourite* hymns, and have recurrently challenged me in my interactions with others.
The first part of the verse comes naturally to many Mennonites. From barn raisings to Mennonite Disaster Services, we love to help people; as Jesus was a servant to others, so shall we be. On the other hand, Mennonites can be stubbornly independent, actively working to not be a bother. The Protestant work ethic is in our blood. The second half of the verse is not so easy. Of course, this is a huge stereotype, but it is often accurate. It is much easier to serve than to be served. We may claim humility to explain our “selflessness,” but in fact, it requires much greater humility to accept help for oneself, and pride often stands in our way.
In John 13, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet. I often find myself like Simon Peter in the above verses, adamantly refusing the assistance of others, believing myself unworthy of their assistance. However, after Jesus has washed their feet, he commands them to “wash one another’s feet.” He doesn’t say to only “Wash the feet of those who need help,” or “Wash the feet of the poor.” Jesus tells them to wash each other’s feet—to serve the others and accept help for themselves as well. As Mennonites, and as Christians, we strive to live as Jesus did. To walk in His way requires us to not see ourselves solely as servants, elevating ourselves as self-sufficient, but to have the grace to let others show God’s love to us. This also applies to our relationship with God, for when stretched too far, our love of action can prevent us from accepting God’s grace and love.
This refusal to accept help often transfers into my relationships with others. In many friendships, I have emotionally supported the other person, while not opening up myself. It is relatively easy—to a point—for me to support someone else. It takes considerably more strength, at first, for me to allow myself to be supported. I tell myself that people don’t care, that they have enough troubles of their own without my adding to the load. But the truth is, mutual sharing strengthens a friendship. My one friend recently commented in dismay, “You never tell me anything anymore!” I tried to shrug it off, though I knew it to be true. I was so caught up in helping her and listening to her, that my struggles hardly seemed worthy of attention. I didn’t want to worsen her pain by adding to it, but instead, I made her feel distanced from my life.
In some cases, fear of judgement prevents me from sharing. Though I try to remind myself that I would not be judging someone else for the same thing; that if they do judge me, I shouldn’t be investing too much into the relationship anyways; and that I would much rather my friends ask for help, rather than keeping their pain to themselves, I still tend to do just that. I hold everything in. I judge myself before they even have a chance to prove me wrong.
Where does this judgement come from? Throughout my life, I’ve built up a lot of self-hatred, fear, and shame. So much shame. These feelings have developed around a variety of factors, including my sexuality, body image, and a plethora of personal circumstances I won’t discuss here. All of this negativity directed towards myself convinces me that I am a burden to everybody around me. When people notice that something is off and try to help—”why are you scared of everything?”—”you should seek counselling”—”you don’t need to apologize so much!”—I brush them off and add my latest failure to be “normal” to my list of shame. Once I see myself as worthless, unloveable, awkward, and narcissistic for not being able to let it go, I am unable to accept the grace and love I feel I don’t deserve. I force myself into silence by the sheer power of self-doubt. Asking for help is nearly impossible.
Even when people come forward offering hospitality, I find it difficult to accept. I recently prayed for a chance to talk an individual I know, because I was hesitant to approach them directly. However, even when they explicitly extended an invitation, I panicked and turned them down. I lived for so many years training myself to be as private a person as possible. Think Elsa in Frozen: “Don’t let them in; don’t let them see. Be the good girl you always have to be. Conceal; don’t feel. Don’t let them know.” I love Disney, and cheesy as it may be, that line sums up my relationship with my emotions, sexuality, and other factors that contributed to the shame. I didn’t even want to let myself know! My tendency to hide from people continues to this day.
Of course, one can only hold ever-escalating emotions for so long until they turn into spontaneous midnight crying sessions on a bridge with your best friend. Which isn’t ideal, as you end up dumping years worth of emotions onto your friend, and concerned police officers come over to check in on you. You just wanted to go on a nice walk, and suddenly in an hour you’ve unloaded fifteen years worth of frustration, anger, and shame on your poor friend. Yet in reality, you’ve barely scraped the crust, much less the mantle.
Repressing things for that long also means that things take longer to deal with. Problems with simple fixes have become compounded under not-so-simple problems, and you end up figuring out many things the hard way. After sifting through years of convoluted crap, you finally acknowledge a detail of yourself that, had it not been hidden and tainted with so much negativity, could have been a relatively benign discovery twelve years ago. One’s sexuality, for example. Had I and the people around me been more open to conversations on sexuality; had I not been sneakily exposed to the idea that “homosexuality is wrong;” had society told children they might feel attracted to various genders and sexes, rather than perpetuating heteronormative images and assumptions, I might have figured things out at age eight, rather than age twenty.
I’ve over-apologized for years. Bump into a person—”sorry.” Bump into a table—”sorry.” “Stop apologizing!”—”sorry… Sorry!” Tonight it was the dishes dance: I’m using the sink to wash something that my housemates all use. My friend comes in wanting to wash a mug. “Sorry… sorry,” I sputter, awkwardly trying to move out of the way. She grabs some soap and heads to the other sink, reminding me not to apologize so much. “Sorr—” I was apologizing for being in the way while washing the house’s dishes. So essentially apologizing for fulfilling basic life tasks that in fact benefit the person I was apologizing to. Is this where my fear of being open has led me? To a place where my very existence becomes reason for apology? These types of apologies are a daily, sometimes hourly, occurrence.
Because of my self-shaming, I tend to doubt others’ sincerity. “Why would they care?” My mind mocks my emotions, telling me they are no big deal. Even writing this blog is difficult. I think it is important that people understand how people who struggle with anxiety experience life. The irrationality of its hold on our minds can be difficult to understand. At the same time, I don’t want to burden people with the words of yet another depressed writer. I recognize that this is ridiculous. I am not forcing anyone to read my writing, and people who are reading it are likely interested, or they would have stopped reading. Yet my mind still constantly doubts the legitimacy of this pursuit.
In this process of starting to come to terms with my sexuality, I have suddenly been forced to reach out to people as a tool of survival. God is using this unravelling of all the negative things I’ve told myself over the years to help me become more open with others, and more open to Him. My self-sufficiency and shame prevented me from fully forming relationships where I could be my truest self. Yet even as I learn to trust others as I trust myself, I continue to struggle. I remain closed off to my friends, though I am working towards openness. I’m willing to walk alongside them; I pray I can have the strength and grace to let them also walk with me.
*I have many, many favourite hymns—I’m Mennonite after all!—but the words in this one prove especially challenging. You can listen to it here.
Will you let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I may have the grace
To let me be your servant too.
We are pilgrims on a journey,
We are trav’lers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you,
Speak the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping,
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you.
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven,
We shall find such harmony,
Born to all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony
Will you let me be your servant,
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let me be your servant too.
~Richard Gillard, 1977
“…the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet in the way of peace.” ~Luke 1:78-79
I’ve struggled with a lot of shame throughout life. However, in the last month or so, as I have finally put a name to one aspect of that shame, my interaction with that part of myself has changed. I am working to love myself as God loves with his infinite love, though this is easier said than done.
The sermon this morning was on mercy and how the love of God frees us from chains. One line in particular spoke to my feelings of shame, frustration, and sorrow: “God incarnate is not a concept, but a commitment to the human experience and all its fullness. God comes for our whole relational, spiritual, emotional, creative, intellectual, and physical selves. There is no hidden feeling of shame God’s mercy doesn’t want to touch. No regret, no sorrow, no sin named by you or by others who think they know best.”
This morning’s church service and the study afterwards were very meaningful to me. For the past month and a half, the adult Sunday school at my church has been working through Mennonite Church Canada’s “Being a Faithful Church” process, which is a series of conversations leading to a decision on an official stance on LGBTQ+ members and the church. Most of the people in my church are very affirming, though there are voices on all sides.
During the Sunday school conversation, my pastor (who I’ve been able to tell is affirming, but I wanted to test the waters a bit more) lay everything out. After addressing congregational concerns, she proposed that we draft a specific statement of affirmation—that all are welcome, so that no one has to wonder whether they are. Again, the response was mostly positive. Praise God! I pray that the church would be able to feel God guiding our feet in the way of peace as the discernment process progresses.
After hearing how she responded to people’s concerns and facillitated the conversations, I have asked my pastor to set up a meeting. I’ve decided to come out to her, as I am really in need of some guidance and in-person support. All-in-all, it has been a blessed day.
The title of this post comes from this taizé hymn: “Our darkness is never darkness in Your sight. The deepest night is clear as the daylight.” God loves us so much! This time of trial will eventually pass; His love remains forever. In His light, our sorrow can become joy; our shame, love.
You can listen to it here.
“We love because He first loved us.” ~1 John 4:19
Well, hello there! I started this blog to record my experience as a bisexual Mennonite. I’m not yet out of the proverbial closet, having recently “come out” to myself. But I thought this blog might be a way to work through my thoughts, support other people going through similar things, and perhaps gain some personal support. So welcome!
To clarify a few terms right off the bat:
- Mennonites are Anabaptist Christians, who value community, peace and reconciliation, restorative justice, music, (and good food)!
- As the lovely Robyn Ochs put it, “I call myself bisexual because I acknowledge that I have in myself the potential to be attracted – romantically and/or sexually – to people of more than one sex and/or gender, not necessarily at the same time, not necessarily in the same way, and not necessarily to the same degree.” Sounds pretty accurate to me!
- I use the acronym LGBTQ+ to stand for the entire community of individuals whose sexuality and/or gender are not represented by the term heterosexual. This includes LGBPTTQQIIAA+* and any other individuals not specifically listed here. If I use language that is not inclusive, please let me know, and I will do my best to reword it. I want this to be a safe space for people of all identities.
Unfortunately, the Mennonite Confession of Faith still defines marriage as “a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” However, many Mennonites affirm LGBTQ+ relationships, and most of the people at the church I currently attend are nothing but loving towards the LGBTQ+ community. Mennonite Church Canada and MCUSA are both going through independent processes (e.g. BFC in Canada) to hear all people’s voices and determine their future stances on LGBTQ+ marriage and relationships. Groups like Pink Menno and Brethren Mennonite Council are taking an active stand for equality and justice. I pray that change comes in a way that is inclusive, loving, and reconciliatory. I know many LGBTQ+ individuals, especially those with faith backgrounds, face backlash, abuse, and discrimination far beyond what I can imagine.
I wanted to start this blog because when I first used the word bisexual with regards to my sexuality (almost a month ago!), I found plenty of gay and lesbian Christian voices, many of them Mennonite, but only a handful of Christian bisexuals sharing their stories. While our struggles of identity are related, they are also very unique, and so I wanted to share my story in the hope of supporting our varied community.
The word bisexual came as a relief for me because, though I knew what the letters in LGBTQ stood for, I had never paused to look with intention at the B. I had worried from a young age that I might be lesbian. But I knew I couldn’t be: I was a good person; I was also attracted to guys. I’m not sure if I was ever taught explicitly that being gay was wrong, but whether it was outright or implicit, I knew my feelings were wrong in the eyes of God. Even after I came to a place of acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community, I still saw my same-sex attractions as despicable.
A concrete word to identify my feelings came only after twelve years of repressed feelings, denial, guilt, and fear. I’ve felt so much shame for so long that even now, it is still a crushing force. A force that prevents me from being honest with those I love; a force that barely allows me to be honest with myself.
My faith has had its ups and downs, but through the doubts and sorrow, it has remained a crucial aspect of my life. God’s love has at times seemed as close and all-encompassing as the warmest embrace; at other times distant and disconnected as though separated by a cold and calculating chasm. But He has always been present, even when I have felt abandoned.
The church (and by this I refer to a loving, supportive community, not an assembly of people under a roof) has the potential to be such a powerful force of love to those suffering from internal conflicts and depression. To encourage people who are experiencing crises of faith. The church needs to focus on acknowledging, addressing, and accepting the realities of people’s lives and identities before they become hidden sources of shame. If we cherish all stories, I believe there will be fewer crises and more people simply living as the beautiful, loved, and authentic colours of normal that they are!
I’ll elaborate more in future posts, but thank you for listening to my overview thus far. If there are any topics or aspects of my journey you’d like me to address, comment below and I’ll try to get to them at a later date. For now, God’s blessing, peace, and love to you. Let us walk as companions on this incredible, confusing, and precious journey that is life.
Some useful links:
- The Mennonite Confession of Faith
- Pink Menno
- Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Interests
- Gay Christian Network
- Being a Faithful Church
*LGBPTTQQIIAA+ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, transsexual, queer, questioning, intersex, intergender, asexual, ally, and beyond.
Title is taken from the song “Companions on the Journey,” by Carey Landry:
“We are companions on the journey, breaking bread and sharing life; and in the love we bear is the hope we share. For we believe in the love of our God; we believe in the love of our God.”
You can listen to it here.