At the Gay Christian Network conference in Houston in 2016, the theme of most of the break out sessions that I attended was recovering from shame. Brené Brown’s name was big that year. She is an expert in studies on vulnerability and shame, and her statements were espoused by session leaders and struck deep chords in so many of the thousands of LGBTQ Christians who were present. Spending your life hiding who you are, believing you are a mistake and forsaken by God, being told endlessly that you are an abomination, a blight, the thing that makes Jesus puke, that the only way to live and be loved is by denying how you were made by that same God, being promised loving acceptance that will be snatched away and replaced by rejection and condemnation if what you strive so hard to bury ever sees the light of day, is a universal experience for those of us who were raised and lived in the evangelical Christian church.
It’s hell on earth. And long years of it teach you to never let your guard completely down, never be really vulnerable, never subject yourself to the possibility of losing everything. Bullying and abuse from other kids and adults is just the way it starts when we’re young. As we age, the church takes the childishness out of bullying and replaces the meanness with hatred disguised as loving concern.
If we’re fortunate we learn we’ve been lied to in time to save our lives. One thing I’ve envied at my age is those who had the strength and courage to break free while they’re young, before they made promises that hurt those they loved, and before those lessons of self-hate became hard-wired into their self-perception. Before they came to believe that the only way they were lovable was through deceit, by pretending to be what they were not.
Here’s my truth: I love Wonder Woman because she’s the Diva, not because she’s a babe.
The trickiest part is that while we’re promised when we stand before God in our naked truth He will forgive all and love us without reserve, we’re taught that no Godly person we know during our lifetimes will do the same, because that would be sin for them. No wonder the suicide rate in the LGBTQ community is so high. There is no way to win in this life, but it will be heaven over there. And don’t forget, works won’t earn you a place, but if you’re exhibiting God’s love yourself like a good Christian, your entire life will be a sacrifice for others, so just bury your pain, slap some happy on, and carry on unto death.
Satan is having a field day with this shit: perpetuating a belief that hatred, exclusion, and judgement are holy. And again, the only ones who really pissed off Jesus were the Pharisees.
But I digress.
So I’ve done therapy, learned truth, studied scripture, and I’ve come to a very good relationship with the Great Artist. I’ve been blessed with unfailing love, met some great new family. I’ve seen the tide begin to change. And I still don’t trust most of the world.
I’ve made small excruciatingly painful steps toward being my authentic self. I designed a fabulous outfit for my wedding, and for days before hand I agonized over looking like a fool, to the insane point of nearly throwing it away. Crazy, considering once I just said, “Screw it!” and jumped, I felt indescribably wonderful wearing it that day. The circle I feel safe in is tiny. And as an artist, putting yourself out there is terrifying for its own reasons, without the complications of decades of being told you weren’t just not good enough, but not truly worthy at all.
So here comes Brené Brown again. Oh, jeez, the one thing that’s making me crazy these days is unleashing the creativity I used to know. And according to Dr. Brown’s research, vulnerability is the fountain of creativity, of joy. You can’t numb yourself to pain and fear without numbing the positive, too. To release yourself from bondage, you have to be brave enough to be vulnerable, to be honest, to be yourself. And as my therapist loves to remind me, “What other people think of you is none of your business.”
So my goal now is to become the unbridled imagineer I started out as: to disregard the disapproval or contempt from others, real, perceived, and feared. I miss (so much!) that kid who took no notice of whether his art, his writing, his music, his dancing were too crazy, too silly, too affected, too faggy. I pledge to stop being self-critical on behalf of what I’m afraid the world wants to see. Deep breath. Peel this mask off, before it explodes my wondrous head!