If you missed Gene Robinson’s article in the The Times on what it means for him to be making vows in his relationship with his partner Mark, it is well worth reading.
It begins with a comment he lived to regret about always wanting to be a June bride. He said it in an unguarded moment after a long and serious discussion. But of course, his opponents took it and ran. He offers the more measured words he should have used, and then says this:
The worst part is that it’s reminiscent of the years and years that I had to self-censor everything I said, so as not to give away the fact that I was gay. Gay and lesbian people learn at an early age to filter every single word before uttering it, straining out anything that might indicate who we really are on the inside. I know from my own experience, and from that of countless others, that this is an exercise in self-alienation. In a nanosecond we listen in our heads to what we’re about to say and, before speaking, edit out anything that might indicate to the listener that we’re gay. We get really, really good at it, until it becomes second nature. But it takes a toll on our souls.
This may not sound like oppression – it’s not the same as being thrown into prison or burnt at the stake – but it’s one of the silent, painful results of oppression. The result of any oppression is living in fear – fear of discovery, rejection and retribution. It’s what most gay and lesbian people live with every day, all over the world.
That ‘nanosecond’ of self-editing is deadly. For some, it is a tendency of personality. There is an over-activeness of mind, combined with an underlying self-doubt that means there is always a gap between thought, feeling and action that means spontaneity is an elusive desire. For others, it comes about through circumstance: an experience of rejection or abuse is internalized so that the person comes to believe they are not acceptable as they are and learns to slip on a mask before each word and action so that no one will see who they are. There are other ways and other reasons too.
Beneath it is the terrible lie that we are not good enough, not acceptable; neither lovable nor loved.
When we face (or try to face) the issue of inclusion of LGBT people in the church, it is in part a justice issue: letting the marginalized speak, rejecting prejudice based on sexual orientation, refusing the hypocrisy of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’. But it is also about recognizing what the church needs to learn from this community — about seeing Christ there.
Gene Robinson points to something that is widely shared in the gay community: a learned self-censorship and pretense that is a defence against pain and rejection. But that is not just a gay story. The gay community focuses it for us: gives us words for something that is a part of our common humanity. And those who have come through it, come ‘out’, can therefore show us the way to redemption and to healing. They have learned a costly self-acceptance that the whole church needs.
There is no difference here; just the diversity of creation and the shared grace of God.