(We are so grateful for our intern, Lindsey Mosher Trozzo, who gave us the gift of this homily on Sunday.)
This is my body.
This is my body that grounds me, that bring me down to earth when I get lost in my head, my hypotheticals, my plans, my criticisms, my should and should-nots. This is my body that reminds me that I’m here – and I’m queer. This is my body.
Our bodies are undeniably real. We can’t think our way out of them, pray our way away from them, or transcend them (at least, I can’t).
I know, because I tried.
I spent over twenty years trying to ignore my body. Growing up – as a woman – in a conservative, evangelical, patriarchal context, the overwhelming message I received about my body was that men would want it, and that I should save it to give to the right man, the one man, at the right time – after my father gave me away to him in marriage. In this universe, my body always belonged to men – so I honestly never thought much about sexuality. It wasn’t relevant for me. This is why I couldn’t see my own queer sexual orientation for so long. Why I could get married (to a man) and make that work for so long. And it’s why I still have to fight – every day – to believe that my sexuality, my body, matters. That there’s not something wrong with me; there’s something wrong with a system that makes me think I don’t belong.
This is my body. I am a queer, gender-nonconforming Christian woman who struggles day after day to say: This is my body. It has worth. I have worth. I am a beloved child of God…
But I will continue to say it and do the work to believe it. This is my body. This is my queer body. This is what coming out is to me – it’s reminding myself and reminding you and declaring to the universe – this is my body. And my body matters.
In her phenomenal book, Queer Virtue, Elizabeth Edman explores the unique perspectives LGBTQ+ people might share on life, love, and spirituality. Much of what follows is the result of my reflection on my own experiences in light of this vulnerable and courageous book.
My body declares to me that I’m me. Your body declares to you that you’re you. And our bodies tell us, we are distinct from one another. But our bodies also constantly remind us that we long to connect to other bodies. Our bodies bring us the extremes of both pain and pleasure.
A lot of human identity, a lot of life, is navigating these distinctions, these connections – navigating Self and Other. Too often, the way to navigate this balance is to set up a system of binaries…. simple lines and set categories that tell us who’s who. The problem is these binaries are often false and they only bring an understanding of Self – against – the Other.
Binaries almost always bring with them value judgments and prescribed roles.
God’s work in the world is breaking these binaries down. The work of good theology is constantly breaking those down. That’s where queer virtue comes in.
My queer identity reminds me to question binaries (and assume they’re false and harmful unless proven otherwise). This work belongs to all of us, but it really really really matters to me as a queer person – because my identity and my integrity depend on it.
So I’ll share four Queer Virtues, synthesized from Elizabeth Edman’s work. My hope is that just as I brought my own body, experiences, and perspectives along with me as I read through Queer Virtue , that you’ll bring yourself and your story to bear on these virtues as well. (Oh, and do yourself a favor, and read the book!)
- Desire as a Spiritual Impulse
My queer identity disrupts the binary between body and spirit.
It is only in embracing my sexuality, by being embodied, that I could access spiritual health.
My queer identity puts the carnality of my human desire for connection on display. Straight people also desire human connection, and it is also bodily, but it fits the within the binary, so no one questions it. The lived experiences of Queer people remind us that our human and spiritual desire for connection is embodied.
I couldn’t really see myself as a part of the divine – or the divine in myself – or ( more traditionally put) I couldn’t see God’s love for me, until I was willing to admit the queerness of my desire. As Elizabeth Edman says, “Wanting is a deeply spiritual impulse.” And for me, denying my own desires for connection with another woman also meant closing myself off to accepting my connection with God. When I allowed another person to see the real me, when I accepted love from her, it was like the floodgates of God’s love for me opened. This moment is vivid: “I see you, I see all of you, and I love all of it.” It was in that moment that I realized: this is God’s love for me. So for me, my deepest spiritual longings were powerfully linked to my sexuality. While much of traditional Christianity teaches that the spirit can overcome the desires of the body, I learned that it was through my bodily desires that I could find spiritual health.
- Vulnerability as a Necessity for Authentic Connection
My queer identity disrupts the binary between risk and safety.
As a queer person, I have to risk. To be who I am involves risk, but I have to be who I am. It is only in coming out that I have found a truly safe place, even though I am often – too often – at risk. To join the LGBTQ+ community and find real belonging, I had to come out, to risk, to be vulnerable.
As a queer person, I am keenly aware of this vulnerability because I must embrace it to connect with another — but this is really true of all connections. “To achieve the ecstasy of erotic connection, one must also risk.” To belong, I must risk. For safety, I have to risk.
Safety without risk isn’t an option for many of us in the LGBTQ+ community. When we play it safe, we injure ourselves – hiding and suppressing our authentic selves. But in the risk we find a chosen family, we find a “safe haven” even in the midst of risk.
- Scandal as a Divine Enterprise
If the gays get anything right, it’s the fact that to be scandalous is to be fabulous.
If I’m a scandal, I’m doing something right, because I’m joining that divine force that disrupts the false binaries and the status quo and stirs things up.
When they call us in the LGBTQ+ community a scandal they are trying to keep us down, but we have reclaimed the scandal and turned it into a collective power to disrupt a false sense of belonging that reinforces power structures. Our scandal is what connects us, and our scandal is what gives us purpose.
The whole Christian message is really about scandalizing power – turning the status quo over and shaking it up and pouring it out. As queer people we are keenly aware of this mission; we embody scandal.
- Pride as a Spiritual Gift
To end our discussion this past Sunday, we discussed Queer Pride as strong sense of personal identity that links you to something greater than yourself. This stands in stark contrast to the vice of pride, in which one sees their own value as over and above another. The virtue of Pride realizes that because queer bodies matter, because queer virtues are a gift, we should embrace and celebrate who we are even when others call it scandalous. We discussed how Queer Pride gives everyone permission to be themselves, to be authentic, and to realize their connection to the greater community.
So, friends, this is my body. This is my queer body that wants to be seen and known. In being seen and known by another, I have learned the love of God. I have learned the power of vulnerability and the true belonging that comes with risk. So join me in embracing the Pride of my own Scandal. I’m here, and I’m queer. This is my body.