A Continuous Lent
Lent is a time of self reflection and personal denial, but for me as a queer person it can be a trying time. I’ve been told before that I should give up being gay for Lent so that maybe God can “fix” me. It seems that even if I don’t find something to change this Lent, other people will give suggestions – suggestions I never asked for.
This sort of thing comes with the territory of being queer – a forced self-reflection created by other people’s need to tell me what I’m doing wrong in my life and what I should change. I never really get out of the penitential, meditative mood. Being a queer Christian, however, adds a whole new level of challenge when it comes to the actual season of Lent. During these forty days, I’m constantly asking, how can I make sense of Lent from a queer perspective? Is there something particular I can learn from Lent as a queer person? Or am I somehow left out of this particularly Christian season?
Obviously, I don’t queer people are left out of anything. Lent is just as much for us as anyone else. To attempt to exclude queer people is to deny the central message of Lent itself – all have sinned and we all need redemption. This is certainly not exclusionist, but an inclusive one and, as such, has both a queer and uniquely Christian message.
A Glimpse at Queer Christianity
The concept of Queer is a great thing that not a lot of people really understand. It’s hard to pin it down to just one definition because it is so politicized and personalized. David Halperin, a queer theorist and author, gives what I think is one of the best general explanations of what queer means:
“Queer is by definition whatever is at odds with the normal, the legitimate, the dominant. There is nothing in particular to which it necessarily refers. It is an identity without an essence. ‘Queer’ then, demarcates not a positivity but a positionality vis-à-vis the normative.”
Queer persons understand this very well. They understand the situation of being “at odds.” But they also know how to make that into a positive. Queer is an inclusive identity that allows people to be themselves and, in many cases, to become truly themselves.
This is the viewpoint that I and many other queer Christians bring to our faith, a lens through which we see the world. But it isn’t just a queer view. Being in opposition to the world is a key tenet of Christian life. As Christians, we are not of this world; we belong to God and, therefore, to paradise. I was a Christian long before I came out as queer, but I understood being contrary to the world because of my faith. Being a Christian prepared me to stand for what I believe in, even when other people don’t agree. That is a Christian principle foremost for me, not just a queer one.
Similar to queer theory, Christianity is an inclusive religion. When Christ sat with sinners and when the early Church included gentiles in its ranks, this was a huge divergence from the exclusive religious communities of the time. It would have been unthinkable for the Jews to do this, but Christianity changed all that. The very essence of the gospel is that it is for everybody. Yet again, my faith is what informs my queerness, not the other way around.
As far as being an identity, moreover, becoming my “true self” is as much a spiritual journey as it is one of personal expression. Being a queer Christian means that I am completely myself. I am queer. Understanding that has been a process of discovery and discernment. The same is true of being a Christian. I am constantly being refined, being made perfect. That journey for me is both queer and Christian and any division of those journeys is to effectively divide my soul in half.
Understanding this about how being queer and Christian coincide, it’s a bit easier to see what Lent is like for me and other people like me. Feeling excluded is nearly second-nature for queer people. But there is absolutely no reason why we should be excluded from Christian participation, especially since the queer worldview is largely consistent with a Christian worldview.
When it comes to Lent, then, queer people bring a depth of understanding to their Lenten journey born of experience. The contrary-ness to the world, the search for identity, and the absolute need for inclusiveness are there in action every day for queer people. This is what we bring to Lent. More importantly, Lent has a message that we, like everyone else, desperately need to hear: we are loved by God just the same as everyone else.