Anonymous asked: I read your book in October and it seriously has rocked my worldview so hard, we have so many of the same views and I would love to talk to you! Where are you from? Do you meet with people to talk? Also, do you have to answer all of these publicly or could I come off anonymous and ask you things to have you answer them privately?
Thanks! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. :) The easiest way to contact me privately is through my Facebook page. (Keep in mind, because of the way Facebook handles messages, I’m more likely to see your message quickly if you add me as a friend first, but you don’t have to do that; I still try to check my “other” box regularly.)
Sometimes I miss Facebook messages, so if you have trouble getting a response, need to hear from me quickly, and/or have a question about something work-related—like booking me for a speaking engagement—contact my office instead, and they can get in touch with me.
First, a little background. Michael Coren is a conservative Catholic TV host in Canada. He’s known for being deliberately provocative at times, and he doesn’t shy away from controversy. He’s been called “Canada’s Bill O’Reilly” at least once, though he doesn’t see himself that way; he says he’s less polarizing than that.
But when he recently took a public stand against Uganda’s vicious new anti-gay law (and rightly so!), some of his viewers balked, saying he wasn’t being conservative enough or Christian enough, even claiming he must be secretly gay himself. (He’s not.)
So tonight he invited me on his show to continue the discussion and hear a gay Christian’s perspective. Some of my friends were nervous for me, but Michael was actually super nice, and I really enjoyed the conversation. Check it out.
So, I was on CNN this morning, and they were super nice. They were asking me about a new bill in Arizona that would allow anyone—not just churches and religious organizations, but anyone at all, in just about any situation—to claim exemption from anti-discrimination laws by appealing to their freedom of religion. In my view, the wording of the bill actually harms our freedom of religion. Check out the video to see what I said.
If the video above won’t play, you can click here to watch it on CNN’s website.
Here are the rules for calling an introvert like me on the phone.
Rule 1. If you just want to communicate a piece of information, send a text message instead. That’s what it’s for.
Rule 2. If you really want to chat on the phone, send a text, email, or message FIRST to find out when a good time would be. This gives us a chance to mentally prepare for the call. Trust me, that’s important.
Rule 3. If you disregard rule 2 and decide to just call us without warning, we will either avoid the call (and feel guilty) or else answer it out of obligation (and feel irritated). In either case, please spritz yourself in the face with cold water and say, “BAD friend! BAD friend!”
Calling an introvert without warning is basically the equivalent of showing up at someone’s house without being invited. They might open the door, but it doesn’t mean they’re not secretly resenting it.
(I posted a version of this on Facebook and it got a lot of response so here it is on the blog! I hope it helps you have better relationships with the introverts in your life.)
In the 18 years since I first came out as gay, I feel like I’ve heard discussions on “Is it a choice?” about a million times.
And for 18 years, my answer has continued to be the same:
You can choose your behavior.
You cannot choose your orientation.
People can choose who to date, kiss, or sleep with. They can also choose not to do any of these things.
But people don’t choose who they’re attracted to. Many people have spent their whole lives trying not to be attracted to the same sex. That’s not a choice.
So if we define “gay” as “someone who is attracted to the same sex,” then no, being gay isn’t a choice. A gay person could choose to be celibate or choose to hide what they feel, but their orientation would still be the same.
Pretty clear, right?
But if that’s true, then why are there a few gay people out there who say they “chose” to be gay?
I’ve seen it happen from time to time; someone will write an article or make a public statement claiming that they’re “gay by choice.” And people freak out: Gay folks get angry, anti-gay folks say, “I told you so!”, and the person in question gets lots of attention for a little while.
But if it’s not a choice, why would someone say that?
Well, there are a few reasons:
1. They don’t want to be perceived as victims. For some people, saying, “I didn’t want to be this way,” sounds like there’s something wrong with being gay. They don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, so they choose a message that sounds stronger: “Hey, there’s nothing wrong with being this way! Actually, I like it! I choose it!” But what they’re really saying is that they choose to embrace their sexuality; they didn’t choose their orientation in the first place.
2. They might have had a unique experience. Some people experience “sexual fluidity” (an orientation that changes with time), or bisexuality (attraction to both sexes). They may mistakenly think this is how everyone feels, and this may actually be what they mean when they talk about “choice.” Of course, even these people didn’t choose to experience fluidity or bisexuality, because someone who isn’t bisexual can’t choose to become attracted to both sexes by force of will. (Many have tried!)
3. They’re conflating behavior and orientation. Often, it’s just a matter of confusing their terms. When you hear such a claim, look for how the person defines “gay.” If they talk about being gay in terms of sexual activity, for instance, what they’re really saying is that people can choose who they sleep with. I agree with that, but that’s not the same as choosing your orientation.
4. It’s psychology. Psychological concepts like cognitive dissonance and the illusion of control suggest that even when events are out of our control, we humans are very good at convincing ourselves that we were in control the whole time. It’s like Aesop’s fable of the sour grapes: “I can’t reach those grapes, but that’s okay, because I didn’t want those anyway. It was my choice all along.”
But imagine people making statements like these:
“I love coconut pie! And I choose to like it, because it’s delicious!”
“I don’t like coconut pie. But that was my choice, because it’s disgusting.”
What would such statements even mean? It’s easy to see how someone who loves coconut pie might believe he chose to love it, but the reality is that if he didn’t already like it to begin with, he wouldn’t have made that choice, would he? (Trust me, there are some foods I really want to love, but no matter how many times I eat them, I still hate them.)
Anyway, does it really matter if orientation is a choice?
Yes. It does matter. Here’s why.
Around the world right now, there are many people being abused, tortured, imprisoned, and even killed for being gay. A few days ago, I talked to a man whose good friend in Cameroon died earlier this month—starved to death by his family in an attempt to make him straight.
Even in America, where we have it comparatively easy, there are people contemplating suicide because they couldn’t change their orientation, and there are people who have experienced severe psychological and even physical trauma at the hands of those who believed that putting enough pressure on them could convince them to make a different “choice.”
Claiming that being gay is a choice causes two terrible harms: It convinces some straight folks to try even harder to pressure people into making a different choice (such as through Uganda’s “Kill the Gays” legislation), and it says to the gay victims of such abuse that they could have “chosen” not to experience that abuse at any time by just “choosing” not to be gay.
This is wrong. It’s dangerous. It’s deadly.
And it’s just not true.
Yes, if you’re an openly gay man in New York City, I understand that you don’t want people to see you as a victim or to give you equality just because you “can’t help” being gay. I get that. But claiming that being gay is a choice is not the way to solve that problem.
So let me say this one more time.
Yes, you can choose how you live—who you have sex with, who you date, what you wear, where you go, and whether to tell anyone the truth about what you feel inside. You could choose to marry or sleep with someone you’re not even attracted to. Many people do.
But no, you can’t choose your orientation—the unchosen attractions we each have deep down inside. If you doubt that, just read the stories of people who spent their whole lives trying to change.
Because getting this right matters, and getting it wrong could quite literally cost people their lives.
There are a lot of things to like about Disney’s new film Frozen:
But one of my favorite things about this film is that it works exceptionally well as an allegory for LGBT people and their families.
I hate spoilers, so if you’re planning to see Frozen and don’t want anything spoiled, all I’ll say is this: Many LGBT viewers have said they feel a strong connection to Elsa, the older sister. If you’re a straight family member of an LGBT person, you may find yourself relating to Anna, the younger sister. Keep that in mind as you enjoy the film.
Beyond this point are some spoilers, so stop reading now if you don’t want to know the basics of the plot.
*** SOME SPOILERS AHEAD ***
Frozen is about two sisters, Elsa and Anna, daughters of the king and queen of Arendelle.
Elsa, the older sister, has a magical gift: She can summon ice and snow. (A troll later asks if she was “born” or “cursed” with this power, one of many lines hinting at an allegory for LGBT people. The answer: She was born that way.)
After an accident, though, Elsa’s parents come to view her power as a curse, and they encourage her to keep her difference hidden from the rest of the world. “Conceal; don’t feel,” they tell her, and she attempts to do just that, withdrawing from the world to wrestle alone—with her secrets, with a powerful sense of guilt, and with this part of herself she doesn’t fully understand.
All of this happens very quickly in the early part of the film, but as a gay man, I found these brief scenes resonating with me in a powerful way. I know that feeling: The sense that not only what you’ve done, but what you are, is something terrible, shameful, and abhorrent to your own parents—but you have no idea how to change it, and you don’t know if you can hide it forever.
A later scene, in which Elsa must make it through a coronation ceremony without letting anyone glimpse the truth about herself, is positively gut wrenching. I know that feeling, too, and all too well. It’s how I felt year after year, at every family gathering, in every church service, any time I was in a social setting and people were asking about my life and whether I’d met any cute girls lately.
Recurring lyrics in Elsa’s songs highlight this struggle:
Don’t let them in, don’t let them see
Be the good girl you always have to be
Conceal, don’t feel
Put on a show
Make one wrong move and everyone will know…
“Conceal, don’t feel,” indeed.
But what’s interesting about Frozen is that it’s not, ultimately, Elsa’s story. It’s mostly Anna’s, her younger sister.
Kept in the dark about her sister’s secret, Anna doesn’t understand why Elsa has grown so distant from her. She feels confused and shut out, but the more Anna reaches out, the more Elsa pulls away, afraid of what would happen if the truth were known.
Any of this sounding familiar? It’s a common story in families where one member discovers themselves to be gay, bi, or trans. And that’s part of why I love this film. Because as you relate to one side of this equation, you also get to experience the other side, and you can see what a challenge it is for all concerned.
Eventually, of course, the truth comes out, and everything blows up into an emotional—and literal—storm.
Driven by panic and self-preservation, Elsa leaves Arendelle, setting off on her own journey to learn about the parts of herself she’s been afraid of for so long. Finally free of everyone else’s expectations, Elsa sings the song that is sure to be an LGBT anthem for years to come:
The snow glows white on the mountain tonight
Not a footprint to be seen
A kingdom of isolation
And it looks like I’m the queen
The wind is howling like this swirling storm inside
Couldn’t keep it in; heaven knows I tried…
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
Well, now they know…
Let it go, let it go
Can’t hold it back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door
I don’t care what they’re going to say!
Let the storm rage on
The cold never bothered me anyway…
It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all
It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me
Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone…
You want to know why so many LGBT people run away from the church and/or distance themselves from their families? This is why. After years of trying to be “good” by hiding the truth, sometimes the only way people know to cope is to let go of those pressures and stay away from anyone they fear might judge them.
And yes, sometimes people go overboard. “No right, no wrong, no rules for me” isn’t a very healthy life philosophy in the long run. But if, when you watch this film, you can experience the tremendous relief Elsa feels in this moment, then you can understand why this is such fresh air after years of “conceal, don’t feel.”
Finally! She can be herself!
What Elsa experiences as a refreshing release, though, hits Anna like a punch to the gut. After all these years of wanting to be closer to her older sister and knowing something was wrong, she learns the truth only in time to watch her sister run away and cut off all contact.
Anna wonders to herself the same things many family members of LGBT people wonder to themselves: Why couldn’t she tell me the truth? Did I do something wrong? Did I push her away somehow? Why won’t she talk to me now?
Anna sets out on a quest to find her sister and bring her home, but Elsa is all too happy to leave Arendelle and everything about her past behind her. All those years of locking away her emotions have made Elsa bitter. She’s ready to be selfish for a change, and she doesn’t want to go back.
Now look: I’m not saying Frozen is a “gay movie.” It’s a fantasy story, an escape from reality, just like, say, X-Men. But just as the creators of the X-Men films admitted that they drew intentional parallels between the film’s mutants and real-life LGBT people, I’m pretty sure that the parallels in Frozen were deliberate (though Disney wouldn’t likely admit it, for obvious reasons).
Still, you can enjoy Frozen perfectly well without thinking about any of this. But what I’m suggesting is that there’s an extra layer of meaning here for LGBT people and their families—a chance to get a peek at how these challenges feel on the other side.
In an interview about the film, Idina Menzel—the voice of Elsa—talks about how the complexity of her character can teach us to develop empathy for others. That’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it?
And, I’d add, perhaps the ultimate resolution of the story (no, I’m not going to spoil it here) will provide some food for thought about how we can, and should, treat each other.
So… who wants to build a snowman?
Sometimes you look back at your life and despair, thinking, “So much has happened. I’m not the person I used to be.”
And God says, “Good. Now I can use you like never before.”
Hey guys, sorry to be so quiet here on the blog, but this time of year is super busy for me while we prepare for next week’s Gay Christian Network conference.
I’ll be back to posting after the conference, but in the meantime, you can catch up on some of my favorite past posts by visiting my Tumblr homepage and clicking some of the image links on the lefthand side.
There’s been a lot of internet chatter this week about Phil Robertson, the Duck Dynasty star who made comments about his disdain for homosexuality and was suspended from the show.
People have spent a lot of time protesting his remarks or protesting his suspension. But so far, the best analysis of the subject I’ve seen comes in this short blog post by blogger Ben Irwin.
Give it a read and let me know what you think.
The patriarch and the pope: the real difference between Phil Robertson and Pope Francis.
Every year around this time, I hear the same Christmas myths over and over, repeated by people who honestly believe them. They show up in my Facebook feed, in conversations with friends, and in public discourse.
So let’s put these 6 myths to rest, shall we?
Myth #1: According to the Bible, baby Jesus was visited in the manger by three kings.
Nope. All those nativity scenes are wrong. The Bible story says that a group of magi, or wise men, visited Jesus as a child in his house—long after his birth—bringing three gifts. But the story doesn’t say how many wise men there were, and they were more likely astrologers, not kings.
Myth #2: Candy canes were invented as a secret Christian symbol.
Have you heard the story about the candy cane? See, it’s a “J” for “Jesus,” and the red and white stripes represent blood and purity, and…
Nope. It’s all a lie. While there are certainly modern-day Christians who have repurposed the candy cane as a Christian symbol, it’s not true that it was invented for that reason. Snopes.com has a pretty thorough article on this.
Myth #3: The “12 Days of Christmas” song also has a hidden Christian message.
Sorry, but this one isn’t true either. This is another great read on Snopes, where I learned something I didn’t know: Apparently the fourth gift was originally “colly birds,” meaning blackbirds, not “calling birds,” as many of us learned it. Some scholars have even suggested that the “gold rings” were also supposed to be a reference to a type of bird, so that the first seven gifts were all birds—though that’s apparently in dispute.
Anyway, it’s not an encoded message, but it’s still a fun song. The Muppets’ version is my favorite.
Myth #4: It’s hard to be a Christian in America at Christmas, because no one wants to admit the spiritual significance of the holiday.
As a Christian, I just don’t buy this. Yes, there’s consumerism and Santa Claus. Yes, there are some anti-Christian messages too. But if you just look around, there are people everywhere talking about Jesus at Christmas. Even secular radio stations and popular malls play religious Christmas carols this time of year: “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen”—I’ve heard all of these out in public in the last few days.
Even Walt Disney World, our #1 tourist destination, brings in celebrity narrators all month long to read the story of Jesus’ birth—from the Bible!—as a choir sings about Jesus. At Disney World.
So I don’t buy this whole Christian oppression stuff. Yes, it’s hard to focus on the faith message in the midst of all the consumerism, but let’s not pretend that’s the same as oppression. It’s way harder to be an American who doesn’t celebrate Christmas—for religious or other reasons—than it is to be a Christian who does.
Myth #5: If you say “Happy Holidays” or write “Merry Xmas,” you’re declaring “war on Christmas.”
I actually wrote a whole blog post about this: The Made-Up War. The “war on Christmas” is a lie, and the abbreviation “Xmas” is actually a Christian one. Don’t believe me? Give it a read.
Myth #6: Having an “Elf on the Shelf” isn’t creepy.
Uhhhh… It’s creepy, you guys. Just look:
It’s even creepier because it reminds me of this thing:
Run away! Run away!
Merry Christmas, everyone!