This is big news for the Bitterroot- and I’m proud to be part of it. Click for larger version
My friend Camille Griep recommended Emily Danforth‘s book, The Miseducation of Cameron Post to me recently. I really had very little idea what it was going to be about, other than something about a teenager. In Montana.
Miseducation is ostensibly a story about a young teen exploring her sexuality in a conservative, evangelical community where homosexuality is viewed as a sin – and in the aftermath of her parents’ death. And that story is definitely in there. What I was not prepared for was the love letter to Montana. The language is beautiful and lyrical and I felt that landscape in a way I don’t think I ever have in a book. Here’s a taste from the first page:
Miles City had been cooking in the high nineties for days, and it was only the end of June, hot even for eastern Montana. It was the kind of heat where a breeze feels like someone’s venting a dryer out over the town, whipping dust and making the cottonseeds from the big cottonwoods float across a wide blue sky and collect in soft tufts on neighborhood lawns. Irene and I called it summer snow, and sometimes we’d squint into the dry glare and try to catch cotton on our tongues.
I am fascinated by the intersection of sexuality and religion, so it will come as no surprise that I ate up the portion of the book where Cameron gets sent off to a residential ex-gay program. I loved how she described the effect of the program, like dust and lint that just sticks to a gummy hand over time and how hard it is to wash it off.
The longer I stayed at Promise, the more all the stuff they were throwing at me, at us, started to stick, just like to those sticky hands, in little bits, at first, random pieces, no big deal. For instance, maybe I’d be in bed during lights out and I’d start to think about Coley and kissing Coley, and doing more with Coley, or Lindsey, or whomever, Michelle Pfeiffer. But then I might hear Lydia’s voice saying, “You have to fight these sinful impulses: fight, it’s not supposed to be easy to fight sin,” and I might totally ignore it, or even laugh to myself about what an idiot she was, but there it would be in her voice, in my head, where it hadn’t been before. And it was other stuff too, these bits and pieces of doctrine, of scripture, of life lessons here and there, until more and more of them were coated on, along for the ride, and I didn’t consistently question where they had come from, or why they were there, but I did start to feel kind of weighed down by them.
I hope you will be as taken with the landscape of Montana and the map that Cameron draws in her explorations as I was.
Jill Seidenstein is a queer femme writer, yogini, swimmer and traveler. You can’t read her scribblings yet, but you can get a taste of what she’s thinking about at www.slowbloom.com/blog.
- Interview: Emily M. Danforth (Part 1) (storycarnivores.com)
By Caitlin Copple
Being trans can be a challenge anywhere, but it’s especially tough in Montana, as there are no statewide nondiscrimination protections for gender identity, including at Montana State University. A coalition of student organizations is working to change this, including TransMSU (TMSU) a support group for transgender MSU students.
Founded by graduate student Cassidy Medicine Horse, the group came into being after Medicine Horse was invited to talk about barriers to the community to the MSU student senate.
Despite Bozeman’s reputation for being a fairly liberal college town, Cassidy explains that prejudices exist when it comes to bathrooms, showers, dorms, and health care providers. Even though the school is receptive to hormone therapy coverage, it’s common for insurance carriers to exclude it from their prescription formulary. Cassidy adds that, to her knowledge, there are only three therapists and as many doctors in the Bozeman area who treat trans individuals.
Navigating these barriers while also going through a major life and identity transition was extremely difficult for Medicine Horse, and she started TransMSU to ensure other transitioning would have a built-in support network.
“Transitioning can be, at the very least, a lonely time,” she says. “Sometimes it can be filled with self-recrimination, self-loathing, anger, and great loss of family and friends.”
Beyond support, Medicine Horse hopes the group will provide a place for trans advocacy and increased visibility of the community, as they have with the efforts to add gender identity and expression to the Montana University System bylaws.
“What I am truly hoping for is that trans as a paradigm of the ‘other’ will cease to exist,” she says. “Sometimes I joke, half-heartedly, that I don’t want people just to come out of the closet. I want them to burn the closet down. The fact that a person is transgendered or transsexual should be about as interesting as whether you had mustard on your last sandwich. To be transgendered is not about sex. It is not about being homosexual or straight. It is about identity.”
Until then, she and TransMSU are partnering with the Montana Human Rights Network, a longtime Pride Foundation grantee, to work for equal protections for all Bozeman residents.
“Cassidy’s work to establish TMSU is essential to helping fill a gap as LGBTQ policy work moves forward in Bozeman,” said Jamee Greer, LGBT organizer for the Montana Human Rights Network. “It shows trans Bozemanites that they belong here, and also helps educate cisgender* folks around why trans inclusion matters.”
“Bozeman is a great little town with great folks,” adds Medicine Horse. “It’s time that we stand next to Missoula and Helena and give an additional voice to the concept of equality.”
When asked how people can be better allies to trans people, she shared:
- Learn the correct use of pronouns. If you don’t know, ask respectfully about pronoun preference.
- Don’t out us, and don’t use “bio” or “real” when referring to trans folks. If you need to designate, use “cis” or, better yet, how about referring to us just as a “person.”
- Do not ask me what my “real” name is or whether I have had had the surgery. It is, frankly, no one else’s business.
- Don’t automatically identify trans people as homosexual. Again, it’s not your concern and has nothing to do with being transgendered. Recognize that not all people fit into a nice little binary world of gender identification.
- Speak out when you hear pejorative remarks about trans people.
Currently, TMSU has 23 members, and the group welcomes trans, MtF, FtM, intersex, questioning, students, faculty, local residents, spouses, and supporters. The group meets weekly on Monday nights on the MSU campus from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m.
*A cisgender person is someone who identifies as the gender/sex they were assigned at birth. The colloquial use of cisgender suggests that it is the opposite of transgender.
Caitlin Copple is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Montana.
- Top 50 Myths About Being Transgender (kchapmangibbons.wordpress.com)
- Twenty-One questions on trans issues answered (cnlester.wordpress.com)
- Queer vocabulary (thehindu.com)
- Chile Transgender Man Becomes Nation’s First To Give Birth: Report (huffingtonpost.com)
- Join Pride Foundation Scholars At Special Reception (dgsmith.org)
- You’re Invited (dgsmith.org)
“Personally, I don’t believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle, or like, premarital sex between heterosexuals … it says that that’s a sin … I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ,” he said on the show. “So, I would not characterize that person as a Christian, because I don’t think the Bible would characterize that person as a Christian.”
~ Chris Broussard, ESPN Commentator.
I do so wish to avoid judging those who judge others. Thus, I have tried to avoid comment upon the religious right rhetoric about LGBT people. Yet, it is becoming increasingly clear that statements like the above quote stray from even the most basic of Christian tenets, Jesus’s command that we “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34-35. Moreover, for a biblical literalist, the above scriptural interpretation (Not cited, but denominated as biblical by the phrase, “it says.” ) is simply inaccurate. Finally, one of the most basic rules of journalism is that the media represent all sides of an issue. And, there is another side to this story.
So, what is gained by my silence? Some great Christian leaders have posited that to be silent in the face of oppression is to join the oppressor. (E.g., Dr. King, and more recently, Bishop Gene Robinson). Thus, I gladly risk the criticism that I am being judgmental in favor of speaking out on behalf of the oppressed. I speak my truth to power.
Now, about Gay Christians. The term is neither an oxymoron nor disingenuous. I personally identify as LGBT and Christian. I believe that Jesus is Lord! According to scripture, I cannot make such a statement lightly, but only by the power of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:3). Moreover, if I say it and believe it than scripture guarantees my salvation. (Romans 10:9). Hence, the scriptural formulaic equation for salvation is not exclusive. I can be Gay and Christian. And I am not alone in this belief.
There are a whole host or Christian organizations, many of which we see on Face Book every day, dedicated to the same proposition. We are in the minority now, but I believe that as we continue to change the world that all of Christendom will likewise evolve. One such group is called Fortunate Families, a national organization of Catholic parents with lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender children, with a passion for social justice advocacy and a focus on the Catholic Church and LGBT issues. In my present church affiliation, Methodist, we have the Reconciling Ministries Network whose purpose is to mobilize United Methodists of all sexual orientations and gender identities to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ’s inclusive love. The Episcopal church has an organization called Integrity, whose mission it is to inspire and equip the Episcopal Church, its dioceses, congregations, and members to proclaim and embody God’s all-inclusive love for LGBTQ persons and those who love them. Perhaps you know of others.
When it comes to scripture, I am merely a “jack-theologian,” so-to-speak. While I have a minor in religious studies, I certainly do not have any sort of divinity degree. However, I have at least read the passages to which I refer. I understand that they have been through multiple translations over the millennia, and were written in a vastly different culture with a vastly inferior world view, knowledge and technology, and that they were gathered into what we now know as the Bible by church fathers in the Third Century. (Even a cursory search reveals that the origins of the Bible is a complicated story rife with dissension and debate). Scripture did not even have line and verse until the 16th century. (The Bible was divided into chapters in the 13th century by Stephen Langton and into verses in the 16th century by French printer Robert Estienne). People believed over the entire 4,000 or so years that the various books of the Bible were written that the world was flat and the heavens (and God) resided a few hundred feet above them. Science now informs our world view to cast aside such notions, as well as the notion that the Biblical genealogy found in Genesis denotes the age of the world.
Against that backdrop, we have the self-righteous and inflammatory conclusions above. They can be summarized as follows: The bible says that homosexuality is a sin in open rebellion to God and Jesus. In claiming to be LGBT and Christian I must, as Gene Robinson says, “unabashedly” assert that this statement is false! None of the Gospels attribute to Jesus as ever uttering a single word about homosexuality, much less the word itself, or that he would accord it to himself as “open rebellion.” No such word existed in Hebrew or Greek, the two main languages in which the books of the bible were written. The word “homosexual” is not in the Bible, except in oblique translations of the six or so references to men “lying” with men in the Hebrew text and Paul’s letters, the most notorious of which is found in Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.” (Evidently, the only reason one lies with a female is to have sex. But is it okay if I lie with a woman until I need glasses? Sorry, I digress (impishly laughing to self with tongue firmly in cheek)).
The Hebrew term, shiqquwts is translated as “abomination” by almost all translations of the Bible. The similar words, sheqets, and shâqats, are almost exclusively used for dietary violations. Toeba, is also translated as abomination in some texts. Many modern versions of the Bible translate it as “detestable”or “loathsome.” I hear one Rabbi refer to it as “yicky.” Biblical literalists interpret this to mean that same-sex sexual activity is an abomination and therefore inherently sinful. (Note, however, that it is not one of the Ten Commandments).
However,please consider that a word or phrase which has been translated through multiple languages over centuries and the subject of great debate and disagreement among the worlds great scholars and theologians, inherently, cannot credibly be taken as a modern-day literal truth. Moreover, this supposed proscription was part of what is called the ancient Hebrew Holiness Code which highly regulated the everyday lives of ancient Hebrew men, from what they were to wear to what they were to eat. Violations of these rules were also called abominations. The code referred to how they were to treat one another too. Later prophets make this clear. In a little referred to scripture, Ezekiel says at 16:49-50: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” Clearly, Sodom’s lack of hospitality is the abomination.
Yet, there is no mention of the word, “homosexual,” again defying the literalists. They cannot rely on the literal words of scripture to reach the result they want, but must interpret the meaning of the words used through their various translations over time in spite of later clarification within the Bible’s own pages. Now I wonder how to characterize the above quotation from the ESPN announcer. Is it hospitable, or detestable and loathsome? Is it an abomination? What would Ezekiel say?
- At INTERCHANGE: “Scripture and Science and Sex, OH MY!” (dgsmith.org)
- Proud Christian, Proud Supporter of Marriage Equality by Elizabeth Carwyn (sexatbaylor.wordpress.com)
- What Does God Think About Tattoos? (multiplyministries.wordpress.com)
- Join Pride Foundation Scholars At Special Reception (dgsmith.org)
- Two UM students awarded prestigious scholarships (missoulian.com)
This past weekend was important to me for a number of reasons.
But I also got to meet and spend some quality time with dedicated Montana people who care about equality in our state. Some became even more strongly convinced after watching “Diversity Day” and “Love Free Or Die” presented in local churches.
Even I- a committed partner of the ACLU and the Fair Is Fair Campaign- became inspired after hearing Bishop Robinson speak about the need for Christian compassion and understanding in the face of fear and unintentional ignorance about LGBTIQ persons.
“Our job is to make this an issue of compassion and justice, not theology”, Bishop Robinson said. “We have to make the issue of fairness one that brings a face to mind whenever we talk about equality. This is about people.”
But being inspired is only as good as the actions it produces.
I want to encourage you to bolster the ACLU’s Fair Is Fair campaign by taking your inspiration and desire for justice and take action- by becoming a member.
My family belongs because we believe in the work of the ACLU. We believe it is important to support a coalition of organizations to bring full equality to all Montanans- but that only works if we all come together. The Montana ACLU is helping to make that happen, and I’m proud to be a supporting member.
I hope you’ll join us.
- You Don’t Want To Miss This: Big Gay Weekend In Billings (dgsmith.org)
- Win A Copy Of Love Free Or Die From ShockYa’s Twitter Giveaway (shockya.com)
- First gay Anglican bishop, Gene Robinson, reflects on tenure in New Hampshire (miamiherald.typepad.com)
- Bishop Gene Robinson Predicts 6-3 Supreme Court Ruling Striking Down DOMA (ontopmag.com)
- ‘Love Free or Die,’ Film on Bishop Gene Robinson, Comes to DVD (advocate.com)
- Former Felons Celebration Thursday (dgsmith.org)
Evangelical Christian and LGBTIQ ally, Kathy Baldock, is confirmed for INTERCHANGE on Saturday June 29th at the Bozeman Public Library.
You may remember Kathy from last year’s Montana Pride Celebration- she was the one leading the contingent of people wearing T-shirts that said “Hurt by Church? Get a Str8 Apology Here.”
She also led the counter protest against the “Christian” on the ladder during the parade.
When I asked Kathy what she hoped to give us at this workshop, she said, “I want people to realize that the limits of scripture and science and human knowledge have to always be tempered by human experience. In the six years of engaging in dialogue with the straight Evangelical and Protestant communities, I have learned what works to bring understanding on the issue of homosexuality and the Bible. I want to help you find the way to productive conversations through Scripture, science, reasoning and discussion techniques.”
Kathy Baldock, of Canyonwalker Connections, represents the journey many Evangelical Christians are considering as they try to reconcile what the have been told about the LGBTQ community and what they are experiencing in relationship with gay and transgender friends. The tension of “How do I understand what the Bible says?” with “How do I accurately represent Jesus?” is creating conflict in the conservative church. From her own life, Kathy will share how she has been able to guide people with their personal questioning in a new way to a fuller understand of the message of God’s inclusion of His LGBT children.
This presentation is sponsored by Gallatin Valley PFLAG.