This message is co-authored by Fr. Shay & Brian
I know all too well the sting of hearing “I love you, but I just can’t support your lifestyle”. The way that sting sinks deeply into your gut and pierces your heart. The way it makes you question what love really is.
And I understand the conflicted feelings when your parents are nice to you, when they maybe even invite the person you’re dating to family events (so long as you don’t hold hands or be physically affectionate with one another), when they don’t cut you out of their lives. You begin to think that maybe you’re being unfair, maybe you’re asking too much, maybe you just need to give them some more time.
But then you give them time and they still don’t change their beliefs. They don’t read any of the books that you recommend. They still go to their non-affirming church.
And they still tell you they love you.
At some point you’re allowed to say that their words of love without concrete action backing them up are not enough. It’s not enough to be kind and nice while still holding to theology that wounds the soul. It’s not enough to accept your partner as your “friend”. It’s not enough to only use the right pronouns 50% of the time.
You are allowed to demand more of your parents. And you are allowed to set boundaries if they refuse to meet those demands.
You deserve love and support that isn’t tainted by harmful theology. You deserve affirmation of all of the parts of your identity and body. You deserve to be seen a whole and holy. And you deserve to surround yourself with people who affirm you and protect your heart by limiting (or cutting off access) to people who do not.
If you come out as LGBTQ and your parents want to love you while also still maintaining their theology that says your life, love, or body is sinful, you have a right to understand exactly what that love looks like in practical terms.
As our friends at Church Clarity say, #ClarityIsReasonable.
Church Clarity asks specific policy questions of churches such as “Will you hire LGBTQ+ people for any ministry role?” “Will your church’s clergy officiate a wedding for LGBTQ+ people?” (Sneak peak: Church Clarity will be rolling out a “verified clear” option for individuals to weigh in on those same questions. You can be an early adopter here)
Fr. Shay and I realized that as we were navigating our own families who wanted to love us without fully affirming us—over a decade before Church Clarity was founded!—we too had specific questions that we wanted answers for. Will you use the right pronoun for me? Will you come to my wedding? Over the past decade, we asked our families (and our friends and our pastors and our churches) to clarify exactly what their “love” looks like in practice.
Here are some questions you might ask your unaffirming parents who want to love you without changing their beliefs:
- My name is ________. Will you call me that?
- The pronouns I would like to be referred to as are _________. Will you refer to me as that with these people _______ (“at all times in public and private” “with our family but not yet at school because I’m not ready to be out there”)
- Do you think it is sinful for me to have a relationship? (yes or no)
- Do you think it is sinful for me to transition? (yes or no)
- If I face discrimination, will you support me? How?
- Will you provide emotional support for my transition?
- Will you help me navigate the medical/legal/whatever system as I come out/transition/get married, etc?
- Is my boyfriend/girlfriend/theyfriend/partner welcome to visit your house with me? Is my partner welcome to stay the night with me? (If I have a partner in the future, will they be able to?)
- Would you attend my wedding?
- Would you participate in my wedding?
- Would you officiate my wedding?
- Will you stop supporting and contributing to individuals and organizations opposed to my equal rights? Including your church?
- Will you vocally support my decision to not attend events at unaffirming churches if I am invited by other members of our family or our friends?
- Will you read books and articles, watch movies, listen to sermons that explain the goodness of LGBTQ people?
- Will you read secular news and research to better understand LGBTQ issues?
- Will you attend therapy to work through any discomfort you feel about my identity rather than unloading it on me and asking me to resolve it for you?
For LGBTQ children living at home or financially dependent upon your parents, you might also ask these questions
- Can we buy clothes that feel appropriate for me?
- Will you help me change my name?
- If I face bullying at school, will you advocate for me?
- If I face discrimination, will you advocate for me?
- Will you give any necessary parental consent for my transition?
- Will you provide financial support for my transition? If you are not financially able, will you help us find free clinics, pro bono doctors, or other affordable ways for me to transition?
- Will you shield and protect me from messages that attack the integrity of my soul by not forcing me to attend an anti-LGBTQ church and by interrupting friends, family members, church members, or strangers who attempt to question or undermine my worthiness as an LGBTQ person?
You deserve clarity about what your parents believe and how they plan to act so that you can decide how you want to respond. And what you accept and how you respond may change over time.
However your parents respond to these — or any other — questions, know this: you deserve full and complete acceptance from your parents, you deserve family who will support and defend you.
When I came out (first as gay, later as transgender) to my fundamentalist mother I knew that it was going to be a hard road for both of us. In the beginning I gave my mother a lot of leeway: I made sure that all of our conversations happened face to face so that she could ask questions and offer responses. When I came over with a partner I made sure to not talk about our relationship, to allow my partner to be referred to as my “friend” and to not be physically affectionate. When I came out as transgender I didn’t say anything about the usage of pronouns. I did that because I wanted her to have time to process.
But after a while that wasn’t enough for me. I never felt like I could show up as myself to family gatherings and I felt like, as nice as my mother was, our relationship was based on a falsehood because I wasn’t actually being accepted, affirmed, or welcomed. Not to mention that my mother’s use of the wrong pronouns frequently put me in danger in places where the use of those pronouns outed me. Because of that, even though for a long time I had accepted my mother where she was at, I finally had to set firmer boundaries. I asked her to read particular books, I asked her to use the correct pronouns. And when she refused I had to firmly limit contact with her. It’s painful, but it’s the only way that I can live safely and with integrity. And I do it because I know that I deserve to be loved and affirmed in my identity, not in spite of it.
You can set boundaries, you can change the boundaries you once set if they no longer work for you, you can protect yourself.
God loves, supports, accepts, and affirms you as an LGBTQ person just as you are. And the Bible makes clear, from Genesis to Revelation, that God has a preference for the oppressed, marginalized, and outcast. God is fighting for you. Your family should too.
If your family of origin doesn’t accept and affirm you, if your church community maintains that who you are and how you love is sinful, know that they don’t speak for everyone, they don’t speak for the church, and they don’t speak for God. You can find the support that you need. You can build a life and a family that sees, understands, and honors you.
You are a beloved child of God and as you live into that truth, we pray with you that your parents will come to see and know that beautiful truth too.
If you could use some support navigating unaffirming friends or family, we have a free resource just for you.
We put together a 3-part video on series on self-care for LGBTQ Christians. It’s all about identifying what you need to feel safe and respected, setting and maintaining boundaries, and finding ways to take care of yourself. We get it, it’s really hard to be around people who don’t fully accept you, even—or sometimes especially—when they’re kind to you, when they reach out and make some small “progress.”
You don’t have to go it alone, we’ve got your back.
If you’re straight and cisgender…
One way you can ensure that this work continues and reaches and support LGBTQ folks who need it is by supporting us on Patreon. We’d be honored to have you join us over there.
This article was published by Brian & Shay, Queer Theology
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