Thursday, April 24, 2014

Locked Out of Heaven

How can spirituality be reconciled with a queer identity?
by Sam Allen

I’m listening to Rufus Wainwright sing,
“One more notch I scratch
To keep me thinkin’ of you
One more notch does the Maker make
Upon my face so blue.”
And it makes me whimper.  I know that not all Christians think that way, but maybe think that way.

My dog notices.  His ears go up and I got to him, singing, “Jesus loves the little bubbies.” (His nickname is bubby).

This quells my impulse to cry.

I think I need something more in my life than the mundane world of coffee, work (at-home work for me), friends, family, etc.

I need something spiritual that lasts longer than a song.

While singing to Bubby I summon Tommy Gnosis’ aka Stephen Trask’s “We are Freaks,” from the glamour-fabulous Hedwig and the Angry Inch. After rambling off all of the kinds of “freaks” that he knows and sees, he says, “That’s the way God planned us.  That’s the way God planned us.”  It gives me chills every time.  Sometimes more than chills.  Sometimes tears.

I grew up as a spiritual kid.  I don’t remember much about my childhood spirituality, but I do remember sensing an emotional change in the crowd at church sometimes, wondering if that was the Holy Spirit moving among us.

It drove me to an interest in an Oversoul, as well as to ethnomusicology later in life (and by this I mean my early 20′s, hehe).

I went to an American Baptist church in Stockton that was relatively conservative but, thankfully, never delved into politics in sermons or Sunday school lessons.  It was strictly verboten.  And I feel like you’ll knock me for saying that word, but that was the strength of the spell that kept teachers from sharing their political opinions with their pupils.  To illustrate, I remember attending a rant on creationism during a Wednesday night youth summit, and most people popping their heads in, snickering, and popping them out.  We were not a political bunch.  Even if the ‘science’ of creationism fascinated me at the time.

I got chills when our pastor talked about being a better person, feeling the Holy Spirit move.

But that changed as I got older.  My best friend started to get picked on for my boyish ways.

The way I stood.  The way I wore my hair.  I was generally my peers' silent misfit and they would rather tell it to her than to my face.

I drifted out of the youth groups, and hated going to church because the pews were filled with the kids who used to be my friends.

My youth pastor came over to me one day as I was standing on the curb, which I now realize to be the farthest possible place away from the youth group while still part of the youth quadrant, and asked me, “Do you still read your bible?”  
”Yeah, all the time!” I said, smiling.

Later that day it dawned on me that I didn’t believe in Adam and Eve.

I got into agnosticism….and Walt Whitman:  ” I CELEBRATE myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”

I later found Hedwig and the Angry Inch through Rufus Wainwright’s cover of the Origin of Love (meh, I prefer the original), and play it every Sunday.

It’s my mass, my Pentecost, my Lent (Ash Wednesday!  Ash on Hedwig and Tommy’s forehead!), my holy rite.

Easter and Christmas I assign to pagan rituals, and they hold more meaning for me in their primeval love between life and death, birth and rebirth, the return of a Sun King to the world (Chrismas), earth and sex and Spring for Easter.

I think that’ll still be the case, whatever I morph into.

I still get chills from listening to Allen Ginsberg.  He’s a personal hero of mine, a little bit of a dead celebrity still alive in my heart, and on screen.  ”The trees add shade to shade, lights out in the houses, we’ll both be lonely,” have some of the most exquisite pauses that I’ve heard or read ever.  Including music.

It’s a good alternative spirituality.

But right now, I need more.

I don’t believe in Jesus or the stories about him.  I don’t care, really.

“Locked out of heaven.”

That’s what I think when I associate gays and mainstream religion.

An estrangement from God, whatever form or entity that is.

Which is weird, because I still pray.

I think queers who are part of mainstream religions – Mennonites, Baptists, Methodists – are some of the most radical idea-having people around.

Jesus loves you, this I know.  For the Bible tells me so…….includes you.  Me.

Everyone, the other religious people, have told us – or maybe it’s just the ones who yell the loudest – have told us no.  You can’t be in our heaven, unless you change.  You’re a sinner right now, and you’ll continue to be one, unrepentant and shunned, unless you change.

Or maybe it was the mean girls, manifesting their Girl Power – just the athletes, just the ones who bridged the line between girlish and boyish traits without actually crossing over it – without accepting the ones who were different.  The ones who were like me.

Maybe that’s what I have.  An adolescent estrangement from the powers who kicked me in the face (metaphorically) that day, when Jackie tried to teach me how to stand right, stand up straight, or loll like those other girls in the mezzanine.  Odd how they fraternized with the influential men and women.  Like meets like.

I go back to Rufus' song about a month later, after favoriting a cover of it on Spotify. 

"Oh Lord, how I know
Oh Lord, how I see
That only can the Maker make
a happy man of me."
It still gives me chills.  This time, the good kind.