CATHEDRAL OF STILLNESS
I remember one of my professors, a married gay man, inviting the class to speak about experiences of discrimination. He, hand-in-hand with his husband, felt fear walking in the South. There was a visible anxiety in his body, too, so I believe him. And he used his stories as a platform to allow the class to open up about their own experiences. The professor, teary-eyed, said that sometimes the most empowering response to another is silence. Withhold the terms of discussion, I think, within the walls of your own silence.
Padraig O Tuama writes of his experience in Uganda, opening up dialogue about a homophobic law about to be passed. He, a gay man, withheld his identity in order to speak of the treatment of the marginalized in Mark’s and Luke’s gospels. Eventually, some of the discussion groups that he led entered into a space of sympathy with “the homosexuals.”
However, one man spoke up. The discussion, he thought, should be illegal. Maybe in the United States, the conversation would have been fine, but not in Uganda.
Padraig felt himself instinctively approach the side of the room; his body searching for an escape in a room that no longer felt safe. While Padriag notes that Jesus might have spoken up, how could anyone in Padriag’s position, really, engage in the terms of that conversation, without being harmed?
When I was in the process (a process that is always a process) of coming out, I collected words and arguments and terms about God, sexuality, and religion to shore up conversation and dialogue and argument with some of my friends who found all sorts of ways to “deal with” gay people. I lent my trust to friends who broke it, shared my story with those lacking empathy, and cited theology to those who used theology as an excuse for bigotry. One person I knew even prayed for me, spontaneously, in a crowded coffee shop, against my “homosexual” and “unnatural” tendencies. I see him around sometimes. He waves. I tense up unconsciously, in spite of my better intentions.
At 5 in the morning last month, after telling my dad about well-intended words that wound, my dad talked to me about his problem with the idea of a “gay community.” Not every gay person is the same, he said, so it is not really fair to lump all gay people together. I withheld the argument (but now: what type of community includes people that are ALL THE SAME?? Ideally: some, maybe. Practically: absolutely none.). It’s a strange and unrealistic standard that my dad holds the gay community to (especially since the development of a queer community—which is one that makes a point of including different people who aren’t so easily categorized. AND, why isn’t this same standard held to the church, or to a fly fishing club, or to any other group?).
So it always—always—feels like an uphill battle speaking around my family, around other Christians too, playing ping pong with terms that, even with the best intentions, degrade through an innocent ignorance. Maybe it’s best not to play their games. (I've heard a few times, from a few people, that it is not up to gay people to instruct others on how to be "safe people." Instead, Google it.)
So I lean against the walls of my own silence. Caught up in a discourse that betrays my own intentions, within the terms of an exhausting debate, of words that slip off of my own experience, I retreat into a cathedral of stillness. What I wish to express can no longer escape; I hold it as my own, guarded by these walls of silence—an expression worth more than its own transformation in the machine of discourse. An expression given only to itself, placed on the altar of an interior cathedral.