The Devil’s in the Disappointment



Last week at work, I received some advice. Ginny is the kind of friend who knows me well enough to know what hurts me the most.

After witnessing someone frame his frustrations as disappointment in me, Ginny took me aside. In her characteristic bluntness, she said, “I know that you, like me, have brought baggage into your adult life from hearing your family say that you’ve disappointed them. But trust me, the disappointment he expressed is a different kind of disappointment. It’s less insidious. Brush this one off your shoulder. ”

This, I needed to hear. And I think I’m not alone, especially among queer folks.

“All the Feels” of Disappointment

Disappointment scares mebecause disappointment gets translated into insufficiency. When we LGBTQ folks – who, like all humans have a natural longing to find assurance in ourselves – are told that we aren’t enough, it hurts.

Disappointment can also get translated into shame. This is particularly true for those of us who come from cultures that emphasize honor and shame. When we are told that who we are brings shame to our family or our community or our faith – that hurts too.

Both translations of disappointment hurt because they incite us to determine our own self-worth with the never-satisfied measuring stick of our perceived worth to others.

Sometimes, when we queer folks roll the dice by coming out with loved ones and we don’t get anger, we get disappointment. And often, we walk away from that reaction unsure why disappointment feels like it does: like we’re a floe of ice breaking from a glacier and heading out to sea. Disappointment feels like a robbery of the currency that is love and standing and belonging.

It’s easier to know what to do with hatred or anger. Those are outright – thrust in our face. They’re blunt objects of opposition. But disappointment is insidious – like Ginny said. It’s a message that conveys personal failure. Disappointment means we didn’t measure up; and when this comes in the context of living our lives authentically as queer, this might mean to us that we will never measure up.

What are we supposed to do with that?

The answer to that is that there’s little to do for them. The disappointment of others about your queer identity has little to do with you and a lot to do with them – with their personal expectations and the expectations a cis-/heteronormative society has rooted in them.

There is, however, room to work within: room to lighten the heaviness of disappointment.

Glorifying Disappointment

There’s scripture that conservative Christians use to illustrate a Christian’s torn allegiance to human glory and to God.

“Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in Jesus. But because of the [religious leaders] they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human glory more than the glory that comes from God.” (John 12:42-43)

In the height of my conservative evangelicalism, I understood human glory as “the culture”: an amorphous catch-all of modern phenomena that could not be explained by a literal interpretation of the Bible. Included in human glory was the desire to find any affirmation of self that came from somewhere other than the Bible. And included in human glory was the yearning to belong here on Earth.

The goal of Christian living, I believed and still believe, is to pursue the will of God even more than the will of humanity. What changed as I began to deconstruct and then reconstruct my faith was not my desire to pursue the will of God, but rather, my understanding of the will of God itself and my understanding of human glory.

When Zora came out to her family, she received a panoply of reactions. From her mother, Zora received anger. From her youngest brother, she received fear. From her other brother, she received affirmation. And from her grandmother, she received disappointment.

Though her grandmother remained calm while she expressed her disappointment, that disappointment welled in and wore away the lowest places like rain on limestone.

But the will and love of God for Zora – as she has come to know by now – are coded in how God created her. And the will and love of God are coded in how God created you, too. How much more clearly can the will of God for you be stamped upon your heart than through your very being?

Until this heart-stamp is glorified, queer children will always be disappointing to the straight and cisgender adults who see us, their offspring, as a clear extension of their own personhood. We will always disappoint adults who fear the approval of their cloistered community and who long for an oversimplified humanity, an ordered and submissive creation, a simple God. The disappointment of conservative Christian siblings or parents or entire communities is founded on these things too. Look closely, and you will see.

What those who are disappointed are missing is that our desire to belong and to be loved is a holy desire. It isn’t the “human glory” that we were warned against; it does not bring harm to ourselves or to others. It is a longing to be known and to be in community.

You, queer child of God, are not a disappointment. You are a reappointment of narrow expectations into something far more vast. You are glorious.

Confronting Disappointment

Jesus sent out his disciples to heal their communities by bringing word of his life and his teachings. Where we facilitate healing, the kindom grows.

Jesus knew that this kindom is a place of justice where the low are lifted up and the powerful are brought low. He gave advice to his disciples as they headed out on this journey:

“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.” (Matthew 10:14)

The good news of God’s love for all creation offers healing to a world in which hierarchy dictates the ration of inclusion and love given. For those who fear any type of human glory – any inkling that God breathed good into us from the start when she made us in her image – there is bound to be disappointment when this hierarchy is shaken. Especially when it is shaken by one whom they deemed an outsider.

But gaining the disappointment of these gatekeepers is nothing deserving of shame. To be queer is to laugh in the face of human expectation. To be queer is a whole-being act of resistance.

Reframing Disappointment

Years ago, I received a prophetic message from a friend. She believed that my parents would see God through me when they saw my happiness. For a long time, I was preoccupied with the brand of Christians that I wanted my non-Christian parents to become. If they saw anything in me, they saw my frantic and obnoxious worrying, not my happiness.

For a while, I forgot my friend’s message, but it has come true. For my mother, disappointment was entwined with fear and misunderstanding. Disappointment was only one of her reactions to my coming out. She also believed my queerness to be dangerous – that I would experience ostracism, ridicule, and violence. (These fears aren’t unfounded.)

Now, years later, we are moving past her disappointment. We are learning to share in my inclusion, joy, and safety. We may even be moving past my disappointment. In my family where we breathe an atmosphere of honor and shame, I am getting to live my rebuttal.

Disappointment isn’t an ending; it’s a comma with a preposition. The disappointment of others carves out space for questions. It asks why? in the right measures of anguish and frustration.

It is when we dig into this why that disappointment can shatter the illusion of a humanity we can simplify and explain (and explain away). Questioning disappointment can shatter the illusion of a God who is elementary and unimaginative and un-encompassing and incomplete.

On the other side of why, and on the other side of our presumptions: therein lies the kindom.

Memes from Arrested Development

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