Learning the Long Way to Love Your Queer Self

Ada

Recently, I read an interview with a stranger, and it included this:

Social media changed the game. Before the Internet, I didn’t know anybody else with a disability. I didn’t hang out with other disabled kids, I didn’t want to. I wanted to blend in so badly. But, with the Internet, I’ve met people who are disabled and who love themselves. I learned to love them before I learned how to love myself.

“I learned to love them before I learned how to love myself.”

Later, I watched Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette,” and because it really is as singular and good as the critics say it is, I won’t give away too much. But I’ll say that she discusses shame, and in particular, the kind of shame that often trails queer folks. For those of us who are queer Christians, that shame can feel like a well a mile deep with smooth stone walls.

“I learned to love them before I learned how to love myself.”

There’s a prevailing Western notion that it’s only by loving yourself that you learn to love others – that you have to affix your own oxygen mask before you can put on others’. But self-love – and self-love first and foremost – can seem unattainable for many of us, and especially for anyone who struggles with shame.

Like Hannah Gadsby says in “Nanette,” shame doesn’t easily come out in the wash when you spend decades soaking in it. Years after you come to terms with who you are, and even the likeness of God in you, it’s still hard to defy the reflex of shame. Loving oneself doesn’t come naturally for everyone, and that’s okay. But it’s important that we embark on this re-informing journey to love self, love others, and love God. This is the work we’re here to do.

And what’s more – there’s really good news: the notion that it’s only by loving yourself that you can love others is false.

Learning Through Representation

Like many of you, I watched Crazy Rich Asians this weekend. It was the first Hollywood movie in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast. In the row in front of mine, two white people craned their heads upward to see the beautiful faces of Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, many other faces like mine. Thousands of times before, our roles were reversed, and I had looked up at faces like theirs, recognizing that theirs were beautiful, unsure if mine would ever be seen the same way.

Like Asian representation in Hollywood, queer representation happens so rarely in popular media, and it’s often done poorly. The queer stories of sadness and loss are plentiful. While it’s vital to bear witness to hardship, we have other stories, too. Even worse, the falsehoods sold by non-affirming Christians with an agenda of exclusion are often the only stories that young gay Christians hear about themselves. Those stories can be devastating. Our community is full of stories of the admirable, strong, resilient, clever, brave, and even glamorous. These are stories in which we find reflections of our potential and our destiny.

Representation of queer lives – full and vibrant lives – in a mainstream culture is meaningful in ways that small-scale and intra-community representation cannot be. Mainstream representation done well is a public message to an uncertain world that queer people are to be loved and to belong. Sometimes, mainstream representation affirms what is normal. Sometimes, mainstream representation is aspirational, showing audiences a future of beloved-ness that has yet to be achieved. Positive media representation has the power to display the best parts of ourselves – the best, most complex, and most beloved parts of queer identity. By loving the stories of us, we learn to love ourselves.

Some examples of queer TV and movie representation that Zora and I have recently enjoyed include the following:

TV

  • The Fosters (FreeForm)
  • Queer Eye (reboot; Netflix) 

    You can find more here.

MOVIES

 

  • Disobedience
  • Carol
  • Baby Steps
  • Call Me By Your Name
  • But I’m a Cheerleader

    You can find more here.

Learning Through Community

We also learn to love ourselves by being in affirming and queer community. Whereas non-affirming community can damage self-image, affirming community nourishes one’s ability to give and receive love honestly – with one’s whole self.

To see the multidimensional lives of other queer individuals gives us time and space to love them – to play with their children, eat in their homes, and share in their prayers. And as we grow to love the other queer individuals in our lives for their kindness, bravery, humor or oddities, we grow to love them also for their queerness. And we grow to love ourselves for our own kindness, bravery, humor, or oddities, and eventually for our own queerness and the glory reflected similarly in us. Zora wrote previously on the importance of queer friendships for this and other reasons.

For those with limited access to physical queer or queer-affirming community due to geography and safety, online communities can also play an immense role in affirmation. Some find queer community online at Q Christian Fellowship Online (formerly Gay Christian Network), Autostraddle, or Queer Theology’s Sanctuary Collective. (We do not recommend non-affirming online communities like Living Out.) In addition, countless communities exist on Facebook. If you happen to be an Asian American queer Christian reader seeking online community, send us a message, and I’ll be happy to connect you to a loving Facebook community.

Learning Through Scripture

We also learn to love ourselves by loving exemplars of queerness in Scripture. Our queer siblings in Scripture include Joseph with a rainbow dress (it was never a coat) – called to prophesy and dream – who rightly proclaimed that the same family that shunned him would later kneel at his feet. They include Jonathan and David, two warriors whose romantic love forms an epic tale recounted throughout the ages. They include the Roman centurion who begs Jesus to heal the enslaved man he loves and who receives that blessing of healing.

These are only some the most detailed accounts of queer individuals of the Bible. Others abound. But no queerer love exists in the Bible than the love recounted of our God, who breaks societal conventions of gender expression, who is a panoply of gender, and who is relentless in love. As we grow in our understanding of God’s own queerness and our capacity to love that God, so does our ability to love who we are.

Going Deeper in the Pools

There’s nothing false about the fact that sometimes, we do learn to love others by loving ourselves first. But thankfully, the Spirit that is Love has made this journey of learning to love a series of connected pools rather than a line of succession. Often times, we learn to love ourselves by loving others first. Thus, as we better learn to love God, we learn to love ourselves, and we learn to love others. And as we learn to love others, we learn to love God, and we learn to love ourselves – so on and so forth. Sometimes, “I [learn] to love them before I [learn] how to love myself.”

As we support and demand more queer representation, as we immerse ourselves in queer and affirming community, and as we soak in the visibility of queerness in Scripture, loving reflections of ourselves becomes easier. And, with time and by the power of the Spirit, love starts to crowd out shame.

 

Photo, “Cheetah Looking in Mirror,” by Emma Rian