As we know, there are many people who have a ‘different’ sexuality from the ‘standard’ heterosexual orientation. These people could be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer/Questioning (or ‘LGBTQ’).
I sometimes wonder if one of the main reasons why heterosexual Christians – and others too – are uncomfortable with people who have different sexualities is because they don’t know how to relate to them. They don’t know how to address them, how to deal with someone ‘different’; it’s almost like the awkwardness some people feel when they meet someone in a wheelchair, or perhaps with a disfigurement (and no, I’m not saying that LGBTQ people are disabled or disfigured; it’s an example, ok?!). They don’t want to call attention to the ‘difference’ because they don’t know how to. Sometimes this can even be because they don’t want to upset the person. Now usually people in wheelchairs and with disfigurements, to continue my example, just want to be treated normally. They’re thinking, ‘I don’t want your pity, your compassion; just be normal with me, ok?’
Because many people do not feel comfortable talking about any sexuality subjects, though, they are far less likely to know how to broach the subject, so they feel even more awkward. And then there’s the people who just say it’s ‘wrong according to Scripture’ and that therefore ‘solves’ the problem. But it does not go away! These people still have feelings…and other than their sexuality, they’re just like you in every way. These different sexualities are not actually becoming more common; they have always been in existence. It’s just that society in general (if not on an individual level) are more accepting so it’s easier for people to ‘come out’. Because of this, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will be able to go through life without having to face up to this situation at some point!
So, how do we cope with this in a compassionate way, but without being patronising?
Let me tell you the story of Michael (not his real name). At the time I knew him, about 20-24 years ago, Michael was a top engineer with a company who made specialist scientific equipment. He was such a good engineer, and knew the equipment so well, that on more than one occasion he coached me, over the phone, in repairing a piece of equipment that was broken – back in those days, we were allowed to repair our own kit; a privilege sadly lacking in today’s overprotective society! He’d tell me which relays to check, which cutouts to reset, where to look for blown internal fuses…all most impressive. I’d known Michael for about four years, on and off (he didn’t need to visit all that often).
One day, I was sitting at my bench in the lab and someone came into the room and just stood there looking at me over the top of one of the cabinets. I looked up and saw a woman who looked familiar, but I couldn’t quite place her – and then I twigged (and I’m sure you’ve already guessed it) that it was Michael. Michael with long hair, no beard (he’d had one before), and wearing lipstick and other facial makeup, but still (easily) recognisably Michael nonetheless. I can honestly say that I almost heard my thoughts out loud, “Oh my goodness, it’s Michael, and he’s a woman!” Evidently, Michael was a transgender person….
“Well, Tony”, he said. “I think it’s fair to say that things have changed a bit since last time I saw you…” As I nodded dumbly, Michael came and sat down next to me. The lab had gone silent; everyone else in the lab knew Michael and they too were speechless. Even my boss, normally an unflappable man, had done a double-take. So I thought I’d better say something, “Michael, I never knew!”
“Well, it’s Michaela now, but no, I know it’s a shock” he said in a ‘false’ falsetto voice. At that point, Michaela had not long been on hormone replacement therapy, so his voice was still a man’s deep voice. (Let me explain here: at this time, as far as I was concerned, he was still a man as he still had all his ‘bits’. Nowadays of course, I know differently, but remember this was my first encounter with a person ‘coming out’ in this manner – so from now on in this narrative I will refer to Michaela using feminine pronouns!) In fact, for some months afterwards, it was actually comical to listen to Michaela as she’d begin a conversation in her falsetto voice but she’d forget, and within 5 minutes or so she’d be back to her normal voice again.
So, I chatted with Michaela for quite some time, and after she’d gone, my colleagues all clustered around me and asked stuff like ‘What was that all about?’ and ‘Was that really Michael?’ – they were just as flummoxed as I had been, and right then we had to discuss whether to refer to Michaela as a ‘he’ or a ‘she’, or whatever. Remember also at this time I was a fundamentalist Christian and this was totally outside my comfort zone!
That said, though, I was the only person in the lab who felt comfortable talking to Michaela. I had the opportunity several times to sit and listen to her story and her thoughts. It was either ‘come out’, she said, or she’d have to drive her car into a wall at high speed, so fed up was she with maintaining the pretence. And, even despite my own personal shock and misgivings, I was privileged to be able to reassure her that God loved her no matter what she was inside and outside. Funny, really, that even there, the compassion of Jesus was overriding my religious ruleset. Even then, the Spirit was preparing me for later in life – i.e. now – where I now fully accept all people with all kinds of ‘differences’. God’s love has overridden my prejudices; now I understand things much more.
(Epilogue: I haven’t seen Michaela since I moved from Yorkshire to Devon in 1995, but I heard from one of her colleagues (they are a company with a nationwide presence) that she went and had her ‘sex reassignment surgery’ – what was often called a ‘sex change operation’ – and is now a full woman. Fair enough, and I wish her well. In doing my research for this blog entry, I have found pictures of Michaela on the Internet and she still looks pretty much the same: still visibly identifiable facially as the former ‘Michael’, but looking well, happy and – yes – female).
I think the key to breaking through the awkwardness in these situations is simply to communicate. Talk to them! Rather than feeling threatened and confronting in a ‘you’re wrong’ style, talk in a ‘how do I relate to you?’ style. Get to know the person. And don’t, don’t judge them! That way you get the double win of addressing your discomfort and make them feel accepted as a person at the same time.
Also, do some research. Take a look at my previous post, The Call to Love, for more of my thoughts on LGBTQ things, and for links to helpful materials on Bible passages that appear to condemn homosexuality, for example, where in fact they do not.
For LGBTQ people reading this, please bear with us heterosexual people. Some of us have come from highly homophobic backgrounds, and it takes time for us to adjust to new concepts, especially when we have mistakenly believed that we are so right and you guys were so wrong. I’m over it now, but many are not. Again, communication is the key, I believe. And, if I come across as patronising, I’m sorry; I am Aspergic and the finer nuances of interpersonal communications usually escape me! The spirit in which I have written this article is one of love, reconciliation and goodness of heart, and I hope this comes across. I’m just saying what I think God wants me to say; ‘Doing what I see the Father doing’ – John 5:19