Updated: May 3, 2019
I Just watched this film on #Kanopy called #SundaySessions. The film grounded me in the reality of why, after 20 years of deep Christian devotion, I never went back to church. To say it simply, it's because the whole organization of conservative christianity is body and mind repression therapy.
(Kanopy is the greatest FREE movie streaming service on this side of Mars. It's free with a library card, which, if you don't have one, then I don't really know why you're even on this blog. All good things begin and end with the library.)
The subject of the film, Nathan, is a catholic who voluntarily enrolls himself in a conversion therapy clinic for men dealing with Same Sex Attraction (SSA). Over the course of a tortuous 1hr 30 mins, Nathan under goes "therapy" sessions with Chris Doyle, infamous conversion therapy advocate and counselor. When he's not torturing himself with Doyle's "therapy," Nathan rehearses for local theatre performances.
As a queer in recovery of Christ, Nathan's predicament was painfully relatable to me. Mostly because I know what it's like to grow up in a queer hating church, but at the same time think that church people are your people.
Here's a life hack: People who don't affirm who you are, are not your people. People who don't give deeper knowledge about who you are, are not your people. People who require you to validate who you are to them, are not your people.
I got the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with the dude who made the film, Richard Yeagley. We talked about our own journeys with Christianity and sexuality. His folks tried to get him to be into the Christian thing, but by the age of 12 he was a self-declared atheist. Whereas, for me, by the age of 10, I answered God's call and got baptized. The pool at christian camp was full of rainwater that night. It was storming lightning and witness. I was sanctified and spent the next decade in deep Biblical study.
Though Richard isn't a part of the queer community, his sister is a lesbian. I told him that I identify as queer because it really isn't anybody's business who I'm interested in, just know it's probably not a cishet man. And, so what if it is? (More on The Pansexual Agenda in another post).
What interested me the most about the movie was how scenes of Nathan in conversion therapy were contrasted with scenes of Nathan rehearsing for plays. It made me think about the ways in which Christianity makes us actors in our own lives. I remember being taught that The Sovereign God was the one to which I was to make bids (prayers) and that waiting for His miracle or Word to go forth is what made me a good Christian. It was vain for me to think I could do anything without him. How dare I think well of myself or my accomplishments? How dare I think I could make my life what I want my life to be? Church taught me that, inherently a sinner (re: unclean), I could only be made clean by the blood of his mercy.
Since when does blood make anyone clean? And why am I waiting on anyone to confirm or affirm the goals I have for my life?
This all made me think about the differences between being an "actor" in one's life verses an "author," and how Christian conditioning is based on this role play. Which is why it's even more interesting that there are so many scenes of role playing in the film.
Think of it this way: Christianity is a play. God is the author. Christians are actors. As actors, our motivations and purposes are driven by the character God writes into us. Not by the emotion or spirit of our bodies. No, our bodies are not our own. They are vessels for the God ship. This creates an intense dissociation between spirit and body; sexuality and sex.
The danger of being an actor in one's own life is multitudinous. Specifically when it comes to sex and sexuality.
For one, it makes for a very weird person.
For instance, I knew a lot of people in the church who wanted to be married but didn't date. How do you find a someone if you're not dating? Do you also wait for food to appear from the sky instead of going to the grocery store and shopping and then going home and cooking your food? So you're just gonna starve to death cuz God said so? That's weird...
For two, sexual repression leads to mental repression. And thinking for yourself becomes something others in your community shame you for. This makes critical thinking something that VERY FEW people in the community are capable of doing. Because I do not trust myself, my body, how then would I trust myself? How then can I synthesize the things that I gather with my mind?
For three, why aren't grown people having consensual sex with whomever they want? That's also very weird. Thinking sex is just for procreation is like the most thoughtless reply. The main people who love to say this are Individuals without children or the ones with waaaaay too many children. Sex has so many functions and there are so many different kinds of sex.
For 4, you wanna know what happens when people are sexually repressed and sexually misinformed? SEXAL ABUSE. SEXUAL TRAUMA. SEXUAL ASSAULT. I knew lots of girls and boys who suffered sexual abuse because of the sexual repression of Christian men and women. You think sex education in public schools is bad? Ha! Then you can't imagine what sexual education is like in a homeschooled conservative christian community. Believe me! I lived in and am still recovering from so much ABSENT and INACCURATE information. Not to mention second-hand trauma from so many of my friends surviving sexual abuse.
Scenes of Nathan acting also made me think about the constant Christian conflict. The drama of never being "good enough" for God fuels the desperation for a God-figure. I must need someone else to complete me if I am not good enough. Oh, the Constant Christian Angst!
Brief Q & A:
>Does anyone else remember when they or their friends would celebrate being "a slave to Christ"?
> Does anyone else remember when their friends were suicidal and depressed bc they were harboring so much shame for not being good enough and no place, not even their mind or body, was safe?
Answer: I do!!!!
Lately, I've been doing a series of anti-repression therapy workshops with myself. It's a series of mindfulness meditations that occur at the end or beginning of the day. All of them center around deep breathing and chanting.
Half of them are done in water and the other half on land. The land ones go like this:
How to Conversion Therapy Your Repression:
Step 1. Breathe. Deeply
When I first started breathing I had a really hard time. But, at this time I was 23 years young learning to swim for the first time. Swimming has opened up my lungs like nothing else in the world. If you're on land and have a hard time taking deep breathes, I would suggest doing any kind of exercise that will force your heart rate to get up. i.e. pushups, sit ups, leg lifts, planks, stretches, etc.. Focusing on your breath during these exercises will rework your relationship to breathing when you're not doing the exercises.
Step 2. Affirm-- what do you need to hear today? And why do you think it needs to come from anyone else but you, author? Tell yourself what you need to hear. Ex. I am stretching in the wonder of myself. Ex. I am proud of the work I did today and it was enough.
Step 3. Be thankful for you & all past yous. Touch your toes and touch your toes. thank your ankles and touch your ankles. thank all the body parts and touch all body parts.
Step 40. Protect your dreams. Don't look at your phone or whatever you do to fill yourself with thoughts of other people. Leave the day with thoughts of you and your light. Go to bed.
There's a lot I could say about the church. As a queer who was hopelessly in love with God's will and music, I am happy to be OUT and away from that place and those people. Mostly because I am actor in my authorship instead of an actor in an authorship of a people who do not have their own or my best interest in mind. Christianity discourages one's connection to their body. And a mind without a body is dumb.
(Sidenote: I did not even address who this "God" is. In the Church, God is man's image of God. This man must feel immense ego and also immense powerlessness. What kind of people need to be humbled that much? I am humbled daily. Just by the wind. A people who need that much humbling and repression must be very very disturbed. (read: a white)).
I am still a very spiritual person. I still believe and am reverent of higher powers. But I do not participate in repressing myself sexually, mentally, geographically, or spiritually. It's just don't make sense. I am alive and deep in the life of my life; the truth of my mind AND body. It's very liberating to be in a space where I am bright in the knowledge of myself as an author/ity.
In conclusion, I am arguing that: if you gay, thank yourself for being gay today.
Screenshots from: The Aggressives - The World of Lesbian Subcultures and Framing Lesbian Fashion