June 1998

Dirty Words

The best stories, fictional or not, are drawn from life, so of course I'm going to pull from my life once again for this month's column. First off is the play. For the past seven weeks I've been part of my college's first ever musical, Godspell. Five weeks of intensive, eight-hour-a-day rehearsals and now we're into the second weekend of performances. At first I was apprehensive about the show. I mean it's Godspell -- a hippie retelling of the Gospel according to St. Matthew. Being queer and having dealt with the Southern Baptists and the Christian Coalition poking their doctrine into my life everyday through the TV, radio, billboards, Internet, or the old ladies with the pamphlets who sit around in the park saving me every Tuesday and Thursday, I've gotten the obvious impression that non-hetero sexuality and Christianity don't mix no matter how big of a blender you've got. But I'm an actor, it's what I was born to do, and in the end my obsession for the stage won out and I landed a major part.

But then the most amazing thing happened -- I fell in love with this play. The other twenty-odd people in the cast and crew quickly became the closest friends I've ever had and we worked our butts off to create a dazzling piece of theatre. But even though this is a relatively "Christian" play, there was no room for hate or prejudice in it. The play's all about love and we couldn't help but love each other in the process (it was either that or kill each other, and prison is bad for the college education I hear). Everyone in Godspell knows that I'm bisexual, and I talk as openly about men as I do women and nobody has ever given me so much as funny look. I am fully accepted as a person and an actor there. Everyone likes me because I'm me. I easily grew attached to the lessons taught throughout the show of "love thy neighbor" and "treat others as you would have them treat you." I realized that those ideas are the core root of Christianity, and that they're the best words of wisdom I've ever known.

Soon though, into this euphoria stepped the real world. Simultaneously, I was having an online email "discussion" with my best friend in Michigan (who we'll affectionately term "Couch"). Couch is a devout Christian and firmly believes that homosexuality is a sin as set down in the bible. How we manage to be best friends is still a mystery to me, since he fully accepts me and has even given me relationship advice in the past. And no matter how hard I argued, I couldn't get around the basic reasoning that the Bible seems to spell out in iridescent neon lettering that men having sex with men is bad and gets you a "time-out" during recess. At the same time, another person called, oh, "Jacket," who's religious website I had commented favorably on, wrote me back telling me that he hoped that I'd found Jesus' light and that I'd turn from my immoral bisexual ways. He too produced convincing bible verses with his reprimands and preachings. Now I'm not one to argue the Bible. There are plenty of other people doing that for me. And quite honestly I get tired of pulling out the hefty explanation for the Bible's wording every time somebody asks me about it. So the messages piled up, besieging me and draining me of the good energy that Godspell was giving me.

What really solidified this column's idea though came from a meeting I attended of Lambda, the queer group on campus. I started pitching Godspell to some of the people there after the meeting, and got rebuked every time. One person even said, "Oh, it's about religion," meaning "Won't find me there, I guess." No matter how much I advertised the positive messages that I'd found in the show, nobody cared. "Christianity" was a hate word for the group, a word to be avoided and loathed.

How did this lack of faith and, in fact, stereotyping and prejudice happen in a group of people who were themselves fighting stereotypes and prejudice? I guess it happens to the best of us. I remember learning as a kid the phrase "faith can move mountains," and admiring my friends who were devout and faithful followers of Christianity because they'd been touched by something there that I'd never found. But as I grow older I see more and more people around me, most notably in the queer community, gutting faith and spirituality from their lives because the church that raised them rejected them, and they've let that impression serve to represent all Christian faith everywhere. I had found the tenants of love and togetherness alive and well in a 70's musical and the actors who brought it to life, but because of where I had found them they were tainted and reviled by those I thought might need them most.

Now, just to be clear, I do have to count myself lucky that I've been dealing with friendly pacifists rather than angry protesters and militant right wingers through all this. Couch tells me that I'm a sinner and Jacket prays for my soul. Even though I have a Baptist church in my backyard (no joke), nobody's pounding down my door to haul me away for being queer yet. I have honestly wished both of those guys the best in whatever they do. Why? Because they're peaceful in their approaches. Couch will still love me no matter what and will still be my best man, no matter who I marry, and Jacket easily accepted that we simply have different views. Maybe it's just circumnavigating the issues, but we've stayed friends, we've stayed civilized. And they're both following something that has called to them, something that I envy because I've never really, as they say, felt the presence of a higher power. But to abandon faith and spirituality in one gigantic sweep is like throwing out the cat with the kitty litter so to speak. In this fast, instant, drive-through modern world, everyone is ready to throw things out if they're broken rather than fix them or look deeper. But I did look deeper, and I found something that does feel right in the wise words of a prophet, even if I'm unsure of his divinity.

So I'm doing the only thing that I can do and that's lead by example. No, I'm not going to church and speaking in tongues and what-have-you. No, I'm much more subtle than that. I'm loving my neighbor and treating him with the same respect that I want bestowed on me. No, these aren't original ideas, even to Christianity. Call it "good will toward men" or karma or the flow of natural energies. Hell, call it rutabaga for all I care. What counts is the belief in the right way to live life, after all the reams of archaic laws and intricacies have been skinned away. The pure lesson at the heart of most religion is "love each other," and if we're going to change the way the world thinks about love and marriage, why not pull the rug out from under the Family Values groups and love them rather than antagonizing them. Show that there's more to us than the stereotypes and at the same time believe the same thing about "them." Give that funky old time religion a chance, and take from it the good and not the bad.

Godspell closes this weekend after a run of eight shows, each one packed full (except for the night of the final Seinfeld episode, and I sympathize). But no matter what happens I'm always going to remember this show because for once I was surrounded by a huge group of straight people who loved and supported me, not because I'm bisexual or in spite of being bisexual, but because I'm me, and I wouldn't be me if I wasn't bisexual. There aren't many people who can honestly claim to have found such acceptance. I've found my people and I've found my calling, and I've also found the bridge between the Southern Baptists and the gay alterna-goth nihilists. I don't care about going to church or collecting religious idols. What I do care about is following the message you find inside of you, that just maybe happens to be disguised in the words of your persecutors. Peace to y'all.

P.S. For those of you who really are into all that biblical argumentation, set your sights on the Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance at (http://www.religioustolerance.org/welcome.htm) You'll like what you find.

Chuck is a 21-year-old bisexual and a Michigan native who now goes to school in Georgia to learn how to draw pretty pictures. His email address is bacchus@g-net.net and his website is at http://g-net.net/~bacchus/

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