On the Days When I Am The Elephant in the Room

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Erin Thomas -I Am Here3By Erin Thomas | Twitter: @erinthomas_123

I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Suddenly they seemed like useless clay weights dragging the rest of my body to the floor. I couldn’t breathe. Was it hot in here? I thought it was hot, but then I felt cold. No, hot. Definitely hot. Wait, cold. Where did all the air in the room go?

Each peer in my Clinical Pastoral Education unit was required to present a didactic to the rest of the group. As long as the topic related to spiritual care in a clinical setting, we were free to share about almost anything. Someone shared about spiritual care with residents struggling with forms of dementia; someone else presented about the reality of lament, its necessity, and how we can bring a healthy practice of lament in to our spiritual care lives.

I already had facilitated groups regarding human trafficking, race and reconciliation, and I had been learning to use the Enneagram in life and practice. I had a lot to choose from! And I was prepared to pick from something I already felt confident in sharing.

That is until I went to my first Pride Parade. You see, I had come out as bisexual a couple of years ago without a lot of fanfare or attention and I had never had the chance to attend a parade living in a rural community. Since CPE demanded I move to the big city to complete the training, and since the parade route was only blocks from where I was staying, it seemed like an ideal time to step out a bit more.

I met all sorts of people; I met all sorts of people of different faiths; I met affirming Christians and non-affirming Christians; and I met loud Christians with megaphones and billboards and pamphlets ready to blare at me how sinful I was, how LGBTQ+ people couldn’t be Christians, and how God was going to exclude me from the kingdom of God. The non-affirming Christians told me “Oh, we’re not like them. We would never say that!”

Except, the non-affirming Christians didn’t do anything to stop the loud Christians.

When the parade was done, I went back to my room and tried to shut out the magnitude of the day–good, bad, and ugly. I felt ugly. I felt proud and ugly. I felt awestruck, proud, and ugly. And then I realized something:

I am the elephant in the room.

I can be bisexual in some Christian circles … if I say nothing of my orientation or show up only with a male date.

I can be bisexual in most LGBTQ+ circles … but say nothing of being bi because even here for many lesbian and gay groups, bisexuality doesn’t really exist.

I can be bisexual in both Christian and LGBTQ+ circles … as long as I say nothing about me, and erase my presence and turn myself into an issue.

If I turn myself into an issue to be discussed theologically–a sin to be constructed, deconstructed or reconstructed–then I exist. Then people see the now tiny little elephant to be argued back and forth.

If I cease being an issue, if I return to being a person–an LGBTQ person, a bi person–then people who have been silent towards those loud Christians actually have to face the reality of their silence; and gay or lesbian groups actually have to face the reality of my existence.

When I realized that I’d become my own metaphor, I opened my laptop, took a deep breath, and googled: LGBTQ+ people in spiritual care.

Do you know what I found?

One legitimate page of resources dedicated to pastoral and spiritual care. One.

Do you know what kinds of supports I found for bisexual people in Canada specifically?

None.

Not one.

Now, granted I haven’t searched the whole of the interwebs (yet), but I was disheartened that so few resources were dedicated to bridging this loud and painful divide between Christians and LGBTQ+ people. As I hunted for support, it became clear what I would present on during my didactic. And with that revelation came cold fear. Not everyone would be affirming, but knowing the kinds of homophobia, transphobia, and stereotypes LGBTQ+ have faced in our healthcare systems, what better bridge could there be built but with the chaplains? We are to be interdenominational, interfaith, and certainly welcoming and inclusive.

Yet without resources, how could I possibly expect any spiritual care practitioner to know the potentially specific needs of LGBTQ+ people?

So I constructed the obligatory power point presentation, but instead of beginning with spiritual care, I began with context and history. Why has there been such a huge chasm between LGBTQ+ people and religion, specifically Christianity?

Fast forward to the slick panic that was sliding down my throat even as my heart was thrusting itself upwards and outwards. For all his passion in life, Jesus seemed awfully calm at the moment. How could he be so calm? Did he even know what was at stake? Did he know all of what had already happened to me simply because of my identity? After Jesus passed me a paper bag and put his arm on my shoulder, he said very quietly:

“You are here. Trust me in your peers.”

Nothing more. No heads up about whether or not I’d be raked over the coals, or disagreed with, or preached at, or given badly contextualized bible verses, or even if I would trigger someone else’s journey or identity. For all I knew, there was more than one elephant in the room and, quite frankly, the room, was getting far too crowded with just one.

I talked a little bit about intersectionality, a little bit about how LGBTQ+ people were rounded up during the Holocaust (the origin of the inverted pink triangle), how LGBTQ+ people were branded as child molesters by Christian groups in the 1970s, how LGBTQ+ people were criminalized and/or declared mentally ill in Canada until 1973. I talked about how fear-based beliefs around the gay agenda don’t lead anyone towards love, but rather creates pain and shame. I talked about how AIDS was branded a “gay man’s disease”. I talked about how trans women of colour are more likely to face violence, abuse, and murder than any other LGBTQ+ group.

And I talked about bi-erasure, and the disproportionately high rate of suicide among bi people.

Do you recall the total lack of resources for bi people?

I had to choose to become a person and not an issue in making my presentation.

The room was hot (a lot), my throat closed up many times, my joints felt like they were being soldered together, and my innards were ready to void my system from whatever orifice was available. But I made it through. I answered questions as honestly as I could.

I trusted the Jesus in my peers.

I am often the elephant in the room. To be polite, I am often not spoken of in the terms of how I identify my own self, and if I am talked about I immediately become an “it.” I become an issue.

Not this time. This time the elephant sounded her own presence. This time the large, saggy, gray creature raised her mighty trunk and gave a loud trumpet that shook the world. I trumpeted the one phrase God gave me that day:

I am here.

____________

About Erin:

ErinThomasErin Thomas is a Masters of Divinity student at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, intern hospital chaplain, and reluctant mystic. She’s also blogger, poet, and proud auntie to three adventuresome nephews. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter and on her blog, Reluctant Mysticism.

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  • Nicole A. Joshua

    Such courage. Cheering loudly from South Africa. Saluting you on standing firmly in your identity. Our country celebrated Women’s Day yesterday, in honour of women who matched against injustice and oppression, boldly declaring their humanity and dignity. Their slogan: Strike a woman, your strike a rock. I see them in you, I see their courage in you, I see their affirmation of their dignity and humanity in you.

    • Thanks Nicole. Much appreciated!

  • jamiearpinricci

    I watched a documentary years ago about a group of elephants who were crossing a river into a region that would have had them protected from poachers. However, one baby elephant was too afraid and could not cross. The mother tried to coax it across but without success. By this point, most of the herd had crossed. However, on seeing the baby unable to cross, the whole herd returned. They wouldn’t leave even one behind.

    From one elephant to another, we have your back! Much love.

    • Thanks Jamie. I raise my trunk in salute!

  • Thank you for raising your voice, Erin! Your story is so needed – as you said, both in Christian circles but also in the LGBTQ community. From talking with friends, I’m learning more and more about the struggles of finding a tribe as bisexual. Thank you for giving a voice and helping to add to the table.

    • Thanks Annie!

  • Thank you, Erin. Thank you for your presence here, for your vulnerability, and your voice.

  • Saskia Wishart

    This line: “This time the large, saggy, gray creature raised her mighty trunk and gave a loud trumpet that shook the world.” <3 Thank you for raising your voice in that room and here for us today Erin. Thank you for trusting us with this piece of your story.

  • This is one of the bravest things i’ve read. Thank you for sharing these words.

  • Robin Baldwin

    You are a dangerous woman, Erin! I’m so glad you shared this and proclaimed you are here.