The holiday season is once again upon us.
This special time of year, marked by holiday travels, gift giving, and parties, is a time to reconnect with family and friends for most of us. It is also the time of year when followers of Judaism and Christianity celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas respectively. Peace and joy are the season’s message. But for some, however, this time of year is a period of internal conflict and reinforced shame.
We all know the story of how there was no room in the inn and how Mary and Joseph were banished to a cold, lonely barn that first Christmas. Sadly, many gay men continue to suffer a similar fate within the religious community. In some houses of worship, there is no room for you if you are gay. There is no room for you if you dare embrace both your spirituality and sexuality. It is “peace on earth, good will towards men” so long as you are straight. The message is excruciatingly clear: If you come out of the closet, then you can stay out of the church or synagogue.
Many religious leaders bully from their pulpit, spewing their venomous message that “God hates gays” and that gay relationships are an “abomination.” They weaponize Scripture to crucify the spiritual lives of those they do not know or understand. As a Christian, I am sickened by the amount of hatred hurled at gay men from the very ones who supposedly belong to a faith that espouses love and mercy. What these crazed zealots fail to see is the hu- man story behind one’s sexuality, a story where sex and spirituality can and do coexist. I understand why some gay men approach spirituality with much skepticism. To many, the holidays have lost their spiritual meaning and are just another day off from work or school.
For most, being home for the holidays is something to look forward to: sharing laughter and stories with loved ones while gathered around the dinner table, sipping eggnog while sitting by the fire, entertaining your nephews and nieces. The holiday season has a way of bringing out the child in all of us, that part of us that allows hope to breathe deeply and freely. But if you are gay, then being home for the holidays may feel more like an asthmatic struggle where you anxiously gasp for the air of acceptance.
How out are you to your family, if at all? Is your sexuality treated like another “family secret” to be kept hidden and locked away for no one to know about? If you have a boyfriend or partner, are they allowed to be a part of your family holiday celebrations? How are the two of you introduced to your parents’ friends or to the fellow congregants at the holiday worship service? What truth remains unspoken? What painful feelings then fill that silence? At a time of the year when the focus is on family and friends and faith, unfortunately, for many, emotional safety is sacrificed and the objective is to just simply survive.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, in his book How Good Do We Have to Be?, writes: “One of the basic needs of every human being is the need to be loved, to have our wishes and feelings taken seriously, and to be validated as people who matter.” To be known and accepted, to matter–at our core as humans, this is what we need in order to grow spiritually and psychologically. When a piece of your identity is hushed by those closest to you, then the silent night of the holidays can become the shameful darkness of being gay.
Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner succinctly said, “One of the many ways we are attracted to each other is sexually….Whether it is our own gender or the other that we are chiefly attracted to seems a secondary matter.” What is primary is how, not who, we love. Whether you go home this holiday season to an accepting community or not, remain quietly confident in your own spiritual and sexual identity and know that you truly matter. This is the most deserving holiday gift of all.