Friday, July 13, 2012

A Queer Faith

I attended a cultural competency training a few weeks back in which we discussed the use of the word "Queer" in the LGBTQ community. If you didn't know, "Queer" is the "Q" in LGBTQ, and although when I was growing up it was used as an offensive term, the gay community is re-claiming and re-appropriating the use of the word. There is still some controversy and disagreement about this move, even within the larger gay community. Wikipedia offers this explanation of positive use of the term: 

"For some queer-identified people, part of the point of the term "queer" is that it simultaneously builds up and tears down boundaries of identity. For instance, among genderqueer people, who do not solidly identify with one particular gender, once solid gender roles have been torn down, it becomes difficult to situate sexual identity. For some people, the non-specificity of the term is liberating."

In other words, those who identify as "queer" are admitting that they are discovering their sexual identity, and will continue to do so throughout their lives. They reject the traditional boundaries provided by gender identity or sexual orientation and recognize that each individual is truly unique in their expression of life and sexuality. This non-specificity is liberating in that the person is free to be who they feel they truly are, and the person doesn't have to adhere to expectations provided by a certain label or identity. 

Of course, "queer" itself is an identity and a label, and so the whole attempt at reclaiming the word may seem at least ironic and self-contradictory at most. The "Q" can also stand for "Questioning," and the idea that a person can self-identify as "not totally sure about my identity" struck me as profound, and also a bit familiar. 

I wonder if I could identify as having a "queer faith" in the sense that I'm not totally sure what I believe, and I'm rather uncomfortable with the labels that are applied within religious traditions. I was raised as an Evangelical Christian, and I still believe strongly in many of the faith statements of the Evangelical Church. But I don't feel comfortable identifying as an Evangelical. I don't feel like I am that kind of Christian. 

I also find myself finding great truths and insights in other religions. The poetry of Rumi, the wisdom of the Tao, and the peaceful acceptance of Zen meditation have all given me insight into myself, my world, and the God who calls my name every day. But I'm hesitant to share this with some of my Christian friends, because such an admission falls outside of the boundary of what it means to be an Evangelical Christian. 

Again, "the term queer simultaneously builds up and tears down boundaries of identity." In a "queer faith," the boundaries between religion are torn down, but with an individuals faith, boundaries and a sense of identity are built up - namely an identity that is comfortable with questioning and searching. 

Perhaps a "queer faith" could say, "I'm not entirely sure what I believe, and I'm pretty sure my beliefs will change. I don't really know where I fit in, and everywhere I try to fit in, I realize that I'm a little bit different than those around me. But we're all different, and we all have different beliefs, and that's beautiful." 

I recognize that the use of the word "queer" in this way might be somewhat shocking or disconcerting. In fact, at the training, our instructor joked that she couldn't send an email with the word "queer" because it was blocked by the IT department! While this is a new and challenging idea, and there are certainly passionate opinions regarding LGBTQ issues, I find a certain liberation and connection with the idea of a "queer faith," - a faith that is non-specific, that is questioning, that is finding something new about myself, about the world, and about God every day. That's a faith that I can identify with. 

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