What’s weird about living in a bubble is you don’t even realize it…until you realize it. Funny how that happens. When you’re in the midst of something, you don’t even realize that there’s something to be in the midst of. Maybe it’s just me.
I would say most of my life has been lived in some pretty specific bubbles. From the time I committed my life to Jesus at 15, I have been fully submersed in the bubble of Evangelical Christianity. I went to a Foursquare church for many years, and then to an Assemblies of God university. The two denominations are identical by most standards, with the main difference being a different understandings of spiritual gifts, baptism of the Holy Spirit, and speaking in tongues (all things most people probably wouldn’t even understand unless they were familiar with those specific bubbles).
When I was in that bubble, I didn’t even realize it was a bubble, or that there was so much diversity outside of it. As a product of the Pentecostal Holiness Movement (also something with which many are unfamiliar), my college prohibited alcohol and tobacco at any age, R-rated movies, sex outside of marriage, and many other things, whether Biblical or not. I remember that it was a big deal when the on-campus book store started selling a Harry Potter book because it was part of the curriculum in an English class. I’ve always loved Harry Potter, and I’ve always felt it’s pretty ridiculous when Christians make a big deal about how a harmless book can promote witchcraft or whatever the issue is. Many AG people despise dancing, and there’s a saying that’s somewhat of a joke: “Dancing leads to sex.” That’s how conservative that unique bubble is. I made NU history one time when I went out in the middle of the gym floor at a spirit week event and busted out some dance moves. What a lame thing to make history for. Even though I was fully submersed in AG culture, there have always been parts of the culture I never fully accepted because they’re just ridiculous.
When I shared the story about the dancing at a Young Life leaders meeting a few years ago, everyone laughed and tried to get me to the dance. I refused and said I had retired after that night. I did learn that experience, even though I disagreed with it.
Another unique bubble I’ve experienced is the Eastside culture, and West Bellevue in particular. There’s a unique culture nestled West of Bellevue Way and in between 520 and I-90 (can’t forget the Points). I would say it’s one of the most misunderstood cultures around. The families are generally very loving, accepting, modest, down to earth, humble and easy going. However normal they are, it’s undeniable that things are different in this community than in most others. It is a very social and interconnected community with a lot of history among families. It’s a unique bubble in which I’ve always felt welcome, and from which I have learned a lot.
The greater Seattle area is its own bubble. Seattleites are generally well-educated and progressive. In Seattle, being gay is widely socially accepted, even somewhat celebrated. Local celebrity Macklemore’s hit song Same Love helped highlight and celebrate the local LGBTQ community, and anyone under the age of 20 (in general) is pretty much indifferent to sexual minorities. Hatred or homophobia has never been an issue for most of them, thanks to their bubble. People only believe what they’re led to believe, so it’s interesting to see generations who have never been led to believe that gay people are weird, different, bad, dangerous, sinful, etc.
I can honestly say that since coming out the only hatred, homophobia, discrimination and mistreatment I have experienced has come from the evangelical bubble. Although it is mentally and emotionally hurtful, I have never felt physically threatened. I’m a member of an online forum of gay Christians, and when other members post things they often label them with trigger warnings at the top, so people can avoid reading them if there are things that trigger emotional trauma. Every time I see those warnings, I just wonder how fragile I would have to be to avoid reading things with differing viewpoints or possibly offensive content. I usually want to tell them to grow a spine and get over themselves, but I guess everyone’s experience is their own.
My unique combination of bubbles has enabled me to be blissfully unaware of the struggles many LGBTQ people continue to face in other bubbles across the country. I’m fully aware of the low key, hush hush homophobia in religious bubbles, but I guess I just always assumed secular bubbles across the country were the same as the Seattle area bubble.
I recently met a guy who now lives on Capitol Hill but is originally from Wyoming (Let’s call him John). Growing up, he went to the same schools and had many of the same teachers as Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence, brutally beaten, and left for dead. He later died in the hospital. Although there may have been drugs and money involved in the murder, the killers claimed the crime was motivated by homophobia because it was better in their community to be labeled as homophobes than drug dealers.
The legacy of Matthew Shepard continues. Despite inspiring a hate crime prevention act, it also inspires a joke that is still commonly told to this day. John said people often ask each other, “What do gays and tumbleweeds have in common?” and then laugh at the response: “They all end up on fences.” The community in which an egregious homophobic hate crime made national headlines almost twenty years ago is still widely homophobic and hostile toward sexual minorities.
John said he left Wyoming as soon as he could afford to, at the age of 19, to move to Seattle. He said it was so much better to live in a place where he could walk down the street without random strangers calling him a faggot. Although his family knows he is gay, it is not something that could ever be discussed, and he would never be welcome to bring a partner home. My Seattle bubble has made it comfortable for me to openly discuss my sexuality online for everyone to read. The last time John went back to his hometown, he visited a bar with a girl, and the men in the bar were so aggressive toward him that he had to be escorted out by police. The police did help him out, but they did not do anything to the men who were being aggressive. In Seattle, it would be the other way around- if the aggressors weren’t jailed for a hate crime, they would be escorted out of the establishment instead of the gay person. I was surprised to hear all this, because I honestly thought we were already past all that. In Seattle we are, but Seattle is just one city in America. In middle school and high school I used to live next to a bi-racial couple (black woman, white man). My neighbor told me that they had to be careful about what bars they went into, because they were often met with hostility and aggression, just for being a bi-racial couple. That surprised me back then, because I thought we were over all that, too.
Bubbles are interesting. If we think of the bubbles we blew with those little plastic wands as children, they seem so fragile. We were lucky if we could catch them in our hands without popping them. But the bubbles we build for our communities are anything but fragile. The walls can’t be broken by blowing too hard, or a gentle poke, or a strong gust of wind. Unfortunately, our bubbles are often impenetrable to outsiders and severely limiting to insiders. But again, we often don’t even realize we’re living in a bubble, or that our bubbles often limit the way we see, know and love God and people.