A while ago I was watching an episode of MTV’s Truelife, a show that highlights specific subcultures among young people. This particular episode happened to be Truelife: I’m a Vampire. I didn’t know there are people who actually think they are vampires, but I’m always open to learning new things.
One of the vampires that the mini documentary was following was a female vampire who also practiced witchcraft and called herself a Wiccan, or a witch. At least I knew that was a thing. In her vampire council, there was an opening for a leadership position, for which this young woman was nominated. However, many of her fellow vampires opposed her nomination, saying that one could not be both a vampire and a witch. Even more interesting than finding out that vampire councils exist was seeing the parameters they set up for their group. Apparently you can’t be a vampire and a witch, that’s crossing some sort of line. Who knew? Well, most of the vampires, I guess.
Most mammals are pack animals, meaning they find security in numbers, and those numbers happen to be comprised of members of the same species. Pack animals hunt, travel and live in groups that are comprised mostly of members that are born into their specific group. It is rare for animals to transition away from the group to another, and even more rare to go off on their own. Over time, each group develops its own distinguishable culture, and many even develop their own territory, which they defend diligently against others, even other groups of the same species. Humans have the same deeply ingrained habits, although we are more often called “tribal” than “pack animals.” If you look at the social structure of any high school, you’ll probably notice that by that age students have naturally sorted themselves into their own tribes, with each tribe developing its own distinguishing features, such as clothing style, slang, actions, attitudes, etc. Even the misfits tend to be misfits together, because as much as we like to think we want to be lone wolves, we really don’t. Taking on the identity of a larger group is a natural response to an even more natural need for security.
It is interesting to see how this all plays out in real life. I have been following Caitlyn Jenner’s story because it’s pretty interesting. Being gay and being transgender are two completely different experiences. Many in the gay community argue that the T shouldn’t even exist in the LGBT or LGBTQ acronym, because identity and sexuality are so distinctly different. I don’t really have a position on that, other than I understand why they are grouped together, mostly because almost everyone represented by each of those letters has at some point been excluded from their original pack, forcing them to seek security within the community provided by the larger acronym. But anyways, Caitlyn’s story has been interesting to me for many reasons. Bruce did his interview with Diane Sawyer this summer, right before I came out. Seeing the courage of someone who very publicly built his life around something that seemed to contradict this major life transition was meaningful to me.
As I’ve followed Caitlyn’s story on the documentary I am Cait, I’ve been surprised to see the differences of opinion among her new tribe of other transgender women. Some of the transgender women embrace the word “tranny,” embracing it as their identifying title, while others despise the word and recognize it as a derogatory slang wielded offensively by bigots. Although it’s just a word, it causes huge division among those who take pride in being different, as in, people who were born men, but now live as women, and those who want to make a point that they are 100% woman despite their biological gender at birth. Another argument that has come up has revolved around drag queens. Some of the transgender women appreciate the drag community because it enabled them to get a foot in the door toward dressing and acting like a woman, which helped them realize and embrace that that’s how they were born to live. Others do not appreciate the drag community because they feel as if drag queens make a performance out of their reality. One of the most volatile arguments have surrounded Caitlyn’s personal political views. Caitlyn is a conservative republican, while all of the others in her group are democrats. It is interesting to see the mentality of the group, which seems to feel that Caitlyn cannot appropriately represent the transgender community while simultaneously openly supporting the republican party. Behind each of these points of contention among the group is the idea of that’s not how to be transgender; you’re being transgender wrong. You can’t embrace that word, because I reject that word, and that word hurts a lot of transgender people. You can’t embrace that expression of femininity, because it’s making a mockery of my reality. You can’t support those ideals, because these ideals are more important. You can’t represent us if you believe, say or do that.
You can’t be a vampire and a witch. Again, who knew? I guess every tribe has its subtleties, and you wouldn’t know the subtleties of any tribe unless you’re deeply entrenched within it. Every tribe contradicts itself. For a community that highly values personal experience and individual expression, the transgender community- at least the little I know from watching the show- seems to have some pretty specific boundaries to limit that individuality.
There are always limits to tribal membership. Every tribe has a different threshold for pushing those limits, but there are always non-negotiables.
When it comes to being a gay Christian, there are many who draw the line. You can’t be both, so the tribe has spoken. Picture Jeff Propst on Survivor extinguishing a torch. Many gay Christians accept that, and say, “Fuck it” to go do whatever they want. Almost every gay person I’ve met has some sort of religious background, and their experiences were anything but positive. Unfortunately most have given up on the hope of ever being truly heard, and many also accept the lie that belonging to the gay tribe requires fulfilling everything associated with its common perceptions. I’ve never been like most people, and my brain just simply does not work like most. I can be whoever God created me to be, and I don’t have anyone to represent but Jesus. Of course I don’t always do that well, but I try to base my efforts on The Bible rather than the common teachings of any tribe.
Recently I met a former Young Life leader who was forced to resign after supporting a gay student at the school where she used to lead Young Life. I have purposely avoided negtive press, for reasons I have explained previously, but she went that route. In the newspaper article describing the situation, Young Life’s V.P. of communications was stated as saying, “We’re just trying to be who we are.” Wow, they actually told the truth. And the truth wasn’t “We’re just trying to uphold our religious convictions,” or “We’re just trying to represent what The Bible really teaches.” They’re just trying to be who they are, and who they are includes removing from leadership anyone who is not only gay, but supports gay equality or believes that The Bible doesn’t support the way they respond to gay people, or those who support gay people. That’s who they are, that’s their tribe’s nonnegotiable. I know, I know, back to Young Life, but that quote was too good to pass up; I would have used it if it had come from any other organization. When people found out about how Young Life terminated me for being gay, most were shocked. They didn’t think it was that kind of Christianity. Again, you don’t know the subtleties of a tribe unless you’re sufficiently entrenched within it. That’s why it’s so important to highlight policies that organizations try to hide and cover up.
Time magazine recently stated, “If evangelical Christianity is famous for anything in contemporary American politics, it is for its complete opposition to gay marriage.” That sucks. Of course that’s just one author’s opinion, but the nationally respected publication certainly offers some legit credibility. Why are we known for that, instead of feeding the poor, caring for the sick, treating our neighbors as we would want to be treated? Because too many of us have allowed ourselves to let that become who we are.
What is interesting is that in reality most Christians are indifferent toward any issues regarding the gay community. Even the people who enforce and uphold policies that discriminate against gay people don’t hate gay people or oppose them as individuals. They just know that they’re doing what they are supposed to do as a member of their tribe. An opposition to gay equality doesn’t have to be taught, because it’s already known. They don’t have to know the verses in The Bible that address the topic; they don’t have to read them, study them or even talk about them, because the concept is already known, just intrinsically by being part of the tribe. It’s part of who they are, even if they don’t know why. (I don’t like to use the word “they” because it’s a blanket statement, and these kinds of statements don’t apply to everyone, but I just don’t know any better word to use.)
We’re just trying to be who we are. Isn’t that the truth? For everyone, I mean. We’re just trying to be who we are, and who we are means believing and doing certain things that are expected by our tribe. Just like animals rarely, if ever, change herds, people rarely, if ever change tribes. Usually when people leave one tribe they can easily join another, but I don’t really feel much a part of the gay community either. There is a community of gay Christians and affirming Christians, so I guess I’m part of that tribe now, whatever that means. Coming out as a gay Christian forced me out of a tribe, and I can tell you from experience there are a lot of reasons why people don’t change tribes on their own accord. It’s the biggest life change I’ll probably ever experience, and there’s no guide to how to navigate it, not that I would follow a guide anyway.
When it comes to being who we are, it’s really different for everyone, but really all the same. The natural necessity to run with a pack and belong to a tribe will trump our search for truth almost every time. It takes a lot of strength, perseverance, courage, and confidence to go against the grain. People in general don’t like change; uncertainty is often crippling.
We’re all just trying to be who we are. For almost every tribe that means discriminating against another, and for many Christian tribes that means discriminating against the gay Christian tribe. All the wars and battles ever fought have been motivated by our desire to be who we are, and that just manifests itself as various points of contention that we can identify as tangible issues rather than an overarching aspect of human nature.
God will someday unify us all, because there’s no way we can unify ourselves.