2/27/08

The Enlightened Dyke: Learning To Unlearn

Sometimes, the hardest part of learning is when the new ideas conflict with patterns of thought that have already been ingrained in our heads. For example, a child who grows up in a Middle Eastern culture could possibly be raised to believe that all Americans are evil. Should that child then grow up and come to America, he would likely find that what he was raised to believe does not not align with what he is now experiencing. A situation like this can be very uncomfortable, when our inner truths conflict with the reality around us. There are only two resolutions to this kind of problem: either I can reject the reality in favor of clinging to what I believe to be true, or I must be willing to accept the possibility that what I have known all my life may be wrong, and unlearn it.



I will say that the first option is the easiest. It's also the choice that most people make when faced with inconsistencies between their beliefs and their experiences. Unlearning deeply rooted beliefs can be very painful and difficult. It is the tendency of most people to stay on the easy road. In case you have yet to realize, though, the only reward of the easy road, is that it's easy.

One of the most frequent places I see this situation these days is within the religious community, with respect to the gay & lesbian community. I speak with authority from experience in this instance, because I grew up in the South, in a very religious family and community. My grandfather is a Methodist Reverend. I know what I'm talking about. People who are raised with conservative religious upbringings are very often taught that homosexuality is wrong, abnormal, and sinful behavior. It is "a choice" that one makes to go against the will of God. It is compared to murder, adultery, lying, fornication, and a host of other sins. These are all misunderstandings that have been taught for so long that they aren't even questioned anymore. However, they are not truth.

For the lucky children who never have any same-sex desires or know any gay people, this is merely an easy checkmark on the "Not To Do" list. For those who do recognize within themselves the unmistakable pull of same-gender attraction, however, the result is often guilt, shame, fear, and self-loathing. Even when they do come to terms with their sexual orientation, these people must work extra hard to unlearn all the negative influences that were ingrained in them during their formative years.

In this scenario, there are three groups of people who need to go through the unlearning process. The first, and most obvious, consists of those people who grow up believing that who they are is wrong. While their struggles are often extremely difficult, this group goes through the unlearning process out of necessity. For the most part, they come to terms with the truth of who they are, even though it means rejecting the beliefs they grew up with. Those of you who are in or have been through this process, you have my utmost respect. I understand some of what you were/are experiencing, and I commend you for working through this.

The second set of people who face unlearning are those who grow up with these conservative teachings and have a heterosexual orientation. They may go through much of their lives without having to face this situation. At some point or another, though, many of these people come into contact with the truth when someone they know and love "comes out" to them. When this happens, they are faced with a schism - if being gay equals sinful, wrong, and against the will of God, but a person that they love and respect is gay, something inside their heads goes "DOES NOT COMPUTE." Then they must choose to either reject the truth they've grown up with, or reject the person they love. I experienced both of these scenarios when I came out. My best friend of 12 years, who was closer to me than anyone, chose to cling to the truths that she believed, and I have not seen her since. However, another friend from high school, a friend of 7 years, was filled with grace and compassion. She admitted that she didn't know what to believe about homosexuality, and had never known a close friend or family member who was gay. She was grateful for the opportunity to spend time with me and find that nothing had changed, that I was still a "normal" person. She was ready to force herself to look into the situation and discover the truth. I pray that every gay person has a friend like this in their lives. Thi
s friend was willing to unlearn the things she grew up believing in order to accept the truth of the reality around her. Unfortunately, she is still a rare breed. There are many more people who choose to take the easy road, and cling to what they believe.

The final group of people, which may overlap with the first, is made up of people in the gay community who have been hurt by the church. Because of the lies and half-truths that are taught in conservative Christian circles, many gay people have been ridiculed, ostracized, condemned, and abused by Christians and the church. Some have been told that God hates them, that they are going to hell, and other vicious and painful lies. One day I hope to be used to bring restoration to this community. What I hope will happen is that these people can unlearn all the painful lies they've heard about God and discover that God made them just the way they are, loves them the way they are, and wants them to know that and know Him.

There is an incredible resource that has recently become available to help with this unlearning process. A documentary entitled For The Bible Tells Me So has just been released to DVD after receiving several films awards and even making the short list for Best Documentary Nominees for the Academy Awards. The film features five ordinary American families who are in the process of coming to terms with the fact that a member of each of their familes is gay. Gene V Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, is interviewed, along with his parents, as well as Chrissy Gephardt, the daughter of one-time presidential candidate Richard Gephardt (and former Curve cover girl). The film features commentary from theologians, professors, and religious leaders exposing the truth about what is truthfully stated in the Bible and what has been misinterpreted. I saw the documentary three times and would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in exploring the reconciliation of Christian and homosexuality. It is available through Netflix, if you are a member, or you can buy the DVD here. If you don't have the money, you can send me an email arrangements to get you a copy to borrow. That is how much I believe in the worth and power of this film. Give it a chance. You just might unlearn something.


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