What happens when Religion and Culture collide with Sexuality

Earlier this year, I came across a story on a number of online gay sites, the piece was titled ‘Jesus was gay!’ I remember scanning it and not thinking too much about it. A few days later, I noticed a similar piece in ‘The Guardian‘.

I remember feeling that the piece was well written and thought-provoking. For me, it was not a case of ‘was it true or not’. Afterall, the beliefs I held about the ‘God of my childhood’ have long evolved into ‘All is God’ and ‘We are All One’…. and whilst I love a good story, I am more captivated by essence – i.e. what was the essence of the teachings of Jesus (and/or any other spiritual teacher). Curious to see what people thought of it, I decided to post the article on Facebook, with a status update of ‘Food for thought’.

A few days later, I received a message from a friend I was connected to…. it read:

Just crossed my mind as you posted the ‘Was Jesus gay’ thing … that it might offend some people … it’s a tricky point I’m trying to make here … not the obvious one. I know a very important part of your life and identity is as a gay man, and the world certainly needs more people to challenge the narrow minded views towards any minority group, and see how diversity adds to the world, not detract from it. It’s an interesting thing, because getting into opposition with people who are prejudice doesn’t work either (a classic good example for me of someone rising above conflict is the Dalai Lama, not getting angry at the Chinese, but still working to change injustice).

So, what I was thinking is that i applaud the campaigning for equal rights and all the posts that raise awareness of injustice in the world. What I would also say is that although being a gay man is an important part of your identity, it’s not only who you are (for want of better words, as a spiritual being) – we are so much vaster and more immense than we can possibly imagine, and I think coming from that perspective, you are a gay man and so much more, and I think more likely to see those with prejudice with compassion while still wanting them to tap into a deeper place where they can love differences.

For me the ‘is Jesus gay’ post provokes and yes that’s important, but my personal view was I felt like it’s getting into a clash of gay/not gay rather than accepting people as they are regardless of their orientation and at the same time not condoning prejudice that belittles any human in any form. Now I would say, a lot of this might not be about you, but my projection and the way I see the world, so in that case I am expressing my limitations in how I see the world. So, please take what’s useful and drop the rest!

I support what you are doing to bring more awareness and compassion to the world, and am very glad to have met you …..

It was a well written email and certainly carefully considered. I responded as follows:

Thanks xxx for your comments, but I don’t understand the essence of it. All I did was post an article from the guardian with the comment ‘food for thought’. I did not express an opinion either way… If people take offence then really that’s their business and not mine.

I know I am not defined by my gender, race or sexuality, but at the same time they each form part of my human experience. I found it an interesting article and wanted to share, I deliberately did not express any personal opinion about it, but hey fact is if anyone takes offence about me posting it, then truth is its not about the article, and they need to explore what they are really offended by….. anyway, enough of that. Look fwd to seeing you…..

I never got a response and a few weeks later, I noticed that he had unfriended me on Facebook.

I’ve thought about this exchange from time-to-time, since returning from Lagos last month. Whilst over there, I was reminded that being gay is something that stays hidden, in fact unspoken. Those who find the courage to come out to their family, risk being excommunicated and shamed. To be an openly gay man in Nigeria carries so many risks, that many gay men end up living a double life…. or at the very least a hidden one. On a number of occasions during that trip, I was told by many ‘we know you are that way, but you are still expected to get married to a woman and have a child’. Whilst over there, I fully came to understand that to be accepted by the fold, means to sacrifice ones authenticity for a life of compromise and conformity.

When I was growing up, I did not know anyone else who was gay. I was 21 when I first met someone who was openly gay and that was in London. That’s one of the things that I love about social media, the world is now much smaller – all one needs to do is type the nature of ones difference into Google, and up pops a number of stories that show we are not alone.

Over the past couple of months, I have met people at a number of events who have mentioned OutTales and then gone on to share a story or two about their journey as gay men. It was such an honour to also experience that whilst I was in Lagos. Those moments remind me of the importance of sharing and not staying silent or hidden – ‘sharing our truths, helps us see we are not alone’, as Iyanla Vazant recently said in an episode of Oprah’s LifeClass.

I come from a culture where one is taught that being gay is something to be ashamed of and hide. Many therefore grow up in shame and hide…… and nothing changes. A lot of the arguments on the issue of being gay, that I heard whilst in Lagos centred on religion and culture – ‘being gay goes against religion and its also a cultural taboo’. This old belief is held in place because very few tell their stories about being gay and therefore the old myth continues. Other than myself, my mother never met an openly gay man – she only saw ‘us’ on TV and read about ‘us’ in newspapers; the same applies to the family members that I met during my recent trip. The image of ‘being gay’ has been dehumanized and is very much like the myth of the monster under the bed.

Whilst it might be emotionally and physically safe to put ones head in the sand when religion and culture collide with sexuality, the sad fact is that it means nothing changes…. And so the old belief and myth continues.. It is important to engage in conversations and share stories of being gay… share experiences of  being the brother, sister, father, mother, friend of someone who is gay….. without sharing those truths, those stories…….nothing changes and we continue to be invisible.

OutTales 2012

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Little Red Shoes
    Sep 27, 2012 @ 20:07:02

    I love your pieces Ade. Always insightful.


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