Ask the Dust: Do Queer People Have to Explain Themselves to Religious Conservatives?

You have questions, big questions. Ask the Dust has answers. From the serious to the sacrilegious, no question is too high or too low!


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Dear Dust,

My question is this: do queer people have any obligations to the very religious?

I know the intuitive answer to this is “no,” but let me elaborate.  I’m a 22-year-old gender non-conforming male person who was raised in the Church of Christ.  I think, because I’m genderqueer, they’ve always been paranoid that I would be gay; they sometimes policed my gender expression when I was a child (though not as heavily as some other parents, happily) and sometimes they’ll say things that make me think they believe I’m “sexually broken” somehow.

For most of my life, I thought I was asexual, so I figured I would let them assume whatever they wanted about me and live my life however I wanted (which I still intend to do). Now, though, I feel lonely, and I think I want to date people–whether men, women, or other genderqueer folk.

It makes me feel dead inside when I go home and have to be around people who speak to me as though I am a heterosexual, cisgender Christian.  The thing is, though, that I’m too ambiguous to claim a particular, standardized identity, and I really have no desire to correct assumptions that people shouldn’t be making about me in the first place.  I don’t want to have to be the person to let my parents know about the variability of gender and sexuality, I don’t want to have conversations with judgmental people that make me uncomfortable, and I don’t want to invite my family to say incredibly offensive things directly to me.

In theory, though, I think I have some responsibility to dispel ignorance about queerness and make the world a more tolerant place.  Do I really have to?  I’m constantly depressed already, and communicating with my family has always been one of the most difficult things for me in this life.

Are there any standard guidelines for how a socially progressive queer person should speak to people who are very religious and don’t like to be disillusioned?


Drained and Melancholy


Dear Drained and Melancholy,

What a tough and exhausting situation. Being drained by it is a very reasonable response.

The Dust resonates with the idea that we are each obligated to make the world a better place in some way. However, the way in which you improve the world need not include rescuing people from outmoded and harmful points of view, especially if they wish to cling tightly to them. There are no standard guidelines for how to harmonize these differences and there is an added layer of complication when dealing with your own family. Sadly, the unfair and unequal burden of resolving these issues seems to be placed on those who exist outside whatever oppressive norms dominant culture has developed.

Because, in this scenario, the unfairly burdened person is you, the Dust wishes to offer some ways to think through your family dynamic:

First, consider who it is in your family that we are discussing. Oftentimes parents put up a united front that belies differences just below the surface. As you come into adulthood, separating out the monolithic unit of ‘your parents’ into its two distinctive individuals (the Dust is assuming a mother and father, as hetero-normative as that is) may be helpful. Perhaps one shows signs of greater willingness and openness to loving you fully, just the way you are. The same could be true for siblings or extended family. There might be someone in that mix who could be ready to really see you. If so, invest more energy in those relationships. And, if your investment bears fruit, let that person play a strong role in bringing other members of your family into the conversation. A lot can change from just having one other person to walk with you.

askbadgeSecond, consider the ‘why,’ which can be a more challenging question to tackle. As in, why do they feel the need to say harmful and offensive things to you? Clearly ignorance abounds. But, not all ignorance is the same. It may arise out of prejudice, lack of exposure, laziness, or a horrible combo of all these mixed together.

There are, in Rumsfeldian terms, ‘known unknowns’ and ‘unknown unknowns’ here for you and for them as they attempt to relate to you. You are not obligated to educate them, especially in the time of google (why people can’t seem to google things on their own is a tremendous mystery). If part of this equation that results from sheer lack of exposure, you may want to pass along this helpful primer and this iteration of it.

Short of enrolling members of your family in a gender studies course, a little mapping of the conceptual terrain could go a long way to helping them understand some of the ‘unknown unknowns’ about gender, sexual identity and preference.

It may take them some time for them to expand their own vocabulary, if they are even open to learning. Be cautious about expecting their vocabulary to reflect your own right away. Our collective understanding of these issues is evolving and words like “cisgender” have yet to find their way into the lexicon of those who, because of their own identities, are coddled by its invisibility.

Third, consider the ‘how.’ Advice on approaching this aspect is hard to generalize. Most importantly, if you are going to embark on changing your relationship with members of you your family, go slow, get clear about your own boundaries, set and adjust realistic expectations as the situation evolves, and be prepared for responses to situations that may make you uncomfortable.

Sometimes, simply pointing out that you are uncomfortable can help create enough space in a tense moment to collect your thoughts before you might choose to respond. There will be setbacks along the way, and periods of separation may be necessary for your own sustainability. During those times, endeavor to keep some channels of communication open, even if it is not in person. Cards, emails, and other controlled options are good alternatives for keeping the relationship alive until there is an opening to work on improving it.

Most importantly though, the Dust wants to make sure that you are investing in a community where you can just be you, where you are loved and accepted without condition, challenge or assumption. It sounds as though you may need some help in this arena not just with your family but with your friends as well. Your family may not be the support system you would have wanted, so you may want to think about a chosen family as a supplement to the one you were given.

The potential upside is that if you work on building this chosen community for yourself, you will have done some work towards making the world a little better and a little brighter. Who knows, you may end up being the sibling or parental figure for someone else later on in life that needs solace and support and finds it in this little piece of the world you have beautified.

Because you’ve noted that you feel depressed and dead inside, seeking out some help for your own healing and support outside of these challenging relationships could be a valuable endeavor. Since the Dust does not know your location, you’ll have to do some digging to find services in your area. Many LGBTQI centers offer counseling and referrals to qualified individuals who understand the particular issues that queer folks face as they encounter a world in its current hostile manifestation. They may also be a good place to start as you work on building a chosen family.

Sending you hope for love for yourself, from whoever gives it unconditionally and wherever it is to be found.

The Dust

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