The Purity Bubble is a Bleak Place

Recently, the Hallmark Channel got itself in a bind with the vocal minority group of conservative Evangelicals who oppose same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ equality, when it aired a commercial that included a same-sex wedding and two women kissing. After a number of these people squawked about the ad, Hallmark decided to pull the commercials – but in a matter of a day or two, they reversed that decision and apologized for the decision to yank the ads. In a separate matter, the head of Hallmark had recently been quoted as saying the network would be open to future programming featuring same-sex couples.

In the midst of the uproar from the conservatives, I saw many of them leave comments on the Hallmark Channel’s official Facebook page saying basically the same thing – that they were upset that “the gays” were intruding into the safe space that they took the network to be for exclusively conservative, straight, Evangelical Christians – the supposed last bastion of comfort they could slip into without having to encounter gay people and having their extremely narrowly defined world challenged or threatened. Many of them left messages telling Hallmark that they were canceling their subscription, and that they would NEVER (their use of caps, not mine) buy anything from Hallmark, or watch their programming, EVER AGAIN.

Of course, it was mostly nonsense, since Hallmark has been selling gay-themed cards and other objects in their retail stores for years, and a number of Hallmark’s most beloved actors are actually gay. It didn’t really matter – this was just the latest Moment of Outrage in the culture wars.

One of the interesting recurring comments made in all this ran along these lines, after the obligatory rehash of all-caps shrieking and moaning about feeling betrayed by the situation: “I know that some of the Hallmark’s actors are gay, but I just don’t watch those shows – I want to have a place where I don’t have to have gay people being shoved down my throat.”

Setting aside that bizarre mental image – despite its positive aspect that having any person, gay or otherwise, actually shoved down their throat would at very least get them to shut up – their sentiment got me to thinking about their wish to live inside in that kind of “Purity Bubble.” What kind of existence would that be if they actually did avoid any exposure to or contact with gay people and their contributions to society? Imagine a remake of the classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” where instead of the main character wishing they’d never been born, they’d wished that gay people hadn’t. What kind of revelations would Clarence offer up to that distraught person whose Christmas wish was wanting to live life in the Purity Bubble?


Clarence: OK, your wish is granted. Gay people have never been born….

Given that this is a Christmas movie, let’s start with that. Do you love to get your Hallelujah Chorus on for the holidays? Well, think again. Its composer, George Friedrich Handel, was gay. So right off the bat, POOF! (wait, can we use that word here in the Purity Bubble?) It’s gone. Go Hallelujah yourself.

Conservative Evangelical: Well OK then, I’ll miss that, but at least the rest of Christmas is safe for us good, conservative Evangelicals. If we can’t have the Hallelujah Chorus, we can enjoy other things – like the great, traditional Nutcracker Ballet.

Clarence: Oh, no, no – The Nutcracker was composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who was also gay. So no, there is no Nutcracker Ballet for Christmas here in the Purity Bubble.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Fourth of July celebrations are a lot less impressive here, too, since Tchaikovsky also composed The 1812 Overture, which so many fireworks displays are choreographed to – or at least, were choreographed to, but in the Purity Bubble, Tchaikovsky was never born.

Conservative Evangelical: OK, well, even though they wouldn’t be quite as rousing, the fireworks could set the fireworks to some nice wholesome songs by Johnny Mathis,  Barry Manilow or – oh yeah! Some good, rousing, all-American music like Fanfare for the Common Man by Aaron Copland!

Clarence: Nope, sorry – gay, gay, and gay. They never existed; their music never happened here in the Bubble. For that matter, while we’ve detoured into the Fourth of July and good, wholesome patriotic music, there’s also no Battle Hymn of the Republic, written by Fannie Crosby, and no America the Beautiful (“Oh Beautiful, for spacious skies…”), written by Katherine Lee Bates – they were both lesbians.

But let’s get back to Christmas. Just think of those Christmas cards you send, featuring those beautiful, lush Renaissance paintings of Mary and Jesus, and all the famous Nativity stories. Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio – none of their artistic masterpieces were ever created. Here in the Purity Bubble, the Sistine Chapel is painted Navajo White and has a lay-in ceiling. So, when you’re sending out those cards, maybe you’ll have to decorate them yourself.

CE: That’s OK, we can do that – in fact, it will be a nice wholesome, family-friendly activity that can all – hey, wait… where did the Crayons go?

C: Oh, there aren’t any Crayons here. They were owned by Hallmark, and you know, that’s what started this whole exercise. Sure, there are those other brands, but we all know they aren’t anywhere as good as Crayons.

CE: Well that sucks… I mean, stinks. Maybe I’ll just watch some traditional Christmas shows instead. I know, I’ll put on How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

C: No, you won’t. Dr. Seuss’ books are full of inclusive, pro-gay messages so his books don’t exist here, either.

CE: No they weren’t! I never saw anything in Dr. Seuss’ books about gays!

C: Well, not if you’re looking for the word gay. He was more subtle than that. Think about it: Horton Hears a Who – the community of Whos doesn’t exist until they scream out “We’re here, we’re here!” Horton Hatches an Egg – a man takes over childcare from a negligent mom and is an excellent “mother.” How the Grinch Stole Christmas – through newly-discovered love on both sides, an odd outsider is welcomed and accepted into the community. Green Eggs and Ham – pre-judging something is wrong; when you’re exposed to something unfamiliar, you may find out it’s really OK. And of course The Sneetches – people getting all worked up and superior and exclusionary because of meaningless differences. Oh, yes, the messages were there for everyone to see. In fact, the government of China saw, and banned all of his books as teaching dangerous, decadent messages. And at leas one California school district banned his books because they saw his subtext and didn’t want to include books that advanced “the homosexual agenda.”

CE: But wait! Dr. Seuss wasn’t actually gay himself, so the Grinch should still be OK!

C: Well, people presume he was straight. But that doesn’t matter; what’s important to you Purity Bubblers is not supporting the “gay agenda” at all. Remember, this whole shitstorm started when you all complained that Hallmark was summoning in the end of civilization as we know it just for broadcasting a commercial including a same-sex kiss. So no, there is no Grinch here in the Bubble.

… what’s that? Oh – sorry, Joseph, I forgot myself.  Make that “crapstorm.”

CE: OK, from now on, no more Dr. Seuss. I can still read other great books to the kids.

C: Well, I don’t know, an awful lot of them don’t exist here in the gay-free zone, since many of the world’s most cherished classic children’s books were written by LGBTQ+ people. Don’t bother looking for any of the Frog and Toad books – the author, Arnold Lobel, who died from AIDS in 1987, was gay. Neither is Strega Nona, or anything else by Tomie diPaola, who is gay. I’m not sure Where the Wild Things Are, but they aren’t here in the Purity Bubble, since author Maurice Sendak was gay – here, the wild rumpus will never start. And your littlest ones have no Runaway Bunny, or even Goodnight Moon to have read to them, because their author, Margaret Wise Brown, was bisexual.

CE: All right. But still, we can have a nice, wholesome, non-gay influenced Christmas.

C: Maybe, but it will be a lot quieter one. Handel and Tchaikovsky were far from the only LGBTQ+ people who helped to shape our Christmas. There are Christmas classic songs by Johnny Mathis, David Bowie, Wham! – I mean really, the list goes on and on and on. Let’s just say it’s going to be a far less wonderful time of the year, since you didn’t want all these gays shoved down your throat.

And it doesn’t really end there. Those memories you have – well, you think you have – about your life? So many of them never happened. A number of your favorite childhood teachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, family members – they simply never existed here, because they were LGBTQ+.  In fact, several of your straight friends and family members never existed here in the bubble either – you see, Alan Turing, a gay man, was the inventor of the modern computer, which was developed in order to break German codes during World War 2. His invention allowed the Allies to know where German ships and submarines were, and to keep them from attacking Allied ships. But without Alan Turing, the computer was never invented, the Allied ships were sunk, and a number of your family and friends never existed. The Allies lost the war because there was no Alan Turing. Of course, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – there are no computers here in the Purity Bubble.

And it gets worse. There are so many people who aren’t here, because there were never any gay doctors, nurses, firefighters, EMTs, police officers, soldiers. They weren’t around to give birth to them, provide health care for them, save them in times of emergency or war. You, and the rest of the people who want to live in the Purity Bubble, have said that being gay isn’t natural, because gays can’t create life. The truth is, there are so many people alive in this world specifically because of gay people – and isn’t that just as life-giving?

CE: I know I’m supposed to be happy here in my “safe space” – but Clarence, I’m starting to really not like this.

C: You may not have realized it, but the LGBTQ+ people that you wanted to get away from, and who you wanted to discriminate against, have really been all around you, all the time, contributing to the world, and your experience of it, in so many positive ways. They’ve been people who have made the world a better place. They’ve been your friends, neighbors, relatives. We’ve just barely scratched the surface here, but the truth is that if you removed everything in your life that had something to do with LGBTQ+ people, it would be a terrible existence. So much of what has made the world good, and enjoyable, and safe, and beautiful, and yes, “family friendly,” were the result of LGBTQ+ people.  You see, friend, you really had a wonderful life when gay people were a part of it. You spent so much of your time threatening gay people that they were going to go to hell – but look around you. With this Purity Bubble that you wanted to live in – didn’t you end up creating a real hell for yourself?

jimmy stewart on bridge

CE: Clarence, I don’t want to live in this Purity Bubble any more! This is terrible – I want to go back! I want to live with gay people again! I want to live with gay people again!

Johnny Mathis: “…. For, we, need a little Christmas, right this very minute, …

CE: Yes! Yes! Merry Christmas, Johnny Mathis! Merry Christmas everybody!

bell ringing


Hang On

jackrabbit camelback

It’s been an interesting couple of months, to put it mildly. Actually, life has been interesting for longer than that, but the past two months or so have been particularly momentous, seeing the culmination of a number of things long in the making.

Coming Out to My Daughters
About two and a half months ago, I guess, I came out to my two daughters and my wife, from whom I’d already been separated for four years. We were still legally married  because we were too broke to pay for the divorce, and mostly in order to facilitate our younger daughter staying within and graduating from her school district. I’d stressed terribly over how, and when, to come out to them. I’d already been out to a number of friends and colleagues, but coming out to family is a whole different thing. If a friend, even a good friend, doesn’t take the news well, and they cut ties with you, it’s a disappointment. Having that same kind of reaction and rejection from a family member is the great terror that robs gay men of cumulative months of sleep as they envision every possible coming-out scenario in their waking and sleeping hours.

Ultimately, the timing of my coming out was determined by unexpected events unfolding, and not by grand plan. My boyfriend had come for a visit, and we’d planned to drive down into southern Ohio and do some hiking and sightseeing in the beautiful Hocking Hills region. We had just left my place, and had set out on the 45-minute drive, when I received a text from younger daughter, asking to borrow my large suitcase for her imminent departure to Switzerland, where she’d soon be starting her undergraduate studies. Beyond the fact that I actually needed the suitcase for my own upcoming move, I realized that when she arrived at the house to “borrow” it, she’d be curious about the strange car parked in the driveway. But your kid is your kid and you’d do anything for them. I figured I’d just pick up a second-hand suitcase for myself in a thrift store, so I told her that it was OK for her to stop by and pick it up. A little while later, as I’m driving, I get a text:

“Dad, are you seeing someone?”

Wow, I hadn’t expected that – but I figured I could brush it aside easily enough.

“LOL! No, my friend George from Toronto came for a short visit and I decided to show him the Hocking Hills.”

“Yeah, are you seeing him?”

Wow. “Are you seeing him?”, not even stopping along the way at “Are you gay?” Had she had suspicions about me for some time? Had she put things together in her own mind before I could make my own announcement? I didn’t think so, but I also know that we human beings can often delude ourselves in the worst way. How am I supposed to say something, via text, while driving, that in even my best-case scenario would be a sit-down conversation of at least an hour? Try keeping the car on the road while processing that. Hell, try not wanting to deliberately drive off the road into a concrete abutment just to avoid the whole thing.

I realized two things. First, I was too big of a coward to actually tell the truth in that moment, in that way. Second, I had to text back quickly, because a long delay in answering the question would automatically give an answer I wasn’t prepared to give. So with a knot in my stomach and with my hands trembling, I typed as quickly as I could.

“Um, no. But in any case, the suitcase is in the downstairs hallway, make sure that you don’t…..”

I deflected. And then, for the next couple of days, I was sick to my stomach. I’d just lied to my daughter. I’d lied about something that was very important, and lying to her about anything just ran contrary to everything I believe about parent-child relationships. After a very stressful and not at all enjoyable day of hiking, I decided that I was going to have to come clean to my daughters, and quickly – which would also mean that I was going to have to come out to my soon-to-be-ex wife, and to my parents, and to the rest of my immediate family, in rapid succession.

I arranged to have dinner with the girls at a favorite local casual restaurant. We had a great time together. After we’d eaten, I started in with the younger, texting daughter.

“You know, you sent me some texts the other day that really took me by surprise. But I’m curious; I wanted to ask you: How would you feel if I were seeing someone?”

“Omigosh! Are you?”

“Well, just answer the question first. How would you feel?”

Slight pause…

“Well, I don’t know. Would it be a woman, or a man?”

Zing. She has to suspect. I actually feel encouraged by this. Maybe it isn’t going to be as  big a thing as I’d been fearing.

“Well, how would you feel if it were a woman?”

“It wouldn’t bother me. I’d be OK with it.” (Older daughter concurs at this point.)

Deep breath…

“OK… and how would you feel… if it were another man?”

Momentary awkward silence.

Older daughter chimes in: “Well, if that were the case, I just want to say I’d be OK with it. I mean, I’d have to get used to it, but we’re all who we are, and if you’re gay, that doesn’t change anything between us.”

Unfortunately, younger daughter, whose line of questioning had started this chain reaction to begin with, was not anywhere near as conciliatory. She was taking it hard.

“But you’re the one that asked if I were seeing a man!”

“I was kidding!”

No you weren’t, I thought to myself. But this wasn’t the time to argue about that.

“What about the church that you just took the new job at? Do they know? Are you going to have to quit your job?”

“No, the church knows; I told them the very first time we talked.”

“Oh… wait… so they knew before we did?!!”

This was not going well. The remainder of the meal was tense, on at least one front.

Coming Out to My Soon-to-be-Ex-Wife
Two days later, I came out to their mother over lunch. When I got to the big declaration, her response was to smile and say “I knew it! Honestly, I’d have never suspected it, but after you went up to Toronto to see your friend twice so soon, and then you said you wanted to see George Takei at the Pride Parade, I really started to suspect it.” Of course, she had a number of questions, and maybe she’ll have more as time unfolds, and I tried to answer them as best as I could, even while I try to work out the answers to some of them myself.

A major factor in deciding to come out when I did was that younger daughter was leaving the country for school – remember the suitcase? I knew that I’d be coming out once and for all in very short order, and I wanted to do so with her in person, rather than via phone, Skype, or blog post. I’d deferred the start of the new pastoral position so that I’d be able to see her off at the airport when she left. Unfortunately, that was not to be. After our dinner, she got word to me via her mother that she didn’t want to see me, or talk to me, or hear from me, or have any contact from me. This has been the single negative reaction that I’ve received over my coming out (at least the only one actually spoken). It hurt, and continues to hurt, in a way beyond description. Before, I’d been Pops. Now, I didn’t even exist.

But, she’s eighteen. I remember being eighteen, and so black-and-white certain that I knew how the world worked and that I had all the right answers, well past eighteen. Just as I’d hurt other people with my own actions, I’m getting some of it back now, and just as those people had been patient with me until I came around, I can only do the same in the hopes that she will. I think she will, but it’s going to take some time. So I wait.

Coming Out to My Parents
In the midst of all this, I was shuttling back and forth between Columbus and New York, making final arrangements for the new job. During one of those trips shortly after coming out to the girls and their mother, I doglegged through Pennsylvania and did the same with my mother, and my father and his wife. It was grueling. Telling them was difficult – not, as I explained then, because I’m ashamed of who I am, but rather, because I knew that this news had the potential to cause them pain, and that was the last thing I’d ever want to do. As it turned out, those conversations ended up going about as well as I could have ever hoped – and far better than they did in the nightmares that had awakened me in the middle of countless nights. After the initial awkwardness, Dad’s response was “Well it sure isn’t the kind of news I’d ever wanted to hear, or expected to hear. But as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t change anything. You’re my son, and I love you, and I’ll always love you, and nothing can ever change that.” He went on, “The only thing I worry about is that you’ve just had such a tough time of things for so long now, and I want things to be good and go easy for you for a change, and I just worry that this is going to continue to make things difficult for you.”

Telling Mom went differently, but ultimately just as well. After the initial shock, and running through the religious issues she had with the news, she thought very carefully about what I was saying. She ended up asking me some incredibly good questions, very thoughtful questions. I’d given Mom and Dad both copies of Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian, since I knew they’d both have reservations on religious grounds. At one point, Mom said “Well, I guess it’s just the way I’ve always said – hate the sin, but love the sinner.” Realizing that even that was a step in the right direction, I said, “Well, I hope that at some point, you get to the point where you don’t believe there’s any sin in this to hate.” She said, “I guess the first time I really saw this out of the abstract, as a real human issue, is when I saw the movie Philadelphia.”

“Well, if you’d like, I could recommend a few other movies that might help you as you think through all of this. Would you like me to send some to you?”

“Yes, I think I’d like that.”

In my nightmares, I’d envisioned having to dodge things being thrown at me, and being banished from the house. Don’t imagine that coming out to your parents is any less scary when you’re in your fifties than if you did it in your twenties. In reality, I was amazed at how accepting of this new reality they both were. I thought that the ability for me to be amazed by my parents had long passed. I was wrong. I’m sure that there will be bumps along the way, but my parents are amazing.

Coming Out to Everyone Else
With the immediate family now having been told, I was able to make the final, once-and-for-all coming out announcement, via a blog post,  to everyone else who hadn’t already been let into the circle of trust, to borrow a phrase from Meet the Parents. I did this the day after leaving the Columbus congregation – they’re dealing with a lot of other turmoil and transition at the moment; I didn’t want to add this drama onto them as well – and the day before starting in New York, so that I would be starting here completely out to everyone from the get-go. That single blog post had exponentially more hits than anything else I’ve ever posted here. Still, I’ve been encountering people who had missed the announcement, necessitating a series of re-coming outs. That will continue into the future, I suppose. Here again, the only comments I’ve gotten have been positive and very supportive. Of course, I’m not so naive as to think that the news was met with universal acceptance. I’m sure that there are a number of people who are not supportive; they’ve just chosen to say nothing rather than offer their thoughts openly. That’s more civil, I suppose, but I almost wish that I’d know if someone has written me out of their lives over this. Even worse is the scenario where a person says they’re OK with the news, but they really aren’t, and they gradually, quietly just disengage. There are a few people that I think may be doing this at the moment. I hope not.

Saying Goodbye
My last day of pastoring in Columbus was Sunday, August 17th, and I couldn’t have imagined a more wonderful and heartfelt sendoff from the congregation in my dreams. It was a great service, and a deeply emotional final sermon, followed by a touching reception. This congregation had meant so much to me, for so many years. I was so blessed to have been part of them all of that time.

(Not) Saying Goodbye
The very next day, my younger daughter left the country, without my being able to see her, much less talk with her, hug her. I actually considered hiding behind a column or a plant at the terminal, just to be able to at least see her before she left. As hard as it was, though, I respected her wishes that I not be there, no matter how much it hurt. And it hurt a lot.

Saying Hello
The day after daughter left for Switzerland, I left for Auburn, New York, and the day after that, I was already at work in the new position. A parishioner very graciously allowed me to stay in an unoccupied, but fully furnished home of theirs, enabling me to transition into the new surroundings quickly, and allowing me to make the full-scale transition more gradually. I’ve been living with limited stuff, out of suitcases (including the second-hand one I bought at the thrift store to replace the one that daughter took to Switzerland) and banana boxes. I can’t wait to get into my own place. The new congregation is also wonderful. I’ve spent the past month getting to know the people, the congregational culture, the city. I definitely like it here.

Back to Columbus – The Dissolution
My wife and I had finally gotten our dissolution paperwork filed, and of course, the hearing was set for three weeks after the new job started in New York. So last week, I had to drive a 14-hour round trip to appear in front of a judge for what couldn’t have been more than two minutes, answering Yes, Yes, Yes, No, Yes… to a handful of questions that we’d both already answered in the paperwork. Ah well. After being separated for four years, almost to the day, and with not even a wisp of fanfare, our marriage of 26 years (actually 22 together) was over. We joked in the elevator on the way out of the building. A few hours later, we met up again for a celebratory happy hour drink at the restaurant where older daughter worked. Then, back to Auburn the next morning, and back to work.

And Back to Columbus Again – the Real Move
Tomorrow morning, I drive back to Columbus again. This time, I finish up the last of the packing and start giving the house its final cleaning. The movers show up early Monday morning to pack everything up and, sometime a few days later, deliver it to my new permanent home in Auburn. There are a couple of things I need to drop off, a couple of goodbyes to share, and a set of keys to drop off at the landlord’s. And of course, older daughter and now ex-wife and I will go out for a nice dinner. Then early Tuesday morning, I leave the city I’ve called home since August of 1984.

This past week, a parishioner here commented that she was staggered, thinking of all of the upheaval and changes that I’d navigated in just the past couple of months. I thought a lot about that comment. The real truth is that – as my Dad had alluded to – there have been a near-continual string of major disasters and problems, which won’t be detailed here now,  that I’ve had to get through in my life, running back to probably about 2001. As much as I’d never wish any of those truly awful experiences on even my worst enemy, I really think that going through them taught me how to endure all these multiple, very stressful things in recent times. As difficult as so many of these things are, I’ve taught myself to compartmentalize them, and to be able to continue in a reasonably normal, sane, even good-natured way, even with things being very different while inside each of those various other “compartments.” I do also know this, and I know that there’s a risk of sounding superficial or corny, but I know that there’s no way that I could have gotten through all of this anywhere nearly as well, by simply relying on my own strength or smarts. The collective pressures and stresses that all of these things placed upon me could easily have crushed me like a Dixie Cup, and yet, somehow, I’m still here. Yes, I attribute that to God. Some people might think that clergy have a lot more about God figured out than the average person. I doubt that, actually; I think that we’re just taught a larger and better vocabulary to camouflage the gaps in our understanding. I think that the net result of my education has been that I’m less sure about what I think I know about God than when I began – and maybe that’s the whole point. But I do know that somehow, inextricably embedded within the deepest depths and the highest highs of our experience, there is an incredible, mysterious Something that is so real that you can feel the Something on your skin, hear the Something in your head, feel the Something in your heart, as real as anything you’ve ever experienced in your life. Others may call the Something something else; I call the Something God, and if the past two months, and the past decade, has taught me anything, it’s that I really can do all things through the Something that I also call Christ, who strengthens me.

So, I wonder what’s going to happen next month? I can only imagine. All I can do is just hang on, and enjoy the ride.