Coming out is a scary thing. If there’s a choice an LGB (lesbian, gay, bisexual) individual has to make at all it’s the choice of when, where, how, and to whom they come out to. Both novels incorporated in this project—Melody Carson’s Bright Purple: Color Me Confused and Jeanette Winterson’s semi-autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit—are very much coming-out books, coming from both a spectator point of view and that of a first person experience, respectively. While there is much to be written about regarding the lives of people who are attracted to the same sex, the process and story of coming out is one of the most important facets. Coming out to oneself is certainly a pivotal moment in someone’s life, but it is the vulnerable moment of shedding all the protective layers and baring complete authenticity in coming out to someone else that has the powerful potential to build community or tear it away.
I may not personally identify as lesbian or bisexual, but I have witnessed pieces of the coming out story of my father as gay, followed a couple years later with my unabashed ally “coming out” to our extended family. His was multitudes more painful than mine—something that I do not take lightly—but my own experience of being treated differently because of a stance I’m taking on the “wrong side” of LGBTQ+ issues, has opened my eyes to a fraction of what other people must face. This has propelled me into several genres of writing where I’ve focused on not just LGBTQ+ concerns but also their intersection with Christianity. My heightened sense of awareness about the “conflict of interests” of my dual identity—that is, being an LGBTQ+ ally and a Christian—has also shown me that so few are addressing this intersection in a way that is constructive to both identities.
In the same way, I found almost immediately during this project that even in the rare golden nuggets that are Bright Purple and Oranges—that is, gold nuggets in the sense that they are books that actually address both sexuality and religion as the major concerns of the text—both of these books do not constructively discuss the identity of the Christian lesbian. She appears to be an impossibility, a myth, and no one supporting her can have any substantial faith. Bright Purple views homosexuality as a curable confusion of the mind to the very last page and Oranges’ Christians are religiously extreme to the point of being comical and it closes with an agnostic lesbian narrator rather than a spiritual one. Each in their turn decided to choose one identity over the other as the one that “ought” to be the more defining part of a person.
No one should be harassed out of a belief in something greater. And no one should be denied relationship with the one they love.
But why not both? Why can’t someone choose both? The character of Jess from Bright Purple doesn’t appear to have chosen quite yet, though the final chapter assumes that God will be saving her from her fate of remaining a lesbian. So even those up in the air are meant to be read as someday choosing between sexuality and religion. The SCOTUS ruling of June 26, 2015 was a huge step in the Gay Rights movement and an opportunity for some Christian denominations to declare themselves as allies—that is, many Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Methodist, and Episcopal churches. But even with the world shifting to more open-minded ways of life, no new literature and relatively no new films are being written to reflect it. Or maybe they’re hiding under the heap of mainstream media. Or maybe they’re in the making right now.
I plan to be contributing to this new genre. Writing a work of fiction that centers around LGBTQ-Christian conflict has been something I’ve often considered, but now is an undertaking I can hardly wait to begin. For literature is not meant to be written only as a direct reflection of the author, but rather a creative narrative that takes issue with what the author finds is necessary for the world to hear. And I believe the myth of these dual-identities needs to be shaken to the ground. The Us vs. Them mentality dividing LGBTQ+ communities and the Church needs to end. Not every coming out story has to involve bigoted characters that all just happen to be Christian and the religious/spiritual lesbian, gay, or bisexual character does not have to remain an impossibility. Because while many will continue to use their religion to perpetuate violence and homophobia and others will stick to tradition more peacefully in their belief that LGB orientations go against moral code, there are some who do not reflect these ideas and they cannot be left hidden in the shadows. Both the secular and the spiritual LGB person should be able to see themselves proudly represented and unashamed of who they are. Because no one should be harassed out of a belief in something greater. And no one should be denied relationship with the one they love.