Queer Communities

When I was writing Sex and the Church, I might have argued that the queer community could function in a similar fashion to the black community. Now I'm not so sure. Part of the problem is simply that a huge schism seems to exist between secular queers and religious queers. Secular queer books and conferences have rarely (never in my experience) included religious components, and gay and lesbian Christians rarely reach out to include substantial dialogue with non-religious audiences. We could consciously try to bridge this gap from both sides, organizing meetings and discussions which would include believers and non-believers. However, such projects seem to me both insurmountable and unlikely Queers inside the church expend much of their energy struggling for recognition within their own denominations, queers outside usually experience the church as an irrecoverable site of oppression. Maybe if we just worked harder such bridges could be built, such paradoxes could be embraced.

But maybe it is also true that the thing that divides us (that is, religious and non-religious queers) originates at a deeper level. For example, new scholarship suggests that whiteness - and even the whiteness expressed in the gay and lesbian subcultures - is actually the absence of the kind of cultural particularities that can offer structure to a life filled with paradoxes. Because it includes so many different things, whiteness can never be constituted by only one cultural narrative, but rather can only be signified by lack. As David Roediger articulates it, "[w]hiteness describes not a culture, but precisely the absence of culture. It is the empty and therefore terrifying attempt to build an identity based on what one isn't and on whom one can hold back" (Roediger 1994: 13). The projects of new studies on whiteness simultaneously challenge the emptiness and privilege of white culture.

Black people are often able to embrace the divide between belief and non-belief not because they subscribe to philosophies or principles of fragmentation, but rather because they share a rich heritage of what it means to be black. It doesn't matter if or precisely how a black person believes, their families and communities often reflect back to them a coherence based on common culture, history, and practices. Because whiteness dominates queerness in North America today, I can't help but wonder if some of the emptiness and absence isn't leaking into the communities we are attempting to build. Thus, even though many gay and lesbian communities seem analogous to blacks in terms of marginalization, for historical reasons that have to do with the dominance of whiteness in queer worlds, we (white) gay people have not embraced spirituality with the same necessity as blacks.

In closing, I want to suggest that if we have any hope of addressing the needs and desires of queers who have grown up in church, who have left or been turned away, who have returned and left again, if we have any hope of addressing the lives of our gay sisters and brothers who have experienced fragmentation at the hands of Christianity, we must begin to reject the privilege associated with whiteness by understanding race and sex struggles (as well as gender and class) as deeply interconnected. That is, coalition is important not only for the ultimate liberation of all marginalized peoples, it is also important because in working together, we can learn from each other. As long as we view sexual preference as the sole oppression that unites us, the lessons that other people might share with us are shrouded, the worldviews that might solve our paradoxes remain invisible. We need instead to continue to build coalitions that reject the absence associated with white culture by recovering histories, forming neighborhoods, strengthening visibility of cross-cultural, multi-racial queer/straight communities. Working together in alliance with people in other connected struggles will help us develop new skills and strategies that can help those of us in lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) communities highlight the importance of the spirit-world in everyday life. Only when queerness is thoroughly integrated into racial struggles will we become a community of faith strong enough to let people come and go. And only then will those of us who have been deeply wounded really be free to come back.

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