Queer Christianity: Finding Acceptance in a Conservative America

I am an American. I am a lifelong, believing Christian. And this September, I came out as pansexual.

The three of these identifiers do not often mix well, and I find myself often facing crossroads—do I stay in the closet around my Christian friends? Do I hide my religious identity around my queer friends?

More often than not, I just stay quiet—which is pretty sad, truth be told. But, in the current political climate of America, who wants to out themselves?

When I finally came to terms with my sexuality, I was at “the world’s largest Christian university” in Virginia. I was surrounded by southern, conservative peers who would sneer that the “homosexuals” are going to hell.

That’s when the panic set in. How do you justify your sexuality with your religion, if everyone says your religion hates queer people? I knew I was still a Christian, and I could never stop believing in God and Jesus, but I felt lost.

“If God hates queer people”, I wondered, “why would He make me like this? God doesn’t make mistakes, does He?”

This fear and confusion is, unfortunately, not unique to my experience. Alex Burchnell, who runs the Twitter @AlexChrisQCFV (Queer Christian Family Values) with his husband, Chris, in the American south, has experienced similar feelings in his Christian walk.

“I never questioned my identity in Christ until I came out in my first year of college,” Alex said. “I saw how the church turned on those in the LGBTQ community and started questioning if I would believe in a God who would allow this.”

Like Alex, I was also angry and confused. I had a hard time separating the behaviour of Christians from the God they worshipped.

“It wasn’t until I met other Christians who showed me that there were people who weren’t bigoted and still believed strongly in Christ,” Alex said. “I started reading more about the life of Jesus and learning for myself rather than relying on what others told me.”

This was an important step in my own reconciliation of sexuality—inputting Bible verses into different translations, crying on the shoulders of my Christian friends who embraced me wholeheartedly, and remembering what it was about God that made me love Him in the first place.

When I came out to friends, I had a mostly positive reaction (after all, I chose good friends) but my family found themselves angry and hurt. When the reactions aren’t as positive as a queer Christian would hope for, Chris has advice for them.

“It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are attracted to, God is love, and His love is infinite,”  said Chris. “Even if you have to hide it for a while, there is no reason you can’t be a queer Christian. There are others out there, so you’re not alone. God isn’t the issue, it’s the people who claim to follow Him. God is acceptance. People are conditional.”

Ultimately, your religion can go hand-in-hand with your sexuality. There is no way to “pray away” your feelings (trust me, most of us have tried). No amount of hellfire-and-brimstone sermons will spook your queerness out of your soul.

God loves us. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, and He doesn’t make mistakes.

If you’re a queer Christian looking for support, I recommend the #FaithfullyLGBT tag on Twitter to link up with queer theologians, pastors and believers who can share their advice.

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7 Things Never to Say to Someone With an Eating Disorder

Battling an eating disorder is exhausting–and it isn’t made any easier when friends, family or peers are constantly asking hurtful questions or offering misguided advice. If you’re approaching someone who has told you they have an eating disorder, read on to find out 7 important questions not to ask.

  1. “Are you sure? You don’t look like you have an eating disorder!”

Seriously, this should be common sense—but unfortunately, it’s not. Eating disorders do not discriminate when it comes to body shape, size, gender or identity. The media’s stereotypical image of a waif-thin blonde girl is not representative of all individuals with EDs.

Under the DSM-5—the guidelines which medical professionals reference when diagnosing mental illnesses—patients no longer have to be underweight to receive an eating disorder diagnosis (except for anorexia nervosa, in some cases). Additionally, not all eating disorders are restrictive-type. An eating disorder that is being diagnosed more often is binge-eating disorder, which shares traits with bulimia, where the primary trait is frantic over-eating.

  1. “So, it’s just a diet?”

No. Just… no. While some individuals with eating disorders do follow strict eating plans—such as Paleo or vegan—this is not just a “diet”. A 2016 US study from the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) says that those who diet moderately are 5 times more likely to develop an ED—and 18 times more likely, if they practiced extreme restriction.

That’s why calling eating disorders “diets” is so dangerous. It minimalises the fact that eating disorders are mental illnesses that need professional intervention to overcome.

  1. “If you want to lose weight, just work out and eat better! Have you tried that?”

Individuals with eating disorders are already extremely self-conscious—the last thing they need is someone subtly saying, “Losing weight is more important than getting better.”

Health is not equated with weight. An individual with anorexia being underweight would be skinny, but not healthy. Likewise, an individual hitting the gym everyday to negate that day’s caloric intake is not a healthy person—mentally or physically.

Eating disorders are mental illnesses; as such, they aren’t going to just “go away” with a bit of positive motivation. The best thing that you can do, as a friend, is to support that person with an ED and not mention their body. Don’t tell them they should lose weight, or give them tips to do so—even if you think you’re giving them “healthy” advice. Praise their personality or their brain, and stay away from physical attributes.

  1. “Can’t you just call this a ‘cheat day’?”

The idea of food being “wrong” just feeds into an eating disorder. NEDA reported that 95% of those who lose weight on a diet gain it back within 1-5 years. Making food “off limits” except for these so-called cheat days just reinforces the idea that food is either good or bad, and can trigger binges in some folks with EDs.

It’s better to support your friend in whatever food option they pick, and don’t push them to choose any food they’re not comfortable with eating.

  1. “Why do you have an ED? I don’t see anything wrong with you.”

A majority of ED side effects are internal, or manifest in ways that an outsider would not pick up on. Individuals who aren’t consuming enough energy may be constantly cold, grow extra body hair to compensate for the cold, stop menstruating, have a heart arrhythmia, or an eroding oesophagus from stomach acid.

Additionally, NEDA says that self-harming behaviours may occur co-morbidly with eating disorders. This can range from self-injury to binge drinking to being sexually promiscuous.

Even if you do not see the side effects, do not assume they’re not there.

  1. “How can you have one? Only teen girls have eating disorders, and they grow out of them.”

This is extremely false—anyone, regardless of age, gender or identity, can have an eating disorder. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate.

NEDA reported that ED symptoms are starting earlier and earlier in all genders, and that at any given point, “0.3-0.4% of young women and 0.1% of young men will suffer from anorexia”—and 1%  of young women and 0.1% of young men will be bulimic. These statistics don’t even include binge-eating disorder, avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, or other specified feeding or eating disorder.

  1. “Is your ED really a bad thing? You could stand to lose weight.”

This isn’t an exaggeration—people genuinely think this way. Unfortunately, this weight-shaming does nothing to spur healthy dieting, and paves the way for disordered eating.

NEDA has reported that of overweight individuals, 40% of girls and 37% of boys are bullied because of their weight. This leads to less interest in physical activity and socialisation—and an increase in psychological turmoil, including negative body image and depression.

Ultimately, weight is just a number. What’s going on inside our bodies is important, and we should feed ourselves healthfully, but weight is not a direct indicator of health. Unless you are a doctor directly consulting with a patient who has asked for advice on losing weight, there’s no reason to tell someone to lose weight. You end up doing far more harm than good.

For more resources on eating disorders, visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.

The Stress of Being Sober at University

It normally starts with the dreaded question, “Why aren’t you drinking?”

You sit there, clinging onto your pint of Pepsi that you hoped nobody would notice. The realities of explaining your personal life choices can be daunting, to say the least.

The struggle comes from a societal pressure to conform–and the burden of socialising is changing the way non-drinkers experience university. This irrational, generational fear of missing out is causing a struggle for those who don’t want to fit societal pressures and norms.

For some, alcohol abstinence is just part of the dreaded anticipation of peer pressure, potential exclusion and social challenges.

It’s no secret that drinking culture has long been associated with 21st century university life, and alcohol is–in some ways—deemed as the university student’s social beverage of choice.

The initiation of Fresher’s Week starts the school year into an alcohol-fuelled string of social events, from post-lecture pub drinks to clubbing events. Here, being a non-drinker can cause anxiety and apprehension.

As someone who chooses not to drink, I often find it’s one of the first things people notice about me during any social event.

Sometimes, I wonder if it’s just me being paranoid. I’ll unintentionally let the fact that I don’t drink slip, as if it’s a dirty little secret—but do people assume I don’t drink because I drive to classes? It’s a difficult situation that heightens my self-confidence, and I’m sure I’m not the only person to have been in this situation.

For those who choose not to drink, the act of declining an alcoholic beverage from their peers can cause an intense fear of being judged for their choice to stay sober. But, according to the Health Survey for England 2016, the biggest drop in adult alcohol consumption has been among young people between the ages of 16 to 24.

It seems that sober-culture is, somewhat, becoming socially common. However, as the number of non-drinking students goes up, the social pressures put on students to drink still prevail.

It’s safe to say that the perceptions surrounding non-drinking and peer pressure can contribute to some forms of negative stigma around alcohol abstinence.

The suggestion of “not being up for a good time” are just some of the behavioural preconceptions of a non-drinker by their drinking classmates. The association between alcohol and socialising a direct effect of this and—as a result—non-drinkers can find themselves isolated from classmates and friends.

Many non-drinkers can relate to being told, “Just one drink, it won’t hurt.” But, for someone who has made an informed personal, religious or health choice, this can be an uncomfortable scenario.

The easy solution would be to take this with a grain of salt, but for some, it can be far more problematic than this. Consequently, university students are still experiencing the same pressures of social drinking—although it’s no longer as rare.

With statistics showing that the proportion of both men and women drinking more than the recommended 14 units of alcohol a week has decreased between 2011 and 2016 (from 34% to 31% of men, and from 18% to 16% of women), there is generally a decrease of alcohol consumption overall.

With that being said, non-drinkers university should feel free to embrace their sobriety, trust their peers and put these societal pressures aside. Today, turning down a drink does not have to be a big deal.