Niceness Hurts: Understanding Why Graceful Words Don’t Always Help LGBT+ People

Often people who cause me the most pain are those who are genuinely and sincerely being as kind to me as they can. I find this confusing.

Most of the pain we cause each other happens in the gap between our own heart and mind and the heart and mind of the other. Rarely have I experienced a gap so large as the one between what I experience as a bisexual person when people who don’t accept my sexuality say things they believe to be kind.

Often traditionalists indicate that their words are kind, concilatory, and understanding. These same exact words fall on my skin like a slap and not the hand of mercy I know they were intended to be.

In fact, most of the people I know personally and who don’t accept my sexuality have been nice. Sometimes I’m even hurt by someone who doesn’t say a single word about my sexuality, even by those who reach out in concern, but who I know disagree with my decisions. I haven’t understood why.

This hurt I’m speaking about is not a mild aggitation. I heard one time that sometimes in prison someone marked for punishment will not be attacked outright. Instead one person after another will deliver a sharp and precise punch to their liver again and again, eventually causing serious injury.

That’s what it feels like. It’s taking another blow in the same bruised and battered organ, an organ I need to stay alive.

This analogy breaks down because in my case the injury is unintended, as hard as it is for me to remember that sometimes. But I should remember, because it wasn’t long ago that I probably did the same thing and was equally unaware and full of good intentions.

Still the hurt remains, and the anger that comes with it. I’ve had a hard time even understanding why it hurts so much. Why am I hurt by people who are trying to be kind to me? Am I just sensitive? Am I becoming the charicacture of the angry gay rights activist that I was so often warned about?

Managing my anger has been a big part of the last ten months since coming out. But managing is not enough. I also need to learn to deal with it. Dealing with my anger means forgiving those who have hurt me.

But how do I go about forgiving people who are trying to be caring? How do I forgive them when I don’t even understand the hurt or why it’s so deep and painful?

Often I find myself starting on a blog I’m unable to finish, despite knowing exactly what I want to say. I struggle to call people and having conversations that are important. It’s difficult to even keep up the ties with people I used to be close to when I don’t know how they feel about my life now.

It’s so hard to keep writing, keep working, keep trying to create change around this topic and advocate for LGBT+ Christians. Every act of advocacy meets internal resistance until I feel like I’m trudging through mud.

Why was I so bothered? Why couldn’t I just toughen up? Occasionally someone would even indicate that I needed to do just that.

Then one day it came to me, a thought I’d had a hundred times, but suddenly sharper and clearer: Trauma. I’m dealing with trauma.

Trauma is one of those words that gets thrown around a lot. It’s kind of like OCD in that people say it a lot without awareness of what actual Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is. “I have OCD” they say while they straighen out their bookshelf or pick the lint off their friend’s jacket. But that’s not what OCD is.

It’s similar with trauma. We throw the word around without knowing what it means. Real trauma, the type that is related to Acute or Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, means more than being hurt by something. Trauma is related to a real or perceived threat to one’s life.

I knew coming out was a legitimate struggle. Loss of place I experienced in the denomonination with which my life was inexorably entwined is no small matter. But in my mind it didn’t rise to the level of an actual trauma, not like the real threats that other people survive. I wasn’t assaulted. I didn’t think I was going to die.

But my search to understand my own pain has finally revealed what was perhaps obvious. This is real trauma. It’s serious. Whether I have an actual clinical disorder or not, I have experienced a legitimate traumatic event. Perhaps everyone does who comes out in an environment where their sexuality is not embraced and affirmed.

Being rejected by my community, as I have been and as many queer Christians are, is about more than hurt feelings. It’s a threat to my existance.

There are certain things we require to survive, literally to stay alive. We need water. We need food. We need shelter. And just as surely as we need these things, we also need community. None of us can make it in this world alone.

When I think of what my Seventh-day Adventist church community was to me, it’s evident that most of the meaning and joy I’ve experienced in life has been through them. Most of my resiliency and willingness to press forward and have hope for my future has come from this community as well.

Living my life without this support is something I never imagined. I was Adventist for life. But now, I must admit, I’m an illegitimate Adventist. My name only remains on the church books because church policy can’t always be enforced. I can never be employed in ministry by the church again, I can never be married to a woman in an Adventist church or by an Adventist minister unless that minister is willing to risk losing their job, and even volunteering at a church or getting involved in leadership would be fraught with difficulty and unease.

There are a couple Adventist churches that are exceptionally accepting and welcoming. Other than these churches, second-class is the best an LGBT+ person who is out can hope for in an Adventist church. I’d argue that this is true whether that person follows Adventist doctrine or not. The church doesn’t know how to treat out queer Adventists as equal.

I know queer Adventists who have found churches that are relatively accepting of them, but who know that they are always to a certain degree vulnerable to a new pastor coming in and changing everything. About the only thing I know for sure I can do unopposed is sit in the pew and give money, and even that is sometimes controversial (the sitting in the pew part, every church will take my money).

All of this amounts to a stark choice, participate as a second-class Adventist or don’t participate in the local church at all. So far returning to church has been impossible for me.

This loss may not come with the physical violence that we often associate with trauma, but this apparent innocence doesn’t make it any less potent.

If you know LGBT+ people, especially Christians from nonaffirming communities, they will often speak to you of the constant stress of remaining in relationships with people who don’t accept their marriages, way of dressing, or way of identifying.That can be threatening because community and family support are what we need to get us through times of transition, emergencies, and sometimes to help us get jobs or take care of children.

Too often this stress of not belonging goes unacknowleged or even unknown by those who are causing it. Perhaps speaking of being traumatized brings up defensiveness in those who are part of this rejection, yet who don’t intend to cause trauma, and who believe themselves to be loving and accepting. Many people take it for granted that if they are friendly, care for queer people, and state their beliefs as kindly as possible they are showing love and not causing harm at all.

If this is you, I see your heart, and I see that you are doing the best you can. What would be good for the LGBT+ people in your life is if you would explore this tension between what you believe is happening and what queer people are experiencing. I don’t think the church has adequately dealt with that tension.

Few LGBT+ Christians see this the same way as most nonaffirming Christians do. I think the reason why is that no matter how it is handled, rejection from one’s community is a legitimate threat to anyone’s survival in this world. We feel it. I’ve felt it since long before I could articulate it.

The way forward for me is in finding new ways to survive. I can’t simply grow tougher skin. What I can do is root myself firmly in my identity as a child of God. No matter how I’m treated, no matter where I do or do not belong, I have a place with God. And of course I’m also finding a new tribe who does appreciate me for all of who I am.

Even with all this progress, it’s harder still to learn not to turn to the Adventist community for the help I’ve always sought there. Like an amputee I keep feeling the phantom limb. It’s proving difficult for every part of me to accept the new reality of my outsider status. Yet just as it’s happening slowly, this healing also has an inevitability to it.

The less often I reach instinctively for the help that simply is not there and the more I seek sources of life that are open to me, the more progress I make. I’m gaining a sense of safety and a holistic kind of confidence that I will survive this. I’m starting to care less that I’m not accepted. I’m doing better than surviving. Life gets more beautiful every day.

5 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your experience. You do an excellent job of articulating your thoughts. I am a SDA who recently came out to my SDA parents/family within the last year. I can relate to a lot of what you share in your various blogs. Your thoughts are much appreciated.

  2. Hey thanks for sharing! I recently came out to most of my family. I’ve been an Adventist for about 4 years gone to the same conservative church for that amount of time. I left before I got kicked out it’s been hard finding accepting SDA churches and churches with young people in it. I miss my church family but I know they won’t accept my new lifestyle. It’s been hard coming out but I was tired of hiding these feelings I had for years. God bless you my dear sister!

    1. Congratulations! I know it’s hard. I’m still really happy for you taking this step. Make sure to get involved with The Reformation Project, Q Christian Fellowship, and of course SDA Kinship International. If you can make it to one of their conferences, do it for sure!

  3. Hi Alicia, I read this post twice but am still slightly confused as to the conclusion of why you have hurt/anger at the kind/loving words. I thought maybe I was reading that it was because you didn’t agree with what was being said and thus that people, no matter how kind/loving with their words, will keep hurting you because they are non-confirming; is that right?

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