I play tennis.
One of the first things you learn in the game of tennis is to stay away from the area of the court known as “no man’s land.” It’s an area about halfway between the baseline and the service line where most of the shots from your opponent will land. If you stand in this treacherous spot, the balls will land at your feet, making it impossible to hit quality shots in response. The best place to be, if you actually want to hit the ball well, is just behind the baseline or closer up to the net.
Being black, gay, and Christian is also a bit of a no man’s land. It’s a place where many wouldn’t advise you to stand. People often throw verbal and even physical shots that land at your feet, and sometimes the shots take you out at the knees. As much as any gay man wouldn’t want to be in a caught dead in a place called no man’s land, I often find myself often caught in between two positions.
As much work as I’ve done to create harmony between the various points of my existence, there are some days when the completion of that work appears as close as the next star. Some days I am filled with strength, brimming with self-love and courage. But then there are times when I hear a preacher, someone who shares my vocation, proclaim that people like me are heretics. That is to be expected. What isn’t always expected is how the gay community sometimes responds. To many of them, I’m also a fake.
On the one hand, people would prefer that I was just gay. They claim that I would make it easier for them myself I just forget any idea of faith, God or prayer, because these are the tools that homophobes use to demean us. Didn’t Audre Lorde say that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house? And here I am, using the oppressor’s toolbox to build a new, awkward dwelling. Clearly gay is an all-encompassing label, and anything that even has the appearance of being anti-gay must be stamped out. It’s a waste of time. Just be gay. Curse God and live.
On the other, I need to just suck it up and be a Christian. Submerge my humanity and become an asexual robot for Jesus, and the comfort of everyone else. How can gay and God be in the same sentence, let alone co-exist in the person? If I want to do anything in church, or let alone preach, I should be willing to become an inhuman vessel that only concerns himself with the things of God. Even the gays who hate church “know” that you can’t be a real Christian if you claim to be gay. The Bible says so, and it’s just what we know to be true. God’s way doesn’t allow for it.
So, here I am, stuck betwixt and between. Too gay for the Christians, yet too Christian for the gays. At large, the church and the black gay community both agree on one thing: someone like me is a fraud. At best, I’m a confused people pleaser, trying my best to juggle all the parts of my life. At worst, I’m a liar, a trickster that is trying to play both sides of the fence to my own benefit.
Both of those assumptions are painful. No man’s land is an awkward, and lonesome, place to be.
Rarely does anyone, from either side of this no man’s land, ask how I came to my conclusions. I often don’t get to explain that my faith is the reason that I decided to break off the closet door that caged me. The conversations that I’ve had about my extensive theological education and research into biblical views on sexuality seem to be of no concern to either side. My knowledge of Greek, Hebrew, or human sexuality means nothing. And no, I don’t expect a lecture on the topic to change someone’s mind, but perhaps, just maybe, this decision is one that took painstaking consideration, study, and yes, prayer?
For two sides that are constantly at war, the Black Church and the black gay community, they tend to have one unfortunate trait in common: placing people in boxes. Boxes are awful places to be, and are too closely related to closets for comfort. Boxes work to obscure the truth that we are all multifaceted beings. Only inanimate things, or dead people, should be placed in boxes.
But I’m convinced that this no man’s land of negative assumptions and side-eyes is a worthy position to be in. One of the biggest motivators in coming to grips with my sexuality was also by drive to be authentically myself, regardless of the opinions that others had of me. I wanted to clear a path not only for others to be authentic, but myself as well. No one, Christian, gay, or otherwise, should be placed in a box of either/or when it comes to expressing their life.
This is why I write and educate whenever possible. Not to make people come to church, or to pass some gay test, but to clear a path for people to be all of who they are. I’m gay. I’m Christian. I’m black. I’m all of it, none of it shuts off, and no one aspect eliminates the other to be true.
So yes, this territory is a bit of a no man’s land. But by embracing it, I’m becoming more of an all-court player. The different aspects of my life aren’t at war with each other. Despite the clamor from the baseline and of Christianity and the forecourt of the gay community, I can navigate all areas. And this, after all, is the point. Being all of who I am, encouraging people to be all of they are.
Besides, after a while you learn how to pick those difficult shots up off of your feet and return some great shots of your own.