Book Notes on Melissa M. Wilcox, Coming Out in Christianity

Melissa M. Wilcox’s Coming Out in Christianity: Religion, Identity, and Community, which is a social study on LBGT (the terminology of the time) Christians in the MCC (Metropolitan Community Church) is now a bit dated (it came out in 2003 – almost 20 years old); things have moved quite a bit in the LBGTQIA+ community since then! But it has some important frames of reference worth retaining.

  1. Wilcox frames this work on the MCC in terms of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” which is my father’s favorite poem. The “road” here is one of being LBGT (again using the terminology from the time of writing) and Christian at the same time, whereas traditionally, symbolically, and perhaps statistically speaking these are thought to be mutually exclusive categories. You can be one or the other. For Christians, being queer is sinful; for LGBT (again, terminology at the time of writing) people, Christianity – or your religion of choice – is the abuser. But here are people threading the needle: religious LBGT people who bring together in various ways their queerness and their Christianness. They have to come out as “gay” or “trans” to their cishet Christian friends; they have to come out as “Christian” to their LBGT friends. As a side note: I was trained to be a Bible scholar – or technically a scholar of the history of religions in late antiquity (defining late antiquity far more broadly than usual). But I do my work in ancient Jewish and Christian materials. When I meet new people who know I’m trans, and I tell them I’m a Bible scholar, I get a double-take. They cannot reconcile the two elements.
  2. I have read that Wilcox received pressure to exclude the information on trans people from this work. Trans people in these churches – only a handful if that – were too statistically insignificant to be of importance. I am happy Wilcox fought to keep trans people included. Wilcox – who according to their Twitter page, accepts and welcomes all pronouns – notes throughout that Bisexual and Transgender people are regularly rendered invisible in the dominant queer discourses. S/he was attentive to those voices. While gender identity issues are not the same as sexual orientation issues, they are entwined and we have similar experiences with the religious communities we came from, are embedded within, or are seeking. We have the same frictions with faith. We are told from some we are sinful. We have Bible verses hurled at us as if they are missiles – not always the same Bible passages as LBG Christians, but some are. And yet here we are.

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