We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
Joan Didion, title essay, The White Album (1979)
So often this forum is a place for venting of frustration and airing of gripes. I thought I would add something positive today. :)
I'm a newly declared Baha'i (25, Jehovah's Witness background, openly gay, live in a large Southern gay mecca) and I have a Baha'i coworker. He's an older gentleman, in his late 50's or early 60's and he's Persian. Grew up there and came here to study after the Revolution. During the fast we've been going on walks during our lunch hour once or twice a week so I can share the experience of my first fast with him, as well as get to know him better. I've been finding our walks to be very encouraging and uplifting so today I decided to open up to him.
I started by telling him about a sermon I had listened to by the founder of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee, on how God is an artist and why I thought that illustration fit well with Baha'i ideas. We all have different potentialities to develop the assortment of virtues/colors. And while there are rules to painting, sometimes they have to be broken to create a masterpiece. And God's primary concern isn't maintaining the letter of the law, but in creating masterpieces. I would definitely recommend checking it out here (http://www.gaychristian.net/gcnradio/index.php?fbb_session_id/684d943b80df3d3c86664de95763fda0/)
I then asked him for his thoughts on marriage and whether we focus too much on romance here in the West. After talking about that for about 10 minutes he asked me if I had a girlfriend, like I figured he would. I told him I had a boyfriend and that things are going well. He was surprised by the revelation but he took it in stride. No theological debates, no prejudiced comments or looks, no insistence that I'm sick or in need of therapy or that I should try dating women.
He reiterated that science and religion must agree so he expects the UHJ to rule on this eventually and that until then we must strive to adhere to the laws we do have and that, at the end of the day, whatever we do, we must be able to answer to our God with our heads held high. To which I agreed and added that I do expect to be able to have a Baha'i marriage someday based on what I know of the Writings and science and my own personal experience. And that even if I can't have a Baha'i wedding I do intend to apply Baha'i principles to my union, whatever it is called. Even if I cannot adhere to the letter of the law, keeping with the spirit of it will only help me and those in the community who see.
We then continued our walk and our conversation about marriage and the purpose of laws. It was a great conversation. I wish I could share the whole thing with you guys. But I'm limiting it to just this part because I want this community to see the progress going on in the community. While I'm working on a need-to-know basis with my sexuality I have never been closeted in my interactions with the Baha'i community. And, in general, people have either been openly supportive or politely neutral. I've never felt judged or treated differently after people found out. But, in truth, I had been holding back from this coworker because he's older and Persian and I had heard that they were more conservative than American Baha'is. I didn't even tell him I was studying until I had declared. But he surprised me. He reacted with the same love and support and faith as my young progressive Baha'i friends.
Now would he support gay marriage on a ballot? I don't know. But what I do know is that he is committed to his faith, while at the same time being open to learning from the experiences of others and adjusting his perspectives as new information comes along. He is why I have faith that the Baha'i community will eventually find its way through this issue.
Unlike a lot of religious communities, Baha'is are very much engaged in the non-Baha'i world around them. And that constant interaction with different ideas and perspectives and worldviews helps us to refine our own, to know the limits of what we know for sure. Often this ends up forcing us to narrow the scope of what we know for sure and embrace the constantly shifting shades of gray built into human experience. Admittedly I live in a very gay city, no.1 by percentage of the population last time I checked. So my experience is by no means universal or even typical among Baha'i communities. It probably won't be for a while still. But it shows things are getting better. Being exposed to happy, healthy, religious, productive members of society who happen to also be GLBT helps. It doesn't eliminate the controversy or even change minds necessarily. But by keeping the issue in front of people our presence in the community keeps the conversation open. And that's the most important thing. People can only endure cognitive dissonance for so long when they are constantly reminded of it.
That's why it's so important for us to not only be out, but to stay engaged with our spiritual communities if at all possible. Yes, it means enduring injustice. Yes, it means sacrifice. But how much injustice did Tahirih endure asserting the equality of women? How much did she sacrifice in her jihad for the progress of her people and the possibilities of future generations after her?
I'm not saying we should keep allowing people to hurt us. Lord knows how many of us have been scarred on our souls by the "good intentions" of religious people, even Baha'is. I still have family that won't talk to me since I was excommunicated from the Jehovah's Witnesses. But we can't let that poison us, poison our relationship with God, poison our relationship with our communities. Ultimately that just hurts us and allows ignorance and injustice to persist that much longer.
Know your limits. But do what you can. Don't give up. There's yet hope
So this is my story. And I write because, having read a bunch of discussions online about the issue of homosexuality in the Bahá’í Faith, I feel that it focuses too much on the sexual aspect of it. So I thought I’d share my journey, and try to raise some other aspects that I find relevant to the debate, from a gay bahá’í’s perspective. I apologize in advance for not being able to quote scripture at this moment. Having been distant from the Faith for the past 15 years, and having moved around so much, I don’t currently have my bahá’í books with me, and I found it hard to find the passages that I might want to quote online. If I do mention any passages though, it will only be to illustrate what my thought process was based on, and where I was coming from, and not to present an argument of any type. I also apologize for the long text, and if I get lost or carried away at some points. This is a very complex matter, and there is a lot I would like to say, but will probably not find the best way to express myself, or say all that I mean to. I also do not presume to assume that this is every homosexual’s experience or point of view. It is just my personal journey.
I am a fourth generation Bahá’í. My great-grandfather and grandfather were both pioneers in Brazil, and very devoted to the Faith. My parents raised me according to bahá’í standards and principles, but it was never assumed that I would be a bahá’í myself. That choice was left to me, and I had the freedom to make it. I say this because, even though I was born into a bahá’í family, it was my choice to actually become a bahá’í. A choice I made because I believe in it. I believe in Bahá’u’llah’s Revelation. I believe in the principles and teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. I believe that they are the way through which we will be able to build a new world.
So I had the average childhood/teen years that every bahá’í child/teen can expect. I was very active. Participated in various local and national committees, every summer or winter school, conference, congress, teaching campaign… I tried my best to be a better person every day. Tried to focus on the good in people, abstain from backbiting and gossip, stay away from alcohol and other drugs, refrain from engaging in “lewd behavior”. Tried not to judge anyone and understand where they were coming from. Tried not to impose my points of view and beliefs to others, but to listen with interest and try to learn from their experiences. I tried to do good, and help people anytime the opportunity presented itself. This is how I was raised, and the person I strived to become, and still do.
Of course I had lots of friends. Male and female. But the way I felt about some of the girls that I met was different. At this point there was no sexual component to this feeling. I just wanted to be best friends with them. Get closer to them. Get to know them better. Build a relationship with them that would be different from the others that I had. I felt a deeper connection to girls. I loved my guy friends as well, but I never felt for a guy, what I felt for so many girls I met. I did not know then that I was gay. And I did not associate this feeling with anything physical at this point yet.
As I approached my 20s, it started dawning on me that maybe my lack of interest in deeper relationships with boys, and the excessive interest I had in girls could mean that I was gay. It was a shocking realization, and a difficult one to deal with. My first impulse was to just ignore this tiny detail of myself, and keep on with my life trying to conform to the accepted standard. The ONLY reason I had for that was the view of the Faith on the matter. I never thought gay people I met were lesser in any way, or less deserving of God’s or my love. I never thought what you decide to do with your life, as long as you do not harm others, should be anybody’s business, and much less mine.
As time went by, though, I was nowhere closer to winning this struggle. Never having been interested in boys, I had never been in a relationship. And I wanted one. Needed one. Not a sexual relationship. But a romantic one. I was NOT interested in having sex with girls, or anyone else for that matter, but I wanted to be in a relationship that was more than a friendship. I wanted romance, companionship, complicity… I wanted to love and feel loved. I wanted to build something with someone. And I could not, for the life of me, connect on that level to guys.
I had to do something. But how do I reconcile this part of me with being a bahá’í? I told myself that nobody’s perfect. I remembered a passage (and this is the reason for my earlier apology) in which ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (I think) said that in order for someone to become a perfect bahá’í, all one needs to do is live by the teachings of one of the Hidden Words. And there are no perfect bahá’ís. There are no perfect bahá’ís. There are no perfect men. What this passage told me was that instead of concentrating on trying to be perfect in everything, I could just try to be perfect in one thing. I could continue to try to be a better person in every aspect of my life, and try to do good, and accept that I am flawed in many other aspects. My sexuality being one of them. I also thought of how other aspects of my spiritual and human development seemed more important in the scriptures. How there is only this one tiny passage in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas that might be related to sexual orientation, and how the massive majority of the Sacred Writings focus on other ways to perfect oneself, and get closer to God. That was my reasoning then. Or something in those lines. Of course it was much more complex and nerve-wrecking than that.
I started dating women. I started having relationships with women. Not sexual relationships, mind you, but those romantic ones I was craving. And I found myself. That was it. I finally understood what all the talks about marriage and relationships I had attended to in bahá’í events were all about. What all those romantic comedies I liked so much were all about. What it meant to love someone.
It still took me a very long time to actually have sex with someone. You see… I was already being bad for getting involved with women. I figured I should try to stray the least possible from the Teachings, so I wasn’t really sure at that point how I would handle the issue of sex. I started distancing myself from the community and my bahá’í friends. I can’t lie. And I didn’t feel comfortable hiding such a big part of who I was to people that meant so much to me. But I didn’t feel comfortable revealing it either. Stepping back felt like the only choice I had. I became a closeted gay when the bahá’ís were concerned, and a closeted bahá’í when the rest of the world was concerned. I didn’t want to “bring the name of the Faith into disrepute”. I would only talk about it when asked, and make it clear what the reasons were for my estrangement from the Faith.
I finally reached a decision on the matter of sex. I couldn’t very well get married, so I would never be able to have sex in a lawful way. But I didn’t and still don’t want to deprive myself of the opportunity of building a relationship with someone. And sex is part of that. So I decided that only when in a long-term, committed relationship with someone that I would consider marrying (if it were possible) and building a family with, would I finally have sex.
That is the very short version of my story, but what I would really like to point out, and what I tried to convey, is that yes: sexual orientation has to do with physical attraction and sex, but that is only part of it. Like sex is only part of any relationship. And not even the most important part. Not the lasting part. Everything I learned in all those talks about marriage and love is that a good marriage is built on friendship, companionship, support, understanding, love… Sex sure is a component. But the rest is so much more important. And what we are being robbed of, by being denied the right to marry someone of the same sex that we love, is the opportunity and possibility to experience all those things.
I am not promiscuous. I do not engage in perverted sex practices. Homosexuality does not equal promiscuity! Not more than heterosexuality does. What I want is not a license to practice all sorts of perversions with whoever is available. I want to be allowed to be in a loving, monogamous relationship with someone that I actually love! And I have never loved a man. The only reason I might engage in extra-marital relations, is that I don’t have the option to be in a marital relation! But I am, nevertheless monogamous and faithful to my partner, when involved with anyone. Is that really immoral? To be in a loving monogamous relationship? Was it not considered immoral in the past for women not wear a veil? Or for people of different skin colors to engage in such a relationship? Is it still not considered immoral in some places, for people of different social classes to marry each other? Is that right?
Neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá speak clearly of this issue. Bahá’u’lláh clearly states that we are to wash our feet every day during summer, and that the use of opium is forbidden. There are so many writings about the elimination of prejudice and judgment. About the harmony of religion and science. About loving and accepting all peoples, regardless of gender, race, nationality, religion… About so many other much more important topics. But just one passage in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas that was interpreted as referring also to homosexuals, in letters written on behalf of the Guardian, to individual believers… Is it too far a stretch to conceive that maybe, the Guardian was guiding the believers then, according to what was the generally accepted scientific belief that homosexuality was a disease, but didn’t intend to make such a big issue out of it since he never penned those letters himself, and never addressed the institutions when dealing with those topics? There are excellent posts about this and discussions about this in a number of blogs and forums, so I will not go deeper into this, but a couple of links that might be useful are http://justabahai.wordpress.com and http://bahairants.com. None of the people involved in this debate question the authority of the Guardian. But I think there just might be enough well informed and designed arguments to cast reasonable doubt as to what the real position of the Faith is with regards to homosexuality. Seems to me that it may very well be up to the UHJ to legislate on the matter.
In case this ruling really never changes, it is still no one’s right to judge how others live their private lives, as long as they aren’t doing harm. For those actions we are not accountable to anyone but God. IF, in the end, homosexuality really is a handicap that I have failed to overcome (and I do not subscribe to that theory), then it is only for God to judge me.
Thank you so much for this site, it makes me feel less alone. I thought I was the only LGBTQ Baha'i in the world until I found this site! I wish we could have a gathering, but I suppose by definition it wouldn't be Baha'i and we would probably all be stripped of our administrative rights, at least those who haven't lost them already...
I'm a lesbian Baha'i in my mid-thirties, although I have only come out to a very, very few people. I often prefer the label 'bisexual', if I have to have a label at all, because I've never been in a same-sex relationship, only a straight marriage (which I'm still technically in, although separated) so it feels as if I'm somehow cheating to call myself a lesbian. But the desire, the longing, to be with a woman is definitely there. I used to go on gay pride marches even before I knew I had gay feelings. Many, many of my close friends throughout my life have been gay or lesbian: it's as if I'm somehow drawn to 'people like me' without knowing it. When I was at university, I used to watch films and just focus on the women and how beautiful they were. I might have dared to go to a lesbian club night or join an LGBsoc if I hadn't been Baha'i. I even tried to make a move on my best friend when I was 21, I loved her deeply but she rejected me and that hurt so much that I ran far, far away, away to a different continent where nobody even thinks or talks about homosexuality. I didn't think or talk about it either, for more than ten years, Ibut instead I got into a string of abusive relationships with men. Then last year I read a novel with a lesbian theme that made me think, "Yes! That's me." A lot of the time I am still trying to deny it, fight it, shove it back into the box and put the lid on tight. Often I try rejecting the label Baha'i instead, but I have a hard time with that as well.
I couldn't work it out, I still can't. How can a religion that cliams to be in harmony with science deny what scientists in every discipline, from psychology to evolutionary biology to zoology to anthropology are saying, that there are individuals in many species (not just humans) who are created with a homosexual orientation and that is all there is to it? If there had been more Guardians, would the Faith have moved on with the changing times instead of staying stuck in 1950s understandings of what is 'against nature' and what is perverted? Could it be because the Baha'i faith arose in a Muslim country where homosexuality is seen as an abomination (even thouogh many other Muslim customs and traditions have been revoked)? Or is it true that I am just 'all wrong', that the Creator (I don't like the word God either, or all the male-dominated language in Baha'i writings) somehow made a mistake when S/He was creating me? Is homosexuality really a mental illness, like depression, which is natural but still undesirable, as Justice St Rain (obviously struggling with the issue himself) tries to argue in 'Falling Into Grace'? If so, why hasn't someone found a 'cure' yet?
I felt as if I was banging my head against a brick wall, then I found a spiritual counsellor who told me it was OK to think about it, talk about it, explore my feelings. She introduced me to Goddess spirituality, to Wicca, to feminist spirituality, to the idea that it was OK for me to 'be who I am' and that maybe it is not me that is 'all wrong' but the homophobics. That all that matters is the authentic encounter with the Divine Essence, which is pure Love and pure light and pure acceptance and pure compassion, regardless of how organised religion has interpreted it. I started to unwind a little, to realise that instead of trying to make a hole in the wall with my head I could just go in at the gate. I actually felt connected to Spirit for the first time in five years. I was praying, deeply, authentically, from the heart, getting close to ecstatic trance through meditation and discovering all kinds of insights and serendipity in my daily life. It was all going so well until the day I had planned to go to a festival of LGBTQ spirituality and ended up cancelling it and going to a Baha'i friend's funeral instead. It all came flooding back with a vengeance: the guilt, the feeling of not belonging, the fear of being outed, the urge to out myself and just see what would happen, the feeling that I had let the guy down by not being a proper Baha'i, even the totally irrational and ridiculous fear that it was somehow my fault and that a vindictive 'God' was trying to get back at me for daring to think about coming out in public. 'Oh, she's getting away, quick, catch her!'
Well, today I just read a beautiful book 'Coming Out Spiritually' by Christian de la Huerta (another one of my counsellor's recommendations) and it was so healing. It talks about LGBTQ people as, historically Iin pre-patriarchal times) healers, teachers, shamans, priiests and priestesses, mediators between words, agents of social change, 'sacred clowns' who introduce fun and creativity into life, artists, poets, musicians, dreamers and creators of new realities. It was the first time I had seen a POSITIVE, not a neutral, vision of LGBTQ spirituality. De la Huerta talks in very personal, candid terms about the challenges of speaking to the United Religions (generally united against homosexuality?) about having a loving, welcoming, inclusive attitude towards gay and trans people. But he also talks in a very inspiring and uplifting way about how to make sexuality sacred, and about the power that LGBTQ people have to change the world, precisely because of the pain we have been through and the fact that we see things from different perspectives at once and we are not bound by gender roles in the same way as conventional 'masculine' men and 'feminine' women. I never knew so many famous people were gay or lesbian. Wow! For a long time I have felt called to be a healer, an artist, a teacher and a poet. But I never connected any of that with being a lesbian. He also talks about the fact that gay people often have a deep connection to Nature because we have been hurt by human society and we want something that we can trust in and rely on. Agan, spot on for me. Perhaps the book might help others who have been left hurt and bleeding emotionally, either because of the ignorant prejudices of Baha'i community members or the uncompromising attitude of the Writings, or both??
I want to thank you all for your stories. Even though none of you have come up with answers, because they don't exist, it's deeply reassuring to know that you're all asking yourselves the same questions.
(not my real name, but it's one that resonates for me)