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Before yesterdayChoosing To Be Authentic

Coming Out Of The Closet

16 October 2017 at 08:03

National Coming Out Day

National Coming Out DayLast week was the national β€œComing Out Day” here in the U.S. Who would have ever thought that we would have a day dedicated to celebrating the courage it takes to go through the process of coming out.

All of the stories that have flooded my social media has caused me to think through the painful process of my own coming out. It was such a painful, slow and terrifying thing to experience.

Every time I see a β€œcoming out” video I get emotional. It reminds me of my own story. I remember that scared little boy who was terrified to be himself for so many years. But they are mostly positive emotions. I am encouraged to see the love that so many families have for their sons and daughters.

I was fortunate to have a loving family that told me they loved me no matter what, and wrapped their arms around me while I cried. It’s a very vulnerable experience.

I’m also reminded that coming out is not a one time process. It feels more like a life long process. It does get easier, but I am continually having to tell new friends, co-workers, and strangers who assume things about my sexual identity.

Love Is More Powerful Than Fear

I also hope to keep in mind the struggle that still exists for many LGBTQ people. There is still a lack of love in our world. There are still those that want to keep people hidden in the closet of fear. There are still unaccepting mothers, fathers, churches, schools, siblings, friends….

It is for these people that I believe a Coming Out Day is so important. To show the world that being who you are is important. That living in fear is a painful way to live. To create a world where people can have the courage to be themselves.

In many ways this coming out day is a thank you to all of the allies I have in my own life, and to all of the other LGBTQIA people in the world. Thank you to all of the people who show the world how powerful it can be to accept another person for who they are.

Fear can be powerful. Fear can be destructive. But I have experienced that love is more powerful than fear!

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National Coming Out Day

What Is Shame?

23 September 2017 at 12:09

The Lies That Shame Tells

What is shame

Shame is such a powerful feeling. It tells me many things about myself that aren’t true. Recently I have been coming to realize how deep these messages can live within my own thoughts and soul.

I have struggled with chronic shame. I have mentioned shame in my life before, but I am just beginning to realize that shame has been the lens through which I have viewed so much of my life!

That is a sobering realization. I can even sense the shame creeping up as I admit this truth to myself. β€œShame feels weak.” β€œI shouldn’t admit my shame.” These are some of the messages and lies that shame plants in my mind.

One of the problems of living with shame is that I let everyone else around me define who I am. I am so worried about how others will perceive me because shame tells me that other peoples opinions matter more than my own opinion of myself.

Shame Tells Me I Am Broken

The messages of shame can be subtle and unnoticed. It is that little voice that tells me I am not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not successful enough. I’m broken. I’ll never be good enough.

Shame kept me hidden in the closet of heterosexuality for 27 years of my life. It was this fear that terrified me from admitting to myself and to other people that my sexuality seemed different from many of my friends and family.

My faith community reinforced my shame by telling me my sexuality was broken. I heard the message that my sexuality made me utterly sinful and unlovable. I was less valuable than the straight men and women around me, so I needed to hide or I needed to change.

I Hid My Shame By Seeking Approval

I tried desperately to earn my value due to my shame. In order to hide my shame I became the people pleaser. I was β€œthe nicest guy” you would ever meet. I attempted to appear perfect. I wanted to prove to other people that I was valuable, but I was also trying to convince myself that I was valuable.

Shame leaves you feeling like you will never be enough.

And this is the chronic problem of shame. I am never good enough. I am always too broken. It doesn’t matter how many degrees I can achieve, how successful I am, or how good of a person I may appear to others. Shame always tells me I’m still not good enough.

I Am Perfectly Imperfect

On a daily basis I have to remind myself that my value does not depend on my performance. My self worth does not depend on other people’s opinions. My intrinsic value does not come from other people.

As Kristin Neff has stated, β€œI am perfectly imperfect.” I am human just like everyone else. I have my own flaws and weaknesses and that is a good thing because it makes me human.

As I become more aware of these beliefs deep within my life I have to choose to speak against them. Comparison is one of shame’s favorite tricks. I compare myself to everyone else and realize where I am falling short.

I am beginning to own the truth that I am imperfect, and it is a much a better way to live. I am not broken, I am good enough just as I am. And my value comes from being human just like everyone else.

Today I will remind myself that I am perfectly imperfect.

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Shame Woman

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What is shame

Dear Church, I Forgive You

25 July 2017 at 10:40

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What Does It Mean To Forgive?

FreedomAs a therapist I often talk with people about the need for forgiveness. I have seen how powerful it can be to release resentment and anger that someone has held onto. Recently I had to admit to myself that I needed forgiveness in my own life.

It has been at least 3 years since I have attended a church. That was a big life change for someone like myself who had built their life and identity around their faith. Over the last several years I have told myself that I just drifted away from the church community, but I think the more honest answer is that I was very hurt by the Christian community and I just couldn’t bring myself to be in that place anymore.

As I even begin to think about offering forgiveness I can feel the tension in my stomach. Offering forgiveness to a community that doesn’t recognize the pain they have caused many people feels wrong.

Forgiveness Is About Me, Not About You

I have to remind myself that forgiveness is not about the other person or people, it is about myself. I no longer want to hold onto the resentment that is hidden under the surface. I choose forgiveness because I want to move forward with my own life.

Why does forgiving others feel so difficult, and can I forgive someone that hasn’t asked for forgiveness? I believe the answer is yes, but perhaps only time will tell.

It seems kind of ironic that I am writing about forgiving Christians. My Christian faith often preached about forgiveness. I was taught that forgiveness was something I needed to receive from God, but I was rarely taught to offer that forgiveness to others.

There are too many LGBTQ men and women who have been damaged by their faith, and I believe it is one of the reasons that religion and the gay community seem to be at war so often.

Rather than let myself be consumed by the anger that is fueled by that pain, I will choose to release it. I choose not to let others steal my own joy in life. I choose not to let anger and bitterness control the way I feel.

So today I simply need to say Dear Church, I forgive you.

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Freedom

Does Jesus Really Love Me? A Book Review

11 June 2017 at 11:23

A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage

books-441866_1920Have you ever read a book that you really enjoyed, and at the same time had to force yourself to read it? In many ways that sums up my experience of reading Jeff Chu’s book β€œDoes Jesus Really Love Me? A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America.”

I recently finished reading the first book on my summer reading list. So much of Jeff’s book struck a cord with my own story that at times I loved reading it, and at times I struggled to pick it up.

Jeff spent a year traveling the U.S. visiting churches, pastors, and LGBT men and women of faith to try and understand the American church’s current debate on faith and sexuality. As Jeff says in his book, that is a tough thing to try and understand.

The Diversity of Faith and Sexuality

One of the interesting aspects of Jeff’s journey is the diversity that exists among Christianity in America. He describes stories of β€œGay Churches” that tend to attract a mostly LGBT congregation, as well as ministries that attempt to change a person’s sexual orientation. Both of these groups of people use the Bible as their guiding principle for why they believe what they believe about sexuality and relationships.

How is it that Christianity has such different understandings?

Growing up in the evangelical community, I was often taught that there was one truth that the Bible taught. If someone disagreed with you it was because they were probably misinterpreting scripture.

I was taught that anyone that supported a pro-gay theology was clearly trying to twist scripture. I was so fearful of this type of theology that I had never even picked up a book written by an affirming theologian until I entered graduate school.

This type of fear based theology is so damaging. As people we should be taught to think critically. We should be encouraged to hear different viewpoints without degrading and shaming the people with whom we disagree. This was something I have rarely seen within the ranks of evangelicalism.

Sexuality Is Not Shameful

Something that stuck out to me as I read this book, was the underlying theme of shame and the desire for acceptance. So many of the stories surrounded people’s desire to be accepted.

Some people’s desire for acceptance has led them to try and alter themselves. That is a story that I know all to well, and have found it to be a very lonely journey. Other’s journey’s for acceptance led them to start their own faith communities where they could worship in a place where they felt they could truly be themselves.

The church clearly has done a poor job of helping people understand sexuality. Its message has too often been one of shame and vagueness. It is taboo to talk about sex in church, and anything outside the traditional understanding is viewed as sinful and immoral.

Perhaps it is time for the church to begin redeeming people’s sexuality. To have honest discussions with the people it serves about the role of sexuality in people’s lives.

At the very least it is time for the church to stop shaming people based on their sexuality. It is not a message that has any redeeming quality. If you would like a good read that will give you lots of different perspectives about the Christian church and the LGBT community I would highly recommend Jeff Chu’s book.

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Why I Left The Ex-Gay Movement

26 April 2017 at 08:35

I Was Taught To Be Ashamed Of My Sexuality

For many years I desired and tried to change my sexual orientation. I was ashamed of my attractions and I was told that if I worked hard enough I could change my sexuality. So I spent the first 27 years of my life working as hard as possible to try and make this happen.

Shame is something I had learned. It seemed clear to me even as a young kid that my attractions were not something I was supposed to talk about. I was surrounded by the evangelical Christian community as a teenager which endorsed the idea that there was something wrong with my sexuality, that my attractions were a result of my childhood experiences, and that I needed to change.

With these messages filling my head I wanted the change that so many people promised me was possible. The whole experience of trying to change my sexuality only seemed to add to my shame.

My Experience With Ex-Gay Ministry

I joined an ex-gay support group at a local church where the secrecy and approach to helping people with my β€œsame sex attractions” only added to my sense of shame.Β We met in a small room upstairs so that no one would know what we were talking about. We were instructed that members of the group were not allowed to talk to one another outside of the group. We were not to exchange phone numbers, and we were not to talk to one another in the parking lot after the group ended.

I was told that these strict rules were in place so that members of the group would not engage in inappropriate relationships with each other. We were not to communicate with each other in any way outside of our structured group meetings.

The message I received was that there was something so wrong with people like me that we weren’t even supposed to communicate with each other because we were bound to do something β€œinappropriate.”

This summarized my experience of attempting to become an ex-gay. While there may not have been a direct message of hate, I was being taught that there was something broken and very shameful about who I was. I wasn’t supposed to talk about it, and I was supposed to change it.

Losing Hope In The Ex-Gay Promises

The reason I finally broke ties with the idea of becoming an ex-gay is because I was given promises that I began to realize were really false hope.

I read stories of men and women who had changed their sexual attractions. While I read a couple of these stories I had never met one single person who had experienced this type of change. After all the years of attending support groups, and attending ex-gay conferences I never met someone who could honestly say they had changed their orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

There were stories of people who had married people of the opposite sex, and people who left unhealthy lifestyles such as prostitution, but I don’t recall one person ever stating they had actually managed to change their attractions or orientation. To this day I’m not sure I know anyone that claims to have made this change.

I began to be disillusioned with false hope. I lost hope that I really could change, and that I could achieve the idea of being married to a woman and raising kids. It has taken me some time to realize this was a cultural pressure that I felt obligated to fulfill.

I felt like it was all smoke and mirrors. No one seemed to be able to achieve this goal, and so many people around me seemed unhappy with their inability to accept their sexual attractions. It was time for me to let go of my unhappiness and my shame.

Letting My Faith and My Sexuality Co-Exist

Perhaps the biggest obstacle I had to overcome was my struggle between my evangelical faith and my sexuality. It has taken me many years to come to terms with my faith and my sexuality. I had to let go of a lot of bad theology, and allow myself to think outside the box that so many people wanted to keep me locked inside.

I now realize why so many men and women have left their faith. When I was a devoted young Christian I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that some people could just walk away from their faith. The church made it seem like these types of people were weak, or simply lacked faith. I now realize many of these people were tired of living under oppression and wanted to live with freedom

As I allowed myself to be who I was, I was told at times that I couldn’t be a part of the evangelical community. I was told by fellow students that I shouldn’t attend an evangelical seminary. The church often made it clear that I needed to find another place if I wanted to be able to be involved in any way.

I have begun to realize that much of the ex-gay movement was simply focused on one thing: my β€œsame sex attractions.” I was taught that my sexuality was a separate part of my identity, as though it was something I could dissect like a biology project, and change this one undesirable thing about myself.Β Regardless of the gifts or good things I may have had to offer, this one aspect of my life disqualified me from the faith community. I think that could be the definition of spiritual abuse.

Life After Being An Ex-Gay

I can’t pretend that it was an easy or quick decision to move beyond the idea that I could, or that I needed to change my sexuality. It has been a process that I am still working out. I have to continually choose things that bring me peace and honor my life as a human, and my faith.

It has been a difficult but life-changing process of learning to like myself. Learning that I don’t have to change who I am to be acceptable. Realizing that my sexuality is not broken, or something that needs to be fixed. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges of life is learning to be content with who I am what I have been given.

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Freedom

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Is There A Gay Agenda?

8 March 2017 at 12:29

The Gay Agenda

I often hear people use the phrase β€œthe gay agenda.” Every time I hear it I wonder what is on that agenda? As a gay man I feel a little left out that no one has e-mailed me this agenda yet so that I can get on board!

Yes, I understand what many people mean when they use this phrase. It has a very vague meaning, so we are left to interpret it however we want. What is often behind this phrase is the subtle idea that gay people want to push their opinions and relationships into everyone else’s business. So I guess I would have to agree, there is an agenda.

At the top of this agenda is having LGBTQ people treated with the same respect and privilege as our heterosexual friends and family members.

Beauty And The Beast Controversy

The latest in the gay agenda debate has been Disney’s inclusion of a gay character in the remaking of Beauty and the Beast. It seems that the producers are pretty open about their agenda by including this character and these scenes.

As conservative Christians are showing their outrage over this move by Disney, I think what they are really doing is showing their prejudice. Some have suggested boycotting the movie to show their disapproval.

Essentially what these people are communicating is that LGBT people should be hidden from society because they are less valuable than heterosexual people.

It is a subtle message of shame. Be ashamed of your sexuality and don’t let anyone see it in public, especially not in an animated movie.

Subtle Messages Of Shame

This is how young gay, lesbian, and Trans men and women learn to become ashamed of themselves. They are told that people like them shouldn’t be allowed in movies, or be visible in our society.

Some people argue that showing these types of images to young kids will confuse them. What about the young LGBT kids that are watching you shame people like them? Isn’t this a contradicting message? Are LGBT kids not as valuable as heterosexual kids?

Supporting The Gay Agenda

I have come to realize that yes I do support the β€œgay agenda.” The agenda to make LGBTQ people visible, and told that they are just as valuable as their straight, cis gender friends and family. I support the agenda that says you have the right to exist in our community, and to be seen.

To the young gay, lesbian, and transgender kids out there I hope they will hear a louder message that says be authentic about who you are! There will always be people in our society that don’t want to share the privileges they enjoy.

Conservative Christianity

To my conservative Christians friends and family I would ask that you consider the harmful messages you may not realize you are inflicting on people. If you disagree with the idea of two people of the same gender finding love and happiness, I won’t ask you to watch Disney movies. I’ll only ask that you try to spread a message of acceptance and unity, rather than a message of division and shame.

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Letting Go Of My Shame

2 March 2017 at 08:39

Shame and Sexuality

I haven’t written a word in several months. There is a part of me that just couldn’t bring myself to write. I wondered if I had lost interest, or I was getting too busy to write. I think the reality is that I was burnt out. For 4 years I was consumed by my desire to figure out my theology and my sexuality. I threw myself into studying and writing. I read every book, research paper, and blog I could find. I now wonder what was I searching for?

What was I hoping I would find in all of this?

I think that I was searching for an answer to my shame.

I engaged in debates with friends and strangers. I got fired up every time the latest news article would come out about people in the LGBTQ community. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was trying to push back from the shame I had lived under for most of my life.

Through the process of the last several years I have come to realize the theology of shame that I was taught about my sexuality. I was backed into a corner and felt that my choice was to submit to the authority of the evangelical roots and community I was surrounded by, or stand up and fight. I chose to fight.

Letting My Shame Go

I don’t regret all of the work that I did over those years. It began a transformation in my life that I would not take back. I realized that so much of my life and faith was driven by my fear. My fear of what God, my family, and my friends thought about me. This was the power that I allowed my shame to have.

After a while I became exhausted with the fight. I was exhausted by feeling like I had to defend my own humanity. That I had look over my shoulder to make sure that being myself didn’t get me kicked out of school, my church, or my social circle. It was this exhaustion that has kept me from stepping foot inside a church for the last 3 years.

As I was letting go of my shame I didn’t have to energy to defend my self worth anymore. I asked myself why I would surround myself with a community that seems so opposed to my existence. My life was directed by all sorts of contingencies. I was told that I could be a student and be gay…as long as I didn’t act on those feelings. I was told that I could be a Christian and be gay…as long as I was celibate and forced to live as a single man.

I was rarely told that I was loved and accepted exactly for the person that I was.

God and Christianity seemed to have a lot of contingencies in order for me to be acceptable. I needed to change if I wanted to be included.

The Gay Christian Debate

I don’t know that the debate about sexuality and Christianity will ever find a resolution. It appears that the tides are shifting at the moment, and I believe they are moving in a good direction. However there will always be people in our world who are more concerned about a few words written in a book, than caring for the souls of fellow human beings.

I do believe that as people we still need to stand up and fight. We need to push back against injustice. We should strive towards a society and a world that allows people to live in the freedom of being authentic.

I will continue to pursue my understanding of faith, and sexuality, but I will do it with the freedom of knowing that I am okay with who I am regardless of the answers I find.

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Today I Choose Courage Over Fear

13 November 2016 at 11:31

It took me 27 years to admit to myself that I was gay. When I first came to accept my sexual identity, I couldn’t even use that word…”gay.” I feared using that word because it represented so many things that I thought would destroy me.

As a kid I was not picked on much. I wasn’t targeted for bullying. In high school it probably helped that I was 6 feet tall, but I didn’t endure any real direct bullying. Yet somehow I still learned to be afraid of my sexuality.

I learned this fear from a combination of things I heard on the playground, jokes I heard about gay people, things I saw on television, and messages I received at church. Our brains have an amazing ability to take in subtle messages from the world around us that shape the people we become.

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Photo Courtesy of Andrew Hafnor

Fear has a strong effect on us as people. It influences the things that we do, and the things that we don’t do. It shapes our self image, and our sense of what and who is safe in the world.

As an adult I am often unaware of the ways that fear has conditioned me to respond to the world. Every time I drive down the highway my heart races when I see a police officer sitting on the side of the road. Impulsively I step on my breaks even if I’m not speeding. My fear of getting a ticket causes a reaction that I don’t even notice.

It has taken me many years to realize I don’t have to live as a victim of my fear. It has taken me a lot of time and healing to realize that I can stand up and have a voice that speaks out against the things that cause fear in our world.

Today I will choose to be bold. Today I will choose courage over my fear. I will stand up to the bullies in our world, wether they are in the hallways at school or in a political office. I choose to live in a society that does not gloss over statements that demean women. I will not allow β€œlocker room talk” to be an excuse to exercise fear.

I will not allow my fear to have the drivers seat in my life anymore.

Let us be bold. Let us be courageous and fight the fear that others want to use to control us. I will choose to be authentic about myself, even if that means I have to admit that I am gay, that I am scared, that I am angry, that I am far from perfect. I will not let fear run my life.

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LGBT People Are Forced To Fight For Their Dignity

3 November 2016 at 10:55

Well I did it. I engaged in a Facebook debate. It’s not something I would normally allow myself to do. For starters I’m not the type of person that enjoys debating. Secondly I believe that the online world is not a great place to have a debate because all we can see is the words people have typed and it becomes easy to attack or dehumanize a topic.

I was surfing Facebook and an article popped up that caught my attention. Β The article stated that a well known Christian author Jen Hatmaker announced that she supported gay marriage and her publisher was discontinuing her book contract as a result.

I don’t know why I even bothered to read some of the comments. I know from experience there was probably going to be some cruel things said in support of the publishers decision. But I took the bait.

I ran across a comment from an old friend that just sent me through the roof. His comment was that all LGBTQ people are equivalent to a man cheating on his spouse and that we are all in need of repentance and healing.

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Ok, thanks I’ve heard it all before. I’ve sat through many sermons that have stated similar things. I spent 4 years in an evangelical seminary where that same theology was taught by many professors. So I couldn’t figure out why this persons words stuck with me so much.

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After reflecting on it for a couple days I realized I was bothered because as an LGBTQ person I am forced to fight for my dignity. I am told that simply because of my sexual orientation I am in need of healing, and the idea that every single person in the LGBTQ community is thrown into the same boat as a person that is unfaithful to their spouse was unacceptable to me.

I had the choice not to comment. For many years I said nothing when I heard these toxic and divisive words said about me. I just couldn’t keep silent anymore. I had to speak up against the shaming, and the bullying that has been directed at LGBTQ people.

People of faith, and faith communities need to recognize the loss of dignity that takes place when they casually categorize a whole community of people as unfaithful sinners. There has to be a better response.Β We can not separate our theology from our humanity. If our theology takes away the dignity of another person or an entire community of people, there is something wrong with that theology.

This was a theology that I had accepted for many years myself. It was this type of thinking that taught me to be ashamed of myself and I tried desperately to change, only to realize it was not something that could or needed to be changed.Β I believe this type of theology needs to be re-evaluated and we need to consider the ways that our theology impacts people’s lives.

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Bullied By A Girl In Seminary

27 October 2016 at 10:31

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. . . people who are assigned female at birth, or AFAB) are often taught to associate their own self-esteem with their attractiveness . . .Β .

via Bullies and Brokeness β€” Sex, Bodies, Spirit

Recently I read this blog from a trans man that described his experience of bullying. It made me think about how I have experienced bullying in my own life.

I suppose I was fortunate that as a young boy I wasn’t often stereotyped as being gay. In fact I worked hard not to appear β€œtoo gay.” I was very conscious about how I walked, talked, and sat in a chair. God forbid that I might cross my legs when I sat down or sounded too feminine when I was talking. I was deathly afraid of being labeled one of those horrible words β€œfag” or β€œhomo.”

I can recall one of the first times I actually felt shamed for my sexuality. Oddly enough it took place when I was in my late 20’s and came from a fellow student while in graduate school at a seminary.

I was in a class studying the Bible of all things. I had been in seminary long enough to know that the topic of homosexuality was bound to come up in every class at least once. This time when the topic was brought up by our professor she actually approached the topic by trying to challenge some of the stereotypes that run rampid around the evangelical Christian community.

Our professor read an article from a gay Christian that described what LGBTQ meant. When the professor explained that the β€œQ” represented people who were either queer or questioning their sexuality, a student in the classroom burst out in laughter.

I was shocked to say the least. Then I felt my blood start to boil. My anger was fueled by the thought that someone’s pain, was laughable to another person. The thought that so many young boys and girls who are struggling to understand their sexuality are laughed at by people like my classmate.

It brought to life the realization that bullying is a real thing. If it can happen to an adult attending graduate school, I can only imagine the pain that some people have faced on school grounds as young kids or in their homes and churches.

As humans it seems that we struggle to accept people that don’t fit into our worldview. We are able to laugh at the struggle and pain of other people. Our culture and our religions often teach us to defend our tightly held views and beliefs rather than share our differences and eagerly seek to understand people that we disagree with.

There will always be bullies in our world, but I have found that choosing to be authentic about myself and my experience of being a human has been much more life giving than trying to fit into someone else’s box.

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