Evening and Mourning


Vigil in Orlando for the victims. Picture via heavy.com

I kissed a man on Saturday night.

The date was casual. We had met last summer and he was back in town to see friends and he asked me to join his group at Midsommerfest in Chicago for some beer and pickled herring. We talked, we laughed, we debated fan theories on Game of Thrones. We drank cheap beer and went out for Vietnamese food. Afterwards his friends went their separate ways and he had to go back to where he was staying. We ducked into the shadow of a car park and said good-bye.

He kissed me there, and I kissed him back. It was a good kiss. So was the second one.

There were some people walking past on the other side of the street. I’ve always been hyperaware of the affection I show to men in public, but Saturday night I wasn’t too concerned. I was in a gay-friendly area outside a gay-friendly street festival. No one said anything. Someone wolf-whistled. We said our last good-byes and I turned towards home.

And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day.

When I checked the news in the morning, I saw the hashtag first. #PrayforOrlando. I guessed right away there had been another mass shooting. Another in a long line of massacres that has marked 2016. I didn’t look for details right away. I showered, made a plate of eggs. Opened up my laptop to get some work done. Clicked on the news.

It was at a gay club. Someone had targeted a gay club. There were twenty people dead.

The planet continued to revolve on its axis, but it felt as if it had forgotten to take me along with it.

I think I wrote some stuff on Twitter. I can’t really even think of what I said. All I remember was when the number of dead jumped to fifty.

We all know the details now. Omar Mateen, a Muslim American on the terrorist watch list, had gone into Pulse Nightclub on a Latin-themed night during Pride weekend and gunned down forty-nine people who were drinking and dancing and enjoying their lives. He had declared allegiance to ISIS. The attack was clearly homophobic. The victims were predominantly LGBT and Latinx.

His father said he was angered by the sight of two men kissing.

I don’t think I can describe the fear I felt when I read that. LGBT people have long acclimated to the fact that a kiss, holding hands, a declaration of love, can bring violence on down upon ourselves at the hands of violent homophobes. Now we have a new fear; that a simple kiss can cost the lives of our LGBT siblings. People we have never known or met but are part of this community alongside us. Even if we are willing to risk harm on ourselves to live openly as we are, now we must balance the lives of the rest of our people.

The fear is like frozen snakes twisting through your stomach, crawling, slithering, opening the closet door with a flick of the tail and hissing admonishments to return and shut the door behind you.

For the first time in my life, I was afraid to go to Pride.

That first day was exhausting. Exhausting to type out the words on Twitter, the commands to not use this attack to incite violence on more innocent people. The gestures of solidarity and expressions of grief. Grief for the victims, grief for the families, trying not to make the tragedy about you when all you can think of is how afraid you are. Words, words, words on a screen. Rainbow avis and candlelit memes and exhaustion.

And with the exhaustion, anger and rage as what we all knew would inevitably happen happened. People telling us to side with them against the ‘Muslim threat.’ People policing our anger at a theology that so violently dehumanises us, telling us it’s not about Islam or religion and that we’re not allowed to claim otherwise. Pundits claiming it was not an attack on LGBT people, but on Americans. People asking where he got the gun. People calling for more gun control. People calling for more guns.

The bodies of our fallen siblings had not even grown cold and the frightened, angry, grieving LGBT community was regulated to second-class citizens in our own massacre.

Most of all by those Christian leaders who made pious statements of solidarity and mourning and shallow compassion when for years they had fought against us tooth and nail. Where our marriages and blood and military service and bathrooms had been their political fodder now our murder was a new opportunity. Politicians who shared the stage with pastors who called for our execution. Bloggers who previously referred to us as sexual perversions and told their readers to treat us with a gag reflex. Clergy who declared our marriages were the signs of the end of America. They all wanted us to see their tears and hear their platitudes in the face of homophobia that couldn’t be brushed under the pew.

And as it grew and grew and grew I had to speak. I couldn’t let it go unchallenged.

No. You don’t get to do this. You don’t get to mourn with us today.

You don’t get to talk about how our identities and relationships and
intimacy are immoral and rebellious and perverse on 11 June and then weep with us on 12 June. You don’t get to stand against every part of who we are with religious zeal and then stand with us when we are cut down by religious zeal. You don’t get to use our lives as a platform for your prejudices and then turn around and use our slaughter as a platform for your piety. You don’t get to claim that we can ‘stand together’ when it’s our rights, lives, and relationships you have attacked, not the other way around.

You don’t get to pretend to be grieved about our slaughter when you are completely unable to talk about it without referencing our ‘sinful lifestyle.’

The Russell Moores and Chelsen Vicaris, the Thabiti Anyabwiles and the Jen Hatmakers, the Karen Swallow Priors and the Albert Mohlers, the Landon Schotts and the Preston Sprinkles do not get to mourn with us today.

You will not weep with me today. You will not send prayers rooted in dehumanising and bigoted theology for me today. You will not make the violence we face on a constant basis about you today. I do not accept your prayers today. You are not welcome beside this community today.

I went to bed with my head filled with thoughts of cell phones ringing on a bloody dance floor, of a 22 year old man smiling in a Harry Potter uniform, of self-righteous comforts and unending rage.

And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

I lit a candle in Boystown on Monday. A friend in Florida lit one for me in Orlando. A relative in Northern Ireland lit one for me in Belfast, where my life was first touched by religious terrorism.

I talked to my mum on the phone. I told her I was going to Pride. She asked me not to. It’s not worth risking your life for, she said. I had always avoided telling my mother that I was going to Pride for fear of a lecture on sin. Now it’s so she doesn’t have to fear for my life.

More information about the terrorist trickled through the media. He was divorced. His wife claimed he was abusive. He had been to the club before, many times. He may have had profiles on gay dating apps. It was possible he was a self-loathing homophobe. I didn’t want to believe it. Self-loathing homophobia is something I personally understand. It would make Omar seem too human. Too real. Better to think of him as a monster than someone I could relate to, even in this wretched way.

I was still angry. Still grieving. Still frightened. But the day went on. I worked. I had a cider with friends. We debated fan theories about Game of Thrones. My date from Saturday texted me. We caught up. Flirted a bit.

I resolved that I will go to Pride. I will stand on the street and cheer as gaudy floats filled with men in speedos roll by. I will wear my t-shirt with the Romani wheel in rainbow colours. I will be proud.

I will be defiant.

I will promote my gay agenda, to live each moment as who I am, fully and unapologetically up until the moment someone decides to take my life into their hands.

I decided I would keep living.

And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

On the morning of the third day, I sat down to write.

The Good American: An Atheist’s Parable

There once was a Syrian man who was fleeing from Damascus to New York when he was attacked and beaten and left for dead.

The first American to walk past him was a Christian pastor on his way to preach to his congregation. He looked down at the man and said, “He does not dress like me, speak like me, or worship like me. If he wanted help, he should have assimilated.” And the Christian pastor went on his way.

The second American to walk past the Syrian man was a state governor. The governor said, “This man dresses, speaks, and worships like other people who have done terrible things. I am afraid for my safety.” And the state governor went on his way.

The third American who went by was an undocumented Mexican immigrant. He looked down at the Syrian man and immediately gave as much medical aid as he knew. Despite knowing he risked facing deportation, the undocumented immigrant dragged the Syrian man off the side of the road and took him to the hospital. When he learned that the Syrian man had no health insurance, he paid for the expenses out of his own pocket.

When asked why he would do such a thing for a Syrian, the Mexican immigrant replied “I too have been hungry and tired and have yearned to breathe free.”

So tell me. Which of the men who passed by demonstrated true American values to the Syrian who was attacked and left for dead?

The Christian, the Stunt, and the Book Deal: A Response to Timothy Kurek


It must have been quite a shock when Timothy Kurek came out of the closet.

Sorry. It must have been quite a shock when Timothy Kurek came out of the closet AGAIN.

See, Kurek had already come out of the closet once before. A year ago he had announced to his family, community, and congregation that he was gay. Since then he had lived life as an openly gay man, dating, going to gay spaces, experiencing gay nightlife, living openly as a member of one of Christian America’s most reviled minorities.

Until the moment when he came to everyone he knew and loved and came out again.

As straight all along.

Cue phone calls for the book deal.

Timothy Kurek’s book The Cross in the Closet details his year-in-the-life-of-a-fake-gay-man social experiment. Kurek, a virulently and violently anti-gay Evangelical, was so disgusted by his encounters by LGBT people that he desired to, in his own words, ‘fix them, straighten them out.’ Kurek decided to come out as gay for one year as a sort of ‘behind enemy lines’ endeavor in order to better understand the gay mind and lifestyle for himself. In his book, Kurek details the trials he encountered as a fake gay man. Coming out to his mother. Having to resist physically assaulting or vomiting on gay men who approached him in clubs. Feeling personally violated when someone called him and his softball team ‘faggots.’

After the year was up, Kurek shed his identity as a gay man, re-came out as straight, got a sweet book deal and speaking platform out of his experiment, and now goes to TED talks and conferences, describing his incredible epiphany that LGBT people are in fact human beings and some of them are even Christians, and detailing the journey in our footsteps that led him to (presumably) no longer want to physically assault us when we get near him.

There has been some positive feedback from the LGBT community. It’s understandable. The past decades have been wave after wave of nearly unendurable hatred and oppression from the Christian majority. When one of them, a Christian, even slightly indicates that LGBT people may possess the basic humanity that they enjoy without question, it’s natural to flock to that flicker of candlelight, that hope. After all, even a bowl of piss looks inviting when all that has been offered is arsenic.

But I am far from the only person, LGBT and otherwise, who cannot see Kurek’s social experiment as anything other than what it is: A problematic, patronising, predatory PR stunt. The issues in Kurek’s methodology are so numerous it is difficult to know where to start, but for the sake of brevity I’ve boiled it down to the four biggest issues.

  • His reduction of LGBT identity to a costume, a plaything, and a prop for his experiment is insulting and harmful. It reduces a basic part of LGBT humanity to something to be tried on for size. It turns the painful and often traumatic journey of LGBT people to a stunt. A selfish quest for empathy for those Kurek has hated and harmed all of his life. This appropriation of the unique trials of LGBT people does nothing to make us more visible, more human, and everything to turn us into a standing joke in Kurek’s ‘the straight man among the queers’ comedy routine. Kurek claims to have walked a mile in our shoes, never once acknowledging that our shoes belong to us in the first place.
  • Kurek’s putting on and taking off of a gay identity directly feeds into the homophobic and long-standing religious belief that LGBT people ‘choose our own lifestyle.’ Now that Kurek has demonstrated that anyone can ‘choose’ to be gay, can live as gay, can identify as gay, and become straight again in the flip of a switch, actual LGBT people are expected even more to comply with this false narrative. It matters not that Kurek was a fraud all along. He lived our ‘lifestyle,’ he played the part and now he’s straight and in godly standing again. Kurek’s privilege as a straight man allowed him to shed all the grief and pain that comes with a queer identity in a queerphobic society. He, and only he, has that ability.
  • He cashed in. Kurek got a book deal out of his PR stunt, speaking engagements, a platform, money. There was no cost to his allyship, only benefits to be reaped. And now he occupies a space in the LGBT community, bulldozing over the platform that rightfully belongs to LGBT people.
  • Kurek tells our story with the benefit of his straight privilege. Every time he laments how hard it was to live as a gay man (when he wasn’t lamenting how difficult it was to not physically attack us in clubs), he indicates that his words are more believable, more applicable, more empathetic, because he is straight. There are literally millions of stories from actual LGBT people about the coming out process, but Kurek’s stunt is beneficial only to those who would never listen or believe LGBT stories from LGBT people. He’s straight. So it must be true. This is erasure, this is heterosexism, this is dangerous.

Several days ago Kurek gave a TED talk about his year among the gays. I saw it last night, and when it was done I reacted on Twitter, with a lot of anger. It was so painful, so enraging to see yet another Christian preying on the LGBT community, coopting and profiting off us, occupying a place on the stage that so many LGBT people deserve and will never have. I poured out my rage, my anger, my grief.

Kurek’s response was a winky face and a ‘thanks for thinking of me!”

Allies are important. They lift up the oppressed and amplify their voices. They are there when comfort is needed, there to listen. They turn their own privilege into a platform for those without it. They do not benefit or profit from their allyship. They do not expect praise or reward for it. Sometimes they suffer the consequences inflicted by an oppressive world. Sometimes they pay a high price. Sometimes they die.

Allyship is kind, it is patient, it is selfless. It amplifies and defends. It does not boast, it does not profit. It does not sign book deals, it does not coopt platforms.

Kurek’s book is called The Cross in the Closet but he has never been in the closet. The white, straight, Christian man that is Timothy Kurek has never known the closet. He has never touched it. It is not a closet Kurek came out of, but a wardrobe. He walked into a magic wardrobe into a Narnian fantasy where he was crowned a queen and lived amongst the inhabitants. And then when it was enough for him, he walked out back into the mundane, shedding his crown with no ill effects. There is no closet here. Just a cross, just a game, just a fantasy. A fraud as a gay man, as an ally, as a compassionate human being.

Earlier today, Kurek wrote a passive-aggressive response on Facebook addressing myself and others whom he felt had unfairly attacked him. You can read it here, but the TLDR version is “I’m sorry you asshole haters are hating on me, it really hurts my feelings when I’m not praised for my social experiment by people who don’t know me, but I’m the better man because God wants me to love you and I do.”

It’s a concise summary of all the false victimisation that was at the heart of Kurek’s walk in LGBT shoes. In his second paragraph he coopts the language of the oppressed once again when he says:

It doesn’t feel good to be hated. It doesn’t feel good to have your life and your heart trashed by strangers that don’t even know you.

Kurek clearly can’t see the irony in the fact that the people he is complaining about know exactly what having one’s life and heart trashed by strangers is, far more than he ever will. There is no empathy from me. Not from someone who spent his entire childhood terrified of Christians.

The final paragraph is his proclamation of love to the asshole haters:

I know you hate me and I know you hate what I did….I want you to k

now that I love you, truly. Not only that but I believe that God loves you, just as you are…Once again I love you, and no words or beliefs you hold about me will ever change that.

To which purpose, the conclusion of this post is addressed in return directly to Timothy Kurek:

I don’t hate you. You aren’t worth the effort of my hatred. That belongs to many of your brothers and sisters in Christ. It belongs to those who terrorised my home in the midst of the Troubles, who murdered my neighbours and filled the gutters with blood. It belongs to those who harass and persecute my people. It belongs to those who strip my community of dignity and civil rights.

For you I reserve only a low contempt. Contempt for what you did, contempt for the profit and the platform you reaped from it, and contempt for the personal character that permits you to paint yourself as the victim in all of it. I will not hide that from you, nor the plethora of reasons that you have earned it.

But enough of these claims that you love me. You don’t.

You don’t love the Irish boy who screamed on a blasted-out street in Omagh seventeen Augusts ago. You don’t know him.

You don’t love the Romany Gypsy teenager who hide his ethnic identity from the Church and the community for fear of laughs and assault and ostracisation. You don’t know him.

You don’t love the young queer man who desperately, desperately pleaded to be straight, anything but this, anything but gay, because he couldn’t bear one more reason for Christians to hate him and hurt him. You don’t know him.

You don’t love me.

You love the idea of me.

You love the prostitute, the tax collector, the leper that I am in this American society. You love the chance to trumpet your faith at the front of the Temple, to prove that you can act like Jesus and minister to us like he did.

You love that you can love me.

You love me as a prop. You love me as a ministry. You love me as a costume. You love me as a doctrine.

You don’t love anything about me that actually exists.

I have seen so much of Christian love I can identify it in a heartbeat. It is the love that preys, the love that twists, the love that abuses, the love that demands recognition, praise, proper conduct. It’s the love you are demonstrating with every breath you take.

I have also seen real love, true redemptive love, the love that listens and sacrifices and comforts and bleeds, the type of love you show nothing of.

So let us drop these pretenses.

You gave up your fraudulent gay mask after a year. Give up your false façade of love as well.

picture credit: http://7-themes.com/6918217-mask-masquerade-photo.html

Because I’m A Gypsy


When I chose the username ‘Irish Atheist,’ I thought I was making the obvious choice. Firstly because I’m a proud Irish citizen, proud to have been born and raised in the Republic, and proud to have strong family ties to Northern Ireland. Irish culture, music, dance, and language defined much of my childhood and brought me through the most difficult parts of my life. My nationality is part of me – a very obvious part. As for ‘atheist,’ well, I fully intended that most of my online efforts would be in opposition to organised religions. I needed an outlet for all the rage and grief religion (primarily Christianity) had stoked over the years, and ‘The Irish Atheist’ provided.

But there are other labels that could have applied as well. One of them is of course my identity as a sexual minority, being an openly bisexual man. And then of course, the one that is the most misunderstood, the most difficult to explain, and often the most maligned. My ethnicity.

I am a Gypsy.

I am Romani.

The Roma people have a long history, much of it not fully known. The Roma are an ethnic minority that probably originated in Northern India. Around 1,000 years ago, the Roma were driven west by invading forces. They moved first through the Muslim empires, into Russia and Eastern Europe, into Western Europe, and then around the world during the great immigration boom of the 19th Century. The Roma are a largely insulated and closed community. Our traditions are mainly oral, our culture can be very rigid, and our social and religious beliefs rarely fall in line with the powers-that-be.

Because of this, the Roma have been and remain one of the most oppressed, persecuted, and marginalised ethnic minorities in history. Despised for their strange customs and largely dark non-Anglo features, they were maligned and hated wherever they went. The Roma developed a transitory existence, moving from place to place because they were never permitted to settle and assimilate. Oppressed minorities are often gravely poor, and destitute communities have a much higher crime rate, and so the Roma gained the reputation of knaves, thieves, and vagabonds.

Not knowing where these dark strangers came from, white Europeans called them called them ‘Gypsies,’ a corruption of ‘Egyptian.’ The slur stuck.

One of the earliest examples of antiziganist (anti-Gypsy) oppression comes from the Diet of Augsburg of 1547, proclaiming that to kill a Gypsy was no murder, leading to organised hunts of Roma people. Romani slavery was legal in Eastern Europe until 1853. And most significantly, the Porajmos, the murder of upwards of a million Romani men, women, and children in the Nazi death camps.

Today, the Romani communities particularly in Europe face discrimination in employment, healthcare, and education. They suffer from malnutrition, higher crime rates, and disproportional sufferance from law enforcement.

This is where I come from, through my mother. Half my family is Romani, and so am I.

I am a Gypsy. And it took so long for me to be able to say that with pride.

Being a Gypsy means listening to Catholic and Anglican Christians in Europe say that Gypsies can’t achieve salvation because they are born without souls. It means staring at myself in the mirror as a seven-year-old and hoping that I was white enough to get into heaven.

Being a Gypsy means hearing my ethnic identity being thrown around like a filthy slur. Gypsy dog, dirty gypsy, don’t be such a gypsy. It means growing up believing there’s something wrong with you.

Being a Gypsy means sacrificing much of your cultural knowledge and experiences for the sake of assimilation, of being another white person.

Today, being a Gypsy means being proud of my ethnicity but also aware of my privilege. As a Romani who can easily pass for fully Caucasian, it means that I do not face many of the trials that Romani people of colour do, but can still experience the prejudice and hatred.

And today, being a Gypsy means watching my culture and identity being bought and sold like a bauble, and that is what I am primarily here to talk about.

Let’s reestablish what ‘Gypsy’ means. Gypsy is:

1. A description created by white Europeans to identify an ethnic minority made up largely of people of colour.

2. A term that explicitly draws attention to the typical dark skin and features of Roma people.

3. A term that is the root of pejorative slurs such as ‘Gypo,’ or ‘gypped/jipped.’

4. A term largely rejected by the ethnicity it identifies in favour of our own terms for our people (Roma, Romani, Romany).

That’s what Gypsy means. That is all Gypsy means. Gypsy is not a term for a love of travel or wanderlust. It does not mean a free-spirited individual who doesn’t let society tie her down. It is not a synonym for nomad or fortuneteller. It is not a fashion or style statement. It is a people. It is a culture. It is a terrible, wondrous, and cherished history. It is the mourning for the extermination of our people in the gas chambers, not a hashtag for your ugly Coachella outfit.

Make it stop oh gods my eyes

Make it stop oh gods my eyes

This sort of culture appropriation is by no means exclusive to the Roma. The recent hashtag #ReclaimTheBindi focused on the appropriation of Southeast Asian culture for fashion. Excellent books and articles abound on the appropriation and misuse of black urban culture. And of course, the Native American and First Nations have been fighting the mockery of what’s left of their culture for decades.

This is a problem. A huge one. Culture appropriation is a continued oppression and suppression of minorities. While cultures change and traditions evolve, culture is not a free for all or a buffet table to pick and choose. Doing so removes the meaning behind cultural practises and destroys the significance for the culture of origin.

For some reason, this type of fashionable racism seems to be a hallmark of the pagan and Wiccan movements, and that’s the example I’m pointing to today. A location called the Green Man Store in North Hollywood CA is holding a week of classes on Gypsy spiritual practices and magic lore. For twenty dollars a class you can sit around a cauldron and learn about Gypsy spirit altars, Gypsy healing practises, crystal gazing and scrying, and on it goes. Nothing in the class has anything whatsoever tdo with Gypsy culture, history, lore, or practises. The Facebook event also features an EXTREMELY racist depiction of a Romani woman in front of a teepee with tarot cards and stereotyped ‘gypsy garb.’

I called the Green Man Store to enquire further. I was told that the instructor of the class was not a Romani woman (no one actually knew what Romani meant, thinking it was Romanian). It was then amended that she is descended from ‘Irish Gypsies.’ This is again extremely problematic as the ‘Irish Gypsies’ are the Travellers or Pavee, and generally reject the term ‘Gypsy’ to avoid association with the Roma. The meaning was clear. This is a non-Rom making money off of Gypsies.

I shouldn’t have to say how degrading this is, how insulting and how antiziganist. A non-Roma white woman is making 20 dollars a person per class to lie about the Gypsies, to lie about our culture and our beliefs, to make herself some sort of ‘Gypsy witch’ at the expense of the people who are so often oppressed by actually practising Gypsy culture.

Dear Green Man Store: My culture is not for sale. You cannot separate being ‘Gypsy’ from being a Roma. Playing fortuneteller doesn’t make you a Gypsy anymore than playing in the snow makes you an Inuit. This needs to stop.

My identity culture is not a bauble. It is not a commodity. It’s my heart and my breath.

The’ instructor’ of the classes has tried to take me to task on Twitter, giving her spiritual credentials and calling me out for ‘hatred.’ Because how dare I get angry at blatant prejudice and mockery of my people.

I am a Gypsy. I am a Gypsy because I breathe. I am a Gypsy because I live. I am a Gypsy because my people have been enslaved and slaughtered and mocked and hated.

Take your crystals and your cauldrons and your antiziganism and your snake oil and leave me and my people out of it.

The history and current existence of the Romani people can hardly be fully examined in one blog post. If you have further questions on Roma people or this kind of culture appropriation, please feel free to email me at irishepistler@gmail.com.

Image credits: https://romediafoundation.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/opre-romani-women-on-international-womens-day/


A Lament for Leelah

enhanced-17727-1419938848-2It’s been forty-four days since Leelah Alcorn stepped out into traffic and tragically ended her short life. Forty-four days since she was immortalized by that fickle siryn named Internet. Forty-four days since the struggles and trials and grief of the trans community was thrust into the public spotlight for the worst reason imaginable.

Forty-four days in a world without Leelah.

And the sun set, and the sun rose, the forty-forth day.

At first, writing about the tragedy of Leelah’s death was so easy. Just hearing the bare facts and watching the worldwide reactions was enough to fill me with the anger and rage and need for justice that fuels a lot of my writing. I sat down in a cafe over a lunch break and pounded out two thousand words of blistering red-hot rhetoric. Against the Christian abuse culture that hurts and damages so many. Against the people who asserted that Leelah had in some way called her mistreatment and neglect on herself.

I wrapped up those two thousand words, gave it an editorial look over, moved the mouse to the ‘Publish’ button.

And stopped.

I couldn’t press that button. Something was wrong with my post. Something that I could feel but didn’t understand, I didn’t want to wait until I figured it out to publish this particular post but somehow I felt that this one, this one was more important than my more standard work and so I held my finger.

And the sun set, and the sun rose, a new day.

Three days after Leelah died, I left America for New Zealand and Australia and my first real holiday in years. Three sun-soaked weeks of booze and overeating and tawdry affairs best left unmentioned here. But even in the sunlit resorts of the Southern Alps thoughts of Leelah still came unbidden, tugging at my frontal lobe as I sipped cider on a beach. I haven’t forgotten you, I promised. Once I’m back home, I’ll write you a real post. A better one. You’ll see.

Those three weeks on the other side of the world did serve to temper the initial rage and grief I felt when hearing about what happened to Leelah. I spent the time not writing but observing the massive backlash against Leelah’s parents who had done everything in their power to repress their daughter’s gender identity. I watched the outpouring of grief from the trans community and all the anger that came with it. I watched Christian leaders, now thrust into the spotlight for their pervasive transphobia, smugly misgender Leelah in every way and assert that her ‘issues’ were all a part of her willful rebellion against God like the trans community at large.

And the sun set, and the sun rose, a new day.

I came home from my holiday and sat down in my kitchen. There was snow dancing across the panes and heat simmering from the kettle of tea on my stove. It was safe and warm and I finally wrote again. I wrote an impassioned attack on the conversion therapy Leelah had been subjected to. I wrote about how angry and embittered I felt about religious people whose sole purpose of their Gospel is to fix people in their image, not love them. How rational I was, how thorough in my defense of the trans community, how righteous was my anger and how needed were my words.

Or so I thought.

Then the time came to move the mouse and click the button. And again, I couldn’t do it. The same sense of wrongness was there. Like a voice you heard years ago but you’ve long forgotten the face and name even though you know that voice.

And the sun set, and the sun rose. And the sun set and the sun rose. Again, and again, and again.

Days passed, weeks passed, and I realised that I’d never publish that post about Leelah Alcorn. There were new concerns pressing, new outrages, new tragedies, and the late winter workalanche didn’t help matters either. Leelah’s name and story faded from the fickle attentions of the siryn Internet, the hundreds of tweets and articles and blog posts bearing her name a fitting epitaph for one lost girl. And if I never understand that wrongness I felt, well, I’d have time to figure it out in time for the next tragedy.

A few days ago I saw an article about Leelah on my Facebook wall. Clicked it, skimmed through. Nothing new, no brilliant or cutting insights. Just a link near the end to the note Leelah left when she died. I had read it more than once but, well, I never did write that article. So why not? Maybe it’d give me the kick I needed to finally get it write. Six weeks late, but what the hell.

I read that note. Read it again. Read it a third time, and only then did I realise what was wrong, what was wrong from the start, how brutally and completely I had failed. Those thousands of words written in Leelah’s name were filled with my anger, and my outrage, and my need for change, and how I felt and what I wanted. And then I listened to Leelah’s lament about how there was no place for her, in her home, in her school, not even in her own body. And I realised.

I had not left any room for her either.

Leelah’s last wish was that her death would matter, that it would make a difference for people, and here I was using her death to talk about what it meant for me. For me. She was my weapon, my banner blowing in the wind on the walls of Jericho. “See!” I had yelled in all my righteous fury. “Do you see? Look how right I was! Look! Look at me and listen to me!”

Oh how easy it was to point out how Leelah’s family and religion had failed her, and how difficult it was to admit that I had failed in the exact same way.

Leelah, I am sorry.

I failed you when I used the death of a bright, funny girl as a rallying point against religion at large, not to serve a greater good as you wished.

I failed you when I waxed eloquent about defending the trans community on Twitter and didn’t follow a single openly trans person.

I failed you when I sat in a pub and listened to a nameless, faceless person say that he had no problem with gay people, just the gays who dress up as women to trick men – and kept silent. Because I didn’t want a fight, and I would have been alone any way. I failed you.

And I’m sorry.

There’s a phrase in the Irish language I’ve used in several posts on this blog that I’ve internalised and adapted as a mission statement. The reason I do this. The phrase is Tá siad mo mhuintir. It means ‘they are my people.’ And never has those four words been more meaningful, or more condemning.

When I say tá siad mo mhuintir I’m talking about Leelah. She is my people. I know religious oppression. I know rejection. I know what it’s like to be alone. And I still had no room for her.


I wrote this lament for you. In the end, I needed it more.

You made a difference to me.

Thank you.

Tá mé do mhuintir.

This article from the Guardian includes a list of support programmes and forums for the trans community. If you have any other resources to recommend, please feel free to include them in the comments below.


The National Suicide Prevention Line is 800-273-8255 in America. It is a wonderful resource that I have used in the past. The Trans Lifelife is a support line dedicated to and entirely worked by trans people. Their number is 877-565-8860.

The Troll From Under the Bridge: A Response to Seth Crocker

This is a self-portrait of the Irish Atheist. No, really.

This is a self-portrait of the Irish Atheist. No, really.

Sometimes the troll from under the bridge has something to say.

Sometimes the troll from under the bridge just wants to be heard over the sound of the trip-trip-trapping.

Sometimes the troll from under the bridge never wanted to be there in the first place.

If I sat down with Seth Crocker and he had an ear to listen (unlikely), I might tell him what it’s like to be caught in a war zone. I would tell him about what it was like to walk by peace lines, walls built to divide the warring Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast. I’d talk about what its like to fear dying in some ignominious manner because you were standing on the wrong street corner. Graffiti scrawled across the walls, screaming for your death. The whispers every day, of more disappearances, more knees shot out in retribution, more deaths. I’d tell him what it sounds like when a car explodes on the street you’re playing on, what a hundred voices raised in a chorus of horror sound like, what the smell of burning shrapnel and congealing blood is like, all because some Christian fanatic wanted attention.

I would tell him what it’s like growing up Romani where your ethnicity is hated, where people say that you have no soul because you’re a stinking Gypsy, and you’re a little boy wondering if it’s true, if you can’t be saved because you don’t have a soul to save. What it’s like to stand in front of the mirror and breathe a prayer of thanks that you’re white enough, that they can’t tell what you are just by looking at you.

I’d tell him what it’s like to move to America, to believe for one shining moment that it’s all over because it’s America. Because Christians don’t kill each other for sport or politics or creeds in America, and being a Gypsy is just a passing curiosity for most, not something you never bring up in unfamiliar company. And then you learn that American Christians are just the same, but they abuse and hurt with so much more glee and enjoyment, and they swaddle it in a cover of love, not because of war, and not because you’re a gypsy, but because you like boys.

And then I’d ask him what it’s like in his ‘war zone.’

You see, Seth Crocker writes a blog called “Building Bridges in War Zones” in which he boasts of being a bridge between the LGBT community and the Christian Church. His goal is reconciliation, a unity which I, as I’ve said, vehemently oppose for the protection of the LGBT community. Crocker is LGBT himself, which is immaterial here. He is also a ‘Side B’ Christian, which is not. I’ve written about ‘Side B’ before, so I’ll just reiterate a few points. Side B refers to the Christian position that homosexuality is disordered and morally deficient, that people who engage in same-sex intimacy and relationships are displeasing to God. But it swaddles it up in a veneer of love and acceptance so that the bigotry of the position is easier to stomach. Side B Christians like Crocker claim to affirm the humanity and value of LGBT people. Just not, you know, those things that make us human.

Recently, Mr. Crocker posted an article on his blog where he describes how hard it is to be a Side B Christian and how he feels like he’s caught in a war zone in the Church. I responded, rather pointedly, about his use of hyperbolic language and how the ‘Side B’ position is a position of religious privilege since it carries the weight of the abusers. Soon enough, I got a notification for a response, only to find that my comment had been swiftly deleted. On his person Twitter, Crocker made a statement that ‘he doesn’t build bridges with trolls.’

Because that’s what we are to Seth Crocker. Just trolls. And in a way, it’s true.

Yes, Seth Crocker. I’m the troll under your bridge. And do you know why I’m here? I’m here because you and your Church and your brothers and sisters in Christ have thrown me down here.

I’m here because all of my life, people like you have made it clear that I’m morally deficient. Because I was a Catholic born in the Republic, because I was Romani, because I was LGBT, it has never mattered, there has always been something.

I’m here because there was never a moment as a child when I wasn’t afraid of Christians. Because to be afraid of dying, of hurting, and to be afraid of your Church was the same thing.

I resent it.

I spoke out against your use of hyperbolic language to describe the difficulty of the position of the abusers because I’m tired of Christians trying to twist their abuse and facilitation of their abuse as some sort of struggle. War zone. Persecution. Militant. A Christian war zone isn’t where you get push-back and anger for telling people that you believe their intimacy and relationships are morally deficient. It’s when a church service reads out names and they last for three hours. You’re a writer, and you should be held accountable for the meaning of the words you use.

And this troll, watching you build a bridge across to the people who tore apart my home and destroyed so many of my communities, is speaking out against your dehumanisation of people like me.

If you state publicly that you believe same-sex intimacy is morally disapproved of by your god, you have dehumanised my intimacy. Once you’ve done that, you’ve dehumanised my relationships. Once you’ve done that, you’ve dehumanised me. And once that’s done, it doesn’t matter what I say. I will always just be a troll, because I’m not even human anymore.

You can decide that celibacy is your personal calling, but y9u cannot cite the moral superiority of Side B as a reason without contributing to the moral shaming that has been inflicted by so many.

I’m the troll beneath your bridge, Seth Crocker, but I’m not alone. There are so many of us here, thrown down beneath the bridge-builders. To you, we may just be trolls, but down here we’re still dying. While you lament how hard it is to be ‘Side B,’ these people are dying.

Seo iad mo mhuintir.

‘I don’t build bridges with trolls.’

Be honest, Mr. Crocker. You don’t build bridges with people like me.

So when you contribute to the moral shaming we’ve endured so long, Seth Crocker, this troll will always speak out. When you do it publicly, I will respond publicly. With anger and vehemence if I must because I’m not your nice little Christian applauding you from the other side of the gully.

Mr. Crocker: You can hold me as morally deficient because I don’t listen to the commands of your god and dare to fall in love other people no matter what their gender is. You can hold me as a troll for feeling the pain that your words rake across the scars on my back that have been there literally all my life.

But in return, I hold you to the same moral level as Jen Hatmaker, John Piper, Al Mohler, and every other Christian who thinks they can love people while morally shaming them for who they are.

I hold you to the same moral level as Alan Chambers, , Don Schmierer, Scott Lively, Bryan Fischer, Julie Rodgers, Tony Perkins, and every Christian who has facilitated and profited off the psychological torture of thousands of adults and children.

I hold you to the same moral level as the butchers of my people, who filled the gutters of Omagh and Belfast and Derry with blood.

Not because your actions are comparable, but because your theology is more important to you than our human dignity.

This is not a theological debate, it is not a disagreement at the table, it’s people’s lives and families and relationships and the screams of every man, woman and child trapped under this bridge you are paving above us.

Tá tú,tá tú ag teacht go dtí an crann?
Sa chás crochadh siad fear a rá siad dúnmharaíodh trí.

(Are you, are you, coming to the tree?).

I am your troll, Seth Crocker, but I won’t allow you or your ‘theological positions’ to continue to dehumanise myself and my people. Not without speaking up. Not without speaking loudly. Not until we’re all roaring out from under this bridge.

Picture via http://www.lotr.wikia/trolls


6 Reasons LGBT People Should Leave the Church


Being an LGBT Christian, or an LGBT person in a Christian environment, can be a literal nightmare. I know. I was there once.

Abomination, reprobate. Broken, confused, degenerate, pervert. Going to hell, going to get AIDS, child molester, child recruiter. Fix yourself, fix yourself, better fix yourself or you’ll burn in hell.

I heard it. I felt it. Even as a secret apostate in an Evangelical high school, I knew they were talking about me. I was scared. I was confused. I was afraid that someone found out, I’d lose my home, and my family, and all of my friends. No one wants to be a queer lover.

By all the gods I didn’t believe in, I was so scared to be gay.

There were times I thought I was straight. Times I was afraid I was turning gay. I wasn’t afraid because I believed that there was some devll in a white suit waiting to string me up on the rack after I died. I was afraid because I thought the halls of my high school were the world. I was afraid because there was no one there to tell me, “It gets better.”

(And then I grew up and I found out that bisexuality was something other than the porn my roommate liked to watch and oooooooooh).

I’m not afraid anymore. I escaped. I grew up. I left that abusive environment and found out the truth. I found out that I wasn’t broken. I found out that I didn’t need to fixed. I discovered that what I felt, who I loved, wasn’t less normal, just less common. No longer ashamed of myself, no longer hiding myself, and no longer afraid.

Instead, I’m angry. I am angry at the spiritual environment I grew up in. I’m angry at the Christian Church. The organisation that claims to be the most loving, most generous, most caring group of people in existence.

I’m speaking up.

I’m angry at the lies, and I’m angry at the abuse, and I’m angry at the whitewashed vernier of piety and moralism that has justified the abuse of LGBT people for decades. I’m angry that there are people who defend it and people who facilitate it, and people who justify it. I’m angry that Christianity has had 2,000 years to put its claims of loving your fellow man into action and they still can’t get it right. Or perhaps they don’t want to. And I’m angry that there are LGBT people in the Church who continue in this path of terrorism against other LGBT people.

These are problems that deserve anger, and they’re problems that deserve to be addressed.

These are the reasons that I am saying this to LGBT Christians. I’m saying it as I would to any other individual who is in an abusive environment or an abuse-facilitating environment.

Leave your church.

Leave that environment,

Get out. Stop promoting, stop facilitating spiritual abuse against other people. Against yourself. You can leave and you should and here’s a few reasons why.

1. Christianity is based upon an immoral and horrific theology of abuse against LGBT people.

The so-called ‘clobber verses’ are repeated ad nauseum by anti-gay Christians in their quest to stigmatise LGBT people. But they’re worth repeating because they carry an altogether nasty and monstrous message. Remember, if you’re LGBT (or as LGBT as they understood it a couple of millenia ago), the Bible states that:

You are an abomination (Leviticus 18:22)

The crime of being gay is punishable by death (Leviticus 20:13)

You are unnatural (Romans 1:26-28)

You are incapable of salvation and will be eternally tortured because of your gayness. (1 Corinthians 6: 9-11)

And before anyone jumps in to say that no one truly believes this, check yourself. I’m sure most of you have encountered the vile recent sermon by Baptist Pastor Steven Anderson claiming that if we executed all LGBT people like the Bible commands we would have an AIDS free Christmas, (I refuse to post any link to his material here). I’m sure many of you are aware of people like Peter LaBarbera, Bryan Fischer, and Tony Perkins who openly advocate for the recriminalisation of homosexuality under ‘sodomy’ laws. I’m sure the name Scott Lively is familiar, the man who helped facilitate the bill in Uganda that mandated the death penalty for LGBT people.

These are the people who are following the words of the Bible the most accurately. These are the ones who are taking it seriously, and that’s extremely telling. And these are not anomalies. These people represent a huge amount of American Christians who believe that persecution against LGBT people is a Biblical mandate. And they’re right.

In the interest of fairness, there’s a growing revisionist movement among some Christians to reinterpret the clobber verses. People like Matthew Vines argue that the verses were misinterpreted, that they’re taken out of context, that it doesn’t really mean what it says. You know, what Christians do whenever there’s something in the Bible that’s uncomfortable or inconvenient. I understand what Vines and others are trying to do. I really do. And I appreciate it. I appreciate that they’re trying to create a world in which queer kids can sit in a pew and not hear that they’re broken and doomed to hell because of the natural orientation. It’s a worthy goal.

But it isn’t going to change what the Bible says about people like me, about millions of people. LGBT Christians are part of an organisation that’s based on a theology and a scripture that commands their execution. No matter how many reinterpretations there are, any LGBT Christian can open up their Bible and find exactly how they’re going to suffer eternally. This is wrong. It’s wrong as the Bible was wrong about slavery, and genocide, and rape, and the roles of women in the house. Christianity is abusive because the Bible itself is inherently abusive.

2. The church has a deep, long history of spiritual abuse against LGBT people.

This one point could go on for pages. It would list how the Christians have been at the forefront of every civil rights violation concerning LGBT people. It would talk about DADT, about the Briggs initiative, and about the AIDS crisis and Jerry Falwell. It would talk about Matthew Shepard and Rebecca Wight. It would talk about the 40% rate of LGBTs among homeless youth. It would talk about reparative therapy. For pages and pages it would talk about reparative therapy and the psychological torture and abuse heaped on LGBT people, children, justified by the lie that ‘change is possible.’

Consider this. There were no LGBT affirming churches before the 1970’s, at least none that weren’t created specifically for LGBT people That means that every single Christian denomination and congregation that existed for more than 40 years has been, on some level, abusive towards LGBT people. That’s a pretty damning statement. As support for the civil rights of LGBT people increases, Christians are left scrambling to catch up, lest they be faced with empty pews. In their desperation, both affirming and non-affirming congregations struggle to convince LGBT people and allies that they’re not abusive, that they’ve never been abusive, or that they’ve evolved. That they’ve changed.

Anything with such a heavy history of often horrific abuse should be approached with extreme caution, whether that’s an individual or an institution. Saying “I’ve changed” doesn’t cut it. Trying to whitewash an abusive history is even worse.

Why should LGBT people leave the Church? Because Christianity has hardly begun to make up for it’s years of abuse. It hasn’t washed the blood of hundreds or thousands of LGBT kids off its hands. It’s about time the Church learned to live with the consequences of its actions, rather than bleating “But we’re not like that NOOOOOW!”

3. ‘Non-affirming’ is spiritual abuse.

You are not ‘non-affirming.’ You are spiritually abusive. You are not a ‘Side B’ Christian. You are spiritually abusive.

Pressuring, advising, or teaching people that they must remain celibate to stay ‘right with God’ is spiritual abuse. Telling people that their sexuality is flawed, that their families and relationships are disordered, is spiritual abuse. Destroying families, making people hate an intrinsic, natural part of themselves that they cannot change, is spiritual abuse. And its monstrous.

That means that even nice-seeming people like Jen Hatmaker who insists that she really, really, does love gays but just theologically opposes their lives and families, is complicit in spiritual abuse of the LGBT community. The people who insist that they’re warning you about how broken and terrible you are because of love are spiritually abusive.

There is no reason to stay in such an environment. It’s dangerous. It’s harmful. It’s especially harmful for gay youth. When they see LGBT Christians minimalising and trying to reconcile themselves with ‘non-affirming’ abusive Christians, it validates the spiritual abuse the Church is so awash in. It sends the message that non-affirming Christians hold a legitimate alternate view in that LGBT people are inherently disordered and need to fix themselves. This facilitates further abuse.

4. Even ‘affirming churches often have an agenda.

Consider the NALT (Not All Like That) Christians Project. The NALT Christians Project is a sort of Christian version of ‘It Gets Better.’ It’s run by straight Christian John Shore. Christians upload videos affirming LGBT people and their relationships and assuring any watching LGBT individuals that ‘not all Christians are like that.’ ‘That’ being abusive, bigoted, anti-gay Christians, of course. A worthy endeavour? It could have been.

But take a look at NALT’s ‘About‘ page and the true motive behind their affirmation is revealed. On the page are listed NALT’s goals. The first goal, the very first and most important point on the list, reads a such:

“To refute the widespread belief that Christianity is synonymous with anti-gay bigotry.”

Forget helping LGBT people escape abusive environments. Forget their needs at all. According to John Shore and his team, the most important mission of the NALT project is the reputation of his religion. It’s not about LGBT people, it’s about Christianity. It’s about how people think about his religion. It’s about countering the popular opinion that the Christian Church is bigoted after decades of the Christian Church being bigoted. It’s selfish, it’s egotistical, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to call a man like Shore an ally when that’s the first item on his site’s manifesto.

But it doesn’t stop there. For example, this recent article from Bedlam Magazine. Another straight Christian man, Cory Copeland writes that the Church needs to target the LGBT community and get them back inside and into the pews. Why? Because they have so much to offer!

“From bringing the AIDS virus to national attention to fighting for their equal rights to joining forces with other maligned groups to ensure the future they’re working so hard for will welcome them freely. That’s what our Church needs: that fight, that passion, that drive….The Church needs the LGBT community today. Right now. We need that fire. That passion. That commitment. That loyalty.”

Again, nothing about ministering to LGBT people or remedying the evil culture of abuse that Christianity fosters. It’s all about what LGBT people can do for Cory Copeland. It’s about what the Church gets out of them. It treats LGBT people like baubles to adorn the Christian Church with their ‘passion’ and ‘commitment.’ Conveniently forgetting the LGBT people don’t owe Copeland, or any Christian for that matter, shit.

These are not isolated incidents. These are prevalent views in the more progressive church. I’ll  be blunt, I’m never anything else. ‘Affirming’ does not mean ‘safe.’ It does not mean ‘healing.’ It does not mean that you are not still an agenda, a goal, a target, or a decorative feature. And LGBT people continue to deserve better than what Christians like Shore and Copeland are offering.

5, The Christian Church is more interested in ‘reconciliation’ than actually helping LGBT people.

I’m no opponent of reconciliation in general. I’ve spent as much of my time and resources as I can working in programmes meant to foster reconciliation in my home country. I understand how tough of a battle it is to bring together two groups of people who have despised each other for so long. I’ve seen it. I’ve lived it. I’ve fought to make it happen.

But the reconciliation that Christians are advocating for is not the sort that’s happening back in Ireland. It’s not between two groups of people who spent three decades literally slaughtering one another over real or perceived slights. In the relationship between the Christian Church and the LGBT community, there are two different dynamics; the oppressed and the oppressor. There can be no reconciliation between these two groups of people until the oppressors are taught that they cannot continue to malign their victims and they learn to accept that.

So as I’ve said before, there is no ‘Third Way’ on the LGBT ‘issue.’ There is no coming to the table with these people. If it is more important to Christians that Side A and Side B are able to worship and commune together than insuring that LGBT people are in a safe and non-abusive environment, then LGBT lives will continue to be second-class. And people will continue to die because of the sneering hatred of those they’re supposed to rub shoulders with. If they cannot find a safe place at the Christian communal table, the table should be abandoned.

6. They celebrate the people who make a living off abusing us.

I’m talking about Franklin Graham who claims that the homosexuals don’t adopt children, they recruit. I’m talking about John MacArthur, who encourages parents to abandon and ostracise their gay children. I’m talking about Mark Driscoll who mocked and maligned ‘effeminate’ men. I’m talking about people like Alan Chambers and Julie Rodgers who literally ran and was a spokesperson for a torture clinic that destroyed thousands of lives and now, in the case of Rodgers, actually councils LGBT youth at Wheaton College. Counsels them, when she used to speak on behalf of the people who made a living psychologically torturing them.

There is so much LGBT blood on the hands of Christian leaders. So much. And they will never be held accountable for it. They will never have to answer for it. Christians have demonstrated this time and time again. They will always have support in the Church. And they will always have a voice. And these voices mingle in an unholy chorus that foster this wretchedly spiritual abusive environment.

The only way this is going to end is if LGBT people stop fucking listening to them.

So what’s the point?

I can’t save the entire LGBT community from spiritual abuse with one blog post, and it’s not my place to. If you’re an LGBT person who’s happy and comfortable in your Christian faith, this post is not for you. Well, not like you think. I am speaking to the people who are trapped or tricked into this sort of environment, through spiritual or emotional manipulation and abuse. I mean to make it clear that it is abuse. That it’s not love and it’s not care and it’s not a simple disagreement. It is abuse. And you should leave. A battered wife doesn’t need to wait for her husband to come around. An abused child doesn’t need to stay and try and fix things. And neither do you. You can leave. You should leave. For yourself, and so others might have the courage to follow.

And to all Christians, LGBT or otherwise who promote and advocate Christianity, this post is for you. To tell you that you don’t have an excuse anymore. To abuse, to facilitate abuse, to minimalise abuse, or to portray abuse as something that victims can co-exist beside. You have no fucking excuse anymore. There’s so much blood on your doorstep that you have to clean up first.

And to those who might say I have no right to tell LGBT Christians what they should do or how they should live out their faith because I’m not part of your community? Seriously, go fuck yourself. I don’t need to be a chef to know when food is shit, and I don’t need to still be a part of a community to call out abuse in that community. I swore that I would never let what happened in the nation of my birth happen in the nation of my adoption without speaking up. I’m not that helpless ten year old gypsy kid anymore.

The wonderful news is, LGBT people in America have a much higher percentage of secularism than other communities. 47% of LGBT people in America identify as non-religious. This is amazing. This is a triumph over the Christian abuse culture. This number needs to be higher. The separation of Church and LGBT community should be encouraged, fostered, and advocated for, because each person out is another one saved from all that abuse.

You had 2,000 years, Christians. You couldn’t get it right. You’ve lost this community, and you’ve lost most of them for good. And for every stride you make, for every LGBT person you try to keep a hold of to control, manipulate, and misuse, I and people like me will be there every step of the way to say it again and again.

It gets better, it is better, and you are worth more.

Picture via heidlblog.net