Variations on the following scenario are probably familiar to many LGBTQ Baha’is:
I’ve just been introduced to a Baha’i who has innocently asked some question like “Is your wife here?” to which I’ve answered that I’m gay. (I can’t be bothered beating around the bush with “I’m not married,” as it usually leads to “Oh? Why not?” which leads to the same answer.)
This person, let’s make him male, must be slightly uneasy as he now feels the need to put me at my ease, conversationally embracing my fellowship on equal terms by discussing homosexuality. (Why, when it’s not his business unless perhaps he’s gay himself, though he hasn’t said he is? I once had the experience of a Baha’i calling her husband over & introducing me: “Darling, meet Graham. He’s a gay Baha’i.” What on earth does one say after that?)
Coming from a caring, non-judgmental perspective conforming to the Baha’i principle that religion must be in accord with science, my story's protagonist invokes results from research to lend authenticity to his point of view, lining up the reasons why he is unprejudiced towards me: homosexuality may be congenital, a predisposition or even possibly genetic in origin.
So far so good, & ideally the subject would be best coming to an end here with this enlightened observation, but it would be a strange place to end so there’s a tiny silence as I’m not sure what to say next. Should I ask, “Are you straight?”
Then the ‘but’ appears (though why it needs to isn’t made clear): 'but' homosexuality is abnormal, a handicap, unnatural, a psychological disease and so on (I’ve found nobody uses quite the same words, making me wonder whether anyone agrees on what it actually is. It’s also clear that my friend has no intention of climbing into bed with me so, again, why are we having this conversation?)
By now a curious phenomenon has occurred – the science has completely disappeared & been replaced with the implied infallibility of the Teachings. As if scrambling to account for an unconscious awareness that the concept of infallibility is scientifically illogical, my friend then quickly reframes homosexuality as a spiritual test, not noticing how flaky the conversation has suddenly become. (I’d usually step in at this point & say something along the lines of, “Yes, unity in diversity is such a beautiful concept. The idea of learning to accept one another – it’s a spiritual test for the whole of humanity.” etc.)
When uninterrupted, such conversations may become more odd yet. My new friend may then feel the need to remind me of the Faith’s tolerant attitude: “Of course, we’re taught that we must be tolerant towards all people, & this includes homosexuals.” If the following silence while I flounder for a reply is a little too long for comfort, he may even blurt out, “After all, they’re people too.”
I quickly say something, anything, to put him out of his misery & what’s becoming mine as well.
Please don’t get me wrong. This is all perfectly friendly. When you’ve already heard it many times before, you’re hopefully beyond being hurt or angered by it as long as the speaker is being genuinely caring & non-judgmental as my new friend is. I’m finding I'm liking him more & more because his struggle for comprehension is so transparently real, evidenced by his wish to be on friendly terms with someone whose psyche is a mystery to him, causing him to go through an explanatory routine that is tying him in knots because it's equally mysterious. And yet he's willing to go through it, searching yet again for the sense in it in order to spend time with me when he could as easily go off & do something different, something less confronting to his intellect. These days I’m in a position to see the situation's amusing side without being patronising.
This wasn't initially the case. I’d occasionally get sick of hearing this well-meant but unthought-through twaddle, & would want to point out the rats I could smell in it, enough to warrant the need for the website you’re reading this on. If I were a rude person I’d have replied with something like the following:
“Firstly, I don’t need your graciously bestowed tolerance but I’d really appreciate your acceptance as would all the other gay people, Baha’i or not, who’ve felt sidelined in whatever way. I’m willing to accept you along with your struggle to make sense of my homosexuality within the Baha’i context, though please on no account feel you have to make sense of them for my personal sake. I’m content with my sexuality just the way it is & I’ll happily share with you any insights I’ve gathered over the years if you’d like to hear them.
“It’s enough for you to know for now that Baha’u’llah speaks of God & Love as being One, as you know, & from the pinpoint where I stand in the inseparable Oneness of creation, I & my body, which are not separate, are expressions of that Love, as are you & your body. I have been made in such a way that other males & I are drawn to one another to experience mystical union that gives conscious embodiment to God’s Love as God intended. I don’t understand His purpose in making us thus, but it’s not a test as thus are we made & God, having made us thus, knew what He was doing. He now has other things with which to occupy Himself, like running a Universe. He has entrusted us, you & I, to get on with running the pinpoints that we occupy peacefully, doing no harm to any other pinpoint. All pinpoints are connected & when we harm another we harm ourselves in the process.”
“However,” (getting annoyed now) “I draw the line at homophobia & if I get the faintest whiff of it I’ll point it out to you so you can see it for yourself. I hope you’re familiar with the principle of projection. If not it would be a good idea to Google it. You then have the choice whether to transform your homophobia into acceptance or not.
“If you won’t,” (definitely annoyed now), “please leave us alone to relish the company of the beautiful, truly loving Baha’is who don’t give two hoots about our sexuality & are putting their acceptance of us into action by not making an issue out of it. You could learn more than a thing or two from them!
“And secondly,” (more gently) “why must you be tolerant towards me? Please don’t tolerate me because you believe it’s your duty to. That’s condescending. If you can’t cope with me because I’m gay, don’t pretend you can because your religion says you must. You’re being dishonest with yourself, with me & with your religion. In fact, that may be your real problem as it’s a form of hypocrisy, but please don’t confuse it with my being gay.”
Fortunately I’ve never been pushed into a tight enough corner to need to exercise my right of reply. I discussed my homosexuality with the Australian NSA back in the 1970s & was told I was still a welcome member but I chose inactivity as I wanted the opportunity to experience a loving, sexual partnership. Meanwhile I still identified as a Baha’i, participating in various musical events.
Three years ago a Baha’i I hadn’t met before turned up at my front door hoping I’d assist in forming a Local Assembly in the corner of Tasmania where I now live. When I explained that I’d been in what amounted to a marriage with another man for 23 years, she realised I wasn’t the person they needed, telling me that “homosexuality is a choice.” For me that was the final straw – I’d had enough of the nonsense & I sent a formal letter of resignation to the NSA. Their reply: they couldn’t find any record of me on the Baha’i register.
As I said above, God knows what He’s doing. Once a lover of Baha’u’llah, always a lover of Baha’u’llah. The administrative paperwork is irrelevant. Just keep loving one another & doing no harm.
- By Graham Major, July 2014