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Mark Tobey (1890-1976),

famous artist, dedicated and devout Baha'i, was gay. His life and work were commemorated.. More

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We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

                          Joan Didion, title essay, The White Album (1979)

I'll Decide if I'm Oppressed

I'm a Baha'i who is bi in physical orientation, and in my own lived experience, I find the letter of the Universal House of Justice tremendously liberating, rather than oppressive. I would like to share an alternative perspective, which is solely my own.

This Guidance affirms that my nature, at is deepest level, is that of a soul, rather than the socially constructed categories of gender, class, etc. To know that gender and sexuality, while beautiful facets of the human experience, are not the totality of my being is emancipatory, in that I am not obligated to self-define according to someone else's socially contructed categories – that my essence transcendes these shifting definitions. I've felt more exclusion in queer communities than I have in spiritual communities, of multiple denominations. There are many ways too many queer communities send subtle messages of non-inclusion: “You're not muscular or fashionable enough, you're not welcome in this gay space. You haven't read enough Foucault, you're not welcome. You don't drink alcohol, this space is not for you. You're dress and music are not punk enough, you don't belong. You don't have the right body type, you're not welcome.” There is a tremendous pressure to conform to right body image, the right politics, the right brands....and this is called liberation. I recall an experience where I was invited as a guest to a Mormon church, and while I did not hide my political views at the time, I received nothing but warmth, hospitality, and welcome. This was a contrast to my University's GSA, which was cliquish and exclusionary.

If you would like you are welcome to share these reflections with your readers, though I would prefer if you did so anonymously – more out of concern for how fellow queer people would respond than the insitutions. I'll share another example – I went to the Transcending Boundaries conference ( a big genderqueer conference) and was frequently sexually propositioned, to the degree that I felt uncomfortable. When I didn't respond to some activist's advances, I was told that I needed to “not be so repressed” – using the rhetoric of queer liberation to rationalize sexual harassment. That has never happend to me in Baha'i spaces, where I feel much safer from harassment than in queer spaces. Furthermore, as a person in recovery, I cannot frequent many queer spaces because drugs and alcohol are too prevalent.

I'd also like to clarify my use of “bi” – I use this term as a shorthand, to define the way my body is wired. However, I don't define as “culturally bi”, because little of the cultural trappings of “bi” as a scene, rather than as an orientation, resonate with me.

In short, if liberation is about self-determination and autonomy, then I will, as an individual, determine whether I feel oppressed in a given situation or not, and in this one I don't. And isn't mandating that someone feel oppressed, when they do not, itself a form of oppression?

A straight Baha'i experiencing crisis of faith 

I am so conflicted having read the Universal House of Justice's description of homosexuality as a condition to control and overcome. As a school teacher, I observe many children growing up, and there are always several who are so clearly gay even as youngsters. How is it just to expect people that are genetically not typical to not participate in marriage, family life and child rearing? I don't even know how to pray about this.

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 I wanted to post here and share my perspective, as a straight male who grew up Baha'i, and left the faith in my mid-20's, primarily because of the incongruousness of the teachings on homosexuality.

It was extremely difficult for me at the time. It broke my heart.

Growing up, I always felt lost in a sea of chaos. I moved a lot. My family had difficulties. School was hard for me. My sanctuary as a teen and in my early 20's was the faith. I met some of the best people I've ever known through it's auspices, including some of my best friends to this day. Going to conferences, youth groups and other activities was like a salve to all that hurt. The Baha'is I've met have run the gamut, like people do, but the best of them were/are the best people I've ever known.

In my early 20's, much of my identity was tied up in being a Baha'i. It wasn't all good – I wasn't all that fond of the emphasis on administration and formalism. I struggled to understand why being intimate with a girl – even cuddling, kissing and holding hands – were somehow going to corrupt my soul. I wished it was more focused on activism and fellowship and less on giving to the fund, obedience, and a definition of “unity” which seemed to mean stifling creative thought. I had a few quibbles, but I felt like it was well worth it compared to the horrible inner turbulence I had felt before becoming a practicing Baha'i.

I told myself that my quibbles were obviously just my human limitations. That it would be prideful of me to think I could possibly understand all that divinity. That's the response I had been taught to internalize.

What broke it for me was the issue of homosexuality in the faith. I am not gay. I didn't have any close friends or family members who are. It doesn't matter – the thought of telling people that they are born spiritually afflicted is repellant to me. My Dad converted to the faith in his teens precisely because he was disgusted with the Catholic teaching of “original sin”. This is far worse. It singles out a marginalized group of people, and tells them that the way they are born is a spiritual handicap. That is NOT the religion of universal love and unity that I thought I believed in, until I learned more.

At first, I hated myself for doubting. Over time, I started hating my religion. I doubt I ever would have entertained the bigoted notion that homosexuality was wrong, except I was lied to. By the one entity I was straightjacketed into not questioning. My religion, my very relationship with God, was broken.

The religion itself refused to allow any leeway – infallible, not subject to interpretation, absolute. Monolithic. Sterile.

Unfortunately, nothing has ever really filled the void. I no longer even believe in God, per se. I've thought about Buddhism, but have no idea where I could start, or if it would be a good fit.

I just wanted to share. My main point that I wanted to get across is that the current state of affairs not only disadvantages and harms gay, bi, and trans people, but also straight allies as well. Massive amounts of guilt and inner turmoil were experienced by me because of this one teaching. Either I felt horrible for daring to question God's messenger for this day and age, or I felt horrible for, well, being a bigot. At best, a passive weight on the side of persecution.

The only possible solution for me – the only one allowed by my religion – was to leave. So, I did. I refuse to be told – forced to stomach – the thought that gay people are unnatural, aberrant, against nature, ect. It's simply bullshit.

I truly wish it didn't have to be this way. The Baha'i Faith – Baha'i people- have so much potential to do good in a world that desperately needs them.

My love to all. Thank you for reading

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