Discovering My Inherited Conservativism


(Spectrumbot) #1

I matriculated into La Sierra University in the fall of 2016. Most people I knew from the Adventist academy I attended in Guam went to Walla Walla University, but something within me told me not to follow them. Maybe it was something as simple as unrealized self-sabotage, but I believe that the internal voice was rebelling against the authority figures of my youth.

People would often pull me aside and offer “spiritual guidance” for why I shouldn’t attend La Sierra. I was told that I’d need to watch my back and not fall under anyone’s negative influence. Someone even approached my mother to warn her that La Sierra was near “Pride” (as in “gay pride,” which takes place all over the world). The image of a black silhouette running from a looming rainbow flag comes to mind when thinking about my childhood.

I had it rough as a kid. I don’t feel the need to paint it out in painstaking detail. It’s not exactly a new storyline. I was bullied for who I am by my classmates and found no relief in faculty who were just as fast to condemn being gay. One time, my school held a “state of emergency” chapel, as I like to call it, in response to the first openly gay man in professional sports coming out. I watched him being compared to a pedophile and squirmed in my seat. I shut up because I didn’t need things to get even worse for me.

Growing up felt like a tedious waiting period before I could finally leave and truly begin my life. I was tired of the conservative culture I was brought up in that didn’t accept me. I craved something completely different from everything I’d known — something they’d probably hate, but where I could find solace. La Sierra was the school nobody wanted me to go to, which if I’m being honest, was probably the deciding factor in figuring out where to attend.

I made the plunge and traveled to California alone for the first time. I landed at LAX and experienced a sensory overload of sorts. I collected my luggage, found my shuttle, sobbed because of the culture shock, and still managed to make conversation with my driver through my tears. She was delightful and wanted to introduce me to an American restaurant called “Denny’s,” which I didn’t have the heart to tell her had already made it to Guam.

I arrived at school and everything was fine. It certainly wasn’t the Sodom and Gomorrah it was painted out to be. La Sierra had a lot of what I wanted; mainly, the liberal viewpoint. It seemed as though I’d finally found a safe space to be who I was and grow. Yet to my surprise, I frequently found myself incredibly uncomfortable.

I had to attend chapel in my freshman year and this was my first introduction to praise music with drums. To this day, it still triggers a fight-or-flight reaction within me. I was taught that the drums were an instrument used to invite demon possession, with the tradition starting in Africa. I never believed it was true; something about it smelled very “colonizer” to me. Yet, I felt incredibly anxious about it and it grew worse with every beat. I thought something bad was going to happen, like one of my Bible teachers was going to run up and smash the drums in front of everyone in the name of God. I never realized the impact the doctrine of my youth had on me. I thought I’d separated myself far enough from everyone that nothing they’d said would have any effect on me.

I was in my “safe space” and yet I didn’t know how to exist in it. I remember this one time when my friend removed her backpack in front of me. I saw that she was wearing a tank top that revealed a tattoo of a loved one’s name on her right shoulder blade. Instinctively, I began to remove my jacket to offer to her but stopped myself halfway through. Another time, I let my friend paint my nails a bright electric blue because she was bored. I was met with positive reception from everyone I interacted with. Still, I felt the need to bury my hands in my pocket and flushed every time I had to hand something to someone. It was so incredibly harmless, yet I felt like my skin was peeling.

Strangely enough, I felt completely unabashed and empowered when I faced adversity. I remember a group of friends and I were walking to Wingstop, which is less than a mile away from campus. At the crosswalk that separated us from the chicken we so desperately craved, a minivan turned in front of us with a male voice shouting out “f*** you, faggot” at me.

Without missing a beat, I turned to my friends and said sarcastically, “Oh my god, how did he know?” and kicked up my leg like a Vegas showgirl. I feel a little bad about this in retrospect. They were obviously pretty shaken up about what had just transpired but I couldn’t contain my laughter. Their reaction to something so foreign to them, but so familiar to me, is still one of the funniest things in the world to me and I don’t know why.

I acknowledged that perhaps my reaction was a little insensitive to them. I tried to work on what I perceived to be internalized homophobia and decided to attend meetings with the LGBT club on campus. I attended a collective two meetings before I stopped going. I am openly gay, but I could not handle the level of vulnerability required when watching people acknowledge my sexuality. Part of me wants to canvass the community and knock on people’s doors with pamphlets stating that I am, in fact, gay. They can wrestle with that however they like. What they think about me is none of my business.

It’s weird for me to look at all of these different experiences and know that they are a part of who I am. I’ve grown a lot in my college experience thus far, but I still have to accept that it didn’t form the foundation of my being. I am not the perfect liberal gay I thought I was going to be. Everyone is conditioned by their environments and aspects of this can rear its head in unexpected and uncomfortable ways.

It is said that “home is where the heart is,” but I think that sometimes home isn’t welcoming to the heart. Sometimes, a heart can get scuffed up trying to keep it in a home, like a square peg being forced into a circular hole. I was hurt and looking for the fastest option to heal. I took my heart to California to start over, but it wasn’t transformed when I landed. It had the same bruises and marks from before, but I didn’t accept that until time had put even more distance between me and my past. I understand now that these wounds will only be treated by acknowledging myself as a whole.

John Ethan Hoffman is an undergraduate at La Sierra University currently pursuing a BA in English: Creative Writing. He was born and raised on Guam and attended Guam Adventist Academy from Kindergarten through 12th grade. He currently lives in Riverside, California and serves as a Features Editor for the Criterion, a student-run newspaper at La Sierra.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9332

(Alicia Johnston) #2

Thank you so much for this heartfelt look into your life and experience. You express yourself so well and I think it does a lot of us good to read about your experience. I wish all the best for you as you become more comfortable in your life and your self-expression. Coming to terms with my own gender/sexual expression is still a challenge sometimes, but I find it gets easier every day, and the rewards are wonderful.

I especially loved this line, “It is said that ‘home is where the heart is,’ but I think that sometimes home isn’t welcoming to the heart. Sometimes, a heart can get scuffed up trying to keep it in a home, like a square peg being forced into a circular hole.” That’s so true for so many of us in the queer community with an Adventist home. Wow. Thank you.


(Steve Mga) #3

Scuffed up, feeling not part of a group, not being able to always accept oneself because
of the feeling “what will They think if They know who I really am.”
This was the Genesis of “Seventh-gay Adventists”.
The local Pastors, the local church members want to believe that SDA parents should
NOT have non-hetero children, because they are SDAs.
It makes it difficult for the parents and each child of theirs to feel wholly inclusive to the
local church family. There is a sense of shame, a sense of being careful, a sense of always
having to watch oneself, as they might say or do something to give away “the secret”.
I trust that by now you have Welcomed your true self, because that allows you to Welcome
your friends, your family, and allows you to Welcome yourself into the Family of God.
Jesus says, He brings us Mother, Fathers, Sisters, Brothers whom we never knew were ours.

Regarding Guam – I was a Navy nurse there from Feb 68 to Feb 69. Lived in Agana, but was
able to take the base bus up to church and other activities. For a number of months I covered
the Mission Clinic next to the church from 4:30 pm to 12:30 am when I had day shift at my
Navy job. Would sleep there all night. Take the bus back down, finish “cleaning up” and be at
my shift 7am to 3pm. Enjoyable group of missionaries and locals. Went on Bible Conference to
Palau for a week with them. Was fun being a “part time missionary”.
I hated to leave when my tour of duty was up.


(Kim Green) #4

Thank-you, John, for being vulnerable with us here and sharing the story of your journey thus far. It is important for all of us to know what it is.


(George Tichy) #5

Great people come to study at LSU! :+1:
It’s been great living in the neighborhood for almost 30 years now!


(Tom Loop) #6

Thank-you for your testimony. I didn’t come out until my wife of 33 years divorced me 4 years ago. at 67, I feel like so much of life has passed me by. I’ve always been conservative, but I left the SDA church I just couldn’t deal with the mindset of it all. I feel liberated, but lonely. Most gays are very liberal. My religion has moderated, and some of my politics on some points. I support same sex marriage, but I’m not an activist.


(jeremy) #7

growing up adventist, especially as a conservative adventist, and knowing instinctively that you’re gay, is definitely a handful…it’s a handful at any age, but i think it’s especially difficult when you’re young, and trying to make your own way in the world…

i’m really happy to see that some of our universities are creating safe spaces and opportunities for gay students to talk about this important issue, and socialize with peers who are also gay…back in the day, we had to figure things out on our own…we had to come up with our own solutions, most of which didn’t include god, much less the church…

ultimately, i really think this is an instance where people have to make their own decisions without interference from others…the wider church should just stand back and let gay people learn from personal experience, without too much comment…there’s no chance that any good can come from counselling from non-gay individuals, especially if there’s any hint of condemnation…this is an area where it’s so easy to become bitter, and throw every ounce of religion away…“and of some have compassion, making a difference”…


(Steve Mga) #8

Tom –
Not prying, so no need to answer. But I hope you have found a Christ centered church
at which to worship that is friendly and has programs where “seniors” have time to get
together for fellowship and perhaps “work” at some type of volunteer activity.
Here in Macon we have a number of congregations who are GL friendly, some with
partners, some partners who are foster and adopted parents. 1st Baptist last spring
had a gay wedding performed by the pastor. About 450 were in attendance.
If you still do Sabbath, you might enjoy a Conservative Jewish congregation to spend
Friday evenings to open the Sabbath with. A Reformed would be my second choice,
but I prefer my Conservative friends.
My handicap friend I have been taking to services for almost 6 years is gay. The
rabbi told him if he found a partner in the future, he would be pleased to conduct
the marriage ceremony. In Feb the congregation is having a Transgendered rabbi
coming for a week end of religious instruction.


(Tom Loop) #9

I now belong to the First Christian Church (disciples of Christ). It is gay affirming. We have as members a married lesbian couple who have a daughter and do foster care. I like the fellowship, but the pastors sermons are kind of shallow.


#10

It is interesting how many times I have heard something like the above insult. It used to be no one took it literally, that the subject of the insult was in reality gay. But now days it seems to just be assumed to be accurate. Though I don’t think there has been some advance in knowledge by the jerks that yell from cars, I guess now they somehow are more astute in recognizing peoples sexuality, who knew!


(Steve Mga) #11

Ron –
“GarDar” is a REAL phenomenon. Unfortunately.
At least not everyone has this “gift” which is good.
Persons with “GarDar” ability do not usually understand WHY or HOW they know.
They “just know”.


(Peter) #12

“Most” is a risky word, Tom! Tell us how you know that “most gays are liberal”. That is your perception rather than verified fact. Right? And how to you define liberal? I have good friends who are a gay couple your age. They are vegetarians. They attend Sabbath School and church every Sabbath. They always observe the Sabbath hours. They have daily devotionals. They don’t drink alcohol. All good “conservative” Adventist attributes. Are they liberal or conservative?

I’m truly sorry you are lonely. Do you know there are online support groups for “senior” gay Adventists? It would be wonderful if you could belong to one.


(Peter) #13

The United Church of Christ is usually gay affirming, too. It depends on the congregation. Many Episcopal Churches are now gay affirming, too - usually depending on where you are geographically. I pray that the Lord will provide you the fellowship that will feed your soul.


(George Tichy) #14

And the Adventist Church has no clue on what to do with its gay population. The leaders just avoid looking for a solution. They don’t ask mental health professionals about the issue, they just look to the other side.
@elmer_cupino


#15

Yes… still looking! It’s public stance, as cited at “Stances of Faiths on LGBTQ Issues: Seventh-day Adventist Church” (Last revised: 8/1/2018) is:

: "In April 2017, the Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists voted a “Statement on Transgenderism” reminding Adventists to treat transgender people with “dignity and respect.” But the document states that “as long as transgender people are committed to ordering their lives according to the biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage they can be members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.


(George Tichy) #16

Have you seen anything about gays and lesbians? I mean, any statement from the SDA church about them.

I am just wondering because I haven’t seen anything about it.


#17

Only as previously discussed at this Forum:
12,18.2017 - ## PRESIDENT TED WILSON ISSUES STATEMENT ON “HOMOSEXUALITY AND THE CHURCH”

and at NAD’s Compilation of Official Guidelines -

Responding to Changing Cultural Attitudes Regarding Homosexual and Other Alternative Sexual Practices](https://www.adventist.org/en/information/official-statements/guidelines/article/go/0/responding-to-changing-cultural-attitudes-regarding-homosexual-and-other-alternative-sexual-practice/)

The latter, when clicked will bring up a notice "Sorry, the requested article cannot be found".


(Elmer Cupino) #18

George, I do believe our church leaders have a “solution” but since they deny the known prevailing etiology of gender disorders their solutions never work. Of course instead of taking responsibility to their ignorance they blame Satan. I can see Satan in hell pounding the table frustrated that he ends up being the bad guy even if he were not. :rofl:


(William Vercio) #19

It might surprise someone who is gay to learn that hetero people often don’t feel like they fit in either. I have spent 64 years in the church and I usually don’t feel comfortable in church either. I haven’t been ostracized in the way you have been so I’m not comparing levels of suffering, just saying that no one can feel comfortable in their own skin until they meet the God who loves them just the way they are, a God who doesn’t hate drums anymore than He hates gay people or hetero people who love the Beatles and chocolate and. . . . I have recently met the God who says “Can I just love you the way I want to and not wait around till you approve of everything about yourself?” That has been a life changing experience and I am learning to love myself as God does—without reservation and without waiting for anything to change.
It’s important to treasure everything about yourself as God does and not let anything come between you and God’s love.