The Q in Question

Ancient Testimony: Matthew 10:40-42

June 26, 2011

by Rev. Micah Bucey
Minister of the Arts

I must start off by saying how amazingly attractive you all look today. Each and every one of you is positively vibrating with pride. There is no other group with whom I’d rather be celebrating this tremendous, earth-shaking weekend.

There is one person who can’t be with us today, and I will start my message by singing her praises proudly and humbly.

God bless my mother. God bless her for living through the little anecdote I’m about to tell you and God bless her for choosing to tell it herself over and over again. Often. Other mothers with four-year-old sons in 1984 might not have survived the types of questions I dealt, but she did. In fact, she stood strong through all kinds of wacky question-and-answer sessions, but one session stands apart as the pinnacle of our mother-son moments. On that morning, my beautifully normal Midwestern mother stood in our bathroom in Streetsboro, Ohio, applying a daily dose of makeup to her face, while I proudly sat my little four-year-old butt down on the toilet seat and watched her intently. After a few moments, she turned to me, eyeliner pointed at my forehead, and said, “I love my little boy.” I looked at her with the signature razor-sharp stare of a preschooler and queried, “Do you love your little girl, too?”

Now, I’m my mother’s only child. The “little girl” I was referencing was myself. Apparently, I just wanted to make certain that she would love me no matter what I decided to be or what adjectives I used to describe myself in the future. She gave a beautifully normal and tentative, “Yes,” and we started a three decades-long dialogue about sexuality, difference, and adjectives that have shaped me into the man-woman-person that I am today.

Lately, there have been a whole lot of adjectives thrown around Judson. We’ve been using words like open, affirming, gay, transgender, queer, lesbian, bisexual, cisgender, omnisexual, pansexual, homophobic, asexual, heterosexual, transphobic, heterosexist, and many others that I will probably kick myself for leaving out of this sermon once I receive a gentle reminder from one or more of you attractive people later today. To some of us, several of these words are old hat. To others, some of these words are at least odd, if not altogether silly. For example, one of the newer terms, “cisgender,” very simply means “having a gender identity or role that society considers appropriate for one’s sex.” It’s been creeping its way into our walls and receiving anything from vigorous nods of approval to nervous titters. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that there is much disagreement over what words and in what order those words should be placed in our acronym that began life in the 1980s as the relatively simple LGB, was broadened in the 1990s to LGBT, eventually added another letter to make it LGBTQ, and continues to morph today, as we lift up Friday’s vote for marriage equality in New York and as we prepare to celebrate New York City’s 41st annual Pride March.

But before we get out in the sun, before we allow the vision of our shirtless fellow marchers to make us all wish we’d spent a bit more time this past month at the gym, before we join with thousands of others who may or may not have the same reasons as we do for marching today, I want to talk about this little letter “Q” dangling at the end of this acronym. See, we all seem to mostly agree on what the others letters stand for in LGBTQ: the “L” stands for “lesbian,” the “G” stands for “gay,” the “B” stands for “bi,” the “T” stands for “trans.” But this “Q,” which once hung at the end of the five letters and now acts as the bridge to the other, more recently added letters such as “A,” “I,” and “P,” this “Q” is unique. See, some of us say this “Q” stands for “queer,” while others say it stands for “questioning.” You’d think a movement that faced an entire police brigade way back in 1969 and has kept that fight raging now for 42 years would be able to come to a simple consensus on the meaning of one little letter. But that’s never been our forte. We’ve never excelled at accepting definitions, and that’s what’s so darn beautifully abnormal about the LGBTQ, etc. community. Today, I’d like for us, together, to think of this “Q” and its multiple possible definitions as the source of our pride, no matter how you may or may not define yourself. Because I love this “Q.” And I believe that its ambiguity holds so much possibility for all of us today.

I find our Gospel lesson, which Dan read so eloquently, to be particularly appropriate for our celebration and believe it works perfectly for us as we continue to discover what it means to be a truly welcoming community. These verses close out a chapter-long discourse in which Jesus gives his disciples their marching orders, assuring them that, as long as their humble activities mirror those of his own, they will be rewarded. Jesus throws around his own adjectives here. I’m going to go out on a limb and say I believe that when he uses the terms “prophet” and “righteous,” Jesus means to suggest that the disciples have the knowledge, heart, and power to both proclaim and teach new ideas, question old ideas, and attempt to rebuild while tearing down at the same time. The power to do this comes from a desire to humble oneself with question asking. Now, I know that the Bible and Jesus and Christianity and all kinds of icky religious things stick in the craw of many people who are with us today, let alone words like “prophet” and “righteousness.” But I am here to tell you that I truly believe that these terms have a place within that little “Q” in our acronym.

Because, no matter whether you think the “Q” stands for “queer” or “questioning,” and heck, let’s say it stands for both right now, it’s the queer or questioning people that are truly our modern-day prophets. Now, before all of you cisgendered, heterosexual folks cry out in opposition, rest assured: I am talking about you, too. We’re all queer. We’re all questioning. And I don’t mean we’re all a “little bit” queer. I mean we’re all queer. We’re all questioning. Or, if we’re not, we really should be. In fact, I was delighted a few weeks ago when I offhandedly told our own Reverend Michael Ellick that I think of him as being queer, too. All I received was an enthusiastic nod. The Michael Ellick I know is as queer as they come. And he’s far from alone here at Judson.

Now, I know that there are some folks among us who have a big problem with the word, “queer.” This word “queer” has been used to inflict so much pain since its inception in the 1500s. It’s expanded over centuries to work as a great umbrella term for schoolchildren young and old who wish to torment anyone who might dare to step outside the impossibly strict guidelines we humans create to punish ourselves. But I want to accept that history today and move past it. I want to combine the words “queer” and “questioning” so we can all accept that the word “queer” means to be “one who questions.” All things. If we can accept that today, then I hope we can start to embrace that “Q” and use it for our most righteous, prophetic purposes.

With Friday’s news from the New York Senate, I know we’re all feeling more elevated. We’re all feeling really good about ourselves. We should! We’re all ready to get out there and let our queer, questioning freak flags fly proudly in the summer heat. But we’re not done. If we are going to go out today and be truly proud, we have to question ourselves as well, taking stock of where our “movement” is right now. We have to look back at where we’ve marched and set our sights on where we’re marching to next.

See, Judson isn’t the only place where lately we’ve had to defend how open and affirming we really are. We’re not the only place receiving challenges from folks within our own community who think we might be a smidge less tolerant and mindful than we once thought. No, this is happening everywhere. Communities are having to rethink themselves and their beliefs and the answers that they thought they had so conveniently created. We know that there are people out there who hate us, a lot of them religious, a lot of them not. And we know that these people hate us. Why, just this month, we learned that even funnyman Tracy Morgan hates us. People hate us, even celebrities and normal folks who keep it hidden. Let’s acknowledge it again: People hate us. I’m talking about all of us, because it’s not just the Ls, the Gs, the Bs, and the Ts that they hate. It’s us, the Qs, the ones who are asking questions. They hate questions and they hate us. The only thing we can do to counteract this hate is to create a community that cares enough about itself to not only question the hate aimed at us from those seemingly outside our populace, but also to question, reshape, reform, tear down, build up, and reimagine the possibilities for those within our populace. I’m talking about the forgotten, the invisible, and the untrendy in our community. I’m talking about our transgender population, our aging population, our homeless population, our immigrant population, our I-don’t-even-know-who-I-am-or-who-you-are-so-please-can-we-just-help-one-another population. Yes, we celebrate today an enormous victory in securing a basic human right, but let us remain mindful of the work that still lies ahead.

Just in the past few months, on top of all of the homophobic and transphobic violence that has spread across this city, this country, and this world, infighting within our community has grown. Some examples: A young, queer activist friend of mine posted an open letter to aging activist Larry Kramer blasting him for his condemnation of the seeming “laziness” of the younger gay generation. Elsewhere in the city, beloved transgendered performer Justin Vivian Bond blasted queer-edited New York Magazine for a seemingly dismissive and trans-phobic article. Both of these things convince me that I know nothing concrete about my own community other than the fact that we still and always have a whole lot to learn about one another. I know little to nothing about lesbianism. Really. I know little to nothing about the trans world. Really. I have attempted to educate myself about the AIDS crisis and its continuing legacy, but know that there is no way for me to ever truly understand the danger, the hate, the terror that our people faced during that time.

All I can do to counteract my lack of knowledge is to ask questions. All we can do to counteract any lack of knowledge each of us might have is to ask questions. Not asking those questions leaves us in our own fearful heads, paralyzed into inaction. Conversely, asking questions is taking action. Asking questions is also the best way to remain proud while embodying humility. It’s a truly terrifying thing to ask questions. It’s terrifying to be truly humble, to admit that you do not know the answer.

Luckily, that’s what all of us folks who embrace this little letter “Q” are best at doing. We question the gender binary. We question all binaries, actually. We question the idea of marriage and its so-called tradition and apparent brokenness. We question the idea of family and its countless possible permutations. We question what it means to be who we are, regardless of the hate that might come our way. At our best, we humble ourselves and ask questions before we take pride in answers. That’s scary and that’s why people hate us.

But in my opinion, the opposite of hate isn’t love. The opposite of hate is asking questions. It is only through asking questions that we transform ourselves, which transforms others, which transforms ourselves again. And guess what? If we keep asking questions, we keep transforming. And something else less heady and more fun happens, too: We get to know other people. And that’s something of which we can be truly proud.

There is a disease that has been spreading pretty much since the dawn of time. That disease is our common disinterest in getting to know one another. It starts wars. It kills kids. It spreads throughout even the most well educated, affluent heart.

But we have a cure and this cure might help us to stop dragging our silent feet on finding cures for other, even more deadly diseases like AIDS. That cure is a selflessness, an interest, a welcoming, a righteousness that empowers us to ask questions of everything, of everyone, of others, but most importantly of ourselves. How can hate survive if we keep asking ourselves why? And if we as a queer, questioning community can keep challenging ourselves to tear down definitions and love one another along the way, how in God’s name will those who stand opposed to us now not eventually feel an urgent need to enter our welcoming arms and join in the Pride celebration? The plan is already working. Our very own New York just became the sixth and largest state to legalize same-sex marriage and, if we can make it here, we’ll make it anywhere.

It’s a dangerous word, “pride.” Jesus warns against it, it’s true. But I think it’s an addiction to selfish, definitive, prideful answers that he finds distasteful, not the pride of our community rejoicing in its differences and continually and humbly challenging one another to keep our minds open. We’re going to send ourselves out to march today, much like those disciples long ago, knowing that we will face hate, but also knowing that we hold within us the questions of a four-year-old, the questions of a disciple, the questions that might set us free from those hateful things called answers. So, this morning, I welcome you to challenge me. I welcome you to question me. I welcome you to ask me anything you’d like. I will do the same for you. We are humble prophets today and all days. I am so proud of us all.


Ancient Testimony: Matthew 10:40-42

"Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet's reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple — truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward."

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