Thursday, November 10, 2016

Why Am I Afraid?

With regards to social justice issues, I am most often aware of my privilege.  As a cisgender white man living in the United States, I possess a great deal of it. It is out of the small piece of my identity that makes me a minority, the gay piece that my fear is stemming from. For me, I don't feel like it's just about my candidate losing an election.  I might not like the message, but I agree and strongly believe in the people's right to choose their messenger, but this messenger does, I feel, have the ability to do real and serious harm to me as a person and to so many others whether it is through his direct actions or through the indirect actions of others.  Our president-elect very clearly implied that, because the 2nd Amendment is intact, that voters could do something about Secretary Clinton if they chose to. If we want to talk about someone who should be in jail, for me, that statement should have resulted in an investigation and an arrest.

This candidate has inspired violence and has been followed by violence everywhere he goes.  He has made comments that clearly lay out his xenophobic nature.  America is browning, and that frightens him and many others, but most of the fear is generated in rural areas where people experience very little of immigrant populations, and, in terms of immigration from Mexico, immigration is at a net negative.  More people are returning to Mexico than are coming to the United States.

I do fear that a President Trump and certainly a Vice President Pence will try to take away my right to marry.  I also worry that a Supreme Court, loaded with 2 or 3 Trump appointees, will declare local and statewide LGBT protections unconstitutional thereby throwing me back into the position that I left a few years ago where I had to fear losing my home and/or employment every day just because of who I am. More than governmental actions though, I fear the empowerment that he has given to his supporters to use violence to address their feelings towards those who are different from them.

Mike Pence, soon to be out Vice President, has made no secret of his love for conversion therapy, a dangerous and ineffective form of therapy aimed at changing a person's sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This practice, in addition to not being able to do what those who practice it say that it does, has been damaging and has resulted in physical harm to those, especially minors, that have been placed into this kind of "treatment" by their parents with some resorting to suicide.

I fear for my own safety.  I fear being called a "faggot," drug into an alley, being beaten until I am bloodied, and, then, being left for someone to find whether they find me dead or alive.  Honestly, that damage has been done already, but, now, we get to spend the next four years with every school yard bully looking to their television and seeing that crude language and intimidation can be a path to the highest office in the land.  On the subject of checks and balances, there are no checks and balances now.  The Republicans control both houses of Congress, and they will soon control the Court.  Trump will get whatever he wants. Plus, I hardly expect him to respect those checks and balances even if someone does try to oppose him. We have seen the emotional control and maturity with which he responds to those who disagree with him.

Do I wish the best for our country? Absolutely, I do, but I fear that the damage that may be done ecologically, socially, and politically may be done over the next four years may be irreparable? I do.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

No More Masks

     I find it appropriately ironic that both National Coming Out Day and Halloween occur during the month of October. For many of us, the years that preceded our coming out involved the crafting and wearing of a number of masks and identities. Some feel betrayed when we remove these masks, expressing anger at having been deceived. Those we come out to are certainly entitled to these reactions and to their own process of reconciling our full-truth with the half-truth they had previously know or assumed. Still, the greatest deception is the one that LGBTQ+ persons perpetrate against ourselves by denying and fighting against our own truth, not in an intentional act of deception, but in a desperate attempt to preserve our own safety, survival, and acceptance.

It has been seven years now since I took my first steps towards claiming my full truth, stepping out of the shadows into a much brighter and fuller world. I was 33 years old at that time, and I had spent my entire life up to that point hiding who I was, and the last 13 years actively fighting against it.

I think back to being a child and dressing up to go trick-or-treating.  It was fun to dress up as a favorite character and head out with my mom and little brother in pursuit of candy.  I grew up in a pretty rural area; so, trick-or-treating involved more driving than walking door-to-door. At the end of the night, we returned home with our haul of candy, and, as much fun as it had been to dress up, it felt great to take that mask off. It was so stuffy in there. My hair was always matted to my head with sweat.  It felt good to cool off and to be able to see the world more clearly instead of through two tiny eye holes.

Now, imagine that you've been wearing that mask not for hours but for years.  Imagine that you've only allowed yourself to see the world through a very small and narrow perspective.  Imagine that no one has been able to see or touch the real you because of the artificial barriers you're used to shape yourself to the expectations of others. When you come out, there isn't a basket of candy waiting to be sorted through. In fact, some come out only to experience the very rejection and abuse that they feared. Sometimes, depending on our age and circumstances, staying in the closet is our best means of survival, but I would urge those who need to stay in the closet for now to do so with an eye towards the future, taking this closeted time as preparation time to seek out the people and resources that can support you when you decide that you are ready to take those first steps beyond the threshold of the closet.  I promise you that there is a whole world of LGBTQ+ persons and our supportive allies who are ready to embrace and affirm you.

  Having spent so many years within a conservative Christian framework, I feel particularly encouraged when I encounter others who have had similar journeys. Just as the United Methodist Church finds itself poised to either split or go through a major restructuring of the way that we live in connection, leaving such a faith environment often means leaving behind many or all of those that one has been in community and ministry together with for a significant length of time.

     Two of the most visible examples of this in the past couple of years have been Jennifer Knapp and Trey Pearson. As musicians and celebrities who were at the pinnacle of conservative evangelical Christianity, they have had to face the scrutiny and criticism of those who once adored them in a very public way. What I respect most about both of them is that they have not allowed that scrutiny and the harsh words to drive them back into hiding.  While embracing their truth and their gifts, they have both stepped out and used their stories to give hope to others and sought to use this greater authenticity to fuel their careers and seek audiences that respect their truth.

Me with Jennifer Knapp in San Antonio in 2015
I was blessed to be able to see Jennifer Knapp perform a couple of times and to meet her in 2015.  I also read her book, 'Facing the Music', and bought her new album, 'Set Me Free.' I greatly enjoyed both, but it was also important to me to be able to, in some small way, to support and affirm her in her journey, a journey that ran parallel to my own, just on a much larger stage. Trey Pearson now finds himself in a similar place as he prepares to launch a solo album that will be out in 2017.  Having the boldness to step back out onto the stage and into the spotlight takes a great deal of courage.  A local to my hometown here in Columbus, Ohio, I've had the opportunity to meet Trey a few times as well since he came out earlier this year in 6-1-4 Magazine.  He is now traveling, sharing his story, and speaking out of the convictions of his faith during the current political season.  In this time, when the only voice of Christianity that is often heard is that of judgement and exclusion, it is powerful to see both Jennifer and Trey living into the fullness of who they are as individuals and empowering others to do the same.

Trey Pearson from 6-1-4 Magazine
     Here's to the day when masks are no longer needed and no one seeks to mold themselves to the assumptions of others!

~ Culbs

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

We Are Compatible

            I’m feeling like a proud parent today as my baby takes its first few tentative steps.  In May of this year, expecting that 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church would provide no immediate relief in the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons who participate and serve faithfully within the denomination, I took the step to reserve the domains and  My thought was that, if the church once again looks at us and says that we are incompatible, this would give myself and others a platform from which to look back at them and say, “Yes we are!.”

            Over the past few months, through conversations and encouragement from many others, the ‘We Are Compatible’ podcast began to take shape.  The first person to come aboard was my co-host, Alex Shanks.  I think, at first, Alex thought that this was just some crazy idea that I had concocted and wouldn’t follow through on.  As time went by, he began to see that I was serious.  The next person to join our little crew was Nick Federinko, our sound editor.  He said that he was on board as soon as I told him the name of the website.  He immediately saw the potential of having a means for LGBTQ+ persons to share their own stories in their own voices with the world.

            I knew that I needed other pieces as well though, and this was to be an audio production.  I needed music.  The first name that came to mind was the person who has provided the soundtrack to this reconciling movement for at least these last few years that I have been involved, Mark Miller.  I barely knew Mark Miller though, and I was pretty sure he didn’t know me at all.  I also knew that I either wanted ‘Draw the Circle Wide’ or ‘Child of God,’ as our theme music.  While at General Conference in Portland, I considered approaching him a few times, but I kept chickening out.  What if he said no?  What if he thought the idea was terrible?  What if he wanted a fee for using his music that I couldn’t afford?  Music is his livelihood and one of his gifts to the world.  He had a right to make money doing it.  I never got the nerve up to ask while in Portland.  After I returned to Ohio, I reached out to Mark via Facebook.  I didn’t even have a real e-mail address for him.  He responded very quickly that I could use his music.  He even suggested ‘Child of God,’ and told me that there would be no fee for doing so!  I was ecstatic!  At that point, it became even more real.  It also became clearer that I actually had to make this happen.

Alex and I in the studio
            As I began to explore the logistics of what it takes to produce and distribute a podcast, I approached a friend who had just purchased an online radio station, TrueFMOnline.  My ask to him was whether or not he would carry the show on his station once it was produced.  He responded by inviting me in to use their studio for a month or two while we get started.  A real studio?  Real microphones? Real sound equipment? The ability to integrate callers from anywhere in the world into our shows?  How could I refuse such an offer?  Anytime that I was looking for a door to open, it didn’t just open.  It fell off the hinges and hit the floor.  Now, recording in Columbus while our sound editor lives in Cincinnati presented some logistical challenges.  Fortunately, an OSU student, Jacob Rollins, who I met through volunteering with Equality Ohio has stepped up to assist us with the actual in-studio recording and technical issues.  Once we are done, the files are sent to Nick, and he takes it from there.

            Then, I began to wonder about the organizational structure and the financing of all of this.  What should this be?  Should I form my own non-profit for this?  Should it be run as more of a business?  I wasn’t doing this with a desire to make money.  I just wanted to be able to share stories in a way that others, even those who might not be fully supportive, might be open to hearing them.  Again, when I didn’t even expect it, Equality Ohio, an organization that I give a great deal of my time and energy to here in my home state, offered to allow me have the funds for the podcast run through them.  Perfect!  

            Now, I will admit that I am still a bit stressed about the finances for all of this.  There are costs involved. Alex and I have determined that it costs about $80 per episode to produce the show, and we estimate a total minimum budget of $10,000 to cover the full estimated two-year run.  So far, the money that we have spent has come from my own pocket, but, as a currently unemployed seminary student, I cannot sustain that.  Also, that just covers our basic costs (studio time, file hosting, website, etc).  It doesn’t include purchasing our own microphones to be able to do creative things in the field or small things like the reimbursement for the travel costs of those assisting us in this effort.  I am trusting that, just as the other doors have opened when they needed to that provision will come as well.

Please take a listen to our first episode at

~ Culbs

Twitter: @culbs1138

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Act Two, Scene Eleven - "Braiding in the Dark"

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you. Thanks!

The trip to Uganda also set the stage for something else.  Two of the missionaries from my church were a couple of young men, Steven and Dane. Not their real names. Pseudonyms are used throughout this blog.  Being from the same church, we, of course, knew each other prior to the trip.  I would even say that we were friends, but we got much closer during and following the trip. 

One of the experiences that acted as a catalyst for us getting closer was when Dane, who had long hair at the time, decided that he would like to get his hair braided into dreadlocks while we were in Africa.  He had even been talking to one of the maids at the hotel in which we were staying who said that she knew a place where he could get it done.  So, Dane and Steven began planning to go out with the maid one evening to get this done.  Many of the others on the trip were not comfortable with this, including Steven’s mother who was also on the trip.  She didn’t think that they should go off by themselves in a strange country with someone that they barely knew. 

Steven and Dane began seeking someone older to go with them.  They were both adults at the time, but they were very young, 18 or 19, I believe.  Anyway, they approached me.  I have always been the kind of person to say that, “If there is something you want to do, do it, especially if you are in a place that you many never make it back to.  So, after a bit of consideration, I agreed to accompany them.  In retrospect, this was probably not the wisest decision, but all worked out in the end.

Our guide, the hotel maid, met us at the front desk of the hotel on the night that we were to go.  She led us out to the street, and we all jumped into a taxi, essentially a small van that was already packed with multiple passengers.  The van drove us and dropped us off on the side of a street.  It was dark.  There were some fires burning in barrels on the side of the street, and a few venders who appeared to be selling cooked meat on the side of the streets. 

Our guide quickly led us down the street and into a very crowded salon.  As soon as we walked in, we heard someone say, “Mzungu,” and many of the people in the salon snickered or outright laughed.  Mzungu was one of the few Swahili words that I knew, and it simply meant white person.  So, it was clear that we stood out in the crowded room off all brown faces.  We sat and waited for a while.  Some of the other patrons spoke to us and asked us why we were in Uganda.  It was interesting that, at the mention of the church that was hosting us, Kampala Pentecostal Church or Watoto, the specific ministry we were there working as a part of, we were immediately given an extra level of deference. 

In the past, I have used this as an example of me feeling what it is to be a racial minority.  The current me realizes how incredibly ignorant that was.  If anything, this experience was an amplified experience of white privilege.  Despite the use of the use of the word Mzungu and the initial snickering, we were immediately pegged as white, male, American, and Christian, each label granting us a higher level of privilege and respect as it was identified and placed upon us.

At some point, while Dane’s hair was being braided, the power went out in the salon.  That brought the braiding momentarily to a halt.  The braiding resumed once enough candles had been brought in to allow the work to continue.  The whole process took far longer than any of us realized it would.  It was about 2:00 AM before it was finished.  Our hotel maid guide led us back to the street and into another cab.  It was going to be a short night as this took place during the first leg of our trip before we had left the city to go on safari. I apologize for this slightly out-of-order chronology.  We were expected to go to church the next morning.

I was in some hot water the next morning. My pastor’s son, Marc, who was also on the trip made sure that I knew that his father was not pleased with me.  He said that his father was up worrying about us all night, and he also told me that his father would be having words with me about it.  That weighed on my mind throughout that day and the church service.  I avoided Pastor Rob until we were leaving to go on safari.  That’s another reason that I was so happy for that time of laughter in the back of the bus with him because that let me know that he had either let go of his anger towards me or that Marc had been exaggerating the extent of it.

Steven and Dane will be key players in my next post; so, I felt the need to give them a bit of an introduction and give a glimpse into the nature and dynamic of our friendship.  Thank you for reading up to this point.  I apologize that I have, yet again, taken some time off from writing.  I had sinus surgery a couple of weeks ago, and that threw me off a bit, but I hope to get back on track.  I am also considering doing Act Three as an e-book.  I’m wondering what your thoughts, Faithful Reader, would be on that.  If I do so, I would allow a time for those who are followers of this blog to obtain it either for free or for an extremely discounted price prior to promoting it more widely.  I’m sharing this now for a few reasons.  First, I don’t want you to feel like you got tricked when we get to that point.  Second, by putting it out here, it means I have to finish writing it.  Third, I want you to know that I value you being a part of my community by reading this blog and supporting my voice.

~ Culbs

Twitter: @culbs1138

Also, I am going to be co-hosting a podcast that will be available for you to listen to soon.  That has also been consuming some of my energy and attention.  Please look for updates on that at

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Act Two, Scene Ten - "A Couple of Hyenas"

This post is part of my on-going story that I have been telling through this blog.  If you are just coming here for the first time or if you need to catch up, you can catch the earlier parts of the story in Setting the Stage or Act One.  See the navigation panel to the right labeled My Story.  I hope that my sharing of my story is helpful, encouraging, informative, or at least entertaining for you.  Please feel free to comment or contact me.  Thanks!

            While, I do wish that I could have learned what I needed to learn sooner and became comfortable with myself much faster, I apparently needed to take the time that I did in order to figure out who I was, and I am certainly thankful for that now as I do not still have those lingering questions about my identity in terms of being both gay and a person of faith.  Honestly, those were good times. It wasn’t as though I spent the entire time being miserable and held captive against my will.  Also, let’s remember that I entered my ex-gay period as an adult, of my own free will, and that they were merely assisting in what I had asked them to help me with.  This is very different than situations in which children are forced into situations aimed at changing their sexual orientation or coercing transgender to deny their true gender identity.

            I want to share with you what is probably one of my fondest memories from my time at my former church.  In 2004, I believe, I went on a mission trip.  In churches like the one that I went to, adult mission trips were less common.  They were usually seen as a development tool for young people, high school and college-age.  Well, since I didn’t begin attending church until I was 20, I kind of missed out on that phase of life in the church and the experience of going on a mission trip as a rite of passage.  So, when the opportunity came to go on a trip to Uganda as part of a group of adults from my own church, I jumped at the opportunity.

            The purpose of the trip was not to teach people about Christianity or to win souls for Jesus like many of the mission trips that young people from my church would have gone on.  This trip was, in terms of the work done, more similar to the work that I see done by adult missionaries now in my new context within the United Methodist Church.  We went over to build a classroom that would be used to educated children who had been orphaned through war, poverty, and disease.

            We spent a total of two weeks in Uganda, mostly in the vicinity of the county’s capital, Kampala.  During the first week, we built the classroom.  The second week was supposed to be more of a vacation.  During this time, we went on a safari.  On the day that we transitioned from the area where we had been working on the classroom to going further out into the countryside for the safari portion of our trip, we had been on the bus, more like a large passenger van, for a very long time.  When we finally arrived at the safari resort area, it was evening, and the group was divided as to whether or not we should go to the building where we would be staying or if we should have the drive take us out into the surrounding area to see if we could see any animals now.  We had to decide as a group because each choice required the driver to go in different directions.  Ultimately, the majority of the group wanted to go see animals.

            In the back of the bus, and part of the minority, were my former pastor and I.  We both just wanted to get to our rooms and our beds.  We were tired.  We had been on a bus for hours, and, at that point, we were getting more than a little slap happy.  We did see some animals that night.  Now, while others were only excited to see more animals by each one that they saw, he and I were sitting in the back thinking, if you’ve seen one giraffe, you’ve seen them all.  So, we were just in the back, I think, getting a little annoyed at first, and, then, we just started checking off animals, giraffe, check; elephant, check; gazelle, check; zebra, check.  Eventually, we got to the point that we were laughing hysterically each time we could check an animal off, and, then we would roll our eyes and laugh some more when people wanted to see more.  It got bad enough that the guide up front even had to tell us to be quiet which only made us laugh more.  It probably isn’t that fun to read my description of it, but I laughed so hard that night.  I had many good times with my pastor and the other members of that group and my church as a whole, but I don’t think I ever laughed as hard as I did during that evening as we rode around in the back of that bus and just laughed and giggled more insanely than any hyena we ever would have encountered out on the grassy fields and plains of Africa.

I share this because I feel that so much of this blog focuses on my inner turmoil surrounding my own acceptance of all aspects of who I am as a person.  I want you to know that it wasn’t all conflict and turmoil.  There was genuine joy and fun as well.

       On a much more serious note, what I did not realize at the time, by being a part of the actions of a conservative church in Ohio in support of the actions of the Kampala Pentecostal Church in Uganda, I played a role in introducing the conservative theologies in that country that have contributed to the horrible treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda.  As I mentioned above, our efforts in Uganda were aimed directly at supporting the education of children, but part of the education they received was a conservative understanding of the Bible and Christianity.  In some small way I feel that I contributed to the mindsets and attitudes that plague the United Methodist Church now.  

Twitter: @culbs1138