While standing at the campfire on Saturday night after an exhilarating 24 hour reunion with OneWheaton, I thought to myself, “I went through a whole year at Wheaton unseen, unloved and surely unwanted had anyone known what I was struggling with.” It seemed a little too maudlin to verbalize, but after 42 years, I was feeling seen, loved and deeply connected with a different group of kinder, braver Wheaton people.
Thanks to social media, I felt appreciated and welcomed long before we met. I loved being able to greet many of you by name! I love that I wasn’t unique or alone back in 1970 and 1971 — Carol, Nancy, Paul Phillips and others who would have understood were out there, although there was no way to know that then.
Sometimes healing takes a REALLY long time! Who would have imagined I could ever say, “Ten years ago I my wife and I were legally married in our church”? Even though I moved on, made a good life, and have been the recipient of countless good things along with some painful learning experiences, I had never resolved my toxic freshman year at Wheaton where I internalized the unspoken hatred of my tribe. Our reunion weekend healed me as I told my story and listened to yours, exchanged hugs upon hugs upon hugs, and together celebrated the film that tells our story so well and provides a powerful tool to share our struggles with those who don’t understand our context. I return home to bring the message eastward!
Thank you all for coming out in so many ways, and for the enormous talent and effort required to produce a OneWheaton reunion. As we contribute to our beloved community, we sustain one another and take our energy into the wider world for justice.
– Holly Hendricks
“Did anyone have anything exciting happen this week?” The vested and perfectly round-faced, mustachioed improviser asked the audience, pacing with a bounce across the stage. Several friends from Refuge, the LGBT student group at Wheaton College, and I filled the front row of the tiny Annoyance Theater.
After a brief uncomfortable pause, I spoke, “…I passed a theology exam this week after losing my notes…”
The improviser proceeded to ask me questions about my hometown, major, etc., gathering material for the act they would perform. Finally, he asked about Wheaton, and I told him Wheaton is generally considered a conservative Christian, liberal arts college. When I said I would consider myself a Christian, he laughed in surprise,
“You do know where you are, right?”
This is the reaction I often get when I tell friends that I am, without serious lapses in sanity, both bisexual and Christian. After the initial surprise, their first question is often, “is it hard to be LGBT and Christian at a college like Wheaton where all students must sign a covenant condemning ‘homosexual behavior’?”
The recent documentary about OneWheaton, “Queers in the Kingdom,” had a showing in Glen Ellyn over homecoming weekend. It included many stories of alumni who struggled with questions of sexuality, identity and faith during their time at Wheaton. The film celebrated their journeys and the solidarity they found in the formation of OneWheaton. At the same time it called attention to how difficult it was for them to exist in an institution that ignored and often actively condemned their sexualities.
There is a narrative that assumes all LGBT students on Christian campuses experience “years of inner torment,” “fear disciplinary probation and being ostracized by peers,” and “live with [same-sex attraction] every second of their lives, doubting the authenticity of their faith.” This narrative would answer the question, “is it hard to be a gay Christian?” with a definite, “yes.”
I have seen elements of this narrative during my own time at Wheaton—my underclassman dorm years spent having no vocabulary to use when talking about what was going on in my confusing relationships with women, my jaw clenched in silence when issues of sexuality came up in class for fear of being judged, all the talks with acquaintances about dating I have escaped by crafty rhetorical evasion, and the fact I am unable to hold my girl’s hand on campus (we sometimes sarcastically bro hug or give exaggerated high-fives). However, a narrative which emphasizes only the “hard things” is incomplete, and this has the potential to cause rifts between older and younger generations of LGBT alumni from Christian colleges.
Even though Wheaton and its students are not perfect and many here have undoubtedly been hurt, many current LGBT students, myself included, deeply appreciate recent efforts of Wheaton to recognize and support us. Wheaton approved the formation of Refuge, brought on a staff person solely to lead the group, hosted several events, and has not shied away from talking about sexuality in classes. There is definitely room for the school to grow (ie. allowing for an LGBT group that can host events with less bureaucratic hesitancy by the administration, and including more female voices in discussion). However, I can honestly say I have not had a single negative “coming out” experience at Wheaton. I am actually more worried about coming out to conservative Christian friends at other institutions and dealing with bi stigma in the broader LGBT community than I am with having conversations at Wheaton. Recently, my friends, Justin, Stephen and Andrew, in a Record article wrote that portraying LGBT students as “[spending] each waking moment in despair” is an unfair caricature, untrue to “the diversity of our lives and spiritual journeys.” Another friend positively remarked that, though her time at Wheaton was incredibly tumultuous, she likely would never have come out at all if she hadn’t come here.
The simple question, “is it hard?” is itself a difficult question to ask, because any real experience would answer with a layered and honest “yes and no.” I hope that older generations of LGBT alumni of Christian colleges will continue to offer support to current students facing doubts and fears at Wheaton, while celebrating the potentially more positive aspects of our experiences. At the same time, I hope we all continue to remember the years of isolation and oppression of those in the past, many of which are documented in “Queers in the Kingdom.” I hope we see how these alumni’s uniting to form OneWheaton has changed for the better the real situations of LGBT students of Christian colleges.
– Morgan Kinsinger