A Chris­tian comes out

March­ing in the Pride Pa­rade has helped me un­der­stand who I am,

Ottawa Citizen - - ARGUMENTS - Jenna Tenn-Yuk is a spo­ken­word artist, pub­lic speaker and mas­ter’s de­gree stu­dent at the Univer­sity of Ot­tawa. You can fol­low her at Twit­ter.com/jen­naten­nyuk. writes JENNA TENN-YUK.

‘Jenna, I don’t see what’s the big deal of you walk­ing in the Pride Pa­rade,” my friend said. “No one will even know you’re gay.” “Isn’t a huge part of walk­ing in the pa­rade to show you’re proud of who you are?” I replied. “I’m not proud of who I am right now, but I hope one day I will be.”

That was two years ago, and the thought of be­ing seen in the Pride Pa­rade was over­whelm­ing for me. I wasn’t com­fort­able in my own skin, and I was still ashamed of who I was. I won­dered if I would ever be OK with be­ing gay.

A huge part of that guilt came from my up­bring­ing in a Chris­tian church. I at­tended church ev­ery Sun­day and went to Chris­tian school and was in­volved in a num­ber of faith-based or­ga­ni­za­tions. Al­though Je­sus never mea­sured sin, there were some “sins” that were of­ten seen as the worst in some Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties, such as be­ing gay.

When I re­al­ized there was some­thing dif­fer­ent about me and I was at­tracted to peo­ple of the same sex, I tried to ig­nore and sup­press my feel­ings. How could I be gay? This label didn’t seem to fit the “Jenna” pack­age I had cre­ated and thought I had to be.

Even though I was suc­cess­ful in many ar­eas of my life, from school to mu­sic to sports, I be­lieved this piece would over­shadow all the other parts. I hated my­self, and I lived in shame and si­lence for a very long time.

Since I couldn’t ac­cept my sex­u­al­ity and saw my­self only through that limited lens, I be­lieved oth­ers would also re­duce me to that label. I needed to love and ac­cept who I was be­fore I be­lieved oth­ers loved me.

Com­ing out as gay was the most painful and dif­fi­cult time of my life, yet the most beau­ti­ful, heal­ing and creative. I had to let go of who I thought I should be, and slowly learn to em­brace and love all the pieces of my story.

When I started com­ing out, I also be­gan writ­ing po­etry and have been per­form­ing spo­ken word for the past sev­eral years. It was fright­en­ing and amaz­ing to break the si­lences in my life, and to see the power of vul­ner­a­bil­ity and shar­ing my story.

I’ve also be­come pas­sion­ate about help­ing other peo­ple through spo­ken word work­shops and a po­etry show I started and co-host, Words to Live By. Peo­ple who have never writ­ten po­etry or shared in pub­lic have stepped out in coura­geous and beau­ti­ful ways.

Telling my story through po­etry also en­cour­aged me to pub­licly come out on my blog and in speak­ing en­gage­ments. Many peo­ple have been sur­prised to find out I’m gay be­cause I “look girlie,” wear dresses and I’m a Chris­tian.

How­ever, this has opened much dia­logue in many com­mu­ni­ties. I’ve spent a num­ber of years em­bed­ded in Chris­tian and LGBTQ (les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans, queer) com­mu­ni­ties and have seen a huge dis­con­nect in th­ese spa­ces. De­spite the out­ward dif­fer­ences, there are many sim­i­lar­i­ties within th­ese groups.

Both th­ese spa­ces claim to be open, safe and ac­cept­ing, and yet I’ve seen peo­ple judge and marginal­ize dis­sim­i­lar view­points. There is a lack of dia­logue hap­pen­ing among th­ese groups and in­stant judg­ment with­out hear­ing the other side. I’ve seen and ex­pe­ri­enced th­ese con­ver­sa­tions first-hand.

I know that many peo­ple will never be­lieve that be­ing gay and Chris­tian can be com­pat­i­ble. Some of those peo­ple are very close to me, and said God didn’t make me this way and the Bi­ble is against ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Their com­ments caused me to in­stantly put up my walls, and I didn’t foster any dia­logue.

In one of those ex­pe­ri­ences, the per­son told me they chose be­ing what they saw as right in­stead of hav­ing a re­la­tion­ship with me. I also re­al­ized I was do­ing the same when I wanted them to feel guilty for the way they treated me.

If we want real un­der­stand­ing and change to oc­cur, we need to talk about th­ese is­sues and ac­tu­ally lis­ten in a re­spect­ful way. We must have the dia­logue and val­i­date one an­other’s voices, even if it’s dif­fi­cult, un­com­fort­able and painful. Th­ese con­ver­sa­tions are cru­cial if we hope to move to­ward un­der­stand­ing and change.

Many peo­ple who are LGBTQ are still suf­fer­ing in si­lence and do not be­lieve they are worth loving, es­pe­cially those in com­mu­ni­ties that tell them they are worth­less. I was one of those peo­ple, and I want to help foster con­ver­sa­tions so other “Jen­nas” do not have to suf­fer in si­lence.

It’s im­por­tant we con­tinue to tell our sto­ries, es­pe­cially those ones that are chal­leng­ing and scary. Hope­fully, we will rec­og­nize the power of our voices and be proud to share who we are with those around us.

It has taken a long time, but I can fi­nally say I’m proud of who I am.


Spec­ta­tors wave rain­bow flags at Van­cou­ver’s Pride pa­rade on Aug. 4. Ot­tawa’s Cap­i­tal Pride Pa­rade is sched­uled for Satur­day, Aug. 25.

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