I left the Sunday matinee of Fun Home and blinked into the sunlight. We had decided to go spontaneously as the last stop of our whirlwind weekend in the city.
I left the show feeling gob smacked.
“I wonder what it was like to watch that if you’re a straight person with living parents and no gender trauma,” I said, half serious, to my friend Maddie.
I could feel myself internalizing Alison Bechdel’s story of her childhood and adolescence as the child of a hyper-controlling and closeted gay father. The adult Alison, a lesbian cartoonist, walks the audience through the memories of her younger self—from disdain for dresses as a child to the trauma of her dad’s suicide. The details were different than my own story, but the show still felt like holding up a mirror.
“Well, I’ve heard that people do experience trauma around other things, too, so they could probably still relate,” Maddie said.
I tugged on my bow tie to signal my assent.
That is the power of stories—we can enjoy them as entertainment, but from the best ones we also have the opportunity to learn something about ourselves.
That morning—Easter morning—at Middle Collegiate Church, Maddie and I heard the story of Christ’s resurrection with very different ears. I’ve been a regular church-goer with a messy but constant faith for my whole life, and Maddie is a Jewish atheist.
But when the Rev. Jacqui Lewis shared the Gospel and identified the risen Christ in the pews and in our broken world, we both heard a story we needed to hear. Rev. Lewis named the hurting of the world and questioned whether she can still believe in human beings the way she believes in God.
But then she identified the way that Christ is working through queer and trans activists in North Carolina, through the families of black youth killed by police, and through those of us in the pews.
We made her believe in human beings, she said.
That is the renewing power of the Gospel, especially on Easter: It gives us a reason to believe not just in God’s Grace but in each other and ourselves.
Maddie is still an atheist, and my faith is still a mostly nonsensical collection of ideas and gut feelings. But we both believe in other people, and we were able to hear the resurrection story and weep, sing and pray in a community that made us feel abundantly welcome.
In retrospect, it doesn’t feel like an accident that I saw Fun Home after Easter Church. Do you remember trying to claw your way into the Gospel, reading a text that most of the world insists isn’t for you and making it yours anyway? I’m still doing that constantly. I still rarely believe that God’s grace is made for me.
So it matters immensely that we keep telling bisexual, trans, queer, lesbian and gay stories.
I had no doubt that Fun Home is a story for people like me, a bisexual genderqueer woman. It is a story about coming out and not coming out, and the consequences those choices have. It is a story about the twin despairs of grief and guilt. It is a story about growing up to become even gayer than you ever meant to be.
Fun Home is a story about a lesbian and her gay father—it is a story for us. It shows us the ways that we are human, which is what great stories do. The musical itself reflects this in “Ring of Keys,” when Small Alison sees a butch delivery woman come into a diner and has a revelation about herself that won’t fully take shape until years later. It was Alison’s first real clue that she was a person after all.
We have to believe we are human before we can believe we are humans worthy of grace.
And tragically, we can’t all find that in church.
Too many churches and too many Christians want us to believe that we are less human, that the Christ story isn’t ours to find hope in. In these weeks while violently anti-LGBTQI laws make their way through state legislatures around the country, it is more important than ever that we hold onto our humanity and fight tooth and nail for our grace. Whether you find that in worship or during a performance of the queerest musical ever made, you will have won the battle that day.
This Easter season, I hope we can all find more stories that convince us of our own worthiness, the goodness of other people and Christ’s boundless, death-defying love.
Photo via Audrey White
Presbyterian Church in America