Nineteen-year-old Giles Joslyn took his life in his family’s home on January 5, 2012. The principal of Muscatine High School in Iowa called Giles’ death a tragic loss in their school community. “Many of our parents and community knew Giles, as an excellent student, gifted musician, selfless friend to others, a difference-maker in everything that he did, and a credit to his family.”
Jennifer Harvey had Giles as a student. In a Huffington Post article one year after Giles’ death, Harvey, an out and proud lesbian teacher of religion and a Christian pastor, seeks to make sense of the tragedy.
“I do not pretend to know precisely why Giles chose to take his life. But I cannot ignore the fact that he erased his physical existence in the context of a dominant Christian culture that has no place for bodies like his — beautiful bodies that refuse to conform to our rigid, narrow ways of thinking about ‘normal’ gender and sex and sexuality. It’s likely that in such a world, confusing and lonely questions about the meaning of love and intimacy began to accompany Giles as he journeyed into adulthood. ”
Giles was intersex. He was born with a variation in sex characteristics that did not fit with the typical definitions of female/male sex binary.
Giles was memorialized in a service supposed to comfort us. And yet, the teachings and practices of this very church might, in fact, have had something to do with Giles’ decision to end his life. This awareness made me seethe. During the funeral, I struggled for breath as a priest claimed that Jesus’ communion table — a table intended to commemorate life and create community — was only for those who were “properly disposed.” I couldn’t and still can’t fathom or forgive the pastoral decision to specifically disinvite a mass of stunned and devastated young people at the very moment they most needed to be enfolded by a ritual of love…
For the most part, Christian communities today still commit the utter existential erasure of these youth. This crisis comes from it having been made impossible for you to see yourself reflected in the vision of life, beauty and wholeness that our religious communities attempt to create. And when you can’t see yourself, or when your community tells you to bury an essential part of you or just pretends you don’t exist at all it becomes impossible to envision a future in which you do.
Let me be clear. Many Christians are loving and kind to LGBTI [i added] folks. A great number even disagree with their community’s official stance on LGBTI issues. I count many such persons of good will among my friends and family. But meanwhile, many still take part in such communities. They send their kids to these churches for confirmation. They have the church baptize their babies. I used to have some patience with the reasons one might have for personally supporting LGBTI people while still participating in a community that officially does not. Since Giles’ death my patience has vanished. I can’t tolerate such passive acceptance of a religious culture that enables such deaths any more.
It’s time for more of us to walk out of such churches. Or, maybe it’s time for more us to stay — but to make loud nuisances of ourselves as we do.
If we are to save the lives of our youth, we must constantly, publicly, relentlessly challenge “Christian” teachings and the rituals that exclude so many. Clergy, lay people, outsiders, evangelicals, liberals, Mormons, Catholics, Baptists, grandparents and teenagers must take up this urgent work. We must say “Enough!” Enough of the silence. Enough of the erasure. Enough of the calls that we can “agree to disagree.”
We cannot “disagree” with youth like Giles. We need to joyfully embrace them as whole, beautiful, beings worthy of life and love. We must do so. Anything else is simply too much loss to accept.