Whelp, for my first post, I think I’ll just introduce myself.
My name is Jennifer Yoder. I was raised in a big (4 kids, lots of cousins and other family about) Mennonite family in Archbold, OH. My extended family on both sides includes/included a whole lot of Mennonite college graduates (and one professor), a Mennonite pastor, a member of a Mennonite publication, and many a “helping profession” or social justice professional – and many others, just as awesome, of many professions.
I was part of a Mennonite Youth Fellowship at my home church, and then when I no longer felt welcome, I joined a different local MYF. I never quite fit in. Something about me was always different from the kids in my community, in and out of church. I was baptized when I was 15. I wasn’t out when I was in high school, though I had many gay friends – we didn’t have the language of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) yet, at least not where I was. I never understood the thought that my gay friends were going to hell, anymore than I understood when I was taught in Sunday School that Jewish people were going to hell. That lesson was fun. We actually visited a synagogue, and the following Sunday learned that, nice as all those people we met were, they were all going to hell.
After I pretty naively expressed my disagreement with the notion that all gay people were going to hell, while dipping balls of peanut butter in melted chocolate to make the signature Ohio candy buckeye, a youth leader and a fellow member of MYF reached out to me in grave concern. The youth leader was earnest and kind. The MYF member handed me a list of all the verses against homosexuality, and expressed that he had feelings of same-sex attraction too, but he kept them under control as the Bible asked. Neither of their attempts at “correcting” me stuck.
At Goshen College, I met a lovely girl, and realized I might not be so straight myself. That romance didn’t last, and I had a longer one with another student – this time a guy. That relationship was real and true – I wasn’t trying and failing to be attracted to him, I was attracted emotionally and physically. But it didn’t work in a lot of ways – some having to do with gender. It’s complicated. Regardless, I also started attending Prism, Goshen’s group for LGBTQ folks. I knew I had attractions to women and occasionally men. I identified with the only language I had for it at the time – bisexual.
I transferred away from Goshen to Ohio State. I joined a group there called Queer Christians, and we became friends with the Jewish Queers. I began using the word to describe myself that feels like home to me – queer. We mostly attended King Avenue United Methodist Church (an openly affirming congregation) and Hillel’s welcoming services, but we stopped in at Columbus Mennonite occasionally. I was in and out of Columbus Mennonite as I began my career involving a lot of travel for me, and they began working to become welcoming, involving a journey for them. I maintained a close relationship with my fellow Queer Christians and Jewish Queers even after college.
My career evolved, the Queer Christians and Jewish Queers mostly moved out of town, and after several false starts, I found a partner who was a great match. He’s a transgender man with a son who is eight. This means he was assigned the gender of female at birth, and now identifies as a man. And that he has a son. Who is eight. We began attending Columbus Mennonite regularly, only to find that a move to Pittsburgh was in store for us.
Now we’re in Pittsburgh, attending Pittsburgh Mennonite as they too journey towards welcome. Who knows what’s next??
Obviously, I’ve left out a whole lot – the moment I came out to my hometown pastor, all the times someone has written a comment full of hate to me on the internet, leaned over and whispered hate in my ear in a convention hallway, e-mailed me that they know where I live, what car I drive, where I work, and that they’re watching my Pink Menno ass. That one time the Goshen College student walked up and down the hallways smacking a baseball bat against his hand shouting about the fucking faggots while my gay friend crept up and noiselessly locked his dorm-room door, and stayed there hidden, for who knows how long. The soul-sucking nature of stare after whisper after stare of hate – so quiet, and so hard to point out, so hard for allies to see or understand.
I’ve also left out that time my Grandmother taught my partner and I to make a signature dish, the time when my uncle looked me straight in my eyes and told me that I’m perfect just the way I am, that one New Year’s my brother and I created Pink Menno, the pastor who casually drops welcoming and affirming language into his sermons, the time I talked late into the night with a wise-cracking dynamic Mennonite LGBTQ leader, my mother’s constant, never-wavering, loving support, my brother’s unflinching advocacy, the scriptures I’ve read, the hymns I’ve lead, the music I’ve performed in Mennonite churches. I left out the books I read, the ways I learned to think critically, communicate lovingly, to problem-solve, and all of those moments in a room with someone else smart and passionate and filled with the spirit that just crackle with possibility and a new vision for a loving church.
Those are for a different day.
“The moment we choose love, we begin to move toward freedom.” bell hooks