You won’t find it in the DSM-IV, but the fact of the matter is, we all hear voices. Each of our lives, be they relatively short or long, have, to one degree or another, been formed by the voices we’ve heard.
Such was the case with many of the characters drawn for us in the Bible stories we’ve grown up with and know so well. Such was the case, for example, with Elijah the prophet.
It went like this. Ahab, not the most shining example of the ancient biblical kings, told the evil Jezebel that Elijah had ordered the execution of 850 priests of the goddess Asherah and her consort, Baal. Needless to say, as a devotee of those two gods, Jezebel was a bit miffed.
So she sent word to Elijah — we’re not told why she warned him — that she was going to have him killed in 24 hours.
Elijah, coming off this great victory in which he had indeed been responsible for the execution of those 850 pagan priests, did the exact opposite of what we might have expected. Scared out of his wits, apparently suffering from a deep depression, Elijah ran like a scared rabbit, ending up in the wilderness asking God to let him die.
Then, in a wonderfully written piece of narrative (I Kings 19:11-13), we’re told that Elijah heard (and felt and saw the effects of) a great wind. But God wasn’t in the wind. Then came a powerful and destructive earthquake. But God wasn’t in the earthquake, either. After that came a roaring fire with the same result. God was not there.
But then — and the King James rendering of this passage is beautiful — came a “small, still voice.” It was the voice of God.
Elijah heard voices, conflicting voices, competing, loud voices. They were the voices of fear and the voice of courage, voices of depression and the voice of hope and assurance.
In his case, he had listened to the wrong voices, the loudest and most destructive ones.
We too, often, especially as GLBTQ individuals, listen to those wrong, but erroneous, voices. Some we share in common with many of those around us, our fellow humans. Some are particular to our own lives as queer individuals.
Here’s one voice. Have you heard it? Listened to it? It is the Voice of Perfection.
“If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.”
“Here, let me do that. I’ll show you how to do it right.”
“Four B’s and one A? You can do better. Let’s have all A’s next time.”
“No fats. No femmes. No trolls.”
“You’ve dated men? You’re not a true lesbian.”
“You used to be a man? A sex change? You’re not a real woman.”
Often the voice of perfection is much more subtle, though no less loud, and comes through the visual images which fill our television screens or the pages of our magazines. Young. Beautiful. In perfect shape. Successful. Professionally whitened and capped teeth. Driving this car or that one. Wearing only this label or that one.
The Voice of Perfection often plagues us throughout our lives, infecting every area of our lives from jobs to relationships to appearance to the material possessions which we amass around us. It is the Voice of Perfection which often gives rise to the seemingly pervasive need among GLBTQ folks to create fictional lives Yet, as it sits and marinates our souls, it is the voice that creates in us the conviction that in whatever area of life, we will never, ever measure up.
There’s another powerful voice called the Voice of Certainty. This is the voice of the absolute, the voice of black and white, of a strict, uncompromising binary approach to life, the voice of moral absolutes.
“You’re either gay or straight. Bisexuality is just a training ground.”
“You’re either butch or femme. Period.”
“You can’t be Christian and queer.”
“We have Truth. They have untruth.”
“If I wanted to date a man, I’d find someone with a penis.”
“If I wanted to date a woman, I’d find someone with a vagina.”
“We’re right; they’re wrong.”
There’s something about us, those who have been immersed in a Western tradition for so long, that demands certainty and sees uncertainty as a weakness.
No doubt about it, the Voice of Certainty has great appeal. It’s a comforting voice. It reduces stress. It’s easy.
Unfortunately, this voice doesn’t match reality. Perhaps Zeno was right; maybe we can’t put our foot into the same river twice; that not only has the river changed, our very foot has changed.
Rejecting a binary approach to life, rejecting the quest for certainty is not easy. It surrounds us, pervades every fabric of our being. But the fact of the matter is, the world is not absolute, it is not black and white. It is often contradictory and confusing and sometimes downright unsettling. There’s a lot of gray between black and white. Sure, A is not equal to non-A, but there’s a lot between the two. We can’t divided the world into neat, self-contained categories of right/wrong, truth/untruth, gay/straight, male/female, butch/femme. Our commitment to a binary system of viewing things will crash into reality head first every day.
One of the greatest insights we as GLBTQ folks, and the one we very often ignore, is that the world is a world of infinite varieties, that there are many, many colors to the rainbow.
Then there is that voice with which we are all too familiar: the Voice of Rejection, first cousin of the Voice of Certainty.
“If you’re not for me, you’re against me.”
“You’re good for nothing. You’ll never amount to anything.”
“Why can’t you be normal?”
“You can be gay if you want to, but you’re not welcome in this house anymore.”
“God hates you.”
This voice, the Voice of Rejection, uses any one of a number of criteria: race, gender, economic status, the way a person dresses, their hopes and aspirations, educational level, even who a person finds themselves attracted to or loves.
It is the voice which results far too often in contemplation of suicide, especially for GLBTQ youth.
It is the voice which drives GLBTQ Christians from the churches in which they’ve grown up and come to love.
It is the voice which drives GLBTQ folks away from the God they thought loved them.
In the clamor of these loud, powerful, misleading voices, we need to listen to those small, still voices — the voice of the God who dwells within us.
We need to listen to the Voice of Self Realization, that voice which Thoreau called “a different drummer” and “the music which h/she hears, however measured or far away.”
It is the Voice of Self Acceptance, knowing that God accepts us just as we are; the voice which tells the world, I don’t really care what you say, I know who I am and I know I’m a good thing.
It is the voice of God, that small, still inner voice which says, “Don’t listen to them. Listen to me.”
Writer and speaker Rev. David R. Gillespie served as a Presbyterian minister after graduating from Columbia International University and Reformed Theological Seminary.