CC: You describe yourselves as “two white, American, millennial, gay and bi Christian women.” Yet your first Car Chats video is about vegetarian tacos, your favourite Harry Potter characters, music, pet peeves, personal quirks. Why did you begin your channel like that?
Joey: I really wanted to bring it down to the most basic human level. Our channel might be a good resource for people who have never really met a gay or bi person before, so we wanted to make ourselves known as not just “the gay and bi people” but you have to face who we are – Harry Potter nerds, people who like being outside in nature – those very human parts of ourselves.
Why did you start a YouTube channel?
Dana: We wanted to be two more Christian LGBTQ voices. There aren’t many out there. When I was starting to question my sexuality, I did a lot of reading and listening to podcasts and watching YouTube videos, and this is definitely a gap. I would love to use my experience to be an example of hope and encouragement for Christians in the LGBTQ community to know that you don’t have to leave your faith behind.
Did you come across LGBTQ people who have left the church?
Dana: Yes, especially on YouTube, the world is pretty secular. There are some voices of those who grew up in the church and in conservative environments, but it’s almost always talked about as, “Thank goodness I left that behind; that was a terrible part of my life.” Which is really sad.
What has your experience of being gay in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) been like?
Joey: Our experience was shaped by silence. We were spared from the fire-and-brimstone, “homosexuals are going to hell” rhetoric, which is a blessing, but it’s still fascinating how much can be communicated through silence. Before I was out, I dated a woman for a long time. When I finally started to come out, I had major anxiety about going to church with her because I was afraid people would ask me who she was, and I’d be forced to either lie or face the potential backlash. It’s disturbing that I felt safer lying to the people around me than to be openly out in my church.
Dana: I’ve never been fully out at church. It’s almost like my identity as a bi person doesn’t exist at church. That’s really not how it should be. We’re taught we should bring our whole selves to church, that’s what makes the church beautiful, but I’ve never felt comfortable doing that.
Reformed pastor and gay Christian journalist Jeff Chu published a memoir called Does Jesus Really Love Me? If you wrote a book, what title would summarize your experience?
Joey: Mine would be Do Christians really love me? I never question Jesus’ love in my life, and I never question my love for Jesus. But I really question if the Christians around me love me and if they want to know and accept my full self.
Dana: Mine would be more similar to Jeff Chu’s. Did God really make me good? Or Why did God make me this way? I didn’t feel like Jesus didn’t love me, but it was more about the message I received from the faith community around me, in hushed tones, with such a degree of seriousness, that it made me feel ashamed, like there was something wrong with me.
Joey: In church, it’s always presented as an “other.” It was assumed that LGBTQ people aren’t here with us. So when you are there, how does that work?!
Dana: “They” are on another planet!
Joey: But of course, that’s not true, there are many lovely LGBTQ people in our churches, ourselves included.
You mentioned serious voices and hushed tones. Why is this conversation always so weighted, so heavy-feeling?
Dana: Such a good question. It’s heavy for us too! In our most recent video, I caught myself saying “discussion about being LGBTQ” and I thought, why am I saying “discussion”? Because you’re preparing yourself to enter these conversations about this very serious, controversial thing.
Joey: It’s being approached from two completely different perspectives – for us, it’s just a part of who we are. But then people who are completely unfamiliar and have no conception of LGBTQ people in the world, they talk about it differently.
To get back to your first question, that is also why we wanted to show our goofy & lighthearted sides, because it’s equally as much a part of us as our sexuality. We are out here living full and joyous lives; we’re not to be pitied, we’re not to be scorned; we’re having a great time.
Tell me about your grandma.
Dana: She was an ally before we even came out, so she was an incredibly safe person to come out to.
Joey: Coming out to my grandma is one of my favourite memories of my life so far. We were at a little breakfast spot, and when I started coming out, I immediately started crying. Her love for me was so evident – she was leaning forward over this massive table; she expressed her love for me, how she was so proud of me, she put her hands on my face. There are very few minutes in my life that I have felt as loved as I did at that moment.
Dana: My coming out story to my grandma is also lovely, also a life highlight. I experienced God very clearly in that moment. She jumped out of her chair to stand up and give me a hug, right away telling me how much she loved me and saying, “Tell me your story.” Now she sends our Car Chats channel to everyone she knows!
Where do you see God’s goodness in your life?
Joey: As humans we experience God’s goodness on different levels. My journey of identifying as gay was a very hard period of life, and although I held God close and nothing in my faith ever wavered, it was like the Psalmist-crying-out-to-God type of period. It was hard and necessary and good work, and I see God’s goodness through that whole process, and the way I was shielded from many harmful things, and the ways I received such love from the people in my life. Reflecting on where I am now – I’m able to more clearly see God’s goodness in every level of my life because I’m not spending all my mental, emotional and physical energy in trying to figure myself out; instead, I say, this is who I am, I love who I am, and now let me go follow Jesus in all these areas of my life. I feel the goodness of God in who God created me to be.
Dana: There’s so much joy in living authentically. To not have to feel like you have to hide a part of yourself from others. To receive others’ love and to know that you’re worthy of receiving others’ love and God’s love is such a good feeling.
What was your response to the Human Sexuality Report going to the CRC Synod?
Joey: I don’t want to disparage the authors of the report or minimize their work, but the report is massive and yet the stories of LGBTQ people and their experiences are captured in these very short vignettes that don’t read authentically. None of those stories felt like me. Themes in those stories are very troubling to me – like suddenly feeling fulfilled in a church community and not needing to pursue a same-sex relationship anymore. They definitely do a good job of saying “ex-gay is not good” but at the same time some of those stories give those vibes of that type of experience. A CRC person reading this report might say, “Ok, that’s great, the gay and trans and bi people know what to do now; their problems can be solved.” That’s not a fair representation of who we are and what we’re asking from the church community. It didn’t feel up to the intellectual rigour that is part of what we love about the CRC.
Dana: It felt like they were trying to capture solutions but they do not capture the struggle or the hurt or the pain that [the report] will cause. I didn’t find myself in the report though it’s supposedly about me.
Joey: I don’t want to distrust those stories either, but they were too short for me to truly feel their journey.
Dana: For the report more broadly, they quoted something from the 1973 report – “We need to be accepting of homosexuals; they should be able to be their full authentic selves, extended the same compassion as any church person. . ..” I read that and thought – if that was the recommendation, over 20 years before I was born, I felt none of that in the church growing up. They acknowledge that the church has failed here, but they feel there’s hope for more change in how the church approaches LGBTQ people [in the future]. But if that was made over 40 years ago, and nothing has changed, I don’t feel hopeful.
What do you want members of the CRC to consider as this report goes to Synod?
Joey: There’s so much in there, and they tried to solve all the questions. They barely scratched the surface. When it gets to us, we felt like, “Ok, I guess you figured us out in 30 pages?” We don’t feel like we were included in this report that was supposedly about us, and that should be a really big red flag as Synod moves to make decisions based on this report.
Dana: I have more overarching concerns about the future of the CRC with this report. It feels already like our age group is not well represented. Most of the people our age at our church have already left; it feels that this report, for the future of the CRC, would not be a good move. They’ll lose a lot of LGBTQ people, allies, families.
In your videos you mention that your parents are non-affirming, but that you’re all willing to do what it takes to stay together. Can Christians in general, or members of the CRC in particular during this contentious time, learn anything from this dynamic between you & your parents?
Joey: I love how you framed that. There are lessons to be learned here. Sometimes the dynamic with our family is hard. But at the same time, it is so characterized by love. The love that we have for our parents enables us to say, we respect you, where you’re at, and we’re not going to try and force you to be somewhere you’re not. We’re not trying to drag you along or magically make you be on our level of understanding. That’s not how life works.
Dana:The reason our relationship works is because it’s mutual. It’s not just Joey and I committed to loving our parents; our parents love us so deeply and they’re not willing to give that up either. It’s all of us coming together and realizing that we’re not going to give up our relationships. As long as everyone agrees to that, you can make it work. That doesn’t mean it won’t be uncomfortable, but you work through it together. It can be an example to disagreeing parties. Isn’t that what love calls us to do? Move into difficult places despite our differences.
If you could give a message to everyone in the Reformed community, what would it be?
Dana: Treat LGBTQ people as people, not issues. We’re real people not theoretical concepts.
Joey: We are trying to follow Jesus just as you are! Meet us on that level. We also are people of faith who are learning about Jesus, wanting to grow closer in relationship with God, just like you are. Stop trying to win arguments – try to understand each other instead.
Are there resources you’d recommend for LGBTQ Christians or their families?
Dana: God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines and Torn by Justin Lee.
Joey: Torn was the starting point for me. Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality – that’s the deep dive; it was really helpful. Make sure that your church library has both perspectives; it’s important for people to understand that there are multiple perspectives; don’t pretend an affirming perspective doesn’t exist. Have a member of your congregation lead a support group; make yourself known as an ally, for family members of LGBTQ people, both affirming and non-affirming, just a space to talk about questions. If churches want to be open, create those groups inside your church. Your silence will speak loudly. Unless you’re intentionally countering that silence with openness at least to talking about it, then LGBTQ people are going to know where you stand.