Jenn Lansing '21
Two Worlds: Navigating the Intersection of Religion and Sexuality
By Helen Sweeney '19 -- DELETED 6/10/19
June 2019 Profile Issue
This profile is about a girl working through her sexuality in the midst of discrimination from her former religious community and, at times, the SSSAS community. She is a proud ginger, an ex Christian, a huge theater fanatic and, yes, she is bisexual. Her sexuality is not her identity but rather an aspect of it that has shaped her as a whole.
Jenn Lansing grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee with a Catholic family and community. Jenn admits that in this Southern and Catholic environment, “realizing [she] liked girls was a traumatic experience.” By the time she moved to Northern Virginia for sixth grade, Jenn was leaning away from Catholicism and towards Episcopalianism. Jenn wanted to dive deeper into religion, but she said she felt Catholicism had been convincing her from the beginning that she would go to hell. So Jenn chose to attend SSSAS. The early influences of Catholicism’s intolerant views of homosexuality, however, did not dissipate when she moved. As Jenn says “it’s hard to get the early influence of Catholicism out of your head.”
For the first time since living in Tennessee, Jenn had to step into a Catholic church a couple of weeks ago. She described the experience by saying the promises of hell from her childhood came flooding back and any comfort felt in her body was replaced with tension.
Despite the more progressive views of the Episcopal church, Jenn began to find that any organized religion was tainted by her childhood experiences with Catholicism. Jenn explains, “Not really a fan of organized religion and I do think it has a lot to do with realizing who I am and realizing that I hated myself and wanting to die for a lot of years because of being told that God hated me and 11 years old is too late to change that.”
With all of the narrow-mindedness Jenn experienced, it remains a struggle for her to not associate all Catholics to the intolerant belief system. Jenn stipulates her struggle with stereotyping: “I’m working on it because I’m trying not to hate a group of people because that goes against everything I stand for. But it’s really hard to not judge Catholics from the way that I was brought up and raised. I’m working on that.”
Though she always had a feeling, it wasn’t until eighth grade that Jenn knew for sure that she was bisexual. At that point she was still trying to figure out a way to tell her family and her closest friends. It didn’t make it any easier when a boy called her a homophobic slur even though she had not come out yet. “At the time, when I was struggling with my identity and mental health trying to figure out if it was safe to tell my family, safe to tell my friends or anyone at all, it really hurt and I almost left [SSSAS].”
Just before freshman year, Jenn decided to come out to her closest friends. Their support and acceptance was the main reason why she chose to stay, but she was still trying to figure out a way to tell her Southern, Catholic family. Jenn felt most comfortable coming out to her three older brothers before her parents. One in particular reacted in a way she didn’t quite expect.
After Jenn told him, he said he loved her and then walked out of the house. Her mind was racing, thinking she should not have told him or said it a different way. But then he came back, wearing a “Love is Love” bracelet on his wrist. He still wears it every day.
Telling her parents just this past fall went a little differently. Jenn’s mom had always told her that if she was gay or bisexual or transgender, she didn’t need to “come out” to her and could just start talking about it. So Jenn did. She started talking about her then girlfriend. Her mom stopped her and said, “Wait, you never told me you weren’t straight.” Jenn and her mom had always been close, so the next few weeks where they didn’t talk was hard on both of them. Jenn says “It’s one thing to support the gay community from afar, but it’s another thing when it’s your daughter.”
Jenn explains that her mom is mostly concerned with her safety: “My mom doesn’t feel safe with me at this school now that she knows I’m bisexual because when she was working Steve and Aggies, she heard a kid ‘friendly beating up his friend calling him a fag’.”
Jenn is not a member of GSA explaining, “I’m all about the pride, but I've never really thought of it as a defining characteristic of my identity.” Jenn elaborates that GSA is great for some people, but she has a different community that she relies on: “...honestly the best gay community I have is Stage One Players.”
Jenn admits that she was that middle school drama kid and has continued to be in high school. For her, theater is about more than going to rehearsal and performing on stage. “Theater attracts people like me. People who are LGBTQ and people who aren’t, but it’s a very welcoming community. You can say whatever you want. You can be whoever you want.”
Most of the discrimination Jenn has experienced in the SSSAS community is indirect and perhaps not intentional but nevertheless detrimental. For instance, when Jenn went to winter formal with her then-girlfriend, she explained that she “got a lot of weird looks from students and teachers.” But more than just strange looks, the homophobic slurs are the main problem in our community. I asked Jenn what she thought students and teachers could do to eliminate this issue. It’s simpler than we may realize. Jenn says, “I just want people to call out kids that say “fag” in the hallways and address issues on sports teams that keep people from coming out.”