The work of DignityUSA on September 21, 2014 could have been sponsored by you. Click here for more information.

Psalms, Sex, and Shame

By Daniel Holnes, Dignity/New York

Growing up, reading the book of Psalms was always a special treat for me. It was the only book in the Bible that made me blush. So many of the poems contemplate their speaker’s struggles with faith as manifested in carnal desire and action. I would read it and hide my face so no one could see it turning red, ashamed, in a way, of what it revealed in me: the same doubts, questions, and desires King David had in his heart. But shame is only good if you conquer it; it’s an obstacle set in your path to keep you on your game and help you grow. I channeled the shame that I felt as a result of sitting at the crux of a liberal sexuality and a conservative religion by writing poems for the book PRIME: Poetry & Conversations.

My graduate thesis adviser and poet, Linda Gregerson, always told me that a reader enters a poem to be transformed and the reader will be transformed if the reader allows it. In writing these poems, I transformed myself into a male Jezebel or “side-chick,” a queer Stranger King, and yes, even Beyoncé, while also searching for a salvation in queerness that the world told me I would find in straight love. What emerged in this search was really a sense of pride: pride for the courage it takes to love against the grain, pride for ways in which love endures even the most oppressive conventions, pride for strength required to even take the lonely leap and see what’s on the other side of so-called normalcy, pride in the community we build on this flip-side, and pride in how that community enriches the world.

To me, faith always meant achieving the impossible, and there’s something about the intersection of gender and sexuality with race, class, religion, and other areas of our individual identities that feels like the final frontier of human rights that we must conquer before we reach the promised land that is beyond love: the land of equality, compassion, tolerance, and generosity. These poems have shown me how faith asks us to love each other despite our anxieties, and to be proud of that love; it is the only way that these cruxes can become crossroads and where this world we’re in now can meet its better future. These poems have shown me how challenging faith strengthens it, and I hope they stand to encourage all queers of faith (QOF), to exercise their doubt, shame, pride, and desire on the page; the struggle is real; jump over your hurdles and wave your flag with pride because you’ve reached the mountaintop.