Tag Archives: Gay

My latest Huffington Post piece: why GSAs in Catholic schools matter

22 Dec
TCDSB

Speaking at the retreat. (Mary Gomes)

Inclusion and belonging: words that don’t often come to mind for LGBTQ people in the church.

But this space was different.

I recently spoke at the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s Inclusion and Belonging Retreat, which you can read about in my latest Huffington Post piece. It was a beautiful space where high school students could come as they are, encourage one another, share their struggles and know they weren’t alone.

This retreat opened up inclusive spaces for Toronto students involved in gay-straight alliances (GSAs), a place where LGBTQ and straight students come together as allies. It’s pretty incredible this student-led space existed, let alone for the second time this year with more than 170 students.

When I went to a Catholic high school more than a decade ago, I could have never imagined having a GSA at my school. Homophobia was alive and well, and those who were out or suspected of being gay were often marginalized, mistreated and shamed.

I wish I had the courage to speak up and be visible.

But I wasn’t ready and it took many more years to accept and come to terms with being gay and Christian. These students, however, are living in a different time where they can exist, be visible and share their stories. The students give me courage to keep fighting and believing LGBTQ people could feel safe and belong in Christian communities.

TCDSB

Leading a spoken word workshop. (Mary Gomes)

Right now, there is much debate in Alberta on Bill 10, which would allow school boards to rejects students’ requests to create a GSA. There are no GSAs in Catholic schools in Alberta, which I hope will change as we have seen in the Toronto board.

It won’t be an easy road ahead, but to see students know they belonged — even if it was just one day — is worth the fight.

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I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin (poem)

16 Oct

Have you ever heard a Christian person mention,
“I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin”
Can I tell you how annoying that comment is?
And I grew up Christian.

(Michael Vidler)

(Michael Vidler)

I recently had the opportunity to film one of my poems, I Don’t Hate the Sinner, I Hate the Sin, in a Vancouver church. I’ve wanted to film one of my pieces about being gay and Christian in a church for several years, and I finally had the opportunity during my Vancouver Biennale artist residency over the summer.

It was an interesting experience to film in a place that has become foreign and scary to me. I had many thoughts and feelings of belonging (or lack thereof) while I was there.

It brought me back to the place in which I had written this poem. It brought me back to harmful comments that many Christians say to people who are LGBTQ without thinking twice.

It was a place of hurt, pain and shame.

One of the most common phrases is, “I don’t hate the sinner, I hate the sin.” Christians often say they don’t hate LGBTQ people, but their “lifestyle.” It’s a shame that same-sex love is somehow reduced to a lifestyle and not simply love.

But this poem reminds me that change can happen.

Since writing this piece, I’ve grown in loving myself and accepting my story. Others have also grown in listening and understanding my experiences. We may have different perspectives, but I know how much they love me and our hearts are softening.

It would mean a lot if you checked out this personal poem when you have a chance. Thank you to Michael Vidler for producing this video, and Canadian Memorial United Church for allowing us to film in their sanctuary.

Let’s keep chatting, breaking down walls, hearing each other’s stories and living in the grey.

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question (poem)

1 Oct

To be or not to be a minority – that is the question
A question I have been revisiting and trying to comprehend
From the outskirts, being a minority doesn’t seem like the ideal position
Being different, perhaps a dissident, maybe exotic
And I’m all too familiar with these words and trends
Having used them, even in my favour.
But as I have come to understand and accept my story
This minority status has become a fallacy
A malicious status imposed on me
The dominant norms and ideologies that have bruised and broken and beaten me
Boxing me in to this tiny crevice of being a minority.

Have you ever felt different, or that you didn’t quite fit or belong?

Most of us have felt that way at one point or another in our lives. It’s not an easy place to be, especially when we desire love, connection, acceptance and belonging.

Puzzle

Trying to find the right pieces. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

I’ve felt different for most of my life and my puzzle pieces never seemed to line up. There was always a part of me that didn’t quite fit the community I wanted to belong to. It has been really challenging negotiating the various pieces of my identity and figuring out how I belonged (or didn’t).

In some groups, I held back certain aspects of my identity and part of me was missing. In other spaces, I hid different pieces and didn’t feel whole. There was silence, insecurity and often shame.

Gay AND Christian? Chinese AND Jamaican? Say what?!?

Many of us never feel like we’re enough.

Never forget these powerful words. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

And yet we are. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Can I tell you how awesome you are? It’s true! Many of us navigate these in-between spaces and yet, we often marginalize others who are different. We really need to listen and hear each other’s stories, and not be afraid to bring our whole selves.

I’m still figuring out what it looks like to bring all the pieces of Jenna to the table. It’s tough and will be a lifelong journey, but I know it’ll be worth it. When you have a chance, check out my poem, Minority, and I hope you can connect.

Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong? How have you negotiated the various pieces of your identity?

Pride is marching in your first Pride Parade

24 Aug

Several years ago, I had the chance to walk in my first Pride Parade in Ottawa with a friend. However, fear controlled me and I wasn’t ready to be involved. I was too afraid and ashamed of being gay.

Today, I’ll be walking in my first Pride Parade in Ottawa with the Ten Oaks Project. It has been a long journey of acceptance, which you can read in my Ottawa Citizen op-ed and CBC interview from last year. I’m excited to walk with my friends, and celebrate our beautiful and diverse tapestry.

“Don’t deprive people of who you really are.”

Those are some wise words from that friend who wanted to walk with me in the parade. I keep that quote in my wallet to remind me to be proud of who I am.

Each one of us has so much to offer the world around us, so shine brightly. Happy Pride!

The Team Players at the Ten Oaks bowl-a-thon. (Kathleen Clark)

 Hanging out with the Team Players at the Ten Oaks bowl-a-thon. (Kathleen Clark)

My Huffington Post piece: a gay Christian goes back to church

18 Apr

Easter is the most important time for Christians in which they believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins and resurrected three days later. This season reminds me of the last time I regularly went to church. I wept uncontrollably for most of the Easter service several years ago as I was still struggling to accept my sexuality.

I didn’t believe I belonged there as a gay Christian and left the church.

I recently wrote a piece for the Huffington Post on the challenges and complexities I’ve experienced going back to church. You can read my post, From Familiar to Foreign: A Gay Christian Goes Back to Church.

Spoiler alert: it’s really, really hard! Despite many challenges and feeling overwhelmed, I’ve met some really kind people and this community is an important place I long for.

My "church challenges" have been lonely and rocky. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

My “church challenges” have been a lonely and rocky experience. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Last year, I started a challenge to go back to church. On one of my church challenges, I caught myself looking around as I entered the building and part of me was afraid of being seen by anyone I knew. I had similar thoughts and fears when I started going to gay bars. I laughed at the irony of the situation and how much life had changed.

How could a place that used to feel like home become so foreign to me?

I’ve become a stranger who sat at the back of the church and planned an escape route in case it was too difficult to be there. I know you don’t need a church building to find God, and I’ve experienced his presence in powerful ways outside of the church and Christian communities. However, I’ve missed having that community and actively seeking God with other people.

Nature is one of the places I experience God. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

God shows up in nature. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Spoken word has felt like church to me. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

God shows up at poetry shows. (Artemysia Fragiskatos)

The church is so broken, but it has also been a place of love, safety and refuge for many people, including myself. Many of my friends who are gay and Christian long for this place of community again, but many don’t feel welcomed there.

We need to do something different and not be afraid of the tensions and complexities. Let’s be okay to sit in the mess and questions with one another. Let’s remember what Jesus’ message was actually about.

Take this season to reflect on your journey, but also think about those individuals who are on the margins, desiring a place to call home.

My op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen: why coming out still matters

18 Feb

Ellen Page, the Canadian actress and star of Juno, recently came out as gay. Since our society is obsessed with other people’s sexuality, the media exploded with this news.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer (LGBTQ) visibility is so important, but I couldn’t help but feel bothered by the amount of coverage she received. Why did people care so much about her sexuality?

It’s because coming out still matters.

We live in a heteronormative society in which opposite-sex attraction is seen as the norm. People are seen as straight until proven otherwise.

When I was struggling to come to terms with being gay, I spent countless hours crying in my bedroom and desperately searching the Internet for stories about people who were LGBTQ. These brave people – real or fictional – helped me realize I wasn’t alone and their experiences made a huge difference for me.

I could see myself in their stories. I could see myself in Page’s story.

There’s still so much stigma associated with being LGBTQ, and Page’s coming out highlights the need for us to continue sharing our stories without any shame. You can check out my op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen here and in the paper tomorrow.

I will continue speaking my story. (Caro Ibrahim/Pecha Kucha)

I will continue speaking my story. (Caro Ibrahim/Pecha Kucha)

When you have a few minutes, please watch Page’s speech. It’s beautiful, powerful, courageous and honest. Our stories can help people understand the world around us and help individuals know they aren’t alone in their experiences.

Page wanted to make a difference by telling her story. I hope I can do the same by continuing to share mine. 

The power of a single story: when that story is yours

19 Oct

I always had a feeling that my story would impact those around me, but I didn’t know it could be this powerful. I didn’t know I could be this powerful if I took the risk and shared my voice.

It has been quite the year since I shared my story of being gay and Christian publicly. I’ve had some incredible conversations, great opportunities and grown in accepting who I am.

A huge lesson I’ve learned over this past year is the power of a single story. The power of my story.

A fitting birthday card. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

A fitting birthday card. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Since I publicly came out on my blog, in the Ottawa Citizen and on CBC, I’ve received many messages from friends, family, strangers and people from my past I haven’t spoken to in years. It has been so wonderful to hear from you.

I’m still receiving some of those messages now and I know there are others out there who have been impacted by my story, even though I’ve never heard from them. I was one of those people who read many stories online, and never thanked those people for sharing their experiences and helping me feel less alone. But sometimes, people do contact you and this is a message from someone who read my posts.

“I was really touched by your coming out and your testimony of how your faith intersects with your sexual orientation. I find myself travelling a similar path, and I… well, simply put, I’m looking for answers and for people who might have them, or at least people who’ve gone through this and kind of know what’s going on… In any case, thank you for sharing your story with the public – lives have definitely been touched.”

Sharing my story made me realize how important is it for each one of us to use our voices. If I remained silent, I wouldn’t have connected with many of you the way I have. I also wouldn’t have realized just how awesome I am!

Your love and support have helped so much, and encourages me to keep stepping out of my comfort zone. Your words have helped me grow in acceptance and becoming more comfortable in my skin, and I cannot express enough gratitude for your supportive words. This is another message that really touched me.

“I admit – I had a split second of shock when I saw the post but that quickly faded and thoughts of how you felt in sharing this, thinking about the responses people will have and how that’ll impact you. It also forced me to reconsider my faith and walk with God.

“The past week or two, I’ve been surrounded by messages of what an inclusive church is, what has the institution of the church turned God into or faith into. I am trying to separate God and church in a sense in order to allow God to drive more of my walk and not let the church or cultural beliefs and “the masses” drive my thinking and beliefs.”

It has been great to hear that my story has caused some dialogue in a number of communities around me. Many people from my past, including those from various Christian communities, have really been challenged by my story. Some have told me it has caused them to think about people who are LGTBQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) in different ways because all of a sudden they had an example of someone they loved and respected.

I want you to know how much your voice and story matter.

I don’t think I can share this message enough. At one point in my life, I never believed I could accept these pieces of my story, let alone find the courage to share it publicly.

You never know who will be impacted by your life and your presence. Even if one person was impacted by my experiences, I would tell my story all over again. The risk has been worth helping people know they aren’t alone in their experiences, fostering dialogue between various communities and gaining my voice back.

A few years ago, a good friend of mine, Averie MacDonald, wanted to make a television doc on my struggles of being gay and Christian. At the time, I wasn’t ready to share my experiences publicly and I also realized I had to be the first one to tell my story. And I did.

Since sharing my experiences through my blog, Averie was the first person I allowed to tell my story. Please check out her beautiful radio doc, Between a Rock and a Hard Place, that also features Rev. Deana Dudley of the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto.

Never forget the power of a single story. Never forget the power of your story.

Some birthday reflections on coming out publicly last year

16 Oct

My birthday is coming up again, which means I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately! Last year at this time, I stepped out of my comfort zone in big, exciting and scary ways.

I finally shared my story of being gay and Christian publicly on my blog.

Leading up to those three posts on lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay, I went back and forth on whether or not I would share them. Deep down I knew I had to post them, but the fearful and put-together Jenna was afraid of the potential consequences, judgment and disappointment. This is what was running through my head in my journal the day before my post:

“Aaaaahhh I’m finally doing it! I’m nervous and scared, but so excited! … I can’t believe I’m doing this. It just makes sense and I’m ready. I’ve gone back and forth this past week, but I can’t doubt myself. I’m never going to be any more ready than now. I’ve given myself months to mentally prepare for these posts. This is for me. I’m regaining my voice and it’s such a beautiful thing.”

And then the posts went out. I could have never predicted what the response would be like. I was completely overwhelmed with the love, encouragement and support I received from so many people.

Although I was already out to everyone who needed to know, it was pretty special to receive that level of support from so many others. For someone who thrives on using her words, my journal the day after demonstrated my loss for them.

“Wow. I can’t believe yesterday just happened. It’s overwhelming. So much love and support. I just never imagined it’d be like this… I’m so overwhelmed by everything. It’s a relief and freeing, but I think I’m also crying for the Jenna of my past. Man, did she have a rough go at life. But I can let it go. I don’t have to hold onto any of it any longer. I’m free. I’m so free.”

I never knew freedom could taste so sweet.

This is how great I felt. (Kyle Vaughn Roerick)

Freedom is dancing by yourself and still feeling awesome! (Kyle Vaughn Roerick)

Over this past year, I’ve grown in many new, exciting and difficult ways. I’ve learned so much about myself, as well as from those around me. My blog posts opened up some really beautiful relationships with people, reconnections with old friends and hopefully helped foster a number of respectful conversations.

Thank you so much for being part of my journey and sharing your stories with me. These posts reaffirmed my passion of helping people speak their voices, as well as my desire to promote respectful dialogue between different communities.

I have a busy upcoming week, but will hopefully share a post on the power of a single story over the next few days. Until then, check out my three-part series of 30 lessons I’ve learned from coming out as gay.

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Courage is a habit

5 Sep

It’s not every day you come out to thousands of people who instantly know your story. That doesn’t often happen twice in one week, but that’s what happened when I shared my story of being gay and Christian in an Ottawa Citizen op-ed and on CBC’s Ottawa Morning.

I received so much encouraging and supportive feedback from friends, family and even strangers. The Jenna of my past would never imagine the response would be so loving, kind and beautiful.

I also had many people tell me how courageous I was by sharing my story so publicly. I appreciated their words, but speaking out this time didn’t feel that brave to me – especially after coming out on my blog last year. It just seemed like the next steps in my journey.

For me, it was more courageous to write my fears in my journal. Or tell the first person. Or buy a book about being gay at a bookstore instead of ordering it online. Or talking openly in a coffee shop without lowering my voice.

These little steps of courage in my journey made the “bigger” ones seem less scary. I told one of my friends what the reaction has been and how I didn’t think I was that brave.

She said courage has become a habit for me. The more I step out and share my story, the less afraid I am.

We all have something beautiful and courageous to share with the world. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

We all have something beautiful and courageous to share with the world. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

There’s obviously still an element of fear when I share my story, but it doesn’t overwhelm me enough to remain silent. I’m so passionate to help create dialogue and understanding between LGBTQ and Christian communities, as well as bringing love, healing and freedom to those around me. I want people to know they aren’t alone in their experiences.

The Jenna of my past, the “Jennas” out there and all of you give me courage to continue telling my story. And because of your love, support and acceptance, this habit becomes easier each time I step out.

How can courage become a habit for you?

My interview on CBC’s Ottawa Morning with Robyn Bresnahan

23 Aug
Robyn Bresnahan and I at CBC.

Robyn Bresnahan and I at CBC.

It has been quite the week! My op-ed was published in the Ottawa Citizen and I was interviewed on CBC’s Ottawa Morning with Robyn Bresnahan today.

I’ve received so much love and support over the past few days, and I really appreciate your thoughtful and encouraging words. There’s so much I want to say right now, but I’m still quite speechless. I’ll share more of my thoughts next week when I’ve had time to reflect on this past week.

When you have a chance, please check out my interview with Robyn on being gay and Christian. I’d love to hear what you think, so feel free to leave a comment or a personal message.

For those of you who are struggling to accept who you are, it can take a long time to love and embrace your story. Give yourself time, find support and know that you are worth being loved.

Your voice and story matter.

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