November 28, 2006

Interview with Jen Austin

Jen, the author of "Coming Out Christian" which I reviewed a couple of days ago, was kind enough to answer a few follow-up questions. She and her partner Angela are in the process of trying to have a baby, a process she writes about on her blog at She is also a big Dallas Cowboys fan.

Oh well, nobody's perfect.

Q: What kind of feedback have you received about the book? Is there anyone you know of yet who has been led to make any major life changes based on your story? How have folks responded at your book signings?

A: The feedback has been wholly positive. The book seems to have opened up a dialogue and encouraged others to tell more of their own stories, which is all that I could have hoped for. It seems to have stirred the spiritual pot a bit. As we were leaving church a couple of weeks ago, one of the pastors told me that another church member said it was a "life-changer," but I don't know exactly that means. It's funny how the feedback just barely trickles back to the author! As long as it's helpful, that's the important thing. I know that one young gay man was encouraged to start his own Bible study independent of any church, so the book has renewed his personal determination and enabled him to take better ownership of his faith. That's encouraging. And just recently I got an email from a mom who hopes that my book will be the thing that helps her daughter realize it's okay to be a lesbian and still love God. These are all humble reminders about how powerfully God can use us when we allow ourselves to become vessels.

Q: Was anyone you wrote about in the book, especially Angela, uncomfortable with the directness and honesty in which you told your story and/or wrote about them?

A: Angela read most of the drafts as the book was being constructed, and she was okay with the honesty. She even helped me dig deeper in many places, and I think hitting the bottom of that emotional barrel made the book better than it otherwise might have been. It's painful for both of us to go back and read the parts of the book that highlight the weak spots in our relationship, but we don't regret that we've been exposed. The book is real, and that's what makes it relatable. The people who get upset with me are the new friends who don't know all the details of our history, and then they read the book and want to smack me! I made misakes, but God picked up the pieces and put them back together again. That's the truth that ultimately breaks through, and in that God is glorified.

Q: Was there any particular moment you and Angela realized you wanted to have a baby or was it a gradual process?

A: It was a gradual process. Angela always wanted to have a baby, but I was more career-driven and goal-oriented, and thought I didn't have time to be changing diapers. Quite plainly, I was selfish. (And perhaps a bit afraid of being judged as a gay parent. I thought perhaps I shouldn't bring children into the world under these circumstances, and that it might be better to remain focused on work.) Then things began to happen in my life that seemed to awaken me to the idea of having a baby, and I gradually grew into a place where the desire to have children was stronger than the desire for anything else. Now, I'm pretty much consumed by it. Call it maturity, or a ticking of the biological clock, but I can't wait for the day that Angela and I become parents. Five years ago the thought might have sickened me, but after maturing as a lesbian and as a Christian I've realized it's the simple things in life that ultimately give it the most profound meaning. The thought of being judged or discriminated against as a gay parent doesn't bother me a bit now, because I know that God will be at the center of our family and God will be what ultimately defines it. Anything else that comes at it from the outside will just be meaningless periphery, and the truth will remain firm despite it.

Q: What did you learn about yourself and your faith while writing the book?

A: I've never considered myself to be perfect, but when glaring personal weaknesses are written down on paper and published, it can make a girl wince. At the same time, it's inspiring and humbling to see the things that God can do in the midst of weaknesses if we name them and open ourselves up to being healed. I feel like a stronger person having overcome the worst of myself, and I'm grateful to God for the blessing that has been added to it. It's nice to know that my being a lesbian is not what gets in the way of my faith; it's my being an idiot that does the damage! That's strangely comforting, and I might not have known the depth of it if I had not written the book.

Q: You made mention on your blog about a new book you hope to have out next year. Can you tell me anything about it?

A: The new book is about taking better ownership of our faith as gay Christians. I'm incredibly grateful for folks like you, Jim, who aren't gay, and yet accept us fully and believe us when we say we have reconciled faith with sexuality. The support is revolutionary, and it will continue to carry us and edify us. But laws won't change and fundamentalists won't stop the derrogatory propaganda until we as gay Christians become so articulate in our faith that God practically jumps from our chests and declares a new gay Christian covenant. God is alive in gay Christians now, but we need to make sure that God is increasingly visible. I hope that the new book helps lead us in that direction.

Q: I see you're on My Space now. Is that part of a concerted effort to do more outreach? What kind of feedback have you received there so far?

A: I originally joined myspace about a year and a half ago as a way of connecting with radio listeners. (I work for Mix 102.9 in Dallas.) Then I discovered that a lot of my friends were on myspace, so it became a way to connect with them every day. It has gradually become an outreach mechanism, although I hesitate to call it that. I don't want people to hear the word "outreach" and take off in a dead sprint. I would rather that myspace simply be a way to get to know me as a person and as a friend.
I have noticed that people who disagree with me feel awfully free to tell me so on myspace. I've heard a variety of derrogatory things, and most of them try to make the point that I'm being misled by thinking that it's okay to be both gay and Christian. One 18 year-old boy in Alabama told me once that I am what's wrong with America, and that he hopes the Christian Right will eventually become successful in ridding the country of the immorality that I represent. If he lived close enough I might have invited him over for a Coke Zero, Triscuits, and Flannel Pants Movie Night at our house, so he could see exactly how "immoral" we truly are. But people see what they want to see, and gay was the word that jumped out at him and became my primary identifier. Still, I hope that myspace will continue to serve as a place to connect and positively impact others.

Q: How 'bout them Cowboys?

A: Oh, the Cowboys! If I were a straight chick I might start stalkin' Tony Romo. As it is, I'm content to keep diagramming plays and jotting down coachspeak in my own little lesbian football handbook. How 'bout that 3-4 defense! Sometimes the stereotypes are right on.

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