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I Was Born This Way
February 2, 2010 8:17 AM   Subscribe

Fans know him as Tonéx. His eccentric style and vertiginous high notes helped make him one of the most acclaimed praise singers of the past decade, and, for a time, one of the most successful. ... This past September, the television host known as Lexi broadcast an interview [Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3] with Tonéx on the Word Network, a gospel channel, in which he made his clearest public statements about his sexual orientation. He is, within the church world, the first high-profile gospel singer in history to come out of the closet. Within hours, he started to realize what he had done. His relationship with the mainstream gospel industry was effectively over.
From a fascinating article in the most recent New Yorker [abstract only]. This podcast [freely accessible] with the author of the article, Kelefah Sanneh, delves into the rarely discussed "secret" in the black church that many gospel musicians have been and are gay. Sanneh touches on the stories of both James Cleveland, the creator of the modern gospel sound who died of AIDS in 1991, and one of his backup singers, Carl Bean, who became famous for the 70s disco hit "I Was Born This Way." One contemporary preacher and gospel singer that Sanneh discusses in relation to Tonéx is Donnie McClurkin, a man made infamous during the Obama campaign for railing against homosexuals in Southern Black churches. McClurkin has admitted to engaging in homosexual acts for 20 years but does not identify as gay and believes a strong Christian faith can deliver a person from the "sin" of homosexuality. He recently delivered a sermon directed at young black homosexuals in the church, specifically calling out Tonéx. [McClurkin sermon Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3]
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates (44 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
The way I read this is that it isn't actual homosex that McClurkin et al object to, they only object to publicly admitting to homosex. As long as you're in the closet, everything's cool.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 8:26 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was familiar with Tonéx but this is news to me. I find it surprising that his Wikipedia page makes no mention of this. Fascinating FPP.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:29 AM on February 2, 2010


this story reminds me of this.
posted by shmegegge at 8:43 AM on February 2, 2010


Look people Jesus hates f*gs... it's all there in the bible right next to stoning your son to death for disobedience and not eating shellfish!
posted by ExitPursuedByBear at 8:46 AM on February 2, 2010


hello Pot, please meet my friend Kettle.
posted by gnutron at 8:46 AM on February 2, 2010


There was this great scene in HBO's Big Love where the principle-believing, multiply-married, homosexual son of the recently deceased Juniper Creek "prophet" is discussing the burden of "those feelings" with another, mainstream-LDS believer with whom he has just had sex. The LDS guy reassures him that the burden is only placed on him by "Holy Father" during this life and as he was free of it prior to this life, he will be afterward in eternity.

The inhumanity of this stance, which the McClurkin story indicates reflects the real world fundamentalist outlook, never ceases to horrify me. Placing a straitjacket on a person's sexuality for the sole purpose of maintaining a baseless code of "morality" is cruel and against every other tenet of Christianity (or just about any other religion I know).
posted by Mental Wimp at 8:49 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Placing a straitjacket on a person's sexuality for the sole purpose of maintaining a baseless code of "morality" is cruel and against every other tenet of Christianity (or just about any other religion I know).

Yeah, this. Not to get too Jesusy or anything, but I find it laughable that a God of love, hope, and inclusiveness would say that there's too much love and fellowship in the world, so we have to forbid some of it.
posted by KathrynT at 8:53 AM on February 2, 2010 [7 favorites]


Ray Boltz, a very well-known contemporary Christian singer, came out of the closet a few years ago. From the article: Earlier, Boltz had alluded to the issue on his official website, saying that if people "knew who I really was, I would never be accepted."
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 8:54 AM on February 2, 2010


Homosexuality, like heterosexuality, is a sexual orientation. People don't choose their sexual orientations. They are who they are. They may choose whether to act on their sexual orientations, but they have little or no choice about the sexual orientation itself.

This implies that sexual orientation is binary with no intermediate states. Certainly there are plenty of ones and zeros, but is there not also a full spectrum in between where for some people "choice" is very much part of their final orientation? Isn't this really where the Evangelicals hope to be successful? No sense trying to turn Elton John, but this doesn't mean that a little x-tian guidance (and the threat of eternal damnation) won't work on someone else?

Within hours, he started to realize what he had done. His relationship with the mainstream gospel industry was effectively over.

What was he thinking would happen? When you are an entertainer what the audience thinks of you happens to matter a great deal. He was performing to the wrong people. They know it and now he knows it.
posted by three blind mice at 9:12 AM on February 2, 2010


From the article: Earlier, Boltz had alluded to the issue on his official website, saying that if people "knew who I really was, I would never be accepted."
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is the default state of fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and any strain of belief that puts that much emphasis on the transformative power of faith to change human beings.

At some point you have to grapple with the things that don't change. Will your fell-travelers accept that change has not come? Once you're invested, are you willing to take the chance of ostracism?
posted by verb at 9:24 AM on February 2, 2010


Look people Jesus hates f*gs... it's all there in the bible right next to stoning your son to death for disobedience and not eating shellfish!

And not just lobster, but cheeseburgers and bacon are abominations too. Clearly, God was just trying to keep all the best food for Himself.
posted by EarBucket at 9:34 AM on February 2, 2010


As a homosexual who was raised fundamentalist, I always challenge people to eschew simple answers and broad categorizations. Understanding the psychology of the persons most affected by an idea or conflict of ideas should be the goal.

So just imagine for a moment not retreating into "LOLXTIANS" or "Sheeple" or anything like that. Just try to feel this conflict for a moment:

"This is who I absolutely, totally, and completely know myself to be. This is what I absolutely, totally, and completely feel the Creator and Sustainer of All This Is, Was, and Will Be expects of me. The two conflict."

Don't resolve it. Just sit with it for a moment and remember that many people don't get to move forward until they have sacrificed one or the other of those deeply held convictions.
posted by jefficator at 9:39 AM on February 2, 2010 [23 favorites]


Great first post, Arsenio and Warren. If only all posts to the blue were as good as this one is.

Shit user name (I hate long usernames) but a great first post.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:51 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus hates f*gs

Jesus hates figs? Really? Have to remember that when I have him over for dinner. Like the shellfish thing wasn't enough.
posted by dlugoczaj at 9:52 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't resolve it. Just sit with it for a moment and remember that many people don't get to move forward until they have sacrificed one or the other of those deeply held convictions.

And when people sacrifice their convictions they're usually sacrificing the their social network too; the actual flesh-and-blood kind.
posted by clarknova at 9:54 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


No sense trying to turn Elton John, but this doesn't mean that a little x-tian guidance (and the threat of eternal damnation) won't work on someone else?

According to every reputable study done, it doesn't work. At least, it doesn't work without inflicting some pretty awful psychological damage on the person being "guided."

But let's say you're a bi dude. You've fallen in love with both men and women. Your strong Christian faith (the kind that only allows for procreational heterosexual sex) pushes you to only pursuing relationships with women. You get married. You have kids. You're pretty happy with your life.

And you are still a bi dude. Maybe you don't suffer much over the "what if..." questions, which, you know, yay for you and all.

But your orientation hasn't changed. Closeted gay people have been getting married and having kids pretty much since the dawn of time. Getting married and having kids doesn't make you not-gay if you're gay.
posted by rtha at 9:55 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Jesus hates figs? Really?
Yes.
posted by kickingtheground at 9:58 AM on February 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Great first post, Arsenio and Warren. If only all posts to the blue were as good as this one is.

Just want to ditto this, I am holding up my 9/10 card right now.
posted by The Straightener at 10:02 AM on February 2, 2010


jefficator: That sounds like a horrible place to be.

What if the second part was rephrased as:

This is what I absolutely, totally, and completely feel people who may be fallible have told me the Creator and Sustainer of All This Is, Was, and Will Be expects of me.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:05 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Good work first time out H2O...and welcome to the Manson Family

FWIW, I don't care much what the guy does in bed, any more than I do any other poster on this thread. The whole born-again hypocrisy however has always been a big bee in my proverbial bonnet. Just a sticking point with me on a family level.

Seems no matter what subset of christianity folks lean toward, it seems what comes first are the excuses, then the doctrine, then the Stepford. Anything one does in the name of jesus is excusable. Because we are all just human.

Why not just let the guy sing? "Tonex"? I don't know, sounds like something I would buy off a cable channel at 3 a.m. because I wanted a flatter gut. But if he loves his god and wants shout about it, tell one of his detractors to be the first to throw a stone.

If god created us in his image, just which one was it. I mean, is god me? you? Liberace? W.C. Fields? My money is on Regis.
posted by timsteil at 10:05 AM on February 2, 2010


Oh, and just so you know, Ted Haggard's wife says he's free of any and all homosexual "compulsions."
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:14 AM on February 2, 2010


Recently in Kalamazoo we passed a ballot initiative to extend civil rights to LGBTQ folks regarding housing and employment (i.e. non-denial of either based on LGBTQ status.) The churches were the primary forums for debate. The church pastors came out of the woodwork on both sides of the issue. At the time, I was working with an fbo that took a neutral stance. (Our primary funding came from a civil rights foundation that was openly pro-lgbtq rights however our membership was evenly divided.) The white, urban mainline churches really pulled out all the stops and rallied to get the measure passed with 64% of the vote. However, many, many of our urban black churches rallied against it in collaboration with a couple of white evangelical mega-churches out in the county. The president of the NAACP supported it, referring to it clearly as a civil-rights struggle, which then began to polarize the black churches. The pastor of the largest black church refrained from taking a side, asking instead for "unity" regardless of the outcome. Ultimately, the organization I worked for was nearly defunded when our president, the pastor of an African-American congregation, came out against the ordinance (speaking only on his own behalf, not for our organization). There was a lot of soul-searching that took place amongst the Christians in our little city. It astounded me, the kind of hatred and spite that poured out of the white churches in the country - to which I attribute the ordinance's victory. But even more amazing was witnessing the tension that seemed to take place in the black churches - a deeply held belief that "this lifestyle" can't be correct, balanced against the reality that this is and always will be a civil rights struggle. It was strongly delineated against the regular old homophobia from the right-wing white churches. Such a complicated issue... some of my friends are African American pastors and when I spoke with one who was particularly frustrated by my stance his response was essentially, "Our urban community has already lost so many young fathers to violence and prison, and now you want to make this acceptable as well?" I don't really know what to say, but it's a very real struggle right now, one that the white evangelical churches are more than happy to capitalize on. The divides in American protestantism are widening now more than ever, though, of that I'm certain.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:33 AM on February 2, 2010 [9 favorites]


Great first post, Arsenio and Warren. If only all posts to the blue were as good as this one is.

Shit user name (I hate long usernames) but a great first post.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:51 AM on February 2 [+] [!]


Hm. I get the feeling that the only reason you chimed in on this thread was to take a potshot at the poster's username, and that the only reason you prefaced your insult with a compliment was so as not to come across as too much of a negative dick.

Now, I might be completely misreading your intention here, but I really can't think of any other reason why you'd feel compelled to tack on that cranky little addendum at the end.
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:34 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't know if Jewus truly hates "fgags\," but I doknow that Lenny Bruce once referred to Jesus as "the pink pansy of Palestine."
posted by Postroad at 10:36 AM on February 2, 2010


ok Jesus and not Jewsus, though I did through misspelling manage to get the guy's name and religion all in one quick word.
posted by Postroad at 10:38 AM on February 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is the default state of fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and any strain of belief that puts that much emphasis on the transformative power of faith to change human beings.

Not to quibble, but evangelicalism is not the same thing as fundamentalism. To be evangelical is to be of the belief that you must share the good news of Christ. It doesn't by necessity define the good news to be what conservative Christians think it is.

I'm not a gospel fan as such, but I hope that every time this happens, just a few people stop and think, "Wait. This is someone with a clear faith in God, someone who clearly trusts in Jesus... and they're gay. Maybe I don't have to think those things are mutually exclusive." Not necessarily millions. Just a few. And that those people influence their friends and family, who influence theirs... and it brings us just those few steps closer to our church's one foundation being Jesus Christ and not OMGTHEGAYKILLITWITHFIRE.

'Cuz... Jesus never said that.
posted by larkspur at 10:40 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jimmy Havok: The way I read this is that it isn't actual homosex that McClurkin et al object to, they only object to publicly admitting to homosex. As long as you're in the closet, everything's cool.

This, this, this. When I was growing up in the church in Georgia, there were plenty of people that everyone knew was gay. If certain boys showed up with girlfriends, everyone would be very surprised. And everyone was okay with these people being gay, as long as they didn't do anything publicly that made them different or seem at odds with the greater values of the church and the community.

In societies where there is a great emphasis on keeping public and private lives separate, the transgression is really that the private life has been made public. It is harsh. It is tough. It is a terrible life sentence for anyone who cannot absolutely conform to the community: and that includes a lot of people, gay and straight.

Whenever I talk to my friends about that book / movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, I have to explain that the shame was not that all the rich people in town were keeping this guy as basically their sex toy, the shame was his death made their private life public. Now everyone knew everyone's secrets.

"Behaving badly" (where that includes any behavior not explicitly condoned by the wider community) is easily and happily ignored as long as someone is discreet. You find the same kind of permissive/not permissive culture in other traditionalist societies around the world. In 2010, it is downright medieval, exclusionist, and heart-breaking.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 10:41 AM on February 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've had my suspicions about that Brian Eno...
posted by banwa at 11:17 AM on February 2, 2010


Not to quibble, but evangelicalism is not the same thing as fundamentalism.
I agree wholeheartedly: that's why I listed them separately. The dynamic I described is present in both of those strains, and while some have tried to come up with new buzzwords (Slacktivist's "RTC" nomenclature works sometimes), it can be tricky.
To be evangelical is to be of the belief that you must share the good news of Christ. It doesn't by necessity define the good news to be what conservative Christians think it is.
To be "evangelical" is to believe that you must share the good news. To be "Evangelical" is another ball of wax entirely, like the difference between small-c and big-C "catholic." But that, I'm guessing, is another derail.
posted by verb at 11:19 AM on February 2, 2010


To be "evangelical" is to believe that you must share the good news. To be "Evangelical" is another ball of wax entirely, like the difference between small-c and big-C "catholic." But that, I'm guessing, is another derail.

Perhaps furthering the derail, perhaps bringing it back around? I would say that there's a theological definition of "evangelical" and a cultural definition, and that they're very different. One of the pastors at my church, an openly gay man, is a theological evangelical; he literally cannot but help to tell people that God is a God of love, that God made you the way you are on purpose and for a reason, and that regardless of what anyone else thinks of you, you are good enough for God. It spills out of his every pore. He's one of the most sincerely joyful people I've ever met in my life.

But if you tried to lump him in with the cultural evangelicals, I. . . don't think it would necessarily be an easy mix, to say the least.
posted by KathrynT at 11:39 AM on February 2, 2010


As a homosexual who was raised fundamentalist, I always challenge people to eschew simple answers and broad categorizations. Understanding the psychology of the persons most affected by an idea or conflict of ideas should be the goal.

That should be *a* goal, yes. But another goal should be to prevent other people from suffering from the same kind of completely unnecessary confict.

"This is who I absolutely, totally, and completely know myself to be. This is what I absolutely, totally, and completely feel the Creator and Sustainer of All This Is, Was, and Will Be expects of me. The two conflict."

The first sentence describes reality. The second describes a harmful belief system which some people made up.

I have all the compassion in the world for people who find themselves in that conflict. But we must fight those who insist on trying to force reality to conform to their belief system at great cost to others (and yes, sometimes themselves.)

The conflict is common and awful, but 100% unnecessary. Let's work towards a future where that particular conflict no longer exists.
posted by callmejay at 11:50 AM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Perhaps furthering the derail, perhaps bringing it back around? I would say that there's a theological definition of "evangelical" and a cultural definition, and that they're very different. One of the pastors at my church, an openly gay man, is a theological evangelical; he literally cannot but help to tell people that God is a God of love, that God made you the way you are on purpose and for a reason, and that regardless of what anyone else thinks of you, you are good enough for God. It spills out of his every pore. He's one of the most sincerely joyful people I've ever met in my life.

But if you tried to lump him in with the cultural evangelicals, I. . . don't think it would necessarily be an easy mix, to say the least.
A good point. I mean, you could argue that "Fundamentalists" aren't actually about the fundamentals of Christianity either: they are about a very specific school of theology and they have simply been successful at branding themselves.
posted by verb at 11:59 AM on February 2, 2010


In societies where there is a great emphasis on keeping public and private lives separate, the transgression is really that the private life has been made public. It is harsh. It is tough. It is a terrible life sentence for anyone who cannot absolutely conform to the community: and that includes a lot of people, gay and straight.

Yeah, but it's not just "traditionalist societies" where this applies. I heard Snoop Dogg give a similar explanation on the Tiger Woods predicament. Dogg admitted he did as much (and even much more) during his first marriage - but that his mistake was to do it so publicly - "I disrespected her." That's what it comes down to. "She knew I would be fooling around, I didn't need to have my picture taken doing it."

But let's say you're a bi dude.

A little more gray please. Let's say your compass points NorthNorthwest. You'd never really travel South - your compass is useless for that journey - but making a detour in the Southerly direction is not out of the question. Isn't this what McGherkin or whatever he's called is talking about?
posted by three blind mice at 12:03 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Now, I might be completely misreading your intention here, but I really can't think of any other reason why you'd feel compelled to tack on that cranky little addendum at the end.

You're completely misreading my intention. I commented because the post was great. If you'll cast your eye to the top of the thread, you'll see that I also favourited it.

Truthfully, I don't give a fuck about the OP's user name aside from the fact that I generally hate long user names because they take too long to type. Personally, I like names like ob and ub. I'd have adopted a two character username myself but my account was a gift.

Your meta-derail, OTOH, seems utterly pointless to me.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:13 PM on February 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great first post; this is really interesting and'll keep me busy for a while!

and on the subject of long names - I was friends with the piece's author in high school, and at the time he went by simply "K."
posted by jtron at 12:38 PM on February 2, 2010


Great post. And good for Tonéx, who just secretly gave hope to a bunch of his fans, and hopefully shocked a few more into questioning rote homophobia. It would be marvelous thing for his gospel career to continue.
posted by desuetude at 12:44 PM on February 2, 2010


Not to get involved in this dumb quarrel, but I found your mentioning of his username "utterly pointless" as well. There are plenty of extended usernames, and his is not exceptionally long comparatively. I'm actually quite fond of the ability to have so many characters available. It gives people a chance to express themselves and it really has no effect whatsoever on anyone/anything besides those who choose, for whatever reason, to piss and moan because they can't abbreviate or copy/paste.. unless you talk out loud or have some sort of Text-to-Speech thing going on. In which case I think I'd find it more hilarious to hear the usernames after the comments. Stupid idea of the day complete.

Really superb post, (A)Ha(W)O! Maybe I'm in the optimistic minority here, but I don't think things will be entirely hopeless for Tonéx. Hopefully it will continue to expand the mental boundaries some people - primarily fans - have cornered themselves into regarding what it means to be gay & Christian. While obviously anything but a gospel singer and regardless of if you love him or hate him, I believe Adam Lambert has had similar effects within his tween/teen demographic after he was freed from the American Idol don't-ask-don't-tell leash.

*shrug*
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:45 PM on February 2, 2010


OP, I think your username is hilarious and deserves accolades.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 1:09 PM on February 2, 2010


Yeah, but it's not just "traditionalist societies" where this applies. I heard Snoop Dogg give a similar explanation on the Tiger Woods predicament. Dogg admitted he did as much (and even much more) during his first marriage - but that his mistake was to do it so publicly - "I disrespected her." That's what it comes down to. "She knew I would be fooling around, I didn't need to have my picture taken doing it."

I guess I still consider that traditionalist.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 3:23 PM on February 2, 2010


What was he thinking would happen? When you are an entertainer what the audience thinks of you happens to matter a great deal. He was performing telling the truth to the wrong people. They know it and now he knows it.

FTFY, 3bm.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:10 PM on February 2, 2010


Frak. Lost the strikeout formatting.
posted by IAmBroom at 4:10 PM on February 2, 2010


OP, this was a great post, this is what I consider the best of the web. You took a subject that I knew absolutely nothing about, and gave me a great angle on the story. Excellent post.
posted by msali at 7:37 PM on February 2, 2010


What an absolutely fantastic post. Thanks so much for this, (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates. I'm sharing this far and wide.
posted by mediareport at 8:35 PM on February 2, 2010


Great post! It has taken me an hours to get through all the material. This is exciting frontier being described here, somehow. The sum of what you gathered, AHWO, is greater than the sum of its parts. It is as if civil rights and the church are moving towards both a separation and a new, untold understanding.

I genuinely felt as if something unclear is being revealed through the details of this FPP...

...but, too bad PeterMcDermott didn't like your name.
posted by Mike Mongo at 8:54 PM on February 2, 2010


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