Open Letter to James A. Mann: Are you really newsworthy enough for a monthly column?
It’s a typical Tuesday afternoon, and I start my work day. We’ve been gone for a week as our team travels, and now it’s time to get back to the swing of things.
I head into my Tuesday with some tough decisions to make : Do I want to listen to a straight, cisgender male pastor invalidate a local studio dedicated to creating a safe space for individuals to learn art, embrace their sexuality, and empower themselves by using their bodies, or do I want to go forth and have a normal work day? Decisions, decisions.
Looks like it’s the former.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out this amazing front page article in the Denton Record-Chronicle celebrating a team of dedicated, local, professional performers and business professionals who are creating opportunities for our community members to grow in a new way that improves their daily lives. And also, check out this not so amazing opinion about the article by James A. Mann, which basically says making it a front page story enforces an “agenda.” Yup. He said that.
Now, James, I see here that you feel that this kind of feature is not “front page worthy,” perhaps not even “newsworthy.” You claim this as your loving host paper, the DRC’s, attempt to outcry that they are “still relevant” and “not fake news.” You poorly cite a statistic in a misleading way, in an attempt to avoid the challenges of a new idea, a new beginning that will actually do good for us. One thing remains still inaccurate: this article? This studio? These people? Newsworthy.
I grew up down the road from Denton in Prosper, Texas, where ideas and individuals like you, who question the morals of others –– who likely have no interest in what goes on behind your doors –– run rampant. There are plenty of pastors, surely such as yourself, who probably share the same ideals as you. That’s why many of us Prosperian queers didn’t come out during school – fear of being greeted as “irrelevant” or “not worthy” – or you know, dying –– because of the big ol’ bigotry bubble plopped right on our city lines.
Now, in Denton, where I am unafraid to live my truth and share my love with others who may need it. I am able to feel relevant, and worthy. My secondary chosen family is made of people from all walks of life and background. And you know, back in Prosper we also had a newspaper that many a paper person carried every day, and it is probably still a big part of their community, even if they aren’t covering topics such as the one we are addressing today.
But you know what the most important takeaway from that is, though? Knowledge and community. Knowledge of our community and its happenings are important, if not integral to our daily lives. It is how we learn about our local culture, how people outside of our own tiny bubbles of life operate. It helps us to become better people. What about your children and grandchildren that you love, Pastor James? Don’t you want them to grow up to be good people, and leave a lasting, positive impact on this world? Come on, James.
Though I come from a marketing professional background, you’re right – I’m not going to waste time talking about market research, audience, demographics, etc. This isn’t a board meeting – it’s a newspaper article doing its job – to inform! That’s marketing enough, at least for me. Would you believe it that I didn’t even know you existed until I came across your article, James?
My volunteer role at The Dentonite is to write about art, specifically queer art, my community, and the things happening within it. I write about their backgrounds, events they’re hosting, so that these voices, these same voices who experience daily attempts to be silenced by people from your position of power – can be heard, known, and validated. I try to use my own power as a queer - straight passing - white, middle-class woman, to uplift others, because that’s what I was taught to do.
You see, I too come from a religious background. My parents raised us in both Southern Baptist and Church of Christ communities, and I also spent a good part of my youth attending Methodist churches. You know what the difference between you and I is though, James? My parents, my upbringing, taught me to honor, love, respect and support thy neighbor as thyself – just as the Bible says.
James, you said you “have personal positions on the morality of LGBTQ activities.” You “have tried, as this social trend has grown, to develop a theology that is both loving to people and consistent with God’s word."
Honey, being gay isn’t a social trend. This isn’t a fad that will soon pass with the time. We don’t have an expiration date. We have been here for centuries. We — and our “activities” aren’t going anywhere.
And look, James, I’m not asking you to hop up and cloak yourself in a rainbow flag and join us at the next pride parade – I think that would be a bit too much for all of us. What I am asking you, though, is how can we both come from these same religious backgrounds, these places of “morality” and “goodness” and yet here you are, denouncing the goodness of others, questioning their morals, worth and relevancy, when you’ve never taken the time to know them?
You’re worried about raising your children and grandchildren in Denton? That Denton is taking off in some sort of “ bad direction?” Let me tell you, sir – Denton is heading in a beautiful, loving, accepting, fruitful direction. Straight up Garden of Eden type situation. In my last eight years here as a Dentonite, I’ve watched doors open and organizations come out of the woodwork that do everything in their power and then some to uplift our city and its inhabitants in the best ways they know how – through support. We are a loving community. An inclusive community. An accepting community. I’m sure you’d agree, since you love it so much too, right, James?
And let’s talk about the “morality” behind the business. This studio has been established with goodness and right in mind. These instructors are empowering our community by giving individuals opportunities to embrace their bodies, learn about consent, healthy communication, and most importantly – exercise! They’re keeping people healthy, both mentally and physically. Did you know they’re also participating in a local fundraiser for nonprofit craft haven SCRAP Denton, hosted at Armadillo Ale works this Saturday September 1st? Would you call giving back to your community through time and financial donations, immoral – sir?
Another question: How is the opening of this new business not newsworthy in itself? When other businesses open, they make the front page. Why not this one? How can you decide that the opening of one business is more important than the other, when they equally bring new economic opportunities to our city? I am confused, truly.
And before the words hate and phobia are thrown out, let me be clear: I don’t think your column is newsworthy. I think outdated, homophobic misogynist preachers who actively take the time to denounce other religions and the people who follow them, as well as people who operate outside of his norm, is merely the rattling, bone-dry cries of a type of people who will one day soon fade away into the sun – ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Your position presented here is retired and will be consumed by the over pouring of love and acceptance from those around you who know better.
And yes – I have ALL of the personal opinions. No, we are not all Christian – not all Christians even believe as you do – and we are definitely not all tied to this “standard of morality” you have. Of course we differ on what’s right and wrong.
So, at this point I’m going to keep it pretty libertarian – if Christianity is your thing, and you aren’t harming anyone – physically, mentally, or otherwise – we’re cool. Do what you want. IF you actually think that an LGBTQ dance studio isn’t going to work – then sit back and relax with a slice of humble pie, James. This studio and the countless other queer owned businesses in our area are going to continue to thrive, grow, flourish, and generate a beautiful, lasting impact on our community, its history, and our outward reputation of love, acceptance and goodness.
And we’ll gladly leave you out of it. Thankfully, we didn’t know you beforehand, and we certainly don’t need to know you now. At least we know what kind of person you are, and to steer clear of you and your church. Clearly, we fellow humans, who are as worthy of love, acceptance, grace, forgiveness, charity, hope, and family as you and your flock are.
Openly queer and queer owned spaces in Denton you should check out:
Photo courtesy of Lil Williams taken outside of the New Life Church where James A. Mann is a pastor.
Header design by Tori Falcon.