Guest Post - Growing Up Gay
Ya'll, I have a guest poster!! My blog is becoming a real blog. Jesi is dear friend, practically daughter. She lived with us for 6 months when she was five years old - she's now 24. I've known her for almost her entire life! I wanted her to share her story because it highlights what it is like for some people to grow up gay and to lose the support of their family. But, Jesi's story is ultimately happy, as you'll see. So, here she is . . .
We all know it's pride month, by definition it's not exactly a secret. So for pride month, my friend Catherine asked me to write a blog about how being gay influenced my life as a christian, and later on if it influenced my decision to leave religion behind. It is not my intention to be the one queer voice on religion, someone else in the queer community may have a completely different view on it. This is not my all encompassing Gay Experience either, just the parts that pertain to the church. I am also not out to trash religion of any sort. (Cults are a little messed up though, so maybe don't join those.) I'm just here to share my personal experience of Growing Up Gay (in a Christian household)
I grew up in a non-denominational christian home; I did bible camp, youth group, church, baptism, christian homeschool group, the whole getup. We went to a couple different churches over the years, one was fairly plain, the other an attempt at being more 'secular' and 'real' and 'accepting.' During our time at the first church, I was younger, I had a core group of friends. We thought we were super cool, but also were not great at participating in the actual church service. So at that point we can just assume I hadn't exactly formed any real opinions on religion or God apart from "heaven is a thing, hell is a thing, earn the former, if you're not a Christian you end up in the latter." We switched to the second church after a scandal of some sort at the first one, the details of which I still don't really know. Thankfully for me, my best friend at the time, as well as a few others, switched with us. The pastor was younger, more 'hip,' and seemingly more laid back than the last one, so I was pretty on board with the switch right away.
At this point I was a bit older. More involved in the church, my opinions more formed. I still kind of rode the sidelines of christianity, but at least I was thinking about it now. I started actually paying attention in service, I participated in the study part of youth group instead of just the fun stuff, and I even spoke during service a couple times that our pastor had asked me to.
During this time, I was aware that being gay was a thing, but it was always this far off concept. Something that bad people did, certainly not anyone in our city, or even our state. It didn't affect me, because I didn't know anyone that was gay (as far as I was aware,) and we certainly didn't talk about it in my house, not as anything more than a way to insult someone. I honestly didn't even know girls dated girls, I thought only guys could be gay. My friends and I never really talked about boys, we were more into gallivanting around the woods, drinking too much coffee, and building forts. Sexuality and romance was a non-issue. Plus, boys had cooties, so who wants to mess with that? I had a few friends who were boys, but they were always more like brothers to me.
Then an old friend showed up in my life. At church, of all places. I had known my fascination with her was not how I felt about my other friends, even my best friend. But I didn't have a word for it, and I didn't like the feeling it gave me in my stomach, because it was associated with shame. Shame I didn't have a word for, and didn't know the reason for. We flew in and out of touch, but the confusion stayed. All of a sudden, hurrah! A boy asked me out! A real life boy, who even went to church! My friends said he was cute, my pastor liked him, and that was good enough for me. Did I like him though? I could never tell. I liked knowing someone liked me. But the butterflies in my stomach stayed silent.
Now we're going to fast forward a bit. That boy and I only lasted a few months, and never did anything more than hold hands. In the few years I'm fast tracking through, I became a shell of who I used to be. I was angry, I was depressed, I was frustrated constantly for no apparent reason. I fought with my family all the time, I barely enjoyed the activities that once brought me peace. I definitely didn't make religion even part of a priority. I believed in God on the off-chance he might be real, just in case hell was a possibility, I kept heaven in my pocket. I went off to college, I joined theater, I stopped going to church the moment I moved out.
Another thing that happened in these years I'm skipping: I dated that girl from church. I was head over heels, my stomach was aflutter once again, and I finally knew what love was. But I had hardly told anyone. Most of my friends didn't know, and my family certainly didn't. After a lot of on and off with this girl, a couple breakups, etc. I got a boyfriend because I was lonely and depressed, and had such a strong need for affection and someone who wanted me. Even if my butterflies died, at least I could have a public relationship. I didn't say it was a good choice, or a fair choice, but it was the choice I made. After I broke up with him, I finally decided to come out to my mom. I'm not going to get into specifics, but it didn't go well. When I came out publicly a couple months later, I immediately got messages from people at church talking about my poor mother. Saying they'd pray for me, and for her.
Suddenly religion was a weapon, and I had a target on my chest. My pastor who had seemed so open and relatable talked to my mom about me, prayed for her and wishing her healing from all the pain I'd caused, all the pain I was still causing. I was told many things. That God did not make me this way. That it wasn't too late for me, that these feelings were from the devil, and that I could choose not to act on them, and God would love me again. That marriage is between a man and a woman, because God created Adam and Eve to be together, and that is the way that is right. That I was disgusting, and that "seeing you with a woman makes sick, this is not what God wants." That God burned down the city of homosexuals for a reason, and I too will end up in the flames of hell. Plus so many more, all reasons that I was not only a bad person, but a bad Christian, that God no longer loved me, because I loved the wrong person. These things were said by friends, by family, by church members from that 'accepting' church that was not quite so accepting, to my face and over the internet. I had thought coming out would make me feel free, but the reaction ultimately drove me back to my ex-boyfriend. My family didn't even like him, but that didn't matter because at least I was straight again. God forgave me, so we can all be happy. Right?
Obviously we broke up, it wasn't fair of me to date someone I didn't have feelings for, to use someone as a way to be 'good.' It had been made clear to me that I couldn't be a christian and a lesbian. I had to choose, and as I had never felt super close to christianity, it wasn't a hard choice. I lost a lot of church friends, I lost family, I lost people who told me they struggled really hard with their faith because they couldn't decide if they were allowed to love me, if God would allow them to love me. I even had friends who told me that they loved me "even though" or "in spite of the fact that" I was gay. Love the sinner, hate the sin. They were actively hating a huge part of me, but loving me, and deciding that was really love.
Being online and seeing christians defend the LGBT community by saying "only God can judge their sin," or "we sin too, so we can't hate them for theirs," or other statements in the same vein. Always making sure everyone knows it's a sin, justified by saying that you shouldn't hate 'them' for it. Even tolerant Christianity is shown as just that: I love you, and I tolerate your sexuality, but I still think you should be asking for forgiveness about it, and hopefully ultimately decide to stay straight. Conversion therapy is often led by religious organizations. Trying to 'pray the gay away' is not just a lighthearted joke, it's a very common occurrence. LGBT+ youth are routinely kicked out of their homes, abused, sometimes even killed, in the name of God. Some family of mine were not at my wedding because they would not be "true Christians" if they even pretended to condone my sin, much less celebrate it. Religion does not often draw positive associations from the LGBT+ community. That is a reality that is changing, some churchgoers are starting to see that hate is not God's way. That evangelicalism has turned into something God would not be interested in. For that reason, I have not given up on the idea of religion. I am not religious. I don't know that I ever will be, but someone being religious does not turn me off to them right away. I have friends who are religious, friends who are gay, and friends who are both. Kudos to those who can balance both faith and homosexuality in a public manner. I believe there's something out there, but I would not say that I believe it's God. I'm okay with that, and I am fully able to participate in conversations about religion, something I used to widely shy away from. Do I think I would still be religious if I were straight? I don't know the answer to that. I grew up in a Christian bubble, maybe if I was straight I would have stayed in it. Then again, as I've mentioned, it never truly struck a chord with me. But maybe I would've come around to it with age, or maybe I would've taken a different path to the same place I'm at now.
Now to take a step back and then forward for a happy ending. After years of heartache; becoming almost entirely estranged from my immediate family (for multiple reasons, but largely due to my sexuality,) barely emerging from that shell of a human I felt I had forever become, continual internalized homophobia and shame, a growing wall between myself and religion, etc. I met a phenomenal woman. She healed so many wounds, she made me happy, she stood up for me, she loved me, and I loved her. I grew, we grew together, I dealt with a lot of past demons, I continue to do so with her at my side. I am finally thriving, the way I wish I had been allowed to as a gay teen. There is so much more to the story, that we don't have time for, but ultimately, I married her. We had so many amazing friends at our wedding, religious and non-religious. Everyone present was truly happy for us, every part of us, and that is the only thing that mattered.
Our two year wedding anniversary is in September, and my friends:
those butterflies are very much alive.