For Parents: When Your Child Comes Out

Ben Moberg over at Registered Runaway recently wrote a really great post about how to respond when your child comes out. Ben’s writing is fabulous, as always, but it really got me thinking about what I would have appreciated from my parents when I came out. I thought I would offer a few thoughts here for conservative parents struggling to deal with their child’s disclosure. I’ve put it into a list of “do’s and don’ts” to make it easier (and less preachy).

I’d love to see thoughts on this from parents, as I’m still learning about how to deal with my own family situation and am not a parent myself.

 

Don’t make it about you.

You will probably have a lot of emotions when your child comes out. You may be angry or scared. You may feel hurt. You may worry that you were a bad parent or wonder what people will think. And in the heat of the moment, you may blame your child for all of these emotional conflicts. You may feel like his or her coming out is something that is being done to you.

  • Do think about what your child needs.

Coming out is hard and scary, even when you know that the people on the receiving end of your disclosure are allies. It is exponentially more difficult and terrifying when you know that your news won’t be received well.

It is easy to see your child’s coming out as him or her drawing a line on the sand, standing against you. It is easy to see it as an act of defiance or rebellion. However, consider it from your child’s perspective. He or she is confiding in you, sharing an important part of his or her life. For the person coming out, it is an invitation to deeper intimacy and more honest relationship.

Your child doesn’t need to hear that he or she is ruining your life, destroying your reputation, or behaving rebelliously. She probably does need to be reassured that she is still loved, still welcomed, and still supported. He needs to know that the risk he has taken by letting you in will be respected, not repudiated.

  • Do find someone to talk to about what you need.

The fact that your child doesn’t necessarily need to hear about all of your initial reactions doesn’t mean that they aren’t valid or that you don’t need to express them somewhere. Find a trusted friend, talk to your pastor, or see a counselor. Contact someone from the Marin Foundation’s list of parents or get in touch with your local PFLAG chapter. You aren’t alone in this, and it’s difficult for you, too. You deserve support and help.

Don’t preach.

If you have a conservative viewpoint on homosexuality, your kid probably already knows that. In fact, your child has probably been bracing herself for your impromptu sermon on Romans 1. But stop and think before you get out your Strong’s Concordance or your Giant Study Bible of Doom. Going immediately for the theological reasons that you cannot accept this news tells your child two things. First, it implies that your religious beliefs are more important than your relationship with your son or daughter. And maybe, in an abstract sense, that’s true, but it might be nice to give yourself some space to find a middle ground that both values your relationship with your child and remains faithful to your religious ideals. Maybe. I’m just saying that might be a thing you would be interested in.

Second, jumping straight into a sermon entrenches you in a particular position and shuts down the opportunity for dialogue. Your child likely did not come to this unprepared. Most people don’t come out on a whim. Most people don’t realize they’re gay and impulsively start telling people. This is likely something that your child has put a lot of thought into. He or she has probably considered the issue from all angles and has some well-researched, well thought-out ideas about what this means for his or her life and spirituality.

  • Do listen to what your child is saying.

Your child has put a lot of thought and effort into this. Give him a chance to tell his story, and respect him as an honest and reliable narrator. Understand that her experiences and emotions are valid, and try to understand her point of view. Receiving this kind of disclosure may not be comfortable. Be willing to sit in that discomfort rather than reacting to or running from it.

  • Do ask them for resources.

It’s likely that your child has at least done a Google search about being gay. It’s distinctly possible that she has joined discussion boards, read blogs and books, and generally done her homework about what it means to be gay and, if she is a person of faith, what it means to be gay and Christian. She may still be working through all of the information and deciding what she thinks, or she may have developed a firm, nuanced understanding of how her faith and sexuality interact. Regardless, asking what your child has been reading, listening to, and thinking about is another way of showing that you value his point of view and respect his ideas and opinions.

  • Do look for resources yourself.

Your child probably won’t have all the answers, especially to the questions that are particularly concerning to you. Fortunately, the internet is full of resources for those struggling to understand this issue. I’m sure that some of your favorite authors, pastors, and preachers have done some writing about the topic, and that’s a place to start. However, I would encourage you to move outside of your comfort zone and read other ideas, even ones you disagree with. You never know where you will find something interesting or helpful. The Marin Foundation and the Gay Christian Network are both great places to start. Also, Slacktivist has a whole list of LGBTQ+ Christian bloggers, which can give you some valuable insight into how your child may be feeling. If you’re looking for blogs by parents, check out Linda Robertson or Susan Cottrell.

Don’t despair.

This is not the end of the world. This is not even the end of your relationship with your son or daughter. Coming out is difficult for everyone involved, but it can also be an opportunity for growth, both in your relationship with your child and in your walk with God.

  • Do take hope in the diverse ways that Christians are finding to reconcile faith and sexuality.

There has never been a better time to be queer and Christian. The internet is humming with dialogue about this issue, and people from all sorts of faith traditions are talking about ways to live more genuinely into their sexual orientation or gender identity without compromising their relationship with God.

  • Do realize you’re not alone.

You are not the first parent to hear their child say those words, and you won’t be the last. It can be tempting to hide from what is happening, but if you are willing to reach out, you will find yourself in the midst of a beautifully supportive community.

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A Year in Review and One Word for 2014

I started this blog because I realized I was gay, and I felt like I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it.

(Saying that I realized I was gay is probably putting it too strongly.  It was more like I finally admitted to myself that I had been attracted to women for a long time and that might possibly mean something.  My first attempt at coming out was telling my best friend, “I think I might be not-exactly straight.”)

I made a lot of noise about New Year’s resolutions and discipline and sorting out my head and speaking my mind, but really . . . it was the gay thing.  I didn’t actually start writing about my sexuality until I was well into the process of coming out in real life, but in a way, this blog was a promise.  It was a promise to myself that someday I would be able to tell people.  Someday I would be able to admit to who I am.  Someday I wouldn’t be ashamed of myself.

I didn’t really expect that day to come so soon.

The past year (and a few days – this is a bit late) has been a big one for me.  I’ve discovered a whole queer Christian community where people like me are exploring what it means to live out faith in Christ as a sexual minority.  I’ve finally, really committed to being in therapy and sticking with it.  I’ve become part of a church where I really feel connected and at home for the first time in years.   I’ve found so many people (both old friends and new) that love and support me no matter what.  I’ve survived the first three semesters of my graduate degree program, built a great resume, and started applying for post-graduation opportunities.

I’ve also stopped talking to my parents.

Unfortunately, my Christmas break was a little more dramatic than I expected it to be.  After a long talk about my sexuality and several days of pointed commentary, I decided that while my parents are entitled to their opinions, it was neither necessary nor healthy for me to continue subject myself to their expressions of those opinions.  So I called my best friend and asked her to drive out and pick me up.  When I announced my intention to leave, my parents insisted that they had not created a hostile environment.  Instead, they maintained that I was experiencing the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and that by leaving instead of submitting to that conviction (and their spiritual authority) I was “abandoning [my] soul to eternal damnation.”

We haven’t spoken since, and I’m not sure when we’ll speak again.

For years now, my relationship with my parents has been a stitched-together monster made of half-kept secrets and grudging compromises.  I’ve wondered for a long time if the only way to heal it would be to burn it to the ground and start over.  I’ve also wondered more recently if anything will grow in the ashes of all this string and madness.  There’s a lot of dysfunction there, and a part of me thinks it might be wiser to salt the earth and move on.  My parents cling to their right-ness with the terrified fervor of martyrs, and I don’t know if our relationship will prove worth the courage necessary for them to step away from that security and venture into the unknown.  I don’t know if they will ever accept my queerness.  I don’t know if I will ever be truly welcomed there.

Ironically, on the way to the airport to fly back to my home state I decided that my word for 2014 would be Belonging.  This year I hope to live in three different cities on two continents.  That’s a lot of leaving.  But in all of that hoped-for wandering, I also want to explore what it means to belong.  Last year a lot of my learning and growing was about who I am.  This year, I want to spend more time thinking about who we are.  What does it mean to be part of a church?  A family (chosen or blood)?  A group of friends?  A community of similarly identifying folks?  What is it like to belong as a student?  An intern?  An expat?

I have never been good at belonging.  As a fiercely independent introvert, I tend to be a bit of a Lone Ranger.  As a child from a dysfunctional family, I tend to have trust issues.  But I want to get better at it.  I want to be able to welcome people into my life and to be welcomed fully into theirs.  I want to get better at the give and take of relationships.  I want to be able to play well with others.

Twenty-thirteen was a year of growth and change.  It was painful, but it was worth it.  I believe that 2014 can be similarly fruitful.

What are you hoping for this year?

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Five Ways I Decided Not To Come Out To My Parents

I cope with humor.  So this summer while I was planning how I was actually going to come out to my parents, I also amused myself by thinking up horrible but creative ways I could have come out had my parents been a little less likely to be horribly traumatized by it.  I present to you . . . the best five.

  1.  As a “Get Out of This Conversation Free” card.  We’ve all been there.  You’re home for the holidays and someone has gone off on the Tangent of No Return.  Maybe it’s about kids these days or the government or just a really awkward story that no one wants to hear again.  Well, this is your one chance to get out of THAT conversation by interrupting with “So I’m pretty sure I’m gay.”  It’s guaranteed to shut down anything else that’s going on in your immediate environment.  BONUS:  You may not hear that story/have that conversation for a while.
  2. A Rick Warren-style Tweet.  (If you have no idea what I’m talking about, follow the links.)  I don’t actually have a Twitter account, nor do my parents, but I can’t help but feel this would be hilarious.  You know . . . as long as you weren’t on the receiving end.  “Mom, Dad, I’m gay.  Can’t explain all the reasons here . . .”
  3. A cake.  Pretty much everyone in my family stress eats, so cake would be a good thing to have around in a crisis.  Also, cakes are generally associated with happy things like weddings, birthdays, Bar Mitzvahs, etc.  Cake is party food!  Bonus points if the cake is rainbow or confetti.  You win the internet if it is presented without comment or explanation.  “Mom, Dad, I made dessert tonight!”
  4. Family game night.  The possibilities for this one are endless.  Charades?  “Three words . . . first word . . . eye . . .”  Pictionary?  “Um . . . a rainbow?  Two girls holding hands?  Friends?  Sisters?  Oh!  Not sisters!  WHAT ARE THEY DOING????”  Or for slightly less dramatic impact, we could play Life and I would just put another pink figure in my car when it’s time to get married . . .
  5. Purchase t-shirts that say “I’m proud of my lesbian daughter.”  Ship to parents.  Include note that says, “I thought you might want to have something special to wear for Pride this year!  See you [dates of local Pride event].”  Subtle, but effective.

I hope this is the future.  I hope that someday coming out will be such a non-issue that kids will be able to bake cakes and play games and do fun, celebratory stuff.  Because coming out should be about celebrating who you are.  Coming out should be just another milestone of growing up and figuring yourself out.  It should feel as good as getting a college acceptance letter or find a hobby that you love.

And really, I hope that someday coming out becomes obsolete.  I hope that someday we get rid of the boxes and find a way to acknowledge that sexuality is complicated and dynamic and labels aren’t as important or useful as we want them to be.  I hope that if my teenage son or daughter tells me they are attracted to someone of the same gender, they won’t need me to tell them it’s alright.  They’ll already know.

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So here’s how coming out to my parents went down . . .

On June 19, 2013, Exodus International announced it was closing its doors, and I decided to come out to my parents.

I spent the next two months writing a four page letter explaining how I realized I liked women, what the process of coming to terms with that had been like for me, and how I currently feel about same sex relationships.  (Spoiler:  Conflicted.  Because of reasons.)  I tried to think of the objections or concerns they might have and addressed those as well.  Parts of that letter became posts on this blog.  Other parts will probably never see the light of day.  It is probably the most honest and vulnerable I have been with my parents since I told them I was afraid I was going to kill myself in 2009.

In retrospect, it might have been better to go with my plan of sending them “Proud Parent of a Lesbian” shirts and laughing maniacally while they freaked out.  That would have at least been a funnier story.

I sent my four page letter (FOUR PAGES) by email around midnight on Saturday, August 24th.  In the first paragraph, I asked them to read the entire letter, discuss it, process a little, and call me when they were ready to talk.  Since my father rarely leaves the house without checking his email, I assumed that they would get my letter first thing, spend several hours processing, and call me by early afternoon.  I had asked one of my friends to be on emergency standby, and she was planning on feeding me dinner that evening and listening to me cry about how badly it went.  (I was pretty much 100% sure it was going to suck.)

Unfortunately, my plan failed to take into account the fact that my father was teaching a Saturday parenting seminar that week, which meant that he rushed out of the house early that morning without checking his email and then proceeded to check it on his phone during one of his co-presenter’s sections.

Oops.

SOOOOO . . . at 10:30am, I get a call from my father, who is standing outside the parenting class, trying to keep his voice down but also freaking completely out.  Our conversation:

Dad:  Did you send your mother the same email you sent me.

Me:  Umm . . . yes.

Dad:  Well . . . I hope she doesn’t get it while she’s home alone today.  This is going to kill your mother.  I don’t think she’ll ever recover.

Me:  *awkward silence*

Dad:  We’ll call you tonight when I get home.  DON’T TALK TO YOUR MOTHER UNTIL I GET HOME.

Me:  *awkward silence*

Dad:  *hangs up*

And so, I waited.  And waited.  And threw up the lunch I forced myself to eat.  And waited some more.

I got a call from my parent’s house around 4:30.  I was pretty sure my dad’s seminar was over at 2, so I assumed it was them.  It was my Mom.  She hadn’t checked her email.  We talked about laundry and the sales she found at the grocery store that morning.  She kept asking if I was okay.  Apparently I sounded odd.

Then I waited some more.

Finally, just after 7 that evening, they called.  The conversation only lasted 30 minutes, and there was a lot of awkward silence.  I think they were waiting for me to apologize or fix it or explain myself, but I sent them a four page letter that I spent two months writing.  I’d said all I had to say.

Almost the first thing my mother said was, “You’re our daughter, and we will always love you, but we cannot accept your choice.”

There was a lot of pointed use of the word choice.  There was a lot of “we love you, but we don’t like this.”  They were unhappy that I had not chosen to come out in person, especially since they had seen me in person just a week and a half before.  They weren’t willing to discuss it over the phone, so we’re apparently waiting for Christmas to “really” talk about it.

It wasn’t as bad as thought it was going to be.  There was no yelling.  No one got disowned.  I was not called any ugly names.  I was not accused of being demon possessed.  They seem to believe me when I say I have not become promiscuous or a partier.  (Actual things conservative parents assume/worry about in the context of homosexuality.)  They didn’t tell me I’m going to hell, but they did tell me I should be grateful they weren’t telling me I’m going to hell, so I’m not actually putting that one in the “win” column.

I didn’t realize how physically hard coming out to my parents would be.  For about five days on either side of the day I came out, everything I ate made me sick.  After my stomach calmed down, I had a migraine that lasted four days.  I stopped sleeping.  I was exhausted all the time.  It’s really only in the last few days that I’ve felt mostly normally again, at least on a physical level.

I knew that this would be emotionally difficult, and I spent some time in therapy processing and preparing for that this summer.  It turns out I worried about the wrong things, though.  I was not prepared for how angry my parents would be that I was coming out to them.  Not even that I was gay.  That was a whole different issue (about which they were still very angry).  One of them actually said that this (my coming out) would “just make things awkward.”  They seemed to feel that I was throwing this horrible, rebellious thing that I had done in their faces.  My mother told me she felt like I must hate them.  They didn’t understand or acknowledge at all that I was afraid of their response or that this was emotionally difficult for me.  One of them actually asked me at one point, “Why are you crying?”

I was also not really prepared to deal with this strange, subtle subtext of rejection in the wake of my coming out.  (Probably because I expected blatant, violent rejection.)  My father and I didn’t speak for a little over a week after I came out.  I’m still not sure if it was intentional or if he just happened not to be around at all every single time my mother called me.  My mother and I have continued to check in every day, as has been our habit for years now, but it’s not the same.  We sound cheerful.  We talk about the same things.  But it’s obvious she can’t wait to get off the phone.

My mother has asked me every Sunday since I left home for college whether I went to church that day.  If she doesn’t remember to ask on Sunday for some reason, she always brings it up on Monday.  The last two weeks, she hasn’t asked at all.

And I have no idea what to do.

It’s hard to hear someone say “I love you,” when you know that they find such an incredibly important part of your personality and identity disgusting and sinful.  It’s hard to know that my parents don’t trust my experiences and perceptions enough to even consider questioning their own beliefs on this issue.  I’ve asked myself so many hard questions this year, and I am still living in the tension of some of those.  It’s hard to know that my own family is unwilling to climb down with me and sit with the uncomfortableness of all this.

I’ve told this story half a dozen times now.  I still haven’t been able to look anyone in the eye as I tell it.  Part of me is ashamed.  Part of me feels like my parents unwillingness or intransigence indicates some unworthiness on my part, as though maybe if I were a better daughter or a better person or a better Christian, they would trust me more.  They would love me in the ways I need them to love me.

And the strange, complicated truth is that my parents do love me, despite everything, and loving me is a very real sacrifice for them.  I am not the daughter they expected, not the daughter they thought would be the outcome of their parenting, not the daughter they prayed for and hoped for and dreamed of.  Despite the fact that they followed the vanilla cake recipe and somehow ended up with funfetti anyway, they love me in the best way they know how.  Sometimes that’s painful for me, and I regularly debate with myself how much their good intentions should excuse.  But I have to keep that love and those good intentions in the forefront of my mind because it’s what allows me to keep trying.

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Coming Out Isn’t All Bad (But It Is All Scary)

I did, in fact, come out to my parents last weekend.  Nobody died, and we’re all still talking to each other, so it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  That being said, it wasn’t pretty either.

I’ve been trying to write about it all week.  I’ve planned out posts while I’m in the shower or in the car or standing at my sink washing dishes, but to be honest it’s all still kind of a jumble.  I’m hurt and sad and relieved and exhausted all at once, and I’m not ready to put it all down into a nice, linear blog post yet.

(I think I just implied that my blog posts are generally linear and logical.  I’m sorry.)

The worst part about being an adult is that life doesn’t slow down for your personal nonsense, and this would have been a rough week regardless of the context.  Classes started Wednesday, so I’m in the overwhelmed part of the first week of school where you feel like you have to take on the whole semester at once.  The two new employees at job #1 won’t start until next week, so I had 30 hours’ worth of work and only about 15 hours to do it in.  And the Fulbright proposal I’ve been working on all summer is due Sunday, so the hard bits that I’ve been procrastinating have to come together in the next couple of days.

It’s hard to do any of that when you feel like you’ve been scraped off the bottom of somebody’s shoe.

So instead of writing the deep, insightful post I want to write about last weekend, I’m going to talk about the positive parts of my coming out experience.

The first person I told was my best friend, Jac.  She said, “I love you.  It’s going to be okay.  Are you still breathing?”  (I wasn’t.)

Although LGBT friendliness was not even on my radar when I was looking for graduate schools, I ended up in an incredibly open program in an already incredibly open school so, for the most part, I’ve felt comfortable talking to my classmates, professors, and colleagues about this process.  One of the professors I came out talked with me openly about her experiences as a young, queer woman and helped me find an LGBT friendly counselor to talk to.  I came out to most of my school friends on the Fourth of July while we were all slightly tipsy (sangria on empty stomachs = bad idea), and it was generally a much bigger deal for me than it was for them.  They celebrated with me, told me they were proud of me, and worried with me about how my parents would take it.

The second year student who started as a mentor and became one of my closest friends has been ridiculously available to me through this whole process.  I came out to her in a parking lot after a work event and promptly burst into tears.  We sat in her car for two hours and talked that night, and she’s been amazing about listening non-judgmentally and encouraging me to figuring out who I am and how I feel about it.  I’ve spent an embarrassing amount of time on her couch this summer, drinking wine and playing with her puppy.

Both of the more conservative friends that I’ve come out to have been decidedly open-minded.  One spent a lot of time listening to me and asking questions before settling into a firm but loving side-B stance (which was initially hard, but I’m more okay with it now).  The other is Catholic and told me that, while she can’t condone my gayness, she believes that God is loving and merciful and that there is grace for all of us.  We then had a half-hour chat about whether or not I’m dating and what kind of girls I like.  It was a little surreal, but in a good way.

My church has been amazing.  I feel so incredibly blessed to have found such a loving community to belong to.  I go to one of those churches.  The kind your parents warned you about.  One of the interns performed in a drag show at one of the local gay clubs last week to raise money for a trans* awareness organization, and they advertised it in the church bulletin.

Last but not least, I’m incredibly grateful for the online community that talks about these issues.  Within hours of finally admitting to myself that I was “not exactly straight” and that being that way would impact my life (actual words I used . . . see how far I’ve come?!), I had found Rachel Held Evans, who led me to Registered Runaway and Justin Lee, who led me to . . . all sorts of people.  Before that day, I would have said it was impossible to be both gay and a Christian, but once I started looking, I quickly found an online community of faith waiting with open arms to reassure me and shepherd me through the next few months (in which I tried to ignore what I had realized and slowly lost my mind).  In the weeks just before I came out, I was especially encouraged by Linda Robertson at Just Because He Breathes (this post got read a lot) and by Amy at Unchained Faith, both of whom are wonderful allies and gave me a lot of hope about my parents.

Coming out has been hard.  Dealing with my parents is probably going to continue to be hard.  But I have a lot of people rooting for me, and I can honestly say that my experience has been mostly positive.  More importantly than what anyone else thinks, I know that acknowledging my sexuality and coming out has helped me be more at peace with myself.  I’m generally more centered and confident, less anxious, and less depressed.  This process has let me be at peace within myself for the first time in a long time . . . maybe the first time ever.

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Coming Out (In His Image)

I’m coming out to my parents this weekend.

Earlier this week, I told my pastor that this is probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done.  My father is a conservative, Pentecostal minister who has engaged in reparative therapy.  I have heard both of them attribute homosexuality to demonic influence or sinful rebellion, so I’m not exactly expecting them to be accepting.  In fact, I’m kind of assuming that I’m about to throw my entire immediate family into absolute chaos.  There will be hand wringing and crying and yelling and quite possibly wearing of sack cloth and ashes.  (Okay, maybe not that last one.)  My parents are going to have to rethink their entire world view or commit to a permanently contentious relationship with one of their children.

Sounds like a nice weekend, right?

I keep asking myself (and being asked by others) why I’m doing this.  In part, it’s for my relationship with my parents.  We’ve had a number of serious disagreements over the years, and there is already quite a bit of distance in our relationship.  I know that being less than honest with them about such a huge part of my life will only add to that distance.  I know that until I’ve told them, I will question every word they say about how much they love me or how proud they are of me.  I know that as long as I’m holding this back, I’m protecting myself instead of being open in the way you must be to make a relationship work.

But there’s more at stake here than my relationship with my parents.  Also at stake are my relationship with myself and my relationship with God.

Again and again as I’ve prepared for this weekend, I’ve thought about the idea that God created humans in his own image.  Some part of me looks like some part of God, and I can’t help but think that it must be a fairly vital piece, one that suffuses or is connected to all the rest of me.  I mean, if I just had God’s nose or his eyelashes or his penchant for spicy food, I wouldn’t be the image of God.  We would just share a characteristic or two.  Being created in his image implies a deeper, more complete likeness.

So if I’m created in the image of God, if his likeness is echoed through every part of me, my sexuality must be included in that.  God made me this way, and I refuse to believe that it was a mistake or a punishment or a cruel joke.  God made me this way because it affects who I am and how I experience the world.  It changes my thought process and my point of view.  God made me this way for a reason.

I don’t know what that reason is.  I don’t need to know.  All I need to know is that God loves me and that he wants me to live fully and authentically as he created me to be.  And I can’t do that while I continue to hide part of myself.  I can’t do that while I pretend to be “normal.”  I can’t do that from inside the closet.

So, tomorrow, I’m coming out to my parents.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and (Mostly) Accept Myself

When I started seventh grade, it was obvious to me that over the summer, something had changed.  Namely, all my friends had been bitten by the boy-crazy bug.

ALL OF THEM.

Everyone had a crush on someone.  Or was ‘dating’ someone.  Or had a ranked list of the guys they would be willing to go out with/marry.

I had nothing.

I was confused by this trend.  Boys were weird and smelly.  But since I was also unwilling to be left out, I decided I would also have a crush on someone.  I picked a new kid in our class.  He was in band with me and took honors classes, which I figured was a good enough basis for liking someone.  I told my friends.

A couple of days later, one of those friends started teasing me about the boy I was crushing on, and I couldn’t figure out who she was talking about.  I played along until I remembered, but that was when I decided that being in “love” was mostly for losers.  After all, how awesome could it be if I couldn’t even remember who my “crush” was?

I relegated crushes and giggling and attraction to the box of silly, emotional, feminine things that I was too intellectual and mature for.  As I got a little older and started getting the “guard your heart” speech from my youth leaders, I added “too spiritual” to the list of attributes that protected me from becoming one of those ridiculous girls that drooled over boys.  I was above all that.

Then I realized that I wasn’t actually “too” any of those things.  I was just too gay.

*facepalm*

When I finally did start having the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling that all of my friends described, it was generally not directed towards boys.  In fact, I can’t name a single boy I was interested in during high school, but I can list several girls that I pined after from afar or jealously guarded friendships with as early as elementary school.

In college, I started to recognize that the pattern of my feelings wasn’t simply I-want-her-to-be-my-friend or she-spends-too-much-time-with-her-boyfriend.  I realized that I had romantic feelings for these girls.  (At least, I realized it sometimes.  Enough that it made me think.  Looking back, however, there were other times that I was pretty oblivious.)  I wrote in my journal, “I think human sexuality is a lot more fluid than we’re generally willing to admit.”

This was a nice thing for me to think.  On the one hand, it made me feel very enlightened.  Look at how open minded and accepting I’m being!  It’s totally normal to admire members of both sexes romantically!  On the other hand, it fit in nicely with the idea I was raised with that people choose to be gay.  After all, I was choosing not to be gay, right?  I could have declared myself bisexual and pursued a relationship with a woman.  (I carefully did not think about the possibility of going any farther up the Kinsey scale than that.)  Obviously, gay people had some slight preference for their own gender and chose to focus on that.

Right?

I clung, desperately, to the handful of guys that I felt attracted to.  There was the much older student that all the girls in my lifegroup called “Campus Ministry Ken.”  (I’m not actually sure he knew my name.)  There was the adorable cowboy I met on a trip home with a friend.  (I’m really not sure if I noticed him or if I just noticed him noticing me, but we had fun flirting.)  There was the scrub tech in the hospital I worked in who turned out to also be my boss’s son.  (The giggly, incoherent mess I turned into whenever I had to talk to him would have completely humiliated my 12 year-old self.  My co-workers found it highly amusing.)

I moved away for graduate school and found myself in a program that is 80% female.  In my department, there are 3 men and 86 women.  Within days of classes starting most of my friends knew the names, ages, hometowns, and research interests of all 3 guys.  I was too distracted by the fact that studying with this many women was . . . distracting.

Just before Christmas, a friend whose figure I found oddly . . . appealing bought a pair of high-heeled ankle boots and wore them to a party I attended, paired with a rather flattering pair of jeans.  I spent most of the evening trying not to stare.

I drove home for Christmas, 17 hours in a single day.  It was grueling.  Somewhere out in the enormous expanse of nothing that you have to drive through to get from where I live now to where I grew up, I turned off my music, put my phone on silent, and gave myself a good talk.

You are not a lesbian.  This is crazy.  You’re just looking for a way to be different.  You never could do things the easy way.  This is just another way of casting yourself as the tragic, misunderstood heroine.  You’re not that attracted to women.  You always over-think things like this. You just haven’t met the right man yet.  You’ve got to be patient.  God will bring someone along when it’s time.  And how do you expect to meet a nice, Christian man that you could be interested in when you’re not even going to church?!?!  Now stop thinking about all of this before you get confused.  YOU ARE NOT GAY.

I turned the music back up and drove on.

On December 29, 2012, I was sitting on the bed in my parents’ guest room waiting for my turn in the shower.  (Oh the joys of being home.)  I was reading a story online, when a particular line struck me.  “It was silly, and Steve knew it, but he was 22 years old, living by himself and turning out a little too queer for his own tastes. Dreaming of a normal life, in his home town, with his best friend, was sometimes the only thing that got him out of bed in the morning.”

Turning out a little too queer for his own tastes.  Boy, don’t I know how that feels.

And suddenly, I knew.  I could almost feel the thought forming in my mind, feel myself trying to smother it.  I realized even as it was happening that this wasn’t something I could un-know.

I’m not actually straight.

It’s funny how much significance there is in the linguistic leap from “attracted to women” to “not straight.”

 

There is no ending to this story.

I spent most of the spring semester mentally tiptoeing around this realization.  I came out to three close friends, all of whom were very supportive and all of whom moved my understanding and acceptance of myself forward in different ways.  I began seeing a counselor in late April when I realized that my distraction over my sexual identity crisis was affecting my ability to function.  I went into therapy grimly determined to accept myself or die trying, and I’ve made a lot of progress.

I can say the words “I’m gay” or “I’m a lesbian” out loud now, without having to take a fortifying breath first.

I began visiting a progressive church with a gay pastor during Lent.  Despite my occasional concern that God is, in fact, judging me for worshiping with these people, I have never felt more loved and accepted by any faith community.  I’m slowly finding my place in their congregation and making it my home.  Being around the pastor and her partner has been wonderfully encouraging, and being there has given me hope that both my faith and I will survive this process intact.

I’ve reached a point where I realize that continuing to accept my sexual orientation means telling people, and I’m trying to do that.  It’s not an easy conversation to have, even with people I know will be accepting, but I know that being able to live honestly and authentically will be its own reward.  I told a friend from high school recently, and she told me afterward that this was the freest and happiest she’d ever seen me.

I told her, “I feel like I was always drowning and didn’t realize it until my head hit the surface of the water.”

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