Today on Twitter I saw an ad. BBC3 were looking to find people for a new show about LGBTQIA+ youth, and among their issues they mentioned, one leaped out at me.
And, being me, I stayed up way past my bedtime because I wanted, finally, to get my testimony, if you like, down. This isn’t a story I tell very often. There are very few people in my life who are comfortable with both the Christian side of me and the queer side of me. And that’s how I see them: two sides of me. Sitting in church, when ‘ungodly lifestyles’ are slyly raised, or sitting in on a diversity panel, where the subtext is always that the conservative Christians are the establishment against which we battle, I feel like an enemy of myself. I’m torn between a faith which, by necessity, has grown into something very personal, and a sexual and romantic identity which, by necessity, remains something very private. I’m only talking about it here because, under my blogging identity, I am functionally anonymous. And I need to talk about it, because I’m choking down the words and feelings that will alienate me from the community I grew up in, and at the same time sick at the suggestion that I might be an interloper in the community which I have only very recently grown to identify with.
I grew up in a moderately conservative, by which I mean to say average, Christian household. My mum’s granddad was a Methodist minister, and though my parents were divorced it mattered, somehow, that my dad’s mum was a staunch Catholic. Already I had a foot in two camps, but at least they could agree that they followed the same God. In high school, many of my friends began to be open about their own sexual and gender identities. A minority of students reacted with extreme homophobia, but there was no question in my mind that I would continue to stand by and support my friends. In this, I felt, I was acting in the Christian way. I’d been told from early childhood that Jesus was the saviour of the lost, friend to the persecuted. What Would Jesus Do? As far as I was concerned, I was standing up against injustice, bringing Jesus’ love into the classroom in a way which might – in a very primitive way – introduce my peers to the idea that God was someone different to the caricature of pop culture.
And then we began to reach the age at which my church deemed us ready to be warned against the dangers of sex.
At the news that I was expected not to have sex before marriage, I don’t remember feeling anything much. Mild irritation that here were more rules that I would have to explain to my secular friends, to try to translate it with my complete lack of theological or even evangelical training into something that secular fourteen year-olds would understand without rejecting my faith – and more importantly to a self-conscious teenager, me. But after a while, I began to wonder why the youth leaders and ministers and parents kept going on about it. Not having sex didn’t seem all that hard. I was not having sex without even trying. It was an easy rule to follow. And until I was confronted in a couple of bathrooms and changing rooms and accused of being frigid, or gay, it didn’t occur to me that any of my peers felt differently.
The only parts of the church sex talks I chafed at were the parts where well-meaning youth leaders would tell me that my friends were leading sinful lives if they ‘exercised their homosexuality’. Well, and so am I, I thought. I’ve been lying to my mum about going to orchestra for weeks (although I was hanging out at the library instead, so don’t go thinking I’m actually exciting). But ‘hate the sin, love the sinner’? It didn’t sit right with me, but even so I learned to go quiet when anyone was talking about sex, heterosexual or homosexual, in church or at school, just in case. And if my friends confronted me with the things they’d been taught in RE, that my God hated them because of who they wanted to sleep with, I’d mumble something non-committal and turn away. I wanted to say that God loved them, but I knew didn’t have the words or the Bible verses to convince them.
But I kept going to church. I was baptised just after we finished college, and I invited all my friends along. They bought me a silver cross to mark the occasion, and I still wear it as a symbol of both my faith and my found family. The ministers were a little startled at my friends’ appearances (mohawks, dyed hair, big heavy boots with chains and buckles), but frankly I think they were delighted that I’d managed to get some secular kids into the building. We spent the summer hanging out in the graveyard of the local shopping town. I went to uni. And that was when these questions that I’d harboured for years became much more pressing.
At uni, people were much more open about their sex lives, and some were horrified to learn that I hadn’t had sex, and didn’t plan to in the immediate future. I explained that I had made a commitment to only have sex once I was married because of my faith, but even then it felt like a cheat. It was a commandment that I had no interest in breaking, even if it had been ‘allowed’. I thought sex seemed messy and too much effort, and I preferred buying books to buying alcohol. It was easy to look like a Christian, at least to non-Christians.
In third year, I had my first real boyfriend. We dated for three months, and in the beginning, I did enjoy it. We wrote each other cutesy letters, fumbled over Valentine’s Day presents, even went up to London together for a weekend. But I was beginning to feel that he wanted sex more than I did, and that the ‘no sex before marriage’ excuse wasn’t going to prevent any lesser hanky panky. I panicked, and pulled away, and in the end I dumped him, citing the fact that I felt the only reason we were dating was because we both felt like it was something you were supposed to do at uni.
(Apparently, I was mistaken on his part, and he was actually upset afterwards, but also apparently he dated at least two other women that year, so I think he recovered just fine.)
Suddenly, the bubble burst, and I realised that I just didn’t feel the way about sex that everyone else clearly did. I had a friend who was asexual, and had come out a while back, but I had never considered it for myself. I still felt certain … ‘urges’, so maybe it was just some psychological issue that was to blame for my not wanting to share that with anyone.
But after some research, I realised that I probably was asexual after all, and panromantic to boot.
It was such a relief to accept these words as my own. Finally, I felt like I didn’t have to make excuses, like I didn’t have to nod along to conversations I just didn’t get. My friends were supportive, my housemates unsurprised. And I knew that my Christian friends wouldn’t ask any questions until I got to the ‘so are you getting married soon?’ age bracket. I felt that I had accepted myself, and once I told my mum and brother, I felt like that was all I needed. My dual ‘identity’ didn’t need to be shouted about. I could deal with this.
And then God gave me a big boot up the backside. It was at a summer Christian event, and I had gone up for prayer. As I stood there praying for some answer to the division I felt within myself, this wave of joy and love crashed into me. I shook, I laughed, and through it all, I knew God was saying, almost indignantly, ‘I made you! You think I don’t love every part of my creation? You think I made a mistake? You are a fool!’
Or something along those lines. And for the first time, I knew that I was not two sides of a coin that may never meet. I was a full person, and both of these aspects of me were important and God-celebrated.
I left that meeting on a high, demanding celebratory chips and dancing way too hard at the silent disco.
The next morning I told the two Christian friends I and my brother had come with – the first non-relative Christians I have ever come out to. And praise God, I received nothing but affirmation in return. We spent the rest of the week taking the piss out of the seriously poor Christian LGBT+ resources available at the event: ‘God will only support you if you live in denial and unhappiness’ bullshit, and looking up LGBT+ affirming churches near me at home.
Since then, I’ve found a lot of resources to back up my belief that my whole identity is loved and affirmed by God. Some Bible study, some testimony, some fiction. I’ve reached the point where I feel like I can move forward. So, I’m a queer Christian. Where does that leave me? I’m still working out which church is right for me, and how to get involved with more LGBT+ celebrating-spaces, where I can feel that wholeness again. I’d really like to try my hand at dating, properly this time, but where can I find other LGBT+ Christians in that context? Should I come out to my dad? Do I want to come out to my dad? How can I reach out to younger LGBT+ Christians who are struggling with their identities and reassure them that they are not a mistake of His creation, and get them just as excited about Bible truths as I am?
I still find myself feeling split in half. When LGBT+ friends joke about me being small ‘c’ conservative and boring because of my faith, or when I stray into unwelcoming parts of the Christian community too loudly. But I’m learning to celebrate both parts of me, and to defend one side against those who are friends with the other. I’m amassing a personal arsenal of resources in case any Christian, regardless of orientation, genuinely wants to learn the fuller extent of God’s love than they teach in Sunday school. One day, I’d even like to run my own youth group for LGBT+ Christian teens, and help them to support and grow in God’s love, rather than be pushed away from Him.
Basically, I have God on my side in this. So even if it puts me in awkward, uncomfortable situations, how can I stay silent and compliant when I could instead share the truth of His love with everyone I meet, no matter which side of the coin I’m presenting on the day? Not by restricting, or by lecturing. But by embracing, and living the truth in my own life, and showing others how to open up that door for themselves.
I wrote this because I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper, but I also wanted to start reaching out to other LGBT+ Christians, to learn from those who are far more practised at this than I am, and to encourage those who, like me, are just starting out. I’d love for this to reach people who will find it useful, and I hope that it is. And maybe I can show people who think that being LGBT+ and Christian, are mutually exclusive, or that being queer and a person of faith is impossible, that they have been lied to, and that there is a better way of living. The church needs to take a stand in this. Our saviour is the defender of the weak, the protector of the persecuted. We cannot then persecute others, drive them from our places of worship, without hypocrisy. We must follow the commandment that Jesus taught was the most important of all. To love.