Several months ago, I invited my friend to write a post on how the church can encourage those who experience same-sex attraction. This weekend she allowed me to ask her a few questions. Here is a portion of our interview:
How do you self-identify?
I identify as a child of God. I do not identify as ex-gay, ex-lesbian, or ex-queer.
This is a huge question in and outside of the church. I think we need to honor people and call them as they want to be called. If you identify as queer, I am going to acknowledge you as queer and not lesbian. In the same regards, if you are a Christian and part of your story is as “ex-____”, I will honor that. However, for those within the church who do identify as “ex-gay, ex-lesbian, ex-queer” I will first, in love, challenge their self-understanding to first see themselves as a child of God. I don’t want to get caught up in semantics, but it is so easy to adopt an identity as a no-longer-something that trumps our new identity in Christ. My pastor likes to say that our story can explain us, but it doesn’t define us. Being an ex-gay can explain you and be a big part of your story, and a testament to God’s grace, but as soon as it defines you then you are still under its bondage. I think that’s important to say. As for me, I don’t identify as ex-anything.
While being attracted both emotionally and physically to other girls is not a part of my identity, it’s a huge part of my story, so it’s going to come up a lot. When I am talking with people outside of the church I will sometimes talk about being “ex” something in an effort to communicate in terms that they understand. I do this sometimes because the world doesn’t understand a distinction between having something and owning it. When people ask me if I’m a lesbian or if I’m gay, I ask them first, “What do you mean?” Because if I just say “no” assuming we have an understanding about identity then that shuts down what could be a conversation about Jesus or redemption. If I assume that they’ve made a distinction between attraction and adopting an identity and are asking if I’m attracted to women over men and I say “yes”, it’s just as much an untruth as saying “no”. The only solution here is to agree upon what we mean when we say “gay” or “lesbian”. People are always intrigued by my counter question.
When did you first become aware of your same-sex attractions?
Become aware or accept that they were real and not just in my imagination? (Long pause) As early as age seven or eight. When did I actually accept it? Probably around age 15. I denied it to myself for so long and suppressed and hid my feelings so deep that I thought that I could change myself or bury myself in girlness and I would start liking boys. Yeah, that didn’t work. And the secrecy tore me to pieces.
What are your ideas about the factors that contribute to sexual orientation?
I think that is a legitimate question. What I don’t think is a legit question is “Are you born with it” or “is there a gay gene.” I really don’t think it matters. In my case, I think the factors that contributed to my attraction was not having strong connections with older women or female peers. I had this deep and distinct feeling that I wasn’t the same “mold” as them. Once I hit puberty, I fell into a long bout of brutal depression that went untreated for many years and I started believing lies about my friends, such as “I am not like them,” “they don’t like me because I am different,” and “they are the standard of what a girl is supposed to be and I don’t meet that standard.” There’s really no defense against that when you’re ten years old.
Did they actually say these things to you?
No. I say confidently that what I was hearing were demonic lies which my own voice would echo. It came down to me emotionally rejecting and distancing myself from them before they could reject me. It was a kind of self-protection. I’m going to feel better about myself by having the control to reject them first, and it was a fabrication that I bought into for many, many years.
How long have you been a Christian?
This is a hard one to answer. I grew up in a Christian home. I first really wanted Jesus when I was thirteen. It’s not like I didn’t know what the Bible says about homosexuality which was one of the hardest parts when I really wanted to be close with, emotionally and physically, these girls that would have accepted me and were of my “mold”. I knew it was wrong but I wanted that belonging so bad. It felt excruciatingly unfair.
What has been your parent’s response to your same-sex attraction?
Coming out. I call it “coming out.” Can we talk about that first? I think it’s an important point to hit. What I did was come out. I came out of silence and out of hiding. I came out of denial and complete isolation. I stopped lying to myself. There really is no difference. Coming out is making it known. I want believers who struggle with this to come out. Not like the world’s “say it loud and say it proud” but come out and recognize it, make it known to your community, and then figure out how to walk through it. And that is risky.
So how has your community responded?
Some have responded well and some have responded very poorly. An example of responding well: one of my friends, when I told her, looked me in the eye, and just held me. And that was so necessary especially at that time where I was just coming out and wasn’t expecting to be touched. An example of a poor response: unfortunately my parents would fall in that category. They were very passive and hands-off and very awkward about the whole thing. They never brought it up, but when it did come up, they would always refer to me liking girls as “it” or “your struggle”. And that brought a lot of shame. When people refer to my “struggle” as “it” and use very ambiguous language it makes me feel like I have that-which-must-not-be-named. When people use euphemisms, they may feel a little less uncomfortable but it comes at a great cost to me. Anyway, back to my parents. My mom cried and hasn’t talked with me about it since. I have forgiven them and I love them very much. Other poor responses have been looks of disgust, physical distancing as though I’m contagious, and excessive emphasis on “I love you, AS A SISTER” to the point that you might as well have a DTR (defining the relationship) talk, as though they are expecting me to proposition them. That’s incredibly painful.
What would you parents supporting you look like?
I want them to acknowledge that I am attracted to women and not men. And to accept that for right now, that’s where I am. I want them to listen to me. I want them to accept and embrace my story, everything from my experience, to my feelings, to my love for LGBTQ people, and that I long for them to meet Jesus. I want them to accept that I have a heart for this community of people because I’ve been there; I have been head over heels for a girl and know how “right” it feels. But despite how “right” it feels in the moment, I’ve also tasted something that is sweeter, that being life in Jesus Christ. I don’t want the LGBTQ community to be alienated by the church. I want them to be able to walk into a church and be loved and accepted and not have to be defensive. Yeah, I want my parents to understand my longing for that. I don’t want my parents to try and fix my story, which is something they try to do because they are uncomfortable. That’s potentially damaging- to say that what I’ve experienced isn’t legitimate or not as big of a deal as it was. That’s one of biggest challenges with my parents right now.
How has the body of Christ hurt you in this struggle?
It has in a lot of ways. The biggest way is in its silence. And that’s completely excluding the very outspoken select few who are loudly condemning homosexuality and who get lots of air time in the news, on Youtube, etc. As if pride wasn’t as deadly. Excluding the vocal haters, the church’s silence is damaging. Same-sex attraction, homosexuality, queerness (all depending on what we agree these terms mean) need to be something that’s talked about in the church, because if we are silent it becomes foreign and alien. It becomes different from the other sins we talk about. Also, people don’t know what to do with it. If leadership isn’t talking about it in a balanced and loving way then believers take their cues more from those who are outspoken and condemning rather than their leaders.
How has the body of Christ encouraged you?
I haven’t met a whole lot of people who have gone before me, who have wrestled through this and come out on the other side using it as means to draw others to Christ. In a sense, I kind of feel like a path setter and I think people understand that. And many friends have joined me to help figure out what that means and what that looks like. Whatever that means there is still a constant in all equations and that is Jesus. I want people like me, and people who are totally engrossed in the homosexual world, to be freed. To find Christ and find that freedom.
I have had some friends who have been so full of grace and who have said things to the effect of “I have never had to walk with anybody who has struggled with this before, and I don’t know how to help you but I am willing to do whatever you need.” I know that I can call them when I am struggling with a specific temptation about some girl and I can be honest with them. I feel very blessed by those friends. They don’t panic, they don’t see it as part of my identity, but they don’t doubt that it is something that I legitimately struggle with, and that comes up a lot. In some ways, people have checked in with me and that has been touching. When I was attracted to a co-worker and in the heat of the battle, they would call or text: “How was your heart at work today?” “I prayed for you and found this scripture that I thought might encourage you.” They would say things like “How did it go today? Do you want to talk about it? Was your mind dwelling on truth?”
What I hear you saying is that if you know that someone cares then you really do want them to ask how you are doing with this temptation.
Yes, but not to an excess because that’s making it a bigger deal than it is, like that’s all there is to my identity. But I want my friends to check in because they recognize that this is a real part of my life. I think it’s important that other people broach the subject because if I’m the only one who brings it up, then in a sense it still feels like alienation.
When it comes to me bringing it up, it is really affirming when people acknowledge that I am telling them something meaningful. If someone just sits in silence I interpret it as, “why are you talking about this again?” Just simple responses like “ok, I hear you” and “can you tell me more about that” communicates that they love me are not disgusted with me.
Why don’t you just run off with that girl at work?
Well the first answer is because she’s straight; however, let us assume for a moment that she’s not and is equally attracted to me. Why not run off together? Because every experience of me giving in to my temptation (on whatever level that may be) has only ever lead to hurt and grief and separation. But that is the case with any and every sin. Every sin ends in hurt, grief, separation, and spiritual/emotional death. And that is why homosexuality is no worse a sin than lying which also leads to the same: hurt (the reality that someone close to you has lied), separation (the untruth has put a chasm of distrust between you two), and death (someone has to die as a result of that sin: ideally, Jesus.)
But isn’t there the same potential for hurt, grief, and separation in an opposite sex relationship? Completely. So where’s the difference? My relationship with Jesus cannot coexist with a relationship with a girl. Jesus draws out my identity as feminine where before I denied and insisted that I was not feminine. He draws out my desire to be what he has designed me to be and therefore I cannot pursue a girl and pursue Christ. Not because of a set of rules but because when my heart wants Jesus that much it doesn’t want a relationship with a girl. God doesn’t want me to have a relationship with a girl because he loves me and knows what leads to death and what leads to life. The only reason I’m not a lesbian right now is because there is something in my heart that wants and trusts Jesus more than what I long for and desire in the moment.
**Note: This Child of God has given us all a precious and costly gift – herself. Responses and questions for her are welcome. She will respond below as the gravatar “thebigotsfriend.” But if you submit a comment that is harsh or hurtful, I’m going to delete it faster than you can say “What the…?”**