Let me tell you a long story. Like, a put-the-kettle-on, how-are-you-*really*-doing saga. If you aren't in a long story mood, you've been warned.
Six years ago a friend came out to me as "Not completely straight". I was standing outside the yarn store where I worked with my phone to my ear. It wasn't entirely unexpected, but somehow big revelations bring out the calm in me. I paused, took a deep breath, and said "Me, too."
I'd recently discovered the Kinsey scale. I took one look at it and thought Oh crap. Because I knew that, in the time it took me to figure out what I was looking at, my life had been changed forever.
"Have you ever looked yourself in the mirror and asked yourself Am I gay?" I polled my husband, siblings, and close friends at inappropriate times. "Sure," was the general reply "I've done that." And I have to say, I was surprised. At 25, I had never done that. I had never felt able to do that.
How could I ask myself if I was gay? There could only be one answer. The Church told me there could only be one answer.
And I liked boys, so there wasn't even any need to look in that mirror. No need to question anything else that was happening. I liked boys and if you are a girl who likes boys you are straight. And you need to be straight. Because the Church told me in no uncertain terms God does not approve of even a drop of homosexuality. Growing up, I never thought of sexuality as anything other than an all-or-nothing game of binaries and "them vs. us". "But the Bible says..." quashed any questions anyone answered. Not that I asked the questions. I was a lot more interested in fitting in to God's family than I am now.
And when you actually believe in a God (as I do), their opinion matters a great deal. Not because smitehellfiresmite (okay, was a little of that) but also because when you love a loving God (as I do), and believe that you're one of their many adopted children, you want to make God happy.
A desire to make God happy was how you could tell if you were actually a Christian or not, when I was growing up. So you do stuff that will make God beam and say "What a great kid I have." Because you want to be God's perfect kid by doing everything right. You want to be the kid in the family picture with big smile, perfectly coiffed hair, and matching outfits with God. Maybe God has their hand draped over your shoulder. This is my kid, with whom I am well-pleased. That was the dream. Because if you are not that kid, are you even saved? You do not want to be the one kid standing kind of apart from everyone else, not smiling, and definitely not adhering to the family memo on colour coordination for the family picture day. The one who is still mad at some of God's other, smugger children. Not only because it's sad to be far away from God, but also because if you're that kid, you're in danger of slipping out of the family picture entirely and into a lake of burning fire for all of ungraspable eternity. It's a slippery slope, and asking questions which indicate you are not willing to toe the line is the first step down that slope.
This is what I used to think. The kind of religion I struggle to let go of today.
Anyway. Once I saw that Kinsey scale I felt simultaneously free and terrified. Free because it made so much sense. I used to think that my feelings about women could be chalked up to things like an inherently sinful nature, a broken world, etc. But now, thanks to stupid Kinsey, it was all squeezing out the sides of my heteronormative life.
Except I wasn't giving up heternormativity so easily. I mean, I only sort of liked girls. Not enough to justify the enormous shift of faith, personhood, and crushing risk of rejection that would accompany giving up my Straight Card. Not enough for all that trouble. All that drama that I hate. Why bother? I could just nervously laugh my way along for the rest of my life, couldn't I? I could continue to reject any not-straight feelings. Wasn't that what God wants?
One day, five years after saying "I'm not completely straight." I had another long look in the mirror. Listen, you're lying to yourself and everyone else if you keep saying you're straight. You know you're bisexual and you have been too scared to admit it. Holy baloney, I felt like I'd just been pulled out of the Matrix. And my first, brief emotion was a sense of deep relief. Like when you're wearing a dress that's a little too tight and you kinda have to suck it in way more than is comfortable to get the zipper up. After a while you tune out the discomfort, numb yourself to it. And then, when you can finally take that darn dress off, you realize just how bad it really was.
But it was more than that. It was recognizing that the deep shame and repression I've been pushing down and down and down for so long had negatively affected my life, my marriage, my mental health, my relationship with God. It was the surprise of looking at a part of myself I had religiously (heh) ignored and seeing that it wasn't ugly and shameful and detestable, it was beautiful and part of the person that God made me to be. Acknowledging that makes me a more authentic, true, vulnerable, open person. And I could see that God has always loved me, when I wasn't able to see this part of myself, and also when I was. It was never God who didn't want the questions, it was all God's friggin' kids. It was never God who was far away because I am like a branch coming out of a vine, I can't be apart from God.
That feeling of relief didn't last long. The second emotion was a deep and paralyzing fear. Fear that I, with all the privilege of an English-speaking Canadian Christian cisgender white woman with a stable family and a straight-passing relationship, had never experienced. It's the fear of being rejected by everyone you love and who you thought would love you forever. If they knew. Even if they still love you, your relationship is changed. You're no long part of the in-crowd of the We're All Straight Here club. I'd never divided my circle of friends and acquaintances into "safe" and "unsafe" people before. That's how lucky I have been.
I told my husband once how deeply grateful I was that I have always been loved. I have always felt that my parents loved me, that my siblings loved me. I haven't always had friends or strong relationships outside my family, but I have always felt loved.
And now it looked like I was going to get a nice big serving of what it feels like to be not loved and not approved of.
Coming out to people has been a seriously mixed bag. I'm married to a cisgender man, and we've been married a long time. People don't usually ask about my sexuality. But they do ask how I am, what I've been thinking about, what happened this week. But it turns out they don't always want to know the answer. They don't always want to know I've been struggling to reconcile my sexual orientation with my faith, or the fact that I'm so old and have never asked myself this before, or to figure out the implications for how I'm supposed to live my life now. They would rather not hear about those things and are not shy about telling me so. Instead, I've been told I can't use the term bisexual, I'm lying to myself, and that I've never been with a women so I can't really know. People have questioned the veracity and importance of my sexual orientation. They get defensive, as if I've just said something very rude. "But, you're married..." "What difference does it make?" "Why is this important?" "What are the practical implications of this?" There are genuine, loving, ways to ask that and there are not-genuine, not-loving ways to ask that. I can tell the difference.
You've been living under a rock if you haven't heard of Brené Brown's life-changing work and writing regarding vulnerability. I see quotes everywhere. And yet the very people who are like "Yeah, Brené is so right! We need more vulnerability in our communities!" look at me and say "Why are you revealing your sexual orientation to me? I see your vulnerability and completely reject it." I'm not talking about random people on the street. I'm not running through the park screaming "I'm biiiiiiiiiii!" (mostly because I hate sweating, if I'm honest). I'm talking about people with whom I've had deep, personal conversations before who I assumed would be into having another deep, personal conversation.
Do you know how small and horrible it feels when you reveal something you think is important and life-changing to someone you thought was trustworthy who then questions why you're bothering to talk to them about it?
I felt so alone. I did not know anyone who was openly not straight, not cisgender, and also a Christian. I knew of literally one person who was gay and also a Christian, and I didn't know them well. And I certainly had never met anyone who was openly bi, Christian or not. I had no idea how people navigate the journey of being a Christian and realizing you don't belong to the Straight Cis Christian Club that you have, wittingly and unwittingly, been a part of your whole life. But I knew those people must exist somewhere. I just didn't know where the heck to find them.
Enter the Internet.
I found Generous Space through a Google click-venture (I believe the search terms were: LGBTQ+ Christians where are??). I signed up for a newsletter. I learned they were having a retreat in Ontario and before I could get scared I signed up to go. Even though it was a giant crowd of people I didn't know... basically my introvert-self's worst nightmare. Plus I was seriously concerned about it being... happy-clappy, we-love-Jesus-and-you-should-too, constant smiles, and Come To Jesus Or Else. You know what I'm talking about.
But reader, it was beautiful. It was life-changing. I get teary whenever I talk to people about it. Because I was so alone and afraid and then I found people who were full of compassion and love and the spirit of God. And to my relief it wasn't happy-clappy. It wasn't Come To Jesus Or Else. Anyone who has been would laugh at the idea that it would be like that. I met people like me and people not like me and I felt that they could all see me for who I truly am and would let me see them. I didn't realize how scared I felt until I was surrounded by people who affirmed and loved this facet of me.
And it helped me feel brave. Brave enough to come out to friends and siblings and, eventually, my parents. And I have been so surprised at how often the person I'm talking to takes a long pause and says "Me too." We are everywhere, people! You don't even know. The beauty of meeting someone like you when you feel so alone is such a wonderful, freeing experience.
And all this coming out is changing me. With each "Me too", I am filled with a burning desire to find more people like me who think they're all alone.
I don't tell you this story because I am a special snowflake and no one has felt like this before. I'm not revealing a new and hitherto unknown realm of human existence. I'm writing about this because I am not a special snowflake. So many people feel as I have felt, and I am on a mission to find them. I hope that no one who knows me will ever think "I don't know anyone who is LGBTQ+ and also a Christian...". I hope they never feel as utterly alone as I did. I would gladly go through the pain of a thousand people not approving of me, a thousand people asking me "Why does this matter?" to get to the one person who needs to know they are not alone.