Separation of Church and Gay
The Day I Realized I Was Gay
What is right
And what I am
Faith and Trust
Begin where the sidewalk ends
My mind stays cemented
While my heart runs away
Wishes and rules
How can I do what’s right
I wrote the above in April of seventh grade. I remember it vividly. It was the first day of my life I had let myself even say the word “gay”, even in my head. I had kept the little voice in my head under so much pressure that even it couldn’t squeak the word because then it might be real. I had spent weeks fiddling with it, almost saying it, almost thinking it. Rocking back and forth on that edge knowing that jumping would change everything and free me all at once.
Born and Bred
I was raised in rural southern South Carolina in a small white southern baptist church. I have been a member there since I was about 6. They were so loving. They paid to send me on a field trip I couldn’t afford. They were my safe space, that warmth that was always there. It was like having 20 or so grandparents who would move heaven and earth for you if it was in their power. I can’t thank them enough for all they did. I love that church and how it led me during my childhood, but it did a lot of damage too.
The church isn’t always the most welcoming place for those who are different. And on this day when I finally let the little voice in my head say the word, it became an echo chamber in my mind. Repeating and repeating over and over, shimmering and stretching and growing and vibrating through my life, changing things in ways I would’ve never expected. That day I started struggling with what the church had taught me, what my family had taught me, what the world, my world, had always taught me, and what I was.
Are You Praying Hard?
I wish I could say that I figured it out quickly and was happier for making that jump off that rainbow ledge. But for the rest of my high school years and a few college years, I struggled. I tried to pretend it wasn’t true. I tried to act like it didn’t have to be, that’s what everyone said, if I tried hard enough I could undo it. Focus, grit, and pure will could make it crawl back into the dark corners of my mind where it must have come from. I tried. God knows I tried. Prayers and begging and discipline and strength failed, but I tried. For years and years, I tried, I tried making my faith and who I was fit.
I still attended church. I sang in the choir, and everyone knew me by name and I got cards on my birthday. I kept up appearances. When not having a boyfriend became too much, I made up a “secret crush”, dropping just enough hints both at school and outside to keep people believing what they didn’t doubt, but I did. But I also shut down. I started wrestling with big questions kids shouldn’t have to ask, like if God made a mistake when I was created and I was some broken malformed half-human that slipped through the cracks and landed on earth by accident. Like what if it was a choice, what if I had made it, had chosen it, subconsciously maybe, or while I dreamed, deliberately decided to break my parents’ hearts and expectations and send myself to hell all in one accidental realization that I didn’t find guys attractive. The world around me got dark fast. And I kept singing, in that sunlit church, about what a friend I had in Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my parents. I love my family. I loved growing up in a small town where the cop was on everyone’s speed dial and you just called him directly if something went wrong, and where the only gas station in town knew you and so when you didn’t have cash that day the internet was down they just gave you the gas and said to pay it later. But once I accepted who I was, I had to accept where I was. Gay was not something folks even talked about down here. It was taboo, like losing the civil war, democrats or taxes. My folks handled it as best they could but my staying in the closet was not a choice. It was a requirement, for my safety, for my future, and the reputation of my family.
Being a Minority Changes Everything
From the very get-go, I had different rules than my younger sister who brought home boyfriends. My dates were my “pals’’ even in college. I couldn’t show any PDA even in my driveway or backyard on the swing, not even holding hands. I talked too much about it. Being gay didn’t have to take over my life, at least not according to my parents who thought I became obsessed. Suddenly I cared about trans people, and marriage laws, and discrimination policy, and healthcare. Or maybe suddenly, I had already lost everything so I had nothing left to lose when speaking out about those topics that divided so many people.
I am not trying to claim that being gay is awful terrible and miserable. I know living in the United States means I have the chance to even say what I am saying. But that doesn’t change things from being difficult that did not have to be. Churches do not need to preach fire and brimstone on those of us that don’t stake our love on what is between a person’s legs while giving free passes to folks who fool around with others while they are married. I can name the times I sat in a pew and watched someone tell me from a pulpit, that gay people, people like me, were the reason the world was evil and hurting and that we had angered God. I have been told that I am going to hell on multiple occasions, by folks my age, by older adults, by children. I have been turned down for a job because parents complained about having their children around “sin”. I have been told by multiple men and boys that they could “make me straight” with looks that made me start carrying a pocket knife. My “Love is Love’’ sticker was ripped from my car bummer while at a church, damaging the paint, and obviously, no one cared or confessed.
Again, I am not trying to paint a picture of how bad I have had it. I just want to draw attention to some facts and try and make things better for those that might face this situation after me. My church still doesn’t know. I am still in the closet in my hometown while I can be myself on the internet. I almost took my own life because of what the Church pounded into my gullible brain from an early age. When this that I had learned and held to be true came into conflict with my very existence, I had no way to cope. No way out. I was faced with two options. Either being gay was a choice and I had chosen the side that went against God, or God had made a mistake in creating me. But they had always always preached that God did not make mistakes. But they also always preached that God did not create gay people, did not love gay people, did not condone gay existence on planet earth to pollute the population. So that means it was my fault. Somehow somewhere, maybe in that seventh-grade moment when I dared to think the word, I had chosen to be gay. I was responsible for the bullying and ridicule and exclusion and disappointment. I had brought it on myself, somehow. Except why would anyone do that? Consciously choose to lose their friends, their family, their church, their job, the respect they had, their religion, the very feeling of being safe in their town, their rights as a person. No one would. But the church somehow convinced me that I had made that decision, and I couldn’t live with it. So I tried to not have to.
It Gets Better
Baby gays, if you are out there if you are struggling deciding what you are or who you are, that is ok. You deserve the time and the space to choose without people or organizations placing blame on your shoulders that you don’t deserve and shouldn’t have to hold. And sometimes things take decades, or decades more, but they do get better. You are the one who has to be comfortable with yourself and who has to live with the person you chose to become. No one else. Feel free to reach out. You are loved, you are wanted, things get better.
And religious folks, I love y’all too. I am a Christian and I believe in Jesus. I’m just one of his rainbow sheep. It isn’t in your mission to judge me for if he feels the need to, I am sure he will take care of it. But please do your best to be understanding. Those of us who are different, especially those of us who were born in religious families, judge ourselves much harder than you ever could and we punish ourselves too. Christians are meant to be a community and I wish more than anything to one day see that community include the community that has adopted me since I learned to live with myself.
Thanks for reading, Y’all