As a gay Christian, I often wonder what redemption and restoration could look like for my life. My understanding of my sexuality is that it goes against God’s plan for me to be in a same-sex relationship, so I’ve committed to celibacy. However, in the midst of celibacy I also crave being married and having a family.
The tension between my sexuality and spirituality also weigh heavier because I live in a heteronormative culture where I have been taught that a nuclear family can look only one way—wife, husband, 2.5 kids. I often feel alone and misunderstood.
Is the only way to have a family to marry a woman (even though I’ve never experienced sexual attraction to a woman)? Is marrying a woman a betrayal to my sexuality, and a betrayal to the marginalized LGBT+ community? Is living celibate a way that I avoid making a decision about integration?
It’s difficult to walk in these gray areas. These questions whirl around in my mind. I struggle to sit in a church service where everyone looks the same, and I wonder if I have a sign that excludes me from being connected to the people around me. The belief I carry is that everyone else has it together—they don’t ever question the integration of faith and sex.
Who walks with me?
First Peter 5:9 says, “Resist him, firm in your faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are enduring your same kind of suffering.” I think about that term brothers and sisters a lot. As a gay Christian, where are my brothers and sisters who are enduring my same kind of suffering? Where are the men and women that struggle with the integration of spirituality and sexuality? Where are the men and women that have sat silently in church services, like I have, when the preacher is demonizing and vilifying the LGBT+ population?
I have sat through too many services, red in the face from shame and nervousness, hearing preachers talking about how the LGBT+ population have an agenda to destroy America. I have left too many church services with my head low, feeling like an abomination. I walk that path out of the church auditorium brotherless and sisterless, and the trail has been worn down over several experiences of loneliness, rejection, and exclusion.
It would be comforting to see other footprints on that path, but I fear that other people in my camp are hiding just as much as I am. Fear of rejection is a powerful thing—it has caused a generation of gay Christians to hide. We are hidden from being fully known by the church, and we are hidden from connecting and supporting each other.
The first person I “came out” to was my dad. I was sixteen, and petrified of what he would say to me. I didn’t know what to expect. The only other teen in my church that I knew was gay came out to his parents, got into a huge fight with them, and was kicked out of the house. I wanted to believe that my dad would embrace me with open arms, but I was venturing into a completely new experience—vulnerability.
I gave my dad a tearful confession of my sexuality. I was so distraught that I couldn’t even say the word gay. All I could say was that I was like that other teenager in the church, and I just let him connect the dots.
This level of vulnerability left me feeling raw, and exposed, like I was covered in emotional sores all over my body. The first thing I told my dad was that I wanted him to keep my secret—nobody could know, not even my mom. He readily agreed to that. A couple of weeks later, he offered to take me to see a counselor, but I quickly refused. Opening up to my dad was difficult enough, and I wasn’t ready to be vulnerable with a stranger.
A year later I told my dad that I was ready to come out to my mom. He told me that I shouldn’t. That’s when I internalized the message “Vulnerability isn’t worth the struggle.” It’s easier to keep silent, and to avoid the mess of being fully known by someone. If I’m vulnerable with another person, I leave myself exposed, and what if they stomp all over me? I can’t trust people in that process.
I learned to silently cling to loneliness.
I craved connection and companionship, but spent a majority of my life finding ways to keep myself from it. Loneliness protected me, and felt like a friend and comforter for a long time. In the midst of loneliness, I could reassure my safety—nobody could reject me if I never made myself fully known to people. I externalized this feeling in different isolating behaviors too.
I became addicted to pornography and food in order to distance myself from others. The connection I crave could be momentarily given to me through pornograhy, and the more food and weight I put on myself acted as a barrier to physically connecting with people. My logic was that the heavier I was, the more undesirable I would be to others—nobody would want to connect with me.
I also found ways to reaffirm these insecurities. If someone didn’t give me the attention I wanted, or showed any measure of rejection I would tell myself, “See! They really don’t want to know me! They would hate me if they knew me!”
Any gay slur, negative mention toward the LGBT+ group, and disgust shared against gay people was internalized. Instead of admitting my hurt and advocating for myself, I would internalize the negative, conservative church culture around me. The church was so willing and ready to talk about how they would reject LGBT+ people, but hardly ever offered hope of connection. The remark I hated the most was “That’s so gay” in reference to something someone didn’t like.
I had come to believe that my island of loneliness was where I was going to camp out for the rest of my life. My life long question has been “Is breaking through loneliness worth it?”
The Lonely Island
This island of loneliness is dark and barren. There is no hope of nourishment or escape in sight. I sit on the sand, look to the horizon, and find myself craving the peace of the horizon. The stillness of the horizon line is the only comfort I can find, but I can’t think of a way to get there.
It was ironic because throughout high school and college I was “connected.” I was plugged into my church and school and was acquainted with almost everyone. I was a leader in my college church group, went on mission trips, and met with my college pastor on a weekly basis. From the outside, anyone would probably say that I was connected and healthy. But I was never known by anyone there. I went through the motions of engaging people around me, but never made myself known to people. I sunk into depression.
My depression was powerful. It crowded my mind. My core beliefs were further shaped by my depression—nobody wants to know me, it’s not safe to be seen by others, loneliness is my only option. I couldn’t integrate genuine connection into my life. My dad knew I was gay, but left it on the back burner. He would never initiate conversation about my sexuality. I guess no news is good news?
Connecting with God was out of the question too. I didn’t want to talk to a God that I pleaded with for years to relieve me of all my struggles, and then left me hanging.
By the time I entered graduate school, I started feeling desperate. My depression, coupled with anxiety, kept me nailed to the floor. Waking up and stepping into the day felt like walking five miles.
I started seeing a counselor, and disclosed every single issue I could muster up. I word vomited for the entire hour. Fuck fear—I needed help. I needed someone else on the island to help me build a damn canoe. My depression was swallowing me whole, and I couldn’t bear this cycle of self-hatred.
I felt less than human. God created man and said it was “good,” and I felt like I had managed to drain myself of all my humanity.
Coming Out Again
My therapist was the first person I genuinely tried connecting with since I was sixteen when I came out to my dad, and he affirmed my experiences.
Self-hatred has been a huge theme for me in my therapy. I remember my therapist stopping me mid-sentence, repeating the word self-hatred, and just letting it hang in the air. Self-hatred was so normalized for me that I didn’t even blink when I described it. In the moment, he experienced a lot of power behind that word and wanted to let it sink into the room.
I started coming out to friends and family in graduate school after having done a lot of work in therapy. I explained this lifelong tension that I had experienced.
I am a Christian, and I don’t know how to integrate my sexuality. I crave connection, and fear that I won’t ever be able to achieve sexual intimacy that is enjoyable for me. I live in a church where I experience exclusion. I don’t feel like singleness is regarded well, celibacy is not encouraged, and LGBT+ people are still vilified in the church. I worry that the LGBT+ community will crucify me for holding to celibacy, and holding to the truth that God doesn’t want me in a same-sex relationship. I fear standing in a no man’s land between the church and LGBT+ community.
Among other things, this is typically what I share—my grief, sadness, hopelessness, need for hope. I started to experience connection.
In the midst of confusion, I had others—equally confused about the right way to approach me—create spaces for me to feel connected and accepted. I cherish these spaces. I cherish the people that have made them in my life.
Loneliness doesn’t define my character or my worth. I have value. The only thing that brought me to this place of belief is having restorative connection. My experiences growing up were damaging, and taught me that I was worthless because of my sexuality. Connecting to people in the past few years has taught me otherwise.
It started with my therapist—a straight, white man that showed me acceptance and valued my vulnerability. This led me to vulnerable with my best friend—a woman who has continually created space for me to feel accepted and understood without judgment, and who has shown me that connection and vulnerability are uncomfortable, but worth it.
That led to having courage to share my sexuality with my brother—a man that struggles to understand me, but is always present for me and has never abandoned me. Eventually, I shared my experiences with my Bible study group at church—a lovely group of men and women that have shown me so much care and respect, and have shown me that God and the church love me, and want to include me.
I was proved wrong. I have value, and am worthy of connection. I know people, and they know me. I have been able to connect with others, and find hope in walking on this path.
Not every experience of vulnerability has been easy . I felt knocked down when I came out to my mom.
I was driving in the car with her, and I finally decided to open myself up to her. She looked at me for a brief moment, and I thought she would be relieved and joyful with my attempt to connect with her. Instead, she cried for the next hour. Wailed, even. She was distraught. My dad was upset that I had come out to her. I was filled with shame and regret. Thankfully, I was able to run back to my therapist, church, and friends that were able to reaffirm me and accept me.
My journey with my parents has been a long one. They make baby steps toward me, and put in a lot more effort than I sometimes give them credit for. I was hurt by them, but I have learned that there is always room for reconciliation. My mom and dad haven’t disowned me—they love me in the best way they can.
When vulnerability hasn’t gone well, I often have to remind myself of just that—people are doing the best they can. Just like when I hid and distanced myself from everyone, I was doing the best I could with what I had.
Even hateful responses don’t exist in vacuums. Everyone operates out of their experiences and beliefs. Sometimes, the only way people know to protect themselves is through being hateful. However, people’s responses to my vulnerability do not assign value to my experiences. In the midst of feeling rejected by my family, I still had to make the choice to believe that I had worth.
Words to the Wise
Sexual identity in the church has a lot of stigma—more so than addictions, mental health issues, divorce, gluttony, adultery, or church discipline. LGBT+ communities have been the enemy of the church for decades. According to the pastors I’ve heard growing up, LGBT+ people are responsible for destroying the family system, devaluing the institution of marriage, corrupting the world with HIV and AIDS, turning children gay, and encouraging infidelity within relationships.
The church sucks at creating a space for the LGBT+ community.
It’s our habit to throw blanket statements on the LGBT+ community, and preach, “Come to us when you’ve left the lifestyle.” Celibate or in a same-sex relationship, gay Christians are all “living the lifestyle.” Jesus tells me that lust is the same as adultery—if the church preaches exclusion to gay people outside of the church, they are not creating space for any gay person in the church.
We shun gay Christians by acting out of the never-ending theological explanations for traditional sexuality. But most gay Christians do not need answers. Chances are, we’ve most likely been anxiously ruminating on this topic of integrating spirituality and sexuality our entire lives. We need space to openly grieve, be confused, be encouraged, experience hope, and experience love and acceptance. We need and want to work out our sexuality in friendship. People to come alongside us in love instead of lecture.
Together, our vulnerability will create a different culture in the church. One where there is open dialogue about LGBT+ issues, where inclusion is encouraged, where empathy is preached, where there are gay leaders in the church, where celibacy is encouraged, and where singleness is cherished. We will be able to mentor and disciple younger gay Christians that are equally as confused about their lives as we have been.
Cover image by Giovanni Arechavaleta.